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last autumn's straw ; the old rotten roof of some twenty years' or more standing having been stripped off and put into a big heap in one corner of the cottage garden. Inside the cottage were two or three carpenters at work, making what appeared to be endless, at any rate extensive, repairs in the four rooms of which the cottage consisted. And badly enough it wanted repairing, to judge by the old useless stuff close by the rotten straw of the old thatch in the corner of the garden. And especially was to be noticed a pile of old worn-out bricks, by the road-side, ready to be carted away, and fit for nothing but road-mending ; while one of the carpenters was replacing their desirable absence from the kitchen floor with new and strong wooden planking. A bricklayer and his man at the back, too, were just completing a drain from that part of the cottage, the want of which, it seemed, had added to the unhealthiness of the place. The pleasantest sight of all, however, was that of Squire Martin himself, flitting about the premises, now outside and now in, observing, with evident satisfaction, the progress sure to be made by men when the eye of the master is upon them.
Ah, then, poor Smith and his wife have been turned out -sent to the workhouse, perhaps; and Mr. Martin has got a better tenant; one who will pay the rent, at all events ?”
Wait a bit. I have to take you to the big house, half farm-house, half family mansion, and show you what is going on there.
In one of its unused rooms—not unused now, however—a bright large fire of the best coal is burning, its light reflected by the old-fashioned but well-polished furniture in the room. In an easy-chair, on one side of the fireplace, is seated a plain-looking man, with lines of care on his countenance; yet he looks placid as (with his head thrown back, and pillowed by a thick, warm over-coat, because in the genial warmth of the room he has no other occasion for it) he gently dozes. On the opposite side of the hearth is a wifely-looking woman, plainly clad, like the man whom she watches, while at the same time she is needle
busy. Presently comes in the mistress of the mansion, quietly and cautiously, lest the sick man should be disturbed, and places on the little table at the side of the easy-chair a basin of beef-tea, or something of that sort; then, with a correspondent gesture of silence, as quietly retires. There is a bed in a snug recess of the large room, almost concealed by a thick curtain, evidently extemporised in haste. And this room, with abundance of warmth and careful attendance, and wealth of kitchen comforts, has been the abode of "the man Smith” these two or three weeks past. And this is how it came about:
It was Squire Martin's custom to take an after-dinner nap, and a comfortable custom he, at any rate, felt it to be. On the afternoon of the cold day on which had passed the conversation already recorded, Mr. Martin showed unmistakable signs of exhaustion, or repletion, or both, perhaps, and as he drew himself a little nearer to the fire by shifting to the easy-chair alongside of it, at the same time drawing a yellow bandanna handkerchief from his pocket, Mrs. Martin thought well to retire to her own little sitting-room, taking by the hand her son Norman, who had been a not uninterested listener to the strange talk of his parents about “ the man Smith.”
Now, the little sitting-room of Mrs. Martin was separated from the dining-room by only a door-way, and it was that good lady's custom to hear her son read a Bible lesson almost every afternoon.
And so it fell out on that afternoon, that after having, as they thought, carefully and noiselessly closed the separating door between the dining-room and the little sitting-room, the lady and her child drew close together near the fire, and opened the Bible, which the boy, seated on his little low stool at his mother's feet, rested on his knees.
I cannot tell you how it was, and if I could I do not know that I should choose to tell ; but the boy opened the Bible at a certain part of Matthew's Gospel, and began softly, but slowly and distinctly, reading. He was not a very fluent reader, and there was one word, twice occurring in his read
ing, at which he stumbled a little; but with a little patience he overcame the difficulty, and went on to the end. The difficult word was INASMUCH." The first reading was, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me." The second was, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me."
There, or thereabout, the reading ceased, and then for the first time looking away from her boy, the mother saw that the separating door had not been quite fastened.
“Norman,” she hastily whispered, “we did not quite shut the door. I am afraid your reading has disturbed your father. Go and shut it gently, and be sure it is fastened this time.”
The boy did as he was bidden by noiselessly stealing on tip-toe across the room, and this time the latch gave a little jerk, showing that it was successfully fastened. But before doing this the boy pushed open the door so far that he could put his curly head half-way into the dining-room, confiding to his mamma afterwards, “ Papa is as fast asleep as he can be, with his handkerchief over his face, just as we left him."
It was half-an-hour after this, and when the boy-his lesson finished—had left the room by another exit to feed his rabbits, and Mrs. Martin was left alone, with her thoughts busily at work, though her eyes were half closed, that she heard a heavy step behind her, and felt a hand laid on her shoulder, making her start.
It was her husband's step and her husband's hand ; and she looked up in his face with a smile, which soon departed when she saw how strangely that face was agitated.
“ Edith, my dear wife,” he said, and his usually strong voice trembled, “I was not asleep, though you thought I was; and it was I that opened the door, to hear our boy read, directly after he began. And I heard every word, and it seemed as if the Saviour Himself were speaking to methat last part of it: 'Inasmuch as ye did it not.' My dear,
I have been very hard with poor Smith, and with you about him; and I'll set about putting the cottage in proper trim to-morrow, and he shall have a load of the best coals I can get, and the warmest over-coat I have got, and—but you see the cottage can't be set to rights while he is in it-don't see, Edith ? "
Yes, Edith did see; but she waited for what more was to follow,
“Well, can't you fit up a room for him here for a week or two, while the repairs are going on? There's that large summer-room that we don't often use; and with a good fire in it, and a bed in the corner, and some good nourishing stuff to put into him, and—and there—I don't know what else I was going to say; but don't you
think-There, I have come to the end of my permitted space. I have only to add that all the Squire's plans were joyfully carried out; and that thus strength had been ordained out of the mouth of a child.
truth, for there are few but can look back and
How our elder sons far away from their native shore in the burning heat of India think of “Home, sweet home !" and memory paints such a happy picture : the Christmas Day is being kept, and they well know they are not forgotten by the “old folks at home;" and reminiscences full of pleasure carry them back to many scenes of happiness; and the good mother and sister often seem to appear before them, and with gentle entreaties plead with them to keep themselves holy, true, and good. We can never sufficiently praise the home influence : let those who like the life of a butterfly praise pleasure as much as they can, we know how much good women of noble thought, domestic virtue, and changeless love do to enhance the happiness of others.
How many grandmothers can look back and remember girlhood’s days, the old homestead with its lovely garden, and rambling lanes—happy days spent in innocent enjoyments and industrious labour. Then came the day, wellremembered, when such a change came, and with the husband of her choice she leaves this charming spot for busy London. Then follow domestic ties that in after years bound her affections more deeply than ever to him.
Bright days had come and gone. Shadows there had been, but memory kept a faithful record of God's mercies.
Let us ask grandfather, sitting there in his comfortable arm-chair, if he has not had many happy days. He is now watching his grandchildren as they, with right good-will, arrange the Christmas decorations, and every now and then he hears a merry laugh as they give themselves a good prick.
But who minds? Christmas Day is near, a “happy day” indeed, for loved ones from abroad are expected, and everything must look cheerful, and the welcome must be complete.
Ah, dear old grandfather ! he is thinking of the many changes since he saw his eldest son, who had long since left home to study more effectively in sunny Italy the art of painting, and who was expected with his wife to return to Old England to enjoy his Christmas with those near and dear to him.
“I wonder what Auntie Grace is like?” said Mary; beauty, you may be sure; for an artist, I fancy, would not marry a plain woman.”
“What nonsense,” said Fred, as he placed over his mother's portrait a wreath he had taken much pains to make. ««• What care I how fair she be, if she does not care for me?' Give me a face like mother's, full of kindness, and I am content.”