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It was even so. The appearance of every thing, as we entered the door, bore marks of severe labour expended in the attempt to make the dwelling decent and comfortable. I was astonished tbat so much could be done in two days by two females. There was an air even of neatness in the apartment to which we were introduced. It was a small room with but one window, of which half the panes were broken, and their places supplied by various substances which shut out the light as well as the wind. The only furniture was a bedstead, three chairs, a trunk, and a table on which lay several books—evidently long used, but with care. The broken floor bad been cleaned, and an old piece of carpeting was spread by the side of the bed on which the sick woman lay. The bedding was coarse but perfectly clean; and it was impossible not to feel at once surprise, respect, and pity, for one who seemed so capable of adorning a better lot, and yet was condemned to one so wretched. This was my first feeling.
The invalid raised her languid head as I drew nigh, begging me to excuse the trouble she bad given me. “But I was sick,” she added, “and a stranger in a strange place; and I knew no one on whom to call
, but the preacher of the gospel. I need help, and advice, and comfort. I have been cast off from the world, and have been seeking to fly to my God; and I felt that his minister would be ready to help me.
“ It is our office," I replied, “ in this way humbly to imitate our Master. We must bear one another's burdens; and I am bappy that you applied to me at once. First of all, you need a physician, and I will send Dr. Bowdler to you immediately.
In fact her whole appearance indicated a state of aggravated disease; and after a few more inquiries, which served but to beighten my interest in the mysterious stranger, I took my leave. The physician attended. The disease gained ground. I was every day at the house, and every day increased my wonder and sympathy. Benevolent ladies in the village gave their kind attentions, and much was done to alleviate the united sufferings of want and disease. The patient endured with fortitude and cheerfulness, and seemingly with a spirit of religious acquies
At length the violence of the disorder gave way, and she became able to converse freely; but was evidently sinking and wasting into a settled decline. In my frequent conversations with her, I learned the circumstances of her past history, and the misfortunes which had brought her to her present situation. These were fully confirmed by testimony from other sources, and I soon felt that she had a claim upon the kindness of all who could serve her.
Mrs. Holden--for such I found the name of our invalid to be—was the daughter of a minister, in a small village near the metropolis. She was unfortunately subjected to the care of a step-mother, who sought to compensate for her want of affection and maternal fidelity, by care to forward her young charge in those external accomplishments which might most attract the notice of spectators, while the more solid and important branches of education were neglected. Gay, inexperienced, untaught, and regarding the world before her but a scene of enjoyment, she relieved herself from a guardian whom she despised, by marrying, in her seventeenth year, a handsome and dashing young man from the capital. Thither she removed with him; but, alas, not to realise her visions of felicity. Beauty and gaiety availed her little. Her spirits sank, and her bloom faded under the cares of a growing family, and unkindness of a brutal husband. Years rolled on, but brought no peace with them. The fireside had no comfort, and the evening return of him, who should have been her best friend, was the signal for tears instead of smiles. The morning bad no cheerfulness in its beams, that roused her only to toil and weariness. And the lonely day of labour and privation was darkened by the anticipation of unkindness and abuse at its close.
Her life was thus wretched without alleviation or hope. Her father died soon after her marriage, and she was left, with neither brother nor sister, to depend only upon a husband, who laughed at the oath by which he had bound himself to her, and sported in her misery who bad none to befriend her, but himself. Her children—a mother's heart cannot be without something like bliss; but this in her's was bitter as the tears that fell in showers
them, when she watched over them in her deserted home.
At length a new evil came upon her. Her two youngest children sickened, faltered, and died. In the same week they passed away together, and slept in one grave. Even the father's soul was touched; and as he wept with her over their pale forms, she enjoyed the first hour of domestic sympathy which she had known for years.
But it was
only an hour; and she felt berself doomed to drink a cup of tenfold bitterness, now that she had lost two of the only three objects which attached her to the world, or made life sufferable. She did not know, short-sighted woman, that her Father, who had given her the cup to drink, bad also sweetened for her its draught.
A mixed feeling of pride, shame, and obstinacy, bad made her for a long time, as it makes many, a stranger to God's house. Her thoughtless childhood and youth had given her no sufficient religious impressions; and when she could not go to meeting for display, she knew no desire to go for worship. The trouble and disappointment of her married state she had attributed solely to her husband's misconduct; and they had therefore never led her heart to God, but had rather been suffered to exasperate her spirit, and keep her in obstinate alienation from him. But now the cause of her sorrow was changed; she perceived it to be from a superior Power; and her heart was softened. A near minister came to pray at the funeral of her little ones; and while she listened to the voice of his serious and affectionate sympathy, the remembrance of her early days and of her father's prayers came over her, and she wept convulsively. How often is the heart awakened by the recollections of a pious home, which had long been sleeping and dead! He visited her; he conversed with her; he spoke to her of her Maker; be revived her remembrance of a Saviour; he pointed out to ber the light, the comfort, the promises, the peace of the blessed gospel. She listened, and was persuaded. She perceived that she had found the friend whom she needed. She felt that no one need be alone or comfortless in God's world. She found occupation for her troubled thoughts, objects for her wandering affections, and was able to forget the irritations and trials of her lot; or, when she could not forget them, to bear them calmly and cheerfully. She had become a Christian; and weary and heavy laden as she was, she found rest to her soul.
“ You who have always known the happiness of a religious mind,” said she; “you, who have never had experience of the vacancy of soul, which belongs to those who have neither comfort on earth nor hope in heaven-cannot readily conceive of the change which now took place in my feelings and my whole existence. I seemed to have come into a new world. Every thing wore a new aspect.
I could hardly believe it was myself, who was now bearing quietly what had before been an intolerable burden. I was astonished to find myself smiling and happy-not happy, perhaps, but contented-amid scenes wbicb bad before only irritated me and made me wretched. My husband was still negligent and unkind, my lovely infants were still among the dead, my days were still solitary, and my food scanty and poor. But these had become smaller evils, for my thoughts and affections had something else to rest upon. Religious truth had become interesting to me. The Sabbath led me abroad to worship, and thus gave variety to my life, excitement to my mind, and peace to my heart. The Bible and other good books, gave me some new topic of wonderful and delightful contemplation every day. I was engaged, with an eagerness I never had felt before, in teaching and guiding my only surviving child, for I felt a new responsibility in her behalf. I thus became too much occupied to think of my troubles; or at least, when sometimes they would intrude themselves, I had a refuge from them, and could drive them from my mind. When they were at the worst, I knew where I could find comfort; for God's ear was open to me; and in pouring out my sorrows before his merey-seat, I at any time could relieve my full heart of its burden, Mr. Anderson," continued the invalid, checking the animation with which she bad been speaking—“I freely say this to you, for you can sympathize with me. You will not count me either boasting or enthusiastic; for you know what is the power of religious trust. You feel what I mean, when I say, that the promise was fulfilled to me I will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on me; because he trusteth in me.”
I did indeed understand her, and rejoiced to witness the efficacy of that faith, which OVERCOMES THE WORLD.
It was appointed to her to endure a long and severe trial of her faith. She bad felt, as all are so apt to feel in the first experience of religious purposes, that she was ready for any thing, that nothing could now seem hard to her, that no temptation could be too powerful for her, that any yoke would be easy and any burden light. She little knew what Providence bad in store for her. It pleased God to prove her severely, to try her in the hottest furnace of affliction; and it needed faith and fortitude, like that of the “ three children” of old, to pass unbarmed and triumphant through the flame.
Wben affliction does not soften and amend, it hardens and makes worse. Thus it happened to Mr. Holden. The death of his two children had been heavily felt by him, but not as the providence of God. He murmured and complained. His spirit was rebellious. His feelings were exasperated, as if wrong had been done him. He became more irritable and sullen, and hurried with greater devotion than ever to the scenes of irregular pleasure; attempting thus to supply, from worldly sources, that void which bis wife was seeking to fill from the living streams of heavenly truth. But he found them broken cisterns, which could hold no water.
In vain did his wife strive to lead him to those truths which were sustaining her. He obstinately refused to listen, and angrily forbade the very naming of the subject. And although the serenity and evident contentment of her mind might have proved to him, that the part she had chosen was indeed good; yet be sullenly endeavoured rather to destroy than to partake her peace. He was angry that she should be happy, while he was discontented. Her very sweetness and forbearance were new occasions of offence; and the more she submitted to his injustice, and strove by mild patience to pacify and win him, the more did he brutally persevere in wounding her feelings and increasing her privations. Would that I were recording a strange and solitary case! But alas, many are the meek wives and pious mothers, who have thus suffered beneath the unmanly persecution of men who had sworn to be their protectors, but who were afterward wedded to pleasure and sin; and who vented their insane revenge even on the humblest means which were used as a refuge from their violence.
Mr. Holden proceeded from step to step, till he had forbidden the visits of the minister, and destroyed every book but the Bible, and that she was obliged carefully to conceal. These were grievous privations, and bitter were the tears which they drew from her. But she redoubled her diligence in the instruction of her daughter, and found her Sabbaths tenfold a delight. Even this, however, was to be denied her. In a fit of drunken brutality, he swore that she should go to church no more; and to make effectual his threat, he destroyed the few decent garments which she had reverently reserved for the service of the temple. This was a heavy cross; but a heavier yet was