The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Wee Raimey; or, Nobody Told Me
by E. Seeley,
[The following short sketch is a child's story, but one that is not intended for child readers. It is addressed to those whom the sacred charge of children is entrusted, to those who love them, and believe in the heaven that is prepared for them. It is intended to suggest the inquiry, Are we doing all we can for those little ones whose angels do always behold the Face of our Father who is in Heaven?]
It is in an old-fashioned, high-walled country garden, such a garden as the memory loves to dwell on, that I would have you make Wee Raimy's acquaintance. For this garden was Raimy's world, his kingdom, while the warm, bright days lasted; or rather, from the first touch of spring sunshine until the leaves turned yellow and dropped from the boughs. It was a very old house, Raimy's home, and the garden was surrounded with a dark red wall; there was a stone fountain somewhere in the middle, with a water nymph in the basin, but this fountain had never played in Raimy's time, and the stone basin had grown green with moss. Three or four steps led from the house, and on the top of the steps was a sun-dial, and two greyhounds cut in stone, very old and worn they looked. Other boys in years gone by had played in this garden, and they had not been so tender and respectful as Raimy, but had cut and hacked those poor old greyhounds, and chipped their ears and noses, and traced unnatural lines on their poor old faces. It was a very silent garden on that particular morning when I would have you visit it--a hot, still morning near the end of June. The birds had put away their music-books, and hopped about with a scarce a twitter; the bees stole in and out among the flowers with ever-patient toil; no breeze moved the leaves; and little Raimy sat on the steps by the dial with a tired look on his pale little face. Sarah, the housemaid, had put on his had, and bade him "go out and play," just as she always did when breakfast was over; and Raimy knew quite well that "go out and play" meant "stay out till dinner-time, and don't worry cook and me." They did not want him; cook would be busy telling the gardner and the baker about her rheumatism, and Sarah had the beds to make, and the windows to open, and the neighbours to watch, and many little things to do in which he could not help; therefore, of course, the garden was the best place for him. Plenty of air is so good for children, as Sarah always told his father--his grave, wise father, who said Sarah was a good girl and took such good care of him. And the garden was very nice. Raimy loved it, and had many little pieces of work on hand there, if only it had not been so hot. But he was a little busy man. So, after sitting a while on the stone steps, watching a bee that was busy among the honeysuckle, he got up and went down the long straight path between the rose-bushes to the little corner which was known by the name of Raimy's garden. And here--but this was Raimy's secret--lived certain creatures towards whom his heart went out with special love; a chaffinch with a broken wing, for whose comfort and solace he had constructed a little house in a box, and whom he fed with crumbs and carefully sought for flies and spiders; a number of green caterpillars, who lived in a box with a glass lid, and constantly disappointed Raimy's hopes that they would turn into butterflies of brilliant hue; a toad, who had grown wondrous tame, and allowed himself to be handled by Raimy without hopping off displeased; these, and other dependents, filled Raimy's life with various cares, and when he roused himself to exertion on this particularly hot morning, it was the consciousness that his toad would be longing for his bath in the broken fountain that made him quicken his steps towards his garden.
Then there were his flowers to be cared for. I fear Raimy was too energetic a gardener to be a very successful one; plants that were too slow and dilatory in putting forth their blossoms were frequently subjected to a searching examination, and moved about from place to place, if perchance change of air might benefit them; nevertheless, he had some sturdy plants, which throve and did well--a rose-bush whose buds were the joy of his heart, a row of red daisies which the lame chaffinch could see and admire from his bedroom window, and a pansy whose blossoms furnished its owner with button-hole adornments when he felt in a festive mood.
The hot sun which was beating down on Raimy's head, making him feel too tired to do anything, seemed to suit his plants; the rose-bush was glorious, the red daisies were splendid; and behold, the pansy had ever so many new blossoms.
"I wish," said Raimy to himself, "that somebody would come and see my bush. I think I'll ask Sarah; but, perhaps she'll say, 'Don't bother.' Father never comes into the garden, or perhaps he'd just come this way for a minute, and cook's rheumatics are too bad. Well, it is a pity. When mother comes back, she'll like it, I know. Oh, there's a caterpillar going to spoil that big bud! I'll give you to my bird, you horrid thing!"
"Let me see, let me see."
How Raimy started! I believe he dropped the green grub and the chaffinch never got it, for looking up whence the voice proceeded he saw a bright round face, with a quantity of fair rough hair, just above the high garden wall. There was a pear-tree with a bent crooked bough hanging over the wall, and the owner of the curly head had evidently climbed up this convenient branch. Raimy stared open-mouthed, and when the bright face rippled with a merry laugh, he turned shy, cast down his eyes, and said:
"I didn't know you were there."
"I climbed up the pear-tree," said the little girl. "It's quite easy. Who are you?"
"I'm Raimy, but please get down. My chaffinch tumbled off that wall and broke its wing."
"Did it? Please show it me. Was that what you said you would show your mother when she came back?"
"Oh no, it was my rose-bush; isn't it beautiful?"
"Yes, but where is your mother, and when is she coming back?"
"I don't know," replied Raimy, dropping his head. "It was my fault, you know."
"What was your fault? And please hold up your head, I can't hear very well."
"I said," answered Raimy, his pale face covered with a deep blush, "I said it was my fault that my mother went away. I was naughty, that was why."
"Was it? Well, my mother's gone to London, and she said before she went away that I wore her out, so I suppose I'm pretty bad too. But what did you do?"
"It's so long ago," said Raimy," I can't remember; but Sarah told me if I wanted mother to stay with me I must not make a noise, but I'd got a big new drum, and I quite forgot, and so--and so mother went away, and she's never come back."
"How long ago was that?" The bright face above the wall had grown grave; then the child added, "Aren't you Raimy, Mr. Austen's little boy? I thought you had not got a mother."
"She's gone away," was Raimy's reply. "But I never beat my drum now."
"Where's she gone?"
There was a long pause. Then, on the question being repeated Raimy answered with some hesitation, "I don't know; nobody ever told me; but it's so long ago."
"How long--two months?"
"Oh, ever so long. It was before my birthday, when I had my horse and cart that's broken now, you know; and before the cook began to have rheumatics, and before the pony died, and the dog got lost. I think I've had two birthdays since mother went away, and I'm going to have another next week. Sarah says I'll be six then."
"I'm eight and going on for nine," said the face on the top of the wall.
"Do you want to know who I am?"
"I shouldn't mind. Do you live in the big house that has been empty so long? Cook says the people that have come there are not good for much. What's that mean?"
"I don't know; but my name is Rhoda Court. Do you like my name, Raimy?"
Yes, Raimy thought he did; and the little girl chattered on:
"My mother had gone to London, and left me here with my governess, and she sent me out to play, and I came through the orchard and the rabbit warren, and climbed up this tree. Can you guess what for, Raimy?"
No, Raimy could not guess, and the child went on:
"I came to look for you. I knew that Mr. Austen had a little boy, and I looked everywhere for you in church yesterday, and I couldn't see you, and so I came to look over the wall, and I found you straight off. Wasn't that lucky? But why don't you go to church?"
"Father says that I'm too small--that I should fidget. When I'm six, perhaps I shall go."
"There are lots of children smaller than you in church--poor children, I mean. They come in two-and-two, and I believe they've been to school first. I suppose they're very bad children, and want ever so much teaching to make them good; but they don't look bad."
"I should like to go to church and Sunday-school," said Raimy after a pause in which he had been turning over these remarks in his mind. "Sunday is such an immensely long day. Sarah says it's wrong to go digging in my garden, because I have my best suit on; and I play with the cat, and look at picture-books, but I don't know what the pictures mean."
"I told my mother I should like to go to the Sunday-school," remarked Rhoda, "and she told father, and they laughed; and mother said the Sunday-school was for the little heathens in the village; but I don't know why she called them heathens; heathens are black people and worship images--at least, so I thought; didn't you?"
"I don't know, I never heard. What is worship, Rhoda?"
"Oh, worship means to kneel down and say your prayers. You say your prayers, don't you, Raimy?"
"When I go to bed, if Sarah isn't in a hurry, I say, 'Please God bless father and mother, and make me a good boy, for Christ's sake'; but I don't know what it means--do you?"
"Let me see," said Rhoda thoughtfully; "bless, means give them all sorts of good things; make me good, means don't let me get into any scrapes." "Oh, does it? Thank you," replied Raimy, his brown eyes growing very large and round; "but what does God mean, and for Christ's sake? I never can make out."
"God is very good and kind, and loves good people, I've heard that in church; but I'm not sure about the rest, about Christ, and Christ's sake; that's very hard."
"Yes, very hard," Raimy agreed; "but does God love children, because most people don't. Father don't, and Sarah don't, and cook don't; they say they're always in the way."
"Well, you see," said Rhoda, "I'm afraid it's true; we are in the way. Mother always says if it wasn't for us children she could go traveling and see the world, and she'd like that; and if it wasn't for me, mademoiselle could lie in bed when she has the headache; she mostly has headaches, Raimy; and if she hadn't my frocks to make, and hats to trim, nurse could go walking with her friends. Yes, I suppose we are in the way, and a horrid nuisance, as nurse says."
"But we can't help it," remarked Raimy, gazing ruefully into the face which was looking down at him from the top of the wall, and which not even the dolefulness of these reflections served to rob of its gleeful expression. "We can't help it; we didn't make our own selves."
"No, that's just what I say," began Rhoda. But at this moment a shrill voice, exclaiming "Miss Rhoda, Miss Rhoda!" was heard among the trees of the orchard, and quick as thought the child slipped down from her perch and disappeared, and Raimy was left alone. He had his toad and his chaffinch and his caterpillars and his beloved rose-bush just as before, but they looked different now. This half-hour of child-talk seemed to have changed everything. The garden now for the first time was terribly silent and lonesome, and as he watched his lame bird, and picked leaves for his caterpillars, new thoughts filled his little head, and a hundred strange ideas came surging up in his mind, which one and all had been suggested by some of Rhoda's thoughtless chatter.
For without much thinking or caring about it, Raymond Austen had become accustomed to the notion that his existence was a matter of no great moment to any one but himself. His father was buried in his books, a silent man by nature, dreaming much of his time away. He saw his little son twice or thrice a day at meals, kissed him gravely morning and evening, but seldom spoke to him; and, as a matter of course, Raimy, shy and reserved also, never spoke to him. The idea that his father loved him, never entered his head. The other inhabitants of his home, Sarah and cook, had also their own concerns, and Raimy formed no part of them. Perhaps he was not an interesting child. I am inclined to think that had he contrived to have the measles three or four times over, break his head once a week, or show a tendency to set the house on fire, he would have been far more interesting to every member of the household. The less he troubled them the less they thought about him, and in a sort of a way he recognised the fact, which he expressed to Rhoda when he asked "Does God love children? Most people don't." "Most people" being his own little world of home.
But, Rhoda gone, he sat down to think; there were some symptoms of illness among the caterpillars which at another time would have awakened his keenest apprehensions. Those caterpillars had such a trick of dying just when he was hoping they would turn into butterflies, but at this moment the caterpillars were forgotten amid the other more engrossing thoughts. Rhoda was sure he had no mother, that meant that she was dead; but Sarah said she was gone away, and he thought, but he was not sure, that his father and cook said so too. If she was dead, why had they not said so? Why had they gone on letting him think that some day she would come back again? His heart swelled, and a choking sensation rose in his throat. "When mother comes back," he had been wont to say to himself, "I shall learn to read; I shall go to church; she will take me for walks, and come and see my rose-bush; and I will ask her if I may play with my drum again." "When mother comes back" had been the limit of his fairest dreams; was he to say it no more for ever now? And then his mind recalled other words of his little friend Rhoda. Children were a trouble to their friends--it must be so, there was no help for it; unluckily this sentiment fell in with his own impressions, and he was not likely to dispute the opinion, though inclined to wonder at the cheerfulness of the merry little person who had uttered it. And then came other remembrances. Rhoda's wish to go to the Sunday-school, an idea which had never before crossed Raimy's mind, but now took possession of him with such force that he almost made up his mind to broach the subject to his father--a thing he had never in his life done before.
And, strange to say, and much to his own surprise, he did it. Had he thought the matter well over, I have little doubt his courage would have failed; but while the notion was fresh in his mind, Sarah called him in to dinner, and, seated near his father, the words passed his lips before he was well aware what he was doing.
"Father, may I be a Sunday-school boy?"
The question came upon him so suddenly that Mr. Austen, who as usual was entirely engrossed with his own meditations--what they were I will not pretend to guess--was so astonished that he merely gasped, "A what, Raimy?" and without listening to the answer, which was given in a somewhat faltering tone, began asking himself whether he had not somewhere heard it said that children should not be allowed to talk when at table with their parents.
"May I, father--may I go to the Sunday-school?"
It was such an anxious little face that was upturned to him, that Mr. Austen, leaving his meditations and questionings for a future time, roused himself to reply:
"Go to the Sunday-school, Raimy? Why, no, that would never do. The children there have whooping-cough and scarlet fever, and besides there are bad boys there whom I should not like you to know."
It was a decided answer. Raimy's eyes fell, he felt there was no more to say, but ere he returned to his more profound reflections, Mr. Austen asked almost shyly as his little son might have done, "But why, Raimy, why do you want to go?"
But that Raimy could not tell. "My prayer," he murmured with eyes cast down, "my prayer is about God and Christ, and I don't understand, and I--I want to learn."
Mr. Austen started back, amazed and shocked. "Raimy," he said slowly and solemnly, "that you, my son, should need to go to the Sunday-school, that you should want teaching the meaning of your prayers--it is impossible, the very idea is monstrous and absurd. In this house, living with me, you have all you need. The Sunday-school is for children who, without the teaching they get there, would be little better than heathens, but for you it would be simply ridiculous and unnecessary. Take away the soup, Sarah."
"Well, I never, Master Raimy," said Sarah, when she was undressing the little boy that evening, "to think of you telling your father, a learned gentleman as ever lived, that you wanted teaching better than he gives you! Who ever heard the like of it! And to want to go to the Sunday-school, and catch fevers, and measles, and small-pox, and cholera, that I may have the nursing of you. A fine thing to be sure!"
"Well, I'm not going, Sarah, so you won't have to nurse me; but you don't speak true. Father doesn't teach me."
"I don't speak true! I wonder what next! And your father don't teach you? Doesn't he read beautiful prayers night and morning, and isn't it the best of teaching to watch himself, as quiet a gentleman as ever lived, no scolding, no fault-finding in the house--just shuts himself in his room, and never meddles or makes, but lets cook and me alone; what's that but teaching, if such notions into your head, I'd like to know?"
Thus adjured, Raimy poured forth his tale, winding up with, "She said--she said that I had no mother, and you know, Sarah, you told me she'd only gone away." Whereupon Sarah replied, "Seems to me this little miss is not such as your father would like you to play with. Did you say her name was Rhoda? I've hard tell in the Bible of a girl of that name who listened behind doors; maybe your Miss Rhoda is the same sort. I wouldn't talk to her, Master Raimy, not if I was you."
"Creeping and climbing up the wall. Did you ever see the likes of that, cook? She must be a sly one, that Miss Rhoda; and with that foreigneering mademoiselle, as they call her, for a teacher, there's no knowing the mischief she may have in her head. If she comes again, I'll speak to the master."
"Nay, but, Sarah, the child has no playmates. I'd let them alone if I were you."
"And have her telling the boys as his mother is dead; not if I know it!"
"Are you densely ignorant?"
There was no creeping or climbing on the occasion of Rhoda's next meeting with her little friend. Mademoiselle had her own notions of propriety; nurse objected to frocks stained with moss and lichen, and Mrs. Court said: "Rhoda must not be a tomboy." So the days went by, and Raimy watched in vain for another glimpse of the bright face at the top of the wall. Once or twice, when taking a short, dull walk with Sarah, he caught a glimpse of his little friend driving with her mother in the big manor carriage, and his face flushed when he saw that she always kissed her hand and nodded to him; but the courage to return her greeting was always wanting to little Raimy, and Mrs. Court more than once remarked: "What a dull, stupid little boy he is, Rhoda;" and the child's only defence was: "He isn't always so, mother."
Little as either of them guessed it, just the same thought was in Raimy's mind: "I'm so stupid, I never know what to do and say; if my mother could come back, perhaps she would teach me."
But one day, pity mingling with contempt in Mrs. Court's mind, she said: "It would really be a charity to have that dull little boy here sometimes to play with Rhoda"; and a polite little note having been dispatched to the Rectory, Raimy, having been subjected to much soap and water and pomatum by Sarah, made a very scared and miserable appearance at the Manor. If the truth were known, I believe he had cried and begged to be allowed to stay at home; but this was not to be. The Rector had said, "Make the child tidy and send him"; and accordingly the deed was done. And Rhoda, whose blue eyes were gifted with unusually keen sight, was not slow to read the history of the past hour, and the prompt inquiry, "Why didn't you want to come, Raimy?" made the little boy more shamefaced than ever.
"Well, you see, Rhoda," he said timidly, "I don't know anybody here except you."
"Well, what then? It's best to know everybody, and then you'll never feel like that. But you've come to play with me, and Mademoiselle had a headache, and nurse has gone to see her sister; so there's nobody but mother and me. Daddy don't count."
"Doesn't count?" echoed Raimy.
"Why, no; you couldn't be afraid of him, he's such a good old soul, you know. Now, mother's different; she's a centre."
"A what, Rhoda?"
"A centre. I don't know what it means; but she always says when she's in town: 'Being the centre of a large circle, my time is not my own;' and when she is here, she says: 'Being the centre of all charities'--and something else. I can't remember the word--' I have not a minute I can all my own.'"
"That must be dreadful," said Raimy, with wide open eyes. "Can't she help being a centre? I wouldn't be."
"No, but, Raimy, do you know, I do believe she likes it. It's bad for me, though, because, you see, if I ask her to read stories to me, she has not a minute to spare; and last Sunday, when I wanted to ask her something about the chapter your father read in church, she was busy with those big girls from the farms, and she couldn't bear to have me in the room; she said I made such a fuss I addled her brains."
"Why does she have those big girls, then; little girls are much nicer?" "She teaches them out of the Bible, and she tells daddy they are densely ignorant. Last Sunday they hadn't the least idea who the Amalekites were, and she said to daddy, 'Isn't it shocking?' and daddy said, 'Shocking!' But do you know, Raimy, I don't believe daddy knew his own self, for he got up and walked away, just as if he was afraid mother would ask him." "I don't know," said Raimy dolefully.
"Oh, never mind, it doesn't matter; I know they're a kind of birds, but I don't think they live in England. Mademoiselle hadn't the least idea, for I asked her."
"Rhoda," said Raimy solemnly, "are you densely ignorant?"
"About the Bible? Of course I am. I've got a beauty, but mother keeps it because it is too good for me to have yet; so I never read it. They read bits at prayers and in church, but I don't understand."
"I haven't got a Bible," replied Raimy, "but I can't read; so it doesn't matter. But I wish I knew what my prayer means?"
"Why don't you ask your father? He is a clergyman, and he's sure to know."
"I did ask," said Raimy mournfully, "but he was vexed and he didn't tell me. He said I ought to know."
"Well, then," exclaimed his little friend, jumping up, "I'll tell you what it is, Raimy; he doesn't know himself. I've found that out. When grown-up people say you ought to know, and don't explain, it's just because they can't. But it's a shame, and we'll find out, Raimy, you and I--see if we don't. Let's ee, what is it you want to know?"
"I want to know what my prayer means--'for Christ's sake.' That the first thing, Rhoda."
"All right; let's see. Mademoiselle won't know, she always says, 'talk about the things religious with Madame votre mere, 'so she does not know; and nurse won't know, because she goes to chapel, not to church, and mother says they are an ignorant set at that chapel; and mother, it's of no use to ask her, she'll say, 'Run away, Rhoda, and don't tease, child, I'm getting ready for my mothers' meeting, and can't stop to talk to you;' and daddy, dear old soul, I'm afraid he doesn't know much, because, you see, he always go to sleep in church. He can't help it, you know, because your father preaches such bad sermons, all the people are so glad when they are over. Why, Raimy, as soon as he has said the last words the people jump up and rush out as if the church was on fire."
"I know," said Raimy sadly. "I watch them coming out from the top of the steps. But don't you hear anything about Christ when you go to church, Rhoda?" "I hear the word very often, but I don't know much about it, because you see I don't often listen; but I think I will next Sunday, and try and find out all you want to know."
"Yes, do. Oh, what a nice dog!" And thereupon Raimy's anxieties and shyness were forgotten in the interest of seeing Rhoda's many possessions--her pony, some chickens, a black lamb, and a large and very friendly Scotch collie. Tea in the garden followed, feeding some ducks in a pond was the next excitement, and when bedtime came the little fellow was as sorry to go as he had been afraid to come.
"I shall come and see you next Saturday when mother goes out visiting, and you must persuade your nurse to give us our tea under that old mulberry-tree in the garden," Rhoda said as they parted. He escaped without seeing either the good old soul, Rhoda's father, or the mother, whom, under the strange description of a centre, he had vainly tried to picture to himself.
"Why did you let the little fellow go without bringing him to speak to me?" asked Mrs. Court of her little daughter when she came to bid her good-night.
The child, whose most striking characteristic was a reckless straightfowardness of speech, answered concisely, "Because I knew he did not want to come."
"Did he say so, my dear? He is shy, as may be plainly seen, but his father is a gentleman and his mother was of good family; probably the child has refined feelings though his training has been neglected. You should not encourage him to be rude."
"He isn't rude, and he didn't say he didn't want to come; but I knew it quite well. Mother, he is a little heathen, just like me."
"A heathen just like you, Rhoda. What a queer child you are! Who called you a heathen?"
"Nobody; I called myself a heathen because I'm just like the children that missionary man told us about, who came to lunch last week, and so is Raimy Austen, and so are Beatrice and Mary Cope, and my cousins at Weybridge, and all the little girls and boys I know. We know there's a God who made us, like the Great Spirit the North American chief talked about; but nobody teaches us about Him, except Mr. Austen in church, and we can't understand him one bit. If we were like the village children and went to school, we might learn something. Mr. Austen sees that the children in the school are taught; but oh, so much!" And Rhoda stopped, breathless.
"My dear," said Mrs. Court, amazed, letting fall the pen which she had taken up to continue an article she was writing for a charitable society; it was needed immediately, but the torrent of Rhoda's words had driven away the thoughts which she was rapidly committing to paper, and she more than half wished that the child had not come in just at this moment to break the thread of her ideas, and disturb the flow of her earnest words. "My dear," she repeated, "what folly it is to talk in this way! You have a Christian home, religious parents and friends, and excellent governess, and though you may not understand Mr. Austen now while you are so young--and, indeed, he is not altogether an enlightened man--yet no doubt you will learn something from him when you are older. Now, run away, my dear, and don't talk rubbish."
And Rhoda went away, rebuked but not convinced, and when she went to bed she hunted up an old Bible from the schoolroom cupboard, and opening it, began to read. But the print was small, the paper old and yellow, and Rhoda, who was not a fluent reader for all her eight years, soon grew weary of her self-imposed task and put the book away. She had begun at the beginning and glanced down several pages. "But there is nothing about Christ here, and that's what Raimy wants to know, and I said we could find out, and so we will. But I'm afraid Saturday will come first, and he'll be disappointed again. Poor little Raimy! What a funny little man he is." And so thinking, Rhoda's reflections ended in sleep.
Two matters were much in her little friend's mind during the succeeding days, and as he played with his toad, fed his sick bird, and watched his caterpillars, he was ever and always asking himself, How could he manage to do his part towards the accomplishment of their great discovery, and how also could he carry out his little queen's behest, and induce Sarah to spread a little tea-table for them under the mulberry-tree. He was in the habit of getting his tea anywhere, sitting on the garden steps or at a corner of the kitchen table, and to have any ceremony about this meal would not, he feared, be at all pleasing in the eyes of Sarah.
Difficulties of this kind were apt to grow gigantic in Raimy's eyes, even to the point of keeping him awake at night. Would Sarah give them a teal proper tea, such as she and cook had when they had friends to entertain, with proper cups and saucers, some thin bread-and-butter, and perhaps some cake or strawberries; or would she say she couldn't be bothered? Such were the little boy's apprehensions: how Rhoda would have laughed had she known it! All Saturday morning he was trying to screw his courage up to the point of making the necessary request to Sarah, restlessly following her from room to room, but always retreating when she remarked, as she did repeatedly, "What ails the child? He's like an uneasy ghost to-day." Then he would go back to the garden, and sitting on the steps by the sun-dial, wonder what he must do. It was while he was sitting thus, with his head on his hands and his elbows on his knees, that he heard the tones of the organ in the church hard by; the door was open, and the organist was practicing, and ever and anon his voice was heard accompanying the music. Raimy listened as he had done many a time before; he was fond of music, especially the soft, solemn music, such as that the organ was not giving forth. It ceased; then again broke out, and to Raimy's ear came the words mingling with the music, "Come unto Me, ye----" He lost the rest; the voice and music went on, now rising, now sinking; and ever and anon returned those words, "Come unto Me--Come unto Me."
Raimy got up; the little gate which separated the churchyard from the Rectory garden stood open, as did also the great door of the church; very quietly he crept along between the thick bushes, and yews, and cypresses, until he stood within the porch, and still the voice sang, "Come unto Me--Come unto Me." And into the quiet, cool shade of the church he passed. "God's house," the child whispered. Sarah had told him this with the design of frightening him into quietness on the rare occasions when she had taken him there, and, naturally timid, he had been only too ready to conceive an overwhelming fear of this unknown God. But that fear was for the time forgotten; the organ still played soft music, and Raimy sat himself down on a footstool by the font and listened. Suddenly his eyes were attracted by the bright colours of a window which had been recently placed in the church, in the side aisle, not far from the spot where he sat. In his favourite attitude, with his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands, he gazed at this window. Raimy was a dreamy, thoughtful child, much given to gazing and wondering, but never in his short life had he found anything which so fixed his rapt attention as the Face that looked at him from that window.
The organ had ceased, the organist had gone away, and still Raimy sat and looked. From time to time his eyes wandered from the central figure to the babe nestled in the Saviour's arms, to the little ones standing by His knee; but they always returned to their steadfast gaze on His face, and rested there content.
"I have found it out," he whispered. And, all other cares forgot, he lingered in the quiet church, till Rhoda, having sought him in vain all round the Rectory garden, and discovering the little gate open, came peeping into the church to ascertain if, by any chance, he might have strayed there.
Then he woke from his dream, and with his pale face all aglow, he came to meet her.
"Rhoda, Rhoda, come and sit here. I've found it out--I've found it out!" "Found what? Oh, that picture? Yes, I saw it on Sunday. It's pretty. That's a dear little baby; I should like to kiss it."
"The baby--oh yes; but, Rhoda, look, look at His face. That is Christ. I know it is; and He doesn't tell the children to run away, but He says, 'Come unto Me,' as the man was singing when I came into church. See, He is holding out His hand to that boy who is frightened, and He says, 'Come unto Me.' He is so fond of children that God will make us good to please Him; that's what my prayer means--I'm quite sure of it, Rhoda. Aren't you sure to?" And the little fellow, astonished at his own eloquence, dropped his eyes, and became once more his own shy little self.
Rhoda did not feel so sure. "Somebody ought to tell us these things, Raimy," she said. "If that beautiful face is Christ's, and if He loves children so much as that, it's a shame that nobody ever told us so. But I'll ask daddy about that picture; he's never too busy to talk, and though he doesn't know much, he may know that, and he's such a good old soul." "I know it now," said Raimy, with a strange confidence. "Do you want to go, Rhoda?"
"Yes; I want my tea. Have you settled about it, Raimy? There's such a nice place under the mulberry-tree."
No, Raimy had settled nothing. "Well, then," said Rhoda, "I'll see it about it myself. Gentlemen don't understand such things. I'll go and find Sarah." And accordingly off she ran, and before long a small table was set under the trees, and a dainty set of china, which had long been stowed away on a top shelf in Sarah's pantry, was dusted and set out," that that child mayn't go home and make fun of our ways," as Sarah remarked; while Raimy, roused to unusual activity by his little friend's example, begged a plate of strawberries from the gardener, and thus the entertainment was complete.
"Such a pity! But, my dear Mrs. Court, the Rector shuts himself up in his study, and trusts those servants of his implicitly, and they take no more heed to the poor child than if he was a cat or a dog; and so it's my firm belief he won't get over it."
"And how did it happen--how came the child to fall into the mill-stream?"
"Oh, that we shall never know. He was out walking with the housemaid, and she was talking, just for a minute, with a friend--one knows what that means--and she missed the child, and then saw him the next minute being whirled down the stream. It's almost a miracle he was got out before he was caught by the wheel; but as far as I can make out, the shock and the chill have been too much for the child--he was always weakly, and the nursing-- Well, how the Rector can trust those women, I can't imagine."
"How sad," said Mrs. Court; "poor little boy!" And the visitor spoke of other things, and went away.
The lady of the house accompanied her to the door, and was returning to her seat and her former occupation, when Rhoda, who had been busy over the manufacture of a doll's bonnet in one corner of the room, darted towards her.
"Mother, what does it mean? Is Raimy dying?"
"Well, dear, you heard what Mrs. Worth said; being the doctor's wife, she probably knows his opinion. But we must hope and pray that the poor little fellow may be spared."
"Daddy said a tumble into the water never did a boy any harm," Rhoda exclaimed. "Why should he die, mother?"
"He is a delicate child, and I fear he was longer in the water than they knew. But don't be unhappy, darling; I daresay your little friend will recover."
"May I go see him, mother?"
"No, certainly not. They would not let you see him; absolute quiet must be necessary--that I am certain."
"Then he has nobody to talk to him, only Sarah and cook, who won't care whether he dies or not; and his father, who sits and reads big books all day long, and never speaks to Raimy. Mother, let me go and talk to him." "When people are ill, Rhoda, they don't desire company or conversation; but I will call this afternoon, and find out how the poor child is."
"And take me too, mother."
"We will see."
Rhoda went back to her doll's bonnet, and her mother resumed the consideration of some accounts for the village Provident Society which were of a rather complicated nature, but she was not to be left in peace. "That queer child," as Mrs. Court mentally described her daughter, was not so easily satisfied.
"Mother," she said, lying down the doll's bonnet, and fixing an earnest gaze on Mrs. Court, "if I had tumbled into the water and got a bad chill, and was going to die, what do you think would happen to me?"
Mrs. Court hesitated. "What do you mean, Rhoda?"
"Oh, mother, don't you see? If I died, if I went away from you, and daddy, and Mademoiselle--away out of this house, out of my nice little bedroom--away from my dolls, my pony, the dogs, and everything--where should I go, what would happen next."
Mrs. Court was silent, but Rhoda's eyes were on her, eagerly demanding an answer. At last she said, "You are asking a difficult question, my dear." "Yes, mother, but you are clever; can't you answer me? If I were to die--and I may fall into a stream some day and be drowned right off--where should I go? Will it be an end of me altogether?"
"No, Rhoda, most certainly not."
"Then where shall I go? Mother, don't you care?"
"Rhoda, child, how you talk! Care!--you don't know how much. But your future, whether here or in another world, I must trust to God, and believe that since I have given my child to God, He will take care of her."
"I don't understand one bit," said Rhoda. "Don't you know any more than that, mother? Don't you know where I shall go when I die?"
There was a long silence. At last Rhoda uttered an impatient despairing exclamation, and her mother said: "I will try to make you understand Rhoda, if you will listen. Suppose that for some reason or other it was necessary for me to send you away from home, I might ask your Aunt Lucy to take charge of you, and take you away to the sea; but as I know and love your aunt very much, I might not make many inquiries about the place to which you were going, because I should trust her. In the same way, if you were to die, I should hope that our Saviour Christ had taken you to Himself; and so, though I should know very little about the place where you were, I should be sure you were safe with Him."
Rhoda listened eagerly, and Mrs. Court hoped the discussion was at an end; but no, the child was not satisfied, and before long, in her usual impetuous fashion out came the truth. "That is all very well for you, mother, but for me it would be very hard--to go away from daddy and you, and this beautiful place, all alone with some one I don't know at all. Raimy asked me some time ago who Christ was, and I couldn't tell. Mother, if you know Him, why don't you tell me all about Him."
There was no reply, and Rhoda went on: "You'd never put me on board a ship and send me to Africa or America with some stranger I'd never heard of. I'm sure you wouldn't."
"No, but I might send you with some dear friend whom I could trust with all my heart."
The child looked up.
"Mother, tell me all about Him first. Why shouldn't He be my friend too?" And while Rhonda was thus pouring out some of the thoughts and longing which her recent friendship with little Raymond Austen had produced, on his sick-bed the little boy was praying, "Let me go, let me go to the church; let me see His face. Will He put His arm round me, and draw me close, close, close?" And then, again starting as if in terror: "Oh, the water is going over my head. I can't see His face; but He calls, Come unto Me, come unto Me. Let me go, let me go." And when they hushed and soothed him, and bade him lie still, meekly as was his wont he lay back, saying piteously: "Nobody told me, nobody told me. I wanted to know; why did nobody tell me?" "Tell you what, Raimy?" said his father; but the child looked beyond him as if seeing some one far away, repeating still, "Nobody told me."
"Told him what?" they asked each other, and no one guessed his meaning. "He is wandering," they said. "Oh, if he would but sleep."
"Sarah, Sarah, let me get up; I want to look for Him."
Lie still, little one, thou needst not seek. He is beside thee, close at hand, and lo! as He draws near, the eyelids close, the lips part in a loving smile, and the child sleeps. And why? He has taken him up in His arms, laid His hands upon and blessed him; for of such in the Kingdom of Heaven.
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