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   Chapter 14 No.14

Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 17346

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


An Unexpected Recognition.

"For love's a flower that will not die

For lack of leafy screen;

And Christian hope can cheer the eye

That ne'er saw vernal green.

Then be ye sure that love can bless

Even in this crowded loneliness,

Where ever-moving myriads seem to say,

Go! thou art naught to us, nor we to thee; away!"

r. Brooke met the young travellers at the station, anxious about his youngest daughter, whose improved appearance he was much pleased to note; and Stella met them at the door with every demonstration of delight. "It has been so dull here without you!" she exclaimed; "the house seems so quiet, after all the fun we have been having at the seaside. I've been teasing papa to let me go for you, and I would have gone if you hadn't come soon!"

She was looking prettier than ever, Lucy thought; so blooming, and gay, and graceful, after her seaside sojourn. Her cousin could not wonder that she won her way to most people's hearts, and was forced to admit the contrast between her and her fragile little sister, whose faint bloom even now did not remove the appearance of ill-health. But there was on her pale face a spiritual beauty, a repose and peace, which Stella, in all the loveliness of a pure rose-tinted complexion, lustrous eyes, and gleaming golden hair, did not possess. It was the reflection, outwardly, of the "peace of God which passeth understanding."

Stella talked all the evening without ceasing, and at night accompanied Lucy to her room, there to go on talking still, enlarging, in a lively, amusing strain, on the adventures of their seaside life; the "fun," the "splendid bathing," the people who were there, their dress, manners, and conversation; all the flirtations she had observed, with the quick eye of a girl who as yet has no personal interest in such matters. When at last Stella paused in her own narration to ask questions about Oakvale, Lucy gladly took advantage of the break to insist on postponing all further conversation until the morrow, especially as, she urged, they were keeping Amy from the sleep she needed so much after her long journey, and accustomed as she had lately been to early hours. Lucy indeed felt determined that the same thing must not happen again on any account, as the consequences to Amy of having her mind and nervous system excited so late at night, when she was always too much disposed to wakefulness, might be exceedingly injurious.

"Oh, how I wish Stella were more like dear Mary!" thought Lucy, as she laid her head on her pillow, and compared Mary's kind thoughtfulness with Stella's impulsive, flighty giddiness. As to externals, Stella had very much the advantage, for Mary Eastwood could not be called pretty, and was rather reserved in manner with those whom she did not know well; but Lucy could not help feeling Mary's great superiority as a companion, when she compared the state of mind in which Stella's stream of gossip had left her, with the elevating, stimulating tendency of her conversations with Mary on subjects more worthy of immortal beings. They seemed mutually to draw each other on to a sphere far above the petty frivolities on which so many fritter away powers given for higher ends. Even when they did not touch on topics directly religious, they seemed to be far nearer the Light that is "inaccessible and full of glory," when discussing the working of God's laws and providence in nature and history, than if their minds had been lowered and discoloured by dwelling on the faults, follies, and petty concerns of their neighbours.

Sophy, who had been a little fagged and worn out by her incessant round of gaiety, previous to her going to the seaside, was now looking more brilliantly handsome, Lucy thought, than she had ever seen her. Stella had informed her that Sophy's betrothed had been at the seaside with them. "And oh, he's so delightful, you can't think! So handsome, and good-natured, and obliging! I can tell you, Sophy looked proud of him there! He gave her the loveliest emerald set; you'll see her wear them. And I'm pretty sure they're to be married next spring, though she won't tell me; but I'll coax it out of Ada."

Lucy thought Sophy must be very happy; yet she could not help thinking if both she and her lover were really Christians, how much happier they would be! Nothing Stella had said led her to suppose that he was; and if he were, what an alloy of anxiety and separation in the most important points would mar the perfection of love!

It was with increased zest, and a fuller appreciation of the interest and value of her studies, that Lucy entered upon them once more. The happy weeks at Oakvale had been of permanent benefit to her, in opening new channels of thought and enlarging her sphere of mental vision, both through the books she had been reading, and the comments of Dr. and Mrs. Eastwood, both of whom had thoughtful, cultivated minds. She now studied with very little reference to prizes, or even the approbation of masters, but from a deep interest in the studies themselves, and a feeling of their beneficial effect in leading her to higher ranges of thought. Every new attainment was but a step to a fresh starting-point in the never-ending pursuit of knowledge; and Longfellow's beautiful lines often recurred to her mind,-

"The lofty pyramids of stone,

That, wedge-like, cleave the desert airs,

When nearer seen and better known,

Are but gigantic flights of stairs."

Then the feeling grew to be more and more strong with her, that every new acquisition-every step in mental discipline which God had given her the opportunity of making-was a talent to be held in trust and used in His service. Mrs. Eastwood had explained that, though we may often have to study during the years of school life without seeing what special use we may be called to make of our acquisitions, still God will undoubtedly find some use for whatever power we have gained while following the leading of His providence. "Therefore," she would say, "the doubt whether such and such a thing will ever be of any use to us is no excuse for sloth in acquiring it, when it is clearly our duty to do so."

Her studies were rendered doubly interesting by the companionship of Mary Eastwood, who was animated by the same spirit, and in whose friendship she found her greatest pleasure during the winter. Stella was rather surprised at the affectionate greeting between her cousin and Miss Eastwood the first day they met at school, for she had scarcely given Lucy an opportunity of telling her more than that they had met often at Oakvale.

"Well, to think of your having all at once struck up such a violent friendship with that stiff, quiet Miss Eastwood!" exclaimed Stella, who thought her cousin's choice of a friend rather unaccountable. Lucy's efforts to draw together her cousin and her friend were unsuccessful, and perhaps this was quite as much Mary's fault as Stella's, arising from her strong feeling against cultivating intimacy with any one who was "of the world." It was almost the only practical point on which she and Lucy disagreed, for Lucy tried to persuade her that she might do real good if she would come more in contact with her irreligious schoolmates. But Mary replied that this might do for some, but she did not feel strong enough,-she might herself be led away. She was not yet fully persuaded in her own mind.

So Lucy gave up the point, and had a somewhat difficult position to maintain between her cousin and her friend,-not that Mary was ever jealous, but Stella did not at all like the affection her friends to be diverted towards any one else; indeed, it was the only thing that ever seemed really to a "put her out." She was conscious to some extent that a much deeper sympathy existed between Lucy and Miss Eastwood than between Lucy and her, and she feared that if it increased, her cousin's regard for her must necessarily diminish.

One bright, sunny October day, when the air was clear and bracing, and the wind was tossing the red leaves that fell from the trees in the squares, Lucy and Stella were on their way home from school, when they heard at a slight distance the plaintive strains of a hand-organ, carried by a meagre, careworn Italian, who seemed to be working his instrument mechanically, while his eye had a fixed, sad, stedfast gaze, unconscious, seemingly, of anything around him. Lucy was looking compassionately at the dark, sorrowful face, and wondering what his previous history might have been, when her eye was suddenly caught by the familiar form and face of the girl who stood by with her tambourine, singing a simple ditty

, which somehow brought old days at Ashleigh back to her mind. The figure she saw, though arrayed in tattered garments, and the face, though sunburnt to a deep brown, were not so much altered as to prevent almost instant recognition. Lucy grasped Stella's arm, and exclaimed, "Why, it's Nelly!" and before the astonished Stella comprehended her meaning, she hastily stepped forward towards the tambourine-girl, who almost at the same moment stopped singing and sprang forward, exclaiming, "Oh, it's Miss Lucy, her own self!"

Both were quite unconscious, in their surprise, of the bystanders around them; but Stella was by no means so insensible to the situation, and was somewhat scandalized at being connected with such a scene "in the street." She begged Lucy to ask Nelly to follow them home, which was not far off, and then they could have any number of explanations at leisure. Lucy at once assented, and asked Nelly if she could be spared for a little while. With a happy face, flushed with her surprise and delight, Nelly went up to the organ-grinder and said a few words, at which he smiled and nodded. She then followed her friends home at a respectful distance, while the man went on his way from house to house.

Nelly's explanation of her present odd circumstances was very simple, and, on the whole, satisfactory. In the hot July weather, when she felt her overtasked strength failing, and could scarcely manage to drag herself about to perform her daily round of duty, often scolded for doing it inefficiently, the poor organ-grinder came one day with a face more sorrowful than ever, and told Nelly, weeping, that his daughter-his povera picciola-had been carried off by one of those sudden attacks that so soon run their course and snap the thread of weakly lives. He was so lonely now, he said, he could not bear it! Would Nelly come and be his daughter, and take poor Teresa's forsaken tambourine? She had a voice sweet as Teresa's own, and he would teach her to sing when he played. She should have no hard work, and no scolding, and they would take care of each other.

It was a tempting offer to poor Nelly, pining under continual chilling indifference and fault-finding. While she was hesitating, her mistress, hearing a strange voice in the kitchen, came down in wrath to dismiss the intruder, who rose instantly at the sound of her harsh voice. "I go, signora," he said in his foreign English, "and this girl goes with me. You give her too hard work and hard words. I will take care for her, and she shall be to me as the povera who is dead! Come, picciola!"

Mrs. Williams had by this time so far recovered from her amazement as to find voice enough to demand of Nelly whether she was really going to be so ungrateful as to leave a place where she had been so kindly treated, and ruin herself for life, by going off with a wandering character like that. But Nelly's reply was ready. "You said, ma'am, you'd have to send me away because I couldn't do your work properly. So I think I'd better go."

And hurriedly collecting her few possessions, she was ready in two minutes to accompany her newly-found protector. Mrs. Williams endeavoured to detain her, threatening to "take the law of her." But Nelly was determined. Anything was better than remaining there; and Mrs. Williams, who was somewhat overawed by the Italian's determined eye, gave up what she saw was a vain attempt. She shut the door after them with expressive force, and then went up-stairs to discourse to her daughter on the incredible ingratitude and heartlessness of such creatures.

Nelly had faithfully served Mrs. Williams to the utmost of her strength and ability for five months, and her mistress had in return given her food of the poorest quality, and one old print dress of her own, worn almost to tatters. Yet Mrs. Williams, having herself a pretty hard struggle to make both ends meet, was at least more excusable than those who, themselves abounding in wealth and luxury, grind down, so far as they can, the poor hirelings who may be in their power.

Since then Nelly had faithfully followed the poor Italian, whom, at his own desire, she called "padre." It did not to her mean the same as "father," nor would she have given to any one else the name sacred to her own unforgotten father. But she was to the poor man as a daughter; and her brown face, though still thin, had lost the pining, wistful look which had been previously habitual to it. Lucy observed the glow of pleasure that lighted up her face when she heard again the familiar sound of the organ in the distance. The padre was very good to her, she said, and though they often had long weary rounds, with a scant allowance of pennies, they always had enough to eat; and hitherto it had been very pleasant, and she had no hard scrubbing or washing to do.

"I'd have died soon, Miss Lucy, if I'd stayed at Mrs. Williams'. Was it wrong to come away?"

Lucy could not say it was, in spite of the irregularity of the precedent.

"But the padre won't be able to go about in the winter time, Miss Lucy, for he has such a cough and pain in his breast whenever he gets wet or cold; and some days he's hardly able to play his organ, and then I don't know what he'll do. What could I do, Miss Lucy, to help him?"

Lucy promised to consider the matter. She had obtained leave to give the organ-grinder and Nelly a good substantial meal in the kitchen, which was greatly relished by both. She took down the name of the street in which they lived, and got a minute description of the house, promising soon to visit them. The man was evidently far from strong, and his bright, hollow eye and haggard face, sometimes unnaturally flushed, betokened too surely incipient disease.

"And why did you never come to see me, Nelly? You knew where I was," said Lucy, as they were going away.

"Oh, Miss Lucy," exclaimed Nelly eagerly, "but I did, three times, but you weren't in; I was ashamed to come any more. The last times they said you were away in the country."

"But why didn't you leave word where you were living, and I would have found you out?"

"Oh, Miss Lucy, I couldn't think you'd be at the trouble of coming to see me!"

"Well, I will come, though, now I know where you live," said Lucy as she bade them good-bye.

Little Amy had been very much interested in the history of Nelly, as Lucy had told it to her, and had come down to see her. She stood by, putting her thin hand on hers, and looking up wonderingly in her face, exciting Nelly's compassion and interest by her sweet, delicate look. "She's more like an angel than Miss Stella, though I used to think her like one," thought Nelly.

Amy asked many questions about Nelly and the "poor man," and begged Lucy to take her when she went to see them. But so long a walk was out of the question for Amy, nor would her mother have consented to let either her or Stella go to such a quarter of the city. Even Lucy's going was a matter for some consideration, but she begged hard to be allowed to fulfil her promise. At last Edwin good-naturedly said he "didn't mind going with Lucy, to see that she wasn't carried off for her clothes, like the little girl in the story-books;" and they made the expedition together, her cousin waiting outside while Lucy paid her most welcome visit.

They found the place a very quiet one, and the street, though poor, not at all disreputable. Edwin gave the best account of it he could, that Lucy might be able in future, without his escort, to visit Nelly, as she occasionally did, accompanied by her friend Mary Eastwood, who sometimes spent the Saturday afternoon with her at Mr. Brooke's. Their visits and little gifts of money were very timely, for the poor organ-grinder was growing less and less able to persevere in his uncertain calling; and though Nelly was practising plain sewing, that she might be able to earn something herself, it was not likely that her exertions could bring in much.

In these visits to Nelly the two friends soon found out other poor people in the same locality, even more urgently needing a kind word and a helping hand. In work of this kind, as in most other things, "it is only the first step which costs." One has only to make a beginning, and straightway one case leads to another, and that interest grows with the work, until to some happy and highly-privileged people it really becomes their meat and drink thus to do their Father's business.

This new kind of work was a great interest to Lucy, and in planning how best to aid the poor in whom she was interested, and in diligent and happy study, the autumn months passed rapidly away.

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