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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 23990

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Only, since our souls will shrink

At the touch of natural grief,

When our earthly loved ones sink,

Lend us, Lord, Thy sure relief,-

Patient hearts, their pain to see,

And Thy grace, to follow Thee."

tella's visit was now drawing to a close. She had very much enjoyed its novelty, and had, during her stay, made some acquisitions, though not of a kind that she yet appreciated, or was even conscious of. It was impossible for her to be so long in a household where every day was begun and closed by invoking God's presence and guidance, where His blessing and approbation were steadily regarded as the best of all good, where the standard of action was that laid down in His word, and where His strengthening grace was looked upon as the most necessary equipment for daily life, without receiving a deeper impression of the importance of these things than she had ever before felt. And though the members of her uncle's family had their share of human imperfections, yet on the whole the example she had seen around her had been sufficiently consistent to show her, almost against her will, the beauty of a Christian life, as contrasted with one based wholly on worldly principles. Some seeds of good, at all events, she carried back with her, though she was far from having profited as she might have done, had her heart been more open to receive the influences around her.

It had been a new thing to Lucy to have a companion of her own age and sex; she had become really attached to her winsome cousin, and all the transient irritation which Stella had often caused her passed into oblivion now that they were really about to part. Alick was to escort Stella to the residence of a friend whom she was to visit on her way home; and the cousins parted with affectionate hopes of a visit from Stella next summer, and also of a winter visit which Mr. Raymond had half promised that Lucy should make to her cousin's city home.

The loss of Stella's restless and vivacious presence made no small blank in the house-a blank to be still further increased by the permanent departure of Alick soon after his return from escorting Stella. He had at last decided on the place in which he was to settle-a new and rising village in the far West-and had already been claiming his mother's promise, that so soon as he should be able to provide a home for her, she would come and preside in it. Mrs. Steele felt that it would be her duty to comply with her son's desire; and Mr. Raymond, while very sorry to lose his sister's kind, motherly supervision of his family, felt that he could not dissuade her from an arrangement so right and natural, and to which he had long looked forward as a probability. However, she was not to leave them for some months at least, and during that time Lucy was to learn all she could about housekeeping, in order to be able to fill her aunt's place as well as a young beginner could do.

To Lucy, indeed, there mingled with her regret for her aunt's expected departure, a certain latent satisfaction at the increased importance of her own place in the household; and her ambition was so much stimulated by the hope of fulfilling her new duties in the most exemplary manner, that it somewhat alleviated her sorrow at the thought of losing the kind aunt who had filled a mother's place.

Many were the regrets when the time came for Alick's final departure from Ashleigh to his distant sphere of duty; and Mr. Raymond, in bidding him a kind farewell, added in an earnest tone the not unneeded admonition: "Alick, my boy, don't forget who says, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you.'"

And so the happy party, who had enjoyed together at Ashleigh the pleasant summer days, were scattered, never again to meet there under the same circumstances; for the autumn, bringing the cold blasts and nipping frosts that scattered the rich summer foliage and made the earth bleak and bare, brought other changes, far sadder than these.

Nelly was the first to whose life came a sudden change. A rumour reached the village that a deck-hand on one of the river steamers had lost his life by a fatal accident, and that the man's name was Michael Connor. It seldom happens that such reports turn out groundless; and when Mrs. Connor, having heard of it, hastened to the wharf to discover what truth there might be in it, she met a comrade of her husband's who had come to announce to his family the sad fact.

Mrs. Connor did not profess any deep regret for a husband whom she had often asserted to be a good-for-nothing scamp. She looked at the matter chiefly in a pecuniary point of view, and, on making a rapid calculation, came to the conclusion that any deficiency caused by the loss of the small fraction of his earnings that came into her possession would be more than made up by her being relieved of the maintenance of Nelly, for whom she did not consider it her duty any longer to provide.

But in Nelly herself Michael Connor had at least one true mourner. She forgot all her father's carelessness and neglect, and remembered only that he was her father, who used in days long past, when her mother was alive, to take her on his knee and call her his "darlint." When it broke fully on her mind that she should never see him again-that he had left her for ever, as her mother had done-her grief for a while knew no control. Poor child, she had literally no one in the world "belonging to her," so far as she knew, and she felt utterly desolate and forlorn. Finding but little comfort at home, where her new mother's cold, unfeeling remarks only aggravated her sorrow, she betook herself to Lucy, who had just heard, with great concern, of Nelly's bereavement. She did her best to comfort her; and though at first the kind words only seemed to make the tears flow faster, by degrees the child was soothed and calmed, and able to listen to Mr. Raymond when he laid his hand kindly on her head and told her that she must look to God as her Father now, and must go and "tell Jesus" all her troubles. Then he made her repeat after him the verse, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up."

"But, Miss Lucy," said Nelly, as she was going away, "where is it I'm going to live now?"

"Why, is your mother going away?"

"Niver a bit, miss; but she says she's kept me long enough now, and she won't keep me any longer."

Lucy could scarcely believe that this could be more than one of Mrs. Connor's meaningless threats, and tried to reassure Nelly that it would be all right. But Mrs. Steele, knowing Mrs. Connor's hard, selfish nature, was by no means so sure that there might not be something in it, and was not surprised when she appeared next day to say that she thought Nelly's grand friends might do something for her now her poor father was gone, and she had no one to look to her.

"But she has you, of course," Mrs. Steele replied. "We shall be very glad to help you as far as possible, but you have shown yourself well able to support your family."

"She ain't one of my family," replied Mrs. Connor, "and I've kept her long enough for all the good I've ever got out of her; so I don't see that it's any of my business to take the bit out of my children's mouths and put it into hers."

Mrs. Connor would probably not have come to this decision had she not been less dependent than formerly on Nelly's assistance. But as her youngest child was now able to run alone, and the eldest could, on an emergency, take care of the rest, and as she now took in most of her washing, she had less need for an additional worker, involving an additional mouth to be fed. Besides, Nelly was a "growing girl," she reflected, and would be always costing her more for food and clothing, so that to be rid of her maintenance would be so much clear gain. She was therefore inexorable in her determination that Nelly should not remain with her, unless, indeed, the ladies would pay for her board-a proposition which Mrs. Steele declined to entertain.

It was taken seriously into consideration by Lucy and her aunt what could be done to provide Nelly with a home. Lucy was eager that she should be at once taken into their own household, to be trained for domestic service; but this Mrs. Steele thought impracticable at present, as she knew that their own busy, capable handmaid would strongly object to have her time taken up in teaching a girl who would give her so much additional trouble.

"But there are other people," she said, "who would be very glad of a child like Nelly, who would cost nothing for wages, to train and make useful. I am going to Mill Bank Farm this afternoon to see about some butter, and I'll see if Mrs. Ford knows of any one who would take her."

Lucy assented rather reluctantly. It would have been so nice, she thought, to have her protegée immediately under her own charge, to teach and train into a model servant. She had not yet learned the distrust in her own powers which experience gives, and she saw only the bright side of the plan, not the difficulties in its execution.

Mrs. Ford's motherly heart was at once roused to pity for the little orphan's forlorn condition, and to indignation at Mrs. Connor's heartless conduct.

"After all the work she's got out of her, too!" she said; "making that poor child drudge away morning, noon, and night. I'm sure she's been worth a deal more to her than the little bit of meat and drink she's given her-with a grudge, as I hear from the neighbours. Well, well, it's a queer world."

Mrs. Ford promised to try to find out a good place for Nelly, and early next morning she made her appearance, having taken the long walk on one of her busiest days, in order to "talk over Nelly's business," as she said. She proposed to take the orphan into her own family, for a time at least, until some more permanent situation should turn up. "We'll never miss the little she'll want," she said; "and if we did, I've been often thinking of late that we've been too much taken up with doing the most we could for this world, and been caring too little for the poor that our Saviour says are to be always with us. So my mind would be easier if I were doing this much, at any rate, and the poor thing'll be more likely to get a good steady place if I take her in hand and teach her a bit myself."

So it was settled, and Nelly, to her surprise and delight, found herself an inmate, for a time at least, of Mill Bank Farm, though she was made to understand that the arrangement was not a permanent one. The present comfort and happiness were enough for her, however, for she was not given to spoiling the enjoyments of to-day by thoughts about the morrow; and she certainly had never, so far as her recollection went, been half so happy as she now was under Mrs. Ford's motherly care, with Bessie for a half-companion, half-teacher, and removed from the sound of the harsh words and tones which had so long been the constant accompaniments of her life.

One of Mrs. Ford's first cares was to provide her with some needed clothing from Bessie's outgrown garments, which otherwise would have been stowed thriftily away for little Jenny. Lucy added her contribution for the same object, and it was considered a good opportunity for teaching her what she so much needed to learn-plain sewing. Mrs. Ford, who was a capital seamstress as well as housewife, undertook to make Nelly a good needlewoman, if she would be diligent in trying to learn; and she was too grateful, and too anxious to please, not to try her best, though the long, tedious seams often tried her restless, active spirit. When she found herself getting so impatient that she felt as if she could not sit still any longer, or, at any rate, could not force herself to do the work with patience and care, she would remember the injunction to "tell Jesus" her troubles and difficulties, and the restless spi

rit would become quiet, and the strength to fulfil her good resolutions would come back. As it was too far for her to go to Lucy now for her daily lessons, Lucy resigned her to Bessie's tuition, though somewhat unwillingly, for her teaching had become a source of real pleasure to her, and she felt that in it she was doing some definite work for her Saviour. She had not yet got into the habit of looking upon everything she was called in duty to do as work done for Christ, just in proportion as it was done in a spirit of cheerful faith and dependence, "looking unto Jesus" both as the master and the friend.

But dark days were at hand for Lucy too,-days when she would need all the support her faith could give. Mr. Raymond's never robust constitution had been for some time gradually failing, though Lucy, seeing him daily, and accustomed to consider her father "not very strong," had not observed it. Late in November, a long, cold drive in sleet and rain to visit a dying parishioner brought on symptoms of fever, which rapidly increased, till the doctor, who had been summoned to attend him, looked very anxious, and pronounced his patient in a most critical condition. Lucy had been so long accustomed to his occasional illnesses, that she was slow to admit the idea of danger to her father, the possibility of losing whom had scarcely ever occurred to her mind. Therefore, though she could not help seeing her aunt's extreme anxiety, she resolutely turned her thoughts to the happier prospect of her father's recovery, when he would again occupy his wonted place, and the house would be like itself again.

Even when Mr. Raymond's extreme weakness forced the others to give up hope, Lucy still hoped and prayed, by the sick-bed and in her own chamber, as she had never prayed before. Surely, she thought, if she prayed humbly and earnestly, her prayer would not be denied by Him who has said, "Ask, and ye shall receive;" and her father would be restored to her. She did not consider that as regards earthly things the promise must be limited, or the conditions of human life would have to be altered. If our prayers that our dear ones should be spared to us were always to be granted, when would they ever attain that blessed rest in the Father's house-the haven they have been looking for through all the cares and troubles of their mortal pilgrimage?

Mr. Raymond had often longed for the time when his earthly work should be done, and he should be called to the presence of his Saviour-to reunion with his early-lost wife. And now, though in the unconsciousness of his exhausted powers he knew it not, that time had come. His "falling asleep" was as peaceful as the sinking of a child into its nightly slumber; and Lucy did not realize that it was death, till, in the dark December morning, she stood by the cold white couch on which lay the inanimate form to which, from her earliest days, she had always looked as her protector and guide. It was hard to persuade herself that that cold form was not her father, but that all that had made the living, sentient being had passed to another state of existence beyond her power to follow-beyond her power to conceive. In the strange awe that came upon her, she lost for a time the sense of the desolation of her bereavement-lost all thought for herself, in trying to pierce the darkness which hung between her and the "undiscovered lands" in which both her parents now were. With Fred it was much the same,-an awestruck solemnity at first repressing in both the natural feeling of personal loss. Harry was the only one whose bitter, childish grief broke forth uncontrolled.

But there was time in the blank, desolate days that followed to realize the full bitterness of the bereavement. Once out of the still, solemn chamber, which seemed to hush all violent emotion, there were associations at every step, in every room, of him whose place should know him no more, to call forth the uncontrollable agony of tears that had for a time been repressed. And when the still form had been carried to its last resting-place, and the heavy consciousness made itself felt that he was gone, never in any possible event to return to them, it seemed to Lucy as if it would have been too terrible to bear but for the Saviour, to whom she carried her grief, and found that, though He does not always at our asking restore our sick to this mortal life, yet that, when He takes them away, He can and will be a very present "help in time of trouble."

But there was already another grief looming darkly in the distance, which Lucy almost shrank from facing. The home that had been hers from her birth must be broken up. The external surroundings in which her life had been always set were to be torn from it; and any other phase of life seemed as if it must be a dreary blank. She could not then realize the possibility of ever forming new associations, or taking root in any other home. And indeed it is doubtful whether one ever does take root again in the same sense as in the home of childhood, which is linked with the earliest associations of opening thought, and with all the hallowed ties that cluster around a child's happy home. Other houses are but places of abode, made home by association: that seemed absolutely and in itself home.

Alick had come to Ashleigh as soon as possible after his uncle's death, and was anxious to take his mother at once to the new home he had been preparing for her. As to Lucy, there seemed to be but one course advisable. As Mr. Raymond could leave only a very slender provision for his family, he had always been anxious that Lucy should have an education sufficiently thorough to put her in a position to gain her own livelihood by teaching, and a way seemed opened for her to carry out his wishes in this respect. Mr. Brooke, urged thereto by his daughter Stella, had written to Mrs. Steele, offering to receive Lucy into his own family for the next two or three years, in order to give her the advantage of a first-class education, which was, he remarked, "the best he could do for her, as it would give her the ability to do for herself."

Lucy shrank from the prospect of so long a residence in a home so unlike the one she was leaving, as from Stella's remarks she felt sure it must be. But to go with Harry to live with Mrs. Steele and Alick, as they kindly invited her to do, in case she could not make up her mind to go to Mr. Brooke's, would, she felt, be imposing far too great a burden on Alick's kindness, though it seemed just the right home for Harry. Fred, who had been summoned from college to his father's deathbed, must return to resume his theological studies, for they all insisted that he should not think of giving up the career which had been his father's desire for him as well as his own. The more Lucy thought about the matter, the more distinctly she saw that there was no other way rightly open to her, especially as, even could she think it right to accompany Mrs. Steele and Alick, she could not, in the new village in the West, expect any educational advantages. But it was with much reluctance, and after many prayers to be strengthened to meet the new experiences before her, that she gave her decision to go to live for the present in her Cousin Stella's home.

Fred, to whom she confided her extreme shrinking from venturing into an atmosphere which her fancy pictured as so cold and uncongenial, endeavoured to reassure her, by reminding her of what she knew, indeed, but found it difficult to realize, that her Saviour could be as near her in the crowded city as in her quiet country home, since His love is

"A flower that cannot die

For lack of leafy screen;"

and that it was a sickly Christianity which must necessarily fade and droop when removed from the atmosphere in which it had been originally nurtured.

"Well," she said at last disconsolately, "it doesn't matter so very much. I can never be very happy again, now papa is gone; and the best thing is to think most about the home he has gone to, and try to follow him there."

Something of this kind she wrote to her old friend and teacher, Mrs. Harris, who had sent her a letter of loving sympathy. She smiled half sadly when she read Lucy's disconsolate reply. Mrs. Harris had seen enough of life to know that a young heart is not permanently depressed by a first grief; and she feared for Lucy, if she should trust to the influence of sorrow alone to keep her "unspotted from the world."

"My dear Lucy," she wrote, "while it is well that you should always cherish your dear father's memory, and keep his counsels and his example always with you as a protecting influence, beware of trusting too much to this. He himself would have told you that it is not him you are to follow, but Him whom he followed, 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.' This alone can be our strength. Time is strong against our deepest sorrow, and no influence can permanently hold, except the constraining love of Christ. Never lose the habit of looking steadily to Him, and to Him alone, for daily and hourly strength."

It was wise counsel, and Lucy in time came to find out how true it was.

It is needless to dwell upon the pain of the breaking up,-the packing up and stowing away treasured possessions, so closely associated with the times now passed away; the sorrowful leave-takings of old friends, who felt as if they were losing the last link with their beloved minister in the departure of his family; the sad farewell looks at all the well-known home objects, the flower-beds, the gravel walks, the shrubs and trees, every twig of which had such a familiar look. Many a time it seemed as if it must be only a sad dream, that all these things were about to pass from her daily life into a vision of memory. Happily it was winter. Had it been in the fair flush of summer, when her home looked its loveliest, the parting would have been far harder. As it was, it was hard enough; but she tried to conceal her sorrow from those to whose pain it would have added, though many a tear was secretly shed over even the old grey cat and the gentle petted cow, which were almost home friends.

At last all the preparations were completed. The house, stripped of most of its familiar furnishings, wore already a strange, uncomfortable aspect, full of packing-cases and confusion. Fred had already been obliged to return to college, and Lucy was to be the next to go. Alick was to escort her to the next railway station, and see her on the train which was to take her to the city. It was the first time she had ever travelled alone, and she rather dreaded it; but she knew that it would be very inconvenient for Alick to accompany her the whole way, and she would not admit that she thought the solitary journey at all a formidable one.

Poor Nelly, who grieved as much for her friend's departure as she had done for her father's death, came on the last morning to say good-bye, although Lucy had already taken leave of her and Bessie at Mill Bank Farm, and had made the latter promise to write to her sometimes.

"And it's sorry I am, Miss Lucy, you're going, and you so good to me," sobbed Nelly, when she felt the parting moment was really come.

"Well, Nelly, we must both try to remember our Friend in heaven, who has been so good to us both. You love Him, I hope, Nelly, and pray to Him always?"

"Indeed I do, and I always pray God to bless you, Miss Lucy."

"Well, I won't forget to pray for you, Nelly, and we know He will hear our prayers," replied Lucy kindly.

Acts of Christian kindness often bring their reward even in this life: the "cup of cold water" we give sometimes returns to refresh our own parched lips. It was some comfort to Lucy, even in this time of sorrow, to feel that she had been enabled to help Nelly to know the Saviour, whom the poor, friendless child seemed to have received into her heart with a true and simple faith.

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