- CHAPTER XVIII. FACING DIFFICULTIES.
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THE next day Lilian stood in the quiet churchyard where Alice slept in peace. It was a bright autumnal afternoon; the leaves were just timed with a golden brown hue, and the last roses of summer were fading on their drooping steins. The wild bees hummed dreamily amid the leafy boughs, and on one grey, moss-covered headstone a robin sat pouring out his melodious lay, that tells us ever how summer days are waning, and how the green earth is putting on her glorious robes of autumnal splendor.
Calm, fair, and sunny was the pleasant September day; calmly stood the time-worn church beneath the clear sapphire slay; calmly lay the lonely churchyard, the "God's acre" of the forest with its verdant graves, and low ivy-mantled wall girdled round with dark trees, and washed by a shining little stream, that | | 197 went singing over its pebbly bed past the silent congregation of the dead.
And Lilian stood by that newly-covered grave, and read again and a gain the few words engraven on the simple stone—"Sacred to the memory of Alice Rayner, who died August 3, 185—, aged 27. 'Found in Him,' Phil. iii. 9."
Yes! Alice had lived in Christ and died in Christ, and now her unbound spirit was with Him for evermore.
Lilian saw now, and felt, and that is more than seeing, that there was no other way to the shores of the heavenly land—no other guide across the dangerous desert of this world, save Him who said in old time, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life!" And now, by Mice's brave, she again reviewed the past. She communed with her own Heart, and poured it out in prayer to God that her sins might be pardoned, that strength might be given for days to come, and that at last, when life with its toils and trials came to an end, she also might he down in peace, her mortal frame resting from the heat and burden of the day, and waiting the coming of the Master, to rise to ever-lasting joy and glory. And as Lilian thought of the end, it seemed sweet beyond conception:—the sunset of life's long day; the grave's untroubled repose; the lying-down to sleep, as the night of death spread | | 198 round the mortal tabernacle its dark impervious curtain, shutting out the world, stilling the noises and the bustle, and laying a cool hand on the burning brow and the weary eyelids; and the waking-up on the other side of Jordan; the first glimpse of the hills of Canaan, the towers of the City of the great King; the first beams of the morning that knows no storms, no cloud, no night! It seemed so fair, so blissful in anticipation, that Lilian wept as She thought of the years that probably lay between her and the rest and joy of her inheritance, and she said in her heart, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest."
She was musing still, when Mr. Brookes came up; he had left her awhile, for he knew she would like best to be there alone, and he saw the traces of tears yet recent on her face.
"Why should you weep for Alice?" he said, ,gently she is gone where God himself has wiped away all tears!"
"I know it," was Lilian's answer. "I was not weeping for her; it was for myself I mourned, because I must go back to the world, and wait, it may be for many years, before I can rest like her, from the labors of the way."
"What would you say to your servant, Mrs. Hope, who sat down in the forenoon, bewailing the hours | | 199 that must intervene before night, and anxious to leave undone the work you had committed to him?"
"I should remonstrate, be displeased; perhaps, if my words were of no avail, I should dismiss him. Oh, Mr. Brookes! I understand; I am the slothful unprofitable servant, and I would fain put aside the work my Master will give me to do."
"But He will not let you, clear lady; if you are His, your allotted task must be performed, your appointed discipline borne. He will be your refine and your portion in the land of the living."
They went home across the forest, still talking of the Christian life, the believer's hope, and the treasure laid up where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt. They spoke of the few Scripture words on Alice's tombstone. Lilian knew they had been her own choice, for they had spoken on the subject long ago at Kirby-Brough, and She told Mr. Brookes of their conversation, and ended by saying—"Mr. Brookes, what do you think I used to say I would Mare inscribed on my monument, when I died?"
"Indeed, I cannot guess; some favorite verse of poetry, perhaps!"
"Not exactly. It was the single word 'Resurgam!' It is Latin you know, and means, 'I shall rise again!' Not that I understand Latin, but I lead seen it on hatchments and in churches, and some one was kind | | 200 enough to translate it for Inc. I thought a good deal of the life to cone in those earl days; but my heaven was little better than a Pagan Elysium: it was a dream of beauty and angels, and eternal bliss, but the Saviour was not there. Now, I think, if I were to die, there is nothing I should like to be put after my name and age so well as that text—'The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin!"
"And so our feelings and affections change, as the truth breaks in upon our hearts; old things pass away, and all things become new," replied Mr. Brookes.
That evening seemed to Lilian like a boundary line between her and the new stern life that was to be in to-morrow. Wistfully she looked at the quiet, pleasant garden where she had spent so many peaceful hours; and at the room where light had overpowered the darkness of death; where in sorrow and humiliation her heart had found its endless rest. And now this episode of her history was ended; Alice was gone home; Mr. Brookes and Bridget must be left; the season of rest was over; and the old struggle with the world must begin afresh.
The morning rose gray and lowering, and beneath a Sultry, sunless sky, Lilian set off on her journey. Mr. Brookes left her at the South Western Station. He bade her adieu, with fatherly kindness, and blessed her, and wished her God speed. And just before the | | 201 train began to move, he came back again, and said, in a low voice, so that Lilian's fellow-travellers could not hear, "Mrs. Hope! if you ever want a friend, if you are ever in difficulty, and you think a plain man like myself may be of service to you, never scruple to send to me; in Alice's name, I tender my humble services."
"And in Alice's name, I accept your great, your valued kindness!" replied Lilian, warmly.
He went away; and the train started, and Lilian watched the royal towers of Windsor till they faded in the distance. Then she leaned back in the carriage, musing so deeply, that she scarcely knew when the train stopped at a station; and when she roused herself from her reverie, the dingy atmosphere of London was around her. Then the terminus was reached; and Lilian, in her cab, was driven through the interminable streets of the busy metropolis, till at length she stood before her own door, and in another minute she was sitting in the drawing-room, where she had been on the night she received Eleanor's letter about Alice's illness. What a dream the last few weeks appeared! When she had taken tea, all in solitary state, she desired to know what letters there were. There were none save those which she had found in the drawer of her work-table, and which she had not yet found courage to open, for she knew that | | 202 nearly all were bills; and slowly and sadly she drew her desk towards her, and prepared to make an inspection of her liabilities.
She was very tired, and the tempter whispered, "Leave it till to-morrow; sleep this night in peace." But conscience answered, "Do it now; face the difficulty; begin the new life without a moment's delay." And just as she had almost decided to set to work on the spot, a voice seemed to say to her, "Fight the good fight!" and she remembered how Mr. Brookes had told her that every little common duty, when fulfilled from a right Godfearing motive, became religion as fully as prayer and praise. With a sigh she opened paper after paper—nearly all were far more than she had anticipated. Then she took a large sheet of paper and copied thereon every item. They made a very formidable array, and poor Lilian's heart failed her as she began to add up the various amounts. She gasped for breath when she found the sum total—it was so much more than she had dreaded—so much beyond her worst fears. She went over it again and again, with the vain hope of finding some tremendous error; but no, Lilian was a good arithmetician, and the entries and the addition were right to a halfpenny. There they were, those horrible figures! real, tangible, obstinate truths! She owed more than she would receive from Basil for nearly nine months to come. | | 203 If she gave her creditors every penny of her next half year's allowance, now due, a third of the claims upon her would be still unsatisfied, and nothing would be left for current expenses. And Basil now was always behind hand with her housekeeping money, and he grumbled sorely from time to time at the ruinous expenses of their menage. He often hinted that things would be different, if they were better looked after; that expenses would be considerably lessened, if the lady of the house was less ignorant, and more domestically inclined! And now! oh, what would he say, when this accumulation of debt was laid before him?
There was one bill that pressed heavily on Lilian's conscience; and that was not the terrible account with her milliner—not the startling sum due for bouquets and flowering plants, but a few pounds which she owed to a poor widow for plain sewing. There was a note, too, from the unfortunate sempstress, entreating Mrs. Hope to delay payment no longer, for her son was dangerously ill, and she herself had been laid by a whole month from sickness: and even while Lilian was hopelessly reading for the third time this mournful appeal, and racking her brains to devise means of obtaining money, she was told that Mrs. Lee wished to see her.
"Ask her to walk up," said Lilian; and in another minute the widow was standing before her. From her | | 204 appearance, it was evident she had made no exaggerated complaints; she was sadly altered since she received Lilian's last orders; her eyes were heavy with weeping and constant sewing, her cheeks were hollow, and her whole frame emaciated.
"Sit down,'' said Lilian, kindly, yet nervously. The poor woman almost sank into a chair, for she had walked a weary three miles to see if the lady would pay her. "You are come about the account I owe you," began Lilian, tremulously; and her heart beat fearfully fast as she marked the eager look, the nervous twitching of the mouth, and the anxious aspect of her poor creditor. "I am so sorry I have not the money to-night; I am only just come home, and Mr. Hope it still out of town, but I hope"——and Lilian stopped confusedly as she remembered her mass of debt, and inability to liquidate any portion of it.
"It has been owing so long!" said the poor petitioner, imploringly; "those muslin skirts were done a year ago, and every one took me three good days, from sunrise till after dark; and oh, madam, if you knew, if you could see my boy! he has outgrown his strength, and he has worked too hard, my dear, good son; and now he is dying, but he might be saved, if only I had a little money; if he only could have a room out of the close town; if he only could have a little wine, a little nourishing food, such as rich people think nothing | | 205 of, but such as I can no more get for him than I can make myself queen of England. Oh, madam, surely you can pay me half of what you owe me?"
Lilian was horror-stricken: the woman looked starved and dying herself; she would have given worlds to empty a purseful of gold into her lap, and she had not five pounds at her own disposal. She thought a few minutes, and then her brow cleared, her resolution was taken. "I cannot give you the money now," she said in a steadier voice, "but in three days I promise you shall have it. Give me your address, I will bring it to you; and in the meantime here is a sovereign. If I have not money, I have wine. What will you have? Madeira will be best; my sister is ordered to drink Madeira."
Mrs. Lee could not doubt the sincerity of that sweet ingenuous face; she thankfully accepted the wine, and received with gratitude the promise of full payment in three days' time.
As soon as she was left alone, she wrote a few hurried lines to Mr. Brookes, telling him she had need already of the aid he had proffered that very afternoon, and begging to see him immediately.
Then, wearied and sorrowful, yet calm and hopeful, she went to her solitary chamber; and musing, hoping, fearing, and praying, unconsciousness stole over her, and she slept the quiet, dreamless sleep of childhood.
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