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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 13772

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Home Again.

"And this was once my home;

The leaves, light rustling, o'er me whisper clear,

The sun but shines on thee where thou dost roam,

It smiled upon thee here!"

tella had been losing instead of gaining strength since the warm weather came on, and her parents were now really alarmed about her, and were considering what would be the best and most bracing place to send her to during the heat of the summer. But Stella, with an invalid's capricious fancy, had formed a plan of her own, and she insisted, with all her old wilfulness, on its being carried out. It was, that Lucy and she should go together to Ashleigh, to stay at Mill Bank Farm, if Mrs. Ford would consent to receive them as boarders. Her former visit was connected in her mind with pure, healthful, and happy associations, and she thought that the fresh country air, which she so well remembered, and the delicious milk from Mrs. Ford's sleek cows, would do her more good than anything else. It need not be said that the project was a delightful one for Lucy; and as Ashleigh was certainly a healthy place, it was decided that they should go thither under the escort of Fred, who also wished to pay a short visit to his old home. Bessie wrote that her mother would be delighted to receive them; and Stella, with more of her old light-heartedness than she had shown for a long time, hurried the preparations for her journey.

Nelly was to remain in the house with a kind, trustworthy woman during the absence of the rest of the family at the seaside. Although she was sorry to lose her dear Miss Lucy, she was much interested in the circumstance that she was going to Ashleigh, and sent many grateful messages to Mrs. Ford and Bessie. To the latter she sent a present of a little silk necktie, bought, with great satisfaction, out of her first wages.

Any one who has ever revisited a dearly loved home can easily imagine Lucy's delight, when from the deck of the steamboat her straining eyes caught the first glimpse of the white houses of Ashleigh and the grey church on the hill; can imagine her delight at recognising the well-known faces, and the familiar objects which, after her long absence, seemed so strangely natural! But the happiness of being once more among scenes so associated with early and happy recollections was not untinged with sadness; for the vividness with which the old life was recalled made the changes seem as vivid also, and stirred up in all its acuteness the sense of loss, which had of late been partially deadened by the exciting changes of her present life. Every step called up her father's image with intense force in scenes so interwoven with her memories of him. It was strange to see the house which had been her home from infancy tenanted by strangers, and to miss all the familiar faces of the home circle, whom she had almost expected to find there still. It gave her a dreary sense of loneliness, even in the midst of the many kind friends who were eager to welcome back, both for her father's sake and her own, the daughter of their beloved pastor.

Stella's highest spirits seemed to return when she found herself driving rapidly along the road to the farm in the conveyance which Bessie and her eldest brother-whom Lucy would scarcely have recognised-had brought to meet them. Bessie was not much changed. Her good-humoured face had more sweetness and earnestness of expression than it had once worn, and her manner at home had the considerate, half-maternal air of an eldest daughter. Mrs. Ford, too, was less bustling, with a quiet repose about her hospitable kindliness that gave a feeling of rest and comfort, and was the result of being less "cumbered about much serving," and more disposed to let her heart dwell on the "better part," on which she now set a truer value. A more perceptible regard for it, indeed, pervaded, the whole family, and Bessie and her brother were, both of them, Sunday-school teachers now.

Mrs. Ford and Bessie were much shocked at the change in Stella, whose blooming appearance they well remembered. Lucy, had become so accustomed to her cousin's altered looks, that she thought her looking rather better than usual, under the influence of the change and excitement. But Mrs. Ford shook her head mournfully over her in private. "She looks to me in a decline," she said to her husband. "I'm afraid she hasn't many years before her in this world!"

But another change besides the external one had come over her, so gradually that Lucy had not observed it till now, when the place brought back so vividly the recollection of the gay, flippant Stella of old. She had certainly grown more thoughtful, more quiet, even more serious; and Lucy observed that her former levity had quite departed, and that a flippant remark never now fell from her lips. Her old wilfulness of manner continued to characterize her, but it was owing chiefly to the caprice of disease. She was shy of joining in religious conversation, but seemed to listen with great interest whenever Lucy and Bessie spoke to each other of things connected with the "life hidden with Christ in God." At such times she would look as if she were trying to gain a clue to a mystery which puzzled, and yet intensely interested her.

It was with mingled pleasure and sadness that Lucy once more took her seat in her father's church, and listened to the voice of another from his old pulpit. His successor, Mr. Edwards, though a man of a different stamp, resembled him a good deal in the earnestness of his spirit and the simplicity of his gospel preaching. The message was the same, though the mode of delivering it was slightly different. He received with kindness and courtesy the daughter of his predecessor, and invited her during her stay to take a share in the teaching of the Sunday school,-an invitation which she willingly accepted, and had the pleasure of finding in her new class a few of her old scholars.

As Stella had a fancy for seeing the Sunday school, Lucy accepted the invitation, given to them both by Mr. Edwards, to spend with his family the interval between the morning and evening service. Stella's zeal for seeing the Sunday school, however, died out with the first Sunday; and after that she always remained with Mrs. Edwards, who, being very delicate, and having a young infant, had been obliged to resign her own class, the one now taken by Lucy. Mrs. Edwards was a sweet, gentle woman, overflowing with Christian love and kindness; and as Stella at once took a great fancy to her, she exercised a very beneficial influence over one who was much more easily swayed by kindness than by any other power.

The celebration of the Lord's Supper was approaching, and as Bessie was looking forward to participating for the first time in the holy ordinance, Lucy gladly embraced the opportunity of making a formal confession of her

faith in Christ, and claiming the blessing attached to the ordinance by Him who instituted it. It was pleasant, too, to do so in the very place in which He had first, by the cords of love, drawn her heart to Himself. Solemn as she knew the step to be, she had lived too long on the principle of "looking unto Jesus" not to feel that she had only to look to Him still to give her the fitting preparation of heart for receiving the tokens of His broken body and shed blood; and in this happy confidence she came forward to obey His dying command.

Stella had seemed much interested about the approaching communion, and had asked a good many questions respecting it, and as to the nature of the qualification for worthily partaking in it. At last, much to Lucy's surprise, she asked her, with a timidity altogether new to her, whether she thought she might come forward also.

It was with difficulty that Lucy could restrain the expression of her surprise at the unexpected question, but she did repress it, and replied:

"It all depends on whether you have made up your mind to take Jesus for your Lord and Saviour, and to follow Him, dear Stella!"

"I should like to, if I knew how," she said. "I have been speaking to Mrs. Edwards about it, and she thinks I might come. I know I'm not what I ought to be, and that I've been very careless and wicked; but Mrs. Edwards says if I'm really in earnest, and I think I am, I may come to the communion, and that I shall be made fit, if I ask to be."

Lucy had not lost her faith in the Hearer and Answerer of prayer, but she had been so long accustomed to regard Stella as one who "cared for none of these things," that she could scarcely believe in the reality of so sudden a change. But it was not so very sudden, and Lucy's own earnestness and simple faith had been one means of bringing it about. Her daily intercourse with her cousin had, in spite of herself, impressed Stella gradually with a conviction of the importance of what she felt to be all-important. And Stella's illness and subsequent weakness, with perhaps a sense of her precarious tenure of life, had combined to make her realize its importance to herself personally, more than she had ever done before. Amy's happy death had made her feel how blessed a thing was that trust in Jesus which could remove all fear of the mysterious change, so awful to those who have their hope only in the visible world. Indeed, she told Lucy that one of her chief reasons for wishing to come to Ashleigh was the vague feeling, derived from her recollections of her former visit, that it would be easier for her to be a Christian in a place so closely associated with her first impressions of living Christianity. And He who never turns away from any who seek Him, had answered her expectations, and sent her a true helper in Mrs. Edwards, whose simple words seemed to come to her with peculiar power; for, from some hidden sympathy of feeling, one person often seems more specially adapted to help us on than another, and Mrs. Edwards had been a special helper to Stella.

Lucy, when she found her cousin so much in earnest, did not dare to advise her on her own responsibility. Stella felt rather afraid of a conversation with Mr. Edwards, but her cousin told her that he was the best person to give her counsel in the matter. Her fear of him soon vanished when the conversation was really entered upon, and she found that she could speak to him much more freely than she had previously thought. He talked with her long and kindly, and finding that she had really a deep sense of sin, and that she desired to come to Christ in humble penitence to have her sins forgiven and her darkness enlightened, he felt that he had no right to discourage her from the ordinance which is specially designed to enlighten and strengthen. At the same time, he took care to explain to her most fully the nature of the solemn vows in which she would take upon herself the responsibilities and obligations of a follower of Christ.

It was with a quiet, serious humility, very different from the former mien of the once careless Stella, that she, with Lucy and Bessie, reverently approached the Lord's table, where He graciously meets His people, and gives the blessings suited to their special needs. As they left the church at the close of the service, and Lucy glanced at her cousin, whose delicacy was made more perceptible by the deep black of her dress, she thought that, notwithstanding the loss of bloom and brightness, the expression of serene happiness that now rested on her face gave it a nobler beauty than she had ever seen it wear before.

Before the stay of the cousins at Ashleigh came to an end, Lucy and Bessie had the great pleasure of meeting once more their old teacher, Mrs. Harris, who had come to pay a short visit to her former home. What a pleasant meeting it was, and with what grateful gladness Mrs. Harris found out how well her old scholars had followed out their watchword, may easily be imagined; as well as the interest with which the story of poor Nelly's changeful life and steady faith in the Saviour, of whom Miss Preston had first told her, was narrated and heard.

Lucy did not forget to visit Nelly's stepmother, whose circumstances remained much the same as in former times. She did not seem much gratified by Lucy's praises of Nelly's good conduct. She had always predicted that Nelly would "come to no good," and she did not like to have her opinions in such matters proved fallacious. Lucy, however, rather enjoyed dilating upon Nelly's industry and usefulness, that Mrs. Connor might feel the mistake she had made, even in a worldly point of view, by her heartless conduct.

When the heat of the summer was subsiding into the coolness of September, Lucy and Stella prepared to return home,-not, however, without having revisited all the spots which had been the scenes of former excursions, and, in particular, the scene of the "strawberry picnic," where every little event of the happy summer afternoon, now so long past, was eagerly recalled.

"And do you remember, Lucy," asked Stella, "how hateful I was about poor Nelly, when we discovered her here? Oh, how wicked and heartless I used to be in those days! And I don't believe I should ever have been any better if you hadn't come to live with us!"

Her physical health had been very much benefited by her sojourn in the country, under the kind, motherly care of Mrs. Ford, who had fed her with cream and new milk till she declared she had grown quite fat. That, however, was only a relative expression. She was still very far from being the plump, blooming Stella of former times.

But the chief benefit she had gained was not to be discerned by the outward eye. It lay deep in her heart-the "pearl of great price," which her wandering spirit had at last sought and found.

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