Live and Let Live/Chapter X
Lucy's joy may be imagined when the most blessed day of all the week came. One of the uses of this day is, that it reminds the careless of their duties; and Mrs. Ardley's conscience being quickened by its ministry, she told Lucy she might stay all day, and moreover ordered a basket to be filled with tea, sugar, and other luxuries, for Lucy's "sick father, and," she added, with a smile, "for that little Jemmie that Lucy made such a wonderful fuss about." Mrs. Ardley was never deficient in that species of generosity manifested in giving. Lucy found matters not improved at home. Her father was still declining, her mother toiling beyond her strength, and Jemmie as sad as ever at her absence. "Oh, Lucy!" he said, holding her fast down to his bosom, "seeing you is just like the seeing the sun shine into the window—no, no, a great deal better than anything that only makes us feel good outside!" Lucy was, indeed, a moral sunshine to this humble home.
She spread on the stand at her father's bedside some of the delicacies from her basket. She selected a book for Martha, and another for Anne, and set the rest in a row at the foot of Jemmie's cradle. Never did a fanatical bibliopolist survey his acquisitions with keener pleasure; and when she saw him, in spite of her presence, forget her and himself in that most captivating of all juvenile classics, Robinson Crusoe, she drew her chair up to her mother, and they communicated reciprocally their little affairs, both generously softening or omitting what was most painful. In answer to Lucy's question, "Are you ever troubled now, mother, to get the bread money?" Mrs. Lee answered, "Now and then; but Charlie Lovett leaves the loaf the same when I have not as when I have the money. Oh, Lucy, I have not told you his mother has been to see me. She was very kind. She looks like Charlie; the same open, benevolent expression. She brought cookeys to the children, and told me her husband would watch with your father. How pleasant it was to hear a friendly voice once more! She asked about you, Lucy."
"About me, mother?
"Yes. It seems Charlie had told her about you. She said if she had known you wanted a place, she would have taken you."
"Would she! Oh, how I should like to live with Charlie's mother."
"On some accounts I should wish to have you there; but, as she keeps but one domestic, there might be too heavy work for you—and you really seem to be very well off with Mrs. Ardley. You complain of nothing but your disappointment in not coming home at the promised time?"
"No, mother—no," said Lucy, persevering in her resolve not to disturb her mother with her little grievances, and really feeling them to be very small while she looked at her, gently submitting to a tide of troubles, and resisting where she could overcome by resistance. If we all felt other's burdens more, we should feel our own less. "Well, my child," resumed her mother, "go on where you are—get and do all the good you can, and always remember we are sent into the field to be sowers as well as reapers. If anything serious occurs, let me know it. I would not have you submit to anything that should impair your self-respect, or ever forget that you can only forfeit your independence by misconduct." Their conversation was broken off by the return of the girls from Sunday-school. Overjoyed they were to find Lucy, and not a little pleased that they had brought from their teacher extraordinary commendations of their well-learned lessons. "I wonder, mother," said Lucy, "what Mrs. Ardley would say to your finding time to see to the girls lessons, when, with six of us to do her work, I heard her say to a lady 'she did not know what her children were studying—she had not time!' Only think, mother!"
"There are many occupations that fritter away the time of the rich, which those who must be devoted to necessary labour know nothing about. It is difficult for them to bring anything to pass."
"But, mother, could not they if they had a mind to?" asked little Martha.
"Certainly, my child; and those do who try hard. But, my children, don't trouble yourselves about what others do or do not do—our consciences are given us to watch over our own conduct, not other people's. Come, girls, set the table. Our dinner is done."
"Dinner! mother! Are we to have a real dinner?"
"Yes; I had two shillings over last night, so I went late to market, that we might have a little treat to-day, as Lucy was to be with us. You will see what a nice dinner can be got for two shillings."
"And shall I sit in your lap just as I used to, Lucy?" asked little Jemmie.
"Yes, indeed you shall." The humble meal was soon served, and most savoury did the joint of mutton, which had been all day stewing with vegetables, taste to the hungry little family. "Dear Jemmie," said Lucy to her brother, whose hunger had not the keenness of the other children, "I am afraid your appetite is failing."
"Oh, no, Lucy!" he said, clasping his arm around her neck, "but this is dinner enough for me."
"Ah!" muttered Lee, looking half enviously at the girls devouring a bit of Mrs. Ardley's tart, too rich for him, "ah, girls, but pie is pie for all—isn't it?"
"Yes, father," said Lucy, "pie is pie, and nothing else; but parents, and sisters, and brothers are everything." The poor are not poor while they can thus raise the minds of their children above mere animal gratification, to a comprehension of the true riches of affection—the pure happiness of home.