Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword
THE CHILDREN'S WATCHWORD.
BY THE AUTHOR OF
'KATIE JOHNSTONE'S CROSS.'
JAMES CAMPBELL AND SON.
|I.||MISS PRESTON'S LAST SUNDAY,||1|
|III.||MORE HOME SCENES,||24|
|IV.||NELLY'S SUNDAY EVENING,||35|
|XI.||A START IN LIFE,||121|
|XIV.||AN UNEXPECTED RECOGNITION,||163|
|XV.||THE FLOWER FADETH,||174|
|XVI.||DARKNESS AND LIGHT,||184|
|XVIII.||A FAREWELL CHAPTER,||207|
Miss Preston's Last Sunday.
Of unseen things above—
Of Jesus and His glory,
Of Jesus and His love."
he light of a lovely Sabbath afternoon in June lay on the rich greenwoodlands, still bright with the vivid green of early summer, andsparkled on the broad river, tossed by the breeze into a thousandripples, that swept past the village of Ashleigh. It would have beenoppressively warm, but for the breeze which was swaying the longbranches of the pine-trees around the little church, which from itselevation on the higher ground looked down upon the stragglingclusters of white houses nestling in their orchards and gardens thatsloped away below. The same breeze, pleasantly laden with the mingledfragrance of the pines and of the newly-cut hay, fanned the faces ofthe children, who in pretty little groups—the flickering shadows ofthe pines falling on their light, fluttering summer dresses—wereapproaching the church, the grave demeanour of a few of the elder onesshowing that their thoughts were already occupied by the pleasantexercises of the Sunday school.
Along a quiet, shady path, also leading to the church, a lady wasslowly and thoughtfully walking, on whose countenance a slight shadeof sadness, apparently, contended with happier thoughts. It was MaryPreston's last Sunday in her old home, previous to exchanging it forthe new one to which she had been looking forward so long; and full asher heart was of thankfulness to God for the blessings He hadbestowed, she could not take farewell of the Sunday school in whichshe had taught for several years, without some regret and manymisgivings. Where, indeed, is the earnest teacher, however faithful,who can lay down the self-imposed task without some such feelings? Hasthe heart been in the work? Have thought and earnestness enteredinto the weekly instruction? Has a Christian example given force tothe precepts inculcated? Above all, has there been earnest,persevering prayer to the Lord of the harvest, in dependence on whomalone the joyful reaping time can be expected?
Such were some of the questions which had been passing through MissPreston's mind; and the smile with which she greeted her class as shetook her place was a little shadowed by her self-condemningreflections—reflections which her fellow-teachers would have thoughtquite uncalled for in one who had been the most zealous andconscientious worker in that Sunday school. But Mary Preston littlethought of comparing herself with others. She knew that to whom "muchis given, of him shall be much required;" and judging herself by thisstandard, she felt how little she had rendered to the Lord for Hisbenefits to her. As her wistful glance strayed during the opening hymnto the faces of her scholars, she could not help wondering whatinfluence the remembrance of what she had tried to teach them wouldexert on their future lives.
As her class had been much diminished by recent changes, and in viewof her approaching departure the blanks had not been filled up, itconsisted on this Sunday of only three girls, of ages varying fromtwelve to fourteen, but differing much in appearance, and still morewidely in character and in the circumstances of their lives.
Close to Miss Preston, and watching every look of the teacher sheloved and grieved at losing, sat Lucy Raymond, the minister'smotherless daughter, a slight, delicate-looking girl, with dark hairand bright grey eyes, full of energy and thought, but possessing agood deal of self-will and love of approbation,—dangerous elements ofcharacter unless modified and restrained by divine grace.
Next to her sat fair, plump, rosy-cheeked, curly-haired Bessie Ford,from the Mill Bank Farm—an amiable, kind-hearted little damsel, and afavourite with all her companions, but careless and thoughtless, witha want of steadiness and moral principle which made her teacher longto see the taking root of the good seed, whose development mightsupply what was lacking.
Very different from both seemed the third member of the class—aforlorn-looking child, who sat shyly apart from the others, shrinkingfrom proximity with their neat, tasteful summer attire, as if she feltthe contrast between her own dress and appearance and that of herschool-fellows. Poor Nelly Connor's dingy straw hat and tatteredcotton dress, as well as her pale, meagre face, with its bright hazeleyes gleaming from under the tangled brown hair, showed evident signsof poverty and neglect. She was a stranger there, having only recentlycome to Ashleigh, and had been found wandering about, a Sunday or twobefore, by Miss Preston, who had coaxed her into the Sunday school,and had kept her in her own class until she should become a littlemore familiar with scenes so strange and new. Curiosity and wonderseemed at first to absorb all her faculties, and her senses seemed soevidently engrossed with the novelty of what she saw around her, thather teacher could scarcely hope she took in any of the instructionwhich in the most simple words she tried to impress on her wanderingmind. And so very ignorant was she of the most elementary truths ofChristianity, that Miss Preston scarcely dared to ask her the simplestquestion, for fear of drawing towards her the wondering gaze of hermore favoured classmates, who, accustomed from infancy to hear of aSaviour's love and sacrifice for sin, could scarcely comprehend howany child,
And not a heathen or a Jew,"
could have grown up to nearly their own age, ignorant of things whichwere familiar to them as household words.
Lucy and Bessie, in their happy ignorance and inexperience, littledreamed how many thousands in Christian cities full of statelychurches, whose lofty spires seem to proclaim afar the Christianity ofthe inhabitants, grow up even to manhood and womanhood with as littleknowledge of the glorious redemption provided to rescue them fromtheir sin and degradation as if they were sunk in the thickestdarkness of heathenism. Strange that congregations of professedfollowers of Christ, whose consciences will not let them refuse tocontribute some small portion of their substance to convey the gladtidings of the gospel to distant lands, will yet, as they seek theircomfortable churches, pass calmly by whole districts where so many oftheir fellow-countrymen are perishing for lack of that very gospel,without making one personal effort to save them! Will they not have togive an account for these things?
Nelly Connor's life had for the last two or three years been spent inone of the lowest districts of the city in which her father had fixedhis abode after his emigration from the "old sod" to the New World.The horrors of that emigration she could still remember—theovercrowded steerage, where foul air bred the dreaded "ship-fever,"and where the moans of the sick and dying weighed down the hearts ofthose whom the disease had spared. Her two little sisters had diedduring that dreadful voyage; and her mother, heart-broken and worn outwith fatigue and watching, only lived to reach land and die in thenearest hospital. An elder brother, who was to have accompanied them,had by some accident lost his passage; and though he had, theysupposed, followed them in the next ship that sailed, they neverdiscovered any further trace of him. So, when Nelly's father hadfollowed his wife to the grave in the poor coffin he had withdifficulty provided for her, he and his daughter were all thatremained of the family which had set out from their dear Irish home,hoping, in the strange land they sought, to lay the foundation ofhappier fortunes.
They led an uncomfortable, unsettled life for a year or two afterthat, exchanging one miserable lodging for another—rarely for thebetter. The father obtained an uncertain employment as a deck hand ona steamboat during the summer, subsisting as best he could on odd jobsduring the winter, and too often drowning his sorrows and cares in thetempting but fatal cup. Poor Nelly, left without any care or teaching,soon forgot all she had ever learned; and running wild with theneglected children around her, became, as might have been expected, alittle street Arab, full of shrewd, quick observation, and utteraversion to restraint of any kind.
Suddenly, to Nelly's consternation, her father brought home a secondwife, a comrade's widow, with two or three young children. In the newhousehold Nelly was at once expected to take the place of nurse andgeneral drudge, a part for which her habits of unrestrained freedomand idleness had thoroughly disqualified her; and the results werewhat might have been expected. There was a good deal of heedlessnessand neglect on Nelly's part, and nearly constant scolding on that ofher new mother. And as the latter was neither patient nor judicious,and was, moreover, unreasonable in what she demanded from the child,there was many a conflict ending in sharp blows, the physical pain ofwhich was nothing in comparison with the sense of injury andoppression left on the child's mind. But she had no redress; for herfather being so much away from his home, had no opportunity ofopposing, as he would probably have done, his wife's severe method of"managing" his motherless child.
Things were in this condition when Mrs. Connor, who had formerlybelonged to Ashleigh, made up her mind to remove thither, in theexpectation both of living more cheaply, and of being able, among herold acquaintances, to find more work to eke out her uncertain means ofliving. Her husband was now working on a steamboat which passed up anddown the river on which Ashleigh was situated, so that he could notsee his family as often as before. They were now settled in a small,rather dilapidated tenement, with a potato patch and pig-sty; and Mrs.Connor, who was an energetic woman, had already succeeded in makingher family almost independent of the earnings which Michael Connor toooften spent in the public-house. This being the case, she had noscruples in providing for her own children, without much considerationfor Nelly; so that the poor child was a forlorn-looking object whenMiss Preston had found her hovering wistfully about, attracted by thesight of the children streaming towards the church, and had inducedher to come, for the first time in her life, into a Sunday school.
And now, with these three girls before her, differing so much incircumstances and culture, it was no wonder that Miss Preston shouldfeel it a matter for earnest consideration what parting words sheshould say, which, even if unappreciated at the time, mightafterwards come back to their minds, associated with the remembranceof a teacher they had loved, to help them in the conflict between goodand evil which must have its place in their future lives. But she feltshe could not possibly do better, in bidding farewell to her youngpupils, than to direct them to Him who would