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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 15124

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The Flower Fadeth.

"And yet His words mean more than they,

And yet He owns their praise;

Why should we think He turns away

From infants' simple lays?"

s the autumn deepened into winter, bringing cold, damp days, and chilling, keen winds, little Amy's strength seemed steadily to decrease, notwithstanding all the care taken to reinforce it by the most nourishing diet that money could command. Every delicacy that could tempt her appetite, every kind of nourishment that could strengthen her system, was tried, without success. Dr. Eastwood had been right in his augury, that her seeming improvement had been only temporary, and that the delicately-organized constitution was not meant for the wear and tear of long life. So evident at last did the decline become, that a consultation was held as to whether it would not be advisable to remove her for the winter to a warmer climate; but the more experienced physicians were decidedly of opinion that taking her away from her home and family would be a needless cruelty, and that, since no human skill could now arrest the disease, it was better to leave the little patient to live, as long as she might, surrounded by the comforts and the kind nursing at home. This opinion was not fully communicated to her parents, but they instinctively felt, what was really the case, that their child was only left in their home because she must ere long be removed from it for ever.

Lucy had long taught herself to think of such an issue as at least a probability; but her cousins by no means realized the advanced state of Amy's disease. They persuaded themselves that, with care, she would "get over" her delicacy, and they would not even think of the possibility of a fatal termination of it. One cause of this was probably the circumstance that the winter gaieties had commenced, and that invitations, parties, and dress were now uppermost in their minds. Had they been convinced that their little sister was dying, they could hardly have had the heart to join in their usual round of gaiety; but they easily persuaded themselves of the contrary, and felt no scruples about going on as usual.

Stella, who had shot up almost to womanly height within the last year, had assumed the dress and appearance of a "young lady," as distinguished from a little girl. The foretaste of gay life she had had at the seaside had made her impatient to plunge into it at once, and she besieged her parents with entreaties that she might be allowed to "come out" that winter. She succeeded so far with her father, who could seldom deny her anything, as to obtain leave to go to as many private parties as she could, without interfering with her studies. But of course, with a limit so indefinite, the bounds were often overstepped. Her love of gaiety only grew with the indulgence of the taste, and she felt really unhappy when she had to see her sisters go to a party without her.

But late hours and excitement very soon affected a constitution which had never before been so severely tried; and as she would conceal any indisposition when she thought it might keep her at home, the consequences sometimes became serious. At last, her rashness in going out, thinly dressed, one cold winter evening, when she was already suffering from a slight cold, brought on a severe attack of inflammation of the lungs, by which she was prostrated for several weeks, and which left behind a slight cough. This, the doctor warned her, would require the utmost care, to prevent its growing into what might prove very serious indeed.

Lucy, of course, owing to her deep mourning, and the school-work which engrossed her mind and time, had had no temptation to mingle in any of her cousins' amusements, though, had it been otherwise, she could not conscientiously have frequented scenes of amusement which she had been taught by her father to consider unworthy of those who have made up their minds to leave all and follow Christ. For the same reason, she had refused Stella's urgent solicitations to accompany her in occasional visits to the opera and theatre, places of which her father had often told her the spiritual atmosphere was entirely foreign to that in which Christians should seek ever to dwell. Though Stella's glowing descriptions sometimes excited the longing to see the magic sights and hear the magnificent music of which they told, she felt that she could not sincerely pray, "Lead us not into temptation," if she wilfully went into it; nor could she from the heart have asked her Saviour's blessing on the evening's amusement.

During the general engrossment of the household with Stella's alarming attack, Amy's rapid sinking of strength was not for some time much noticed, except by Lucy, who felt, in spite of her hopes, that the end was drawing near.

Lucy had been forbidden to speak to her little cousin about death, as if the avoidance of the thought could have anything to do with delaying the event; but happily there was no need for doing so, since her little heart was evidently resting on her Saviour, and she was thus prepared for whatever He should send her. Her childlike faith, and her vivid realization of heavenly things, seemed to grow stronger as her bodily strength failed; and though she never specially referred to death, the approach of which a child is not able to realize, her mind was evidently full of thoughts about heaven, about its glories and occupations, about Him who is "the resurrection and the life." She was always asking questions about the childhood of Jesus,-questions which Lucy often found it impossible to answer,-and was never tired of hearing the few passages in the New Testament which referred to it.

Some instances of childish sin seemed to weigh upon her conscience; but Lucy reminded her that the Lamb of God had washed away her sins with His own blood, and that the moment we come to Him by faith, we are sure of the forgiveness of past sin, as well as of deliverance from its present power. This perfectly satisfied her, and nothing else seemed to trouble her.

The little girl was intensely interested in the poor Italian, who was sinking almost as fast as she was. He seldom now stirred from his chair in the warmest corner of the room, and his cough had become terribly harassing, especially at night. His breathing, too, was much oppressed; and poor Nelly had often a heavy heart, as the conviction forced itself upon her that she was about to lose the kind friend and protector around whom her warm heart had closely entwined itself. She tried hard to earn a little for his support and her own, by the sewing which she occasionally got, often from people nearly as poor as herself; but her utmost exertions in this way would not have sufficed to keep them from starvation, had it not been for the timely aid brought by Lucy and by Mary Eastwood, whose well-supplied purse was always ready to furnish what was needed for their comfort. Lucy had very little to give of her own, but Mrs. Brooke was sufficiently interested in her account of the case to be very willing to help, for she was not at all indisposed to benevolent actions, if she had had the energy to discover the way. Amy, too, always insisted that a portion of the delicacies prepared for her should be kept for "the poor organ-grinder;" and one of her greatest pleasures was in hearing from Lucy how the invalid liked what had been sent him, and how gratefully he sent his thanks to the little "signorina." She asked Lucy whether the poor man loved Jesus, and would go to heav

en when he died, and seemed much grieved at hearing of his praying to the Virgin, the mother of Jesus.

"What a pity!" she would say, "for she can't hear him, nor save him, can she? And so his prayers will be of no use!"

She lay still for a short time, considering the matter, and then said, as if a ray of comfort had come to her, "But Jesus can hear him, and perhaps He will give him what he needs, though he didn't ask Him."

Lucy would hope so too, and agree with her that when he got to heaven he would know better; for she had reason to believe, notwithstanding Antonio's prayers to the Virgin,-the remnant of the superstitious faith he had held from childhood,-that he was nevertheless gradually coming to the knowledge of the Saviour as the only mediator and sacrifice for sin. Nelly's treasured card was fastened up conspicuously in their little room, and the rich colours in which the text "Looking unto Jesus" was printed, pleased the Italian's southern love of colour, and led his eye often to rest upon it, as he spent the long hours sitting wearily in his chair. And gradually he came to attach some real meaning to the words, which at first he had regarded merely as a pleasant thing to look at. Nelly would sometimes tell him some of the things Miss Preston said to her about it, which clung tenaciously to her memory; and how the thought that Jesus was her Friend and Saviour, to whom she must always look in her need, had been her one comfort when left friendless and alone. She often read to him a chapter out of the little Bible which was Lucy's parting gift when she left Ashleigh, and had ever since been Nelly's dearest treasure. And he would always listen with deep interest to the history of the wonderful life which has come home to the hearts of thousands in all the centuries which have elapsed since it was lived among the hills and valleys of Palestine. He loved to hear Nelly sing, in her rich, sweet voice, her favourite hymn, "I lay my sins on Jesus," and would sometimes try to join in the strains himself as well as his feebleness would let him. He showed his appreciation of the motto, in his own way, by placing his crucifix above the card, and he would sit for hours gazing silently at both.

Lucy, in her frequent visits, often read to him the passages which bear most directly on the love of Christ, and the full and free forgiveness of sin through Him; and she sometimes added simple comments of her own, preferring, however, in general, to leave God's words to work their own way into his heart. His church prejudices she never ventured to touch, feeling that to do so might arouse them against the reception of the simple gospel, and do him harm, by exciting his mind injuriously and bewildering him with conflicting opinions. She avoided all collision with ideas which had been so long closely intertwined with the only ideas of religion he had, feeling sure that the light of gospel truth, once introduced into the heart, would sooner or later disperse the darkness of error by its own power.

Except for the one dark foreboding, that became, month by month, and week by week, more distinct, these would have been very happy days for Nelly. Her warm Irish heart found scope for its action, in continually ministering to the comfort of one to whom she was bound by ties of love and gratitude, and no harsh or unkind word now fell upon her ear. The poor Italian, always of a gentle nature, except when influenced by passion, had ever treated her with indulgent kindness, and she had given him her warm affection in return. Her assiduous attentions were labours of love, and so was the needlework at which she stitched away with diligent though unpractised hands. Coarse, hard sewing it was; but Nelly did not mind that, in the feeling that she was earning something, however small. While she sat plying her needle through the short days and long evenings of the winter, the invalid's thoughts would wander back to long past, but unforgotten days, and he would amuse Nelly with little bits of his past history. He would describe, over and over again, his childhood's home in the lovely Riviera, where the intense azure of the sky, and the pure sapphire of the Mediterranean, contrasted sharply with the white glitter of the rocks as they emerged in bold relief from their drapery of rich, deep-hued vegetation. He would tell her about the white Italian village, nestling among the vine-clad terraces and sloping hill-sides clad with olive and myrtle, and about the trellised house where he was born, and his father's little vineyard, where the rich purple and amber clusters, such as little Amy now sent him as costly luxuries, hung down in rich masses which any hand could pick. Such descriptions were intensely fascinating to Nelly's quick Celtic imagination, and she would speak in her turn of the breezy slopes by the sea where she had so often played in days she could still vividly remember; of the aromatic scent of the burning heaps of sea-weed, whose smouldering fires she used to fan; of the fresh, bracing sea-air, and dancing blue waves with their snowy crests of foam, and the distant white sails winging their way to some unknown haven.

Their talk always took a sadder tone when the Italian spoke of his later life, and told how he left his quiet village, hoping to make his fortune in the great world as a musician; how his hopes had been gradually crushed down, and he wandered from place to place till he emigrated to America, where the deadly cholera carried off his wife and her infant boy, leaving him only his little daughter; how, since then, dispirited and weary, he had managed to pick up a living as best he could, gradually forsaking more ambitious instruments for his barrel-organ, till the tide of life, gradually running low, was reduced to its lowest ebb by the shock of his daughter's death, superadded to the decline which had long been insidiously undermining his system.

"But it will soon be over now, my child," he said,-"all the trouble and the nursing. You have been very good to the poor forestiere since the povera went to the blessed saints. I shall soon see her again, and Anita, and the little Giulio, in the better country that the signorina was reading about,-better, she says, than the patria itself, with its olives and vines. Ah! I think I see it again, when I dream."

Such a speech as this always melted poor Nelly into tears; and, seeing the pain it gave her, he did not often refer to his approaching death. To Lucy, however, he sometimes spoke of his concern for the future lot of his adopted daughter, who was again to be left desolate. Lucy herself had been thinking a good deal about it, and wondering whether she could induce her aunt to take Nelly. Amy, however, arranged the matter unexpectedly. She had been asking Lucy, with great earnestness, what poor Nelly would do when the organ-grinder should die; and when Mrs. Brooke next came into the room, she surprised her with the question, "Mamma, may Nelly come and live here when the organ-grinder dies?"

Mrs. Brooke looked bewildered, until Lucy explained the matter. She hesitated, and would have put Amy off with the promise that she "would see about it." But Amy was so anxious to have the point settled, that her mother at last gave the absolute promise she asked; and Lucy had the satisfaction of announcing to poor Antonio, the next time she visited him, to his great relief and satisfaction, that Nelly's future home, so long as she desired it, should be with Mrs. Brooke.

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