Page:Once a Week, Series 1, Volume II Dec 1859 to June 1860.pdf/181

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[February 18, 1860.
ONCE A WEEK.

after a fashion, which no other motive is ever found to supply.

But it pleased the Almighty that this remarkable example of honest, hard-working perseverance, hitherto blessed and stimulated by success, should be a further example of humility under affliction. “What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” Thus may many of us say, to whom calamity comes as a stranger, and as a phantom, to scare away the peaceful and even tenour of an innocent life!

The first blow fell upon the poor deserted wife. Her child sickened and died, and it would perhaps be impossible to form any conception of her misery, on the part of those who have never known what it is to live in another’s life, and that life one that depends on our exertions. A fresh creation, as it were, every day drawing its daily life from the fountain of our affection and devotion.

As might be expected, she sorrowed as one that had no hope. She refused employment; she left not her home; she saw no one. Unfortunately, Mrs. Austin’s confinement had recently taken place, and she had been unable to look after her; but feeling now sufficiently strong to go to her cottage, on a bright September morning she set forth with a little basket of provisions for the poor mourner, little dreaming that the happy home she left was, ere night, to be turned into the house of desolation and woe.

On Mrs. Austin’s reaching the lonely cottage, she observed its unusually bleak and deserted appearance. Not a footstep was to be seen near the door; the path was almost obliterated; a miserable hovel it had been at the best, but now indeed it was marked as the abode of wretchedness itself. The cracked mud wall was not more than four feet in height, and the roof had no other covering than the damp green moss, under which the thatch had rotted away. The moor sheep, lying under the black stones which everywhere appeared amid the surrounding heath and peat, seemed better housed and sheltered than the inmate of this abode of misery. The bed was in disorder, and the window, which was broken and stopped up with weeds, was already obscured with dirt and cobwebs. The prints had mildewed on the walls; the flower-pots were still in their places; but the plants were dead, and drops of damp had collected on their decayed leaves.

The poor woman—sullen in her woe,—was sitting erect on the bed with folded arms, and a countenance that afforded no encouragement to kindness. From her neighbours she had received no aid or consolation, for they had begun to abuse and hate her as a witch; and the overseers, with whom she was compelled to have intercourse had brought no unusual degree of feeling and charity to the execution of their office. But nothing could repel the Christian benevolence of Mrs. Austin; she suggested schemes of employment; she made offers of assistance; she pressed upon her the duty of employment, the consolations of religion.

“God,” she said, “will give you strength to go on; do but make a beginning. Do not give yourself up to this sad, stern way of taking your grief. It looks like impatience.”

“And you would be impatient, too!” she retorted. “You never lost a living soul you loved; but what if you were to lose all you loved! All at once! No—no! I thank you, mistress! but leave me to my grief. Nobody has felt grief like mine!”

Mrs. Austin was compelled at length, most unwillingly, to abandon all hope of doing any good. She made one more effort to turn the poor woman’s heart towards the only source of consolation, but her sun was darkened. She could only look upon it as the source of sorrow. Her notions of religion were too indistinct to afford her any comfort; they had never been cultivated, and the fruit was therefore not to be found when it was wanted. Nor was there any of that pride which enables so many to bear up against affliction. It was vehement grief, acting upon a strong mind, and strong frame, unmixed—unsophisticated—unalleviated; and for want of the most precious of all the Almighty’s gifts to man—unalleviable.

But now the consoler was to need consolation. Mrs. Austin returned late to her home to find it in a state of affliction that baffles description. As the tidings burst upon her amid the sobs and groans of her children, that their father’s corpse lay in the adjoining room, she sank down senseless. He had been busied about some repairs which were required in the roof. The ladder on which he stood had slipped, and being a heavy man, his fall had been violent. Some sharp stones lay below, and one moment had ended his useful and energetic life.

Crushed and stunned by her grief, in the first instance, Mrs. Austin’s character was not one in which exertion would fail, whilst she had the power to serve God and her fellow-creatures. Her children rallied round her, giving and finding strength, and in their sympathy and affection she found her best earthly consolation. The eldest son, though still under fourteen years of age, was a lad of sense and conduct, and had inherited his father’s courage and energy. He redoubled his activity and punctuality. His sisters and younger brother seconded his exertions, and after the lapse of some months the routine of the family life was resumed.

Mrs. Austin, however, could not but feel the utmost anxiety respecting their future fate—and the relieving officers made their appearance one day in her cottage and proceeded with more of kindness and consideration than is usual in such cases, to talk over the possibility of maintenance which her circumstances afforded. They proposed to take her five youngest children into the house. It may be difficult to say what system of affording relief to the poor is to be preferred; but this may be affirmed without hesitation, that whatever system tends to weaken the domestic affections by separating parents from children, is radically bad. When this was proposed to the poor widow, she answered in great agitation that she would rather die in working to maintain her children, than part with any of them. If necessary, she would accompany them all into the workhouse; and there labour with them, but never should they be divided except it were the will of God. Still, she added, if the landlord would continue her in “the farm,” she would undertake to bring up all her ten