by Charlotte Maria Tucker
“Good-bye to you, Mr. Aylmer. I’m sorry that we’re not to see you again till the summer. You’ve always been ready with a good word, ay, and a helping hand too, for the poor. I’ll miss your pleasant smile in those dull, dark, wintry days, as have little enough to light ‘em. And little Emmy—she’ll miss you, too, won’t you, my lamb?” said the widow Cowell as she lifted up in her arms a pretty blue-eyed child of about four years of age, to bid good-bye to the Scripture-reader who was going to a distant part of the country.
“Good-bye, Mary Cowell,” said Aylmer, shaking with kindness the thin hand which the widow held out, “and good-bye to you, dear little one,” he added, as bending forward he kissed the brow of the child, between the clustering locks of gold. “It’s a solemn word ‘good-bye,’ when we think of the meaning that’s in it.”
“I did not know that it had any particular meaning,” said Mary, “It’s a word that we’re always a-saying and sometimes with a heavy heart.”
“Goody-bye is ‘God be with you’ shortened to a single word. It is a blessing to the one who departs echoed back to the one who remains. God be with you, Mary Cowell. May you feel His presence in the street—in the shop—by your table—by your bed—in your heart! You’ll have many a temptation to struggle against—God be with you in the hour of temptation! You’ll have many a trial to bear—God be with you then and He will turn all these trials into blessings! You’ve a little one there, dear to your heart. Remember that like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him!”
“Ay, bless her heart! I love her!” thought Mary, as she led her little girl back into the small room, which she hired by the week in one of the back streets of London. “But if God pities me, like as a father pitieth his children, why does He so often leave me to want—why does He make my lot so hard? I’m sure I’d keep my darling from every trouble if I could and if I had the means, she should sleep as soft and fare as well as any little lady in the land!”
And in truth, Mary Cowell was a kind and tender mother. The child had ever the largest share of the scanty meal and while the mother’s shawl was threadbare, soft and warm was the knitted sweater that wrapped the little girl. Mary took a pride in her Emmy. She never suffered her to run about the streets dirty and barefoot like many of the children of her neighbors. Emmy’s face was washed and her yellow curls smoothed out every morning and proudly did the fond mother look at her little darling. The greatest sorrow which poverty brought to Mary Cowell was that it hindered her from giving every comfort and pleasure to her child.
“Mother,” said Emmy on the following day, as she watched the widow preparing to go out, putting on her rusty black bonnet and thin patched shawl, “Mother, you won’t take the basket. It’s Sunday—I hears the bells a-ringing.”
“I must go,” said Mary, with a sigh.
“But didn’t the good man tell us it was bad to go out a-sellin’ on the Sunday?” asked the child, with a grave look of inquiry in her innocent eyes.
“Poor folk must eat,” said the widow sadly, “God will not be hard upon us if want drives us to do what we never should do if we’d only enough to live on.”
“May Emmy go wid you, mother?”
“No, my lamb,” answered Mary, “not to stand at the corner of the street in this bitter sharp wind and just catch your death of cold. It chills one to the bones,” added the widow, stirring up in her little grate the fire which burned brightly and briskly, for the weather was frosty and keen. Mary then took the remains of the morning’s meal, the half-loaf and small jug of milk, and put them on the mantelpiece, out of the reach of the child. Her last care was to place a wire-guard before the fire. Having often to leave her little girl alone in the room, Mary dreaded her falling into danger and had, by self-denial, scraped up a sufficient number of pence to buy an old wire fire-guard.
“Now remain quiet there, my jewel! Don’t get into mischief,” said Mary. “Look at the pretty prints on the wall. Mother won’t be long afore she comes back with something nice for her darling!” So saying, the widow kissed the child, took up her basket, and went to the door.
“Good-bye, mother!” cried Emmy. The last sound which Mary heard as she went down the old creaking stair was the “Good-bye” from the sweet little voice whose tones she loved so well.
“She’s a-blessing me without knowing it,” thought Mary, recalling the words of the Scripture-reader. “She’s a-saying, ‘God be with you!’ I’m afraid all’s not right with me, for it seems as if I couldn’t take any comfort from the thought of God being with me. It makes my conscience uneasy to know that He is watching me now that I’m a-going to break His law and sell on His holy day.”
O reader, if ever the thought of the presence of your heavenly Father give you a feeling of fear, rather than a feeling of comfort, be sure that you are wandering from the right way and—whatever excuse you may make for yourself—that you are doing or thinking something that puts your soul in danger.
As Mary slowly made her way with her heavy basket to the corner of the street where she usually stood to sell, a friend of hers passed her on the way, but stopped and turned round to ask after Emmy, who had not been well. A few words were exchanged between the two women, and then the friend, who had a Bible in her hand, said, “I can’t stop longer now. I don’t like to be late for church. Good-bye, Mrs. Cowell.”
“Good-bye,” repeated poor Mary. “Ah,” she said, with a sigh, as she watched her friend hastening on, “God will be with her, to bless her, for I know that Martha serves Him. Ofttimes I’ve heard her say, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,’ and though she’s no better off than myself, it’s wonderful—it is—how she has always had friends raised up for her in her troubles, and when trials came the thickest, how somehow or other a clear way out was always opened afore her. Martha says the best thing is to trust God and obey Him, and that we don’t obey because we don’t trust. Maybe there’s truth in that word, for if I really believed what Aylmer told me, that God cares for me as I care for my Emmy, I should do even just as He bids me and keep the Sabbath-day holy. But it’s hard to be hindered getting my bread honestly on one day out of seven. I don’t see the harm in a poor widow woman selling a little on Sundays.”
And yet Mary’s mind was not easy. She had learned enough of God’s Word to know that by selling her oranges and nuts upon the day which the Lord hath set apart for Himself, she was not only sinning herself, but leading others into sin. When little children thronged round her basket, eager to buy her fruit, Mary could not forget—she wished that she could—the solemn warning of the Lord: Whoso shall offend (cause to sin) one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. There was a struggle in the mind of Mary between faith and distrust—between duty and inclination—between the desire to follow her own will and the knowledge that in all things we ought to follow the will of God. Which side in the end won the victory, will appear in the end of my story. We will leave the widow doubting and hesitating at the corner of the street and return to little Emmy, whom her mother had left carefully shut up in her lodging.
The child amused herself for some minutes, as the widow had desired her to do, by looking at the coarse prints which were stuck with pins on the white-washed wall. But Emmy soon tired of this—she had seen them so often before. Then she sat down in front of the fire and warmed her little red hands at the kindly blaze, and wished that that tiresome wire-guard were away that kept so much of the glow out.
“Why should mother not let me get all the good of the fire?” said the little murmuring girl. “I’m sure there’s no use in that thing that puts the fire in a cage and keeps me from doing what I like, and making it blaze up high!” The child did not consider that one much older and wiser than herself was likely to have good reasons for putting on the guard. Emmy was no better judge of these reasons than the widow herself was of the wisdom which had fenced round the Sabbath with the command, In it thou shalt do no manner of work. All that either mother or child had to do was simply to trust and obey. But Emmy had a wilful temper and could not bear anything like restraint.
Presently, from looking at the fire, the child cast her eyes on the mantelpiece above it and the bread and white jug upon it.
“Why did mother put them up there, when she knew that Emmy might be hungry and want to eat before she comes home!” And impatiently the child stretched out her hand and rose on her tip-toes, trying to reach the food. She could not touch the lower part of the shelf and well was it for Emmy that the guard, so wisely placed over the fire, prevented her little frock from catching the flame as she did so.
“Emmy will pull the chair to the place and climb up, and get at the loaf!” cried the child, determined by some means to have her own way and procure what she thought that she needed. She ran off to a chair placed in a corner, which was almost the only article of furniture, besides the bed, to be found in that bare little room. But the chair was of clumsy and heavy make, and had several articles heaped upon it. All the efforts of Emmy were of no avail to drag it out of its place.
The difficulty which she found in getting what she desired only served to increase the eagerness of the child and her determination to have the loaf which had been purposely placed out of her reach. Emmy was ready to cry and accuse her tender mother of unkindness. And was she not in this but too much like many who doubt the love of their heavenly Father because He has not placed in their hands what they think to be needful for their comfort?
At last a thought came into the mind of little Emmy, as she gazed, through her tears, at the fire. She had not strength to move the big chair. In vain she had struggled to do so, but might she not manage to move the guard and would it not serve her for a footstool to reach the loaf on the mantel-piece? But then mother had told her so often not to meddle with the guard. Why should mother forbid her to touch it? The voice of discontent and distrust in the bosom of the little child was much the same as that whose whisperings had led Mary Cowell to go out selling on Sunday. With both parent and daughter, it proved to be stronger than conscience. Emmy laid hold of the guard and shook it, but old as it was, she had not the power to pull it from its place. Presently, however, the child felt that though she could not pull, she could lift it. With eager pleasure, Emmy raised the guard high enough to release its iron hooks from the bars and then there was nothing to prevent her from removing the fence altogether.
Emmy’s first pleasure was to poke up the fire with the little rusty bit of a poker which she had seen her mother use for the purpose, but which she herself had never been permitted to touch. Then, eager to get at the loaf, she put down the guard in front of the fire, so that she might be able to step upon it. Wretched, disobedient little child!—with one foot on that trembling, yielding wire-work, one hand stretched up to take food not lawfully her own, her dress so close to the flame that in another moment it must be wrapped in a roaring blaze, what can now save her from destruction?
Suddenly the door opened and with a cry of terror, Mary Cowell sprang forward in time—but just in time—to snatch her only child away from a terrible death!
“Oh, thank God—thank God—that I came home, that He made me turn back!” exclaimed the widow, bursting into tears.
Little Emmy was punished, as she well deserved to be, for breaking her mother’s command and doing what she knew that she ought not to have done. But Mary Cowell, with a contrite heart, owned to herself and confessed to God, that she had deserved sharper punishment than her child. There had been doubt and disobedience in both, but the older sinner was the greater, for she had most cause to trust the providence of a Father who is almighty as well as all-good. If the child had removed a guard carefully and wisely placed before that which, while kept to its proper use, is one of our greatest blessings, but which, to those who misuse it, may prove the cause of burning and death, what had the mother done? She had tried on the Sabbath to earn bread by treading her duty under foot—by putting aside, as far as she could, that law by which the great God has fenced round His holy day, Thou shalt do no manner of work.
Grateful for the warning given her, never again did Mary carry forth her basket on the Sabbath. Henceforth, by example as well as by precept, she brought up her little one in the fear and love of God. And when, after many years, the widow was called home to her Heavenly Father, she could with peaceful hope thus bid her daughter farewell.”
“Good-bye, my loved one! God be with you in your trouble. He has never failed me in mine. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed. Good-bye until we meet again, through the Savior’s merits—the Savior’s love—in His kingdom of glory!”
Edited by Pam Takahashi
Proofed by Deborah Gardner
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