Live and Let Live/Chapter IV
On Sunday evening Mrs. Lee announced to her family that Lucy was to leave home in the morning. Lee was reduced to passiveness, and a long interval of temperance, enforced though it was, had caused him to revert to some of the feelings of his better days. "Come to my bedside, Lucy," he said; "you are going out into the world, child—you'll find it's a selfish world—everybody is for number one—keep open a jealous eye—don't submit to be trampled on—I have seen enough of the tyranny of mankind—I have no faith in them—your mother will tell you a different story—your mother is one of the best of women, and her own goodness is a kind of veil between her and the wickedness of the world. She puts the best face on everything, but she does not seem to have much to say for the place you are going to—well, there is one consolation—you can always change it—if you have anything to complain of, let us know it—don't submit to imposition. Now I have given you all the advice I can think of—but oh, my child, what shall I do when you are gone? you have always been my pride and darling! you do everything just right for me — you fix my pillow easy, and you make my tea just sweet enough, and you can always make Jemmie quiet, and the girls are contented when you are in the house. Oh, Lucy, if I could only do anything for you!"
"You can, father," replied Lucy, laying her cheek wet with tears to his: "always speak kind to mother and poor Jemmie!"
Her father promised, and remembered, for the first time, that others were to suffer severely, as well as himself, from Lucy's departure.
Jemmie, the poor little boy who was the object of his sister's intense love and tender care, had received a terrible injury when he was three years old from a fall from a horse, on which his father, in a fit of intoxication, and in spite of his mother's entreaties and remonstrances, had insisted on placing him. The child's back was protruded, and his limbs withered, but his mind had a preternatural development. Lucy withdrew from her father's bed to prepare Jemmie's supper. He, meanwhile, was lying in his basket-cradle, his soft black eye following his sister, and tear after tear trickling down his unnaturally pale cheek. She sat down on her accustomed seat beside him. He took in silence one or two swallows, and then gently pushing away the spoon, he said, "It chokes me, Lucy! I can't eat to-night." Lucy set away the cup of tea, and, putting her lips to his, whispered, "Don't feel so, Jemmie."
"How can I help it, Lucy ?"
"Oh, we must do as mother says — look at the bright side, Jemmie. I shall come home every Sunday."
"Every Sunday; and oh, how long it will seem before Sunday comes! But it is not of myself I'm thinking, though it does make the tears come so when I think you won't be here to ask for what I want, and always to look pleasant, and leave your work, and come and read to me, and sing to me when the other girls want to be doing something else, and I can't bear to trouble mother — and you are never tired drawing me, and I can go to sleep if my breast aches ever so much when you bend over me, and stroke, and smile, and stroke as if it were always pleasant to do it; but it's not for myself only, Lucy," and here he sobbed aloud; "but I cannot bear to think you must go away from your own home, and work all day for people that will only pay you, and not love you as we do."
"Not as you do," replied Lucy, making an effort to speak calmly; "but I shall try to make them love me a little — it would be hard indeed to work for nothing but money, and I do not intend to do so. Mother says she never saw a family yet where there was not someone to love, and some good to do besides just work — I shall try — it's not very agreeable to have a hungry stomach, but a hungry heart must be a great deal worse — don't you think so, Jemmie?"
Jemmie smiled through his tears. "I should think so, Lucy, but I don't know anything about it, for we have always plenty of the best food for our hearts, if we have not anything else."
"We must thank mother for that; and now promise me, Jemmie, you'll make the best of my going."
"I'll try, Lucy," replied the little fellow, with a quivering lip; and Lucy proceeded with all the resolution she could muster to go through her usual occupations. Her father's evening meal was prepared with as much care as that of a more pampered epicure. His toast, his tea and salt fish, must be exactly right to tempt the sense, blunted and diseased by gross indulgence, and he selfishly ate, and groaned, and fretted, while his defrauded wife and girls sat by, supping on the hardest fare. Thanks to the sweet uses of labour and temperance, they relished it more than the sick man could have relished a Roman feast.
"I am sure," said little Annie Lee, setting back her chair, and throwing herself into Lucy's lap, "I don't know what Martha and I are to do when you are gone."
"Do?" replied Lucy, kissing her; "why, Annie, you are to do all your work, and mine into the bargain."
"Oh, Lucy, you know that is not what I mean; but who will make Martha's paste?"
"I have taught her how to make it as well as I can."
"Yes; but sometimes she has bad luck with it, and you never have bad luck, and she can't call on mother, because mother has too much to do already."
"No; instead of calling on mother, I hope you will both always be ready to assist her."
"But I must ask her, Lucy, to fix my work when it plagues me, and to put my band on, and to do everything that you do, and that I can't do."
"Well, do your best, girls — try hard to please father — never, never get out of patience with poor little Jemmie, and always be kind to dear mother — be thoughtful, girls — don't wait till she asks you to do a thing, for you know mother is too apt to do things herself rather than to keep asking and asking — I think, girls, it's the willingness we put into our service that sweetens it to ourselves and to others — you will have a great deal more to do when I am gone; but I shan't be sitting with my hands before me, and what I earn I shall bring home to mother; so, though apart, we are all working for home. Come, mother, let us sit down round Jemmie's cradle and sing our hymns — it won't disturb you, will it, father?"
"No — I don't hear you half the time when you sing."
Singing hymns with her children was Mrs. Lee's habitual Sunday-evening recreation; and never had she seen an hour so dark and disturbed that this exercise did not tranquillize and elevate her spirits. Sometimes Jemmie's thin feeble voice joined the rest, and he attempted now to raise it, but his tremulous tones soon died away; and pressing Lucy's hand which held his, he said, " I can only join you in my heart, Lucy." Mr. Lee fell asleep; and when the singing was finished, Mrs. Lee knelt in the midst of her children, and commended them to the care of their Father in Heaven. Most earnestly did she pray for her who was going forth from the shelter of family love into the world, that in her temptations she might remember Him who was tempted in all points as we are, and yet without sin—that in her ignorance and weakness she might seek wisdom and strength from him who giveth liberally—and that at last, however separated and tried on earth, they might all, parents and children, meet in the bosom of the father.
As they rose the children kissed their mother and kissed one another. It is such worship as this, in the sanctuary of home that binds in one "bundle of life" the parent and child, that sustains the old and prepares the young for conflict and victory. "Before you go to bed, Lucy," said her mother, "I must give you some advice; it must be general, for I cannot foresee the circumstances in which you may be placed. You cannot greatly err if you will keep it in mind that God's eye is upon you, and if you love him supremely. Remember what I have so often told you, that it is not the events of life—its outward circumstances that are important, but the effect they have on our characters. The cloudy and the bright day alike soon pass away. It is our business to sow the seed and till the ground, and then, whether bright or cloudy, the harvest will come in due season. You will have trials, Lucy: your most faithful services may pass without praise, thanks, or even notice—but be patient, my child—toil not for praise—do not shrink from undeserved blame. Be content with the sense of doing your duty—judge yourself honestly, and never forfeit your own self-respect. I am a little afraid you will fail in the manners suited to your condition—I have been so sure that my children respected me, that I have not required the outward sign. Though we live in a republican country, the truth is, we have unequal conditions—I do not wish you to be servile—I would not have you imitate the manners of foreign servants—a respectful manner, my dear child, is always fitting from a young person to her elders, and modesty, civility, and gentleness are suited to every relation in life. I have known many ladies speak to their domestics with far more civility than they replied to them - and I know some who forget, in their manners at least, that domestics are no longer slaves. Keep your feelings right towards your employers, and then your manners cannot be very unsuitable. Remember the great virtue of that soft answer that turneth away wrath. The heads of families have a great many irritating, vexing cares that you can know nothing of: if they are petulant and unreasonable to you, be forbearing, my child, and you may do them good; at any rate, you will avoid doing evil yourself. Be gentle and patient, kind and generous, to the children of the family."
"Gentle, patient, and kind I can be—but how in the world generous? what shall I have to give?"
"Your time, your strength, your ingenuity; a person who will sit by a child and contrive it amusement for half an hour is far more generous than she who goes out with a full purse and buys the same child an expensive toy. Our means of generosity do not depend on our riches—your generosity, dear Lucy, when you have foregone a pleasant walk of a Sunday, and sat down by poor little Jemmie, and made him happy for an hour, has often brought tears to my eyes."
"Oh!" said Lucy, "how I do wish Mrs. Broadson had children—something that I could love."
"If you find you cannot love Mrs. Broadson, Lucy, you may find somebody to love - maybe that good-natured Irish girl."
"That will be a comfort—and if Mrs. Broadson is cross, maybe she will take my part."
"Have a care, Lucy; don't have any combination against your employer."
"But, mother, you would not have me bear everything?"
"No, my child; when there is that which you ought not to bear, you must change your place; but don't be in haste to do this; you will find something disagreeable in every place; permanence is in itself a great good, especially for a young person. You hardly need any other recommendation than that you have lived a long while in any decent family."
"Well, mother, I shall always come home and tell you all my troubles, and then do just what you think best."
"No, Lucy—try first to bear your troubles, and, by bearing, overcome them. If they are insupportable, then come to me—if you are puzzled as to what you ought to do, come to me—but don't make mountains of molehills. One thing I charge you to be circumspect about—the private circumstances of a family must be more or less exposed to the persons employed in it, and a feeling of honour should restrain them from tale-bearing—I am afraid there is very little of this. The time will come, when, as the condition of the employed in our country is very much elevated above what that of the same class is in any other country, their characters will be so too. This relation is sometimes a very happy one, when there is mutual kindness, and affection, and, I may say, respect — trust on one side, and faithfulness on the other, and gratitude on both."
"Gratitude, mother! Do you think that I can make a person that pays me for my service grateful to me besides?"
"My dear child, if you are such a servant as I trust you will be, you will render services that money can never pay for — but you will understand all this better hereafter, when you have seen more of the world. Serve others from a sense of duty as you have served me from love. Remember the woman in Scripture of whom our Saviour said 'she had done all that she could,' and for that reason he graciously accepted her small service. Ask God's blessing daily — that will be sufficient for you. Good-night, my dear child — to-morrow you begin!" Lucy moved Jemmie from his basket-cradle to her cot, where he always slept, and fell asleep wetting his cheek with her tears.
It was worthy of remark, that Mrs. Lee had never once alluded to her former superior condition. She carried her virtue still further; she endeavoured to conceal it from her children, and to forget it herself. How unlike those who have neither the sense nor the virtue to adapt their minds to fallen fortunes, but with their old tastes and appetites are for ever hankering after the luxuries of Egypt, instead of putting forth the strength essential to help them through the wilderness, and which would surely carry them to an inheritance enriched with divine gifts — the promised land of persevering virtue.