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“O no, no,” replied Caroline, who had no wish to carry things to such an unkind extremity; "only Mary, you should learn not to set yourself up so. Why did you not good-humouredly look at the prints, as any other child would have done; if there had been anything improper in it, your uncle would not have given them to Sophy to-day : surely he knows what is right as well as you do.”
Mary's eyes filled with tears. “ I do not wish, cousin Caroline, to judge for uncle, or any one else; only I must not do what my conscience tells me not, and what my own dear parents would have disapproved.”
Caroline was softened in a moment; for with all her thoughtlessness and spiritual ignorance, she was a feeling, generous girl. “Well, Mary," she replied, “you ought not to forget what your dear papa and mamma taught you; and they have made you so good a girl, that we will not quarrel with them about Sunday. There, think no more of it, and we will never ask you again to do what you consider wrong.”
Sophia's passion was by this time over; and she was, besides, always much influenced by the conduct of her elder sisters; a circumstance which such sisters would do well to bear in mind. So looking first at Caroline, then at Mary, she felt ashamed of her illhumour, and kissing the latter, closed the dispute by saying, “ I am sorry I vexed you, cousin Mary; we will go to church now, and look at the book to-morrow.”
To the house of God they went; and that was indeed to Mary like a little heaven below. There she could pour forth her soul in prayer; could realize those lines,
“Sweet is the work, my God, my King !
To praise thy name, give thanks and sing" - there she could derive profitable instruction from God's holy word, both in the portions read, and in the passage explained by their excellent pastor.
Mr. Milman had often turned his eye towards their pew, and was struck with the serious, attentive countenances of the two children; contrasting so strongly with the careless manner of the rest. He felt much interested for them, and would gladly have shewn that interest, but there seemed no opportunity: though every now and then he called at Henley Lodge, the children did not come in his way, for in the morning they were either learning, walking, or play
ing; while in the evening parties, Mr. Milman had never joined, having made it his rule to visit only, where he might close the day with exposition and prayer. Once or twice, however, when Mrs. Wilmot was indisposed, he enquired after service, respecting her health; on these occasions he smiled kindly on the little girls, and cordially shook hands with them. Even this slight recognition from a Christian friend, was a cordial to the heart of Mary; while a pang shot through Janet's mind, as she thought, “ My Sabbath shepherd smiles upon me, as if he took me for one of the lambs of Jesus; what does the heavenly Shepherd think of me?"
But a time was coming, when, in the kind dealings of Providence, the sisters were to find in their minister a valuable friend. Circumstances called Mr. Milman to Oxford, and there, by some of his own estimable connections, he was introduced to Theodore Macpherson, who had just taken a high and honorable degree. Some interesting conversation took place respecting the little ones, who had already excited so much of his attention. Theodore commended them to their pastor's especial care; and he, on his part, requested to be made the bearer of a letter, through which he might ask to see them.
Accordingly, taking with him his eldest girl, a year older than Janet, he soon called at Henley Lodge, and, as usual, was very politely received. The children were delighted to hear about their brother, and seemed as if they could have stood for an hour beside Mr. Milman, asking and receiving information. In due time, however, their aunt observed ; “ Perhaps, Mary, Miss Milman will like to see the green-house, or play a game of bagatelle, or any other amusement you can think of; you must do the honors of the house to your visitor."
“ And Charlotte will be most happy, with Mrs. Wilmot's permission,” said Mr. Milman, “to do the honors of our house to you, and to any of your cousins who will kindly accompany you; Mr. Macpherson," he continued, turning to the lady, "expressed a wish that, if agreeable to you, his sisters should occasionally visit us:"
From this time, many a happy, improving afternoon was enjoyed at the rectory. Emma and Sophia often went too; for both Mr. and Mrs. Milman had a peculiar talent in making themselves acceptable to the young; nor is childhood in general altogether in
sensible to the charm arising from Christian gentleness. One circumstance, however, threatened the withdrawal of these privileges. Their effect, at first, was to awaken very distressing convictions in Janet's mind, and Miss Robarts had already hinted, that she looked gloomy after visiting the rectory.
Poor Mary took the alarm. As soon as they were alone, she exclaimed, “Whatever you feel, dear Janet, let there be no alteration in your manner when we come from Mr. Milman's. Pour out your whole heart to me, and more especially to our gracious Saviour; but when you are in the parlour or school-room, do chat and smile as usual.”
“But, Mary, how can I appear lively when my mind is uncomfortable ?"
“I did not mean, dear, that you should put on gay, trifling manners, but only look cheerful, and talk enough to prevent observation. I cannot help thinking, (I may be mistaken,) but I cannot help thinking, Miss Robarts would be glad to hinder our going."
“ If I look differently from what I feel, will it not be deceitful ?”
“No; I think not. Do you not remember what brother says in his letter,—'I trust my beloved Mary and Janet will gain much benefit from their new Christian friends. But, circumstanced as you are, I think I must caution you, rather to let your profiting quietly appear; than by talking of religious feelings to those who cannot help you, to risk a separation from those who can; yet, remember your conduct must be always uniform ; for Scripture never tells us there is a time to be pious, and a time to be careless, though it expressly says, there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.””
« Well then, Mary, this is the time to speak, for I am most unhappy. Do you think God will ever pardon and love me?"
“ How can you doubt it, dear; when he says, “They who seek me early, shall find me.'"
“ But I have not sought him. I have forsaken him. O Mary! if I had been as good as you, I should have no doubt.”
“Then, dear Janet, you would be building on the sand. Had I to trust to my own goodness, I should look for hope in vain. There is only one and the same refuge for either of us.”
“But,” replied Janet, “the Bible says, God will put a difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not.' He must then put a difference between you and me.”
“I cannot explain Scripture,” rejoined her sister, “as papa or mamma would have done; yet, Janet, if you have wandered from the Lord, is not his threatening fulfilled in your present distress? Your feelings would have been very different if you had walked closely with God. I know, indeed, such threatenings will have a far more awful fulfilment, through all eternity, to those who remain ungodly; but I know also, it is said, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you.'”
Many such conversations passed between the sisters; and sometimes Janet felt encouraged, while at other times, when she had been unable to stand her ground, she seemed ready to give up all for lost. But her heavenly Father often provided help for her, through her kind friends at the rectory; for his eye is always over his children for good.
“ When piety in early minds,
Like tender buds, begins to shoot:
And ripens blossom into fruit." He sees every struggle, and ensures the final victory. Mr. Milman's discerning eye, could easily discover the state of Janet's mind; and both himself and his excellent wife dropped many a word in season for her benefit, which was not spoken directly to her. One morning, however, she enjoyed a greater privilege. Coming home from a walk, the young folks agreed to call on Charlotte, who presently came to them with the welcome message, “O, Mary, papa will be glad to see you and Janet in the study, for he has just heard from your brother.”
It was a comfortable letter, and fraught with kind remembrance of themselves. “ You see," said Mr. Milman, as he folded it up, “you are still, as you have ever been, children of many prayers; and I trust those prayers have been graciously answered. What a privilege to be brought, during early childhood, into the way of salvation !"
A tear of grateful joy stood in Mary's eye, but Janet's flowed fast; as, in the fulness of her heart, she answered—“Mary is brought into the way of salvation; but I have wandered out of it."
« Well, my dear child !” said Mr. Milman, regarding her kindly, " suppose all you say is true, what is there to hinder your return? your Saviour is waiting to be gracious. I will give you one scrip
tural character of our great and merciful High Priest, exactly suited to the description you have given of yourself; He can have compassion on those who are out of the way. Let us come then," he continued, taking a hand of each ; “let us come with deep contrition, yet with humble boldness, to the throne of grace, assured that we shall find mercy for the past, and grace to help in every future time of need."
Sweet to Mary and Janet was that voice of supplication. It seemed to them as if their beloved parent were returned from the grave, once more to implore the Divine blessing upon them. From that day they felt able, with perfect confidence, to seek advice from their kind friends, in all their little sorrows and difficulties. Great was the advantage they reaped from so doing; by such seasonable instruction, they were shewn the path of wisdom; and, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, enabled, with much quiet consistency, 10 walk therein. In many respects, too, things went on more smoothly. The sisters were now sweet friends and helpers to each other; Emma and Sophia, their most constant companions, had quite learned at the rectory, to respect religion; and though Mrs. Wilmot and Miss Robarts sometimes expressed disapprobation, and Caroline still occasionally laughed at them; yet they were regarded with love in the family circle, and enjoyed much peace in their own souls. Here then, we leave them ; presenting the reader with a short extract from a letter, written about this time, by Mary to her brother.
“I hope I shall never again be fretful. How often have I said, My soul thirsteth for God, in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is ;' but now he has given rivers in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. You observe, dear brother, that God is faithful to his promises, and we can say so too. “Our father and our mother have been compelled to forsake us, but the Lord has taken us up.'"
From this simple record, let us learn to commit our way unto the Lord; to cleave to him, and walk as in his sight. Then will he lift upon us the light of his countenance, make our way clear before us, and honor us in the sight of others. Yea, he will own us as his sons and daughters, even the blessed of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
S. S. S.