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Title: Left to Ourselves - or, John Headley's Promise.
Author: Shaw, Catharine
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Left to Ourselves - or, John Headley's Promise." ***

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LEFT TO OURSELVES;

OR

JOHN HEADLEY'S PROMISE



_Left to Ourselves_;

OR,

_John Headley's Promise_.


BY CATHARINE SHAW,

AUTHOR OF "AT LAST;" "ALICK'S HERO;" "THE GABLED FARM;" "ONLY A COUSIN;"
ETC.


NEW EDITION.


_LONDON_:

JOHN F. SHAW AND CO.,

48, PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C.



CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER                                 PAGE

  I. THE FIVE                                9

  II. A PACKET                              14

  III. THE DARK CAVERN: AN ALLEGORY         19

  IV. RESCUED                               27

  V. NEW ROBES                              33

  VI. AT LAST                               37

  VII. LAST DAYS                            43

  VIII. ONE INJUNCTION                      52

  IX. THE FIRST SUNDAY ALONE                65

  X. THE GOLDEN OIL: AN ALLEGORY            74

  XI. A CUPBOARD OF RUBBISH                 85

  XII. JOHN'S PROMISE                       92

  XIII. HUGH'S PROMISE                     101

  XIV. CHRISTMAS-DAY                       109

  XV. WHERE ONE PUDDING WENT               118

  XVI. THE RAG CUSHION                     128

  XVII. THE LAST PUDDING                   136

  XVIII. NEW YEAR'S EVE                    142

  XIX. WORRIED                             151

  XX. A SURPRISE                           158

  XXI. THE MAGIC OF LOVE                   169

  XXII. MINNIE'S SECRET                    177

  XXIII. THE END OF THE JOURNEY            185



[Illustration]

LEFT TO OURSELVES.



CHAPTER I.

_THE FIVE._


"Mother, I'm sure you may trust me!"

"My child, I trust you for all that you know; but there are things which
no one but a mother can know."

"Of course there are. Oh, I don't for a moment mean that I shall do as
well as _you_, mother, only----"

"Yes," answered Mrs. Headley, thoughtfully, "you see, Agnes, your dear
grandmother in America is pronounced to be failing very fast. I have not
seen her for twenty years, and if I do not go now I may never see her
again in this world."

"And father's having to go there on business now makes it so easy."

"Easy all but leaving you children."

"But I am nineteen now, mother--quite old enough to be trusted; besides,
grandmama and aunt Phyllis live next door, and if anything happened I
could run in to them."

Mrs. Headley smiled, looking half convinced.

"Who is it you are afraid to leave?" asked Agnes coaxingly. "Is it _me_,
mother?"

"_You?_" echoed Mrs. Headley, stroking her face tenderly. "No, not you,
dear."

"Then it is John."

"No, no; John is a good boy, he will help you I am sure."

"Then is it Hugh?"

"No; Hugh is steady, and very fond of his lessons; and he will be sure
to do as you wish him, if he promises beforehand."

"Then is it Alice?"

Mrs. Headley shook her head.

"Then it must be Minnie, for there's no one else. And as to Minnie, you
know I love her exactly as if she were my own child."

Mrs. Headley laughed a little, though bright tears filled her eyes and
fell down into her lap.

"Don't you think I _do_?" asked Agnes soberly--not half liking the
little laugh, or the tears either for that matter.

"You love her as much as you possibly can, dearest, but that does not
give you my experience. No, Agnes, it is not Minnie or any one in
particular, but it is the five of you all together that I'm afraid to
leave. I am so afraid they might get tired of doing as you said."

"They never have yet, mother. You ask them, and see."

Mrs. Headley looked thoughtfully into the fire, and was silent for a
long time. So was Agnes, till at last she roused up suddenly and put her
hand into her mother's.

"There's one Friend I shall always have near, nearer than next door;
always at hand to help and counsel--eh, mother dear? We had not
forgotten Him, only we did not say anything actually about Him."

"Yes, my child, I do not forget; and if I were more trustful I should
not be so afraid."

Mrs. Headley rose and left the room just as the door opened, and John
came in.

"Holloa, Agnes, all alone in the dark," he exclaimed, stumbling over the
stools and chairs. "Why don't you have a light?"

"Mother and I were talking, and we did not want any."

"About America? Don't I wish it was me instead of her, that's all!"

"But, you see, that is not the question," said Agnes, watching her
brother lean back against the mantelpiece with nervous eyes. "John,
you'll knock something down."

"Not I. Of course it isn't the question; but why doesn't mother want to
go?"

"She does want to go; only, you see, John, she's afraid we shall not all
get on together."

"Is she afraid we shall quarrel?"

Agnes nodded.

"_I_ shan't."

"Perhaps not."

"But Hugh will?" he asked, smiling.

"Hugh and John together," answered Agnes, smiling too.

"Very likely."

"Do you think you _will_?" asked his sister, drawing back.

"What a frightened question! Agnes, look here; I'll promise you----"

"What?"

"It takes two to make a quarrel, doesn't it?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll promise you to walk out of the room at the first indication
of a squabble. Will that make things straight?"

"If you will not forget."

"If I do, you look at me, and I'll fly, or be 'mum'!"

"All right, I will," answered Agnes soberly. "John, I believe mother
thinks she ought to go, and so I am sure we ought to make it easy."

"I mean to."

Agnes kissed him gratefully, but did not speak, yet John understood, and
when she had gone out of the room he fancied he felt a tear left on his
coat.

He roused himself up, and turned round to poke the fire into a blaze.

"My eye!" he ejaculated, half audibly, "it will be a go to do without
mother for three months."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER II.

_A PACKET._


"Mother, here is a nice little square packet come for you by post!" said
Minnie as Mrs. Headley entered the dining-room the next morning.

"Yes; Minnie has been turning it, and twisting it, and weighing it, and
smelling it--doing everything except open it," said John, laughing.

"I do wish to know what it is though!" said Minnie shyly, "and I believe
John wants to see just as much as I do."

"I will open it presently," answered their mother, smiling, while she
seated herself at the head of the table.

"Minnie is always rather curious," observed Hugh, looking up from a
lesson he had been conning over.

"This is something which will rouse your curiosity, and I will see who
can tell me the meaning of it," answered Mrs. Headley.

"Then you know what it is, mother?" asked Minnie.

Her mother assented; and when they had finished breakfast, and their
father had gone off to his business, Mrs. Headley took up the little
package and began untying the knots.

"Cut it," said Alice.

"Catch mother cutting a knot if she can undo it," laughed Hugh,
gathering his books together.

"It's a good thing it is Saturday," said John, "or we couldn't wait,
however curious we might be."

"There, it is undone!" said Minnie, pressing nearer. As she spoke the
paper fell open, and two dozen little square books came tumbling out.

The children were going to seize upon them, when Mrs. Headley placed her
hand over them, taking up one at the same moment, saying. "What is this,
now?"

"A little book," said John.

"Has it reading in it?"

She opened the first page, and to their astonishment there was nothing
but a page of black to be seen.

"What a strange book!" said Hugh. "It would not be much trouble to learn
a page of _that_!"

"It is a great trouble to learn that black page, though," said his
mother.

Hugh peeped closer. "Let me read the outside, mother; perhaps it
explains."

"Perhaps it does," said his mother, still showing only the black page.

"Well, what next? as we can't make that out," said Alice, who was
looking on with her arms twined round her sister Agnes.

Mrs. Headley opened the next leaf, and they found it deep red.

"How strange," said Hugh; "is this difficult to learn, mother?"

Mrs. Headley smiled thoughtfully, and answered. "Not so hard as the
other; oh, not half so hard--for us!"

"And the next?" said Agnes, with a tender light in her gentle eyes.

"Pure white!" exclaimed Alice; "and I believe Agnes guesses."

"What next, mother?" asked Hugh; "for I suppose you do not mean to tell
us the meaning yet?"

"Gold!" exclaimed Minnie. "How lovely it looks! Is _this_ difficult to
learn, mother?"

"Ah no!" said Mrs. Headley, "that is the easiest page of all--nothing
but glory."

"_Glory?_" asked Hugh, "you have told us the meaning of the last first.
Now, what is it, mother?"

"What does the black remind you of, dears?" she asked, in answer to
their eager look.

"Night," "discomfort," "blindness," "being lost," suggested several of
them.

"Yes," said Mrs. Headley; "but anything else?"

"Is it sin, mother?" asked Agnes, in a low tone.

"Yes, my dear children, it is sin. The black is sin; 'hopeless night,'
'discomfort,' 'blindness,' 'being lost'--all you have said summed up in
that one dark page--sin."

"Now I guess," exclaimed John hastily, "the red is Blood. Oh, I guess
now!"

"The Blood of Jesus, the Son of God. Nothing else can take the black sin
away. But that _can_; yes, the blood is easier to read than the sin,
isn't it, dears?"

"I don't see why," said Hugh, looking puzzled.

"Do you not think it is hard to feel that we are utterly black and
sinful, no good in us at all?"

"Oh, mother!"

"But turn over the page, and the Blood shuts out all remembrance of the
sin. The Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world."

"How beautiful!" said Agnes.

Their mother turned to the next page, and went on.

"Then, when the Blood has cleansed us, what are we?"

"Whiter than snow," said Minnie reverently.

"That is right, little Minnie; and I think the white reminds us of two
or three things. Can you suggest them, children?"

"How pure we ought to be?" asked Agnes.

"Yes, and how pure He is," answered her mother.

"'These are they that have washed their robes, and made them white in
the blood of the Lamb,'" said Alice. "That was our text last Sunday."

"So it was, and the end of it introduces us to our final page, and that
lasts for ever."

"Gold," said Minnie.

"Glory," said Hugh.

"Everlasting glory, all joy and light for evermore. All purchased for us
by that one page which cost Him His life's blood. Now, dear children,
repeat over to me the lessons of this little book, that we may all
remember them together--

    Black--Red--White--Gold.

The children repeated the words as their mother turned the pages, and
then she added:

    Sin--Blood--Righteousness--Glory.

Mrs. Headley then passed a book to each of them, saying in a low tone,
with an earnestness which impressed her young hearers, "May all of you
fly from the first, take refuge in the second, be covered by the third,
and share the last."

When their mother had left them Minnie stood looking long and lovingly
at her little treasure, as if she would read its wordless leaves if she
could.

"I think this book has a whole story on each page," said Agnes
thoughtfully.

"I wish you could tell us one," answered Minnie, looking up wistfully.

"Perhaps I will next Sunday," replied Agnes.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER III.

_THE DARK CAVERN: AN ALLEGORY._


"You promised to tell us a story of the 'Wordless pages,' Agnes," said
Minnie on Sunday afternoon, when the children had left their parents to
a few moments' quiet, and were gathered in the drawing-room to spend the
hour in which Agnes generally read to them.

"I have not forgotten," answered Agnes, "but, as mother said, the first
page is very hard to read, and the second page----"

"Well?" said John.

"You will see," answered Agnes. "Come on my lap, Minnie; you will not be
afraid if I describe something very dreadful?"

"I don't _think_ so," said Minnie wondering; "but is it dreadful, Agnes?"

"Don't you think that first page looks dreadful? So black and hopeless!"

"Oh, yes, so it does."

"Then listen:

    Black--Sin.

I seemed to be dreaming, and in my dream I beheld a rocky country
stretched out before me.

On all sides were rugged stones, underneath which grew ferns and mosses,
while short brushwood, growing luxuriantly, gave the place a wild,
unfrequented appearance.

By-and-by I heard the sound of voices approaching, and two boys came in
view, who seemed to be travelling through this mountainous country.

They were jumping lightly from stone to stone, or pushing their way
through the bushes in the more open parts, talking gaily as they came
towards me."

"I have heard that there are some wonderful caverns somewhere about
here, and I have determined to try and find them out," said one.

"The Guide-book says they are most perilous," answered the other,
opening his knapsack and looking in a book he carried there.

"Oh, those old Guide-books always call everything dangerous," answered
the other contemptuously, "and I am not going to be turned from my
purpose by any such nonsense. Look here!"

As he spoke he too opened his knapsack, and proceeded to pull out two
candles triumphantly.

"With these we shall do perfectly well," he added, laughing, "and shall
prove the Guide-book to have been written for people with less sense."

"I should like to see the caverns," said the younger boy hesitatingly,
"but----"

"No 'buts' for me," sneered the other, jumping up; "I am off to explore
the mysteries. It is because you are afraid, I believe."

I thought that the younger boy seemed not to like being called afraid,
for he got up reluctantly and followed his companion somewhat slowly;
not at all as he had bounded over the rocks a few minutes before.

A call from the other announced that he had discovered the opening, and
the colour flushed into the younger boy's face as he hastened on.

In my dream I seemed permitted to follow them unseen, and saw before me
the mouth of the caverns, large and wide.

The boys laughed gaily, but I was not sure if I were right in imagining
an uneasiness in their merriment.

They eagerly traversed the outer caves, which were quite light, and
chose one of the many winding turnings.

"You will want your candle soon, Edred," said the younger.

"So I shall, and I mean to have it too, and see all the beauties of
which I have heard."

They stopped to light the tapers, and I could not help wondering whether
they would last long enough to guide them safely out again; but as I
knew nothing of these dangerous caves, I could only follow silently,
with an anxiety which increased as I perceived how headstrong Edred
appeared to be.

They wandered on and on, the light from their tapers illuminating the
wonderful caverns, and the boys were full of interest and enjoyment,
while my eyes watched the quickly-lessening candles.

"You told me the Guide-book spoke of evil beasts," said Edred mockingly,
"but I don't see a sign of them, and this place is like a fairy palace."

"I wish we were going out towards the light," said Alwin; "we have been
going inwards so long, and I am sure we shall lose our way, there are
such numbers of turnings."

"No fear," answered the other, "I can tell which way we are going; you
have not a grain of sense. Alwin!"

Alwin sighed, "I'm afraid I am stupid, but I did hear a noise just now,
and I have seen several shadows that I can't account for."

Did Edred look round nervously, or was it my fancy? The lights burned
lower still, but the boys were too intent to notice.

"I am tired," said Alwin, "let us rest."

Edred glanced at him, and seemed to consider. "Well," he said, "I dare
say we shall reach the end the sooner for a little rest; and I want to
look right down the abyss which they say is to be found there; so let us
sit down here."

Alwin willingly consented, but he suddenly started from his seat again.
"They say," he exclaimed, "that there is a mysterious drowsiness which
creeps over people in this cavern. Can we be falling into that, think
you?"

"Nonsense," answered Edred, "this is only ordinary fatigue, five
minutes' sleep will revive us, and we shall be as fresh as ever."

Already they had set down their candles near them; and as they leaned
back against the rocky sides of the cavern a strain of music, soft and
dreamy, filled the air, and they slept.

       *       *       *       *       *

Long I watched, and would willingly have waked them, but that I found
myself spell-bound. I was unable to speak or move. I could only look;
and as I looked, the weird, dreamy music continued to lull them into
deeper slumber, while their little lights burned lower and lower, and
then slowly flickered out, and they were left in dense darkness.

Then the music seemed to change into a new key, and my fancy made me
think it sounded like the distant cries of some in dire distress. The
miserable moan seemed to disturb the sleepers, for I heard an
exclamation of dismay, and Alwin's voice said, in a tone of horror,
"Edred! Edred! where are we? our lights are gone out!" Edred seemed to
be only half awake, and he grumbled an impatient answer; but Alwin shook
him with a despairing cry.

"What is it?" said Edred, now thoroughly roused.

"We are in darkness; we shall never find our way out. Oh, what shall we
do, Edred?"

"I do not know, I am sure," said Edred; "but we had better turn the way
we came."

"But which way?" said the other.

"This, to be sure," said Edred, beginning to grope his way along.

"But there were numbers of turnings, Edred," said Alwin reproachfully;
"and the Guide-book----"

"Stop that!" called Edred, with fierce anger, "we shall come all right;
but let's have a truce to your whining."

Alwin was silent after this rebuke; but the caverns were by no means
silent, for now the unearthly sounds seemed to increase, and the boys
clung to each other in terror. Louder and louder grew the roar, and I
heard one of them exclaim. "There is something coming towards us. Oh,
see! what is it? what can it be?"

The anguish of those words I shall never forget.

Before them along one of the many passages, a faint light seemed to
shine; it came apparently from the eyes of a fierce beast who was
approaching. The light was not sufficient to discern his shape, but from
the lurid glare cast upwards from his eyes I could see three letters
traced on his brow--S-I-N. They were incomprehensible to me, but I
think the boys understood them; for, as they confronted those mysterious
letters, they fell back appalled. Well indeed they might, for such a
dreadful creature as bore them I never before beheld. He approached
nearer and nearer, while the boys shrank back against the rocks. The
fiend looked as if he would devour them; but yet, as he came near, I
perceived his intention was to torture them for a while first. He came
close up to them, and seemed almost to enfold them in his embrace. He
whispered to them, and as his eyes cast a light on their faces, I could
see the misery and despair depicted there. The fiend then gave a growl
of awful meaning, and set himself down at a little distance from them,
as if to take some sleep.

"What did he say?" whispered Alwin mournfully.

"That he would _never_ let us go," answered Edred in a despairing tone.

"Let us try to get away," again whispered Alwin; "will no one save us?"

"No one is so strong as he," said Edred hoarsely. "What fools we were,
Alwin!"

"What shall we do? Do let us try to escape."

They crept forward a few steps, but the ground was noisome mire after
the passage of this creature, and the boys were covered with filth at
every step they took.

It was all in vain, however, for they knew not which way to go; and
once, when a slight sound roused the attention of the fierce fiend, he
turned as if to spring on them, uttering a deep growl.

"What did he say?" again whispered Alwin.

"That it is of no use our trying to escape," groaned Edred. "He says
there is no return from this pit of darkness."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then I awoke from my dream.

Agnes paused, and the children remained silent, till Minnie broke forth
with passionate earnestness--

"But oh, Agnes, there _is_ a way out! Oh, why were they left there to
perish?"

"That was all I saw in that dream," said Agnes; "and when I woke these
words were ringing in my ears, 'The wages of sin is death.'"

"But," said John, with kindling eyes, "there is a bit more to the end of
that verse, Agnes."

"Not if we keep only to the first page of the 'Wordless Book,'" answered
Agnes.

"But we need not keep to the first page, need we?" said Minnie, looking
rather sorrowful.

"Oh, no, thank God! For Hugh shall finish that twenty-third verse of the
sixth of Romans which begins so sadly."

So Hugh repeated: "'The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is
eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.'"



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IV.

_RESCUED: AN ALLEGORY._


Another Sunday came round, and the brothers and sisters again claimed
Agnes's promise to continue the story of the "Wordless" pages. They had
several times in the week asked if she could do so then; but she had
always answered. "Wait till Sunday."

"Now Agnes," said John, "let us have the rest of that dream."

"I did describe to you all that dream," answered Agnes. "What I have to
tell you to-day is another dream--a new page as it were; not black, but
red."

"I thought it was to be a continuation," said Alice.

"Yes, it is; but you will not let me begin."

"Oh! yes we will," said Minnie. "Now then. Agnes."

    Red--Blood.

Again I dreamed, and found myself in the same cavern where I had before
been such a terrified spectator. Should I be able to see the dismal end
of those miserable boys? I asked myself. At first the darkness seemed
impenetrable, and as there was no sound to break the stillness, I feared
that already the fierce beast had devoured those whom he had captured.

But hark! was not that a sobbing sigh from some one?

Again it met my ear, and I thought I could distinguish Alwin's voice,
saying in a low, pleading tone:

"Edred, I am sure I read something in the Guide-book about the King's
Son, who lives in that Palace we saw over the Hills there, being willing
to rescue travellers, if they were in distress."

"Hush!" said Edred, in a frightened voice, "the fiend will hear you, and
will spring upon us if he thinks we are meditating escape--however
futile it may be," he added bitterly.

"He is half asleep over there," answered Alwin in a low tone; "see how
he rests, and his eyes are shut. Oh, Edred, our position is so dreadful
that it is worth a desperate effort to get free."

"No effort is of any avail," said Edred hopelessly. "If you only look at
yonder monster, with his awful name shining on his forehead, you will
know that he will never let us enter the King's Palace; he told us just
now that his wages are death, and that we shall _not_ escape."

"I know," said Alwin, "but all the same I have read enough of the
Guide-book to believe there is some way of deliverance; do, Edred, try
to recall what it was."

"I never read it," said Edred, "and to consult it now, when we are in
this dire distress, seems like mocking the King who ordered it to be
written."

He sighed heavily, and as I grew accustomed to the darkness, I could
faintly perceive the two boys crouching down in a corner, watching the
evil beast, never taking their wearied eyes from him for a moment.

Alwin seemed unable to let go his last hope, and began again
imploringly, "Edred, I _know_ it said if people got into these caverns
they were to call to the King; do let us try."

"Call and wake the monster?" asked Edred, mockingly. "Besides, who could
hear?"

"I shall try," whispered Alwin, "for I feel I shall soon have no
strength left."

Edred made a gesture as if to reply, when the enemy roused himself
suddenly, and before either of them had time to speak or move, he had
sprung across the cavern. I saw the two boys disappear beneath his awful
form.

A fearful cry rent the air, a cry of agony, but a cry too which seemed
to expect an answer.

The fiend grappled with them both, and gave them blow after blow. Still
spell-bound I watched, feeling myself turned to stone with horror.

But what did I hear? Surely above the cruel strokes which resounded on
the bodies of these captive boys, surely above their cries for help, and
moans of anguish, I heard another sound--a sound of rescue, coming
nearer and nearer?

Did the evil creature hear it too? Did he not strike the faster, that
there might be no deliverance; that the deliverance might be too late?

A strange light approached along one of the passages, and all at once
One entered the cavern, and dealt a swift blow at the fiend, which made
him relax his hold, only to tighten it more painfully. "I have come to
deliver those that are appointed to die," said a voice of heavenly
sweetness; but the fiend turned on Him with blows, fiercer and deadlier
than those he had given the boys, and there ensued such a terrible
combat that my very heart failed me.

By-and-by I found that the fiend seemed to grow weaker and weaker, and
the Deliverer, though wounded and bleeding, was a Conqueror. The evil
creature at last sank down in the mire, motionless, his grasp loosened
from the poor boys, and the Conqueror came up to them and raised them
from the ground.

Alwin had just sufficient strength left to clasp the feet of his
Deliverer with a cry of love, but Edred neither spoke nor moved.

"Edred," said the tender voice, "I have fought, and he who held thee is
conquered; wilt thou come with Me?"

Edred groaned.

"Thou wilt not stay here, Edred?" again said the loving tone
reproachfully.

"I am not worthy," moaned Edred, "I disobeyed----"

"Nay, nay, thou art not worthy; but I have loved thee, and have done it
all for thee. Edred, wilt thou refuse?"

Then I heard a broken cry of grateful acquiescence, and the two lost,
hopeless boys were clasped to that bosom of love.

And Alwin whispered, "Thou hast been wounded in the sore fight, for I
can feel Thy blood flowing upon me!"

"That was the price at which I rescued thee," answered the Deliverer,
"and thou shalt find when we come into the Light that the Blood of the
King's Son worketh marvels for thee."

"Art Thou the King's Son?" asked Edred as they moved forward from this
cavern of Death.

"Didst thou not know?" answered his Deliverer with a radiant smile, "no
one else is 'Mighty to save.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

When Agnes ceased the relation of her dream, she turned over the leaves
of her Bible which lay on her knee, her brothers and sisters waiting to
see if there were any more of the story.

At last she looked up, and said earnestly, "You all like allegories, but
they can only teach one side of a truth at once, and the Lord Jesus has
done so much more than anything I can say for us. I have not told you
half that Red page means, but you can seek it out for yourselves, dears.
Think of all the love which brought Him down to redeem us, and what it
cost Him, and let the Red page of the 'Wordless Book' impress this upon
your hearts, never to be forgotten, 'Without shedding of blood is no
remission;' 'God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were
yet _sinners_. Christ died for us.'"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER V.

_NEW ROBES: AN ALLEGORY._


"Have you another dream to tell us?" asked Minnie on the following
Sunday.

"It is the end of the same dream, but it has a different page in the
'Wordless Book' as its suggestion," answered Agnes.

"Yes, the White page," said John.

    White--Righteousness.

Then the boys passed out towards the Light, leaning on Him who had
delivered them. I followed silently, still allowed to watch and listen.

"Dost Thou say that Thou wilt present us to the King?" asked Alwin
hesitatingly.

Their Deliverer assented; for Edred immediately answered, "We are not
fit to appear before Him! Thy power has indeed saved us from the
destruction we merited; but we are so soiled and filthy from contact
with the mire in this awful Cavern, that we could not appear before any
one, least of all before the Great King." He spoke eagerly and half
proudly.

"Dost thou not remember what I told thee? That My Blood, which has been
shed for thee, with which thou hast been covered, will work--nay, has
already worked, marvels; and when the Light shines upon thee, thou wilt
see. Fear nothing, only believe what I tell thee."

They were silent after this, and were quickly approaching the end of the
darkness. Then the boys could look upon their Deliverer, and could see
the terrible wounds that He had sustained in His conflict with the foul
fiend. And when they looked they wept--wept for sorrow that He should so
have suffered for them--wept for joy that they were safe from the
dreadful destruction.

They thought not of themselves; but when I could unfasten my eyes from
the lovely face of the Deliverer, I was amazed to find that the boys
were no longer arrayed in their former clothes, for in that mysterious
passage from Darkness to Light all these had been changed, and they were
now clad in a spotless robe of pure white.

By-and-by they perceived it themselves, or rather their Guide pointed it
out to them.

"See," He said tenderly, "what My deliverance has done for you; now you
can meet the King without fear. Covered by this robe, you will be
accepted even in His eyes, because when He sees it He will remember
that I have fought for you and prevailed; and He will count My merits
yours."

He led them now swiftly, it seemed to me, towards a spot which He told
them would be the Meeting-place, but for the first time I was unable to
follow them. A thin cloud seemed to obscure my vision for a while.

When I saw the boys again their Guide had left them, and they were
walking along the road towards the Palace of the King, which lay at the
end of the journey.

They were busily engaged in perusing the Guide-book, which Edred had
before so despised; but now his face bent over it with a look which was
both inquiring and trustful.

"What does it mean, Alwin, when it says, 'Needeth not save to wash his
feet?'"

"Does it not mean that we, who have been cleansed from all that filth by
the wonderful efficacy of our Deliverer's Blood, still may get
defilements in our path, and that these will need constant washing
away?"

"I suppose it does," said Edred hesitatingly and looking round; "but
where----?"

"Our Deliverer told us--do you not remember it?--that by our road we
should find a cleansing stream, dyed by His Blood, to which we must
needs constantly repair."

"He did, but I had well-nigh forgotten it; but see, Alwin, the end of
the journey is not so very far off; just beyond those Hills, where the
radiance is; there will be nothing to defile us _there_."

Alwin looked towards the Hills in silence, with a rapt face, on which
the glory seemed reflected. Then he added suddenly, "Our Deliverer said
that He might fetch us Himself, instead of our travelling so far; that
would be better still, Edred."

"Indeed it would," answered Edred earnestly. "I hope He will."

Then I awoke from my dream.

       *       *       *       *       *

"And this text has been running in my head while I have been pondering
over my dream," added Agnes, "'The blood of Jesus Christ His Son
cleanseth us from all sin'--and--'He hath made us accepted in the
Beloved.'"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VI.

_AT LAST: AN ALLEGORY._


"I am sorry we have come to the Gold page," said Alice, with a sigh,
folding her hands together as she seated herself in the bow-window seat
on the Sunday before their parents were to sail for America.

"_Sorry!_" echoed Minnie, "why, I am very glad indeed!"

"Because it is the last, I mean," answered Alice; "we shall miss our
Sunday afternoon story dreadfully."

"I propose that Agnes tells us one every Sunday," said John.

Agnes shook her head, but answered, half-smiling. "Sometimes, perhaps, I
may, but you know they cannot be all allegories."

"Oh, no!" said Hugh; "but let us begin our last page now."

    Gold--Glory.

Once again I dreamed, and once again I saw the boys in whom I took so
much interest.

This time they were nearing the Hills, above which the radiance shone.

The country was still of the same mountainous description, and I thought
I could see beneath the steep ascent before me a River winding in and
out.

The golden light seemed to shine down on some parts of the River, but
generally it was dark and sombre.

Just now the boys were standing near it, and Edred was gazing down into
its depths.

"It is rather dreadful, Alwin," he exclaimed, turning round and glancing
in his companion's face, "to think of having to cross this before we
reach the Palace of the King."

"Yes," answered Alwin, "and when we look down into it, instead of
looking up at the Glory, we do get depressed. But, you know, Edred, our
Deliverer has promised to bear us safely through."

"Of course He has. He would not leave those whom He has delivered at
such a price to perish in the final water, Alwin. No; I will not look
down into the River any longer, but rather, as you say, to the Glory
beyond. But I wish I knew more of its delights."

"The Guide-book tells us a great deal about it; and often since we have
neared this River, I have had to turn to the description of it to cheer
my fainting courage."

"I wish I were acquainted with the Guide-book as you are, Alwin; but I
do love it much more than I used--I love it dearly! What does it say?"

"Shall I read it to you?"

"Yes, do," answered Edred, throwing himself down on the grass by the
side of the water, and settling himself into an attitude of expectancy.

Alwin once more drew from his knapsack the Guide-book, which had seen
much service since my eyes had first fallen upon it, and with one glance
upwards at the radiance over the Hills, he turned towards his companion
and read in a thrilling tone from the book in his hand, words which
seemed familiar to me, though I could not tell in my dream where I heard
them:

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the
first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And God shall
wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death,
neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for
the former things are passed away. Then came unto me one of the seven
angels..., and he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high
mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending
out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like
unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are
the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the
moon to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb
is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk
in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and
honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for
there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and the
honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it
anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or
maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life. And
there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb
shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him: and they shall see His
face; and His name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no
night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the
Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever."

Alwin ceased reading, and Edred, whose eyes, from being turned on his
friend's face at first, had been latterly directed upwards, now rose
from the ground with a new light shining in them.

"Alwin," he said solemnly, "I always have dreaded this River, but I do
not any longer. I have long known that I should soon have to pass
through it. Ever since we were in that Cavern of Death I have known it,
but now I fear it no longer. The words of the Guide-book have taken away
my terror. See, I shall soon be where the light will never fade away."

As he spoke a touch of golden light which had for a moment illumined the
dark river passed away from it, and the gloom grew deeper.

But Edred thought not of it, his eyes were fixed on the Light beyond.

"You are not going to leave me alone?" said the younger boy yearningly.

"I must; I have been sent for by the King. He told me some little time
ago that it would be soon."

"Oh, Edred!" murmured Alwin.

"He will bear you through too," answered Edred kindly. "I could not have
believed that His words would have cheered me so. I am quite joyful in
going now. I only long to cross."

As he spoke he stepped into the River, which looked to me so dark and
drear.

Now a mist brooded over the River, between those standing on the bank
and the Shore beyond, and so Edred was lost to my sight.

Alwin stood long looking after him, with tear-dimmed eyes; but by-and-by
he turned once more to the Book in his hand, and as he read it I noticed
that the sorrow passed away from his face.

"A little while," he murmured to himself, and turned to go on his
journey.

But I saw that his road lay close to the River; and, or ever I was
aware, I found he too had entered the water, and was actually crossing
over to the bright Land.

As the waters got deeper and deeper, his face only grew the more
radiant, and when the mist almost hid him from my view, I heard a
triumphant voice exclaiming, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable
Gift."

       *       *       *       *       *

Minnie's little head was laid on Agnes's lap during the narration of
this dream, and she now raised it with an earnest look.

"And that is _all_?" she said, sighing.

"All, except that there is no _end_ to the Glory," replied Agnes.

"No," said John, "I often think that is the best of Heaven--there will
be no 'leaving-off' there."

"That is just it," answered Agnes, "and the summing-up of all these
Wordless pages--of Sin--Blood--Righteousness--Glory--seems to me to be
expressed in these words, 'That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto
all pleasing.... Who hath made us meet to be partakers of the
inheritance of the saints in light.'"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VII.

_LAST DAYS._


"Isn't it awfully cold for you and mother to travel at this time of
year, father?" asked Hugh as he buttoned up his warm great coat to set
out for school for the last time before the Christmas holidays.

"Very; but you see, my boy, urgent business calls me; and urgent
necessity calls your mother."

"Oh, yes! but I wish it were summer. Are you really going on Saturday?"

"Yes, God willing."

Hugh went into the hall, where he found his brother brushing his hat.

"I wonder why father always adds 'God willing,'" he said in an
undertone, "so few people do. Do you care about it, John?"

"Well, I can't say that I've come to doing it myself," answered John
candidly; "but I do feel this, Hugh, that when they're out on the
Atlantic I'd rather know they had _felt_ it was 'God willing,' than that
they should have acted on their own responsibility."

Hugh whistled. "You ain't getting preachified I suppose, are you, John?"

"No; but, all the same, I know when I think a thing's right."

"So do I; leastways I know when I'm in the right, and that's generally!"

"Or you think so."

"Of course; comes to the same thing."

Hugh had a pleasantly good opinion of himself, which often roused the
ridicule and annoyance of his brother and sisters; and so before John
was aware he found himself caught in an argument which was beginning to
rasp his temper.

"Well, I'm off," he said, abruptly turning on his heel, thinking within
himself that if his promise to Agnes was to be kept during his parents'
absence it would be well to begin at once.

"Beaten off the field?" asked Hugh, laughing, while he turned round to
give his mother a passing kiss.

"Teasing again, my boy," she said gently.

"Only on the surface, mother," he answered lightly.

"Do you not think that the surface of a mirror sometimes gets scratched,
and cannot reflect back the same perfect image it should?"

Hugh shook his head. "Mother, I shall be late," he said, turning the
handle of the door, and wishing to escape.

She smiled archly. "Next week there will be no mother to run away from,
so listen, Hugh. Can't you invent some remedy for that tongue of yours?"

"I wasn't doing a bit of harm, mother, then."

"But if you _could_ you would be 'able to bridle the whole body.' Think
of that, Hugh! Can you not make up your mind to try?"

"All right, mother, I'll see about it."

"Not in your own strength though, dear."

He nodded, and seeing that he was let off, he darted through the door
and was gone in a moment.

Mrs. Headley turned back with a momentary look of pain, then, as if
those words were whispered in her ear she heard:

"In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine
hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that,
or whether they both shall be alike _good_." And at that word she went
into the dining-room with a smile on her face, and seated herself at her
preparations with peace in her heart.

"What are you going to do for poor people this Christmas, mother?" said
Minnie, throwing her arms round her mother's neck in her warm-hearted
little way.

Mrs. Headley looked up from the close embrace with a smile, and
answered, "We shall not be able to do very much this year, Minnie; but I
have not forgotten."

"I did not think you had, only I do like to know."

At this moment Agnes entered the room, bearing in her arms a heap of
garments, which she deposited on the table, saying to her mother, "This
is all I can find, and they will need a good many stitches."

"I dare say they will," said Mrs. Headley; "but we must all help."

Minnie peered curiously at the assortment of clothes, and exclaimed,
"Why, there's my old frock, Agnes! Whatever are you going to do with
that?"

"This is part of what we are going to do for Christmas," said her
mother.

Minnie looked incredulous, and turned over her brother's worn jacket
with the tips of her rosy fingers rather disdainfully.

Agnes already had seated herself at the table, and was proceeding to
examine each garment with critical eyes.

Mrs. Headley glanced at the little face opposite her, but made no remark
as she leaned over to reach the old dress, which Minnie thought so
useless.

"This wants a button, Minnie; get the box, and see if there is one like
the others there."

Minnie sprang up to get it, and was soon engaged in searching for the
button. "What's it for?" she asked.

"Some little girl who has a worse one than this."

"Are there any? I thought this was so very shabby."

"Plenty, I am sorry to think; but if we get this ready for some one,
there will be one less needing a frock."

"Why is Agnes helping?" asked Minnie, drawing nearer.

"Because she wants to do something to make Christmas happy to others."

"Will this make any one happy?" asked Minnie again, her puzzled little
face gradually assuming a more contented look.

"Should you not think so, if you had a little bare frock just drawn
together with a crooked pin, and hardly covering your shivering little
shoulders?"

"Oh, yes, indeed," said Minnie, now quite convinced, eyeing her warm
though cast-off frock with fresh interest. "Could I do anything to help
make it ready?"

"You can put on the button, and fasten this little bit of hem."

"Why do you mend all these things? Could not their mothers do it?"

Mrs. Headley did not answer, so Minnie sat down; and while she put on
the button she pondered the question.

Meanwhile Mrs. Headley with rapid fingers was darning and patching,
aided by Agnes, who sat industriously stitching away, silently buried in
her own thoughts.

At last Minnie exclaimed, "Is this all you are going to do, mother?"

"No, my dear, we are making some puddings for three or four families."

"Oh, yes, of course! I knew you would; I do love Christmas."

"I wonder if Minnie knows or thinks about why we do it?"

"Because we love the Lord Jesus, I suppose," answered Minnie, looking up
from her work with her tender little face.

"Not only that, dear, though that is one reason. Do you remember what we
were reading the other day about dealing our bread to the hungry?"

"I think I do."

"And about visiting 'the fatherless and widows in their affliction'?"
added Agnes.

"Oh, yes! but, then, _this_ isn't visiting the fatherless and widows;
this is making things at home."

"Should you like to help me take them when they are done, Minnie?" asked
Agnes, looking up.

"That I should, if I might."

"You may, then," said her mother; "and I think you will understand their
value better after you have been."

Just then John and Hugh came in from school, and guessing what their
mother and sisters were engaged in, they suddenly disappeared; at which
Mrs. Headley did not look surprised, nor did she either when they
re-entered with her rag-bag, a large cardboard box, and a small parcel.

Minnie threw down her work and jumped up to examine this new marvel;
but John, who liked to tease her, kept his intentions to himself, and
taking a pair of scissors, bent down his head into the box, and was soon
absorbed.

Hugh, who was less particular, opened the parcel, and drew out a piece
of bright-patterned _cretonne_.

"Oh, how lovely!" exclaimed his little sister, leaning over the table.
"What are you going to do, Hugh?"

Agnes glanced up, and reminded Minnie of her own work; but she was too
busy in conjecturing what Hugh was about to heed.

He laid the piece out on the table, folded it in half, and proceeded to
thread himself a needle.

"Are you going to _work_, Hugh?" asked the never-satisfied little
maiden.

Hugh nodded, nowise disconcerted at her surprised tone, and soon he had
begun to sew up the sides, clumsily enough perhaps, but still
effectually.

Minnie found work was to be "the order of the day," so she relapsed into
silence.

After an hour's close application, during which time Minnie had watched
with curious eyes John's hand diving in and out of the rag-bag, Hugh
pronounced his contribution done, and went over to his brother and asked
him if his were ready. A whispered consultation ensued behind the
cardboard box, and then there was some mysterious pushing and
manoeuvring, which raised Minnie's expectation to the last extent. Her
brothers, however, enjoyed keeping up the joke, and there was a fine
laugh when they laid a neatly-finished cushion on the table in front of
the inquisitive little girl.

"What is in it?" she asked, pinching and pulling it about.

"Only mother's woollen rags snipped up in tiny pieces," said Hugh.

"You should not have told her," remarked John; "but I say, don't my
fingers ache! and isn't there a blister on my thumb?"

"Did you cut all that to-day?"

"No, we have been at the snipping business all the week, off and on, and
I declare old Mrs. Hales will not have a bad pillow after all."

"Where is Alice?" said Hugh.

"She is doing her part," answered Mrs. Headley; "this is a busy time for
cook, and Alice is helping her to make the puddings."

"When shall we go round, Agnes?" asked Minnie.

"On Christmas Eve, mother thinks."

"I wish it were here, then."

"I do not, for we must finish all this heap of mending first."

"You'll tell us who you give it to, Agnes, and all about your visits,"
said John, who loved a story as much as anyone. "It will make us 'good
boys' when they are gone."

"Oh, yes," answered Agnes.

"Then we will wait patiently till then; and if you can think of anything
we can help in, we are ready, mother, now it is holiday time."

"I will consider it," she answered, "but while we plan to do something
for those in need, let us remember, my dears, one thing."

The faces were turned affectionately towards the mother, who so
anxiously watched over her children, while she said gently, "It is not
_only_ that we are to 'visit the fatherless and widows in their
affliction,' but we are 'to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.'"

"That's almost harder than the other," said Hugh thoughtfully.

"Except by 'looking off unto Jesus,'" said Mrs. Headley; "'I can do all
things, through Christ which strengtheneth me.'"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VIII.

_ONE INJUNCTION._


"I cannot leave you a great number of injunctions," exclaimed Mrs.
Headley tearfully, on that last morning when all was ready for
departure, and the day for the sailing of the steamer had really come.

"I think you have, mother," said Hugh, trying to hide his feeling under
a joke.

"No, not to you, dear; to Agnes I may have."

"Yes, to _me_" said Hugh. "I am to mind Agnes, and not to mind John; and
to mind I am kind to Minnie; and to keep in mind that Alice is younger
than I; and to----"

"Shut up," said John; "we don't want to hear your gabble to the last
moment!"

"I was going to say," resumed their mother gently, "that there was one
thing I did want you to think of."

"Tell us then, mother," said Alice, putting her arm round her fondly,
"we'll keep it as the most important of all."

There was a momentary silence, and then Mrs. Headley turned to her
husband with a mute appeal. "Tell them," she said brokenly, "what we
were saying this morning."

"We want you all to think of one thing. In _any_ difficulty, in _every_
difficulty, in _all_ circumstances, say to yourselves, 'Lord, what wilt
Thou have me to do?' If you wait and hear the answer, it will help you
in everything."

"People generally do wait to hear the answer to their question, don't
they, father?" asked John.

"Not always; especially when they are speaking to God. But you be wiser,
my children. In the waiting-time for the answer an extra blessing often
comes."

The children looked thoughtful; and then their father took from a paper
a large painted card in an oak frame, which he proceeded to hang up on a
nail ready prepared for it.

On the card were letters in crimson and gold and blue, and the children
read:

    "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

Then the sound of wheels suddenly reminded them that the parting had
come. With a close embrace to each from their mother, and with an
earnest "God bless you" to each from their father, the travellers turned
to the door, followed by John and Hugh, who were to accompany them to
the railway station.

When the last bit of the cab had disappeared. Agnes turned round to her
younger sisters and put her arms round them both lovingly. "We'll be
ever so happy together when we once get settled in," she said, choking
down her own emotion, and bending down to kiss them in turn.

"Oh, yes," answered Alice with a sob, trying to look up bravely.

But Minnie could not look up. Her mother was her all, and her mother had
gone. She threw herself into Agnes's arms in a passion of misery.

Agnes sat down and tried to make her comfortable on her lap; but the
child wailed and sobbed, and gave way to such violent grief that the
elder sister was almost frightened, and looked towards the window with a
momentary thought of whether it would be possible to recall her mother.

It was only momentary, for how could she? Then her eyes fell on the new
text, and her heart, with a throb of joy, realized that the Lord was
with her.

"Always," she said to herself; "so that must mean to-day. 'Lord, what
wilt Thou have me to do?'"

She bent her head over the little golden one, and clasped her arms
tighter round the trembling little form, and then she said softly:

"Minnie, have you read our text since father and mother went?"

Minnie listened, but only for an instant, then she sobbed louder than
ever.

"Minnie," again pursued Agnes, "do you think you are carrying out what
_He_ would have you do?"

Minnie stopped a little, and clung more lovingly than before to her
sister's waist.

"We must be sorry they are gone; we can't help it, and I don't think
Jesus wants us to help it; but we ought not to give way to such grief as
to seem rebellious to what He has ordered."

"Do you think I am?" asked the child brokenly.

"What do you think yourself?"

"I don't know," hesitating.

"Well, think about it for a moment. Look here. Minnie, I want to put up
these things that are scattered about, so I will lay you on the sofa and
cover you up warm; then you can think about it while you watch me. Come,
Alice dear, you and I shall soon make things look brighter if we try."

Alice had been standing gazing rather forlornly at Minnie, but now
turned round with alacrity. To do something would divert her sorrowful
thoughts.

By-and-by a heavy sigh from Minnie made her sisters look at her. There
she lay like a picture, her long curls tossed about over the sofa
cushion like a halo, her dark eyelashes resting on her flushed cheeks,
where the tears were hardly dry, asleep.

"What a good thing," said Alice in a low tone. "I thought she would cry
herself ill."

"Yes, I am glad," answered Agnes, looking down upon her. "But, Alice,
the boys will be back before we have done if we stand talking."

"Then we won't. Agnes, did not aunt Phyllis say she would come in
early?"

"Yes; but I hope she will not till we have put away everything. Just
take up that heap and come upstairs with me, Alice; and then run down
for that one, will you? You don't mind?"

"I'm not going to 'mind' anything, as Hugh says," answered Alice
earnestly, a tear just sparkling in the corner of her eye.

"That's a dear girl; it will make everything so much easier if you do
that."

"I mean to try."

They left the room, closing the door after them, and went up with their
loads--papers, string, packing-canvas, cardboard boxes, rubbish, shawls,
and what not.

Agnes placed the various things in their places, while Alice watched and
handed them to her, and at last all was done and the girls ran down,
just as a double rap sounded through the hall.

"That's auntie's knock, I shall open it," exclaimed Alice, and in a
moment she admitted a little lady, whose pale delicate face and stooping
attitude betokened constant ill health.

"Well, my dears," she said cheerfully, "I knew you would have a few
things to do after such an early starting, so I waited for a little
time. Are the boys back yet?"

"No; we expect them every moment," answered Agnes, leading her aunt into
the now orderly dining-room, and placing her in an arm-chair.

Miss Headley's eyes wandered round in search of little Minnie, and soon
she saw the sleeping child.

"Not ill?" she asked, reassuring herself with her eyes before Agnes
answered:

"She was tired with excitement, I think, and grief. I am so glad she is
asleep."

"The best thing for her. And they got off well?"

"Oh, yes; but I hardly knew how utterly dreadful it would be to feel I
could not call them back!"

Agnes turned away; she could not say any more. While the responsibility
rested on her alone she had been brave, but now with her aunt's sympathy
so near she began to feel as if she must break down.

"I know," said the soft voice, "do not mind me, my child; come here and
let me comfort you."

Agnes knelt down and laid her head on her aunt's shoulder, while one or
two convulsive sobs relieved her burdened heart.

"There will often be moments when you would give anything to have them
here, my child; but the Lord knows just that, and has sent forth
strength for thee to meet it all. We never know how very dear and
precious He can be till we've got no one else."

"I shall learn it soon," whispered Agnes.

"Yes, my child; and it is such a mercy to know that He suits our
discipline to our exact need. The other day I was on a visit in the
country, and had to go to an instrument-maker there to do something for
my back. He told me he could not help me at all, for my case was so very
peculiar, and he had nothing to suit me. But that's not like the Lord,
my child. He knows us too intimately for that. He does not think our
case too peculiar for His skill, but holds in His tender hand just the
support, just the strengthening, just the treatment we want, and He
gives us what will be the very best for us."

Agnes and Alice knew to what their aunt referred. An accident when she
was a beautiful young woman of twenty had caused her life-long
suffering, and obliged her to wear a heavy instrument which often gave
her great pain and weariness.

Her niece raised her hand at those gentle words, and stroked her aunt's
face lovingly.

"It is resting to know He understands perfectly, my child, isn't it?"

"Very. But oh, auntie, I wish you hadn't to suffer so!"

"Don't wish that, my dear, but rejoice that, in every trial that has
ever come to me, I can say, 'His grace has been sufficient for me.'"

Agnes knelt on in silence; and aunt Phyllis did not attempt to disturb
the quiet till some hasty footsteps were heard along the pavement, which
came springing up the steps, and in another moment the two boys, fresh
from their walk, came bursting into the room; but not before Agnes had
sprung up and seated herself at the table with her work.

"Hulloa, Agnes! Why, auntie, is that you? So you've come to look after
the forsaken nest, have you?"

"How did they get off, John?" Agnes asked, looking up as quietly as if
she had been sitting there for an hour.

"Very well; mother was cheerful to the last."

"And they had a foot-warmer?"

"Your humble servant saw to that."

"And you got them something to read?"

"Wouldn't have anything."

"And they did not leave any more messages?"

"None whatever. Now, Hugh, as Agnes has pumped me dry, let Alice take a
turn at _you_!"

Alice, till her brothers came in, had been leaning over the fire, deeply
buried in a book and now turned round to it again, as if she would very
much rather read than do anything else.

Hugh seeing this, advanced a step nearer, and his eyes looked
mischievous.

"Well, Alice, don't perfectly smother a body with questions. One at a
time. What's the first?"

"I don't know; I haven't any to ask."

"You mean you're too busy?"

"No," answered Alice, half vexed.

"Perhaps you're cold, you're such a long way off from that tiny fire!"

"I'm not cold," said Alice, putting her hand up to her glowing face.

"Not? Now I really thought----"

But a gentle voice interrupted what was becoming too hot for poor
Alice's temper, and aunt Phyllis said:

"Grandmama invites you all to dinner to-day, my dears, at two o'clock;
will you come?"

At the word dinner Agnes started. "Oh dear, auntie, I forgot it was my
duty now to see after dinner! I do not believe I should have thought of
it for ever so long."

"Cook would have reminded you, I dare say," said her aunt, smiling.

"What are you boys going to do this morning?" asked Agnes.

"I'm going to my room to have a general turn out for the holidays, and
shall not be visible again till five minutes to two."

"That's a good thing," said Agnes, laughing.

"Your politeness is only exceeded by your truth," said John, giving his
aunt a kiss, and disappearing through the door before Agnes could give
him back an answer, had she wished it.

"And what is Hugh going to do?" asked Miss Headley, turning to him.

"Tease Alice," said Hugh, nodding towards the crouching figure by the
fire.

"I was going to say that I have to go to see a woman in Earl Street, and
wanted you to carry my basket for me, Hugh. Can you spare time, do you
think?"

"All right, auntie."

"Where's Hugh going?" said Minnie, sleepily, opening her eyes.

"He is going out with me, darling; would you like to go too?"

"I don't know; I think I'm going to sleep again."

She turned her back on the room, and vouchsafed no further notice of her
aunt, nor of anyone else. Agnes gave a glance of apology, but Miss
Headley answered by a look that it was not needed, and in a few moments
took her leave, followed by her nephew, who ran in next door for the
basket, and caught her up before she had reached the corner of the
street.

Agnes left the room, and Alice woke up from her book to find herself
alone.

She was just going to stoop again over it, when her eyes caught the
unaccustomed frame upon the wall, and she could not but see the words,
"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

"I've nothing to do but this now," she said, drawing her shoulders
nearer to the blaze. "It's holiday time, and I have not lessons or
duties of any kind; I may do as I like."

But though she tried to read, she could not forget that question. At
first she determined to shake it off, but by-and-by her book fell closed
on to her lap, and she looked up straight at the words, thoughtfully.

"This is the first way I am keeping my resolves; a pretty way!"

"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

Then she waited, as her father had said--waited, looking at the words as
if they would shine out with an answer. And so they did; for as her eyes
rested on the last word, she suddenly started up.

"Do," she said, half aloud. "I don't suppose He likes me to sit here
idling my time. I wonder if Agnes wants me? Or if not, I promised mother
to practise a whole hour every day, and as I am going out to dinner I
shall have to do that first."

Then her eyes met Minnie's wondering ones shining out from among the
golden curls and crimson sofa cushion, and she heard a little voice say:

"Who wants you to '_do_'?"

Alice pointed with her finger towards the text.

"Oh!" said Minnie, comprehending.

"But I didn't remember you were there, or I should not have spoken
aloud."

"I forgot what Agnes said, because I went to sleep; but----"

"Yes," answered Alice, waiting for what the little pet sister wanted to
say.

"I don't think He would have liked me to cry so _much_, if I had asked
Him first."

And with another little sob she rushed past her sister and flew up the
stairs.

At five minutes to two o'clock, John opened his bedroom door and called
Agnes.

She was just coming out on the landing, with her hat on, followed by
Minnie and Alice.

"Come and see my arrangements," he said, opening the door wider.

"I don't see anything particu----Oh!" with a start, "why, John, where
did you get that?"

"Out of these two hands of mine, to be sure, and these eyes, and that
paint box, and that cardboard."

On the wall hung the same text that their father had prepared with such
care downstairs, only that John's was not framed, but put up with four
small nails.

"I thought I should see it more up here than downstairs."

"And he thought," added Hugh slyly, "that _I_ should have the benefit of
it here."

"I never thought of you at all," said John.

"It is very nice," said Agnes, coming in to examine it.

The others went down stairs, and the brother and sister were left alone.

"I've been thinking a lot, Agnes," said John, turning his back to her,
as he busied himself at one of his drawers, "and I've made up my mind
while I've been tracing the words of that text."

"What about?" asked Agnes, with a feeling that there was something
unusual in his tone.

"I've determined to take it as my life text."

"John!"

"Yes. It seemed so horrid without mother, and I've been thinking about
it, on and off, for a year past; and to-day, as I painted those words. I
thought----"

Agnes was standing behind him, her soft cheek resting against the back
of his shoulder.

"Yes," she whispered.

"He seemed to say to me, that the first thing I had to _do_ was to come
to Him."

"I'm _sure_ it is."

"So now you know," said John huskily.

"And you did come?" asked Agnes, feeling as if she wanted to understand
all before she could rejoice.

"Of course," answered John, turning round astonished; "I should not have
said a word if that had not been the end of it!"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IX.

_THE FIRST SUNDAY ALONE._


The next morning dawned bright and clear, and Agnes was the first awake.

She slipped on her dressing-gown, and went across to her brothers' door
and tapped gently.

"It is time to get up," she called.

"All right, mother," answered a very sleepy voice, and there was a
comfortable sound of smothering bedclothes, and then silence.

"Hugh and John, do wake," exclaimed shivering Agnes; "we shall be late
for church, if you go to sleep again."

She tapped louder this time, and then John's voice responded:

"All right, old woman; I'm awake now."

"Really, John?" asked Agnes.

"Really," said John; and she heard a bump on the floor, and a pattering
across the room.

She flew back, for if those feet were by chance Hugh's, a wet sponge
would probably be trickling down her neck before she had time to escape.

She had waked with the heartache, but her brothers' cheerful laughter
had turned her thoughts, and as she dressed, though she considered
soberly her responsibility as head of the house, yet it was trustfully
too, and the remembrance of the great joy which John's words yesterday
had brought her, made her so glad, that she felt ashamed of being dull
or mopish because her parents were gone.

So she went downstairs, looking as bright as if no weight of care
overshadowed her.

"This is our first day alone," she remarked as they sat at breakfast,
"for I do not count yesterday anything, because we went out to dinner."

"I like going to grandmama's," said Hugh, "for she always makes us jolly
comfortable."

"That's Hugh's idea of bliss," said Alice mischievously, "nothing to
do--and plenty to eat."

"Oh, Alice!" exclaimed Agnes, shocked.

Hugh was not disconcerted, as it happened, but answered:

"Well, what if it is? We're all in the same boat it strikes me. One
likes one sort of ease, and another sort; but there isn't much to choose
between us."

"Thank you," laughed Alice, who was a little ashamed of her home truth;
"but my idea of comfort isn't like yours, Hugh."

"What is yours, Alice?" asked John.

"A warm fire and an interesting book," said Alice promptly.

"Like yesterday," said Hugh, whose memory was often inconvenient.

"Like yesterday," assented Alice soberly, remembering something about
that which Hugh knew nothing of.

"I hope you will all be ready in time for church," said John, "for I
mean to start whether you are or not. Agnes will be sure to be ready."

Agnes acknowledged the compliment with a smile, but candour forced her
to add, "I'm afraid I'm not always ready."

Then they rose from the table, and Agnes stood hesitating for a moment,
while the colour mounted into her face.

"John," she whispered, "could you take prayers, do you think?"

John shook his head.

"I thought, perhaps, since yesterday----"

"Oh, Agnes," he returned, "you'll do it twice as well; and the servants,
and all--you will not mind. You were going to, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was; and if you would rather I did----"

"Much rather--of course I would. You need not be nervous."

The whispered conversation was unheeded by the others, who had gathered
round the fire looking at their mother's bullfinch taking his morning
bath on the mantelshelf.

"I hope you won't forget his royal highness," said Hugh to Alice.

"I do not suppose I shall."

"If you do I'll remind you," said Minnie.

"When it is starved to death," answered Hugh.

Minnie looked distressed, and Alice rather defiant. "I mean to attend to
him every morning before I taste my own breakfast."

"Oh, I am sure we shall think of him," said Agnes, joining the circle,
while her hand pulled the bell for the servants, "we are so used to
giving him his bath that his food will be sure to be remembered."

And then they sat down for their first prayers without their parents;
and Agnes read with a voice that trembled nervously at first, but as she
proceeded she took courage. Their text flashed across her, and she felt
that what He wished her to do now was just this, and the thought made
her wonderfully happy.

When they sat at dinner--Agnes taking the top of the table and John the
bottom--Hugh exclaimed:

"How awfully funny it is without father and mother!"

Minnie looked up quickly, and then looked down, and her knife and fork
fell from her fingers.

John turned towards her kindly. "Why, Minnie," he said, "think how much
good the change may do them; and if it were _you_, you would want to
see your own mother, wouldn't you, after twenty years?"

This roused Minnie's sympathy. She had never thought such a thing
possible before as being separated from her mother for so long; so she
swallowed down her tears and began her dinner, which, in spite of her
woe-begone feelings, tasted very nice.

"What shall you do with yourself after dinner. John?" asked Hugh.

"I shall look out some texts I have to do, and enter them into my book."

"What book?"

John hesitated. "One I began some little time ago."

"What for?"

"To enter special subjects in that I am interested about."

"What sort of subjects?" asked Alice.

"Scripture subjects; or any others that seem to me to belong to that
sort of thing."

Hugh gave a little shrug of his shoulders.

"What time are you going to read to us, Agnes?" asked Minnie.

"A little before four, I think. Hugh and Alice, you have your scripture
questions to do for father, haven't you?"

"Yes," they answered.

"Then, John, can you come in the drawing-room to do your writing?
Minnie and I shall not disturb you."

He got up and followed her upstairs, smiling as he went.

Turning round on the first landing she saw the smile, and enquired:

"Well?"

"You're a good general," he said.

"Why?"

"Take care to separate your different regiments in case----"

"John!"

"Now, don't you?"

"Not exactly----"

"I know you!"

"Well, come along; you cannot say that my generalship has not made you
comfortable, anyhow."

"I don't wish to. What a glorious fire, Agnes; and what a nice
arm-chair; and what a jolly little table; and what a nice inkstand;
and----"

"There, John, leave off, or our afternoon will be gone; and those
children will be up before we have had a moment's quiet."

She seated herself on the sofa, at one side of the fire, Minnie curling
herself up by her with her book, and Agnes opening her Bible and bending
over it.

Silence reigned for an hour; while John's pen scratched, and the leaves
of his concordance turned over; and Agnes's eyes were fixed on one
page, from which she hardly raised them, except to give Minnie an
occasional caress, or to whisper something to her about her book.

At last there was a stir downstairs. Chairs were pushed back; careful
Alice put on some coal, that the fire might not be out when they
returned to it; and then there was a rush, and the two came tearing up
the stairs.

"How jolly comfortable you look!" exclaimed Hugh.

"We are," said John, preparing to close his book.

"Any room on the sofa for a fellow?" asked Hugh.

"Oh, yes! plenty."

"Sit next me," said Minnie.

"All right. I say, Agnes, how strange it will seem to have Christmas Day
without them!"

"Yes; but we can make it happy if we try," said Agnes.

"How?"

"By _being_ happy."

"That's all very well," said Hugh; "but then, you know, Agnes, _being_
made happy depends on outward things."

"Of course it does; and on inward things too. If we have got a well of
happiness inside us, it will make everything round us seem bright and
beautiful."

"What do you call a 'well of happiness'?"

"I know what Agnes means," said Minnie.

"I was thinking then of the day father came home from America--last
time; and we had received the telegram that he had landed at Liverpool.
How we all went about singing and happy; how we never thought of
quarrelling, but hastened to get everything ready for him."

"I remember that day," said Alice; "it was one of the nicest I ever
spent."

"So that is what I mean by a 'well of happiness;' something which gives
us joy, independently of anything else."

"And what's your Christmas 'well of joy' for this year, Agnes?" asked
John with a smile.

Agnes gave an answering smile. "Oh, John, it is that we are His; that,
through the coming of the dear Saviour, we have been given all other
blessings--happiness and peace here, everlasting joy hereafter."

"And you think that ought to make up for all other deficiencies?" asked
Hugh.

"If we have _got_ it," said Alice thoughtfully; "but sometimes I
wonder----" she looked down, and tears glittered in her eyes.

Agnes heard the quiver in the tone, and put her arm lovingly round her
sister. "Is it so difficult to know?"

Alice shook her head.

"He gives the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him."

The little party were silent; Alice's unusual feeling startled them. The
Sunday afternoon was drawing in, and the light fading.

Presently Agnes said, "I have thought of a little allegory; would you
like to hear it? It might help us to understand Alice's difficulty."

The question did not need repeating, and she began:

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER X.

_THE GOLDEN OIL: AN ALLEGORY._


I fell asleep and dreamed. Before me spread out verdant fields,
picturesque villages, valleys of peace and plenty, cities of care and
toil, the wide ocean restlessly tossing, the mountain bare and rugged.

At first my eyes seemed heavy with sleep, but after a time I began to
see things more clearly, and in all these varied scenes I perceived
there were children moving to and fro.

I was apparently at a great distance from them, and could not well
understand what they did, nor could I hear what they said.

They appeared to be very busy, often eagerly running or walking; talking
together in twos and threes; playing with the trifles which seemed to
lie everywhere for their amusement; sometimes two quarrelling loudly
over these same trifles, and crying pitifully if they could not have
what they wanted.

In my dream I seemed to be drawing nearer and nearer to them, and I
began to perceive the differences in their countenances and dress, and
to find that there was only one point of resemblance in them all; and
this one thing caused me great surprise.

Some were robed in dresses whose sheen, reflecting the rays of the
morning sun, dazzled my eyes; again, others had garments of the dullest
hue; and the clothes of others were so covered with mud and dirt, that I
could not have told what they once were. But, whether gaily decked or
dressed in sombre attire, each child had fastened round it a
curiously-fashioned girdle, to which hung a small pitcher. The pitchers
appeared to be all of one shape and size, but the materials of which
they were made seemed to differ widely.

On some of the children, whose dress was of gayest hue, the pitcher,
strange to say, appeared to be made of commonest material, for it looked
dull and dark; while at the girdle of some who were most plainly attired
hung vessels of brightest gold. This also was incomprehensible to me.

Presently my dream seemed to bring me so near that I could see what they
were doing and hear a little of what they said.

A group of them were sitting on a bank of flowers, resting in the shade,
and as they talked I drew near to listen.

"I do not believe it," said a sturdy little boy, as he threw a ball of
flowers into the lap of a little maiden opposite.

"What do you not believe?" asked a grave-looking girl who was seated
near.

"That there is any hurry to get the pitchers filled."

"Did any one say there was?" asked the girl, glancing thoughtfully at
the vessel hanging at her side, while I perceived that it had the look
of being neglected and soiled.

"Yes, there was a proclamation this morning that the pitchers might be
needed this very day, and that all who had not the Golden Oil should,
without delay, repair to the place whence it could be obtained."

"So there is every day," exclaimed a tall youth who was lying on the
grass at their feet. "That is nothing new: it is the duty of the Herald
to proclaim, and it is our duty to hear, but----"

"No one ever thinks of obeying," laughed the roguish boy, weaving his
flowers as if all his life were centred in doing that only.

But the thoughtful girl looked up with a deep flush at those careless
words. "I do not think _every one_ does that, Ashton; for Esther
here----"

She pointed to a child at a little distance who was threading daisies
together wherewith to deck a tiny brother, who sat watching her little
fingers with absorbed interest.

Now that my attention was directed to this little girl, I took note of
her for the first time. Her dress was of some white material, her eyes
clear as the deep summer azure, her face full of sunshine, while close
to her heart a golden pitcher gleamed in the light, as her happy little
figure turned backwards and forwards in her task.

"Oh, Esther always obeys!" said the youth from the grass, "and is the
happiest little mortal in doing so; but that would not suit every one."

He turned round restlessly, and any one who cared might see that his
pitcher was empty enough as it lay on the ground under his arm.

Esther was all unconscious that the eyes of the party were fixed upon
her. When she had completed her chain of daisies, she took her little
brother's hand in hers.

"Now, darling," she said softly, "you promised me you would go at once
to get your little pitcher filled."

He nodded and trotted off by her side, while she continued, "It would be
so sad not to have any Oil when night comes on, wouldn't it?"

"But you could lend me some," answered the child, confident in her love.

"You know I can't; I must not; no one can lend. So that is why I want
you to get some for yourself."

As they turned round to go towards the place where I imagined the
Golden Oil was to be obtained, I saw another strange thing about these
children which I had not noticed before; each carried, fastened to the
same girdle, a tiny lamp. I looked round to enquire the meaning of it
all, but found myself unable to speak; so I could do nothing but follow
the two children to see what would become of them.

"But why must we have our lamps lighted. Esther?" asked the little one;
"I go to sleep all night."

"Yes," said Esther; "but every night before I go to sleep I trim and
light my lamp, and then, if the King were to come, I should only have to
jump up and run out to welcome Him."

"But I should take hold of your hand, Esther!" said the little man.

"Oh, but the King says we must _obey_, Ernest; it is of no use thinking
you will do all those things. You might not be able to find me in the
dark, nor find the King. He tells us to ask for the Golden Oil, and to
trim the golden lamp, and we have nothing to do but obey."

Esther pressed his little hand, and they hastened on. Presently, just by
the side of the road I saw a Herald standing, with an open book in his
hand, and though I could not catch all the words he said, I saw that the
children understood.

"I do not like to go in," little Ernest was urging, as he pulled back
Esther's hand; "I am afraid to."

"But the Herald says, 'Whosoever _will_,' that means you, Ernest
darling."

Then they turned in under an archway, Ernest, now that his mind was made
up, running on before.

Esther waited just inside the gate. She could not follow right into the
chamber where the Oil was given away, for each one who would get his
vessel filled with the Golden Oil must go in alone to receive it.

In a very few minutes Ernest came out again, bearing the golden pitcher
full of Golden Oil. His face was radiant, and as he took Esther's hand
once more, he looked up into her face with large, wondering eyes.

"Esther," he said, "the King came down and spoke to me Himself, and put
His hand on my head, and charged me to listen to the Herald's message,
and to obey."

Esther's eyes glistened. "Is He not a gracious King, Ernest?" she said.

As my eyes followed these children I perceived that the possession of
the Golden Oil seemed to bring them happiness and peace.

Everywhere they went they did loving little actions, said kind little
words. Sometimes I wondered at the very smallness of these actions and
words; and yet, as I noticed the faces brighten on whom they fell, I
knew that they were understood and appreciated.

By-and-by Esther joined the group of children from whom she had parted
but a while ago. The sun had risen higher in the heavens, and had begun
to descend by the time she and Ernest returned to them; but still they
were where they had been, and were occupied in much the same way as
before.

The tall boy in the grass had sauntered away for a walk with another
companion, and though he again passed the Herald, his warning voice was
still unheeded.

Esther sat down by the girl whom I had observed as being anxious about
the Golden Oil, and as little Ernest ran to play with some other
children Esther said, "I wish you had been with us, Allea; we have had
such a happy morning."

"I cannot see that a walk with a little prattling brother can give such
delight," she answered.

"But we have been to get his pitcher filled. Oh, Allea, I went almost
into the presence of the King!"

"You _did_!"

"Yes; I was never so near before, except the day----"

"When?" asked Allea, looking into Esther's face.

"When He gave me the Oil Himself."

"You make so much of having this Oil," said Allea, discontentedly;
"more than half the world gets on very well without it."

Esther looked abashed for a moment. This was true certainly. Then her
eyes were raised to the blue vault of the sky above her, and beyond it
she saw, what all those who received the Golden Oil could see if they
looked, a mystic word written--Eternity!--and as she read and re-read
its well-known letters, they seemed to melt away and transform
themselves into a wondrous palace of beauty and light, where her King
dwelt, and where He had promised to take those who obeyed Him during
this little Journey. Still absorbed in the sight, she gazed upward till
one by one the azure towers and palaces faded back; but before it
vanished from her sight, once more the word Eternity stood like a fleecy
cloud upon the blue, and then melted away.

Then her eyes came back to her companion's face: "Yes, Allea, you are
quite right, half the world does very well without it _now_."

"Well?" said Allea impatiently.

"But when this little Journey is ended, or when night comes on, if the
King suddenly calls us to come with Him, then, oh, Allea! what would it
be to be shut out of the Everlasting City?"

Allea was silent, while one or two children who had noticed the
earnestness of their talk had gathered round them to hear. "Will you
not get your pitcher filled to-day. Allea?" pleaded Esther with wistful
eyes.

"By-and-by," she answered; "I shall be passing that way this evening."

"The night cometh when no one can work," whispered Esther, as if to
herself.

"But I am going before night," answered Allea somewhat proudly; "you are
too fast, Esther."

As they sat and talked, I fancied that shadows began to fall over the
land. The children did not seem to heed it at first, but presently they
seemed divided one from another by the deepening twilight, and before I
knew where I was, I found myself following Esther and her little
brother, who held by the hand one of the children who had been listening
to the conversation.

Again we approached the portal where the Herald stood, and I could see
that Ernest and Esther were both hurrying forward with all their speed,
helping their companion along, who, though hastening as much as she
could, seemed weary and spent.

Ever and anon upon the quiet evening air the Herald's voice sounded
clear and full, 'The time is short--the day is far spent--ask and it
shall be given you;' and as they ran under the archway darkness fell
upon the land, and I could not follow them.

But while I pondered on these things, I saw a little glimmering light in
a casement, and seemed drawn to approach near enough to see what it
was. As I came close I could see the interior of a small chamber; hard
by on a couch lay Esther, fast asleep, with her little brother's arms
flung about her neck. Close beside them, and still fastened by golden
links to their waists, stood the two Golden Lamps, burning brightly and
steadily, while a King's Messenger, arrayed in white apparel, waited
near, guarding the sleepers and the Lamps with watchful care.

Long did I look, and was at last turning away, when a strange sound
startled the midnight air: "Your King cometh! your King cometh!"

At the words, so long looked for, so eagerly expected, Esther sprang
from her rest, caught her Lamp in her hand, looked round with joyful
eyes for her little brother, who had also heard that cry, and then both
ran out to meet the King. Did I see their companion of the evening
before, holding aloft a Golden Lamp too, to welcome Him?

And then I thought I heard confused tones of regret, and sorrow, and
wailing disappointment, as one and another, awakened by the lights and
glad sounds, hastened from their couches--not to meet the King; alas!
no--but to find He had come, and had taken those who were ready, into
His glorious Palace, to go no more out for ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Agnes," said Minnie, looking up solemnly into her sister's face, "I
think I know, but isn't the Oil in that story meant for the Holy
Spirit?"

"Yes, darling, and the promise stands fresh and sure now, as it did
eighteen hundred years ago, 'If ye...know how to give good gifts unto
your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy
Spirit to them that ask Him.'"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XI.

_A CUPBOARD OF RUBBISH._


"What are you searching for?" asked Agnes, entering the schoolroom the
next morning, which was littered over from end to end. Her brothers and
sisters were busily engaged in turning out a large cupboard, and the
contents were scattered all over the room.

They looked up with rather flushed faces.

"Oh, Agnes," exclaimed Minnie eagerly, "we are sorting my old toys over,
to see what I can spare."

"What for?" asked Agnes.

"Don't you know? Why, for those poor little children who haven't any
toys or pleasures!"

"Which children? I never heard."

"Didn't you? not what mother told us the other day?"

"No," said Agnes, sitting down by the fire and surveying the confusion
with some curiosity.

"Then _I'll_ tell you," burst out Hugh.

"Yes, you tell her," said Minnie.

"Well, they say that there are numbers and numbers of children who have
hardly any enjoyment in their lives, who are sick and full of suffering,
lying on beds with nothing to do, or seated in chairs from which they
cannot move. The kind people at the hospital do all they can for them,
you know, Agnes; but of course they must spend their money on necessary
things, and on beds and food, and they cannot afford to buy toys."

"Well?" said Agnes.

"Mother told us that _anything_ almost would be a treat to these poor
little things, and so we are seeing what we have got."

"But this is all rubbish," said Agnes, speaking regretfully, for she
felt sorry to disappoint her eager brothers and sisters.

They were not so easily daunted, however, having heard what very old
toys give infinite delight to the poor little invalids, and Hugh
answered:

"But you see, Agnes, these are for their very own, and when we have
mended them----"

"Oh, if they are mended, of course, that is a different thing," said
Agnes.

"So we shall," said Minnie; "see, the glue-pot is on already, and we are
going to begin soon."

"The worst is," said Hugh, "where shall we begin, this is in such a
muddle."

"I will help you," said Agnes kindly, "if you will give me any idea of
what you mean to send."

"Well," said John, who had been persuaded to help, "here are some
dominoes. You know we've that nice new set, and there are a good many of
these, only the box is broken. What could we do for a box, Agnes?"

"Would a little bag do?"

John looked doubtful; but Alice, who had been busily sorting out while
the others had been talking, seized upon the idea of a bag as the very
thing, and wrote down on a piece of paper, "Wanted, a bag for dominoes."

"Very well," said Agnes; "now what next?"

"Here is a little horse with his head off; but I know the head is
somewhere, and we shall come across it presently."

"That's for the glueing heap, then?"

"Oh, yes! Thank you, Agnes; now we shall get on," said Minnie.

"Here is a lot of small furniture, but it is very broken," said Hugh.

"Perhaps a few of them will do. Have you the box?"

"Here is an empty one."

"Perhaps you have a little dolly to put in with them?"

Alice went to a corner and produced a dilapidated Dutch doll.

"I will put her on a new frock while you sort the things," said Agnes.

"Here is a bit of pink chintz," answered Minnie; "and here are my
scissors to 'pink' the edges."

The heap for glueing was fast increasing, and John said he had better
begin, while the others collected for him.

"We have agreed not to quarrel over it," he added, smiling, "but to do
whatever comes first, because----"

"Because?" said Agnes.

Minnie came close to her, and said softly, "We are trying to do
something for _His_ sake, you know. Agnes."

"I see," said Agnes; "I am so glad."

But though the glueing might be pleasant work, the sorting out such a
heap of _débris_ was a tiring thing, and taxed the patience of the
children very much. Agnes sat by, helping with advice and interest, and
feeling deep down in her heart that she was giving her little service to
the Lord Jesus too. Had she not left the piano, where she had but just
opened a new song? Had she not made all her arrangements to have an
hour's practice this morning, when she could be certain of the piano to
herself? But all this had been put aside, and now she heard the tender
voice whispering, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things...enter
into the joy of thy Lord."

And even now she was tasting that joy, which, some day, all who love
Him, shall know in its fulness.

At last the floor was clear, and Hugh ran downstairs with a basketful of
real rubbish, while the table now held many heaps, over which careful
Alice kept guard.

"Not there," she would say, as a contribution was brought; "that must be
for this heap, and those broken toys for John to glue."

When Hugh returned with his empty basket, they surveyed the present
results of their labours. A heap of already mended toys, carefully bound
together with thin string; a lot of pictures and scraps to be pasted
into old copy books, of which several lay at hand; two or three very old
dolls, which were to be freshened up, some with a little soap and water,
some with a bit of odd ribbon, some with a new glazed lining frock, just
run together and snipped out at the bottom; a few boxes containing the
remains of dolls' furniture, dominoes, little cups and saucers, and the
like; an old six-penny watch, with a bit of pink tape for a guard; and
last, an old doll's perambulator, which John was now busily engaged in
renovating.

Minnie looked at the things, while a deep sigh escaped her, "I wish we
could do more," she said, "but we have so little money."

"We must remember," said Agnes, "that God accepts, not according to what
we have _not_, but according to what we have."

"Yes," said Hugh; "and if we were to sit down to do nothing because we
have no money to spend, quite thirty little children would go without
what will give them a good many hours' pleasure."

"So they would," answered Minnie, looking more cheerful; "so now I will
set about making the best of what I have."

It took a good many days before all the things were really completed;
and sometimes they were tempted to get tired and give up; but one or
other of them would remember for whom they had agreed to work, and this
nerved them to make a fresh endeavour.

At last all was done. A box was found to send the things in, and the
pleasant task of actually packing it was begun.

Agnes told them to let her know when everything was ready, and now came
in, bearing a little tray-full of tiny bags of net, filled with
sugar-plums.

She proceeded to tie one on each toy or doll, and placed one in a sly
corner in the various toy boxes.

"Oh, Agnes, how kind of you!" they all exclaimed.

So the packing went on with great zest.

They all clubbed together to pay the carriage of the box by the Parcels
Delivery Company, and with great pride Alice wrote the label, and pasted
it on. Then Hugh and John carried the package into the hall, and when
they came up again they all looked at each other with happy faces.

"I thought it would never get done," said Minnie.

"Did you?" asked Alice; "there is nothing like perseverance to get
things finished."

"It is bringing forth fruit with _patience_," said Agnes.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XII.

_JOHN'S PROMISE._


Thus the few days before Christmas passed busily on, while Agnes began
to feel less anxiety as to her charge during their parents' absence.

The nearness of her grandmother and aunt were an untold comfort, but her
mother had said to her before she left, "Do not run in to them with
every little tittle-tattle, but remember there is a nearer Friend always
close. Should any great emergency arise, be thankful that He has so
placed you that you can ask advice of them."

The whole family, according to the usual custom, were to spend
Christmas-day at Mrs. Headley's, next door, to which pleasure the young
people looked forward in their different ways.

On Christmas-eve, while John, Hugh, and Alice were making and putting up
the ivy and holly wreaths, Agnes and Minnie set forth on their errand of
carrying the Christmas parcels to the poor people for whom they had
prepared them; and when they came in, wet and cold, the others gathered
round to know what they had done, and how the parcels had been received.

"It is bitterly cold to-night," said Agnes, coming forward to the fire;
"you will let us get warm first, before we say a word, the wind blows
through you."

"You should have let us go," said John. "I knew it was more fit for Hugh
and me than for that little scrap of humanity!"

"But Minnie was promised," answered Agnes, "and I am _very_ glad I
went--very glad."

"So am I," answered Minnie earnestly.

"Why?" asked Hugh.

"I must tell you another day; to-night I feel as if I could only thank
God for all our mercies."

She sat down by the fire and looked into it abstractedly, while Minnie
stood near her very soberly too.

"Were they so pleased?" asked Alice.

Agnes looked round on the warm room, with its comfortable curtains,
clean wall-paper, tidy carpet, all lighted up with the glow of the log
of wood which Alice had put on the fire to welcome her.

"If you could have seen!" she said, "how thankful you would all feel for
_our_ blessings."

At six o'clock the next morning the Christmas bells of joy rang out on
the still morning air. They woke Alice, and she started up in bed and
called to Minnie, who, after sundry groans and sighs, came to herself,
and asked, "What is the matter?"

"Nothing's the matter, only don't you want to hear the Christmas bells?"

"Not very much," answered Minnie sleepily.

"You are a goose!" said broad-awake Alice. "But all the same, I wish you
a happy Christmas."

"So do I," answered Minnie, trying to be polite; "but when I really wake
up to-morrow morning I'll say it better."

"Why it _is_ to-morrow morning," laughed Alice.

After breakfast, just as they were going to open a package on which they
had ventured many conjectures, a ring at the front door interrupted
them.

"Perhaps it's another parcel," said Minnie, running to the window, while
Agnes exclaimed:

"Oh, Minnie, don't expect things, pray. I should not like to be counting
on presents--it is horrid!"

Minnie looked round astonished. "I didn't know----" she said, confused.

But the ring was quickly explained.

"Please, Master Hugh," said the housemaid, "there's a young gentleman in
the hall, and he wants to know if you'll go out for a walk with him?"

"Who is it?" asked Hugh, vexed. "Did he say his name?"

"I'll enquire, Master Hugh."

"It's Master Tom Radnor," she said, returning.

Hugh threw down the string he was untying, and followed the maid into
the hall.

"Holloa, Tom!" he said.

"I've nothing to do to-day," said the other; "and you said you'd go for
a walk."

"You're remarkably early, or else we're remarkably late."

"Don't you want to go?"

"Oh, yes; but I'm busy just this minute."

"Not done breakfast?" asked Tom, grinning.

"You're wrong there! Look here, Tom, I'll call for you in half an hour,
will that do?"

"All right."

So the front door opened and closed, and Hugh came back.

"What did he want?" asked Alice.

"To go for a walk."

"On Christmas-day? How funny."

"Not funny that I know of."

"Did you ask him to?" said Minnie.

"Yes--no--at least he said something about it when I met him yesterday."

"I should have said I couldn't," said Alice decidedly; "but never mind
now, Hugh, let's open our things."

They gathered round the table, and soon had forgotten all about Tom in
their interest in the presents their mother and father had prepared for
them.

A beautiful work-basket for Agnes; a book for John; a new paint-box for
Hugh; a desk, fitted-up, for Alice; and a long-shaped box for Minnie, on
which was written, "Care--great care--little Minnie."

"What can it be?" exclaimed the child, peeping round it, and enjoying
her anticipations.

And then John untied the string and raised the cover, while Minnie's
little fingers tenderly lifted some tissue-paper, and disclosed to view
a baby-doll of surpassing loveliness.

Agnes and the rest admired and exclaimed to the heart's content of the
little mother, and then She took her doll away to show it to the
servants.

Just then Hugh discovered that the half hour was nearly over, and
started up.

"Are you not coming to church?" asked Alice.

Hugh stopped short for a moment, "Are you?" he asked.

"Yes, we are going with Aunt Phyllis."

"But I can't get out of this, Agnes, and father wouldn't mind?"

"No; he thinks Christmas-day is not like Sunday, and we need not feel
bound about going to God's house as we are then; but for my own part I
should like to."

"So should I," said Alice.

"Is John going?" asked Hugh, looking crest-fallen and vexed.

"Yes; I don't know that I had intended it though, for I look upon
Christmas-day as a blessed holiday, but I've other reasons."

"Then you think I can go with Tom?"

"As far as that is concerned," said John; "but I should hardly think Tom
was a nice companion for you."

"Why not?" exclaimed Hugh, turning red.

"There are several things about him that are not satisfactory, and I
should not like him for my friend."

"He is not 'my friend' exactly; but that's always the way with you,
John, you despise other people."

"I'm sure I don't; but I've always told you. Hugh, that that boy's a
humbug."

"How do you know he is?" Hugh answered angrily.

"He never looks you in the face for one thing."

"Nonsense. Did ever you hear such an absurd thing, Agnes, to judge by a
fellow's looks?"

"Then he does not go with the good set at school, you can't say he
does," pursued John.

"He goes with me, and I should like you to tell me I belong to the bad
set."

"You will if you go on with him," John answered quickly; and then he saw
Agnes move suddenly and raise her eyes from the table, where they had
been fixed during the altercation.

One flash of thought, one glance at his sister, and then John stood
still with firmly-closed lips.

Agnes felt deeply thankful, but she said not a word.

"Have you anything more to say?" asked Hugh bitterly, "or have you
exhausted all your powers in that last effort?"

John was still silent, but an earnest supplication went up that he might
know his Lord's will and do it.

"Eh?" exclaimed Hugh, coming close to him and speaking to him in hot
anger.

"I was thinking, Hugh," answered John slowly, "wondering whether I had
been unkind in what I said, or right in warning you?"

"Warning me! If you had had a grain of sense in your body, you'd have
warned me in private, and not before a pack of girls."

"Yes," answered John, hesitating a little, "I think I ought not--not
like that, but it never occurred to me; we got into it before I knew."

"That is a very poor excuse for annoying your brother, and a very
cowardly way of getting out of it."

"Cowardly?" said Alice, beneath her breath, to Agnes.

But John answered, "Having acknowledged that I should have told you in
private, Hugh, will you forgive me? and may I come up with you and talk
it over?"

"No," exclaimed Hugh; "never mention the subject to me again."

And with that he gathered his painting materials together, and walked
off, followed by Alice, who was looking grieved enough.

"Oh, Agnes!" said John, turning to her, "I meant to do right, but after
all I have broken my promise on Christmas-day!"

"I can't see that you have," answered Agnes gently; "no one can guard
against all difficulties."

"But I've quarrelled with him, and offended him more deeply than ever
before, when I meant----"

"But I do not see that you quarrelled, John, after all."

"It was far nearer to words than I ever dreamed of going."

Agnes felt very sorrowful, but at last she looked up.

"I wonder what _He_ would have us do?" pointing to the text.

John followed her glance for a moment, then he left the room abruptly,
and she heard his footsteps going three at a time up the stairs.

"Hugh," he said, entering their joint room, and closing the door, "I
feel more sorry than words can say about this."

His brother was sullenly preparing to go out, and did not turn round.
"Then you shouldn't speak to a fellow so," he muttered.

"Hugh," answered John, seriously, "I dare not unsay what I _said_; that
part of it was right. But I was wrong to have exposed your school
affairs before anyone else. Can't you let us be friends again on
Christmas-day? I would not have had it happen for any money, and I am
sorry I have vexed you."

John's tone was so earnest, and Hugh's anger had cooled down, so that he
felt he could not do less than say, uncomfortably, "Oh, well, there is
no need to make such a fuss; I'm sure I don't want to bother about it,
so there, we'll say no more."

John sat on the edge of the bed, looking dejected, and Hugh finished his
preparations, and turned to the door. "Why do you mind so much?" he
asked suddenly, coming back again; for, after all, he was a kind-hearted
boy, and did not like to see his brother annoyed.

"I have made two promises," said John, "and have not succeeded in
keeping either."

"Two promises?" echoed Hugh.

"One to Agnes, and one to God," said John in a low tone half to himself.

"There!" exclaimed Hugh, "I'm sorry I was so cross; and--and I'll take
to heart what you said about Tom. I'm off now."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIII.

_HUGH'S PROMISE._


It was time to start for church, and John went down to find his sisters.

His face was pale, and there was a disappointed look about him which was
very unusual in the bright boy.

Agnes saw it, and walked along by his side, trying to think of something
cheering to say. But, after all, when the heart is sore there is only
One who can truly comfort.

Alice and Minnie had gone in to fetch aunt Phyllis, so the brother and
sister were alone.

"Agnes," exclaimed John at last, when they came in sight of the church,
"I'm so vexed with myself, so 'taken down a peg,' if you can comprehend
such a phrase."

He gave a little sad laugh to hide a deeper feeling which Agnes
perfectly understood.

"It's dreadfully unpleasant," she answered, "but I've gone through it
before now."

"You?"

"Heaps of times. Don't you suppose, John, we all trust in ourselves ever
so much too much?"

"I suppose we do."

"Don't be discouraged," she said cheerily, "it's a comfort to feel He
has got us in hand."

"What do you call 'in hand'?" asked John.

"Not letting us go our own way unhindered."

"But that's just what I didn't want, Agnes; I wanted with all my heart
to go His way, and yet I failed."

"Yes," said Agnes slowly; "and He knew that. But perhaps, John----"

"Say on."

"Perhaps--I don't know, I only guess by myself--perhaps you felt you
were strong, and could stand alone."

Agnes glanced up with eyes that glittered with tears as they went up the
steps beneath the deep portico.

John squeezed her arm, and they entered the church.

If Agnes had given John a lesson, she had taught herself one too. That
Christmas morning was a time never to be forgotten; and to John, who had
gone there hoping for a little quiet time to renew his vows, to ask
afresh what his Lord would have him to do, there came a very different
discipline. Instead of being a soldier buckling on his bright armour, he
found himself a beaten-down combatant who was returning home wounded
and sore.

But a comforting thought came to him as he knelt with his face buried in
his hands; all the same for his wounds and feeling of defeat, he was
fighting under the great Captain, who loved him in spite of all.

And when the text was given out his lesson came home to him, and he
raised his head joyfully as his eyes sought those of his sister.

"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you
faultless before His presence with exceeding joy, be glory for ever.
Amen."

After an instant's pause their minister began.

"I am not going to speak to the joyful this Christmas, for they do not
need it so much; but I am going to speak to the downcast, that they may
look forward to this exceeding joy."

Every word might have been meant for John, and he took it all humbly
home to his heart. Never had his face looked like that before, and when
they came out there were two people happy among the throng at anyrate.

Aunt Phyllis took Agnes's arm, while the rest lingered for a moment to
shake hands with some friends.

"Agnes," said Miss Headley, "what has come to John; he looks different?"

Agnes pressed her aunt's arm, and whispered. "Don't say a word, auntie;
but _God_ has been speaking to him."

Aunt Phyllis gazed at her, then, with a wondrous gladness in her pale
face, turned homewards.

They all separated at their different doors. "The children," as they
were called, promising to come in at the right time.

"No fear of our punctuality to-day, auntie," said John, smiling.

"I don't know," answered his aunt. "I have known unpunctual people as
late on great occasions as on small."

"Have you? Then we shall prove ourselves, I hope, to be not unpunctual
people."

They ran up their own steps and found Hugh taking off his coat in the
hall.

"Make haste, Hugh," said John; "auntie has been giving us a lecture on
not being late."

"I don't call it much of a lecture," said Alice. "Aunt Phyllis never
lectures."

The girls went upstairs "to make themselves smart," as Hugh called it,
and the two brothers walked into the dining-room.

John glanced at Hugh, but his face did not invite conversation, so he
took up his new book and sat down in the window.

"What a smell of beer!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I wonder what it is?"

Hugh turned scarlet. "I've had a glass," he said defiantly.

"_You?_" said John, too surprised to hide his grieved dismay.

"There's no sin in that, I hope," answered Hugh coldly.

John thought a moment. "No--no, Hugh, I don't know that there is."

"Then why blame a fellow?"

"I don't think I blamed you; at least, not in words. But----"

"Have it out then. Cut me up to your heart's content."

"I wouldn't for the world, Hugh, dear boy. What would father have wished
you to do?"

"He never bound us."

"I think he did. He never thought we should wish to take any till we
were of an age to decide for ourselves."

"Don't you call fourteen old enough? Tom says he calls it absurd to tie
us down to an idea."

"Tom knows nothing about it, Hugh."

"How doesn't he?"

"Nothing about father's opinions, nor the principle of the thing."

"Do you mean to say father has ever forbidden me?"

"Perhaps not in so many words."

"Do you think he would have, if I had waited to ask him?"

"I believe so."

"I did not do it as an act of disobedience," said Hugh, "and your
making it out so is horrid. I thought I was free to take it if I liked,
so long as I didn't take much."

John sat down by the fire, his face grave and troubled.

"Hugh," he exclaimed, in a beseeching tone, "say you won't be tempted to
take it again till father comes home. Oh, Hugh, I would give everything
I possess if you hadn't!"

Hugh was silent. In his present mood he did not feel inclined to
promise.

"Where's the harm?" he asked at last.

"Father trusted us not to take it till we were old enough to judge of
its dangers; he said we must take his judgment till then."

"And how long was that to last?"

"I don't know, but I was quite willing to leave it till then. Hugh, what
does our text say, as father is not here?"

John's voice was low, and his face full of feeling.

"I hadn't _that_ to look at out there!" murmured Hugh.

"No. Oh, Hugh, _say_ you will not again till they come home?"

"I'm sure I wish I had not, now you say so much about it. John, you
won't tell the girls?"

"Not 'the girls;' but I must tell Agnes."

"Then I shan't promise!"

John was staggered for a moment, but after an instant he said:

"I must not do evil that good may come. I'm sure you will think better
of it, Hugh dear; and it would be such a comfort to me if you would."

"At anyrate don't tell Agnes to-day, till I have had time to think it
over. Do as much as that for me, John."

"I think I may promise that," answered John. "Hugh, we've had such a
beautiful sermon this morning on, 'Able to keep you from falling;' it
has helped me ever so much."

Then John left the room, and Hugh got up and walked round the table, and
stood in front of the new frame: he stood long and silently, and did not
move till the others came in.

"You are not dressed," said Alice; "we shall be late after all!"

"I shan't take long," said Hugh, hurriedly leaving the room.

"There is time yet," said John; "don't be a fidget, Alice. Is Minnie
going to take her beloved baby?"

"Of course I am. Do you suppose I'm such a bad mamma that I should
neglect my children?"

John laughed merrily. "Sometimes mothers like to show them off; that's
one way, you know. Minnie."

"Well, you're not a mother, so you can't judge," answered Minnie
saucily.

"Oh, that's it! Very well. But if you don't mind, I'll play 'father;'
and see if you don't find the tables are turned."

John shook his head so comically that Minnie hugged her new treasure
closer, and retired behind Agnes, who said:

"You may trust John, Minnie; he will not do you or Dolly any harm."

"But I don't like being teased," said Minnie, looking shy; "I'd a great
deal rather not, please John."

Just then Hugh came in, looking very fresh and nice, and the girls threw
on their shawls and went in next door, bonnetless for once.

As they all crowded up their grandmama's steps, John felt a twitch at
his coat, and Hugh's voice whispered:

"I'm awfully sorry now, John; and I'll promise."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIV.

_CHRISTMAS-DAY._


Though it was only three o'clock on this Christmas-day, the curtains of
their grandmother's pleasant drawing-room were drawn, the gas was
lighted, and everything was as bright and cosy as possible.

"Hurrah for Christmas!" said Hugh, sitting down on a stool at his aunt's
feet.

She smiled, glancing up at her three nieces in their soft, warm, white
dresses, so sweet and simple; their only ornament, a rosebud on a spray
of maidenhair, which John had procured for them at Covent Garden late
the evening before.

"Now, 'ain't they a pictur'?'" he asked, bending to kiss his
grandmother, though he had seen her once before that day, for he had run
in the first thing to wish her a happy Christmas.

Their grandmother looked as if she thought so.

"Are you very hungry, dears?" asked Aunt Phyllis.

"Not particularly," answered Agnes; "we had some biscuits when we came
home."

"Grandmama did not wish to dine before four, but I am afraid this will
seem a long hour to you."

"Oh, no," answered John, "we are not so famished as all that."

"I have brought down some old interesting books for you boys," said Mrs.
Headley, "and I want Agnes to help me with this piece of work."

She held up a roll of coarse canvas, only just begun, and asked Agnes to
spread it out on the hearthrug.

Hugh had to get up, which he did with a lazy groan, while the girls took
the different corners and held them down, Hugh taking a fourth, for the
canvas would roll up again.

"Grandmama, what a lordly piece of work," said Agnes; "it will be a long
task."

"Yes," answered Mrs. Headley; "but do you guess what it is?"

John, who was standing behind the rest, made them laugh by saying:

"I expect it's a mat for a flower vase."

"I expect nothing of the kind," said Hugh, bending down to examine it;
"but I shall not hazard an opinion till the rest have ventured to say."

Their grandmother looked amused. "Well?" she asked, turning to Alice.

"I should say it is a fender-stool."

"It is too coarse," suggested wise little Minnie.

"And much too wide," said John.

"Then I'll tell you," laughed Hugh; "for I believe I'm right."

"As usual," stuck in Alice mischievously.

"Oh, hush!" said Aunt Phyllis, looking up, "it is Christmas-day."

"I'm afraid Christmas-day is not a coat of steel mail, auntie," said
Hugh.

"Steel mail?" she asked, wondering at his serious tone.

"Doesn't make us quite invulnerable."

"No, no; nothing does that while we have such a traitor inside us; but
it does help us to have 'goodwill to men.'"

Hugh glanced at John--a glance which was noticed but not understood by
several there.

"But Hugh has not told us after all what he guesses about grandmama's
work," said Aunt Phyllis.

"It's a mat to put in front of your stand of flowers."

"You are nearest," said his grandmother, smiling, "but you are not quite
right."

"Then what is it, grandma?" asked Minnie.

"It is a worked hearthrug for your dear mother and father, which I hope
to get finished by the time they come home."

"Oh!" exclaimed Minnie, opening her eyes very wide, "will it ever get
done?"

"Yes; if I have health and strength," answered Mrs. Headley.

"I am sure they will like it very much," said Alice; "but what is Agnes
to help in?"

"Only to plan out the pattern at the corners for me."

"You can buy these things traced out," said Hugh, "for I've seen them
tied up by the corners in the fancy shops."

"You have not seen _these_ things," said his grandmother, "they are far
too old-fashioned to suit peoples' notions now-a-days."

"Well, if it's all like the piece you've done they haven't got good
taste, that's all I can say."

Mrs. Headley then told Agnes where her difficulty lay, and she and the
two boys were soon deep in the discussion of how the pattern was to be
"mitred" for the corner, the boys going down on their knees and showing
the greatest interest.

Aunt Phyllis stood looking on with a smile, happy in seeing four people
entirely happy, content to leave her advice out, if an hour should be
passed in peaceful occupation.

Minnie had turned to her beloved doll, and while the others were so busy
Alice condescended to draw near her, and was soon playing with it as
heartily as her little sister.

All were surprised when at four o'clock the dinner bell pealed forth,
and John exclaimed:

"Auntie, we've accomplished it! I really thought it never was going to
come."

"I'm 'going to come' down to dinner," said Hugh, "so help me roll it up,
John, for grandmama's awfully particular about her work, arn't you
grandma?"

Mrs. Headley nodded, well pleased with the compliment, and then John
gave his arm to his grandmother, and they all went down.

When dinner was over they returned to the drawing-room, and their aunt
produced some new games which she had been half over London to procure
for them.

They all gathered round the oval table, which stood in one corner, and
quickly took up the idea of the game, Aunt Phyllis making one of them.
Minnie was too young for what Hugh called its intricacies, and contented
herself with dividing her attention in a threefold manner between her
grandmother, her doll, and the cat.

After tea they sang together, and the girls played a duet which they had
practised for the occasion, finishing with some hymns in which all could
join.

"This has been a happy Christmas in spite of their being away," said
Alice, sighing deeply, as they stood round the fire before going home.

"And yet you sigh," said Hugh.

"Yes," answered Alice; "I do wish they were here, and I do wonder how
they are getting on; but all the same, I've had a happy day."

"That's right, my dear," said Aunt Phyllis; "I am sure your dear parents
would be glad to know it."

They stood soberly thinking for a few minutes. Agnes's eyes resting on
John's face with an earnest look.

"For some things I wish they could know," she said at last.

"So do I," said Alice; but Agnes noticed that John and Hugh said
nothing.

When they went home they found a fire in the dining-room, but Agnes
proposed they should go at once to bed.

"May I help you to lock up, instead of John?" asked Hugh.

Agnes looked surprised, but said "Yes," though she would much have
preferred her usual companion.

The rest wished good night, and went upstairs, and Agnes and Hugh turned
to the lower regions.

When they came back to the warm lighted room, and Hugh had turned out
the gas, he said hesitatingly.

"Agnes, I'm afraid you will be very angry with me, very upset about it,
but I never thought it was so wrong in me, or I am sure I should never
have done it."

"Done what, Hugh?" asked Agnes, trembling and trying to keep her voice
natural.

"I was out with Tom----"

"Yes, Hugh. Don't be afraid to say, dear; only do tell me quick."

"We were hungry, and we went in and had some lunch."

"Well?" she said, feeling as if her heart would stand still, in her fear
of she knew not what.

"I was thirsty, and Tom said ginger-beer was ridiculous on
Christmas-day, and he persuaded me----"

"To do what?" asked Agnes.

"To have a glass of beer," answered Hugh very low. "I saw no harm in it,
as I had not signed; but John is awfully mad with me, and I've come to
see that it was utterly horrid of me not to stand up against him."

"So long as you are sorry," said Agnes with a bitter sigh.

"Agnes, I am worse than sorry; I am dreadfully ashamed."

"Nay, dear," she answered, rousing herself and putting her hand round
him, "let it only draw you closer to Him who will forgive us if we ask."

"I felt I could not look anyone in the face. Ought I to have told them?"

"I hardly know. Oh, Hugh dear, it is not so much the drinking a glass of
beer. I would not wish to condemn anyone for doing that, if it were all
open and above board; though of course I have long ago made up my mind
about it. But I think where you feel wrong has been that you _felt_ you
were doing what father would disapprove, and you had not courage to
resist."

"Yes," said Hugh sorrowfully.

"So that is what you want to confess to Him, and ask to have pardoned?"

They were silent, looking into the fire.

"I thought you'd scold me awfully," he said at last.

"Did you?" asked Agnes; "you should go to somebody who has not sinned
herself if you want that."

"But you've never been tempted to go and take advantage of your parents'
being away, and do exactly as you knew they'd hate you to do."

"No," answered Agnes, "my temptations may not be the same as yours, and
yet I've just as much to be sorry for when I go to my Lord as you have."

"_Just_ as much?" asked Hugh, looking in her face, "do you mean that
really, Agnes."

"Yes, I do. I'm thankful every day of my life, that these words are
written: "Who forgiveth _all_ thine iniquities."

Hugh put his arms round her.

"Then you forgive me, Agnes?" he asked.

"All my share of it, dear. But----"

"Mother and father?"

"Oh, no, I was not thinking of them! I am sure they will----"

"I know what you mean," said Hugh very softly, "and I'll go to Him."

He left the room without another word, and Agnes had to do the rest of
her locking-up alone. Blinded with tears she went to every room, and
then ascended to her own chamber.

Alice and Minnie were in bed, and asleep.

She went and stood at the dressing-table, slowly unpinning her rose,
when her eye fell upon a Christmas card, which had been given her by
Hugh himself that very morning.

"_Jesus_: for He shall save His people from their sins."

She opened her door, crossed the landing, and tapped at Hugh's.

"Look here!" she said, handing it in, and bending to kiss him.

He looked at the words, then up in her face, and there was that in his
eyes which made Agnes say:

"Hugh! you've been to Him?"

And Hugh whispered an earnest "Yes."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XV.

_WHERE ONE PUDDING WENT._


Agnes was one of those girls who loved to be a true elder sister. Many a
time, when she sat down to tell a story, she would have preferred to
bury herself in an interesting book, or to go on with a piece of
painting, or delicate needlework; but by experience she had learned the
blessedness of giving rather than taking pleasure, and her restless
brothers interested for an hour, or Alice's and Minnie's hearts warmed
and stirred up by a story, was, in her estimation, something
accomplished for her Lord and Master.

So when the day after Christmas-day dawned, and found them all a little
out of sorts, with later hours, and more excitement than usual, she took
the opportunity to gather them together to hear the account of where the
puddings went, and how they were received.

John threw himself into an arm-chair with a yawn, Hugh stretched
himself on the sofa with his face downwards, while Alice and Minnie sat
on the hearthrug resting their heads against her knee.

Agnes was not offended at her brothers' positions, knowing that their
fatigued dulness meant no disrespect to her, and would soon change to
interest in her narration when once she began.

"Ahem!" said Hugh.

"Now don't, Hugh, I am going to begin; but I must have time to collect
my thoughts."

"I shall be asleep then," he answered. "Agnes, why do you choose such a
morning to tell us? we can't do justice to you."

For answer, Agnes only smiled and began.

       *       *       *       *       *

"'Bother the children, they are in my way from morning to night! Not a
bit of peace. And how I'm to do to-morrow I don't know any more than
nobody!'

"The words were spoken by a woman who looked inexpressibly worried and
tired. The room was small, the children were many, the fire was poor,
and the cold was severe. As she spoke she pushed one child into one
corner, another into another; she hustled a big clumsy boy away from the
little fire, and she swept down some poor little playthings off the
table on to the floor with a sharp rattle which betokened a breakage of
a toy, such as it was.

"A bitter cry from a little pale boy, to whom this small plate had
belonged, arrested the mother's attention for a moment, but only to add
to her exasperation.

"'Stop yer crying,' she exclaimed, 'or I'll stop yer!' and the little
fellow swallowed down his tears as best he might, and wiped the rest on
his sleeve, as he bent down to gather his little sticks together,
picking up the remains of his one doll's plate, which had enabled him to
have imaginary dinners and teas in his play for many a day.

"The children saw that they had better make themselves scarce, and
though a keen east wind and sleet raged outside on this Christmas-eve,
most of them turned out into the narrow street till tea should be ready.

"When, through the uncurtained window, they could see from their
mother's movements that they might venture in, they gladly once more
entered the little untidy room.

"Their mother had cut them each two slices of bread and dripping, and to
this they sat down with ravenous appetites. Alas! much too soon were the
pieces demolished, and the crumbs picked up off the comfortless bare
table.

"'Ain't there any more?' asked the elder boy.

"'No, there ain't,' said his mother sharply; all the more sharply that
she would have given anything to have been able to say yes instead of
no.

"The big boy looked disappointed enough, and shuffled his feet about
discontentedly.

"'What have yer got for dinner to-morrow?' he asked.

"'Usual fare,' said his mother; 'there ain't nothing but bread
now-a-days, and not too much of that.'

"An ominous silence brooded over the only half-satisfied children, and
the mother rocked the baby to and fro with a look on her face which was
both sad and hopeless.

"'Why don't we have something nice, even if father's work is short? When
it's plenty I should ha' thought we might ha' saved a bit,' grumbled the
eldest.

"'Save!' exclaimed the poor mother, 'why, if we've got it, you know ye
eat it, and if we ain't got it, we go without.'

"'Well, I don't like not having 'nuff to eat,' said the big boy vexedly.
'I brings home all I earns, and it ain't fair.'

"'And how much have you earned _this_ week?' asked his mother crossly.

"'Well, look at this weather, for yer,' answered he; 'how can us earn
when no one won't build at any price?'

"'Then shut up,' answered the tired mother, 'and wait for better times.'

"She rose, and prepared to put the baby to bed. The eldest little girl
washed up the few cups, while the boys began an undertoned game at
tickling each other, which soon resulted in laughter and subdued noise.
This brought down on them a sharp reprimand from their mother, and
finally a box on the ears all round.

"Somewhat quieted, but in no good humour, they retired into a corner,
and proceeded to cut up some pieces of wood which their brother's trade
supplied them with. They could muster but one knife between them, but a
boy cautiously crept to the cupboard and abstracted one belonging to the
housekeeping, the rest watching their mother's head lest she should
discover the act of disobedience; for such it was in this little home,
where a lost knife would be a serious misfortune.

"At last the baby was carried upstairs for the night, and the mother
descended with her hands free for the time.

"'Off to bed you go,' she said to the next three, who were crowding over
the little fire.

"There was no objection for once, but just as the little girl of ten
years old was taking the lamp to light them to bed a knock came at the
door and startled them all.

"The girl set down the light and opened the door.

"'Why if it ain't Miss Agnes Headley;' said the mother. 'Come in, miss,
do.'

"'No thank you, I have only come to bring you a little present for
Christmas, and I hope you will have a happy day,' said Miss Headley.

"The big boy jumped up in a moment, and took it from her, with a 'thank
ye, miss,' which meant a great deal; but Miss Headley did not wait, and
they closed the door from the bitter wind, while all crowded round the
table in anxious expectation.

"At the top of the parcel was an immense Christmas pudding, of a size to
satisfy the appetites of even that numerous party. On it was pinned a
paper with these words written: 'This pudding is cooked, but must be
boiled for an hour and a half to warm it through. The cloth is for you.'

"A shout of pleasure was forced from the delighted family as they viewed
their promised treat.

"Under the pudding, which had been wrapped up in a whole newspaper, lay
an old jacket, a comforter, a worn pair of trousers, and a frock for the
girl of ten. Last of all was a piece of stout paper on which someone
(Hugh Headley I think) had painted these words: 'Come unto Me, all ye
that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'

"On the back of this was written, 'Please pin this up on the wall for a
Christmas text.'

"The eldest boy produced two or three nails, and had put it over the
mantelshelf before they could say a word, and then, as the mother
reminded them the pudding would come all the sooner for going to bed,
they took her advice and disappeared, all but the big boy, who hung
behind to say, 'I'm mortal hungry, mother, I suppose you ain't got a
crust?'

"Half an hour before she would have answered 'no' hastily enough, but
there were tears in her eyes as she handed him the bit of bread which
was to have served for her supper, as she said:

"'I'm sorry, boy, it's all so short, but you know what yer boots cost
last week, and you can't have everything.'

"'Good-night, mother,' he said, stooping to give her a rough kiss; 'but
it _is_ hard to be hungry.'

"When the little door had closed upon her children the mother sat down
in a chair with her hands drooping in her lap. Then she wiped away the
unwonted tears as she looked round at the package on the table, and then
back at the bright text in front of her. It was that text which had
softened her heart, and made her cry. It was that text which had
suddenly reminded her of old days when she had thought more of these
things than she did now.

"'Come unto Me, all ye that are heavy laden.'

"The tired, worried, over-wrought mother buried her face in her hands.
Long she sat and wept.

"'I thought He had forgotten me,' she whispered. And then she rose up
and made the room ready for the father, repeating softly to herself all
the while, 'I will give you rest, I will give you rest.'

"After some time, much later than she had expected, the well-known
footstep was heard at the door.

"The mother knew before the father entered that the foot bore a more
cheerful sound than had been of late, and his words corroborated her
thought.

"'Well, wife, so here you are all alone! Why, so they're all gone to
roost!'

"To get the sooner to Christmas-day," answered the mother, her eyes
falling, as his did, on the table scattered over with the things they
had received.

"They needed very little explanation, and meanwhile the father was
fumbling in his pocket for something, which he now laid on the table by
his wife.

"'That's my share for to-morrow,' he said. 'I stayed out all these hours
on the chance of a job, and at last I got one. A gentleman couldn't get
a cab nohow, everything's engaged on this wet night, to say nought of
its being Christmas; so I carried his heavy portmanteau nigh on four
miles, and he gave me this half-crown. And now I want my supper, wife.'

"The mother rose quickly and stirred the little fire. Already the kettle
boiled, and the cup was set on the table with perhaps, unusual care. But
the fare was indeed scant--a piece of bread cut off for the father
before she had begun for the children and a bit of dripping. Meanwhile
she was hastily putting on bonnet and shawl.

"'Where to?' asked he, surprised; 'there ain't no hurry to get a bit of
meat. The butchers will be open for hours yet; so sit still for once.'

"'I shan't be a minute,' she said, and was gone before he could object.

"It was not much more ere she appeared again, bringing in her hand a
large loaf, and a herring which she immediately placed on the fire,
while she cut some fresh slices of the day-old bread, with a heart
filled with pleasure that she had it to give him.

"'I've been looking at yon words,' he said, 'and they seem to say to me
as we haven't thought so much of Him as we should, eh, old woman? We
couldn't have a better day nor to-morrow to begin, eh?'

"'I've begun to-night,' she said. 'I've forgot Him lately, but He ain't
forgot me!'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Alice looked up now, as Agnes finished her narration, and said
wonderingly, "I can't think how you know it, Agnes."

"I will not keep you in suspense then," she answered. "Mrs. Freeman came
round early on Christmas-day to thank us for the things, and in a few
simple words explained her despair and her comfort, and how the words,
'Come unto _Me_,' had put a new life before her, a life of rest and
peace, even in the midst of outward turmoil. Our little effort for her,
you see, did even more than we could have hoped."

"Have you any more stories?" asked Hugh.

"Not to-day. Minnie and I saw other things, but you will have to wait
for those till we have another opportunity."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVI.

_THE RAG CUSHION._


"Well, Agnes?" said John, one sombre afternoon soon after Christmas, as
the brothers and sisters gathered round the fire with a heap of nuts
each, which they intended to enjoy.

"Well?" echoed Agnes.

"Now for the stories of the other puddings."

"Oh, very well," said Agnes; "to resume, then."

       *       *       *       *       *

"After we had left Mrs. Freeman's door, Minnie and I went a little
further up the street. We were not sorry, I assure you, to get rid of
our first heavy parcel, for our arms ached with it. At last, in the
wind, and rain, and darkness, we found the house where Mrs. Hales has
her home. This, you must know, consists of one little stuffy room on the
second floor.

"We groped our way up the dark staircase, and, after some fumbling, we
found the door of the back room and knocked at it.

"A feeble voice bade us 'Come in,' and we found ourselves in the
presence of the dear old woman.

"'Well, my dear,' she said, holding out her thin hand, 'so you've come,
like a Christmas blessing, to see me.'

"We sat down by her, Minnie holding the parcel in her lap. I was quite
used, as you know, to her ways, so let her take her own plan, as on
other days. She was seated in a high-backed chair, with an old shawl
tucked behind her head as a support, and her feet resting on a small
wooden box in front of the very tiniest fire you ever did see.

"She seemed very silent after the first greeting; so, as Minnie was most
impatient to open our package, I asked her if she felt equal to looking
at what we had brought for her.

"She assented, and Minnie's little eager fingers soon untied the
strings, and presented your bright cushion, John and Hugh.

"Her poor pale face smiled when she saw it, and she asked me to draw out
the old shawl, and replace it by the cushion.

"'And now the shawl will do for my knees,' she said, 'which do feel the
cold very much.'

"'And here is a little Christmas pudding for you, and a tin of groats,
and a trifle to buy some coals with, and a text.'

"'My dear,' she said, 'you are very loving, and the Lord is very
loving, and He has sent me just what I wanted most, and that's the way
with the Lord, my dear. He knows about us--just all about us. He knows
my head has been weary enough without a cushion; He knows my knees have
been cold; He knows I wanted some gruel; and when He brings me near
enough to Him to say from my heart--truly, my dear, from my very
heart--"Dear Lord, I'm willing to wait Thy time, Thou knowest best for
me"--then, my dear, He lovingly sends you round (you don't mind my
saying _He_ sent you, my dear) with just the very things of all others I
wanted. He's a _dear_ Lord.'

"There were tears on her wrinkled cheeks as she laid her hand on
Minnie's little one, which rested on her knee.

"'Here's the text,' said Minnie, holding up the one you painted for her,
John.

"'My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by
Christ Jesus.'

"'Ah, my dear,' she continued, 'and it isn't only our needs for this
world. We are very apt to think, all of us, that it means food, and
clothes, and fire; but it don't, my dear--not only that--it's that He
supplies _everything_--He supplies grace to bear, patience to wait,
faith to trust, and hope to look forward to the time when we shall be
with Him for ever.'

"She looked up now, beyond the walls of the little room, beyond the
dingy paper, on to the everlasting Home which is coming to all who wait
for Him.

"When she brought her mind back, as it were, from these thoughts, I
asked her if she could bear two or three nails driven in somewhere. She
looked a little surprised, but I produced Hugh's little hammer, and soon
had put her text where she could see it without turning her poor head.
Then I drew forth from the bottom of the parcel the unworn end of our
old wool door-mat, and with her permission nailed it securely to the top
of her wooden footstool, and when we had seen her with great
satisfaction place her feet upon it again, we left her, while we
retraced our steps homewards, the Christmas bells ringing in my ears all
the way with these words borne upon them, 'My God shall supply all your
need--all your need--all your need.'"

"Who thought of the piece of old mat for her stool?" asked Hugh.

"I think I did," said Agnes. "I was reading to her one day, when I
noticed how thin her shoes were, and how comfortless the old box looked.
But she never repines; though she has only that little miserable room,
which she never leaves, she says not a word, but is always full of
thanksgiving for her many mercies."

"I believe the less people have the more grateful they are," said Alice.

"I don't see that at all!" exclaimed Hugh. While Agnes said:

"Oh, no! that isn't it, Alice. But sometimes, when people lose all
earthly possessions, they are brought to seek that great heavenly
possession which makes up for every other loss. That's what it is."

"Then the humdrum people who are just comfortable don't get such a good
chance as the poor ones, according to you, Agnes," Hugh observed.

She shook her head, smiling. "Sometimes they have to lose something they
value very much before they can be brought to receive the great
possession."

"What sort of thing?" asked Hugh quickly.

"I do not know," answered Agnes thoughtfully. "Each one of us values
some one thing more than another; and if we love it better than Him, it
will have to go."

"But what, Agnes? Can't you say the kind of things?"

"Our own way sometimes," she answered slowly, "that's often hardest of
all; at least to some people."

"Yes," said Hugh, laughing a little; "some of us always do think we know
best."

At this moment a diversion occurred.

"You're wanted in the drawing-room, Master Hugh," said the maid;
"there's the same young gentleman that came on Christmas-day, and his
sister."

Hugh turned very red, and was hastening away, when he came back to say,
"Agnes, come and help a fellow, will you?"

Agnes followed him upstairs, wondering what they had come for.

"Good afternoon, Miss Headley," said the young lady, bending, but not
offering her hand. "My brother asked me to come and intercede with you
to allow your young people to join our little party next week?"

"I?" echoed Agnes, surprised. "I really did not know they were asked.
Hugh, did you forget to tell me?"

Agnes felt uncomfortable, and wished Hugh had explained before they came
up.

"Well, no," answered Hugh; "I told Tom we couldn't come."

"He said," answered Miss Radnor, "that he was sure his sister would not
approve."

"It would have been better for Hugh to have asked me," answered Agnes;
"but now will you kindly tell me what it is you wish?"

Miss Radnor looked as if it were all a great bore, but answered
politely:

"Tom has set his heart on having Hugh and his two younger sisters to his
party next week. Will you allow them to come? I believe they are to
refer to you, as their parents are away."

"Thank you very much," said Agnes, hesitating a little, "you are very
kind, but I believe my father would prefer our declining."

"But why?" asked the girl; "I really cannot take no for an answer."

"I should not feel at liberty to make any fresh acquaintances while our
parents are away."

"How ridiculous! How can a schoolfellow be a fresh acquaintance?"

"I am sorry to seem discourteous," said Agnes gently; "but I know my
parents' feelings on these subjects, and must beg you to excuse us till
their return."

"Oh, just as you like, _of course_," said the girl, rising; "I don't
think we should have done your charge any harm."

"I am sure you would not mean to," answered Agnes gravely--so gravely
that Miss Radnor flushed angrily.

"Are we such undesirable acquaintances?"

"I did not mean that," answered Agnes, raising her eyes steadily, "but
it is so difficult in these days to keep in the path----"

"What path?" she asked impatiently.

"The narrow path that leadeth to Life," Agnes answered very low. "Do not
be vexed with me, we are strangers, and may never meet again; but we do
want to keep in that, cost what it may."

Miss Radnor laughed haughtily. "I had no idea you were so religious!"
she exclaimed. "I beg your pardon for coming; good-day."

With that she swept out of the room, followed by Tom, who only gave Hugh
a passing grimace, which Hugh was at a loss to interpret. Did it mean
sympathy with him, or with his sister?

"Hugh," said Agnes, "you should have told me."

"I never thought there would be another word. What a hateful girl,
Agnes."

"I do not suppose she is; though I can't say I admired her."

"She looked round on all our things as though they were dirt!"

"Nonsense. But I daresay she is richer than we are."

"Oceans! They have twice as big a house."

"And half as big hearts perhaps," laughed Agnes. "Oh, Hugh, I pity that
poor Tom."

"So do I, now I see what sort of a sister he's got. But he doesn't think
her bad; he told me she was 'a stunner.'"

"I daresay. Well dear, are you satisfied with what I said? I wish I had
said it better."

Hugh kissed her. "I couldn't have had half the courage you had," he
answered; "and they'll be all the better for it some day, depend upon
it. Don't look downhearted, you're a dear old girl."

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVII.

_THE LAST PUDDING._


Agnes and her brothers and sisters ran down the steps of their London
home, one frosty morning towards the end of the holidays, and turned
their steps toward Regent's Park. While the roar of omnibuses was for
ever in their ears there could be little talking, but when they began to
find quieter streets they gathered close to Agnes, begging for "a
story." This was a usual custom with them, and Agnes quickly responded
by beginning cheerfully:

"Oh, yes, you have never had the account of our other visit on
Christmas-eve; so I must begin where I left off last time."

       *       *       *       *       *

"When Minnie and I reached home, with the bells ringing the refrain of
peace and contentment, we just came in to warm our fingers, and then
started forth again on our last errand. This time our parcel was even
heavier than before, and we were very glad when we reached the house to
which our steps were bound.

"House it was not, being just a large room over a stable, where, as you
know, Martha, our former housemaid, lives, since she married Jim, the
cabman.

"We picked our way as well as we could over the stones, slippery and wet
with mud, and at last came to the door leading to the staircase which
runs up by the side of the coach-house. We found it ajar, and as the
bell was broken we made our way up in the darkness. All was pitchy
black, but a baby wailing above told us there must be somebody within.
We found the door of the room at the top, and knocked. A voice, sharp
and quick, which I should hardly have known for Martha's soft one,
answered, 'What do you want?' and on this invitation we entered.

"No light was in the room, but the gas-lamp of the yard shed flickering
and uncertain gleams through the window into the barest and untidiest of
chambers.

"We could see, as our eyes became used to the dim light, that Martha was
seated near the empty grate, holding the baby in her lap, while three
little mites were huddled up against her knees on the floor.

"Desolate indeed everything seemed.

"'Why, Martha,' said I, 'are you all in the dark? Shall I find a light
for you?'

"'Is it you, Miss Agnes?' said Martha, in somewhat of her old tone of
respect. 'I beg your pardon, miss, but I'm that harassed with all my
troubles, that I don't rightly know what I'm doing.'

"'What is it?' asked I, advancing. 'What has come to you?'

"'Everything bad,' she moaned, in the saddest of tones. 'You know I
would marry Jim, though Mrs. Headley told me he was not a steady man,
and too soon I've found her words true; we've been going on from bad to
worse, till one by one all my nice clothes went, then our bits of
furniture, and now we haven't a morsel to eat, nor a scrap of fire, nor
an end of candle!'

"Too utterly miserable to hide her woe under her usual mask of reserve,
and encouraged by the darkness, she continued in a voice husky and dry
with suppressed grief:

"'And it's all through drink! He used to be kind to me; but that's long
past. Then, when he missed the things in the house, he used to ask
angrily for them, and when I told him we couldn't starve, and if he
spent the money on drink we couldn't have food, then he'd up and beat
me.'

"'Oh, hush!' I whispered, 'don't let the little ones hear you say so.'

"'I don't care,' she answered, 'they've seen it often enough, and nothing
matters now; here's my baby, my only boy, dying of hunger!'

"I had sat hitherto spell-bound by her words, but now I started to my
feet. 'Dying!' I said, 'What can I get quickest?'

"'Nought'll save him now,' she said, without a shade of hope in her
voice; 'but if you can get him a drop of milk, it would ease me to think
he hadn't died hungry.'

"There was a sob now in her tearless voice; but not stopping to say a
word, I hastily found the door, and descended the steps.

"You may be sure it was not long before I had got a little milk in a can
from a neighbouring shop, and a bit of candle which the woman lent me at
my earnest request, and I ran back with them as fast as my feet could
carry me.

"Happily a match was forthcoming, and the milk was soon put to the
baby's lips. He was about eight months old, but was shrunken up to skin
and bone. He took with great difficulty a little of the milk, and then
nestled again against his mother.

"'Why didn't you tell us?' I asked, forced to say the words.

"'I couldn't; there, I couldn't, miss. I've never begged yet, and I
can't begin. I can die, and they can die, but I can't beg.'

"'Oh dear, Martha!' I said, my voice choked with tears, 'if we'd only
known!'

"She wept now, hanging her head over the baby with despairing sobs.

"'But aren't you all hungry?' I said suddenly.

"She nodded her head.

"Again I flew out, leaving poor little scared Minnie sitting there; and
hurrying off to a baker's, bought a stale loaf, and hastened back,
ordering on my way a little coal and wood.

"In a few minutes Minnie and I had drawn the shivering little mites from
their mother's knees, and had set them near the fireplace, in which I
hoped there would soon be a blaze, and had given them some slices of
bread, while I handed a piece to poor broken-hearted Martha.

"Then the coals came lumbering up the stairs, and, thanks to mother's
teaching, Minnie and I quickly built up a warm little fire, and we had
time to look round. Then our eyes fell on the parcel. We opened it with
all speed, and arrayed the little cold mortals in the old clothes we had
brought, and when the pudding was laid aside for another time, I drew
out our third text, that it too might carry its message to these sad
hearts: 'Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was
rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty
might be rich.'

"'Rich!' said Martha, with a hoarse laugh, reading the words in spite of
herself with her dim eyes, as I pinned them up, 'it's little riches I
shall ever see!'

"'But what about the baby? If he should die now, will he be poor then,
do you think?' I asked softly.

"She moaned as she hugged him tighter. 'I love him more than anything in
this world, or out of it,' she exclaimed.

"'And perhaps--oh, Martha, I don't know--but perhaps God loved you too
well to let you. You would rather be rich with him there, some day, for
ever, than just keep him a little while here?'

"She shook her head; but while she rocked him in her arms, her eyes were
fastened on the paper before her, and her pale lips repeated, 'He became
poor, He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.'

"We stopped a little while longer, till we had seen the poor little
dears cuddled together asleep under their mother's only remaining shawl,
and with a promise of sending round the first thing in the morning, and
that I thought I knew of some work which I might get for her, Minnie and
I came away, too sad at heart to say a word to each other."

       *       *       *       *       *

"But when I laid down that night in our warm snug bed, Minnie, who was
awake, whispered to me softly, 'It was kind of Him to become poor for
us, Agnes, wasn't it? For what comfort could we give her if He hadn't?'

"And I thought so too, and could not but thank Him over again before I
slept for His love in taking our flesh and bearing our sorrows, that we
might some day share His glory."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVIII.

_NEW YEAR'S EVE._


"I call it extremely selfish of you and John to have had this secret all
this time, and never to have told us," said Hugh, on the morning before
New Year's Day, as they all sat at breakfast.

Agnes looked up over the "cosy," a surprised hurt look overshadowing the
brightness of her face.

"You do not _really_ think it unkind, Hugh?" she asked; "you are only
trying to tease me."

"I'm not joking at all," answered Hugh, dropping his eyes so as not to
meet her beseeching ones. "For you and John to have kept this to
yourself all this time is exceedingly selfish."

"Why, _I_ didn't know," said Minnie.

"Nor I," said Alice.

"That's different!" exclaimed Hugh hastily; "you're _girls_; but I'm
only two years younger than John, and I don't see any reason why you
should not have told me."

"There was no reason," said Agnes gently, "except just this: Mother
thought that it would be a little pleasure for New Year's Eve, and a
secret that is told to everyone is no secret."

"But I might have been told; I should not have let it out like a girl."

"I dare say," said Alice, her eyes sparkling with displeasure; "and so
because we are girls we are not to be trusted with anything, while
because you are boys--for no other reason--you----"

She paused, Agnes's face stopped her, and then her eyes turned to
John's, and she noticed that his were fixed earnestly on the text, which
was just touched by the morning sunshine, as it crept silently along the
wall--

    "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

"Oh, John," she said softly; "I quite forgot."

And then they all noticed that John had not forgotten.

At Hugh's first angry word, just as he was turning to answer, the light
on the text caught his attention, and his promise to Agnes flashed
across him; his promise that while their parents were away he would try
with might and main to refrain from quarrelling with his brother.

There was a few moments' silence, while each of the five assembled there
had time to remember their resolves, and to ask for strength to keep
them.

At last Alice spoke. "Do you mind telling us. Agnes, what you are going
to do then?"

"Well, you know my morning Sunday-school class that I have given up to
another teacher while mother is away?"

Alice nodded.

"Mother thought it would be nice if we asked them to tea to-day, and
hoped it would keep them together better; and then John and I have been
devising how we could please them."

"Did you think of a Christmas-tree?" asked Hugh eagerly.

Agnes shook her head. "It was of no use thinking of it; we hadn't money
enough. No, we thought of games; only the boys are apt to get rough, and
without mother and father it seemed a great undertaking."

"So it is," said Alice; "for don't you remember what a dreadful noise
they made one year when we had them?"

"Yes," answered John; "so, as I was passing along the Strand the day
after father went to America, I noticed 'magic-lanterns for school
treats,' posted up very large in a window, and it gave me the idea of
using mine for our little treat, and hiring a few more slides to make it
last longer."

"Yes, we haven't so very many slides," said Minnie, considering.

"Pretty well," answered John; "but at anyrate two dozen more will be an
advantage."

"And after the magic-lantern is over?" asked Alice.

"Agnes is going to talk to them, or tell them a story, and after that
they'll have an orange."

"Oh!" said Minnie, "I shall like that."

"Which," asked Hugh, "the 'talk,' or the 'story,' or the 'orange'?"

Minnie blushed, but after the late little breeze determined not to be
vexed, and answered, "You know perfectly well what I meant, Hugh; so
it's no good trying to make out anything else."

"Do you want me to do anything to-day. Agnes?" asked Alice.

"Of course I do," exclaimed Agnes; "I have a perfect list of things to
be done. Cakes to be made by Alice; room to be got ready by Hugh; chairs
brought from everywhere, seats devised, flowers arranged--there, I can't
tell you all till we are in it."

"And is there anything for me to do?" asked Minnie, getting up and
coming round to lean against her sister's shoulder.

"Yes, I want you to be willing to run messages all day long, and never
to mind how often Alice sends you upstairs, or Hugh sends you
downstairs, but to have feet of love for to-day."

"All right," said Minnie.

"And then for pleasant things, between whiles, you shall go to buy the
oranges, and some buns, and some gingerbread nuts, and so on, and we'll
have I hope as happy a day as any since they went away."

As Agnes turned at the door to give a parting direction, Hugh put his
arm round her and said humbly:

"I'm awfully sorry I was so stupid, Agnes--so wrong--but I'm for ever
forgetting."

And Agnes said, "I'm sorry too, Hugh, that we made a secret of it, for I
see now it would have been nicer for you to have known; but I didn't
mean to be unkind."

After that they worked on happily together all the morning, though Hugh
felt a twinge whenever any one remarked, as Minnie and Alice were apt to
do all day, "How funny it seems not to have known."

"It's the last secret I'll have, John, that I can help," said Agnes to
him when they were left alone for a few minutes, and were busy pinning
up the sheet.

"Yes," answered John, reaching down from the top of the steps, where he
was astride, and taking the corner from her outstretched arm, "Yes,
Agnes. I don't believe in secrets."

"Nor I," answered Agnes, "I have seen it before, and it will this time
be a lesson to me."

"But we didn't quarrel over it, exactly."

"Oh, no; but we might have if you had not remembered in time. I do not
mean that I defend Hugh for being so cross over it, but I see once more
that nobody likes to have things kept and then given all of a heap."

"You are very lucid."

"Well," she answered, laughing and blushing. "I remember on my
seventeenth birthday you all thought it would be nice to give me my
presents at tea, and so they were kept all day, and it was a wretched
birthday."

John was descending the ladder. "I never knew that," he said.

"Oh, it is not worth remembering," said Agnes; "I only thought of it as
an illustration. It was not that I cared so much about the presents, you
know, John, it was because everything seemed incomplete. After all I had
a much better present than I ever dreamed of, for father gave me my dear
little watch."

"I see what you mean," said John. "Now, Agnes, for the other end; that
hangs very straight, doesn't it?"

"Nicely. This long curtain-pole is a fine idea for magic-lantern
exhibitions."

"Yes, I am glad you thought of it. Agnes, how do you like being left to
ourselves?"

"Not at all," answered Agnes decidedly.

"Are we better or worse than you expected?"

"I am worse--you are better," she answered, laughing a little; but it
was as near a sob as a laugh.

"How?" asked John earnestly.

"Well, I mean that in one way, and not in another. I think I expected we
should all be more perfect than we are."

"You did not expect me to break my promise, for instance?" asked John
gravely.

"I hardly think you did. Oh no, John, you have been better in every way
than I could have hoped, and _I_ have been worse!"

"I don't see it," he answered fondly.

"But I do; I trusted in myself too much."

"We all do. Agnes, I'm inclined to think this being left to ourselves
will turn out for our good."

"I am sure I hope so."

"Don't be desponding. Look at Hugh! Who ever heard him acknowledge
himself in the wrong before? and yet just now, you know what he said to
you? He would not have done that a month ago."

Agnes looked up. "Do you think so?" she said. "Oh, John, what a
comforter you are."

"Then cheer up. Are you not doing what He would have you to do?"

"I try to."

"Then thank Him," said her brother cheerfully, "and take courage."

All was in readiness by the hour fixed for the arrival of their little
guests, and very punctually to it, in fact a quarter of an hour before
five o'clock. Minnie, who was always the one to watch at the window,
announced that two of them were loitering about outside.

"How cold they'll be," she said pitifully.

"Not they," said Hugh.

"I should be," answered Minnie.

"Oh, _you_! but these poor little mites are used to be in the streets
all day."

"So they are. But I wonder if Agnes will let me bring them in?"

"Not yet," answered John, who came in at that moment, "wait till it
strikes five; as Hugh says, they are used to it."

Before the hand was on the hour, twelve or fourteen children crowded up
the steps, and one of them, the boldest of the party, ventured to give a
single 'dab' at the door, which brought Hugh to open it; and then began
the disrobing, which orderly John had promised to superintend.

They were ushered into the dining-room, where tea was laid all ready,
and it did not take them long to sit down and begin.

After all were satisfied, the table was pushed back into a corner, and
in a few moments John and Hugh packed the children round the room so
that all could see well, Minnie squeezing herself into a little corner
by the sheet, where she would not have at all a good view, remarking,
"Of course it does not matter a bit about _me_."

John smiled, but did not see where he could put her better, and, after
all, was it not her little offering of love to her Master?

When it was all over, and the views had been seen, and the story told,
and the oranges eaten, and the happy children gone, Hugh said:

"I _have_ enjoyed it."

"So did everyone, I think," remarked Alice.

"In spite of its having been a secret," he went on, smiling; "but
another time (though I oughtn't to have been cross over it), if you want
to give a fellow pleasure, don't surprise him."

"We will not," said Agnes, glad to see the twinkle in Hugh's eye.

And then tired-out they hastily ate some supper and hurried off to bed,
too fatigued to fulfil their intention of sitting up to see the year
out.

"I'll set the alarum and wake you all," said John.

So the alarum was set, and they went to bed in peaceful anticipations of
waking just in time.

By-and-by it went off with a peal which always startled him in spite of
his determination, and out John sprang and struck a match.

"Hugh, get up," he called, "it is ten minutes to--why it is ten minutes
_past_ twelve, and no good at all!"

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIX.

_WORRIED._


"Agnes, my child, being left in charge does not agree with you."

"Why, auntie?"

"Your mother will find but a shadow of the rosy girl she left behind
her."

Agnes sighed, and then got up and looked in the glass.

"I do not see that I am different," she said, after a moment's
contemplation.

"No, I daresay you would not notice it in yourself from day to day. But
you have nothing special to trouble you, my dear, I hope?"

"Not at all, auntie. But I had no idea the anxiety of a family would be
so great."

Aunt Phyllis smiled a sweet placid smile, which proceeded from a heart
at rest after storms.

"You ought not to be carrying your own burdens though, dear child," she
said softly.

Agnes had seated herself at her aunt's feet, on the wide stool which
the children said was made on purpose for them to share, and now looked
up in her aunt's face with tearful eyes.

"No," she said; "that is often what grieves me. I am afraid, auntie, I
thought I should be _sure_ to get on, and trusted in my own cleverness
too much, and then when difficulties come I get downhearted."

"And do you try the remedy of taking everything to your Lord directly it
comes?"

"Yes; but things are so difficult to decide, and I am so disappointed in
myself."

"You thought you were so much stronger than you find yourself?"

"Yes; and John looks up to me, and I hoped I should be a help to him;
and instead I've done nothing but find out that I'm no good at all."

"I suppose you are rather tired of gazing in the looking-glass, then?"
said Aunt Phyllis quaintly.

"Auntie?"

"I'd look towards the sky next, if I were you!" she added, smiling, as
she got up to go and fetch some work.

Agnes was left alone; and she glanced first in the fire, and then at the
mirror above her head, and then her eyes wandered to the window.

"I see!" she exclaimed, a light breaking over her downcast face; "I'm to
look off to Jesus; that's what auntie means!"

That morning Agnes had passed through some of those little difficulties
which so often arise in daily life.

First the housemaid had accosted her with the ominous words, "Please,
miss, could I speak to you?" and had thereupon given her a month's
notice.

On her pressing for a reason the maid had said, with many blushes, that
she was intending to be married directly her time was up.

"But can you not wait till mother comes home?" pleaded Agnes. "I trust
she will be home in March; that would be only another month. Could you
not arrange it so?"

But the girl persisted that she could not alter; and so Agnes had had
reluctantly to make up her mind to a fresh responsibility, and
determined to consult her Aunt Phyllis on the subject.

And while her mind was perturbed with the annoyance of having to install
another servant in her mother's absence, came another small trouble.

Alice sauntered into the room with a book in her hand, and sat down on
the hearthrug close to the fire.

"Alice dear," said Agnes looking up, "have you cleaned the bird's cage?
It is the day for fresh sand."

"I did it yesterday," answered Alice absently, bending over her book.

"I think not," answered Agnes, "in fact I am sure of it; because, don't
you remember, we all went out with Aunt Phyllis the moment after
breakfast?"

"Then it was the day before."

"So it may have been; but mother likes new sand put every other day,
without fail."

"I'll see to it presently," said Alice, a little frown just settling
itself on her brows.

Agnes made no further remark, though she felt ruffled, and was sure
Alice would forget after all.

Then John came in. "Agnes, Hugh and I want a fire in our room. As it's
the last day of the holidays, we are going to have our long-deferred
turn-out."

"Very well; but, John, don't you toss everything out on the landing for
me to clear up."

"Is it likely?" asked he, surprised.

Agnes did not feel as if she could look up brightly in answer, so she
turned to her desk and began to search for something.

"Lost something?" asked John, bending down and looking in her face.

"I don't know," she answered, detecting a significance in his kindly
tone.

He kissed her and went off, and then Hugh walked in.

"Agnes, I want to know if you could find John and me a curtain to
stretch across our large room?"

"Whatever for?"

"To divide it. John likes a place to himself; we want to make it into
two rooms. It has two windows, and so we are going to make ourselves
cosy."

"Oh, Hugh, I do not know of any curtain; I really think it will have to
wait till mother comes."

"But we wanted to do it to-day. Don't you think you know of anything?"

She shook her head.

"Not an old table-cloth, or a couple of done-with window curtains?"

"I do not know in the least, and I should not like to search in mother's
stores."

"She wouldn't mind."

"She might. Oh, Hugh dear, it must wait."

"Very well," answered Hugh, looking disappointed.

"Did John tell you to ask?" said Agnes.

"No, not exactly; he said he wished you could, but he was afraid it was
too much bother."

"I am afraid I can't manage it," she answered regretfully.

All this time Alice's eyes had been raised from her book, as she was
interested in the discussion, but as Hugh was turning to leave the room
she took up her book again.

"I should think Alice would be glad to begin lessons," he observed,
stopping short with his hand on the door.

There was a mischievous look in his eyes.

"I shall not," answered Alice.

"When are you to begin?"

"I don't know."

"To-morrow," answered Agnes.

"To-morrow?" echoed Alice; "I thought we should have holiday till they
came back."

"What, nearly two months more to roast over the fire and read novels!"
laughed Hugh.

"I don't read novels."

"Stories then."

"And I don't roast over the fire."

"What do you call this?" he asked, advancing to her and passing his hand
down her shoulder. "My eye, Alice, you are next door to on fire!"

"I'm not! I wish you wouldn't come bothering. Hugh."

Having lodged his bombshell he departed, leaving Alice writhing under
the certainty that now "beginning lessons" was put into Agnes's head
nothing would get it out again.

"I am going in to Aunt Phyllis," said her sister, getting up and putting
away her desk.

"I shall come too then," said Alice.

"Do not come just yet, dear, I want to talk to auntie."

"You're always talking to auntie, I think," grumbled Alice.

"_Always?_" asked Agnes, feeling as if that were the last worry, and she
could not bear more.

"Well, not always; but, Agnes, I hope you will not let her persuade you
to begin school with Minnie and me to-morrow because----"

"Well?" asked Agnes.


"I don't know exactly why, but it's horrid if you do, because I haven't
had half enough time; and I never _thought_ we should begin when the
boys did."

"I never thought anything else," answered Agnes; and then she had gone
in next door with a sense of utter failure.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so Aunt Phyllis was right when she advised her to raise her eyes
heavenward.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XX.

_A SURPRISE._


"I say, John, 'this 'ere' is rather tiring; and when we've done there
will be nothing to show for it."

"Only our possessions will be in order, and we shall start straight for
the next term."

"I don't know about that. Look at my possessions, and see if you call
that 'straight'?"

John picked his way over the drawers and boxes scattered everywhere, and
surveyed his brother's treasures. There they were, lying in a
heap--clothes, collars, neckties, papers, nails, string, knives, corks,
ships, balls, fishing tackle, all mixed up pell-mell.

"Is that your idea of tidying?" he asked.

"Yes; put 'em all together, and then you know what you have to do, and
can act accordingly."

"I should think so! Act! all I can say is, I'd rather it was you than
me."

"How do you do it then?" asked Hugh hopelessly, watching his brother
step back to his own precincts.

"I take out one thing after another, and put those I want on the
bed--so, and tear up and burn what I don't want."

"And a nice smell you make!" said Hugh, laughing.

"Eh? oh, well, that's what a fire's for, to air the room."

"With a vengeance. I wish Agnes could have found us a large rag of some
sort."

"You'd have been for ever playing pranks behind it, and peeping through
the holes of your 'rag;' I'm not sorry on the whole she could not."

"I shouldn't have. However, that's neither here nor there. I'm going up
to the attics to find my hammer; I believe Agnes has put it away
tidily."

He went off, and presently John heard him shouting for him to come up.

"What do you want?" he called in answer.

"You."

"What for?"

"A find; a grand idea."

John went up, expecting a hoax, but yet reassured by the earnestness of
Hugh's tone.

"Look here," exclaimed a voice from the depths of a small attic where
only a few boxes were kept, "if you don't think I've lighted on a
splendid plan. Here's a room for you all ready, and we've nothing to do
but carry up the bed, and there you are."

By this time John stood in the low doorway of the little room, and
looked round.

His mind quickly placed a little furniture round it, and hung his
pictures and text on its bare walls, and in a few moments it became his
own little room, full of his own things.

"Or I could have it," broke in Hugh's voice.

"Oh, no," answered John hastily, "I should like it very much. But what
will Agnes say?"

"_She_ won't mind so long as we do no mischief. Let's surprise her."

John looked dubious.

"It can't be any harm," said Hugh.

"I'll just go and tell her," answered John.

He ran down. "Where's Agnes?" he asked of Alice, who was still reading.

"In next door," said Alice, "at least she was, but I believe I saw her
go along with grandmama just now."

"When will she be home?"

"I don't know."

"I say, Alice, you'll make yourself ill so near the fire. Where's
Minnie?"

"She went in after Agnes."

John withdrew, and returned to Hugh.

"She's out, Hugh," he said.

"That's all right then. We'll have a jolly time, and get it done to
surprise her."

"But what about your grand heap?"

"Stuff them in again; they can't be worse than they were."

"I wonder if we ought to sort them out first?" said John, considering.

"I'm not going to; that would be no fun at all."

John yielded for a moment, then he paused.

"Hugh, Agnes would be right down vexed with us, and we should deserve
it. I won't do a stroke till we've cleared this."

Hugh made a face; but when John's voice took _that_ tone it was of no
use objecting, so they sorted out and put up as quickly as they could,
Hugh privately shirking any idea of thoroughness, till about twelve
o'clock order once more reigned, and the boys' spirits began to rise.

"I say," remarked John, surveying his new domain, "I wish I'd asked Jane
to clean this while we were putting up, it looks mighty dusty and
queer."

"Well, we can't now," said Hugh.

"No, I daresay it would take ages."

"I can sweep it," said Hugh; "but that would be a hindrance; let's get
in the things and they'll cover up the dirt."

"Nice that!" remarked John; "but as it is not _your_ room it won't
matter."

"No," assented Hugh; "and if it were, I should not care particularly.
Now, John, what is the first thing to do?"

"Bring up the chest of drawers."

"That's my chest of drawers. You don't mean to say----"

"Well, what am I to do?" said John, pausing in this first difficulty;
"you can't suppose I can go without a chest of drawers."

"No; I don't see that you can; but, then, no more can I."

"That's unanswerable; but as there's only one, what's to be done?"

"_I_ can have it," answered Hugh slyly; "it belongs to my room!"

As his brother did not immediately reply, Hugh saw he had gained an
advantage.

"Here's a go," said John, looking round in dismay. "Now I shouldn't
wonder if you didn't claim the washstand too."

"Then I _will_ claim it," said Hugh with a wink.

And sure enough Hugh kept the washstand.

"Well, I've got my own bed," said John; "you can't take that from under
me."

Decidedly with lowered spirits he descended to see about the bedstead,
unforeseen difficulties in the direction of Agnes looming before him;
but the delight of planning how it was to go through the door whole,
turned off his thoughts.

At last the actual moment arrived. The clothes and mattresses were
heaped on Hugh's bed, and they began wheeling it about in fine style.

It was just too wide to go through the door, but the boys did not take
long to turn it on its side. They had succeeded in almost clearing the
back and tallest end, when the banisters proved an insuperable barrier
to further progress.

"We must take it down," said John.

"I'm stuck. I say, John, did you ever happen to mistake your fingers for
the painted legs?"

"Not that I know of. Look, what a precious mark you've made on the door
that side."

"Where?"

"There! just where you say your fingers grazed it."

"It'll come off," said Hugh, applying his pocket-handkerchief, having
first conveyed it to his tongue; but it didn't, and Hugh shrugged his
shoulders.

"Lesson No. 1. Don't knock your fingers," he said.

"Lesson No. 2," remarked John. "Do you know how to take down these
precious things?"

"Lesson No. 3. Shall learn."

"Then do go up and get us a screw-driver; if this comes to grief I shall
tell Agnes it was all you."

"You seem afraid of Agnes," laughed Hugh.

"Not at all. But you know we are 'on the spree;' and I don't want to do
what she would not like, which would be no spree."

The screw-driver was found, and then they began in earnest; but before
long the bumps and scrapes brought Jane up from below.

"Now, master John, are you gone mad?" she asked.

"Don't you say a syllable, Jane, or I'll skin you," said Hugh coaxingly;
"it would spoil all our fun."

"What on earth are you doing then?" she asked.

"I'll call you up to see when we've done; but do leave us now, there's a
good soul."

She went down again, looking rather scared; but the cook happened to be
busy, and did not notice it.

The bedstead now lay at their feet in pieces, which they quickly carried
upstairs, and by-and-by were able to set up to their great satisfaction.

"Well, I call that prime," said Hugh; "now for the clothes and things."

These were soon on; and the room began to look "like a room," as John
said.

"Might that window be grey ground glass, or might it be dirt?" asked
Hugh, going up to examine it, and drawing his finger down it.

The question did not need answering, for he left a line of clear glass
behind him.

"Wait till I've got the rest of my furniture up, and then I'll see to
things," said John.

"The rest of it?" laughed Hugh. "I think this is all of it; the rest
belongs to me."

"Hugh, you're a cheat! Do you mean to say I'm not to have a chair?"

"Oh, yes, I'll spare you a chair!"

"And that little table's my _own_; so now, Mr. Hugh!"

"So it is; what a bore! Why I was perfectly counting on that table when
your things were gone off it."

"Very likely; you're sold there! But what shall I do to wash on? I dare
say Agnes has got a basin somewhere."

"There's an odd set in here!" exclaimed Hugh, springing up and hurrying
into the box room next door.

John followed quickly enough, and to his joy found an old mahogany stand
which would do very well for the crockery which he discovered on a top
shelf covered with dust.

"How shall we wash it?" he asked.

"I'll get our towels; Agnes'll _have_ to give us clean ones."

They pulled about the boxes and things till they had secured their
prize, and then went back in triumph to John's "castle."

"Hugh, I shall never have you in here," said John.

"Grateful," said Hugh.

"I mean, without asking."

"Oh, of course not! Nor I you."

"I must come in when I want my things out of my drawer," said John
ruefully.

"What a pity we can't find a chest to match that jimcrack in the
corner!"

"Let's go and see."

No sooner said than done, and sure enough there was a set, but on
looking every drawer was full.

The boys were now so thoroughly in the spirit of the thing that they
forgot all caution, and after a rapid glance to see where they could
stow the things, out they bundled them heap on heap, till the drawers
were empty, then they paused and looked at each other.

"I say, Hugh, we are in for it now; I don't believe we ought to have
done this."

"It can't be helped now; we must eat humble pie."

"Look here, I won't do a thing more of this sort. Here's a precious mess
for that poor Agnes, and I scouted the idea of giving her any trouble."

"She'll be home soon, if she isn't now."

"Then let's make haste. Fetch up my things. Hugh, will you?"

Hugh ran down and soon brought up a drawer full, and hastened off for
another. For the girls to see it before it was accomplished and in
order, would spoil everything.

"Now for the window," exclaimed John; "and my pictures. I say, there's
no carpet."

"Do without."

"I shall have to."

"There's lots in there," nodding towards the box-room.

[Illustration "Out they bundled them heap on heap, till the drawers
were empty." _p. 166._]

"Not I," answered John. "I'm not fond of this sort of thing, Hugh; I
wish I'd waited."

"Well, make the best of it now," said Hugh; "we have done no _harm_."

"Oh, no!" said John.

John was hard at work on the window, making his towel in a worse mess
than it was before, when an exclamation from Hugh made him turn round.

"They're coming up," he called excitedly. "All three of 'em. I can hear
their voices."

For Jane had said, in answer to Agnes's enquiry as to where her brothers
were:

"Right at the top, I believe, miss."

So up they came, and all Hugh's "humble pie" was demolished before he
had time to produce it.

"John! Hugh! whatever _are_ you after? Are you gone out of your wits?"

"Come and look, Agnes," said John, hurrying to her, "and don't be vexed,
there's a darling. I wanted a room to myself, and we meant to surprise
you; but when we'd got half through it I began to fear you would be more
than surprised."

An hour or two ago Agnes would have been vexed, almost angry; now she
had been to the Fountain of Strength, and coming refreshed from Him she
answered gently:

"I can't say that I would rather you had done it, but I'll try to like
it if you wish."

She kissed their hot, dusty faces and looked round.

"If you point out anything wrong I'll say 'Hugh did it,'" smiled John,
"and he is to say 'John did it' if he is blamed."

"I see," answered Agnes.

"Isn't it a nice little room?"

"Very. I wonder mother never thought of it before."

"Hurrah!" exclaimed Hugh. "Now, Agnes, you'll not mend that; it's as
good as a whole volume of permission. Let's go down to dinner after
that."

But as they went down John said to her:

"You're not really vexed, dear girl?"

"No, dear," she answered, looking up brightly. "If you are pleased, I'm
sure mother will not mind till she has time to think about it. But,
John, the dirt----"

"Oh, that'll come all right," said John.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXI.

_THE MAGIC OF LOVE._


The next morning everything was bustle till the boys were off; for
imperceptibly they had got a little later during holiday time, and on
this first day of school they discovered it, in finding no breakfast
ready when they came down.

But by dint of a little hurrying, and a decidedly short meal for the
boys, they really did start in time.

"Thanks to you girls," said John gratefully, as he caught up his books
and ran off. "My last term at school, Agnes!"

"Now here we are once more," said Agnes with a deep sigh, gazing round
on the room, which looked ever so much more empty than if her brothers
had just started for an ordinary walk.

"Now I suppose _we_ have to begin school?" said Alice with a wry face.
But the wry face was put on, and the frown was gone--gone from her heart
too; for yesterday she had looked once more at the text on the wall,
and had yielded herself again to its influence.

"I was thinking," answered Agnes, "that we would give ourselves a
holiday to do John's room."

"Jolly!" exclaimed Minnie. "I can clean and scrub beautifully; Jane says
I can."

"We must all help to surprise him, for they will be home at one, and we
have plenty of work before us."

"What shall we begin on?" asked Alice.

"I have to do a very quick piece of business, which if you like you may
come up to the top to superintend; and then, Alice, I want you to go
round to the picture-frame shop in Southampton Street, and tell the man
I will send for it at eleven o'clock."

She ran upstairs without explaining further, followed by the wondering
girls; and then they saw her take down John's cardboard text very
carefully, and wrap it in paper.

"Now, Alice, as fast as you like there and back; and Minnie must go with
you."

"But you will do ever so much before we come," said Alice, looking
disappointed.

"No; I am going down to see about the dinner, and if you are not long
will wait till you return."

"But will the man understand what is to be done?"

"Yes; I went about it yesterday, and I told him it was a secret, and so
he would have to do it expeditiously."

"I see. Well, come along Minnie, the sooner we are off the sooner we
shall be home."

In half an hour's time they were back, and met Agnes coming up from her
confabulations with the cook.

"Just in time," she said, smiling.

"Should you have begun without us?" asked Minnie.

"Not till ten."

"That's all right. Now then, Agnes, what are we to do?"

"Go down and ask Jane for some cloths, and brooms, and a tin basin."

Minnie opened her eyes, but Alice ran off.

They met Jane on the stairs with a pail and scrubbing-brush. "Are you
going to help us?" asked Alice; and Jane nodded with a smile.

Up they all went, and found a bright little fire burning in the already
clean grate of John's little attic.

"Oh!" exclaimed Alice; "whoever thought of that? What's it for?"

"What are fires generally for?" asked Agnes.

"To warm people," said Minnie.

"And don't you think we should feel it rather cold to be up here for
three hours, straight off, this bitter day?"

"So we should. Well, Agnes, what first?"

"Jane is to properly clean that smeary window; and we will wash the
chest of drawers and the washstand and the crockery while she is doing
it."

"Whatever for?"

"To get off the dirt," laughed Agnes.

"I can't think why things get dirty!"

"It's London smoke," remarked Alice sententiously.

"And dust," said Agnes. While she spoke she handed two aprons to her
sisters, and a clean piece of flannel each; and before they could ask
any more questions she had lifted out the drawers, one by one, and was
sweeping the ledges inside. Then she began washing and rubbing and
drying in fine style, the little girls imitating her example as fast as
they could.

But Jane's window was done before their furniture, and she immediately
began to clean the paint round the room.

"This paper looks dirty, miss. I wish you would let me rub it with some
bread."

"I do not mind," answered Agnes, looking up from under the washstand,
"if you think it will look better."

"I'm sure it will, miss."

"I'll run for the bread," exclaimed Minnie, starting up.

"Mind you say a stale loaf, miss; and a knife!" called Jane, turning
round, to see only the tip of one of Minnie's curls flying down the
stairs.

Then all was sober work for another half-hour, and after that came a
pause.

"This floor looks black; it wants doing, I think," remarked Minnie.

Jane laughed.

"Don't you think it does, Jane?" said Minnie soberly. "Look there, and
there; but it's all over."

"I shouldn't wonder," said Jane.

"Then do you mean to do it?" asked Minnie.

For answer Jane went down on her knees and began to scrub, while Agnes
led the way into the box-room, the children following to see what she
was going to do.

She drew out the roll of carpet which Hugh had fixed his eyes on the day
before, and they carried it to the landing and spread it open under the
skylight.

Agnes selected what she wanted for her purpose, and told Alice to roll
the other up again. Then she produced from her pocket a skein of thread
and two large needles, and handing one to Alice, she proceeded to thread
her own.

"What am I to do?" asked Alice.

"Sew up that bit of seam that is ripped."

Alice sat down on the ground, and after some difficulty succeeded in
reducing a rent of a quarter of a yard to a pretty respectable seam.

"Well done!" said Agnes. "Now let us have another look. Oh, yes, there
is a place torn! and while I do it will you two go round again for my
frame? The room will be dry, and we can do the final touches all
together."

There could be no objection to this, and the children hastened away just
as Jane came out with her pail and brushes. "It's all done, miss," she
said.

"Then, when they return, will you come up again, Jane? I shall not want
you till then."

They all ran down, and left Agnes alone. She finished the carpet, and
then went into the box-room and looked round.

"Oh, Master John," she said, half aloud, "of course you were not going
to give me anything to do; but just look here! However," she added,
smiling to herself, "perhaps _this_ was Hugh!"

So patiently she set herself to make the best of it. She folded, and
sorted, and pinned up in bundles, and had nearly finished tidying the
great heap, when the children came hurrying back, bearing in their arms
a nice Oxford frame, through the glass of which shone out what was to be
John's life-text, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

"Oh, Agnes," said Minnie, "did you buy it with your very own money?"

"Don't you like it?" answered Agnes.

"I wish _I_ had one," said Alice wistfully.

"If you will paint one for yourself I'll have it framed," promised
Agnes.

Then up came Jane, and once more they set to work.

Agnes found a piece of red valance for the top of the window, and got
out two clean toilet-covers, and they laid the carpet down, hung the
frame on the wall, and Alice dusted the mantelshelf. Then they paused
and looked round.

"It is lovely!" said Minnie. "I wish it were _my_ room."

"So does everybody," said Alice. "Is it really finished, Agnes?"

"I think so. Now as we still have half-an-hour, let us go and see what
can be done for poor old Hugh. His room looks rather forlorn as it is."

"So it does," said Minnie; "and the place where John's bed stood is all
bare."

"He wants a table _dreadfully_," said Alice, "now John's is gone."

"Well, I haven't one for him; but we will go and have a look, while Jane
sweeps a little; perhaps we may find something which will serve for
one."

They went back into the box-room. "Here is a little round table with one
leg off," announced Alice, from the depths of a corner.

"Is the leg there?"

"I can't see it."

"Then it's of no use."

"My eyes are sharp," exclaimed Minnie, jumping over the boxes and
bundles and sliding down somewhere near Alice.

"How you startled me!" said Alice; "but however sharp your eyes are,
Miss Minnie, you won't find it here."

But she did for all that. She went to work carefully, poking about with
her little hands without disturbing anything, and when the others had
given it up as hopeless, a joyful cry from her announced its discovery.

They were just fitting it into its place and considering whether Hugh
would be able to mend it, when the two boys came rushing up the stairs
from school.

"I'm moved up!" exclaimed Hugh, long before he got in sight of his
sisters. "Whatever are you girls doing up here? Isn't that jolly for
me?"

They congratulated him on this joyful piece of school news, and then
Agnes, who had been holding the handle of John's door in her hand all
this time, said solemnly:

"John, the dirt in your room has disappeared by magic!"

"_How?_" asked John.

"By magic--look!"

She flung the door open, and the boys crowded in.

"Well," exclaimed John, "words fail me!" Then he paused as his eyes fell
upon his text in its new setting.

"Agnes!"

"That's with my best love," answered Agnes, blushing. "It is worth
framing."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXII.

_MINNIE'S SECRET._


And so the time slipped away. Alice and Minnie found that when once they
made up their minds to regular lessons with their sister they began to
take an interest in them, and were really happier than they would have
been to be idle.

Soon after they began one morning, aunt Phyllis's sweet face peeped in
at the door.

"Any admittance, my dears?" she asked.

"Oh, do come in!" said Agnes, springing up to welcome her.

"I have thought of something which I am burning to propose to you," said
Miss Headley, coming round to kiss each in turn.

"What is it?" asked Minnie, laying down her pen and pushing back her
curls.

Aunt Phyllis did not answer till she had seated herself by the fire,
then she said:

"You go out for your 'constitutional' directly after your early dinner,
do you not, dears?"

"Yes," said Alice, "and I wish we didn't."

Aunt Phyllis shook her head. "It is quite right, I have not come in to
alter that, little puss."

Alice pouted just a very little, and Miss Headley went on:

"You come home about three, do you not?"

"Half past," said Agnes.

"What do you do then?"

"We work, or learn lessons, or gape, or are idle," said Alice, smiling a
little.

Aunt Phyllis smiled too. "How should you like to bring your work in with
me? I have an interesting book I want to read to you, and if Agnes is
busy, or tired, she can stay at home, and I'll see to your work. Eh,
Alice and Minnie?"

"Lovely!" answered Minnie.

"Awfully nice!" answered Alice.

And Agnes murmured thanks with a sigh of relief, for that hour in the
day had been one of her trials.

"What work have you in hand?" asked their aunt.

"Minnie is making a doll's dress, and I have just finished some horrid
white calico."

"It must be real, sensible work," said Miss Headley. "How about
stockings?"

"Agnes mends those," answered Minnie; "it nearly made her cry to teach
Alice, and she gave it up; and I haven't begun to learn."

Agnes looked rather ashamed.

"Oh, auntie," she explained, "I know I got out of patience, but I would
ten times rather do it myself than make Alice."

"I don't believe I was very nice over it," said Alice in a low tone;
"but it is nasty work!"

"Very," answered aunt Phyllis, so sympathizingly that Alice looked up
amazed. "But only because you do not know how to do it. We will get over
that in a little while. So both of you come in this afternoon with all
the stockings you can find, and we will begin in good earnest."

"All?" said Minnie.

"Yes; then I can take my choice. I shall not give you bad ones to do
first, they are too difficult for beginners."

"You are too kind, auntie," said Agnes, getting up to kiss her
gratefully; then adding, "Didn't I tell you I was good for nothing?
Haven't even patience to help Alice mend stockings!"

"You are not going to the looking-glass again, my child?" she whispered,
smiling.

Agnes smiled too, though she was crying quietly. She knelt down and
poked the fire, and got rid of her tears somehow before anyone but her
aunt guessed about them, and then she turned round to the table.

"I am afraid I am hindering," said aunt Phyllis, getting up; "but I am
like a child when I have a piece of news--I must tell it."

So she went, and the girls settled down again.

"_Is_ aunt Phyllis like a child?" asked Minnie.

"I think she is," answered Agnes; "her heart always seems fresh and
young."

"I wonder why?" said Alice.

"She reminds me of those words," answered Agnes, 'Like a tree planted by
the rivers of waters.'

"Why?"

"Her soul is always drawing nourishment from Jesus; that's how it is.
Like the roots of the tree by the rivers of waters."

"Oh," said Minnie, looking up, "I never thought of that before!"

"What _are_ you doing?" exclaimed John, coming into the dining-room
after school that morning, and bouncing down in a chair by his little
sister's side.

"I'm----, but I shan't let you see, John," exclaimed Minnie, covering
her little pink hands over her occupation.

Vainly, however; for she could not hide the large sheet of newspaper
over which she leaned, nor the chips of red and blue paper which peeped
out in every direction.

"_I_ see," said John, "here's an end of a matchbox, and here's a bit of
yellow paper, and here's a star of red, cutout pretty well, Miss Minnie,
and here's----"

"John, you are too bad," said Minnie, laying her head down as an extra
protection. "I didn't want you to see till it's done, and I should have
put it all away by one o'clock. I wish you had not come home so early."

[Illustration "'John, you are too bad,' said Minnie, laying her head
down as an extra protection." _p. 180._]

Minnie spoke in a grumbling little tone, which made John inclined to
tease her more than ever.

So he laid hold of one of the long golden curls which fell over the
treasures, and went on while he twisted it round his fingers--

"And here's a pair of scissors, and here's the inside of the matchbox,
and here's--why, here are at least a dozen babies!"

What with her hair being touched, which she particularly disliked, and
what with her secret being found out, as she thought, Minnie burst into
tears.

"Hey-day!" said John. "Why, Minnie, you goose, I wasn't really meaning
to tease you. Look here, I'll sit still here for as long as you like,
and shut my eyes up as close as a mole (if they do), while you put all
that precious rubbish away; and what's more, I won't tell a soul about
it; no, not if I--suffer for it."

Minnie looked up through her tears to see if John were in earnest, and
found him sitting, as he said, with his eyes shut and his hands folded
in front of him in a comical manner.

She gave a little laugh, and raised her head; but added, with the
remains of a sob, "You're a _dreadful_ tease, John, and I did want
nobody to know."

"Nobody to know," echoed John, in a mock tone; "is that a pun?"

"You know it isn't; I don't try to make puns."

"Have you put away yet, Miss Dignity?"

"Nearly. Now, John, _have_ you guessed----?"

"Know everything," answered John, "just as well as I knew when I entered
the room."

"How much is that?" asked Minnie.

"Everything," answered the boy. "Come, Minnie, my eyes ache with keeping
shut so tight."

Minnie found it would be better to hurry her preparations than to answer
the brother, who was for ever getting the best of her; so in a minute
all was away, and John, with a sigh of profound relief, looked up.

Minnie left the room, and John walked to the comfortable fire and
whistled.

It was not long, however, before a little step was heard on the stairs,
and Minnie appeared again.

She was walking more slowly than usual, and her head was bent down,
while her curls failed to hide the deep flush on her cheeks.

"John," she said slowly, "I am sorry I was cross about those boxes; I'll
tell you all about it."

"I don't care to know, Minnie," said John, looking down on her; "it was
only to tease you a little bit, but I didn't think you would really
mind."

Minnie leaned her head against her brother's arm caressingly, and
answered softly:

"I oughtn't to have minded; especially----"

"Especially what?" asked John kindly, guessing by his little sister's
manner that she was very much in earnest.

"I was trying to do something for Him, you know, John, and it seemed so
horrid of me to be vexed and cross over that."

"I understand," said John.

"I was making--but I will show you all about it."

Minnie went to the cupboard, and drew out the odds and ends which had
attracted John's attention.

"See here," she said, spreading them out on the table, "I have been
collecting all the matchboxes for months, and now I have bought these
two dozen little china dolls, and Agnes gave me some white wadding; and
I am going to cover the boxes with this paper, and put little ornaments
at the bottom and top--so; and then--but here is one quite finished."

Minnie opened a bright little box, and there inside, on a bed of
whitest, softest wool, a little china doll reposed, clothed in a wrapper
of pink silk; under her head a little roll of wadding served as a
pillow.

"Doesn't she look cosy?" asked Minnie, patting her complacently.

"And what's it for? How can it be for the Lord Jesus?"

"Why, don't you remember how we mended those toys before Christmas, and
sent them to the children's ward of the hospital?"

John nodded.

"So that's just what I'm going to do now; here will be two dozen little
presents, and it will make two dozen little children happy for a whole
day, I shouldn't wonder."

"It is a very good thought," said John.

"And that's why I was sorry I'd been cross over _that_."

"Yes," answered John thoughtfully; "but I believe, Minnie, if we were
more anxious to please Him, we should be far more careful than we are
about _everything_. All that we do is really working for Him, and I do
believe--I'm saying it to myself, and not to you, Minnie--that if we
watched more, and realized His loving presence more, we should live very
differently from what we do."

Minnie slowly shut up her boxes, and when John had finished speaking she
said softly, "We must try more than ever."

"And get Him to help us more than ever," added John.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXIII.

_THE END OF THE JOURNEY._


Yes, they came home.

The three months did pass away at length, and the last part of it flew
much quicker than the beginning.

"We shall arrive, 'God willing,' about the end of March, as we sail by
the _Sardinia_ on the 15th; but you will get a telegram from Liverpool
when we land," wrote their father.

John could understand that "God willing" better now than he did when
they went away; for he had taken that "will of God" as the one object of
his life.

It might be--it would be--with many failures, but "What wilt Thou?" was
now his one question, and to do it his one desire.

Of strong character, with a will which was difficult to curb, he found
it an inexpressible comfort to yield to One who was so strong, that
there could not be a question of His power; and when once the great
surrender had been made, he walked along holding the guiding hand with
tender love and reverence.

One morning, just as Agnes and her sisters were sitting down to lessons,
a telegram was brought in by the new maid, whom Agnes had found and
installed more than a month before.

"We are in Liverpool, and hope to reach you about five o'clock," it
said.

Minnie and Alice got up and jumped round the room as the only suitable
expression of their feelings; and as for Agnes, her thankfulness was
quiet, but too deep for words.

"May I rush in and tell grandmamma?" exclaimed Alice, when her wild
capers had come at last to a stop.

When she saw that Agnes gave permission, she snatched up the telegram
and was off in an instant.

"I don't believe she'll wait for her hat and jacket," said Minnie,
acting policeman.

"Oh, yes, she will! They are hanging in the hall."

Minnie peeped out of window, and in another moment Alice, dressed in
some style, emerged from the door, ran down the steps, and was admitted
to the next house.

"Must I go on with school?" asked Minnie rather forlornly.

"No; to-day is too good a day for it not to be a holiday. Clear up the
books, Minnie, and surprise Alice."

Minnie did not need twice telling; and then she and Agnes went upstairs
to prepare their parents' room, to see that the new Jane made a nice
fire, and that everything was well aired and ready.

While they were busy Alice came back from next door with a long, heavy
roll in her arms.

"The hearthrug?" questioned Agnes.

"Yes. We are not to lay it down till everything is done and the room
perfectly ready. Oh, it _is_ a beauty! I never saw such a pretty rug."

Then at one o'clock the boys came home, and great were the laments that
the travellers might arrive before they returned from afternoon school;
but this had to be endured, and, as Alice suggested. "Perhaps, after
all, they _wouldn't_."

Nor did they. The boys closed up with greater speed than they had ever
done before, and raced home. As they turned the corner of their street a
cab was rattling along in front of them, and, half-fearing and
half-hoping, they set off to outstrip it, which they managed to do, and
arrived too breathless to speak, but with glowing, happy faces, in time
to open the cab door, just as a shout from Minnie at the window
announced the fact of the arrival to those inside the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Father," said Hugh, when, late that night, after their parents had
come back from visiting their grandmother next door, they all sat
together round the fire, as if loth to part, "Father, would you mind
telling us all, now we are together, what you said to me upstairs?"

His father gave a quick look at him; for upstairs Hugh had told him all
about that episode with Tom on Christmas-day.

"Would you rather, dear boy?" asked his father.

"Yes; I was not brave once, but I'll try to be brave now."

His mother held out one hand to him, the other being clasped by Agnes,
while Minnie sat at their feet, leaning against them, though she
disdained the idea of being in the least sleepy.

John sat by his father, his eyes shining with a serene light.

"Well, my boy," said Mr. Headley, after a moment, only pausing to draw
Alice close to his side, "what I said upstairs was this, I think. Mother
and I decided long ago for ourselves, that, seeing the misery which
drink brings to thousands in our country, we will not, for our part,
take one drop of it except as medicine. We will do our best to prove
that men and women can live, and be happy too, without it. If you read
the fourteenth of Romans, you will see all the arguments set down which
influenced us. Feeling that this is for us a sacred duty, we have
brought you up in the same way, expecting you as a matter of obedience
to abstain while you are young. By-and-by you will be able to judge
more wisely than you can now."

"Then explain to them where I was wrong, father."

"You failed in obedience--and in courage," added his father.

"Yes," answered Hugh very gravely, "I saw that very soon, but not as
plainly as you have put it, father."

"I have sometimes felt it a great comfort in the perplexities which
arise in our hearts and lives to do as Paul says--'Take the shield of
_faith_ whereby we may quench the fiery darts of the wicked one'--and I
believe it is applicable to you too, Hugh.

"When questions come up which I cannot answer, I say to myself, 'I will
take refuge under my faith in my heavenly Father; if I hide under _His_
shadow, the fiery darts will have no power. He has said so; He knows
best.'

"So you, Hugh, take refuge under your faith in your earthly father, say
'he knows best;' and while you are young it will help you to find an
answer, when otherwise you might be tempted to do what you would grieve
in after years to have done."

"But you don't think drinking a glass of beer or wine wrong in itself,
father?"

"Wrong for me, thinking as I do; wrong for you, because of my
convictions, and my commands to you concerning them."

Hugh seemed entirely satisfied; for was he not forgiven? And then they
turned to other subjects, though Alice's eyes were looking wonderingly
at them all.

"Mother," she said suddenly, as Mrs. Headley's white shawl fell from her
shoulders, "you have a different dress on from any you had before you
went away, and it----has _crêpe_ on it."

"Yes," answered her mother gently; "but my heart is not in mourning."

"But----," said Alice, not liking to ask more.

"Yes," Mrs. Headley went on, "I had a lovely two months with her;
'cheered her heart,' she said. We had time to talk together of all the
way we had been led. I learned from her how faith in God can triumph
when outward circumstances are anything but prosperous (for she had not
let me know all these years what a struggle she had had with poverty);
and then I was, through dear father's kindness, able to arrange things a
little better for her, and to add several comforts to her lot. Directly
I got there, dear father let me buy an invalid chair for her, and many
things which eased her exceedingly, and I prepared to leave her with the
prospect of her never being so straitened again; for he allowed me to
arrange for her to receive that little money I have of my own, which
added to her small income would make a great difference.

"But the Lord knew best; and though He let me do all this for my mother,
that my heart might be comforted, He took the care of her into His own
hands.

"Just a week before we sailed I was sitting with her one evening when
she said, as quietly as we are talking now:

"'My dear, the Lord's been very good to give you to me--long ago, and
now. The journey is almost over, but _He_ is at the end.'

"I only clasped her hand in answer; for she looked tired, and I thought
she would sleep; and so she did--but it was to wake to find herself at
the end of her journey, and with Him."

"Dear mother," said John, coming over to kiss her, "why did you not tell
us? We have been too cheerful and noisy for you to-night."

"No," she answered. "I would not have saddened our return to you for
anything. I am _not_ sad, children. If the dear Lord had asked me I
could not have chosen anything I should like better. To have been with
her for nearly two months, and then to have watched her go home, what
could heart wish more?"

"Then is that why Agnes has been crying since you came?" asked Minnie,
turning round to look up in her sister's tearful face.

"Perhaps," said her mother; "for Agnes guessed at once, and it has come
as sad news to her; but she will rejoice in my joy soon."

"I'm glad you went," said Hugh, "even though----"

"Even though what, dear?" asked his mother.

"Even though I've had such a lot to learn while you've been gone."

"So have I," said John humbly; and Mr. Headley added:

"But the lessons learned in our Father's school are golden lessons, and
can never fade away."

[Illustration]


LONDON:

JOHN F. SHAW AND CO., PATERNOSTER ROW.


       *       *       *       *       *



_John F. Shaw & Co.'s Publications._


STORIES BY CATHARINE SHAW.

  =ALICK'S HERO.= Large Crown 8vo, cloth. Illustrated. 2/6.

    "Mrs. Shaw has added to our delight in noble boyhood, as well as to
    her own reputation, in this most charming of her works."--_The
    Christian._

  =ONLY A COUSIN.= Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "In our excavations among heaps of tales we have not come upon a
    brighter jewel than this."--Rev. C.H. SPURGEON, in _Sword and
    Trowel_.

  =THE GABLED FARM=; or, Young Workers for the King. Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "A charming story, wherein the children are described
    naturally." _Evangelical Magazine._

  =IN THE SUNLIGHT AND OUT OF IT.= A Year of my Life-story. Crown
  8vo, 2/6.

    "One of the pleasantest books that a girl could take into her
    hand, either for Sunday or week-day reading."--_Daily Review._

  =NELLIE ARUNDEL.= A Tale of Home-life. Crown 8vo. Illustrated. 2/6.

    "We need scarcely say that Mrs. Shaw holds out the light
    of life to all her readers, and we know of few better books
    than those which bear her name." _Record._

  ="MOTHER MEG"=; or, The Story of Dickie's Attic. New Edition.
  Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "The prettiest story Mrs. Shaw has yet written."--_The Standard._

  =JACK FORRESTER'S FATE.= New Edition. Crown 8vo, with Illustrations,
  2/-.

  =CAUGHT BY THE TIDE=; or, Prison Bars. New Edition. Crown 8vo, 2/-.


SOMETHING FOR SUNDAY.

_SELECTED BY CATHARINE SHAW._

=Price ONE SHILLING each.=

"With such work there will be no dull Sundays."--_The Presbyterian._

     =1st. OUTLINE TEXTS FOR PAINTING.= 48 Texts in Packet.

     =2nd. HAPPY HOURS WITH THE BIBLE.= Devices for Bible Searching.

     =3rd. ECHOES FROM THE BIBLE.= Illustrated Papers for Bible Study.

     =4th. ALPHABET TEXTS for PRICKING or PAINTING.= Specially for
     the Little Ones.

     =5th. MESSAGES FROM HEAVEN.= Small Outline Texts for Painting.
     (Suitable for Flower Missions.)

     =6th. GLEAMS OF GLORY FROM THE GOSPELS.= Subjects for Bible Study.

     =7th. A LARGE THOUGHT IN A LARGE WORD.= Outline Texts for Painting.

     =8th. SCRIPTURE FEAR NOTS.= Texts for Painting.

     =9th. "ALL THINGS ARE YOURS."= Outline Texts for Painting, with
     Hints for Bible Searching.

     =10th. TEXTS FOR THE CHILDREN.= For Pricking or Painting.


STORIES BY E. EVERETT-GREEN.

  =ARNOLD INGLEHURST.= A Story of the Fen Country. Large Crown 8vo,
  gilt edges, 5/-.

    "It is a very remarkable book, and the descriptions of life in the
    Fen Country are very life-like and good.... Altogether it is a fine
    idea and well penned."--_The Guardian._

  =EUSTACE MARCHMONT.= A Friend of the People. Large Crown 8vo,
  gilt edges, 5/-.

    "This is a pleasant and suggestive West Country story. The authoress
    has written many graceful tales of high purpose, but we doubt if she
    has ever turned out a more finished narrative than this. Eustace is
    a very well-drawn character, and his cousin bride a delightful
    creation."--_Whitehall Review._

  =HER HUSBAND'S HOME=; or, The Durleys of Linley Castle. Large
  Crown 8vo, gilt edges, 5/-.

    "Some of the scenes are particularly effective."--_The Spectator._

  =A SOLDIER'S SON AND THE BATTLE HE FOUGHT.= Crown 8vo, with
  Illustrations, 2/6.

    "... We lay it down with a feeling of gratitude that the boys of
    to-day have the opportunity of reading so inspiriting a book."--_The
    Record._

  =PAT, THE LIGHTHOUSE BOY.= Crown 8vo, with Illustrations, 2/6.

    "A very pleasing story of lighthouse life, with something of
    the desert island charm."--_The Guardian._

  =MARJORIE AND MURIEL=; or, Two London Homes. Crown 8vo, with
  Illustrations, 2/6.

    "A capital story, very prettily got up."--_Record._

  =HIS MOTHER'S BOOK.= Crown 8vo, 2/-.

    "Little Bill is so lovable, and meets with such interesting friends,
    that everybody may read about him with pleasure."--_Spectator._

  =LITTLE FREDDIE=; or, Friends in Need. Crown 8vo, 2/-.

    "There is real pathos in this story."--_Liverpool Courier._

  =BERTIE CLIFTON=; or, Paul's Little Schoolfellow. Crown 8vo, 2/-.

    "Seldom have we perused a tale of the length of this with so much
    pleasure." _The Schoolmaster._

  =FRIENDS OR FOES?= A Story for Boys and Girls. Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

    "This very pleasant and thoroughly wholesome story."--_Spectator._

  =RUTH'S LITTLE LADY.= Crown 8vo, with Illustrations, 2/-.

    "A delightful study of children, their joys and
    sorrows."--_Athenæum._

  =OUR WINNIE=; or, When the Swallows Go. Crown 8vo, with
  Illustrations, 1/6.

    "The beautiful life of little Winnie is one which all children will
    do well to take as an example."--_Banner._

  =SHADOWLAND=; or, What Lindis Accomplished. Crown 8vo, with
  Illustrations, 1/6.

    "A charming story for children, very prettily got up."--_Record._


STORIES BY AGNES GIBERNE.

_Author of "Sun, Moon, and Stars," &c._

  =OLD COMRADES.= Large Crown 8vo, with Illustrations, 2/6, gilt edges.

    "Dorothy Tracy is one of the most delightful young ladies to whom
    we have ever been introduced."--_Bookseller._

    "An excellent story for girls by one of their favourite
    writers." _Pall Mall Gazette._

  =LIFE TANGLES=; or, The Journal of Dorothea Frith. Large Cr. 8vo, 3/6.

    "A most wholesome book for girls."--_Saturday Review._

    "A very well written tale; not sensational, but thoroughly
    interesting." _Freeman._

  =LIFE IN A NUTSHELL=: A Story. Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "A very refreshing tale of devotion and care."--_Record._

    "The story of a girl's life and love pleasantly told."--_Athenæum._

  =IDA'S SECRET=; or, The Towers of Ickledale. Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "Agnes Giberne has never written a prettier tale. The characters
    are made to live, and there is a refreshing tone running
    throughout the whole."--_Record._

  =WON AT LAST=; or, Mrs. Briscoe's Nephews. Large Crown 8vo,
  with Illustrations, 3/6.

    "The treatment is so admirable, we can understand Miss Giberne's
    book being a help to many."--_Athenæum._

  =THE EARLS OF THE VILLAGE.= Large Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "A pathetic tale of country life, in which the fortunes of
    a family are followed out with a skill that never fails to
    interest."--_Scotsman._

  =THE OLD HOUSE IN THE CITY=; or, Not Forsaken. Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

    "An admirable book for girls. The narrative is simply written,
    but there is a good deal of quiet force that deserves special
    notice."--_Teachers' Aid._

  =FLOSS SILVERTHORN=; or, The Master's Little Handmaid. Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "An admirable study of a simple-hearted, well-reared, and
    self-sacrificing child."--_Spectator._

  =MADGE HARDWICKE=; or, The Mists of the Valley. Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

    "An extremely interesting book, and one that can be read with
    profit by all."--_The Schoolmaster._

  =WILL FOSTER OF THE FERRY.= Crown 8vo, 2/6.

    "We are glad to see this capital story in a new shape."--_Record._

  =TOO DEARLY BOUGHT.= Crown 8vo, with Illustrations, 1/6.

  =MISS PRIMROSE.= Crown 8vo, with Illustrations, 1/6.


STORIES BY EMMA MARSHALL.

  =A TRUE GENTLEWOMAN.= The Story of Dame Margaret Hoby. Large
  Crown 8vo, with Illustrations, 5/-.

    "A charming gift book, especially to girls in their teens."--_The
    Record._

    "The life-story of a beautiful and high-minded woman."--_The
    Christian._

  =THE END CROWNS ALL.= A Story of Life. Large Cr. 8vo, 5/-.

    "A most exciting story of modern life, pervaded, as Mrs. Marshall's
    tales always are, by a thoroughly wholesome tone."--_Record._

    "Lively and light; as nearly a novelette as need be."--_Times._

  =BISHOP'S CRANWORTH=; or, Rosamund's Lamp. Large Cr. 8vo.
  Illustrated, 5/-.

    "This is a delightful story, with a considerable flavour of
    romance."--_Baptist._

    "A delightful tale for girls."--_Record._

  =LITTLE QUEENIE=. A Story of Child-life Sixty Years Ago. Large
  Crown 8vo, with Illustrations, 3/6, gilt edges.

    "Little Queenie is particularly pleasing."--_Saturday Review._

  =DEAN'S COURT=; or, Lady-bird and her Friends. Large Crown 8vo,
  with Illustrations, 3/6.

    "A bright story of child-life."--_Scotsman._

    "Lady-bird Is one of the most charming of Mrs. Marshall's child
    heroines." _Bookseller._

  =BLUEBELL.= A Story of Child-life Nowadays. Large Crown 8vo,
  with Illustrations, 3/6.

    "... Children will be captivated with it."--_Footsteps of Truth._

    "One of Mrs. Marshall's best stories."--_British Weekly._

    "Charming in style and high in tone."--_Guardian._

  =LITTLE MISS JOY.= Crown 8vo, Illustrated, 2/6.

    "A pretty picture of childish influence."--_Brighton Gazette._

  =HURLY-BURLY=; or, After a Storm comes a Calm. Crown 8vo, with
  Illustrations, 2/-.

    "Simply and touchingly told."--_Aberdeen Journal._

    "A bright attractive story."--_Alliance News._

  =CURLEY'S CRYSTAL=; or, a Light Heart Lives Long. Crown 8vo.
  Illustrated, 1/6.

    "The vehicle of good thought as to life and its duties."--_The
    Christian._

  =ROBERT'S RACE=; or, More Haste Less Speed. Crown 8vo.
  Illustrated, 1/6.

    "A capital little book for boys."--_English Churchman._

  =PETER'S PROMISES=; or, Look before you Leap. Crown 8vo.
  Illustrated, 1/6.

    "A pleasing story told with much pathetic power."--_Record._

  =CLEMENT AND GEORGIE=; or, Manners makyth Man. Cr. 8vo.
  Illustrated, 1/6.

  =A LITTLE CURIOSITY.= With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 1/6.


LONDON: JOHN F SHAW & CO., 48, PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C.


       *       *       *       *       *


TRANSCRIBER NOTES:

Obvious spelling and punctuation errors repaired.

  Page 103: "any-rate" changed to "anyrate"
  Page 138: "spellbound" changed to "spell-bound"

Numerous mismatched quotes and end quote missing punctuation errors
ignored.

Italic text is denoted by _underscore_ and bold text by =equal signs=.





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