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“Stop, stop, Charlotte,” said Mrs. Howard; "we have had enough for the present. How often, how very, very often, have I begged that I may not hear any stories of this kind. I am not willing to be harsh with you, but, indeed, my dear, I cannot encourage this kind of discourse."
“Well, but mamma,” replied Charlotte, with that sort of voice and look, which people have when they are resolved to try to make their own side good, “have not you always encouraged us to be open with you, and to tell you what is in our minds; you hear any thing which Elizabeth says; I never hear you reprove her, and I am sure she talks of things quite as trifling as I do. It was only yesterday that she was numbering all the dolls she ever remembered to have had, and told you their names, and you did not speak one word of reproof.”
“Why should I have done so?” replied Mrs. Howard, “I do not expect either yourself or Elizabeth to be always talking gravely and wisely; there are times when I have no objection to a little playfulness which hurts no one, but I cannot say, Charlotte, that the sort of discourse of which you have just given a specimen is harmless; the very least that can be said of it is, that it is low.
“Well then, mamma,” replied Charlotte pettishly, “ you shall be troubled with no more of it; I shall keep what I happen to hear to myself in future.”
Mrs. Howard colored a little; she was grieved and ashamed for her daughter, but she did not speak till she felt that her self-possession was restored; she then said, “Charlotte, my dear, I will try to think that you did not mean to be impertinent just now. I have been considering what you said, when you proposed to keep what you hear to yourself in future. Suppose now that I add an amendment to your proposal; you know that I love to take advantage of passing events, to instruct you in the principles of truth?”
Charlotte still looked saucily, and was not in the temper to ask an explanation; Mrs. Howard therefore, addressed herself particularly to Elizabeth. “How often, my dear children,” she said, “do we say of a person who is going wrong, 'that man is blind;' though we do not mean, that he does not possess the power of seeing natural things, but that he wants the capacity of discerning
spiritual and heavenly things. An incapacity for hearing,” she continued, “is also used in a somewhat similar figurative sense in Scripture. When our Lord, for example, said of the pharisees,
they have ears and hear not-he did not mean, that the men of whom he spoke, could not hear natural sounds, but that they could not receive spiritual ideas through the medium of the hearing. As all men are spiritually blind by nature, so are all men spiritually deaf; for God only who formed the natural eye, and planted the natural ear, can give spiritual eyesight and spiritual hearing.” ... “You mean to say,” interposed Elizabeth, “that we cannot by nature understand heavenly things, though we can those which are earthly; and that it is God only who can make us see and understand heavenly things, by giving us light from above, and opening our ears to receive instruction :”.
“But if God only can do this,” remarked Charlotte, still under the influence of her ill-temper, “we can't do it; and there is no use in our trying; is there, mamma? If I cannot understand holy things when I hear them, and cannot help understanding what you have often called tittle-tattle, how can I help it?”
Mrs. Howard looked sad, for this was not the first time by many, that she had seen the obstinacy of her child; but God gave her grace to be patient..
“My dear Charlotte,” she replied gently, “although we cannot change our hearts, and give new and heavenly powers to ourselves, yet we must feel our ability to do many things, so long as we have our natural faculties. You will not tell me, for instance, that you could not hinder yourself from going into the kitchen and offices, and talking with the servants, and hearing and asking them questions, besides taking advantage, or I should say, disadvantage, of many other means of listening to, and enquiring into idle tales? What I say to you, my dear child, is this, “Take heed what you hear,' for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. I do not enjoin you to keep silence before your mother and sister, but I pray that grace may be given you to be kept from hearing such things as should not be repeated, and that henceforward you may be deaf to all things which are unprofitable.” The only immediate effect of this discourse was, to make
Charlotte very sullen, and she shewed this sullenness by silence, scarcely uttering ten words during the rest of the evening.
Kate Baring was living with a very aged and half-blind grandmother, in a small cottage, not far from Mrs. Howard's garden-gate; the poor woman had a small income, which, with great care, kept her and her grand-daughter decently; so that a little help made them very comfortable.
On the morning following this conversation, Charlotte went before breakfast to the cottage, to take some work for Kate to do at school: it was a hot morning, and the house-door was open. As she came near the door, she heard the old woman and the girl talking, and it would have been well for her, if she had remembered the injunction quoted by her mother, “ Take heed what you hear!” But nothing was farther from her mind at the moment: she stopped and listened; they were talking of herself, and her sister, and she heard Kate say, “the ladies are both kind, grandmother, but, it does not signify, I love Miss Elizabeth best, she is the sweetest young lady that ever lived; Miss Charlotte is often so cross that one cannot please her."..
Charlotte walked back, and took her work home with her. She was again so silent at breakfast, that Mrs. Howard saw she was not in a good humour, but she thought it best not to notice it.
“We must look up our money, Charlotte," said Elizabeth, when they were left together after breakfast; "we owe four shillings for four weeks of Kate's schooling, and it should be paid to-day."
“ There are my shillings,” replied Charlotte ; “ but I am not going to pay for Kate any longer.” . “ Not pay any longer," asked Elizabeth. “Why not?”.
“ Because,” replied Charlotte, “ I have made up my mind that I will not."
“ But what is your reason, Charlotte ?"
“ It is of no consequence to you what it is," replied Charlotte. - “Have you heard any harm of poor Kate?" said Elizabeth.
“I thought mamma told me not to tell what I hear. Would you have me disobey mamma?”
“But if you have heard any thing, perhaps it may be of consequence, and what I ought to know."
“ How am I to know what is of consequence and what is not?" returned Charlotte : “ I know what mamma said about repeating what I hear, and would you have me disobey her orders ?" .“ You do not understand mamma; she did not direct you to hide things from her, but to avoid hearing things which were better not told. But if you have by accident heard any thing against Kate, perhaps it might be set right if we knew it.”
“ Don't you recollect,” said Charlotte, “ that mamma told me she prayed I might be deaf to all things which are unprofita able,—that is, to all things which are not very wise and very good. If I don't hear any thing, I can't tell any thing, she says; but you want me to say that I have heard something: you want me to get into trouble.”
Elizabeth said no more ; but she made up her mind to pay all Kate's schooling herself, if she could possibly do it, for another year. For this, however, she was not called upon. It is of little use to make plans for months to come, for we know not what a day may bring forth; yet those are blessed to whom God has given grace to plan good things, though it may not please him that their schemes should ever come to pass.
Elizabeth had not another shilling to pay before Kate was taken ill, and laid up with the scarlet fever. The disease spread to other cottages, and though Mrs. Howard kept her children at home, she could not preserve them, nor herself, nor her servants from infection. First one and then another sickened ; and there was scarcely a house in the parish where some one was not ill, and Mrs. Howard was obliged to send for a nurse from a distance. When Elizabeth sickened her mother gave her all the attention she could spare, though she was not long able to do this, as she was taken ill herself; and the family were glad of the assistance of even the half-blind widow Baring.
Whilst these things were going on, Charlotte remained much in the state in which she was in the beginning of the history. There is no time like a time of illness for the thoughtless member of a family, who loves to hear what the neighbours are about. When Elizabeth was taken ill, there was no more guard upon Charlotte, and she consequently spent her time in hearing what the nurses and people about the sick had to say, and gas thered up all sorts of strange tales, old and new, true and false, as it happened. Nor was she left without the opportunity of hearing any thing better ; for there was a truly pious manminister—who called many times before and after Mrs. Howard was taken ill, and said many things not only for profit, but con. solation, under the present distressing circumstances. His words were, however, like a tongue unknown to Charlotte; she heard them, but did not take in their sense. The last time that he called, she was quite alone with him : he sat some time, and she walked with him to the garden gate. As she came back, she met the nurse, who had been gathering some balm ; « Oh, Mrs. Hales,” she said, “ that gentleman has been here so long talking to me.”
“ What has he been saying, Miss ?" she asked : “something good, I am quite sure."
“ Oh, yes, nurse, of course, it was good; he talked about religion.”
" Can't you tell me something of it, Miss ?" said the nurse.
Charlotte tried what she could remember, and then, laughing, answered, “I don't know that I can ; but mamma says I am deaf: you can't expect to hear much from deaf people.”
“ Nay, nay, Miss ! that won't pass,” replied the nurse; “ You can hear some things fast enough ; it is only when you don't choose, I reckon, that you don't hear—but I must be back to my sick people."
Many days passed before Charlotte was again in the garden. A violent head-ach came on that afternoon, and she was forced to go to bed. The next day she was very ill, and on the third day she became delirious, and knew not whether she saw real things, or fancied unreal ones, for several days, the gossip to which she had lately hearkened, seeming to be strangely mixed up in her imagination with the words which the pious minister had said to her ; these words coming back to her in a wonderful manner. But all her imaginations were dreadful in some way or another; she felt like one in flames, so violent was her fever, and so dreadful was her thirst and the pain of her throat. To make things still more distressing, neither her sister nor her poor mother could come near her ; both were under the power of the same fearful disease.
After several days and nights of severe suffering, the malady