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In two or three weeks the danger was over, and our old farmhouse began to resume its wonted aspect. The servant's attack of fever had been comparatively slight, and she was the first to show signs of convalescence. At her own request she was then taken to her mother's cottage in a neighbouring village. My mother, too, had partially recovered from her less dangerous illness, and was able, though with pain and difficulty, to move out of her chamber, and sit up for a few hours in the adjoining room. By this time, too, the panic which had caused our home to be dreaded and avoided, as a pest-house had so far subsided that we could obtain the help we needed. There was one drawback to this, however; this was the delicate and fragile state in which Lucy still remained.
"She is a very tender plant, Miss Foster," said Mr. Woodman, the doctor, to me one day. "Her late illness has left her deplorably weak. She ought to have change of air as soon as possible."
"Change of air, sir?"
"A complete change of air. You must send her to the seaside. She will never get strong again while she remains here. Indeed, I will not answer for consequences unless some precautions are taken."
"But, doctor, you told me that Lucy was out of danger more than a week ago," I said, with a good deal of perturbation.
"Out of immediate danger from fever, certainly, because the fever was gone; but there may be remote danger, notwithstanding; and if she does not pick up strength somehow, there will be danger. I think you understand me, Miss Foster."
I did understand him. I had known instances in which patients recovered from fever had sunk into the grave with slow decline; and I had feared this very thing with regard to Lucy. But what could I do? For even supposing that the change of air so earnestly recommended by the outspoken medical friend would be effectual in removing the danger we feared, the poor girl could not be sent unaccompanied to seek it. And who could go with her? Not I; for my hands were more than full at home. Not our mother; for she required nursing as much as Lucy did.
I was in deep distress, for I loved my sister very dearly; and when the doctor had taken his departure, I broke out into an agony of tears.
"I see what it is, my dear; but pray do not distress yourself so very much." It was Mrs. Wake who said this. For the second time she had found me in a paroxysm of grief, and it vexed me. It seemed almost as though she were a spy upon me, I thought.
I wiped the tears from my eyes hastily, and looked angrily, I am sure, at the intruder; but she would not notice this.
"I know what it is," she went on; "for Mr. Woodman has been speaking to me since he left you, and he sent me to advise with you."
"If you know why I am troubled, you know very well also that all the advice in the world will be of no use to comfort me," I said, ungraciously. And then, my grief returning, I wrung my hands despairingly, regardless of the presence of the person I so much disliked. "My poor sister! my darling Lucy!" I sobbed.
The kind woman sat down by my side, and took my hand in hers. "I know it all," she repeated; "Mr. Woodman tells me, what indeed 1 have seen for some days, that your sister must be removed. You cannot accompany her, and you know of no one who can, and time is precious. It is this that troubles you." She waited a moment for my reply; but it did not come, so she went on.
"You must trust me, my dear. Why should you not trust me? Who should Lucy have with her but her nurse, you know? Let me be her travelling companion and nurse and friend all in one. 1 will be ready to go with her tomorrow if she can be ready by then; and I will take care of her, be sure. Indeed, a change will do me good too; and I know Hastings very well, for I was there for some weeks only a few years ago. So the thing is settled, isn't it, my dear friend?"
And so the thing was settled; for Mrs. Wake had such a kindly peremptory way that there was no such thing as refusing her offer. Indeed, since she had made the offer, it would have been folly to refuse, I thought. And yet I was angry—angry with Mrs. Wake for her disinterested generosity; angry with my parents for thanking her for her friendly self-denial; angry with darling Lucy for being so glad as she was when she knew who was to be her companion; and angry with myself for being angry.
Two months passed away; we had heard from time to time, very frequently indeed, that Lucy was getting on charmingly. Her appetite had returned, so had her blooming looks, so had her strength. We had heard how she was able now to ramble over the hills for hours at a time without fatigue, and that the tenderness of her lungs, which we had so feared would ripen into consumption, vras yielding to medical treatment and the milder climate of that watering-place. It was Mrs. Wake who wrote all this with such kindly interest; and in my sister's briefer notes there was so much evident happiness and elasticity of spirit, and so much artless thankfulness expressed regarding " dear Mrs. Wake," who was "everything to her that a mother could be," that while we were glad to know that Lucy was going on so satisfactorily, our jealousy was strongly roused. Who was Mrs. Wake, that she should be robbing us of poor Lucy's affections in such a way? we asked ourselves. My dear mother, especially, was troubled that another should have stepped into her place; forgetting that but for our kind neighbour, we should, in all probability, have been sorrowing over darling Lucy's hopeless decline, if not over her grave.
Well, two months and more passed away, and then the travellers returned home—Lucy to our old farmhouse and Mrs. Wake to The Grange. Lucy was all we had been led to hope. The threatening symptoms had passed away, and her health was completely restored. Be sure that we were pleased at this—pleased also to find that her affection had not been alienated from us as we had feared. But though we acknowledged this, our jealousy of Mrs. Wake's interference was not removed; and this jealousy was rekindled when, on more than one occasion, our neighbours at The Grange were scornfully or slightingly alluded to, and Lucy almost indignantly—certainly with much warmth—vindicated her friend from the aspersions cast upon her. She could not forget her kindness, she said, and she hoped she never should forget it; and it was too bad—cruel—in me (for it was I who had spoken) to say such hard things of a person to whom we all, and she herself especially, were under such obligations.
And then came a discovery which filled us all with indignation, not only against Mrs. Wake, but also against dear Lucy.
When our Lord and Saviour was on earth, he forewarned his disciples that they must expect persecution for his sake and the gospel's. He told them that one of the results of his doctrines would be to divide families and households, that the father would be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against her daughter, and the daughter against her mother: that there would be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.*
I have already said that we were an irreligious family in our old farmhouse. "We knew nothing of the humbling, sanet ify in g influences of the gospel of Christ . Let me further confess that we were proud and Pharisaical, very much in the condition of those of whom the Lord Jesus Christ said, that they thought themselves to be rich and to have need of nothing, not knowing that they were wretched and miserable, poor, blind, and naked :j or like those of whom we read in another place, that they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. J We boasted of our good name for honesty and worldly integrity, and of our regard for the external forms of religion, while we branded as enthusiasts and Methodists and hypocrites, any who made the service of God the real business of their lives. This, as I have confessed, was at the root of my enmity towards our neighbours, the Wakes. Judge then of my anger and scorn when I made the discovery that my own sister had been, as I said, "enticed over to their way of thinking," or "persuaded to be a Methodist." These are only a specimen of the phrases I used. I had many others.
Lucy was one of those who, in the endless variety of ways by which our heavenly Father brings home his children to himself, seem to be gently drawn, as by the bands of love. Like Lydia, her heart had been opened to receive the blessed truths of the Bible. Her illness had not excited her fears so much as her thoughtfulness; and the faithful, yet encouraging words of her "dear nurse" had been the instrumental means by which a believing knowledge of Christ's most precious salvation was brought home to her soul. She was humbled, indeed, and deeply penitent at the remembrance of her former neglect and alienation from God; but even this had not wrought terror in her soul, because it was accompanied by a full sense of the infinite mercy of God in Jesus, and of his readiness to receive and forgive and bless every returning sinner. All this I knew many years afterwards from her own lips, when * Luke xii. 51—53. f Eev. iii. 17. J Luke xviii. 9.
I was passing through very deep waters of soul-sorrow. For it was in this way that my gracious loving Lord was pleased, by bis Holy Spirit, to convince me of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment to come. So true it is, that—
"As blows the wind, and in its flight
Escapes the glance of keenest sights
So are the wonder-working ways
Of God's regenerating grace.
i~. As o'er our frames we feel the gale
To return to dear Lucy: the time she had spent at Hastings with her kind friend and our neighbour had been happily employed by them both—the one in imparting, and the other in receiving, the encouragements and consolations of the gospel. It was this probably which had imparted such a charm of simplicity and earnestness to my sister's comparatively brief epistles, though she did not mention the cause. When I afterwards asked her why she had thus avoided any mention of the change in her views and aims, she said that she felt it was not for her to be making a parade of the source of her newly-found happiness, that she even feared writing too enthusiastically if she should write at all, that she wanted time to prove (not to herself so much as to others) that her joy was true Christian joy, and that she treasured up in her heart the hope of telling with her own lips, when her experience of the love of Christ had stood the test of some little further time, what a dear Saviour she had found. As to concealment—studied or unstudied—Lucy had thought, of no such thing. She fancied that perhaps we might smile a little at the warmth of her feelings when she should make them known: but, poor dear girl . she had not thought, could not have thought, how seriously displeased with her we should all be.
The way in which we came to a knowledge of my sister's "new notions," as we termed them, was the finding, by me, in her bedroom, of two or three books, which had been lent to her by her friends at The Grange. This was about a month after her return home; and I should also state that, in that interval, Lucy had spent several days, by invitation, with the Wakes.
The books weTe of a religious character; and when, little