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"Why, -what do you mean, Mr. Cantle?" inquired Mrs. Try, the person that he had been addressing. "1 don't understand you."
Nat laid down the shoe he was mending, and looking up at Mrs. Fry, who was standing opposite him, leaning against the window, replied, " 1 mean, neighbour Fry, that in your hustling to this friend, and running off to that one, you perhaps have not time to look after your own soul; and that's how it is that you're always in hot water."
"But what can I do, Mr. Cantle, when I'm sent so for that I've hardly a minute to call my own?"
"First make it all right within, and the Lord will make it all right without."
"Then you mean that I onghtn't to be leaving my own home to help a poor body in their trouble?"
"No, no, Mrs. Fry; I do not mean that. What I mean is, that in the hurry and driving after other people's affairs, I am afraid you are neglecting your own. The command is, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God;' and I'm inclined to believe that the heaps of trouble you are complaining of are all through your not seeking in the right way, and the right place."
"Eight way, and right place, Mr. Cantle?"
"Yes,—on your knees, in your own chamber, Mrs. Fry."
"Well, you do speak plain, Mr. Cantle," said Mrs. Fry, with a little annoyance in the tone of her voice.
"We both call ourselves servants of the same Master," observed Nat.
Mrs. Fry bent her head in the affirmative.
"And we both profess to know what 'the will of the Lord is.' Knowing it, oughtn't we to try to do it?"
"Of course we should; and I'm sure the desire of my life is to be useful, and be doing for Him who has done so much for me."
"1 know it is, neighbour, and a right helpful woman you are. But, neighbour, all these worries you've come complaining about must begin somewhere, and I'm thinking 'tis with yourself. Your intentions are good; but I am afraid you overstep your intentions."
"How so?" questioned Mrs. Fry.
"Why, in trying to help others, you forget to help yourself. Unless a lamp is kept fed with oil, the light will die out; and unless you and 1 feed our souls upon the bread of life, we shall soon languish and pine away. 1 know 'tis possible to get what we seem most to wish, and yet not have a blessing in it. Don't you recollect what king David says of the Israelites ?' He (the Lord) gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.' (Psa. cvi. 15.) Tis the leanness I am thinking you're suffering from. You're always so busy a-doing for others, that you forget to go to Him who keeps the supplies for your own nourishment."
"I'm thinking, Mr. Cantle, that perhaps you are somewhere about right. Why, sometimes I don't get a quiet minute or two to read a chapter for days together. And as to my prayers, I ofttimes drop asleep over them, I'm so tired out. And when I don't, all the world comes rushing into my head, and scares the good thoughts out. I aren't like the same woman as when I first found the Lord, for I haven't got the same joy in him."
"And you know that oughtn't to be; for the Christian is to 'grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Now', Mrs. Fry, is it your own work, that which comes in your own way, that tires you out; or is it what you go out of your way to find?"
Mrs. Fry could not but confess that it was not her own calling which overtaxed her powers, but her love of being first and foremost amongst her neighbours. She was one of those kind-hearted, bustling women, who are always ready to lend a willing hand at all times. There was scarcely a birth or death in the street she lived in but she was present at it, and very few young people were married in the neighbourhood without her taking a prominent part in the family gathering. She had a few shillings a week coming in independent of her mangle, and was what her poorer neighbours would call a well-to-do body. But for some months a sense that she was not nearly as happy as she ought to be, or used to be, had been creeping over her; and though she strove to get over the feeling by incessant action and kindly offices to those around her, yet she could not; and at last she brought her little "heap of trouble," as she called it, to Nat Cantle, for him to advise her what to do with it. One little grievance seemed to follow so quickly upon another, that she was weary of trying to extricate herself; and, seeing Mrs. Cantle go out that morning, she thought she would just step in and talk them over with Nat.
Nat quickly saw that the cares of this life were choking up the good seed in Mrs. Fry's heart; and having brought her to confess that the hindrances to her spiritual growth were chiefly of her own making or seeking, he determined, as far as in him lay, to awaken her to a sense of her danger.
"If you can spare a quarter of an hour, neighbour," said he, "just sit down. I guess you are much in the state I was in when I was pensioned off, and settled down into a quiet life. I'd got heartily sick of war, and longed for peace; and when it pleased God to send it, I thought to myself, 'Now, Nat Cantle, with your so much a day and your trade, you've nought to do but enjoy yourself.' So I set up shoemaking and mending at once, and soon got a tidyish bit of business together. I'd given myself to the Lord some years before, but I did not walk close with him. Religion wasn't the fashion then; and though the dangers and horrors of the battle-field kept me from quite letting go my hold of the things which were for my peace, yet 1 followed my Master afar off, and in secret, that I mightn't be laughed and scoffed at. Well, as I wa3 saying, 1 got a tidyish bit of business together, and then I remembered a lass in my own village that I'd always a liking for (my Mary), and so I thinks to myself, if she ain't married, I'll marry her. And she wasn't, and we married; and then I thought, now I've got all I want in this world. But I hadn't. 'Twas six years before a little one was born to us; and all the time till Polly came I was grumbling, because they that had hardly bread to put into the young ones' mouths had plenty of children, and I that had enough and to spare had none. I thought I was a happy man when Polly came. But not a bit of it, neighbour. No: I next wanted a boy—one to bring up to my trade, and to take care of his mother when I was gone. Well, the good Lord granted me that wish or want, and my missus was almost beside herself with joy, because she thought I'd be satisfied at last. But no, neighbour: as faBt as I'd got a mercy granted I was wanting something else,—when my Mary says to me one day, says she, 'Master, I'm a thinking 'tain't all right with your religion. The Lord seems to do nought but grant you blessings, and yet you don't seem to be blessed in 'em.'
"I was struck all of a heap when she said it, and as I went on with my work I couldn't help thinking of it. The Lord had, and did bless me, and yet I was not happy in his blessings, and I wondered how it was. And by-and-by I saw how it was. I found out I was seeking my own gratification, and not considering the Lord in it. Everything that I wanted or did was for my own pleasure. True, I asked him for the fulfilment of all my desires; for I had never forgotten that all good gifts come from him; but I never sought his blessing in them, and not seeking, I did not get it. I was hedging up my own path with thorns. 1 was setting up my will between myself and the Lord's. I made myself so many temporal needs and wants, that my poor soul was growing cold and dead for lack of looking to. When I just think of it now, Mrs. Fry, I feel I'm a monument of the Lord's forbearing grace, in not taking away his Holy Spirit from me, or cutting me off as an unthankful servant.
"My missus' words brought me to my knees as soon as she'd turned her back for a long spell. I just did pray then with all my heart. I prayed the Lord never to give me anything unless his blessing was in it. I asked him to set me my work henceforth, and to keep me from choosing what 1 thought best, if against his Divine will. I offered myself afresh to his service, as if I had never 'listed in it before. I just saw 'twould never have done, when I was a soldier, to have been setting up my wants against my captain's will, and I'd no manner of business to do it with the Captain of my salvation. No, neighbour, I found that 'twas only as I kept in the ranks, and abided directions from head-quarters, that I'd be doing my duty. When my missus comes back I says to her, ' Mary, I've found out what was wrong in my religion.' 'Have you?' says she. 'Yes,' says I; 'I've been trimming the lamp that's to light me for time, but I've been forgetting the one that's to last through eternity. My poor soul's nigh upon starved; for I've been thinking of everything but feeding that. We'll start afresh, to night.' 'Start afresh, Nat!' says she. 'Yes,' says I. 'We won't leave the Bible on that shelf for days together. No, wife; night and morning we'll take it down. If we goes without anything from this time forth, it shall not be the word of God.'
"It's nigh upon thirty years ago that we began regularly to read the Bible night and mornings The children looked as nat'ral for it of a morning as for breakfast, and whatever we had to go without it wasn't our verses. 'Twasn't that we wasn't tried, neighbour, for we was; for for five or six years I was so busy, that I hardly knew which way to turn to get my work done quick enough, and every ten minutes or quarter of an hour was of consequence to me; but I never shirked my Bible. Bless you, Mrs. Fry, it had got to me and my Mary as needful as meat and drink. Then came the trouble. I was a good bit over forty when I married, which was in '17; and when the trouble came, I was drawing on for sixty, and you know a man that has roughed it abroad in his young days can't stand as much in his old ones. Well, as I was saying, the trouble came, for I fell ill, and I was ill for months; but the Lord was with us to bless us. We seemed to live under his very smile. Whatever he saw fit to take from us he never withdrew himself. Why, when there was but a bit of dry bread in the cupboard, Mary and I could see his hand giving it. Then when I got better two of our children took sick (we had four little ones given us altogether) and they died. That was a hard pull at our wills just then, for we could not at first abide the thought of parting with 'em. But the Lord gave us grace at last willingly to give them up to him, to be lambs of Jesus for ever in his fold. And so the years have gone on, and I am now eight years over the age appointed to man, and Mary and I have nought to do but look forward to seeing Him face to face whom we love, and that very soon. We have learned that, to be happy, the Lord's way must be our way. Our means are small, and Ned is but a sickly chap, poor fellow, but he is God's servant; and day by day we trim our lamps together, waiting for our Master's coming, so that whenever he calls we may be ready. And oh, neighbour Fry, if you would look forward with peace to the hour of your departure, see that in trimming other people's lamps you don't forget your own."
"I believe every word you've said, Mr. Cantle," replied Mrs. Fry, thoughtfully, "and I feel that I've been forgetting my own soul whilst caring about other people's concerns. But how can I alter it without seeming unneighbourly like?"
"If it's the Lord's work you're doing, he'll lead you by the right way to it. When you are sent for all of a hurry of a morning, just ask them who sent for you if 'tis of consequence that you should come for ten minutes or so, as you've affairs of your own that will occupy you a bit. Of course if it is, you must go at once, for for special work God gives special grace. But half, or nearly all your time you'll find that you can be spared very well. And then as neighbours find out you've got concerns of your