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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 20651

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Darkness and Light.

"Tell me the old, old story,

If you would really be

In any time of trouble

A comforter to me."

red came to town for a few days in his Christmas vacation, just as Stella was beginning to recover from the severe attack which had prostrated her. Mr. Brooke's house being so full of sickness, Lucy, though very unwilling to leave Amy, thought it best, on Fred's account, to accept an urgent invitation from the Eastwoods that they should both spend a week at Oakvale. He would thus have a pleasanter vacation than under the circumstances he could have at his uncle's, where he felt himself in the way, and where Lucy had so many demands upon her time that she could see but little of a brother whose visits were so rare. The change of scene was very much needed by her, for the confinement and fatigue of her sick-room attendance had had a depressing influence on her health and spirits.

It was certainly, in spite of all her anxiety about Amy, a very enjoyable change to the bright, cheerful, Christian atmosphere of Dr. Eastwood's house, and the bracing influence of the outdoor exercise in which the others made her participate. She felt as if it were wrong to enjoy it so much, when Amy, she knew, was dying, and Stella as yet in so precarious a condition. But God sometimes gives, in very trying circumstances, a buoyancy and cheerfulness of feeling quite independent of the circumstances, which seem specially sent to communicate a strength that will be greatly needed in approaching days of trial,-a pleasant "land of Beulah," before the watchers stand quite on the shore of "the dark river." And it can never be right sullenly to close the heart in determined sadness against the cheering influences of God's light, and air, and bright sunshine; nor can we usually, if we would, act so foolishly and ungratefully. That happy week at Oakvale often seemed to Lucy a sort of oasis of sunshine, as compared with the depressing weeks that preceded and followed it.

Oakvale looked scarcely less beautiful now that the surrounding hills wore their white mantle of snow, contrasting with the intense blue of the winter sky and the dark green of the pines, while the little river lay, a strip of glittering ice, under the trees, leafless now, which overshadowed its ceaseless ripple in the warm summer days. The young party had pleasant sleigh-rides to see old favourite spots in their winter aspect, and Fred joined the younger children in their skating and snowballing, though he enjoyed much more the walks in which he accompanied his sister and her friend. Mary and he got on as well as Lucy had expected, although she was disappointed that, after their visit was over, she could not draw from him any enthusiastic praise of Miss Eastwood; at which she would have been a little vexed, but for the reflection that Fred, unlike most people, never said the half of what he thought. He did not, however, leave Oakvale without a promise to renew his visit during the summer vacation.

Lucy, on her return home, found her little cousin evidently sinking fast. Her strength was almost exhausted, and she suffered a good deal from pain and restlessness; but scarcely a complaint ever escaped her lips. She often talked now about going to Jesus, the thought on which her mind seemed most to dwell. Mrs. Brooke, seeing this, at last sent for the minister whose church the family usually attended on Sundays, that being the extent of their connection with it. But he was a stranger to Amy,-for his ministerial visits had never been desired or encouraged,-and though she was grateful to him for coming to see her and praying beside her bed, she could not speak to him, as she could to Lucy, about her willingness to go to the happy home which her Saviour was preparing for her. Still her visitor could see enough of the change God had wrought in her heart, to make him marvel, as he took his leave, at the wonderful way in which God sometimes raises up to Himself a witness in the most worldly homes, and perfects praise "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings."

The little invalid was sometimes slightly delirious when the hectic fever was at its height, but her wandering fancies were always of gentle and pleasant things. She would ask if they did not hear the sweet singing in her room; and when Lucy would ask what was sung, would say, "Jerusalem," meaning "Jerusalem the Golden," her favourite hymn next to the one she loved best of all, "I lay my sins on Jesus."

One night, when she had been asleep for some time, with Lucy only watching beside her, she suddenly awoke, a flash of joy lighting up her face. "Lucy," she murmured faintly; but when Lucy bent over her, she could catch but one word-"Jesus." Lucy saw a change come over her countenance, which she had seen once before, and ere the others, hastily summoned, could be with her, the little form lay lifeless, its immortal tenant having escaped to the heavenly home, whither she had been longing to go.

No one could help being thankful that the sufferings of the patient little invalid were over. Indeed, with the exception of Mrs. Brooke, Lucy, and Stella, no one showed any profound grief for the death of a child who had always been very much secluded, and but little appreciated. But Mrs. Brooke's sorrow was mingled with some self-reproach that she had not been to her departed child all that a mother should have been, and she suffered now for the wilfulness which, when deprived of one blessing, had turned petulantly from another. Lucy constantly missed her little favourite, and her sorrow for the loss of her father, never quite removed, seemed revived anew by her cousin's death. But she could feel that Amy was infinitely happier in her heavenly home than she could ever have been on earth; and she felt not only that she should join her there, but also that there might be an intercourse and communion of spirit in Christ, incomprehensible to those who look only to things "seen and temporal."

It was Lucy's greatest solace to visit poor Antonio, and speak to him of Amy's concern for him, and her desire that he should find rest and peace in the love of that Saviour in whom she had so fully trusted. He was deeply touched on hearing some of the things she had said, and the tears came to his eyes when he spoke of her kindness in sending so many things for his comfort.

"But," he said with deep feeling, "it was very different for a blessed, innocent child like her, and a sinful man like me." Lucy explained that all are under the condemnation of sin, since none are without it; and that no sins are too great to be taken away by the Lamb of God once offered as a sacrifice for "the sin of the world." He listened silently, while an expression of hope stole over his haggard countenance; and Nelly told Miss Lucy, with much pleasure, that after that he prayed much less to the Virgin, and his prayers were more generally spontaneous ejaculations, expressing the deeply-felt need of a Redeemer.

Stella's grief for her little sister, partly owing, perhaps, to her physical weakness, had seemed more violent than that of any one else. The paroxysms of hysterical crying which frequently came on, and an aversion to take necessary nourishment, very much retarded her recovery, and prevented her regaining strength. As the acuteness of her sorrow gradually wore itself out, the unaccustomed feelings of weakness and depression brought on fits of fretfulness, in which all Lucy's forbearance was called for; but she remembered how good-naturedly her cousin had borne with her own fit of nervous irritability, and she generally managed to soothe and pacify her, even when she was most unreasonable, and tired out the patience of both Sophy and Ada.

After the first few weeks had passed, the shadowy hush and solemnity brought by death gradually passed away, and except for the deep black crape of the dresses, and the abstinence from all gaieties, the family life seemed to have returned to its former tone. So far as external signs went, there was no more realizing sense of that invisible world to which one of their number had gone-no more "looking unto" Him who had been her support in the dark valley-than there had been before. And when a bereavement does not draw the heart nearer to God, there is every reason to fear that it drives it farther from Him.

But another heavy sorrow, to one at least of the number, soon followed. One wild, stormy morning in March, when the letters were, as usual, brought in at breakfast-time, Sophy quickly looked up for the welcome letter, with its firm, manly superscription, which regularly appeared twice or thrice a-week. There was one with the usual postmark, but in a different handwriting, and addressed not to her, but to Mr. Brooke. Sophy's misgivings were awakened at once, and on seeing her father's expression as he hurriedly glanced through the letter, she forgot her usual self-control, and exclaimed in agitated tones, "O papa, what is it?" But his only reply was to lead her from the room, signing to his wife to follow.

Sophy did not appear again that day, and the atmosphere of gloom seemed again to descend over the house. Lucy waited long alone, not liking to intrude upon the family distress, till Stella at last returned, still hysterically sobbing.

"They say 'troubles never come singly,'" she said, "and I'm sure it's true. Poor Sophy! Mr. Langton has been killed by the upsetting of his carriage. The horse ran away, and he fell on his head, and never spoke again. Poor Sophy is almost insensible. I don't believe she understands yet what has happened. Oh, what will she do?"

Lucy's heart was repeating the same question. All her sympathies were called forth by so crushing a sorrow, and as she could do nothing else for her cousin, she prayed earnestly that He who could, would bind up the broken heart.

Sophy remained for two days in her own room, and then came down again to join the family circle, evidently trying her best to avoid any outward demonstration of sorrow, though her deadly paleness, and eyes which looked as if they never closed, told how acutely she was suffering. She was not of a nature to encourage or even bear sympathy, and almost resented any instance of special consideration which seemed to s

pring from pity for her great sorrow.

It was only when shut up in her own room that she gave way to the bursts of agonized feeling which, to some extent, relieved the constant pressure upon her heart. When in the family, she seemed to seek constant employment, not in the light reading in which she had been accustomed to indulge, but in books requiring much more thought, and even some effort to master them. Lucy's class-books were called into requisition, and her drawing was resumed, though she now shrank from touching the disused piano. She had a good deal of artistic talent; and had art ever been placed before her as an ennobling pursuit, she might have attained very considerable excellence in some of its departments. But hitherto she had confined herself to the execution of a few graceful trifles, since her drawing-lessons had been given up on leaving school. Now, however, she seemed to have taken a fresh start, and copied studies and practised touches indefatigably, without speaking or moving for hours.

She would sit, too, for half the morning apparently absorbed in a book; but Lucy noticed that, while thus seemingly occupied, she would gaze abstractedly at a page for long intervals without seeming to turn a leaf or get a line farther on. Lucy longed to be able to direct the mourner to the "balm in Gilead," whose efficacy she knew by experience,-to the kind Physician who can bind up so tenderly the wounds that other healers cannot touch without aggravating. But she dared not utter a word of the sympathies of which her heart was full, and could only pray that a Higher Hand might deal with the sufferer.

One wet Sunday evening in April, Lucy came down in her waterproof cloak and rubbers, ready to set out for the neighbouring church, the one to which she had gone on the first Sunday of her arrival, and which she frequently attended when the weather was unfavourable, or when she had to go alone. She was not sorry when circumstances made this desirable, for she enjoyed the service and the sermon more than she did at the church the family usually attended. The words of the preacher seemed to come with more power and tenderness,-perhaps because he had himself been brought through much tribulation to know the God of all consolation, and had thus been made able to comfort others "by the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted of God." At all events, it was certain that of the consolation abounding in Christ he was an earnest and able expounder.

"What! are you going out when it is so very wet?" asked Stella, as her cousin entered the room. Sophy, who had been gazing moodily into the fire over the book she was holding, started up, saying, "I think I'll go with you, Lucy. Wait a few minutes for me." Her mother remonstrated a little; but Sophy's restless longing for change and action of some kind was often uncontrollable, and the two girls set out through the wind and rain, clinging closely together to support each other on the wet and slippery pavement.

How earnestly Lucy prayed in silence, as they traversed the short distance, that the preacher they were going to hear might have a special message to the troubled, heavy heart beside her, and how intensely did she listen to the prayers the minister offered up, to catch any petitions that might seem suited to her cousin's need! She was slightly disappointed when he announced his text, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help found," for she had hoped that it would be one of the many beautiful, comforting passages in which the New Testament abounds. But her disappointment wore off as he proceeded with his discourse.

He first briefly sketched the history of the rebellion of Israel in departing from the God of her help, and in transferring to the idols of the heathen the allegiance which was due to the living God. He vividly described the "destruction" which must be the natural result of such a departure from the source of her highest life. Then he spoke of the means by which God sought to bring her back,-of the purifying judgments which He sent, in love and mercy, to restore her to spiritual health, and of the inexhaustible supply of "help," of tender compassion and restoring power, with which He was ready to meet her on her return.

Having finished this part of his subject, he drew a striking parallel between the ancient Israel and the multitudes of human beings in every age, who, instead of loving and serving the living God with all their soul, are continually setting up for themselves earthly idols of every variety, which fill up His place in their hearts, and exclude Him from their thoughts. Wealth, splendour, position, power, fame, pleasure,-even man's highest earthly blessing, human love itself,-were set up and worshipped, as if they contained for their worshipper the highest end and happiness of his soul. What was the cause of all the broken hearts and blighted lives from which is continually ascending such a wailing symphony of sorrow without hope? What but the perverse determination of the heart to find repose elsewhere than in its true resting-place,-to set up the very blessings which flow from the hand of its God in the place of the Giver?

Then, in a few touching, earnest words, he showed how God must often, in mercy to the soul, send severe judgments and afflictions to bring the wanderers back to their "Help;" and of the depths of compassion, of love, of tenderness, of healing, of purest happiness, which were to be found in that divine Helper, who hath said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Never had Lucy heard the speaker more impressive, and she thanked God in her heart her cousin should have been brought to listen to truths which she had probably never before heard with any real understanding of them. Sophy sat back in a corner of the seat, her head resting on her hand, and her face hidden in her thick black veil. She remained almost motionless until the sermon was concluded, and then they silently left the church, Lucy not daring to speak to her.

Before they reached home, however, Sophy suddenly broke the silence by saying, in a low, agitated voice:

"Lucy, you seem to be what people call a Christian. Can you say, from your own heart and experience, that you believe all that is true about Christ giving such peace and comfort in trouble?"

Lucy replied, earnestly and sincerely, that she could,-that she had felt that peace and comfort when sorrow had been sent her.

"And how does it come? how do you get it?" Sophy asked.

"I don't know any other way, Sophy dear, than by going to Him and believing His own words. They often seem to come straight from Him, as a message of comfort."

Nothing more was said, but from that time Sophy's Bible was often in her hands. Its study, indeed, took the place of her other self-chosen labours, and she read it with an attention and interest it had never awakened before. That she did not study it in vain, seemed evident in her softened, gentler manner, in the more peaceful expression of her countenance, and in the quiet thoughtfulness which she began to show for others. She would sometimes ask Lucy what she thought about a passage of Scripture in which she was interested, and the few words she said about it would give her cousin a clue to the working of her mind. But her habitual reserve had not yet worn off, and Lucy did not venture to trespass upon it.

She expressed a desire to accompany Lucy in some of her visits to the poor Italian, who was perceptibly sinking fast with the advancing spring. He had, however, grown much in trust in his Saviour, and in spiritual knowledge, especially since Lucy had procured for him an Italian Bible, which he could read with much more ease and profit than an English one. He seemed now to have a deep sense of the evil of his past careless life, when even the external forms of religion had been given up, and he had been, like the prodigal, wandering in a far country.

"And how good is the Father in heaven, that He has a welcome home and a fatted calf for His wanderer!" he would say earnestly, the tears rising to the dark lustrous eyes, that sparkled so brightly in the pale, sunken face.

Sophy listened, half wonderingly, half wistfully, to the few and broken, but earnest words in which he told of the pardon and peace he had found in "Looking unto Jesus." "I see the blessed words there all the day," he said, pointing to the wall, "and they make me glad."

"Lucy, you have a card like that," said Sophy, as they left the house. "I wish you would give it to me to keep in my room, to remind me of that poor man's words."

Lucy gladly complied with the request, though she missed her card a good deal, and hoped that its motto might be of use to its new owner. Sophy, however, painted the motto in much more elaborate and beautiful workmanship, had it framed and glazed, and hung it up in her cousin's room one day while she was out, with a little slip of paper attached, bearing the inscription, "With Sophy's love and hearty thanks."

One lovely day in May, when all nature seemed rejoicing in the gladness of the approaching summer, Lucy went as usual to visit Antonio, carrying some of the delicacies which Mrs. Brooke still continued to send him, chiefly for Amy's sake. How often might the rich greatly alleviate the sufferings of sickness in poverty, by timely gifts of luxuries, which at such a time are almost necessaries, yet which the poor cannot buy!

Lucy found the patient unable now to rise, and struggling with the suffocating sensation of oppressed breathing. He could scarcely speak, but he listened with pleasure to the few words she read to him; and as she left him, he pressed her hand convulsively, saying in a low, expressive tone, "Good-bye."

Lucy felt she should not see him again in life, and was not surprised when Nelly came next day, crying bitterly, to tell her that her adopted father's weary pilgrimage was ended.

The poor girl remained in the now desolate home only until the simple funeral was over, and then entered Mrs. Brooke's family, where her warm, grateful heart found comfort in doing everything she could for Miss Lucy, whose presence made her new place seem again a home.

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