The Project Gutenberg eBook of Comfortable Mrs. Crook, and other sketches

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Title: Comfortable Mrs. Crook, and other sketches

Author: Ruth Lamb

Release date: May 8, 2024 [eBook #73569]

Language: English

Original publication: London: The Religious Tract Society, 1888


Transcriber's note: Unusual and inconsistent spelling is as printed.



Fanny brought in the tea-tray to the minute.






"Look on the Sunny Side," "Taught by Experience," etc.






















IF Mrs. Jemima Crook happened to be in a very good temper, when taking a cup of tea with some old acquaintance, she would sometimes allude to her private affairs in these words: "I don't deny it; Crook has left me comfortable." This was not much to tell, for Mrs. Crook was not given to confidences, and a frequent remark of hers was: "I know my own business, and that is enough for me. I don't see that I have any call to fill other people's minds and mouths with what does not concern them."

Seeing, however, that Mrs. Crook's own mind and heart were entirely filled by Mrs. Crook herself, it was perhaps as well that she should not occupy too much of the attention and affection of her neighbours.

It is a poor narrow heart, and a small mind, that find Self enough to fill them; but these sorts are not unknown, and Mrs. Crook's were a sample of such.

When she spoke of having been left "comfortable" by her deceased partner, there was a look of triumph and satisfaction on her face, and a "No thanks to any of you" kind of tone in her voice, that must have jarred on the ear of a listener.

No one ever saw a tear in Mrs. Crook's eye, or heard an expression of regret for the loss of "Crook" himself. He had been dead, and out of sight and mind almost, these ten years past. He was merely remembered as having done his duty in leaving his widow "comfortable." People were left to speculate as they chose about the amount represented by the expression. It would not have been good for the man or woman who had ventured to ask a direct question on the subject, but everybody agreed that Mrs. Crook must have something handsome. Surely "comfortable" means free from care, both as regards to-day and to-morrow: not only enough, but a little more, or else anxiety might step in and spoil comfort.

If Mrs. Crook had more than enough, she took care not to give of her abundance. Neither man, woman, nor child was ever the better for the surplus, if such there were. One of her favourite expressions was, "I don't care for much neighbouring; I prefer keeping myself to myself."

"And you keep everything else to yourself," muttered one who had vainly tried to enlist her sympathy for another who was in sickness and trouble.

Mrs. Crook had a pretty garden, well stocked with flowers according to the season. She was fond of working in it, and might be seen there daily, with her sun-bonnet on, snipping, tying and tending her plants.

Children do so love flowers, and, thank God, those who live in country places have grand gardens to roam in, free to all, and planted by His own loving hand. But in town it is different, and Mrs. Crook lived just outside one, far enough away from its smoke to allow of successful gardening, not too far to prevent little feet from wandering thither from narrow courts and alleys, to breathe the purer air, and gaze with longing eyes at the fair blossoms.

It always irritated Mrs. Crook to see these dirty, unkempt little creatures clustering round her gate or peeping through her hedge.

"What do you want here?" she would ask, sharply. "Get away with you, or I will send for a policeman. You are peeping about to see if you can pick up something; I know you are. Be off, without any more telling!"

The light of pleasure called into the young eyes by the sight of the flowers would fade away, and the hopeful look leave the dirty faces, as Mrs. Crook's harsh words fell on the children's ears. But as they turned away with unwilling, lingering steps, heads would be stretched, and a wistful longing gaze cast upon the coveted flowers, until they were quite lost to sight.

There was a tradition amongst the youngsters that a very small child had once called through the bars of the gate: "P'ease, missis, do give me a f'ower." Also that something in the baby voice had so far moved Mrs. Jemima Crook, that she had stopped to select one or two of the least faded roses amongst those just snipped from the bushes, and given them to the daring little blue eyes outside, with this injunction, however:

"Mind you never come here asking for flowers any more."

This report was long current among the inhabitants of a city court, but it needs confirmation.

Mrs. Crook objected to borrowers also, and perhaps she was not so much to be blamed for that. Most of us who possess bookshelves, and once delighted in seeing them well-filled, look sorrowfully at gaps made by borrowers who have failed to return our treasures.

But domestic emergencies occur even in the best regulated families, and neighbourly help may be imperatively required. It may be a matter of Christian duty and privilege too, to lend both our goods and our personal aid.

Mrs. Crook did not think so. Lending formed no part of her creed. If other people believed in it, and liked their household goods to travel up and down the neighbourhood, that was their look out, not hers.

"I never borrow, so why should I lend?" asked Mrs. Crook. "Beside, I am particular about my things. My pans are kept as bright and clean as new ones, and if my servant put them on the shelves, as some people's servants replace theirs after using, she would not be here long. No, thank you. When I begin to borrow, I will begin to lend, but not until then."

Mrs. Crook's sentiments were so well known that, even in a case of sickness, when a few spoonfuls of mustard were needed for immediate use in poultices, the messenger on the way to borrow it, passed her door rather than risk a refusal, whereby more time might be lost than by going farther in the first instance.

Many were the invitations Mrs. Crook received to take part in the work of different societies.

One lady asked her to join the Dorcas meeting.

"You can sew so beautifully," she said, "you would be a great acquisition to our little gathering."

The compliment touched a tender point. Mrs. Crook was proud of her needlework, but to dedicate such skill in sewing to making underclothing for the poorest of the poor! The idea was monstrous!

Mrs. Crook answered civilly, that she could not undertake to go backwards and forwards to a room half a mile off. It would be a waste of time. Besides, though it was probably not the case in that particular meeting, she had heard that there was often a great deal of gossip going on at such places.

The visitor was determined not to be offended, and she replied gently, that there was no chance of gossip, for after a certain time had been given to the actual business of the meeting, such as planning, cutting-out, and apportioning work, one of the ladies read, whilst the rest sewed.

"But," she added, "if you are willing to help us a little, and object to joining the meeting at the room, perhaps you will let me bring you something to be made at home. There is always work for every willing hand."

Then Mrs. Crook drew herself up, and said she did not feel inclined to take in sewing. She had her own to do, and did it without requiring assistance, and she thought it was better to teach the lower classes to depend upon themselves than to go about pampering poor people and encouraging idleness, as many persons were so fond of doing now-a-days. No doubt they thought they were doing good, but, for her part, she believed that in many cases they did harm.

The visitor could have told tales of worn-out toilers, labouring almost night and day to win bread for their children, but unable to find either material for a garment or time to make it. She could have pleaded for the widow and the orphan, if there had seemed any feelings to touch, any heart to stir. But Mrs. Crook's hard words and looks repelled her, and she went her way, after a mere, "Good-morning. I am sorry you cannot see your way to help us."

No chance of widows weeping for the loss of Mrs. Crook, or telling of her alms deeds and good works, or showing the coats and garments made for them by her active fingers!

It was the same when some adventurous collector called upon Mrs. Crook to solicit a subscription. She had always something to say against the object for which money was asked.

If it were for the sufferers by a colliery accident, or for the unemployed at the time of trade depression, she would answer—

"Why don't they insure their lives, like their betters? Why don't they save something, when they are getting good-wages? I am not going to encourage the thriftless, or help those who might help themselves, if they would think beforehand."

If it were to build a church that money was being sought, Mrs. Crook instantly replied, that they had more need try to fill all the places of worship that were half empty, Sunday after Sunday.

It did not matter in the least to her that these places were many a mile away from the people who had none within reach. She would not be convinced because she did not want to be.

Ask her for a missionary subscription, and she said: "There are heathens enough at home without sending men to be killed by savages in foreign parts;" and if some one hinted that she might then visit some of these native English heathens, she replied, "I do not care to have people that I know nothing about coming to my house, and I am not going to push myself where I might not be wanted."

At length every one gave up trying to enlist her services, or to obtain contributions from her, for the support of any good cause. And Mrs. Crook bestowed all her thoughts, her affections, her time, and her means, on the only person she thought worthy of them all—namely, Mrs. Crook herself.





IT may be doubted whether, under these circumstances, Mrs. Crook was truly "comfortable." Probably many poorer people, on whom she would have looked down—if she had condescended to look at them at all—would not have cared to change places with her.

Mrs. Crook tried to think that she was very wise and prudent in thus caring for her own interests, and did not believe it possible that she could be mistaken. Yet there were times during the lonely hours—of which, by her own choice, she had so many—when a voice would seem to whisper, "Is your life the happiest you can possibly lead in this world? Has Time nothing better to give? Days and years are passing. Death must come to you as to others. What about eternity?"

When this last question recurred, Mrs. Crook tried to put it out of her mind. It was the one she disliked more than all the rest, yet it was the one which would repeat itself again and again, and for which she had no answer ready. She found her greatest comfort in thinking that she belonged to a very long-lived family.

Her grandmother had died at eighty-three; her mother at eighty-seven; and some of her relatives had attained still greater ages. Why not she?

"Let me see," said Mrs. Crook, when one day this unpleasant question had persisted in obtruding itself upon her loneliness: "I am just fifty-eight, and I feel as strong as ever I did in my life. I cannot remember having had a week's serious illness in all those years. I am a far stronger woman than mother was, and she lived to be nine-and-twenty years older than I am now. There is no reason why I should not reach ninety, or even a hundred. But if it were, say, eighty, which is not a great age in my family, I have two-and-twenty years to look forward to."

These calculations brought a look of satisfaction to Mrs. Crook's face. Twenty-two years is a long time to look forward to, and she thought she was very reasonable indeed not to have settled on twenty-five or thirty, with the example of her kinsfolk before her.

Then Mrs. Crook was somehow led to consider her mode of life. She had always been satisfied with it, so far. No one could say she was not religious. She always attended church when the weather was dry and not too cold. She could not risk her health by going out in the rain, or when an east wind was blowing. She would have regarded such doings as a tempting of Providence.

The collector never had to call twice for her pew rent. In fact she prided herself a good deal on the amount she thus contributed towards the maintenance of public worship, seeing that she paid for three seats and only occupied one.

Mrs. Crook liked to have a little pew to herself. It looked genteel, and she was not inclined to sit beside "nobody knows who," even at church.

He would have been a bold apparitor who had shown a stranger into one of the unoccupied seats, for Mrs. Crook, having paid for them, considered she had a right to keep them empty if she chose. She never considered how the minister would feel if everyone did the same, and expected him to preach to nearly empty pews.

It was just when Mrs. Crook had finally decided that she had a good two-and-twenty years of life to reckon upon, that her servant, Fanny, managed to upset all the feelings of satisfaction with which she looked forward thereto. She brought in the tea-tray to the minute, but as she placed it on the table, Mrs. Crook noticed that the girl's eyes were full of tears, and she heard a smothered sob.

"What is the matter with you, Fanny?" she asked, testily. "Toothache again, I suppose? But if it is, you need not be a baby, and cry about it. Girls are so frightened of themselves, that if a little finger aches they go sniffing and crying about a house, and making everybody miserable!"

Poor Fanny had lately borne a great deal of pain with much patience, and had gone about her work as usual, when her nights had been sadly disturbed, and she had been unable to take a proper amount of food. Knowing that her mistress would be more likely to grumble than to sympathise she had said little about her sufferings, and Mrs. Crook had either been, or pretended to be, ignorant of them, until the girl asked permission to go to a dentist.

Happily, she had obtained relief, and was able to answer:

"My face is all right, thank you, ma'am."

"Then what is the matter? I suppose you think you have something to cry about. If you have no troubles, you make them. You don't see me cry about every little thing, do you?"

Fanny could not call to mind any occasion when she had seen her mistress shed tears, and she said so. Nevertheless, this fact did not stop the flow of her own, as she answered:

"It is not about myself that I am crying; it is for Miss Lawton. They say she is dying. And she is so good and so young—only twenty-two, three years older than I am. They say she never had a day's illness in her life before; and this is inflammation, that came on all at once, and there's no hope of her getting better. Mother used to say to me sometimes, 'Young folks may die soon, old ones must.' But I never thought Miss Lawton was a bit likely to be called away. What a blessing she is ready! There will be plenty to grieve after her, though she does not fret about herself, but is just willing to live and work for God, if it please Him to spare her, or to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better."

Fanny's tears prevented more words. Miss Lawton was very dear to the girl's heart. She had been her Sunday-school teacher, and if her mistress would have allowed it, Fanny would have remained a member of the select class which the young lady taught, after she went to service.

But Mrs. Crook ridiculed the idea of a grown-up girl going to a Sunday-school, so Fanny had to content herself with an occasional sight of the dear young lady, to whom she owed so much. It was a comfort that Mrs. Crook attended the same church, and that in service the girl would still worship under the same roof as her parents, and the friends who were dearest to her.

Often had this young servant, who was also a humble disciple of Jesus, spoken to her dear teacher about Mrs. Crook. There never was a lover of the Saviour who was not a lover of souls also, and to Fanny it was a real sorrow that her mistress never spoke of Him.

"How nice it would be if Mrs. Crook were like Miss Lawton!" thought Fanny. "She would have me reading the Bible to her, and she would help me to understand it better. And she is so lonely, poor lady! She seems to care for nobody, and nobody cares for her. Yes, I do, though she would never think it. I feel sorry for her many a time, and wish she were even as happy as I am.

"This is not one of the brightest houses in the world to serve in, but I have a deal to be thankful for. The place is respectable, the work is regular, and what I can do easily; hours early, and the wages paid to the day. I am near father and mother, and the old school, and, best of all, Christ is always near to me. But it must be awful quiet and lonely for her, poor thing, though she says nothing, and seems as if she wanted to have no neighbours!"

The "her" was Mrs. Crook. Fanny could not believe that her mistress was a happy woman, or that she could be so without Christ. Many a prayer did the young servant offer on her behalf, and chief amongst her desires and petitions for Mrs. Crook was this: "Lord Jesus, let Thy Holy Spirit show my mistress that she wants a Saviour, and then show her Thyself, and make her very happy in Thee."

Mrs. Crook had no idea of Fanny's feelings towards herself. She knew she had a good, steady, truthful servant, who required no telling about keeping corners clean, or polishing pans. She put these things down to her mother's training, which had been excellent, but never dreamed that, as the girl moved about the house, she strove to bear in mind the words "Thou God seest me," and tried to do the humblest household task as unto the Lord.

Fanny did not see Miss Lawton very often, but they sometimes met in the street, at others when coming out of church, and once or twice the young teacher had ventured to call at Mrs. Crook's and ask permission to have a few minutes' conversation with her former scholar. The girl almost trembled at the idea of announcing such a visitor, for her mistress's household rule was "No followers" in its most comprehensive sense.

As, however, Miss Lawton asked Mrs. Crook's leave in such a nice straightforward way, and was so very kind in her inquiries after the mistress as well as the maid, she obtained it. After all, Mrs. Crook considered it was creditable to herself that Miss Lawton, who was a real lady, thought her servant worth looking after.

Moreover, the visitor had shown a wise discretion in staying only a short time with Fanny.

"And this was not because she was in a hurry," said Mrs. Crook, "for when I invited her into the parlour, she came in and chatted so pleasantly, that I felt sorry when she had to go."

Whether the meeting was only for a few seconds in the street, or one of these privileged interviews under Mrs. Crook's roof, Fanny always felt better and stronger for the performance of her duties, after having seen Miss Lawton.

It is easy to understand why she was thus influenced, for the meeting left sweet memories of good advice, lovingly spoken, of sisterly sympathy, though in a worldly sense the teacher and scholar were widely separated, and of cheery words, which seemed to ring in the girl's ears after the speaker was lost to sight.

It was Fanny's darling wish that Miss Lawton's visits should be blessed to her mistress, and the young lady, deeply stirred at the thought of Mrs. Crook's loneliness, earnestly longed to be of use to the solitary woman.

"If only I might be the messenger of glad tidings to her, how my heart would rejoice!" she thought. And during those occasional visits, she strove to introduce the subject which lay nearest to it, namely God's great love in giving His dear Son to die for sinners.

All to no purpose. She might speak of the weather, the crops, the hoped-for good harvest, the flowers, of which even Mrs. Crook was so fond, and their conversation would be animated enough.

But let her speak of Him who giveth to all meat in due season, and who, beside giving bread to nourish our bodies, has given the "Bread of Life," to some poor perishing sinners, and Mrs. Crook's interest was gone. She looked either indifferent or unconscious; she answered in monosyllables, as if the subject were nothing to her, and Miss Lawton felt convinced that any allusion to a possibility either of sinfulness or of need in herself would give deadly offence, and close Mrs. Crook's door against her for the future. So she could only pray, and wait, and hope.

The news of Miss Lawton's illness was a sore trial to Fanny. It was through God's blessing on her teaching that the girl had been brought to the feet of Jesus, and who can forget such a service as this?

No wonder that Fanny's tears fell fast as she told the sorrowful tale to Mrs. Crook, and then summoned courage to ask if she might go to see Miss Lawton.

It was not her night out, and the household rules, as to leave of absence, were us rigid as those about followers. Still Fanny thought if Mrs. Crook would relax them, it would surely be for Miss Lawton's sake.

"How do you know the young lady is not likely to get better?" asked Mrs. Crook sharply.

"The letter says so, ma'am," replied Fanny.

"Letter; what letter?"

"One the postman brought me a few minutes before I came in with the tray. It is from Miss Lawton's maid, and she was told to write, because Miss Lawton knew I should be so grieved if I heard about her on a sudden," said the girl, her tears flowing afresh.

"It is not likely the family will want you going at such a time, Fanny. If the young lady has been kind, that is no reason you should take liberties. I do not see that I ought to let you do it," returned Mrs. Crook.

"Oh, but, please ma'am, Miss Lawton wants me to go, and sent word that I am to ask your leave. And there is a message for you too. Will you read it for yourself?"

"A message for me! Well, give me the letter if you like, I will look over it, and make up my mind whether you can go or not, whilst I am getting my tea."

Fanny handed the little note which had brought her such sad tidings, and went downstairs with the thought in her mind, "It will speak to mistress better than I can."




MISS LAWTON had only employed her maid's hand to write as she dictated, and her own name was signed at the bottom, though Fanny could at first hardly believe that the signature was really that of her dear teacher. The writing was so sadly different from that in the prizes she had received, and which she so greatly valued as Miss Lawton's gifts.

Mrs. Crook looked eagerly for the message to herself, and she soon found it, for the note was not a long one.

   "Give my kind love to Mrs. Crook, and say that I shall consider it a great favour to me, if she will allow you to come and see me to-night. I say to-night; because, though my life may be spared for a few days, there is no certainty when I may be called to be with Jesus. I should like to see my old scholar once again, but if we should not meet here, I pray that we may meet in His presence, to part no more. I know you love Jesus, dear Fanny, and I trust that each day you may become more truly His, and more like Him. I can ask nothing better for you than this, that you may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

   "Come to me, if you can, but do not displease Mrs. Crook if she refuses permission. I should like to see her, too."

Here the note abruptly concluded.

"To think Miss Lawton should send her love to me!" exclaimed Mrs. Crook, as usual, thinking most of what referred to herself. "How strange that she should care so much about a common servant-girl like Fanny! I must let the girl go, though it is not her night. If the young lady should die, it would be very unpleasant for me to think that I had denied her such a small favour. One doesn't like to say 'no' to a dying person."

So when Fanny was summoned to clear away the tea things, Mrs. Crook said, "I will let you go to Miss Lawton's. You need not stay to wash the china before you go, because there is no saying what may happen, according to this letter."

Fanny uttered a thankful exclamation as her mistress gave the desired permission, but her eyes filled with tears again, at those last foreboding words.

It was evident that Mrs. Crook realised that Death might be hovering near to Miss Lawton, though she deemed he must be at least two-and-twenty years distant from herself.

"Shall I give any message from you, ma'am?" said Fanny. "Miss Lawton sent her kind love to you."

True; and this had puzzled Mrs. Crook. "What could have made her send it?" she asked herself.

She hesitated, unwilling that Fanny should take no return message. Mrs. Crook was truthful. In fact she prided herself on telling the whole truth, when sometimes it was likely to give pain, and silence would have been better than such plain speaking.

At last she decided on her message. "You may give Miss Lawton my best respects, and say I am very sorry to hear she is ill, and I do wish her better."

Mrs. Crook could say this much truthfully. She did respect Miss Lawton. She was more sorry to hear of her illness than she could have believed possible; and she even concluded that she should be willing to give something out of her own pocket, if by so doing she could insure the fulfilment of her wish for the young lady's recovery.

Before Fanny was well out of sight, Mrs. Crook was wishing she had sent her love to Miss Lawton, instead of her best respects. Her thoughts were so fully occupied by the sick girl, that she could not settle to work of any kind. She usually spent her evenings at her knitting, because it did not try her eyes.

One of Mrs. Crook's great subjects of comfort was her excellent sight, and she strove to preserve it. However, she could not endure to sit still, and she walked up and down the room, whilst comparing Miss Lawton's position with her own.

"Only two-and-twenty," said she to herself. "I have lived more than twice as long. Eight years more and I should be three times Miss Lawton's present age. How curious that I have just been reckoning that I ought to live at least two-and-twenty years, for I am only in my prime as yet!

"Fanny says that Miss Lawton is quite ready to die, if it should be God's will, and, though she is so young, she neither grieves nor is frightened at the prospect; whilst I—"

Mrs. Crook stopped and shivered perceptibly. Conscience told her that the very thought of death filled her with terror now, and that during her fifty-eight years of life she had always tried to put it away from her mind. If she were even to live twenty-two years more, would she be better prepared to die than at this moment? She had certainly not made up her mind to begin any preparation; and though, on the whole, Mrs. Crook was well satisfied with herself, she could not say that she needed none. The very best people reckoned that something had to be done, and she had certainly never quite understood what the something was.

There was another thought suggested by Fanny's words. The girl had said so many people would grieve to lose Miss Lawton, though she was not sorry at the prospect of death.

Mrs. Crook thought it was most desirable that there should be a fair amount of weeping at a funeral. There was something respectable in being very much lamented. To have it said that "nobody shed a tear," was almost a certificate of bad character with regard to the departed. And yet, when she began to reckon up her own acquaintances, she could not think of anybody who was likely to shed many tears at her funeral, whenever it might take place.

A further self-examination, and Mrs. Crook was fain to confess that she had done nothing to call for any.

It was certainly a very humbling view she was getting of herself and her deservings. Why, even the very money she had saved, and which she could not carry away with her, was more likely to cause rejoicing in the hearts of those who inherited it than sorrow for her loss. She had a tidy sum well invested, far more than any one would have supposed; but even small savings grow satisfactorily, when it is all putting in and no drawing out, either of principal or interest. Besides, Crook had left what he did without any restrictions as to its final disposal. She could make somebody more than comfortable in turn, if she chose to bequeath all to one person.

But, so far, Mrs. Crook had never liked any individual well enough to make a will in his or her favour. Crook had no relatives, or a certain sense of hard justice might have disposed her to leave the money to them. The few relatives she had were very distant ones, both as to kindred and place of abode, and clearly had no claim upon what came by her husband.

She had been saving for somebody; but she had no idea for whom, and she did not like to picture any person in possession of this pretty home, filling her favourite chair, even wearing her best dresses.

Mrs. Crook had many a time felt certain that people were "making up to her," for the sake of her money, and the moment this thought took possession of her mind she had "given them the cold shoulder," as she expressed it, and let them see they need not come canting round her for the sake of what they could get.

But the world is not quite so selfish and mercenary as Mrs. Crook pictured it. There had been many warm-hearted, kindly Christian people who, during her ten years of widowhood, had felt honestly anxious to brighten a life that seemed so lonely and so self-absorbed. People, too, whose own worldly circumstances might have placed them above being suspected of wanting to benefit by Mrs. Crook, and whose sole desire was to do her good and make her happier.

They had all been driven away discouraged, and, in some cases, pained and grieved, by ill-disguised taunts. Now, as the "comfortable" widow paced up and down her parlour, she could remember no acquaintance or friend who would be likely to shed a tear if she died to-morrow.

"Really," thought Mrs. Crook, "I believe that little simpleton of a Fanny cares more for me than anybody else does. She is a soft-hearted thing, and I tell her sometimes that her tears lie very near her eyes. But she is true, and there is no crocodile crying or deceit about her. I wonder what it is that makes her different from so many of the girls I have had. Most of them would be fair to my face and cheat me almost before my back was turned. I had to spend half my time looking after them to see that they did the work properly, but it makes no difference to Fanny, whether I am at hand or no. She never leaves speck or spot that hard rubbing will remove. As to talking back again! She never gives me a saucy word when I find fault."

By Mrs. Crook's own confession, strictly private and made only in her own mind—it became evident, even to herself, that she did not behave with strict justice towards Fanny. If the girl did her work so conscientiously, surely there was little room for fault-finding; and yet, it was so much the mistress's habit to grumble, that Fanny had often to bear the weight of her tongue, whilst feeling that she did not deserve to be scolded, and that at times, try as she might, she could do nothing right.

Fanny could not, however, know that scolding at regular intervals was a matter of principle with Mrs. Crook, who had long ago settled in her own mind that if a girl were not idle and careless to begin with, she would certainly become so, unless kept up to the mark by judicious fault-finding. Girls needed to be "taken down," or they would become so conceited there would be no bearing them.

Mrs. Crook was like many other people who are past middle age, and who take no trouble to remember their own young days. They expect an amount of patience and forbearance from the girls who serve them, which they, as mistresses, are by no means willing to exercise in turn. And, knowing the unreasonableness of such expectations, they can hardly believe the fact when they are occasionally realised.

A good many little scenes which had taken place between herself and Fanny, passed before Mrs. Crook's mind's eye during her little maid's absence. Memories of sharp words, followed by sharper still, because the girl did not retort, but lifted up tearful appealing eyes that seemed to plead, not for indulgence but justice.

"I am afraid I have sometimes been a little hard on Fanny," mused Mrs. Crook; "though, if I have, it has been for her good. I dare say she would feel a sharp word sooner than some of those brazen-faced things I had before she came, for though she is full nineteen years old, she is as simple in her ways as a child."

Mrs. Crook's mode of comforting herself, when conscience reminded her that she might have been kinder to the honest, tender-hearted girl who faithfully did her best, was by no means peculiar to herself.

There are many amongst us who admit that the inward monitor was right to remind us of our hardness towards some dependent fellow creature. But we make ourselves quite comfortable, nevertheless, by insisting that the motive was right, and the hard words calculated to benefit their object.

Thought is rapid, and, though Fanny was not long absent, her mistress got through a deal of thinking before her return; moreover, her cogitations were of a very unwonted character.





"WHY, Fanny, you must surely be bringing good news!" exclaimed Mrs. Crook, as she caught sight of the girl's face. "You look quite bright. Is Miss Lawton better?"

Truly the girl's countenance shone with a new light, yet her tears seemed about to flow again at her mistress's question.

"She is not really better, ma'am, only she is not in so much pain now. In that way, the doctors say the worst is over, but there is no hope of her getting better. She may live for weeks, but she will gradually wear away; but, oh! It was beautiful to see my dear teacher so calm and happy at the thought of going to be with Jesus! Looking at her sweet face, I seemed to forget about death, and think only of glory to come.

"I felt, as I stood by Miss Lawton's bed, that if I only could be just like her, I should be willing and glad to change places with her that minute."

Mrs. Crook was astonished, and well she might be. As she gazed on the girl's glowing face, and heard her earnest words, she thought it was very strange for a young thing like her to talk in such a manner about death—the subject which was above all others hateful to herself. She was ready to take offence and to chide Fanny for her presumption; but, on second thoughts, she had not the heart to do it. The girl might be mistaken, but she was evidently very happy, and for once her mistress hesitated to meddle with her joy.

Fanny was not one to take liberties, and, as Mrs. Crook asked no further questions, she went to the kitchen and completed the household duties she had been permitted to leave undone when she went to see Miss Lawton. These finished, she tapped lightly at the parlour door, and was told to come in.

"I only wanted to thank you again for letting me go out, and Miss Lawton said I was to give her love, and say how much obliged she was to you, both for sending me and for your kind message, ma'am."

"It was not so kind as hers was to me," replied Mrs. Crook. "I wished afterwards that I had sent my love. I suppose you did not give it by mistake?"

No. Fanny had exactly repeated her mistress's words, but, encouraged by her unusual gentleness of manner, she said—

"Will you go and see Miss Lawton, ma'am? I am sure it would do anybody good to be with her, even for a little while."

"I should never take such a liberty, Fanny," returned Mrs. Crook, with a severe look.

"But, ma'am, Miss Lawton said how much she should like to see you again, only she knew you were not fond of getting out much, so was afraid to ask you to take the trouble. 'I shall never be able to go to Mrs. Crook's,' she said, 'but I do not forget how kindly she always received me, when I came to look after my old scholar.'"

Fanny's eyes were dimmed with tears, and she could not see very distinctly, but surely Mrs. Crook's were wet also, or why did she wipe them? And there was a strange trembling of the voice, such as the girl had never noticed before, as she answered quite softly—

"Miss Lawton is right. I do not care for running from house to house. But I would go farther to see that dear young lady's face again."

Fanny's duties ended; she went early to bed. Early hours were the rule at Mrs. Crook's, there being no likelihood of late callers, or of visitors who would interfere with the order of the little household. Sleep came to the young servant almost as soon as her head touched the pillow, but it was longer in visiting her mistress.

Mrs. Crook's mind was full of Miss Lawton. She had never been so near loving anybody for many a year past, and now this young life, so precious to many, was drawing to a close. She felt as though she would like to ask that it might be spared, but she knew not how to frame such a petition. She certainly said her prayers night and morning, but they consisted of a few set sentences which she never varied, and "Our Father" to finish with.

If Mrs. Crook had been questioned as to whether she really thought of what she said, or wanted what her lips asked for, I am afraid she would have been obliged to answer "No," for she was a truthful woman, despite her many other failings.

"If I were to ask, and if other people better able were to pray that Miss Lawton's life might be spared, from what Fanny says, she might not be pleased. I cannot understand it. Surely the girl must be mistaken in thinking that the young lady is willing to die. She has everything to make her want to live. Such a beautiful home, such kind loving parents, and, by all accounts, no end of friends that want to keep her. And she cares for them and her scholars too. I cannot understand it. It is not natural."

Mrs. Crook was quite right. If it had been natural for the human heart to be submissive to God's will, surely she, who was so much older than Miss Lawton, ought to have the feeling in a much greater degree, especially as she was almost alone in the world, and had no close ties of kindred or friendship to bind her affections more firmly to earth.

"What is it that makes the difference?" Mrs. Crook kept asking herself; but no experience enabled her to answer this mental question.

There was another problem presented to her by the conduct of her little maid, which puzzled Mrs. Crook, and this was the difference between Fanny and most of her predecessors. She, as mistress, had been accustomed to scold, and equally, as a matter of course, her servants had given her cross looks, saucy words, and grudging service. Some of them had needed constant watching, not only to ensure the proper performance of their duties, but to keep them from gossiping, and from bringing in forbidden guests to the kitchen.

It had never struck Mrs. Crook that it was natural for the young to yearn for companionship, and that to live in such a quiet house, with a mistress who never dreamed of sympathising with them, either in joy or sorrow, or troubled herself about their affairs or their friends, must be rather trying.

It would have been an easy matter for Mrs. Crook to brighten things for her handmaidens by allowing a little indulgence in the way of visitors; but such an idea never crossed her mind. Surely what was enough for her ought to satisfy them! At any rate, if they wanted anything different, they would not get it under her roof!

There had, however, always been a struggle between mistress and maid for the little privileges which the younger combatants longed for, and the elder was resolved not to grant. Then, when both were weary of the contest, one or the other gave a month's notice, and the interval was too often spent in mutual aggravation. Fanny had proved herself the single exception. She was conscientious, honest, truthful, painstaking, patient, and a daily puzzle to her mistress.

"If she had been like this for a week or two I could have understood it," thought Mrs. Crook. "One expects good work from a new broom, and I am used to it. But the longer Fanny stays, the better she works; and if I go out, I come back to find that she has done almost more and better whilst I was away than she does when I am looking after her. She falls into my ways without grumbling, and never contradicts me."

Fanny's good conduct was becoming monotonous, almost aggravating; for it deprived Mrs. Crook of the only thing she had in the shape of domestic excitement. It was now depriving her of nightly rest, as if to compensate for the too great peace of the daylight hours, and interfering with the clockwork regularity of her habits.

Whatever caused the difference between Fanny and her former servants Mrs. Crook felt was in some way owing to Miss Lawton, and she determined to find out the secret if possible.

An almost sleepless night was so unusual with Mrs. Crook, that it affected her very unpleasantly. Instead of feeling inclined to rise at her usual hour, her aching head seemed to cling to the pillow. It needed a great deal of self-communion before she could determine to have her breakfast brought upstairs, instead of going down to it.

She had not breakfasted in bed for many a year past, indeed she could hardly remember the last occasion, and she hated to be put out of her way.

Besides, only sick people ought to be indulged in such a manner, and she dreaded the very thought of illness. She had often said that half the people who died were killed by being fussed over and doctored, and because they gave in for the first little ache that came to them, instead of facing small ailments, as they would other little troubles.

However, Mrs. Crook remembered that Crook's doctor had once told her that if people would take care of themselves and nurse up at the beginning of a cold, it would never get any farther. No doubt her headache would be cured by a little extra rest, and she would take it.

Fanny came in answer to her summons, and really it might have been a pleasure to the girl to have something out of the common to do for her mistress, though it went sadly against the grain as regarded Mrs. Crook herself. Yet the girl persuaded her to let her sponge her face and hands and smooth her hair, instead of making the effort to wait on herself.

These little services were rendered so tenderly and deftly that when they were completed, the object of them felt much more comfortable and inclined for the cup of tea and round of toast which followed.

It was a comfort too, that Fanny did not creep about in the stealthy way that some people consider the proper one in a sick-room, but moved quickly though quietly. Neither did the girl look doleful. She was kind and sympathetic, but not at all sad, and discerning a look of satisfaction on the face of her mistress, she ventured to smile cheerily back again, and say:

"I am so glad you are not very poorly, ma'am. I believe it is just the loss of sleep that has made your head ache. I nearly always sleep well, but if I do lose any rest at night it is sure to give me a bad headache, and I do not get rid of it till I have made up the loss."

Mrs. Crook was quite glad that Fanny said this. If wakefulness affected a strong young girl, it was no wonder that it made a little difference to herself, so she resolved to try and make up for lost time and restore the balance. She closed her eyes with an unwonted feeling of thankfulness in her heart, brought there by the thought that with Fanny in the house she might rest in peace. No need to fear that anything would go wrong.

With this comforting reflection, Mrs. Crook became unconscious of all that was around her, and awoke some hours afterwards, refreshed by sleep, free from pain, and able to dress and go downstairs.

Fanny was delighted to see her mistress apparently well, and Mrs. Crook found that her confidence had not been misplaced. Her little maid's daily duty was no eye-service, but done as in God's sight, whether her earthly employer was present or absent.





MRS. Crook was not given to regretting her loneliness, but on that afternoon she experienced an unusual longing for companionship. Having no one else at hand, she called Fanny into the parlour, and gave her some sewing to do which would require her own personal supervision.

When the girl was fairly at work, she began to question her as to the beginning of her acquaintance with Miss Lawton.

Delighted at the unusual interest shown by her mistress, Fanny told how, when she was a headstrong troublesome girl, the young lady persuaded her to join her class at the Sunday-school, though she had refused to go when her mother wished her.

"I went once and never meant to go any more, but there was no standing against Miss Lawton's kind words and sweet ways. Mother always said I was one that might be led, but never driven, and it was true. I felt that first afternoon that I would not miss a chance of being with my new teacher for the world. She was so different from other people, for mostly they did nothing but tell me how naughty I was, and how I should be certain to get paid back in one way or other."

"What did Miss Lawton say?" asked Mrs. Crook eagerly.

"Instead of telling me what a sinner I was, she told me how God, by His Holy Spirit, had shown her how sinful she herself was. 'He made me look into my heart, Fanny,' she said, 'and let me see that it was full of pride and selfishness. He had given me loving parents, who had no greater pleasure than to use their means to gratify my wishes and make me happy. I had all the good things of this world, yet I was neither thankful to God nor my parents, though I was proud because I had them. They did not make me really happy. No one can be who does not try to make others so, and I was so taken up with self that I had not a bit of room in my heart, either for love to God or my neighbour.'"

If Fanny could have known how her simple story, the mere repetition of her teacher's words, was being used as a means of enlightening the heart of her mistress, she would have rejoiced, though almost with trembling. But it was Mrs. Crook's voice which was tremulous, as she said, almost in a whisper, "Go on, Fanny," while another voice seemed to speak within her and ask, "Is not this word-picture a fair description of your state to-day? What room have you in your heart, either for God or your neighbour?"

"Miss Lawton said that when she was shown her state as a poor helpless sinner with nothing good in herself, and nothing to offer to God, she was very miserable. But soon, by the same blessed teaching, she learned how God in His great love for poor sinners had given His dear Son to live for their example, and then to die in order to buy pardon, cleansing, peace, and eternal life too, for those who had deserved nothing but death. Oh, how glad it made her! Faith was given her to believe in Jesus, as the one and only Saviour, and the thought of all He had done for her, made her love him, and want to be a true child and servant of God, and to speak about His love to those who did not care for Him, or for their own souls."

Tears were in Fanny's eyes as she spoke, but her face was bright, and her tone told of a glad heart within.

"How can you remember all this?" asked Mrs. Crook.

"I can never forget if, ma'am," replied Fanny. "It was through Miss Lawton telling me about herself, that I found out my need of a Saviour, and found that, though God had loved me always, and given His dear Son to die for me, I had never loved Him or tried to do one thing for His sake. I did learn to believe in Jesus, and I do want to love and serve Him, but—"

"But what, Fanny?"

"The best I can do is so little, and I am always falling short of what even I should like. What a blessing it is that we are not saved by what we do ourselves, but by what Jesus has done for us!"

Fanny's feelings had carried her out of herself. She had spoken from her heart, forgetful of the distance, usually carefully preserved, between her mistress and herself; forgetful of harsh words, unjust fault-findings, of everything in short, save of what had been done for her own soul, by her Saviour, and of the wish that Mrs. Crook might be led to believe in Him also.

She felt as if she could not utter another word, but Mrs. Crook could see that her little maid's fingers trembled, so that she could scarcely guide the needle, and that more than once she had to wipe away her tears.

Mrs. Crook was far from being comfortable herself. She was strangely stirred by Fanny's simple words. She had always said that the girl was very soft-hearted, and that her tears lay too near her eyes, but just now she liked her better for these things. They were part and parcel of a tenderer nature than she had ever before been brought in contact with, and Fanny had proved herself kind and unselfish.

It was quite contrary to Mrs. Crook's practice to say a word of praise to one of her handmaidens, but something moved her to tell Fanny that she was very well pleased with the way in which she did her work.

"Is it because you love Jesus that you do things as well when my back is turned, as when I am looking at you?" she asked.

"It is only since I learned to love Him that I cared much about pleasing mother, first, and then my mistress," said Fanny. "If you are away, I say to myself, 'God sees, God knows,' and if I am inclined to be idle or careless, I pray for help not to give in."

Mrs. Crook asked no more questions just then, and Fanny plied her needle in silence until the arrival of the milk-boy called her to answer the door. Then work had to be put away and tea got ready, but the little talk was not forgotten. It had given Mrs. Crook plenty to think about, and made the girl much happier, since it had brought her mistress nearer to her.

"I hope," thought the latter, "the girl will not take liberties, because I have made more free with her than usual this afternoon."

Perhaps Fanny divined what was passing through her mind, for Mrs. Crook noted with pleasure that she was, if possible, more respectful and quiet in manner than before.

A little later in the evening Mrs. Crook told her maid that she felt rather afraid to accept Miss Lawton's invitation.

"I know," she said, "that doctors do not like for sick people to be agitated by many callers. It does them harm, instead of good, and it is not as if I was a relation or a particular friend of the young lady. But I do like her, and I should love to see her once more, only I would not be the means of doing her harm to please myself."

Here was a new thing! Mrs. Crook thinking more of what would be good for another than of what would be pleasing to herself.

"I do not think you need be afraid of going, ma'am," replied Fanny. "Miss Lawton scarcely sees anybody but her own family, only she wished so particularly to see you that the doctor gave in, and let her send that message by me."

Mrs. Crook was again silent for some time; Fanny's reply had given her another problem to solve.

Why was Miss Lawton anxious to see her above other people? She could have nothing to gain by it; she had already everything this world could give, and was likely to be called away from it ere long.

Why should she care about a mere acquaintance, made through an old Sunday scholar?

Had she nothing to gain, Mrs. Crook? It might seem not to you, but the young disciple of Jesus was longing to win one more soul for her Master. She knew how vain had been the efforts of others to obtain a hearing for Him. She knew how you, a woman, so much older than herself, had turned a deaf ear to the warning voice from the pulpit, the loving invitations of those who wished you well, and to the message contained in God's Word. And she thought, "Perhaps the sight of one so young as I am, standing on the very brink of the grave, yet strong in the strength of Him who has deprived it of victory, and taken the sting from death, may prove a silent sermon to poor Mrs. Crook."

It was this plea which had overcome the objections of those who feared that the invalid might suffer from receiving such a visitor, and gained permission for the invitation to be sent.

It set Mrs. Crook thinking and wondering, but she obeyed the summons, and to the latest day of her life she will thank God that she did so.

It was not without some trepidation that she entered the sick girl's room. She had always associated gloomy thoughts with illness, and shrank from everything suggestive of coming death. But there was nothing gloomy about that room or the principal figure in it.





AS Mrs. Crook entered, a welcoming hand was extended to her, and the sweet voice which she had always liked to hear, though she could scarcely tell why, said, "I am so glad to see you, dear Mrs. Crook. It is very good of you to come. You will sit near me, will you not? For I cannot speak loudly or for long together."

"It is very good of you to let me come," said Mrs. Crook, as she held the white hand gently between both of her own, for a moment, and then laid it reverently down on the white counterpane. "I was sorry to hear of your illness. But," she added, in a hopeful tone, "I trust you will get better. You do not look ill, and you have quite a beautiful colour in your cheeks. Maybe the doctors are mistaken."

Mrs. Crook knew that it depressed sick people sometimes to be told that they were not looking well. She was glad that she could honestly say the contrary to Miss Lawton.

The sick girl smiled, as she answered, "You know the old saying, 'while there is life, there is hope.' I have so many to love that for their sakes I might wish to live, but God has enabled me just to leave myself in His hands. To live and work for Him would be very sweet. To depart and be with Christ far better still. I have only to wait and trust. All will be well."

The sweet low tones of the sick girl's voice fell like music on Mrs. Crook's ear, and they went to her heart and filled it with a strange new longing—a deep desire to know what it was which filled the speaker's whole being with measureless content and peace, that made her face radiant with love and joy, that enabled her to set such little store by the best this world could offer.

In broken words, which she could hardly recognise as her own, Mrs. Crook managed to tell Miss Lawton what she felt, and to add—

"I have always hated to think about death, and counted a long life here as the thing most of all to be wished for; please tell me how it is you are not afraid to die?"

The sick girl's face grew brighter still as she listened. The inquiring words were surely an answer to her prayer that Mrs. Crook's coming might be helpful to the good of her soul. So, once again, she told how the old (but ever new) story of God's love for sinners had been brought home to her own heart, and how she had been enabled to see her own sinfulness and need of a Saviour, and how she had found one in Jesus.

She spoke of His life, His love, His death, His tender compassion for a lost and ruined world, His willingness to receive, His many invitations to each weary and heavy laden soul, His promise, His victory over sin, Satan, and the grave, of the glory He had laid down for a time, but which He had taken again, and which every believer should share with Him in heaven.

"Believing in His love, do you wonder, dear Mrs. Crook, that, while I feel it sweet to serve and trust Him here, I feel that it will be sweeter still to have the precious promises all fulfilled, and to be with Jesus for ever and ever? In the presence of Jesus is fulness of joy. Once there, sorrow and sighing would flee away, and I should just be looking forward to meeting again those I loved on earth, and who loved Jesus. My dear parents, my Sunday scholars, your and my little Fanny amongst the rest, and you, too, Mrs. Crook."

A groan came from the person thus addressed, and down the face that mostly had such a hard stern expression, the big tears chased each other, whilst in a voice broken by sobs she cried—

"I have never loved Jesus; I have loved nobody but myself! It would be of no use to look for me there."

Again the girl took up the sweet words of invitation, "'Come unto me;' 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance;' 'Whosoever will, let him come,'" with many another message which came straight from the very lips of Jesus when on earth, and told her visitor how they had been brought home to her own heart. There was no preaching as it seemed in her way of speaking. It was only just telling what the Lord had done for her soul, and she could say, "What God has done for me, He is ready and willing to do for you; His words are, 'Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.'"

Happy Agnes Lawton, in being able thus to speak of her Saviour's love. Happy Mrs. Crook, in being at last made willing to listen to the precious message.

Not that Mrs. Crook felt glad at heart. On the contrary, she was sorely troubled; but, though she did not yet realise it, she was on the way to happiness. The Holy Spirit was striving with her and bringing the words of the young disciple home with power.

Her hard heart was softening beneath this Divine influence. The eyes of her understanding were being enlightened, and at that moment it could have been said of Mrs. Crook for the first time in her life, "Behold she prayeth," though no human ear caught the sound of words, and only the great Searcher of hearts knew of the yearning cry for pardon which was going out from hers.

"Agnes, darling. I fear you have talked too long."

The voice was that of Mrs. Lawton, who, fearing for her daughter, now entered the room.

"I am sure you would not wish your visit to do her harm," she said, turning to Mrs. Crook.

"Not for all the world," was the answer, though it was with difficulty the words were uttered. "I don't know how to thank you for letting me come."

"It has not hurt me, mother," said Miss Lawton. "I am a great deal happier for having seen Mrs. Crook," and truly the sweet face shone with a holy joy as she looked at her visitor.

Mrs. Crook took up the little white hand again and held it tenderly, as she whispered, "Pray for me. God will hear you."

"And you and all who come in the name of Jesus," replied the girl.

Then she put her disengaged arm round Mrs. Crook's neck, and, drawing her gently towards her, she kissed her, as a loving child might have done.

"Good-bye, dear Mrs. Crook," she said. "If we do not meet again here, may we meet in heaven."

Mrs. Crook had longed to kiss the white hand that lay in hers, but she felt afraid to take such a liberty. She could hardly believe her senses when Agnes Lawton's arm clasped her neck, and her lips pressed loving kisses on her cheeks.

How many years had passed since Mrs. Crook last felt the touch of young lips there, or indeed of any? She had never been a demonstrative woman, and her childless condition had helped to dry up any little wellspring of tenderness in her nature, if any such existed. But that unexpected embrace, that pure caress, stirred her as she had never been moved before, not only to thankfulness for the lovingkindness it manifested, but to regretful thoughts, as she looked into the past and knew what she had lost by those years of hardness and loneliness.

It is not for us to trace, step by step, the change which had its beginning, as we have already seen, through the simple words of a little maidservant, and the love for souls which burned in the heart of a young disciple of Jesus. We will rather pass by these years, and look at Mrs. Crook after the interval.

Surely that is she who is making a group of little children happy, by leading them through her pretty garden and telling them the names of the flowers which she plucks from time to time, and ties up in small nosegays which they will carry back with them to brighten their dingy homes.

Of course these are not all the same children who were once driven away with hard words and threats, for some of those are at work already, helping to earn their bread. They look much cleaner too, though their clothes are poor and in some cases, ragged.

But Mrs. Crook has found that she can influence the little ragamuffins for good, by means of a gift of flowers, for it is understood that dirty hands and faces do not match with these fair blossoms, and the small people vie with each other in holding out a clean palm to receive them.

Mrs. Crook has found these kind words avail more than sharp ones, and that a great deal of happiness may be diffused at a very small cost, not that she grudges anything now for such a purpose.

At church, mistress and maid occupy two seats in the same pew, and the third is always at the service of any stranger who requires one.

Of course, too, since God opened Mrs. Crook's heart, she has been willing to open her hand and her purse, and all who work for Him find in her a willing helper. No more hoarding—Mrs. Crook has become a cheerful giver.

Her little maid resembles the Fanny of three years ago, but can hardly be the same, unless time has stood still with the girl.

Mrs. Crook's present domestic is the younger sister of her old one, and Fanny is the happy mistress of a neat little home of her own, and the wife of a worthy young man, a neighbour's son.

Miss Lawton's life was considerably prolonged, and she had the joy of knowing that her words had been blessed to Mrs. Crook.

The latter seems full of love and goodwill to all the world. She once cared only for herself, but since Christ has filled her heart there has been no place for self, though there is room in it for everybody else.

Truly the heroine of this little story may now well be called, Comfortable Mrs. Crook.


It may be added that Agnes Lawton was no ideal character. The original, a most beautiful girl, was well known to the writer. She died nearly twenty years ago, but many of her actual words are noted in this little story.




"WHY, John, can this be you? It is so unusual to see you anywhere but on the box, that I can hardly believe my eyes. Have you left the Tramways Company?"

John Carrington took Mrs. Markham's questions in order, and replied, "Yes, ma'am, it is me sure enough. It is strange to see me walking about, for I believe most people are so used to notice me a-front of a tram-car, that they think I sleep on the driving-seat. I have been driving something or other ever since I grew big enough to take a good grip of the rains, and that's over fifty years since. I have not left the Company."

"Then, I suppose, you are having a holiday, John?"

"Queer sort o' holiday," returned John, speaking in a very husky voice, and from under a thick muffler. "Spent it on my back, in bed. I can't say but I could have done with a little extra rest, for working hours are very long. But being in bed is one thing, and resting is another. I had bronchitis, and when you feel as if you were going to suffocate almost, and your breath comes whistling out of your throat with a noise loud enough to serve as a signal to start the horses, you gain very little comfort by that sort of rest, do you, now?"

"Indeed, you do not, and you ought to be resting at this moment, for you are still unfit to be out of doors. You should have stayed in on such a keen frosty day as this, seeing you are not on duty," said Mrs. Markham.

"Come out to get hardened to it a bit, ma'am. Doctor said it wouldn't do to go straight from bed to the driving-box."

Mrs. Markham felt troubled at John's words. He was quite the favourite tram-car driver on that route, and liked by all his passengers. He was constantly on the lookout for his patrons, and saluted them by a flourish of the whip, or a touch of his white hat, sometimes even by a brief remark, when practicable. He anticipated their signals, telegraphed through the window to know if he were to stop at the usual place, and managed to do almost double duty as driver and conductor.

A crusty new-comer in the latter capacity would sometimes remark that, but for collecting fares, there might as well be no guard when John was on the box, for he didn't seem to know what was his own share of the work. But John's unfailing good temper and cheery ways were certain to convert the grumbler into a friend before many days were over.

It seemed to Mrs. Markham such a pity for the man to be out in the keen air when he was better fitted for bed, and she urged him to go home and stay indoors a little longer.

John shook his head and replied gravely, "No use talking, ma'am, thank ye all the same. I can't afford to play. You see, there's my old woman has been an ailing body for many a year. The doctor has been kind, and charged as little as he could afford. But a-many things go to making an invalid comfortable, beside the doctor and the physic. I must go at it again to-morrow, for certain."

"I thought you tram people had a fund of some kind, so that when laid by through illness, you would have a weekly allowance," said Mrs. Markham.

"There is one for the young 'uns. But when I started in the service there was no such thing, and now there is, I am too old to join."

"That seems hard. Those most likely to need the help are shut out from it."

"Excuse me, ma'am, but there's no hardship in it. They could not take on old men members that would come on to the fund very soon after they began paying, and it would not be fair to the young 'uns. It is expected that you will pay for a good while before you want anything back, except through accident or sudden illness. Young and old must take their chance of such things. The fund is started so that members may get ready for the rainy day whilst the sky is clear overhead. I cannot benefit by it myself, but I thank God when I think that, if these young fellows live to be old and ailing, they will not have to choose between working when they are not fit for it, or playing and starving."

John was preparing to pass on his way with a touch of the hat, and "Good-day to ye, ma'am, and thank ye. A kind word always cheers me up a bit, and I tell it over again to the old woman," but Mrs. Markham stopped him to bestow a little sum which would insure him a couple of days more rest, and left him with kindly wishes for his recovery.

"I can't afford to play."

There is something very touching in the expression when we think of its meaning, as John Carrington used it. As most of us understand the word, play means recreation, happy pastime, accompanied by brightness, enjoyment, and freedom from care for the time.

We hear it spoken, and straightway we see visions of merry youngsters, gambolling in the fields, or home, and making the air ring with, or the walls echo, their joyous shouts and laughter.

But the word in the mouth of working folk carries a sadder meaning. As a rule it refers to the enforced idleness brought about by the lack of something for the busy hands to do, and, if long continued, means want of everything else for wives and children at home.

An anxious, careworn woman in real distress will say, "My husband is on short time. He has worked three days and played three, every week for the last two months." Or, "He has played since Christmas and we are into February."

Such an application of the word gives little heartache to those who hear it for the first time, and who have hitherto regarded play and joy as twins.

There are tens of thousands of toilers who, like John Carrington, have home claims which compel them to go the endless round of daily work, because they cannot afford to lose an hour's pay, though they are unfit for labour.

Think of this, you who call your time your own. Who have so much of it at your disposal that you are put to shifts and contrivances to kill it, or fritter away the hours which drag on too slowly, whilst you wait for some new pleasure that you have promised yourselves.

Think of it, you who have never experienced a moment's anxiety about a supply of the bread that perisheth and all its luxurious accompaniments which you would call the necessaries of life.

Try to imagine what it would be to go on, on, on, ever repeating the same tasks in the same place, with nothing new to look at even, no expectation of anything better, no hope of cessation, except through sickness which means suffering, or lack of work to do, which means lack of food also. And all this to support a bare existence of ceaseless toil, and for the barest bread as its reward.

Have you ever thought that a day's rest to such would be like a foretaste of heaven? A something longed for, but never hoped-for or looked for, by tens of thousands? A something you might give now and then without feeling the cost of it, though, having never been placed in such circumstances, you could not estimate its value. I do not mean the giving a day in the country. That kind of change is a very delightful one, a summer blessing which dwellers in dim city alleys know how to value. But this day of rest that I mean, would be an all-the-year-round boon, and would perhaps, be most precious in winter time, because then, the aching eyes and head of the weary seamstress suffer more, on account of the small allowance of light. Then the delicate frames shrink most from the pinching cold; and to have, just for one day, wages without toil, and food without having first to earn it, the freedom to sit at ease by a warm fireside, without being driven back to toil by the voice of necessity, would, I say, be heaven upon earth to many a deserving worker, who can never "afford to play."

I know a lady who gives this happiness now and then, to some of her poor acquaintances. When she sees one of them beginning to droop, say over her sewing machine, she says "What will a day's rest cost. Tell me, and I will pay for it."

Sometimes there is a press of work, and even the paying would not secure the holiday, but she bides her time, and waits, till the toiler would be allowed the day off, if she could afford to take it. Then the money is forthcoming, only the giver bargains that the day shall be spent happily and restfully, and the task work entirely put aside. She gives more than the wages, which are often small enough, so that there may be food and fire without stint, and advises that part of the time be spent out of doors, weather permitting, except where the person helped will be benefited by staying in and enjoying warmth and rest together.

One poor woman said to her, "You made me promise not to work, ma'am, and, at first, it seemed so strange to be able to do as I liked, that I felt quite lost.

"Then, I thought, I might do a bit—not enough to tire me—for we want so many things, and half a day's wage would be something extra. But I was vexed at myself for even thinking of breaking my promise when you had been so kind as to set my hands free and make things comfortable for the day. So I set to work to enjoy myself. I cooked the dinner, such a good one! And I had a real play with the children, poor things! They could hardly believe their ears when they saw my face and heard me laughing, and we all sat down instead of snatching a bite anyhow.

"After dinner, the sun was shining, and we went for a short walk, and looked in at shop windows, and after that I nodded in the old chair whilst they played with some more children in the court.

"I went to bed same time as they did, knowing I must begin again in the morning, but one day's rest did me more good than medicine, and I felt twice the woman after it that I did before it, thanks to God and you, ma'am."

If anybody wants to make a poor toiler happy, let her look round for some worthy, weary body, and give it a day's rest, by bestowing a conditional day's wages and the little more which shall spread the board and brighten the hearth. Such an expenditure pays good and immediate interest, and the night's rest of the giver will be all the sweeter for the memory of the drop of sweetness which she has been able to infuse into the cup of one less favoured than herself.

The Master will not forget the work of love, and those are precious words which tell us, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me."



UNCLE Maurice and his little niece, Minnie, had gone through the whole book together; looked at the pictures, talked over the stories; and now there was nothing else to be done but to shut it up and put it aside. There had been many a laugh during the hour spent upon it, and, though it was a mere baby book, I doubt if the child had enjoyed the time more than her tall uncle had done.

Minnie gave a little sigh as she put down the volume, and looked around, as if asking what was to come next. She was a blue-eyed, curly-haired, five-year-old lassie; her uncle's special pet and darling, and I am afraid that, knowing how dearly he loved her, she was a little bit of a tyrant, and ordered him about as if he were the child, and she a grown-up aunty.

Uncle Maurice obeyed her commands almost too well. We generally say and think that obedience is a lesson that should be learned whilst we are very young, but we are often no longer young when we conquer ourselves, which is really the same thing.

"What shall we do now, Uncle Maurice?" was the child's inquiry.

"Go for a walk," was the prompt answer, "the same as we did yesterday. We have been sitting a long time, and I want to stretch my legs. Besides, it is lovely out."

Minnie shook her head, and with a child's bluntness, retorted, "Your legs are too long already, Uncle Maurice."

"I am sorry for it, dearie; but I cannot help it. It would spoil them to cut pieces off. They are better for walking with, anyway, so let us go."

"No. I don't want to walk with you, because you are too big."

There was something ludicrous in the child's way of measuring her tall uncle with her blue eyes, so wide open, as she let them travel from the tips of his toes to the top of a head as curly as her own, and then down again.

Uncle Maurice looked quite perplexed and troubled by his little niece's words and actions.

"But, Minnie, darling," he said, "you went with me to the park yesterday, and I thought you were very happy. If I am big, you can always reach my hand."

"You walk too big," retorted Minnie, retreating before her uncle's outstretched arm, and taking refuge by her mother's side, as if she were afraid of being carried off against her will.

"What does the child mean?" he asked, addressing his sister, for the little one's manner puzzled him.

Mrs. Payne understood her tiny daughter better than even Uncle Maurice did, for of course mothers can read their children's thoughts and know all about their wants, better than anybody else in the world.

"I think she means that you took too long strides," she answered. "Even if you walk slowly, her little feet would be kept on the trot all the while. It is not Uncle Maurice that Minnie objects to, as a whole, but to his long legs which walk too big. Is not that it, Minnie?" she asked of the child.

Minnie nodded approvingly and said "Yes." Mother, as usual, knew all about it.

"I remember," replied Uncle Maurice, "that the child seemed hot and flushed, and complained of being tired. I wanted to carry her, but she resented the proposal. She was too big for that, she told me. Poor little woman, I am sorry. The walk seemed nothing to me."

"Nor would it have been to Minnie, if you had accommodated your long step to her short one. It was the 'walking too big,' that did the mischief. To-day, now, as you looked over the pictures, you were like two children together. You brought yourself down to her level, laughed at what pleased her, and looked sorrowful when her young heart was stirred to pity. There was true sympathy between you, hence the happy hour you spent together."

"And yesterday, I was always a little ahead, and Minnie toiling on behind, and never able to keep beside me, unless she had my hand, or kept at a steady trot."

"The sitting down in the park was nice, Uncle Maurice," interposed Minnie, who did not wish him to think that yesterday's struggle had no bright side to it. "I will go again, only you must walk little, because I am little."

Uncle Maurice promptly agreed, and once more the two started off together, to return equally happy. Minnie herself proposing numberless walks in the future.

When the child's curly head was peacefully resting on her pillow, Uncle Maurice and her mother sat talking together about the household pet and her winning ways and quaint talk.

"That was a queer expression of hers, 'You walk too big,' was it not?" said he, laughing again as he recalled it and her face to mind. "I should not have understood her meaning but for you. Since you threw light upon it, I have thought of the many ways in which we all 'walk big' without considering the effect of our so doing upon our neighbours."

"You are finding out far more in little Minnie's saying than I did, Maurice, and turning it to better account. What unconscious teachers are our little ones," responded Mrs. Payne.

"Yes; Minnie set me thinking, first of all how, as a boy at school, I often walked too big, when I might have accommodated my step to that of a weaker companion, and perhaps helped him on the road. I had great strength, and was proud to display it, and the height which was beyond that of other boys of my age. I liked to look down from it on some little lad whose growth had perhaps been stunted by illness, or the want of the abundant nourishment which I had never lacked, and so I made him feel the difference all the more keenly.

"How often have I, and such as I, put out our God-given strength to mortify our weaker fellows, boasting, perhaps, 'I can hold you down with one hand, although you are my senior in years,' and so making the poor fellow writhe both in body and mind.

"How often have I boasted of God's good gifts which were mine, not because I deserved them better than the rest, but because He had graciously given me more! Or been proud of the place in class that I had attained without effort, when one who had worked ten times as hard, perhaps, was sighing over his failure. I can see that, as a schoolboy, even when beside my fellows, I walked too big. I boasted where there was no real merit, and I discouraged others, when, by slackening my speed, and shortening my step a little, we might have walked side by side, cheering and being cheered on the path."

"There are so many ways of doing this walking too big," replied Mrs. Payne. "In entertaining our friends, for instance. From a children's party up to one at which we prepare to receive our most honoured guest, and those amongst our acquaintances who stand highest in the social scale, we all try to walk big, do we not? Quite lately, our friend, Mrs. Longworth, gave a juvenile party. She is a large-hearted woman, and a loving mother. Every child interests her, and she would like, if she could, to add to its happiness. Moreover, she has a well-filled purse, and can afford to entertain her friends right royally, old or young. And she does.

"I will venture to say that it was purely out of this large-heartedness of hers, and not with a thought of outshining her neighbours, that she gave her youthful guests a spread fit for a prince to sit down to.

"The rooms were beautifully decorated, and the supper-table was laden with all sorts of dainties, probably more than the children had ever seen together before, or dreamed of being permitted to partake of at will. Professional amusers were engaged, lest the little people should not be able to amuse themselves and each other. In short, all was done that kindness could suggest, and money provide.

"I am not in a position to say whether any of the guests suffered in body after such unwonted indulgence, but I do know that the moral effect of the entertainment was not altogether satisfactory.

"Some of the children were made envious, some discontented by this effort to give them pleasure.

"'Why cannot we have as nice things at our party as Mrs. Longworth gave us?' inquired one.

"'Because,' said his mother, 'we are not so rich.'

"'Then don't let us have a party,' was the next remark; 'I should hate for the boys to come here and say, "How different it is from Mrs. Longworth's!"'

"And yet, until then, there had been happy gatherings of bright children under the roof where the speaker lived, and the unwonted luxuries seen on the richer lady's table had neither been missed nor wanted.

"The mother of another young guest ventured to invite her children's friends to a simpler feast, in accordance with an annual custom, though she, too, rather dreaded an allusion to Mrs. Longworth's grand doings, and it came at last.

"'Are you enjoying the party?' said one of the youngsters, who was looking as happy as possible, to another who was standing aloof, as if Blind Man's Buff were a degradation after conjurors and marionnettes.

"'Fairly,' was the cool reply. 'But I don't call this a party, it is only going out to tea, you know.'"

Uncle Maurice laughed as his sister finished her account of the grand spread and its results.

Dear, kind Mrs. Longworth was, all unconsciously, walking too big, both for her child guests and their parents. When she racked her brain to give them pleasure, and neither spared trouble nor purse, she little imagined that she could possibly do harm by the very lavish nature of her kindness.

I had a similar experience after a grown-up party where the entertainment was magnificent, not at all beyond the givers' means, but such as few of their guests could return in kind. A lady amongst these, when saying farewell to her hostess, thanked her for the delightful evening she had spent.

"But," she added frankly, "I shall never dare to ask you to my house again, because we live so plainly in comparison, and cannot entertain in similar style."

"Then I shall come without being asked," was the prompt reply. "I should be grieved indeed if the good gifts which God has bestowed upon us were to be the means of robbing us of others which we value far more highly still—the society of our old and true friends."

In this case again, the givers of the entertainment had not thought of displaying their own wealth and resources, but of honouring and giving pleasure to their guests. Nevertheless, they too had unthinkingly "walked too big," for most of them, and made them feel small by comparison.

"Ah, Maurice, we walk too big in so many ways. In dress, in social surroundings, even sometimes in our Christian profession and work. For instance, if I am going to pay calls, I am tempted to consider what dress is the handsomest and most becoming, instead of combining with this idea a thought for those I am about to visit; but two old friends of mine joined in teaching me a lesson.

"One of them is a dear old gentlewoman who has come down in the world, but who, in her prosperous days, was very fond of rich attire. She cannot now indulge her taste for it; but she likes to see pretty things as well as ever. So to her I go in all my bravery. She discusses the style of my gown, appraises my bonnet, perhaps asks the loan of some garment as a pattern, and is sure to thank me with a hearty kiss, for having come in my newest and prettiest things to her little bit of a place which two people almost fill.

"'But there is room for me to turn you round in, my dear,' she says; 'and light enough to see you by, for, thank God, the window is large and the sun is sure to shine on me, if it shines anywhere.'

"I come away feeling that all my garments are worth double the price they cost, and I feel glad for my old friend that poverty has not changed her bright nature, and that she is large-hearted enough to enjoy the mere sight of whatever is beautiful or pleasant to look upon, without envying the possessors. No fear of 'dressing too big' and thereby paining her.

"I have to deal differently with another old friend, who is similarly placed, owing to an unexpected reverse of fortune.

"I always walk either too big or too little to please her, and I invariably enter her presence in fear and trembling. I would not wilfully pain her for the world, and I have tried to make her understand this, but I am always wrong. If I go very plainly dressed, she will scan my garments, and, after the first greetings, remark: 'I suppose you are not on your way to call on Lady Hope?'

"'No,' I reply cheerfully; 'I set out early in order to have a long pleasant chat with you, if I were fortunate enough to find you at home and at liberty;' hoping to please by showing that I did not look in merely on the way to a luxurious home. I failed utterly.

"'I need not have asked the question,' she answers. 'A glance at your dress might have told me that you would not call at Hopefield in that gown, Marian, but anything is good enough for my poor little hut of a place. It was different when you and I were at school together, for then, Sir John Hope's father was working for weekly wages, and mine was member for the county. As to my being at home and at liberty, there is little fear of my being out. People who have come down in the world are not overdone either with callers or engagements.'

"I listen in silence and not unsympathetically, for I know it must be hard for my old friend to compare the past with the present; but all the while she is speaking, I cannot help contrasting her with that other clear friend who has suffered similar reverses, but finds brightness in everything, and is ever looking out for causes of thankfulness. I try to tell her, perhaps, how well I remember those old days, and how gratefully I think of the hospitality I received under her father's roof. I even venture to reproach her for refusing my invitations, when she knows no guest would be more honoured here than herself. Then she tells me, with tears, that she cannot bear to meet people who are mere nobodies, but who would look down upon her on account of her poverty.'

"What an unpleasant old lady!" said Uncle Maurice. "Have you tried the effect of going in all your grandeur, or of a little wholesome neglect in the matter of invitations?"

"I have tried both and with equal success," replied Mrs. Payne. "When I went in my best bib and tucker, I heard remarks made about the taste which induced people to flaunt their finery before the eyes of those whose birth and social position entitled them to similar luxuries, but whose purse would only provide bare necessaries. I was once so annoyed at her ungracious reception of my invitations, that I resolved to give no more, but the result was too terrible."

"Is it worth while to concern yourself about pleasing a person of such an unhappy temperament?" asked Uncle Maurice. "I feel with you that if by slackening our pace, or shortening our steps we can strengthen the weak, encourage the timid, or stimulate the fainthearted to renewed effort, we ought to make the attempt, but in cases like the former—"

"It is perhaps still more incumbent upon us, and that because they are so unhappy. I have no doubt that during her solitary hours, my discontented friend would be more miserable still but for my efforts to please her, and I am quite sure that I am the happier for having tried to do it, whether successful or not," said Mrs. Payne.

"True, Marian, and it seems to me that there is hardly any act in our social, even our religious life, about which we might not advantageously ask ourselves, 'Am I walking too big?' Sometimes, the timid Christian is afraid to offer his services, though he is longing to do something for God's glory and the souls of his fellow-creatures, because he thinks that others are dedicating five talents while he has only one. By comparison, his powers are so contemptible. Or, he does not like to give shillings where his neighbour gives pounds. He sees him stride on boldly, both in his work and gifts, and he shrinks into himself and fears to step out at all, because he cannot keep pace with him. Ah! I have often thought that in addition to the magnificent generosity of the poor widow who gave her two mites, there was also magnificent courage in the mode of their bestowal.

"Surely, if ever there was a place when people were trying to walk big and look big, it was when the rich were casting in their coins by handfuls, and with an ostentatious clatter into the treasury of God's house in old Jerusalem! Yet she of her penury gave more than they all, though it was the least the law permitted, and was all her living.

"She dared to step beside them, and her Lord saw and valued her offering at true worth."

Uncle Maurice spoke from his heart, and his sister sympathised with his enthusiasm.

"Yes, dear Maurice," she said, "we have to be careful neither to walk too big, for the sake of our neighbours, nor too little, for our own sakes and for God's cause. But, simply remembering that He judges and rewards every man according to his works, to walk, as the disciples of Him who left us an example that we should follow His steps, in a manner worthy of the vocation to which we are called."




"PLEASE, missis, have you got a pin?"

The question was addressed to me, in a childish voice, which had, however, a merry ring with it. I had paused for a moment to gather up my skirts a little, so as to keep them clear from the mud on the pavement. As it chanced, the stop took place in front of a shop where oysters, cockles, mussels, and periwinkles were displayed in tempting profusion.

I looked to see whence the voice came, and found that the owner of it was a little fellow, whose head was so overshadowed by an old, wide-brimmed straw hat that he seemed to be standing under a small umbrella. I had quite to look beneath this shade to discern a pale face and a pair of merry black-eyes, fringed with long lashes. He might be a small-sized five-year-old, for he was only in pinafores. Beside him was another youngster, evidently under the protection of little Black-Eyes, who waited with a look of intense anxiety for my answer.

"Supposing I have got a pin," said I, "what then?"

"Oh, please, would you give it us?"

"What for? Why do you want a pin?" I asked.

"Winkles!" was the prompt reply, with a glance towards the open window of the fish shop.

I understood the position. Black-Eyes and his friend wanted the pin in order to extract the little sea-snails from their shells with it.

But I could see they had no winkles in actual possession, so whilst extracting a spare pin from the edge of my cloak, I said, "I can give you a good strong pin, but where are the winkles?"

"In there," indicating the pile with his thumb. "We've had some. Only two or three though, yet—"

The thought flashed across my mind, "Why, the little rogues have been stealing. They watch their opportunity and snatch at odd ones that drop on to the slab within their reach." I put on a severe look, and said, "But you ought not to take even one winkle that is not your own."

"Oh, missis, we didn't!" returned Black-Eyes, with a troubled face. "When the woman measures 'em she 'most always spills one or two, and they roll out 'o window, and we pick 'em up. She don't want 'em back. She says so."

The child looked so straight at me out of those wonderful eyes, and gave such a prompt response, that I felt quite ashamed of myself for having suspected him. Poor little chap! He had stood there on the chance of picking up a stray winkle, and even when the first fell into his possession, groped for on the greasy-feeling pavement, he had bravely checked the impulse to make it his own, and had asked the shop-keeper if she wanted it back. From instant observation, I concluded that the question had gone to her heart, for one or two winkles rolled off into the street just then, in what seemed a preventible way, as she served a juvenile customer.

I wondered how the youngsters had got at their winkles at first, or whether the pin had been too weak and had become hopelessly crooked.

"Here is a good strong pin for you," I said, handing the article, which was received by Black-Eyes with rapturous thanks, and an attempt at a bow, which had the effect of jerking off the big hat on to the pavement, whence it was speedily recovered.

"How about the winkles?" said I. "I suppose a penny would buy you quite a lot."

"Oh, wouldn't it?" returned Black-Eyes, and then stood as if absorbed in contemplating a vision of bliss that he could never hope to realise.

"Here, take this penny and buy some then," said I. "I'm sorry, I have not another pin for you. Good-bye, children."

"Oh, thank you, missis. Say 'Thank you, and take your cap off;'" this to his wee companion. Then, "You shall have the pin first, Johnny, or maybe the shop lady will give us another."

Black-Eyes put his arm lovingly round the less child's neck, and led him into the fish shop in a state of delight which it was worth a good many pennies only to witness. And I could not help lingering to see the children with the materials for what would be to them a feast.

Beside, when one thought over this little scene, there were a good many lessons to be learned from it. Little as the elder child was, he was guarding a brother or companion weaker, younger, more helpless still.

There was the patience with which he waited for a windfall, and the sturdy honesty which made him unwilling to use it until he was quite sure it would be right to do so. There were good manners and gratitude for a small kindness, which the natural longing for a banquet of winkles would not let him forget.

There was not only this example to the less child, but the lesson in civility which made Black-Eyes wait for his companion's thanks to be added to his own. And there was the delightful unselfishness that resolved to give the younger the first turn in using the pin, and the love which threw the guiding arm round his neck.

How easy it would have been for Black-Eyes to appropriate the penny, or absorb the lion's share of the little coming treat,—to dole Johnny out a winkle now and then, and to reserve to himself the use of the pin, so that the other could never have the felicity of extracting his own dainty morsel.

But, in turning my back upon this little picture, I felt satisfied that, if anything, the younger would have most and best of what had to be shared, and that his interests were safe in the hands of his companion. I left the well-lighted thoroughfare and turned into a dim side street, but, as I passed on, I seemed still to see the faces of my little friends, and often since I have recalled, with pleasure, that scene to my memory.

I witnessed another picture not far from the spot where Black-Eyes and I became acquainted. I saw it in the broad daylight, and the actors were two boys, each about a year apart, and as much older than the former two. This is a world of contrasts, and these street pictures proved it.

One little fellow—his face streaming with tears and all besmeared through his frantic efforts to wipe them away with one hand, whilst, with the other, he tugged at a bit of a handkerchief entangled amid the varying contents of a small boy's pocket, was running after his elder companion. What with crying, running, and sobbing out at intervals:

"Willie. Do stop. Do stop!"

The child became exhausted, and coming to a stand-still, he leaned against the wall and wept bitterly.

He had no real trouble, but it was evident that he had a tender loving disposition, a clinging nature that yearned for kindness and companionship. The two children had come out together, and the elder, a hard-faced malicious-looking boy, but sturdy and self-reliant as one could see, was tormenting the other by racing off ahead, hiding round corners, dodging in and out, and keeping him at a continual strain, in order that he might not lose sight of him altogether.

Perhaps it was very weak and foolish of the child to cry as if his young heart would break about a mere nothing. Far better to have strolled leisurely on, and told the other to go on his way. But it is just the tender loving natures that can bear anything better than unkindness, and it is such natures that are tortured and played upon, by those who find pleasure in witnessing the pain they have caused.

A glance at the mocking evil face of the elder lad, sufficed to discern foreshadowings of a tyrannical manhood in years to come.

When I parted from Black-Eyes, I had thought to myself at what a trifling cost happiness had been purchased for him and his friend. Just a penny expended, and two young hearts were gladdened and a happy memory left to me of two bright faces. "Now," I thought, "I will try the worth of a penny in drying tears."

So I had a talk with the weeping little man, and did my best to cheer him, with such effect that the handkerchief having been extracted from his pocket, he soon effaced the traces of tears and smears from his rosy cheeks. An occasional sob testified to recent trouble, but a very genuine smile appeared when I produced the penny and bade him put it in his pocket and take it home. Down it went under his knickerbocker museum of treasures, and he kept his hand in too, as he lifted his rosy face to kiss his thanks.

Next came what made the contrast between the elder boy and Black-Eyes. Our petty tyrant who had watched the transfer of the coin from round the corner, began to sidle up to the little one, with pretended friendship. That penny had made all the difference, and the selfish rogue was plotting either to share it, or get the whole from his neighbour.

I turned back, though I could ill spare the time, and sent Master Willie to the right about, then cautioned the little one against his wiles. I did not want to make a tender confiding child into a suspicious one, so I had to give him quite a small lecture, and make him promise faithfully not to give the penny, or any portion of what he might buy with it, to Willie. He might share it with another friend if he liked, for little boys should be generous, only this boy ought not to be rewarded for naughtiness, I said.

I really believe the tender heart had forgiven its tormentor already, and that the penny was losing much of its value because it was not to be shared with Willie, for the child's eyes followed him with a sort of yearning look. Maybe on some past occasion, the bigger boy had put forth his strength on behalf of the little one, and the remembrance of a single benefit could never be forgotten.

The two reminded me of a boy and his dog. The lad may plague the beast as much as he chooses, but if the creature loves him, he only rushes to his side with vociferous welcome, to be teased again and again.

Generally speaking, the young master, though a petty tyrant himself, protects his dog from other boy tyrants, and the animal knows it, and looks up to him accordingly.

There might be some such bond between Willie and the sorrowful wee man whose tears I had succeeded in drying.

I had to leave him; but as I went my way, I drew fancy pictures of the homes and mothers of these my street acquaintances.

I pictured Black-Eyes, for instance, in a poor home with a hard-working widowed mother. His clothes bespoke poverty, for I was quite sure they had known other wearers—notably the wide hat—before they were worn by him. Their cleanliness, and that of both the children, told of a mother who did her best for the bodies of her little ones. They were kept warm and tidy to look at.

Then the way in which Black-Eyes protected Johnny seemed to say, that, mere baby as he was, he had often to take charge of the other baby a size less still, probably the mother went out to work—compelled to do it in order to win bread, and left these two to keep house with many an injunction, and a prayer to God to guard them from harm. Perhaps she had read the words, "Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive," and taken them to herself and found comfort in them, as she went about her daily task.

I am sure she had taught her little ones to be truthful and honest, for they would not appropriate a stray winkle without the leave of her to whom it lawfully belonged.

The conduct of Black-Eyes seemed to brighten, by the thought of it, the dim little side street into which I passed when I bade him good-bye, and a prayer went up from my heart to God, that He would bless the children and guide their young feet into the narrow path that leads to everlasting life.

I could not feel the same about Willie's home, for his conduct was tyrannical, selfish and mean. He enjoyed the sight of suffering, and unless he were checked and guided aright, would develop into a cruel and selfish man. Surely he needed to be prayed for most of all my street friends, and I remembered him too. One finds so many to pray for in passing to-and-fro in the world. And are we not all members of the great human family that sprang from the same Creator? Should we not all pray that we may become true children of the same heavenly Father?

As to the troubled little heart, he has a good mother, I am sure, and is loved and cosseted at home. He gets no stinted measure of affection. One could discern a mother's hand and love in every article of his clothing, even to the small pocket-handkerchief which took so much tugging out when most needed.

I know there are wise people who would object to the bestowal of odd pennies on little street children, and I own that it would not do to scatter even these broadcast. But when—well I will not argue, but suggest that, if in going along the streets, we can in any little way give a glimpse of happiness or a gleam of sunshine to a child, it is good for ourselves that we do not let slip the opportunity.

Pardon & Sons, Printers, London, E. C.