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I used to long for some freemasonry of spirit, and wonder why good people should be so shy of speaking out their thoughts. I think that one kindly Christian word might have saved me then. Ah ! Ethel, there are those whose hearts are yearning to hear the name of Christ, even whilst they bear an outwardly careless, gay demeanour. Do not shrink back from speaking of Him,' even to your worldly acquaintances. You little know how many may be secretly dissatisfied and unhappy, and those very feelings will make them assume the mask of indifference all the more carefully."
And as Ethel listened, she determined that nothing henceforth should hinder her from speaking to such when occasion offered, nor would she fail to stretch out a friendly hand to the stranger that might come across her path.
Mrs. Hamilton continued: “I stayed to the Communion Service once or twice after my marriage, but the last time I did so my husband came to fetch me. I was far from well that evening ; something put me out, and I grew irritable and said harsh things. The same temper that you speak of has always been my besetting sin. Hugh was very patient with me, only once he said: 'I thought that Christians learnt to control themselves better than that.' And then the inconsistency of the whole thing' came to mind. I never could stay to the Communion again, and gradually I went more and more backward. It was a work of time, but at last I ceased to go to church at all, and I tried to stifle my conscience as best I could. But when we moved to our present house I made an effort to attend sometimes. I did not want the children to grow up perfect heathens.” But Ethel and the speaker gave a mournful smile. “The service here is intensely cold, and I am glad of it. I could not stand anything different now; it is too late for me. Such preaching as we heard to-night would but recall too vividly what I have lost, and disturb my peace in vain. I try to forget the past, and, as a rule, succeed pretty well. I have everything in life to make me happy. Yes, and I am happy on the whole. What more can I want than I already have ?”
Ethel thought this last sentence the saddest of all. She did not know that the energy with which it was spoken was only assumed because Mrs. Hamilton would fain persuade herself, as well as others, that there was no “aching void" beneath the outward smoothness of her lot. She longed to comfort her aunt, but what could she say, so young and inexperienced as she felt herself? Yet the moments were fleeting fast; they had already turned into the road that led to their home. Unconsciously she slackened her pace. “Why should you say it is too late ?" she slowly asked.
Because I have chosen my path, and I must abide by my choice," was the sorrowful reply. “I have abused the love and goodness so freely shown to me, and you yourself said how mean' such conduct was."
“But at the time I did not know what you were aiming at,” said Ethel.
“Then, dear, you spoke but the more truthfully."
Ethel felt pained. “I wish I were wise," she said, with a sigh. A minute later her face brightened. “Do you remember Felix Wood ?" she asked. “ I lost myself in that when I was quite a child. Mother had forbidden me ever to go beyond the garden-wall by myself, but some flowers in the field beyond tempted me to clamber over by the summer-house, and when once on the opposite side I had soon strayed out of sight of home, and of course, in attempting to return, I wandered farther and farther away. At last I came to the wood, and there I sat down and cried myself to sleep. I can remember my childish fears even now ; I thought I should never find my home again, or that, finding it, mother would be too vexed to take me back. After sleeping several hours, I was awakened by a shout. It was quite dark, and I was too frightened to recognise the voice. As the sounds came nearer, I jumped up and began to run away as fast as I could, screaming as I went. A minute later and I had run into my father's arms. He had been troubled enough, no doubt; but I dare say I only thought of my own joy at being safe again. I remember how glad I was to be carried back, my head resting on my father's shoulder. But there is another thing I can recollect distinctly. That night, after I had been put to bed in my little cot, I was again awakened. A light was burning in the room, and my mother was kneeling down beside me. Then I heard my father's voice calling her. I suppose he asked what she was doing. I know he said it was past three o'clock. But I never forgot her reply: 'I couldn't sleep, Charles; I felt I must return thanks again for my darling's safety. And after that he came and mingled his thanks with hers. I think I caught a glimpse then of their greater anxiety, and of their greater subsequent delight.” Mrs. Hamilton drew a long breath.
“ But it was your first fault,” she said, “and perfectly excusable in a little child. You can draw no comparison between that and my long years of wandering.”
“Neither can you draw a comparison,” said Ethel softly, " between the tenderest parents' care and that of the great Father in heaven;" and again she quoted from a hymn they had sung that evening :
" For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind ;
In the presence of our Lord.” “Is that Ethel poetising ?” suddenly asked a playful voice. Neither had perceived Mr. Hamilton draw near through the darkness. He stepped between them now. Tired, Mary?” he said to his wife ; "then take my
I was wondering wherever you could be, and came
out to find you. Your train was due some time ago; I expect this erratic girl here was the cause of the delay;" and he pinched the arm of his niece.
“Our train was late, uncle,” she replied, “but we only just caught it as it was; our service was longer than we expected.”
“Ah, well, that explains it then,” he said ; " though I must confess I was beginning to feel a thrifle unaisy.' But what has been firing your poetic genius, Miss Ethel ? I could tell by the swing of your voice when I came up that you were repeating some lines to your aunt. I suppose you find it a fitting night for a little rhyme-manufacture. There is the dewy eve and the rising moon, 'flooding the path with her silvery light;' poets would make good capital of both. Come, Ethel," he said, getting no response, "do favour me with something suitable.” His light words jarred on Ethel's ears.
All her deepest feelings had been called forth in her conversation with her aunt; but nevertheless she made an effort to enter into his mood.
“I am afraid,” she replied, glancing upwards to the constellations above their heads, “I can think of nothing grander than 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star;' or, as our May would say: 'T'inkle, t'inkle, 'ittle 'tar.' How does that suit you?" she added mischievously. “I can give you the rest if you like.”
Mr. Hamilton shook his head good-humouredly. 6 I think I would rather be excused,” he said ; “but here we are at home. Perhaps we had better discuss some supper before we attempt any further poetry."
He opened the door with his latch-key as he spoke, and together they entered the dining-room. Mrs. Hamilton's eye at once caught sight of an odd little heap curled up at one end of the sofa.
" Is that Flossie.?" she exclaimed. “ Hugh, what is the matter?”
Mr. Hamilton looked guilty. " I am the culprit, I. suppose," he said.
“The child begged to be allowed to stay up to keep me company. I thought she was getting very sleepy an hour ago, though of course she scouted the idea at once; but you see the result as soon as my back is turned. I declare I shall begin to think the mothers do know best how to bring up their little ones.”
Mrs. Hamilton gently awakened the sleeping child and carried her away to the nursery. Perhaps she was not sorry of an occupation that promised her time to regain her usual composure; be that as it may, she never rang for the assistance of the nurse.
Ethel left the house a few days later, and meanwhile her aunt was careful to avoid the smallest reference to their previous conversation ; but once, on going into her niece's room and finding her absent, she took up the Bible that lay open on the dressing-table. Turning from one page to another, she found the evidences of constant use. Verses were marked in pencil at the side, some had been neatly underlined with coloured ink. Mrs. Hamilton took a pencil from her pocket and marked two other passages, adding her own initials in the margin. Ethel often read them in after years. They were these :
“ Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
“ This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
(To be continued.)