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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 19053

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

A Friendship.

"We had been girlish friends,

With hearts that, like the summer's half-oped buds,

Grew close, and hived their sweetness for each other."

ucy and Amy were soon settled in Mrs. Browne's pleasant little cottage at Oakvale, a pretty sheltered village surrounded by hills, clothed principally with noble oaks, whence it derived its name. Mrs. Browne's house lay a little way out of the village, amid green fields and lanes, which, after the hot, dusty city streets, were inexpressibly refreshing to Lucy, recalling old times at Ashleigh.

Mrs. Browne was a kind, motherly person, a doctor's widow, herself possessing a good deal of medical skill, which rendered her house especially eligible for invalids, and she established a careful watch over little Amy, whose very precarious condition her practised eye saw at a glance. Whenever the child, feeling better than usual, would have overtasked her failing strength in the quiet country rambles, which were such a delightful novelty to one who had scarcely ever been really in the country before, and when Lucy's inexperience might have allowed her to injure herself without knowing it, Mrs. Browne would interpose a gentle warning, which was always cheerfully obeyed. It was with some surprise, indeed, that she noticed with what perfect submission the little girl bore all the deprivations of innocent pleasure which her weak state compelled, as well as the feverish languor which often oppressed her in the hot August days. This submission arose from the implicit belief which, child as she was, she had, that everything that befell her was ordered by the kind Saviour, who would send nothing that was not for her real good. Such a belief, fully realized, would soon relieve most of us from the fretting cares and corroding anxieties that arise from our "taking thought" about things we cannot control.

"I never saw a child like her," Mrs. Browne would say; "indeed, she's more like an angel than a child, and it's my belief she'll soon be one in reality. And I'm sure heaven's more the place for her than this rough world."

However, Amy seemed to improve under the healthful influences of Oakvale, living almost wholly in the fresh open air, perfumed with mignonette and other sweet summer flowers, sitting with Lucy under the trees before Mrs. Browne's house, or in her shady verandah, where, even on the warmest day, there was a breeze to cool the sultry air. Lucy would read to her, sometimes some of Longfellow's simpler poems, out of one of her prize-books, and sometimes out of more juvenile story-books brought down for Amy's benefit, who was never tired of hearing her favourites read over and over again, to which she would listen with an abstracted, thoughtful expression, as if she were interpreting the story in a spiritual fashion of her own. "Heaven is about us in our infancy," says the poet; and it is nearer to some children, by the grace of God, than older people often imagine.

When Lucy wanted to read to herself, Amy would amuse herself quietly for hours, dressing her dolls, and looking over the illustrations in her story-books, supplying the story from memory. Lucy conscientiously kept up her practising on Mrs. Browne's piano, and always ended by playing and singing some hymns for Amy, who was passionately fond of music, and loved to try to sing too, with her sweet, feeble voice.

As Mrs. Browne, having but one servant, had a great deal to do herself, Lucy volunteered to assist her a little. She had always been accustomed to perform some household tasks at home, and it was quite an amusement to her and Amy, bringing back old days of her childhood, to vary their mornings by shelling the peas for dinner, or, when it was not too warm, picking the fruit for Mrs. Browne's preserves. So pleasant did Lucy find it, that she thought her city cousins really missed a good deal of enjoyment, in never, by any chance, employing themselves in anything of the kind, even when the busy servants were really over-worked. Indeed it is somewhat surprising that domestics go on as contentedly as they do in their constant treadmill of labour, often too much for their strength, when so many healthy members of the families for whose benefit they toil spend so large a portion of their time in luxurious idleness, or in mere pleasure-seeking.

In the fresh, cool morning, after their early breakfast, and in the evening, when the heat of the day was over, Lucy and Amy always went for a short ramble, climbing a little way up one of the hill-paths, or wandering by the side of the stream, which, fringed with elm and birch, wound through the village that lay on both sides of it, the river being crossed in two or three places by rustic bridges. From the point on the hillside which generally formed the limit of their walk, and where they used to sit on a mossy stone to rest, they had an extensive view over the surrounding country, diversified with corn-fields, orchards, and deep green woods, and dotted with farmhouses, while close at their feet lay the white cluster of village-houses, with a few of higher pretensions scattered here and there on the green slopes by the river-side, among their shrubberies and embowering trees.

The fields were beginning to wear the deeper and richer hues of approaching autumn, and it was a perpetual pleasure to watch the rippling motion of the golden grain waving in the breeze, or the rapid changes of light and shade on the fields and woods, as the clouds passed swiftly over the sky. To watch these were their morning pleasures; but better still, perhaps, they loved the quiet sunset hours, when the glowing tints of the sky seemed to clothe the landscape in an unearthly glory, and then gradually each bright hue would fade out from the sky and from the land below, leaving the scene to the solemn repose of the shadowy evening, broken only by the flitting fireflies, or to the flood of silver light shed by the rising moon. But Amy was never to be allowed to be out in the night air, so that their rambles had to be over before the damp night dews. They generally found Mrs. Browne standing at the gate, awaiting their return, anxious lest her charge should have ventured to remain out too long.

More than a week of their stay had passed rapidly by, when, one evening that Lucy and Amy were spending in wandering by the river, the former suddenly recognised approaching them the familiar form of her classmate, Miss Eastwood, the winner of the first history prize. The recognition was of course mutual, and in the surprise of meeting so unexpectedly, and in explanations of how it had come about, the two girls exchanged more words than they had ever done when in the same classes at Mrs. Wilmot's.

"And you did not know Oakvale was my home?" said Mary Eastwood, when Lucy had told how she and her cousin came to be there. Lucy had never heard where Miss Eastwood's home was, and it had not occurred to her to connect the Dr. Eastwood, of whom Mrs. Browne often spoke, with the name of her classmate. Mary showed them her father's house, beautifully situated on the opposite sloping bank of the river, which, with its shady trees and white gate, reminded her a good deal of her own old home, though the house was larger and handsomer. Dr. Eastwood, who was with his daughter, looked at little Amy with a good deal of interest, asking a number of questions, while he held her delicate hand in his, and watched her fair, pale face with his keen eye. He and Mary walked back with them to Mrs. Browne's cottage, promising to come and see them soon, and inviting them to visit Mary.

This unexpected rencontre greatly added to Lucy's enjoyment of her stay at Oakvale. The cousins very soon had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in Dr. Eastwood's family,-a Christian household after Lucy's own heart. Now that the first stiffness of their school-relations had been brushed off by the surprise of their meeting, the two girls found each other delightful companions, and soon became fast friends. It was the first time Lucy had ever found a congenial companion of her own sex, and their friendship afforded a new and ever-increasing delight. They saw each other every day, and often spent the long summer mornings, alike pleasantly and profitably, in reading aloud by turns, from some interesting and improving book out of Dr. Eastwood's excellent library. Mrs. Eastwood often sat by, also enjoying the reading, and, by her judicious remarks, directing the minds of her young companions to profitable thought. The book selected was often a religious one, such as some people would have considered only fit for Sundays; but it was not the less interesting to them on that account, and gave rise to some of their happiest discussions, when each perceived, with delight, how thoroughly the other could appreciate and reciprocate her own deepest feelings. Little Amy would listen attentively at such times, showing by her interest that she comprehended more of what was said than could have been expected. But whenever Mrs. Eastwood thought the conversation beyond her depth, or her mind too much excited, she would send her away to play with her own younger children, who were always glad to place all their toys at her disposal, and do all in their power for her amusement.

At Dr. Eastwood's the readings generally went on under a spreading walnut-tree on the lawn, and Amy would roam at large with the children, or come and rest within hearing, just as she like

d. Sometimes she would lie still for hours on the cushions which Mrs. Eastwood had laid on the grass for her benefit, gazing through the flickering green leaves into the blue depths of the sky, her earnest eyes looking as if they penetrated beyond things visible, and held communion with thoughts not suggested by any mortal voice.

Often in the afternoons, while Amy was safe and happy with her little friends, Mary and Lucy would take a walk of some miles, carrying perhaps some message or comfort for some of Dr. Eastwood's poor patients, or driving with him on some of his distant rounds, or rowing in a boat on the river with one of Mary's brothers, to gather water-lilies, and bring home their snowy or golden flowers in their waxlike beauty to delight little Amy, who was sensitively alive to all natural loveliness.

During these expeditions the two girls discussed almost every conceivable topic of mutual interest, and gave each other the history of their previous lives, though Mary's had flowed on almost as uneventfully as Lucy's had done previous to her father's death. They compared notes as to their favourite books, poetry, and theories, their tastes being sufficiently different to give rise to many a pleasant, good-humoured controversy. Sometimes, when deeper chords were touched, they confided to each other some of their spiritual history,-what influences had first brought them to know a Saviour's love, and then led their hearts to Him who had given Himself for them. Mary, who had a little class of her own at Oakvale, listened with much interest to the account of Miss Preston's parting words to her class, and the influence they had had on her scholars.

About her dear departed father, too, and the beloved home-circle, Lucy had much to tell. She said much less about the Brooke family; and Mary, who could understand how little congenial was the atmosphere of her uncle's house, respected her reticence. Lucy felt that she had no right to communicate any unfavourable impression of those from whom she had received so much kindness, and whose hospitality and kindness she had enjoyed so long.

"I always felt as if I wanted to know you better, Mary, when we were at Mrs. Wilmot's," said Lucy one evening, as they were returning home from a woodland walk, laden with wild-flowers and ferns. Mary coloured a little, and hesitated.

"I'm afraid I was very stiff and selfish, Lucy dear," she replied; "but mamma used to give me so many cautions about mingling with worldly people, that I thought it was best to keep apart from them altogether. And I was told Mr. Brooke's family were so gay and worldly, that I supposed you must be so too; and so I thought I ought not to get into any intimacy that might lead me into temptation."

"I suppose it is right to try to keep out of temptation," said Lucy thoughtfully.

"Yes; but now I can see that I wasn't right in being so distrustful as to be afraid of what came naturally in my way. Mamma says that to be afraid of what may involve temptation, when God's providence, rightfully construed, leads us into it, is something like the dread which keeps people from doing their duty in cases of infection; whereas they should trust that, so long as they do not expose themselves to it wilfully and needlessly, God will care for them in the path by which He leads them, as well as in circumstances which look more secure."

"Yes, I'm sure that's true," said Lucy, thinking of what Fred had said to her when she had felt afraid to venture into the temptations of her uncle's house. "But then, whenever we get over our fear and feel secure, we are sure to fall into some snare."

"Yes," replied her friend, "because we forget our own dependence on Christ for strength, and begin to walk in our own, instead of looking to Him continually for help."

"Do you know," said Lucy, "one of my greatest temptations was studying for the history prize! I was so determined to have it-so set upon it-that I let it come before everything else, and forgot to ask to be kept from temptation in it, till, just before the examination, I found I had forgotten part of what was to be studied; and then, in my disappointment, I found out how wrong I had been."

"Oh," exclaimed Mary, "I was almost sorry I got the first prize, which I hadn't been expecting at all, for I was sure you would be dreadfully disappointed. You had worked so hard for it-harder than I did."

"No, I wasn't disappointed then; I was sure I shouldn't get it, and didn't expect even the second prize; and I felt quite satisfied that it should be so, for I had been working in so wrong a spirit, that I could not have felt happy in getting the prize that had led me astray."

"Well, it's a relief to my mind to hear you say so," replied Mary, laughing, "for I felt quite guilty whenever I looked at that book, feeling as if I had by some incomprehensible accident taken it from the one who really deserved it."

Mary had as yet known but few temptations. Her life had been so calm and sheltered, that she had had no experience of contrary winds, and her natural disposition was so equable, that she had very little consciously to struggle against. Perhaps her chief temptation lay in a tendency to placid contemplative Christianity, without sufficient active interest in others; and Lucy's opposite qualities acted as a counteracting stimulus, while Mary's peaceful spirit of trusting faith calmed and soothed Lucy's rather impatient disposition. Thus in all true loving Christian companionship we may help each other on, making up what is lacking in one another by mutual edification.

One warm Sunday evening, after a very sultry day, Lucy and Amy were sitting together in Mrs. Browne's verandah. Mary had just left them, having walked home with Lucy from the evening service, and they had been discussing the sermon, which had been chiefly on sin and its hatefulness in the sight of God, as well as upon the fountain opened to remove it. After she was gone, they had sat for some time in silence, watching the fireflies glancing in and out of the dark trees. Suddenly Amy said, "Lucy, do you expect to go to heaven when you die, for sure?"

"I am quite sure there is nothing to prevent my going there," said Lucy, "for I know Jesus is able and willing to take me there."

"Shall I go there when I die, Lucy?" she asked, with a solemn earnestness that went to her cousin's heart.

"Why should you not, dear Amy, when Jesus died that you might?"

"But 'God will not look upon sin,' the Bible says, and I have a sinful heart; I feel it," replied the child.

"Well, why should Jesus have died for you if you had not? It was just to take away sin that Jesus came to suffer."

"But it isn't taken away; I know it's there," persisted Amy, who had evidently been distressing herself with the question how a heart, sinful on earth, could be fit for the pure atmosphere of heaven.

Lucy explained, to the best of her knowledge and ability, that while sin still clings to our mortal natures, Jesus has broken its power for ever, and taken away its condemnation, so that when we receive Him into our hearts by faith, God no longer looks upon us as sinful and rebellious children, but as reconciled through the blood of Christ. And the same blood will also purify our hearts; and when soul and body are for ever separated, the last stain of sin will be taken away from the ransomed spirit.

Amy listened, and seemed satisfied,-at least she never recurred to the subject; and, so far as Lucy knew, it was the last time that any perplexing doubts clouded the sunshine of her happy, childlike faith.

Pleasant as were the days of their stay at Oakvale, they came at last, like all earthly things, to an end. The warm August weather had passed away, and the September breezes blew cool and fresh, permitting them to ramble about with comfort even during the hours which they had before been obliged to spend entirely in the shade. The seaside party had already been settled at home for a week or two, before it was thought advisable that Amy should be brought back to the city. At last, however, the summons came, and Lucy spent the last two or three days in revisiting for the last time all the favourite haunts where she had spent so many happy hours. She and her friend did not, however, permit themselves to repine at the ending of what had been to them both such a very delightful resting-place in their life-journey; since

"Not enjoyment and not sorrow

Is our destined end or way;

But to live, that each to-morrow

Finds us farther than to-day."

Mary, who had delayed her own return to school on her friend's account, was to accompany them to town, to begin her last year at Mrs. Wilmot's.

Amy had seemed so well during their stay at Oakvale, that Lucy had become hopeful of her complete recovery. But Dr. Eastwood warned her that the improvement might be merely temporary, and that in any case it was, in his judgment, impossible that Amy could ever be quite strong and well. "And I don't know," he said kindly to Lucy, who felt a sharp pang at the thought of losing her dear little cousin, "that it is well to set your heart on the prolongation of a life which can scarcely be anything but one of weakness and suffering."

So with many mingled feelings of hope, and fear, and regret, and many kind farewells from all their Oakvale friends, the young party took their departure, and found themselves soon again among city sights and sounds.

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