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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 20336

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

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"I need Thy presence every passing hour;

Who but Thyself can foil the tempter's power?

When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, Lord, abide with me!"

ucy could hardly understand where she was when she awoke the next morning. She had scarcely ever been absent from home in her life; and the strange and unfamiliar aspect of everything around her quite bewildered her, till little Amy's gentle touch recalled the events of the preceding day. Her home-sickness returned for a time; but the strength came for which she prayed, and she was able to go down to breakfast with a cheerful face.

Sophy and her father were the only ones who appeared at the nominal breakfast hour. Stella had always been late for breakfast at Ashleigh in summer, so it was not surprising that in winter she should be one of the last to appear. But it did not apparently matter much, for the different members of the family seemed to come to the breakfast table just as it suited them, and the meal could scarcely be called a social one. Neither Sophy nor her father talked much, he having his newspaper open before him. Lucy was too shy as yet to talk without encouragement, which Sophy did not give; and she felt it a relief when Stella, with her unfailing loquacity, made her appearance.

"You see it's Saturday morning, so one can have a little more sleep," she said, yawning as if she had not had enough yet.

"Then why don't you go to bed sooner at night, my dear, if you want more sleep?" asked her father.

But Stella quickly turned the conversation to another subject, and kept up a full stream of talk till Mrs. Brooke and Ada appeared, and soon afterwards Edwin sauntered in.

"Lucy," said her aunt, as she left the breakfast table, "you must let me see your dresses this morning; I am sure you'll want some new things, and you must get them at once."

"Aunt Mary thought I had all I should want for the winter," said Lucy, colouring, for it was a point on which she was sensitive, not wishing herself to spend any more on her dress than was absolutely necessary, and desiring, if possible, not to increase her uncle's expenditure on her account.

"Well, we shall see," said Mrs. Brooke. "But you know you cannot dress here exactly as you did at Ashleigh, and I want you to look as well as your cousins."

Lucy felt rather dismayed at the idea of being expected to wear such stylish attire; and she could have cried, as one after another of the articles on which she and Mrs. Steele had bestowed so much pains was pronounced by Mrs. Brooke and Ada "quite out of date" and "not fit to be seen."

Mrs. Brooke, apart from her really kind intentions towards her sister's orphan daughter, was determined that Lucy, who was to be Stella's constant companion, should not, by shabby or old-fashioned dress, disgrace the family in the eyes of her critical fashionable associates; so it was determined, without reference to Lucy, that Ada and Sophy should take her out forthwith on a shopping excursion, to provide her with what Mrs. Brooke considered essential for her creditable appearance as a member of her family.

After her first uncomfortable feeling had worn off, Lucy really enjoyed her expedition, everything-the busy streets, the crowded buildings, the rattling carts and carriages; above all, the gaily-decorated shop windows-having so much of the charm of novelty for a country girl. The windows of the print-shops and book-stores in particular she thought so attractive, that she wondered how the hurrying passers-by could go on their way without even a glance at their treasures.

The shopping was easily accomplished under Ada's experienced superintendence, and might have been accomplished much more quickly, Lucy thought, had it not been that her cousins would spend so much time in looking over articles which they had no intention of buying, thereby, she thought, putting the obliging shopmen to an immense deal of trouble, and sadly wasting their own morning. But neither of her companions had much sense of the value of time, having no higher aim in living than that of passing it as pleasantly as possible.

At last the important business was concluded, just in time for them to get home for lunch. Lucy felt very tired after her unwonted expedition over the hard city streets, with their bewildering noise and confusion, and was glad to get away as soon as possible to rest. She soon fell asleep, and when she awoke she found Amy sitting quietly beside her, playing with her doll.

"Won't you look at my doll, Cousin Lucy?" she said. "I got her on my birthday. Her name is Lucy, after you."

"After me?" said Lucy, surprised. "Did you call her after me before I came?"

"Yes," replied Amy timidly; "for Stella said you were nice, and I should love you."

"I hope you will, dear," said Lucy, touched and gratified, and she kissed her little cousin affectionately, looking pityingly at the pale, delicate face and fragile form. She had always wished to have a little sister of her own, and her heart was quite disposed to take the little girl into a sister's place. She drew her closer, and after talking a little about the doll, she said:

"Does Amy love the good, kind Saviour, who came to die for her?"

The child looked up with a puzzled expression.

"Jesus, you know," added Lucy, thinking that name might be more familiar.

"That is Jesus that my hymn is about. Nurse taught me, 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.'"

"Yes. Well, don't you love Him, Amy? He loves you very much."

"Does He love me?" asked Amy. "How do you know?"

"Because He says so."

"But He is up in heaven. Nurse said my little brother is up there with Him."

It was always "nurse." Amy did not seem to owe much knowledge of that kind to any one else. Lucy tried to explain as simply as possible that, although the Saviour is in heaven, He is as really near us as when He was on earth; and that we have still in the Bible the very words that He spoke while yet among men.

"Are they in there?" asked Amy, looking at Lucy's Bible.

"Yes, dear. You can't read yet, I suppose?"

"Oh no! The doctor says I mustn't learn for a long while."

"Then I will read to you some of the things that Jesus said. Would you like that?"

"Oh yes!" said Amy; and Lucy read the account of our Saviour blessing the little children. She was pleased and surprised at the quiet attention and deep interest with which Amy listened, and mentally resolved to try to lead her to know more of that blessed Saviour, of whom as yet she knew so little. Here was some work provided for her already, she thought, and the feeling made her happier than she had been since she left home.

The evening passed away much as the former one had gone, except that it was varied by the presence of visitors, among whom was a gentleman who, Stella privately informed her cousin, was an "admirer" of Sophy's.

"But it's no use, if he knew it, for you know she's engaged already to Mr. Langton. He's such a handsome, nice fellow, and has a large plantation in the South, where he lives. I know she's as fond of him as she can be, though she doesn't like people to think so. Look, now, how she sings for Mr. Austin! I'm afraid he'll think she likes him."

Sophy was by no means indifferent to any admiration, though she was, as Stella had said, very much attached to her betrothed; and it did not quite coincide with Lucy's ideas of love and lovers, founded, it must be confessed, chiefly on books, to observe the seeming pleasure and animation with which Sophy received the attentions and compliments of this young man, whose partiality for her was so plain.

"Surely it's very wrong in her if she deceives him, and let's him go on liking her," thought Lucy, who, having never before seen an instance of coquetry, did not know how venial many girls who might know better consider the sin of trifling with an affection which must, if encouraged, end in bitter disappointment.

Next day was Sunday, the day always associated in Lucy's mind with the happiest and holiest feelings of the week. In Mr. Raymond's household, even the most careless sojourner could see that the day seemed pervaded by an atmosphere of holy and peaceful rest from the secular cares and occupations unavoidable on other days. All thoughts about these were, as far as possible, laid aside. No arbitrary rules were enforced, but it was plainly Mr. Raymond's earnest desire that the day should be devoted especially to growing in the knowledge of the Lord, and should be considered as sacred to Him who had set it apart. And by providing pleasant and varied occupation suitable for the day, and cultivating a spirit of Christian cheerfulness, he succeeded in making his family feel it no hardship to carry out his wishes. Fred and Lucy, indeed, had learned to love the Lord's day, and to appreciate the privileges it brings with it. But in Mr. Brooke's family it was decidedly a dull day,-a day which must be respectably observed, and therefore not available for ordinary purposes, but a day to be got through as easily as possible, shortened at both ends by late rising and unusually early retiring, as well as by naps indulged in during the day, when even the so-called Sunday reading proved somnolent in its tendency. The necessary abstinence from ordinary occupations was partly made up by the freedom with which the conversation was permitted to run loose in secular matters, amusements, gossip, criticisms on dress and conduct, most prejudicial to any good influence that might have been derived from the public exercises of the day, as well as deteriorating to the whole tone of the mind at any time. No wonder, then, that divine truth, heard at church, fell on inattentive ears, and failed to penetrate hearts filled up with the "lusts of other things!" Through a medium so unyielding, how could the soft dew of holy, spiritual influence descend upon the heart, to nourish and fertilize it?

Lucy was down at the usual breakfast-time, but had to wait more than an hour before any one appeared, except Amy, who sat contentedly on her knee, an

d listened to more reading out of Lucy's Testament, and had even learned two verses of a hymn, before Stella at last appeared.

"How foolish you were to get up so early!" she said, when Amy had told her how long they had been down. "I think it is so nice to lie as long as you like, Sunday mornings! I used to think it so hard at Ashleigh that you would always have breakfast as early as other days!"

"We never saw any reason for being later on Sunday. Indeed, papa always liked to have us earlier. He said it was the most precious day of the week, and that, though he could excuse a hard-worked labouring man for taking an extra sleep on Sunday, we had no such excuse; and to try to shorten the day was dishonouring to Him who gave it."

"What in the world would he have said of Edwin then," said Stella, "who often sleeps till it is too late to go to church, and then he stays at home and sleeps more?"

Lucy could not help smiling; but as Sophy came in just then, she did not need to make any reply. Amy was eager to repeat to her sister the hymn she had just been learning, but Sophy did not seem to care about it, and said to Lucy, "You had better not teach her any more hymns. The doctor says she should not be allowed to study anything till her constitution is stronger. Besides, I don't believe in filling children's heads with things that make them think about death too soon."

Lucy felt a little vexed and a good deal surprised at what was to her so new an experience. She had not dreamed that any one could object to teaching a child those blessed gospel truths which will shed either on life or on death the truest light. But while she felt a strong interest in and attraction towards her cousin Sophy, she instinctively felt that on such subjects she would be quite unapproachable.

Mrs. Brooke surprised Lucy with the unexpected decision that her deficiencies in dress must keep her at home that day. She felt as if it was almost wrong to submit,-her dear father would have so much disapproved of any one's staying away from the house of God for such a reason. But then she remembered that while under her aunt's charge it was her duty to yield a deference to her wishes, unless she absolutely violated her conscience in so doing, and that her father would also have said, "Ye younger, be subject to the elder," and would have told her that, though prevented from going up to an earthly sanctuary, she could worship God at home in the sanctuary of her heart.

But she did not find this so easy, as Stella, glad of the excuse, insisted on staying at home "to keep Lucy company," though Lucy tried to make her understand that she was not desirous of having any "company" while the rest were at church. In vain she tried to fix her attention on her open Bible. Stella would continually break in with some remark which, when answered, was sure to lead to another; and though Lucy's remonstrances at length became somewhat impatient in their tone, it was evidently hopeless to try to reduce her to silence. She, however, at last succeeded in persuading her to listen while she read to Amy, first one or two Bible stories, such as she thought would interest her most, and then a simple story out of one of her own Sunday books which she had brought with her. The earnestness with which Amy drank in every word was a great contrast to Stella's desultory way of listening; but even she seemed a little interested in Lucy's reading, and the morning did not seem altogether thrown away.

But in the afternoon Lucy found that trying to read in the drawing-room was quite out of the question, her attention being perpetually distracted by the frivolous conversation almost continually going on there. First one topic was started, and then another; and in spite of her efforts to the contrary, she would find herself listening to the gossiping talk going on around her. At last she took refuge in her own room to read there in quiet, though she was before long followed thither by Stella.

"Don't you think, Stella, I might go to church this evening? I don't like staying at home all day, and no one would notice what I had on, I'm sure," she asked her cousin.

Stella opened her eyes. "Do you mean to say you really want to go?" she asked. "I thought people only went to church because it was a duty."

"I used to go for that reason," Lucy replied, "but I should be sorry if I only went on that account now."

"But why? What pleasure can you find in it? The service always seems to me so long, and the sermon so dry, that it makes me yawn so,-I can't help it."

Lucy hesitated a little before answering. It was not easy to explain. "There are many things that make it pleasant. One always hears something to do one good,-often the very thing one needs at the very time. It always makes troubles seem lighter, and another world more real and near. I always feel so much nearer papa when I am in church," she added in a lower tone.

"Oh! that is because you always used to hear him preach, I suppose!" said Stella, not able to comprehend any other reason. "Well, since you like it so much, I'll ask mamma if you can't go; but I don't know whether any of the rest are going."

Mrs. Brooke, though as much surprised as Stella at Lucy's strong wish, felt that it ought to be respected. She suggested that, instead of going to the large fashionable church which the family usually attended, they should go to a small one in the neighbourhood, their usual resort on stormy days. Edwin having got tired of the novel he had been yawning over, good-naturedly offered to be her guide and escort; and Stella made no objection when her mother told her she had better go too, as she had not been out in the morning.

The stars were twinkling brilliantly through the clear frosty atmosphere, and the long vistas of gas-lamps, seen on all sides, were a novelty to Lucy's country eyes. The streets were full of people, encountering each other as they wended their way to church in opposite directions. There were others, too, not going to church, but to very different places of resort; but of these Lucy happily knew nothing.

The first hymn was already being sung when they entered the church, a small, plain building. Lucy was at once interested by the thoughtful, earnest face of the clergyman, who reminded her a little of her father. The first prayer, so simple, yet so full of petitions for the things she most needed, carried her heart with it, till she forgot she was not at home still. The text read was, "A very present help in trouble," and the sermon was what might have been expected from the tone of the preceding prayer. It was so full of Christ, pointing to His constant presence,-to Him as the only true comforter and sustainer either in sorrow and temptation,-that, simple as was the language and unpretentious the style, it touched the deepest springs in Lucy's heart, and she leaned back in her seat to hide the soothing, happy tears.

Edwin, however, from his end of the pew could see that she was crying, and began, out of curiosity, to listen to the sermon, to find out what it was that affected her so much. At first he thought it very odd that she should have been so moved by it; but gradually, as he listened to the earnest words in which the preacher, speaking evidently from his own heart, dwelt upon all that Christ might be to the weary soul which had tried earthly pleasures and found them wanting, earthly cisterns and found them broken,-a fountain of refreshing, giving strength and energy for the journey of life, the "shadow of a great rock in a weary land," giving to the weary wayfarer rest and shelter from the burden and heat of the day,-he began to feel, in spite of his indifference, that there might be a nobler, happier ideal of life than that of seeking to fill the hours as they passed with every variety of pleasure within reach. But it was only a passing thought. Old habits of thinking, so long indulged, came back to fill up his mind as soon as the voice of the speaker had ceased. His plan of life was not likely to be altered yet.

Lucy walked very silently home, watching the starlight trembling through the crystal air, and wondering in what remote, inconceivable sphere are passed those beloved existences which are lost to us here. And then came the happy thought that, though they seem so remote and inaccessible, the Saviour is near at once to them and to those who are left below, and that in communion with Him there may be a point of contact, intangible, it is true, but none the less real. Edwin, as he languidly wondered what his quiet cousin was thinking about, did not know that there was a distance immeasurable between his thoughts and hers.

Next day Lucy accompanied her cousin to school, that she might be at once introduced to her new classes and studies. When her acquirements had been duly tested, she found that, while in some superficial accomplishments she was considerably behind Stella, yet in other studies, more solid in their nature, and requiring greater accuracy and deeper thought, she was far in advance of her cousin. This might have considerably increased the tendency she already had to a sense of her own superiority, had it not been that the things in which she was deficient were precisely those which were of most consequence at Mrs. Wilmot's establishment, being more showy, and therefore more easily appreciated. Her love of approbation made her very anxious to excel in what was valued by those around her; and in her desire to make up lost ground, she happily escaped an undue sense of superiority in what was most valuable,-a proficiency which was the result chiefly of her father's care.

Fond of study for its own sake, she entered on her classwork with all the zest of one who had never known school-life before, and who was determined to make the most of her opportunities; and her enjoyment of her studies and the stimulus of contest to a great extent counteracted the uncongeniality of her new home, as well as the homesick feeling which came over her when a letter from Mrs. Steele or Fred revived old and happy associations.

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