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"No, no, nurse, I didn't say that; but you know none of us can tell how long we may be spared; you know that sometimes even the youngest are called away."
"Well, then, if I am spared, Miss Fanny, if I live through it, as you say, how do you think I can make this year a happy one?"
"You have asked me a plain question, nurse, and I must give a plain answer, which I hope will not offend you. You must give up thinking and talking of your luck; you must look on the bright side of things, and not on the dark, and you must remember that many, very many, are worse off than yourself, and instead of complaining of your own trials try and find out how you can help others who have harder ones to bear. Wait a minute; you must let me finish," continued Miss Hargreaves, for she saw that Mrs. Manser was about to interrupt her; "the most important thing is this, you must, if you really want happiness, go to Him who alone can give contentment and happiness; you know that the Bible says, 'a contented mind is a continual feast.' Ask God to give you a taste of that feast, and then you may hope for happiness."
"Ah, Miss Fanny, it is all very well to talk of being contented, but if you knew how weary I am sometimes, you wouldn't think it so easy. I have to work hard for a living, and I have my troubles that you little know of, and they are hard to be borne."
"Then why do you try to bear them? Why do you not take them to Jesus? You know He has said, ' Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Have you really and truly ever tried His love?"
"Well, Miss Fanny, I think it is too hard of you to doubt my religion; you know I am as regular at church as anyone; you never see my seat empty on a Sunday."
"Being regular at church is not enough, nurse," replied Miss Hargreaves; "that is only a means to an end; the object of church-going is to worship God, and to learn how to serve Him; and if you never attain that end the mere being regular is no good."
Poor Mrs. Manser did not seem to relish the turn the conversation had taken. Generally she managed to do the greater part of the talking herself when anyone came to see her, and she liked to grumble about her trials and troubles without let or hindrance; she liked to
"Fill her fellow creature's ear
not knowing or feeling that
"Were half the time thus vainly spent
But this time Miss Hargreaves had done the talking, and Mrs. Manser was half inclined to resent her plain speaking, but feared offending her.
After speaking a little more of the uselessness and sinfulness of continually complaining, and trying to point out the only source of true happiness to Mrs. Manser, Miss Hargreaves rose to take her leave, but before going she took from her reticule a warm knitted shawl and laid it on the table. "There, nurse," she said, "1 have been trying hard to finish this for you by New Year's Day for a little present . I hope you will like it and find much comfort from it."
Mrs. Manser was profuse in her thanks, and, indeed, was very grateful for the gift, for, although fond of complaining, she was not incapable of gratitude.
"It is indeed a beauty, Miss Fanny," she said, " and I thank you very kindly for it; and I'm sure you deserve a happy new year, miss, and hope you may have it."
"Thank you, nurse. And now I want you to do me a favour. Will you carry this little parcel—it is another shawl like yours—to old Mrs. Bean's? I meant to take it myself, but shall not have time now; if you will leave it for me, and tell her I will call in a day or two, I shall be glad."
Mrs. Manser readily undertook to fulfil this commission, and as soon as her visitor had departed she walked across the meadows that separated Mrs. Bean's cottage from her own, carrying the parcel with her.
"You can't guess what I have got for you here," she said when inside Mrs. Bean's room, and she looked quite pleased, and, for her, very cheerful. Perhaps Miss Hargreaves' visit and present had put her into a good temper, or perhaps the walk in the bracing January air had done her good, but, whatever the cause, Mrs. Manser did look quite cheerful and kindly.
"No, I can't, indeed," Mrs. Bean answered; "but sit down, nurse. How well you look to-day."
"Oh, I am very well, but almost tired out with work. Oh, dear, but this is a hard world to live in, it's nothing but work, work, work, all day long."
"I know you work hard, nurse; but what a blessing it is to be able to get about as you do; but I mustn't complain, for I have been able to use my hands a little better this last few days, thanks be to God for His mercies."
Mrs. Bean had long been bedridden; for years she had had no use in her legs, and sometimes could hardly use her hands; but when she was well enough she employed her time in making pillow-lace; and in this way, with a little help from her richer neighbours, she contrived to earn enough to keep her. It was a poor enough living she made, but she was thankful for what she had; and no one ever heard her make a complaint, although sometimes she must have sadly wanted a meal.
"Well," said Mrs. Manser, "you haven't guessed what is in the parcel. Look here," she continued, as she took the paper wrapper off the shawl, "this is a present from Miss Fanny; isn't it beautiful?"
"Miss Fanny! God bless her for her kindness to an old body like me! Ah, and He will too, for He has promised His blessing to those who help the poor. It is beautiful indeed! Oh, what a comfort it will be to me, now the weather is so cold." And the poor old woman looked with glistening eyes upon the warm shawl, and handled it with admiration. "Just put it round my shoulders, nurse, will you be so kind? I must feel it on me."
Mrs. Manser at once wrapped her neighbour up, and while doing so noticed that the pillow she leaned on was not so comfortably placed as it might have been. "Let me put your pillow up a little," she said.
"Thank you, that is better, though I didn't know it was not comfortable before."
"Where is Jane to-day ?" Mrs. Manser asked.
Jane was Mrs. Bean's daughter, and when not out at work saw to her mother's comfort at home.
"She is gone out to-day. I don't expect her home till quite evening. She will be out all this week, only sleeping here. Little Polly Jones comes in to help me to my meals when she comes from school."
"Don't you feel awful lonesome all by yourself?" Mrs. Manser asked.
"Lonesome! Well, now and then the time seems a little long, especially when I can't work; but then I lay and think, and sometimes I read the Bible, or say some hymns to myself; here's one my mother taught me when I was a girl; it is a beautiful hymn:
"' Poor, weak, and worthless though I am,
That's one verse, and then there is another:
"' He cheers my heart, my wants supplies,
Isn't that beautiful, nurse? Just to think of having a friend like Jesus; and it's Him that gives me my other friends; it was Him that put it into Miss Fanny's heart to send me this beautiful shawl; and He sent you here just now when I was feeling a little lonely, just to cheer me up."
"Well, I don't know, I'm sure, how you came to think it was anyone but Miss Fanny that sent me; it was she that asked me to come with the shawl." Mrs. Manser said this in a hard tone and almost defiantly; but a careful observer might have noticed that her voice trembled a little, and that her eyes were a little dimmed as though by tears.
"I don't know why I shouldn't go and see the poor old creature a little oftener," Mrs. Manser said to herself as she left the cottage—not before she had put the room tidy and made Mrs. Bean's couch comfortable, though. "She must be lonesome when Jane is away," she continued, "and, then, only a little girl like Polly Jones to do anything for her. Well, / couldn't bear it, I'm sure."
The next day, and the next, and for many days following this visit, Mrs. Manser found time to tear herself away from her work and call in on her neighbour, to do any little thing she could for her; and yet she found she did quite as much work, and it didn't seem any harder than when she spent all day grumbling over it .
It was when on one of these visits that she surprised Mrs. Bean by saying abruptly, "I can't bear cant, Mrs. Bean, and I never could; but I do believe there is more in your religion than I thought for."
"My religion, nurse!" replied Mrs. Bean; "it isn't my religion, it is the religion of Jesus Christ—the same as your own."
"I don't know so much about it being the same as mine. I wouldn't tell every one, but I don't mind telling you—I am afraid my religion is only a kind of sham"
"No, no, don't say so ! you"
"Don't stop me, now I've a mind to speak, Mrs. Bean; perhaps I shan't like to say it another time; but I mean to tell you to-day, because I feel uncomfortable about it. I have always boasted about being regular at church, and never thought of anything more; but now I feel that there is