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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 23067

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


A Start in Life.

"His path in life was lowly,

He was a working man;

Who knows the poor man's trials

So well as Jesus can?"

t Mill Bank Farm things were going on much as when Nelly Connor had become an inmate there. Under the influence of her watchword, Bessie was making good headway against her faults of idleness and carelessness, and her mother declared she was growing a "real comfort" to her. Under her teaching Nelly's reading had progressed so well, that she could spell out very creditably a chapter in the New Testament. Jenny and Jack had also been taught their letters; and though they were not to go to Sunday school till the spring, they had already learned from Bessie a good deal of Bible knowledge. Sam was not nearly so often a truant now, that he knew his mother's watchful eye was ready to discover any omission in attending Sunday school; and the boys were gradually growing in respect for things on which they could see their mother now placed so much importance.

Nelly had never before known so much of comfort and happiness. She was treated as one of the family, and the easy tasks which fell to her lot were labours of love and gratitude. Even the irksome sewing, by dint of patiently struggling with her constitutional restlessness, was growing almost a pleasure, from her being able to do it so much better. In the letters which Bessie occasionally received from Lucy, there was always a kind message for Nelly, which would act as a wonderful stimulus for days after it came.

As the winter wore on, however, it was evident she was not greatly needed by her kind friends. Bessie was growing stronger every day, and more able to assist her mother, and Nelly could not help feeling that she was kept only because she needed a home. One day, therefore, she asked Mrs. Ford if she thought she was not now fit to take a place.

"Well, you've got to be a good little worker, that's a fact; but there's no hurry about your going. You're welcome to stay here as long as you like."

"It's very kind of you, ma'am; but perhaps if you'd be looking out you might hear of some one that would take me, and give me whatever I was worth," said Nelly, in whom the instinct of independence was strong.

A few days after this Mrs. Ford was asked by her friend Mrs. Thompson what she was going to do with her little Irish girl. "She is big enough for a place," she said, "and there is no good in having a girl like that learning idle ways. I think I know of a place that would suit her very well."

"What place is that?" asked Mrs. Ford.

Mrs. Thompson replied that a friend of hers in the city had written to inquire for a country girl about Nelly's age. She would have no hard work, and would get such clothing as she required, instead of wages in money.

"You see servants are very hard to obtain in those large places," remarked Mrs. Thompson, "and they always want the highest wages; and this person isn't very well off, and keeps boarders to support herself, so she can't afford a great deal."

"But would she be good to Nelly?" inquired Mrs. Ford.

Mrs. Thompson promised to inquire of the friend who had written to her, in regard to this point. Her correspondent's reply was tolerably satisfactory. Mrs. Williams, the person who wanted Nelly, was likely to do whatever was right by any girl who might be sent her, as she was a very respectable person, and "a church member." This last statement weighed considerably with Mrs. Ford, and decided her to mention the place to Nelly.

Nelly could not help feeling a throb of regret at hearing that there really was a place open to her, for she dreaded exceedingly the prospect of leaving her kind friends; but of this she said nothing, and tried to seem pleased with the idea of trying the place. One great inducement it certainly had, that it was in the city in which Lucy now resided. She hoped to see Miss Lucy sometimes, and she would help her to be good and do well, she thought. Mrs. Ford also thought this circumstance a favourable one, as Lucy could see for herself whether Nelly was comfortably situated, and if not, could help her to find a better place. So, after much consideration and some misgivings, it was reluctantly settled that she should go. Mrs. Thompson's brother was going to the city soon, and Nelly could accompany him.

She did not need a great deal of time for preparation, though Mrs. Ford kindly provided her with all that was necessary for her respectable appearance in her new place, so that she went back to the city which had been her former abode a very different-looking girl from the barefooted, gipsy-like child, who had wandered, uncared for, about its streets. "I know the place well, ma'am," she said to Mrs. Ford; "it isn't as if I had never been there. I won't feel a bit strange." And though the spring was approaching, and she was for many reasons very sorry to leave Ashleigh, she did not dread the thought of going to the great city, alone and friendless, as much as a thoroughly country-bred girl would have done.

When her travelling companion bade her good-bye at the railway station, Nelly, not in the least frightened by the hurrying crowds and the noisy streets, so familiar to her of old, took up her little bundle, containing all the worldly goods she possessed, and set off briskly to look for the address inscribed on the card she held in her hand. She did not need to ask her way more than once, though it was a half-hour's walk before she reached the street, and then she walked slowly along, studying the numbers of the doors till she arrived at the right one, bearing on a brass plate the words, "Mrs. Williams' Boarding House." It was one of the most bare and uninviting of a dull row, and not even the bright sunshine of the early spring could enliven it much. Other houses had flowers or birds in the windows, or at least pleasant glimpses of white curtains, but this one, with its half-closed blinds, had almost a funereal aspect. Nelly had a keen susceptibility of externals, and her heart sank a little; but she rang the bell, determined to make the best of it. The door was opened by an elderly woman in rusty black, with a hard, careworn face, which did not relax into the slightest perceptible smile, as she regarded Nelly scrutinizingly, saying at last, "Oh, you're the girl Mrs. Thompson was to send, I suppose?"

"Yes, ma'am," replied Nelly, who had not yet been invited to enter.

"Well, you're not as big as I thought you'd be, and you don't look very strong. Come in;" and she led the way into a dull, bare dining-room, where she went on with her work of setting the table, while she put Nelly through an examination as to her qualifications. She either was, or appeared to be, dissatisfied, and after dryly expressing a hope that she would suit, she told her to follow her down to the kitchen.

It was a dark, cellar-like place, with an equally cellar-like room of very small dimensions opening off it, where Nelly was to sleep. Many houses seem built on the principle-not the Christian one of loving our neighbours as ourselves-that "anything is good enough for servants," as if light, and air, and pleasant things to look out upon, were not just as much needed by them as by their employers! Kitchens and servants' rooms need not be luxurious. It would be doing servants an injury to accustom them to luxuries of which they would some time feel the privation; but many of them have been accustomed to pure, free air, and a pleasant outlook, and feel the reverse far more than is imagined by those who condemn them to live in underground cells.

Nelly felt her abode very dismal after the light, airy farmhouse. Even from her old attic-window she had a pleasant view of the river, and could always see the moon and stars at night; while from this the utmost she could see from the windows was a little bit of street pavement. But when she unpacked her bundle, and came upon her "watchword card," as Lucy had called it, her courage rose as she remembered that her heavenly Friend was as near her here as in the free, fresh country, and that where He was He could make it home. She could not have put this feeling into words, but it was there, in her heart, where doubtless He Himself had put it.

It was some time before Mrs. Williams thought of inquiring whether she had had any dinner. On her replying in the negative-she was beginning to feel quite tired and faint-Mrs. Williams, with a half-reluctant air, brought out of a locked cupboard some very dry-looking bread and cold meat, which she set before Nelly.

She was very hungry, so that even this was very acceptable, and she did justice to the meal. Before she had finished, a voice called from an upper story, "Mother, tell the new girl to bring up some water."

Nelly was accordingly directed to fill the water-can and take it up to the top of the house. After carrying it up three flights of stairs, she saw a door open, and a girl of nineteen or twenty, apparently engaged in performing an elaborate toilet, looked out from it.

"How old are you?" she said, as she took the water from Nelly.

"I'll soon be fourteen, miss."

"Well, you don't look it. You'll have to look sharp here if you want to suit us. Now, take these boots down to brush."

She spoke in a quick, sharp way, a good deal like her mother's; and her face, though tolerably comely, was sharp too. Miss Williams meant to "get on" in the world if she could, and her face and manner showed it.

Nelly found various things to do before she got back to her unfinished dinner, and then Mrs. Williams hurried her through, that she might get the kitchen made "tidy." In the meantime Miss Williams departed, in all the glories of a fashionable toilet, for her afternoon promenade, her mother regarding her with much pride and complacency. It seemed the one object of her hard-working, careworn life that her daughter should look "like a lady," and a large proportion of her earnings and savings went to effect this object.

Nelly's services were at once called into requisition to assist in the preparation of the dinner for the boarders-four gentlemen-who, her mistress informed her, were "very particular," and liked everything nice. She received a confusing multiplicity of directions as to waiting at table, for Mrs. Williams rather prided herself on the "stylishness" of her establishment. She got through her task tolerably well, though somewhat bewildered between Mrs. Williams' quick, sharp reminders and the "chaffing" of one or two of the gentlemen, who thought it "good fun" to puzzle the "new hand" with ironical remarks, some of them being aimed at their landlady through her servant.

After the waiting at dinner, followed the preparation of tea for Mrs. Williams and her daughter, who had come in, and was in the midst of one of the evening performances on the piano, which were the dread of the boarders; and then there were all the dishes used at dinner to wash and put away. It was pretty late by the time all this had been done, and Nelly was feeling very sleepy, and wondering how soon she might go to bed, when her mistress came down with half-a-dozen pairs of boots, to be cleaned either that evening or next morning. Now the next day was Sunday, and at the farm Mrs. Ford had of late insisted on the excellent rule of getting all done that could be done on Saturday night, so as to leave the Lord's day as free as possible from secular duties; so Nelly, sleepy as she was, took up her bl

acking brushes, and proceeded to rub and polish with all her might. But fatigue was too strong for her, and before she had got through the third pair, her head sank down and she lost all consciousness, till she suddenly started up, thinking Mrs. Ford was calling her to drive the cows to pasture. It was impossible to rouse herself again to her work; she just managed to put out her light, and, hastily undressing, she threw herself on the bed with only a half-conscious attempt at her usual evening prayer, which, however, He who knows the weakness of our frame would surely accept.

Next morning, she started up instantly at Mrs. Williams' impatient call. She could hardly get ready quick enough to satisfy her mistress, and had no time to kneel down and ask her heavenly Father's help for the duties of the day. Mrs. Williams had not thought of this need for herself, and still less for her little handmaid. She found there was plenty of work before her, independently of the boots that remained to be cleaned. By the time she had got through, the bells were ringing for church, and it was time to think of getting the dinner ready, the boarders dining early on Sunday. Mrs. Williams was not going to church herself. The gentlemen always expected the dinner to be especially good on that day, without much consideration what the cook's Sunday might be; and it was much too important a matter to be left to Nelly's inexperienced hands. But during the time when her mistress was occupied in helping her daughter to dress her hair elaborately for church, Nelly found a little quiet time to read part of a chapter, and learn a verse, and ask God's help to do right during the day, and to remember that it was His day, the best of all the week.

So prepared, she found the difficult task of performing unaccustomed duties to her mistress's satisfaction easier than it might otherwise have been. For why should we consider anything too small to seek His aid, by whom the hairs of our head are all numbered? And the very attitude of trust and reliance on Him calms and clears the mind, and strengthens the heart.

There was no time for Nelly to go to church on that Sunday, at any rate. She could not get through her work with her comparatively unpractised hands, and it was with a very weary body and mind that she read her evening verse, and repeated her favourite hymn, "I lay my sins on Jesus," as a sort of substitute for her usual Sunday school lessons, and then lay down to think of the kind friends she had left, and to wonder when she should see Miss Lucy, till she fell asleep to dream that she was at the farm again, and churning butter that would not come.

Bessie had written to Lucy, telling her of Nelly's departure, but had forgotten to give her mistress's address, so that Lucy could not find her out till she should go to see her at Mr. Brooke's; and for many days this was impracticable. Day after day passed, filled with the same unceasing routine of drudgery; and though her growing skill enabled her to get through her work more quickly, this did not add to her leisure, since, as her capabilities increased, her duties increased also. Miss Williams, too, who objected to do anything for herself when another could be got to do it, found Nelly very convenient for all sorts of personal services.

Nelly went through it all without grumbling, though she often went to bed quite tired out. But youth and health came to her aid, and she would wake in the morning to go singing about her work. She had an uncommonly sweet voice, and the boarders used often to remark to each other that there was more music in her untaught snatches of song than in all Miss Williams' attempts at the piano.

But, as weeks went on, the perpetual, unceasing strain began to wear upon her, and her songs grew less and less frequent. Though she was almost too busy to indulge in many longings for Ashleigh and its pleasant fields, it was a little hard to know that the beautiful budding spring was passing into summer, and that she could taste none of the country pleasures she had so much enjoyed last year; that the only sign by which she knew the advancement of the season was the increasing heat, enervating her frame and undermining her strength,-its effect in this respect being greatly heightened by the close, heavy atmosphere in which she chiefly lived. Nature is stronger than man, after all; and when the upper classes selfishly neglect the comfort of their poorer brethren, they will find that inexorable Nature will avenge the infringement of her laws, and will touch their own interests in so doing.

"I can't think what has come over Nelly!" Mrs. Williams would say to her daughter. "She's not the same girl she was when she came here, and she seems to grow lazier every day. Well, it's the way with them all. A new broom sweeps clean."

But Mrs. Williams might easily have found a truer explanation of Nelly's failing energies than this convenient proverb, in the unwholesome atmosphere she was breathing by night and day, as well as in the quantity and quality of the food provided for her. Mrs. Williams would have indignantly repelled the charge of starving Nelly, but she forgot the requirements of a fast-growing girl. Everything eatable was kept rigidly locked up,-that was a fundamental principle of Mrs. Williams' housekeeping,-and Nelly's allowance was sometimes so scanty, and at other times composed of such an uninviting collection of scraps, that she often had not sufficient nourishment to repair the waste of strength which she was continually undergoing. And as she would rather suffer than ask more, her constitution was really giving way for want of sufficient sustenance.

So two or three months passed, and she had not yet seen Lucy. She had only, indeed, been two or three times at church, for Mrs. Williams never seemed to remember that her little servant had an immortal soul to be nourished, though it must be admitted that she was not much more mindful of her own spiritual welfare. As for getting out on week-days, except on her mistress's errands, Mrs. Williams seemed to consider that quite out of the question; and, indeed, Nelly could not easily have found leisure for half-an-hour's absence. One evening, at last, when most of the boarders were dining out, Mrs. Williams graciously acceded to Nelly's request to be allowed to go out for an hour; "but don't stay a minute longer," she added. Nelly had carefully kept Lucy's address, and gladly set off, as fast as she could walk, towards the quarter of the city in which she knew it to be. She steered her course pretty straight, but had walked for fully half-an-hour before she reached the door, on the brass plate of which she read "B. Brooke."

It was with a beating heart that she put the question, "Is Miss Lucy Raymond at home?" to be answered in the negative by the servant, who inwardly wondered what a girl so poorly dressed could want with Miss Lucy. Waiting was out of the question,-she would be late enough in getting back as it was,-so she sorrowfully turned away, without leaving any message. It was a great disappointment, and, tired and dispirited, she made her way back.

There was another reason, besides want of time, to prevent her making a second attempt. The clothes with which she had been provided on leaving Mill Bank Farm were almost worn out with the hard work she had to do, and Mrs. Williams had as yet done nothing towards fulfilling her promise of giving her necessary clothing, although Nelly's tattered frock was worn beyond all possibility of repairing. Nelly was conscious of the doubtful look with which she was regarded when she asked for Lucy, and she shrank from again encountering it, and perhaps bringing discredit on Miss Lucy in the eyes of her city friends by her own disreputable appearance.

One afternoon in June-Mrs. Williams and her daughter being out-Nelly, having a few minutes to spare, was standing at the open door, listening to the plaintive strains of an organ-grinder who was playing close by. His dark Italian face looked sad and careworn, and the little girl beside him, evidently his daughter from the resemblance between them, looked so pale and feeble, that it seemed as if her little thin hands could scarcely support the tambourine she was ringing in accompaniment to a little plaintive song. Nelly enjoyed the performance exceedingly, but her admiration did not appear to be shared by those whose applause was of more consequence, for not a single penny found its way into the poor man's hat, either from the inmates of the house or from the juvenile bystanders. His discouraged air, and the sad, wistful eyes of the little girl, touched Nelly's warm Irish heart, as he leaned on Mrs. Williams' doorsteps to rest himself while he set down his organ, experience having taught him that it was a useless waste of strength to play before that door.

Nelly, seeing how hot and tired he looked, impulsively asked the poor man whether he would walk in and sit down, never stopping to think whether she had a right to do so. He looked up, surprised at the invitation, but thankfully accepted it, and Nelly brought two chairs into the hall for him and the little girl. Then, as the only entertainment she was able to supply, she filled two glasses with the coldest water she could find, and shyly offered them to her guests.

"Ah, it is good," said the organ-grinder, when he had drained his glass. "Many thanks," he added, in his foreign accent; and the little girl looked up into Nelly's face with the sweetest, most expressive, grateful smile.

"Now," said the Italian, after having rested a little, "you love music-is it not true?-or you would not be so kind to us. I will play for you."

And, taking up his instrument, he played an air sweeter than any Nelly had yet heard from him, and the little girl sang, in her liquid voice, a little song, the words of which she could not understand, for they were Italian.

"Now we must go," said the man. "Good-bye, my good girl; if I were home in my country, I would do as much for you." And the father and daughter pursued their weary way, Nelly's eyes following wistfully the forms of those whom she regarded as friends already, for were they not, like herself, poor, lonely strangers in a strange land?

Then she began to wonder whether she had done wrong in asking them to come in. She knew instinctively that she could not have done it had Mrs. Williams been at home. But yet she could not feel such a simple, common act of kindness to have been wrong. No harm had been done to anything belonging to her mistress; and the "cup of cold water," had she not a right to offer it to those who needed it so much?

After that the organ-grinder and his child passed frequently through that street, and whenever she could, Nelly would exchange a few kind words with them, and the man would play for her, knowing well that she had no pennies to offer in return; but at such times she used to wish so much that she had a little money of her own.

The Italian would sometimes look at her tattered dress, and her face, gradually growing thinner and paler, as if he thought her quite as forlorn as himself; and once, when he heard her mistress call her in, and scold her for "talking to such characters in the street," he shook his head, and muttered something in his native tongue.

And so it came to pass that the poor Italian and his daughter became Nelly's only friends in that great, busy city.

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