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TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO:
A STORY FOR NEW YEAR'S DAY. “ It is twenty-five years ago this very new year's day that we took this dear treasure to our home,” said old John Barlow; "and see what the Lord has done for us, all through her.”
The Lord had indeed done much for John Barlow-80 he thought, and gratefully acknowledged ; and this is the history of the “dear treasure" of which he spoke, though not told in exactly his own words.
It was a dismal winter's night, twenty-five years ago, that John Barlow sat in his easy chair by a very warm fireside, quite alone.
He was a very common sort of man, his neighbours would have said. That is to say, he was a working man, like themselves—a little better off than some of them, perhaps ; for he was under gardener to the Squire, at fair weekly wages, all the year round. He was a quiet, silent man, without any remarkable gifts of wit, or skill, or education ; a commou, average man of his class, kind-hearted, inoffensive, sober, industrious, and so forth.
He was forty years old, a little less or a little more, on that new year's eve, with a pleasant-tempered, cheerful wife, then out, though it was so late, and five children, who were snug in bed and asleep.
“Fanny is late, very late,” said John, looking at his clock, which stood in a corner of his room, ticking loudly; and he saw that the hands pointed to nearly eleven. “An. other hour, and we shall see another year. God help us to make better use of our time; for we spend our years as a tale that is told, we do."
Saying this, John Barlow walked across the room, opened the outer door and looked out. It was dark and cold; and nothing could be seen except a pale light, gleaming faintly from a distant cottage window.
“If it were not for the baby up-stairs, I would go down there myself,” said John; “but then, I could do no good, even if the poor thing is not past all mortal help.” So he retired into his cottage, shut the door close, and re-seated himself by his fire. John Barlow was evidently troubled.
The pale light from the cottage “ down there" gleamed from the sick chamber of a poor young widow; and almost at the minute that John Barlow looked towards the light, the sick chamber became the chamber of death.
“Poor dear creature; she is gone," whispered the parish nurse to Fanny Barlow, laying her hand over the heart which had ceased to beat for evermore.
Fanny burst into tears ; but presently she wiped them away. “I don't know what I should cry for," she whispered; “ Lucy's dear soul is happy now. in heaven; and we ought not to wish it back again."
“ And it is only what was to be expected," said the nurse ; “I have said all along that she could not get over it. I have seen a many such cases.”
Fanny turned away. The nurse was not an unfeeling woman; but she had a cool, business-like way of talking about sickness and death which grated on an inexperienced woman's ear. So Fanny made an excuse to go into the next room, a little sort of closet shut off from the only proper bed-room the cottage contained. There was a small cot in this closet; and on that cot lay a sleeping child, a girl about two years old.
“Dear little thing! dear little Lucy! you don't know what is come to you," said Fanny Barlow to herself; and then she put down her candle, and knelt by the cot-side; and if no audible words escaped her lips, her heart spake.
“A new year,” said John Barlow rousing himself from the nap into which he had fallen in his old arm-chair, and looked his clock in the face, the hands of which pointed to one. “A new year; and a happy new year to us all. I have been asleep, I do believe; and Fanny not come home. Poor Mrs. Meredith must be worse, I am afraid.”
And then the door opened, and Fanny entered. There was no need to ask a single question; her looks told that Lucy Meredith was dead.
“I have promised nurse to go down there in the morning, John, and help see about things. There was no use in my staying any longer now, as we had done all that is needful, and Mrs. Jones does not mind being alone with the dead, she says.”
“And little Lucy; what about her?” asked John Barlow.
“I don't know a bit what is to be done, John,” said Mrs. Barlow, with tears in her eyes; “but I was thinking of bringing her away from her dead mother to-morrow. She can be with our children, you know, and so be out of the trouble.”
“Why didn't you bring her up now, Fanny?" asked John.
“The poor little thing was asleep, John; and she won't know anything about this trouble before I go down to dress her in the morning.”
" True,” said John; “but you had better go in good time, Fanny."
And so that new year's day was well begun by John and Fanny Barlow with a kind thought and compassionate
A week later, and little Lucy Meredith was still retained at John Barlow's cottage, sometimes fretting a little to go back to her mother, and perhaps wondering in her infant mind why a black frock (made out of an old mourning gown from Mrs. Barlow's stock of laid-by clothes) was put upon her, but otherwise happy enough with her young playfellows.
• Fanny, I have been thinking,” said John, that evening, as he and his wife sat by their fire, after the children were safe in bed.
“Yes, John,” returned Fanny, when she found that her husband stopped short.
“ About Lucy Meredith, Fanny."
“Poor little thing! I have been thinking about her too, all day, and every day since the new year came in. A sorrowful new year it will turn out for her, I am afraid.”
“Little Lucy's father was a good man, though he did come down so in the world,” said John.
“And none the less a Christian for having come down,” said Fanny. “I always think of poor Meredith when I read those words, Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.' We little thought, three years ago, when they were married, how soon their joy would be turned into sorrow."
“Ah, but their sorrow is turned into joy now, Fanny; for their blessed spirits are where they hunger no more neither thirst any more; and where there is no more sighing nor crying."
• That is quite true, John; for Mrs. Meredith was a right-hearted disciple of the Lord Jesus. And that makes me think more of little Lucy, perhaps; for the only thing | that troubled the poor young mother all through her illness was what would become of her little one in case of her own death ; and whether she would grow up in ignorance of good things.”
“That must not be, Fanny; leastwise I hope it won't be. And, Fanny, I have been thinking whether our dear Lord has not put before us something in the way of duty, which we had never thought of.”
“How do you mean, John ?" asked the wife.
“You remember, Fanny,” replied the husband, “where it is set down that as we have opportunity we are to do good to all, but especially to them that are of the household of faith.”
“Yes, surely; and in a way and manner little Lucy may be said to be of the household of faith. I hope she will be really one of that household herself, when she grows up,” returned Mrs. Barlow.
“I hope so, too,” said John; “and, Fanny, it is not often that an opportunity comes—or, may be, opportunities do come very often, only we don't see them—but there's one now, and if we let it slip we shall never have another such, perhaps.”
"But what can we do, John? It is not as if we had got money; it would be easy enough then to know what to do for little Lucy," argued the wife.
"Easy to know what could be done, Fanny, but not easier to do it, perhaps," said the husband; “ for those who have got money generally think they have so many ways they must spend it in, that there is not much left for what they call extras. But that has not anything to do with us.”
"Well, but what is it you have been thinking about for Lucy Meredith ?” Mrs. Barlow wished to know.
John Barlow had been some time beating about the bush, but now he came straight to the point. “Supposing we offered to take charge of her, Fanny,” said he.
" Without payment, John?”