A Dark Time
One morning, when Rosalie was upstairs in her attic reading quietly to herself, the door opened softly, and Betsey Ann came in with a very troubled look in her face, and sat down on one of the boxes.
“What’s the matter, Betsey Ann?” asked the child.
“Deary me, deary me!” said the girl. “I’m real sorry, that I am!”
“What is it?” said Rosalie.
“If it only wasn’t her, I shouldn’t have minded so much,” explained Betsey Ann. “But she is—I can’t tell you what she is; she’s dreadful sometimes. Oh, dear! I am upset about it!”
“About what?” asked Rosalie again.
“I’ve guessed as much a long time,” said Betsey Ann. “But they was very deep, them two, and I couldn’t be quite sure of it. There’s no mistake about it now, more’s the pity!”
“Do tell me, please, Betsey Ann!” pleaded the child.
“Well, Rosalie,” said the girl, “I may as well tell you at once. You’re going to have a ma!”
“A what?” said the child.
“A ma—a new mother. She’s going to be Mrs. Augustus Joyce.”
“Oh, Betsey Ann,” said Rosalie mournfully, “are you sure?”
“Sure? yes,” said the girl, “only too sure. One of the lodgers told me. And, what’s more, them two have gone off in a cab together just now, and it’s my belief that they’ve gone to church to finish it off. Ay, but I am sorry!”
“Oh, Betsey Ann,” sobbed little Rosalie, “what shall I do?”
“I never was so cut up about anything,” said the girl. “She’s been just decent to you till now. But when she’s made it sure she’ll be another woman, you’ll see. Oh, dear, oh, dear! But I must be off. I’ve lots to do afore she comes back, and I shall catch it if I waste my time.
“Oh, Rosalie, I wish I hadn’t told you!” she added, as she listened to the child’s sobs.
“Oh, it’s better I should know,” said Rosalie. “Thank you, dear Betsey Ann.”
“I’m real sorry, I am!” Betsey Ann murmured to herself, as she went downstairs. “I’m a big strong girl, but she’s such a weakly little darling. I’m real sorry, I am!”
When Betsey Ann was gone, Rosalie was left to her own sorrowful meditations. All her dreams of quiet and peace in the caravan were at an end. They would either remain in the large lodging house, or, if they went on their travels, the lady of the house would be also the lady of the caravan. And how would she ever be able to keep her dear letter and locket safe from those inquisitive eyes?
What a wretched life seemed before the child as she looked on into the future! She seemed farther from her Aunt Lucy than ever before. And how would she ever be able to do as her mother had asked her—to read her Bible, and pray, and learn more and more about the Good Shepherd.
Life seemed very dark and cheerless to little Rosalie. The sunshine had faded from her sky, and all was chill and lifeless. She lost hope and she lost faith for a time. She thought the Good Shepherd must have forgotten all about her, to let this new trouble come to her. And she was very much afraid that she would grow up a bad woman, and never, never, never see her mother again.
When she had cried for some time, and was becoming more and more miserable every moment, she stretched out her hand for her little Testament, to see if she could find anything there to comfort her. She was turning quickly over the leaves, not knowing exactly where to read, when the word sheep attracted her attention.
Ever since the old man had given her the picture, she had always loved those texts the best which speak of the Lord as the Shepherd and His children as the sheep. This was the one on which her eyes fell that sorrowful day: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
The words seemed to soothe and comfort the troubled child, even before she had thought much about them. But when she began to think the verses over word by word, as was her custom, they seemed to Rosalie to be everything she wanted just then.
“ ‘My sheep.’ It’s the Good Shepherd speaking,” thought Rosalie, “speaking about His sheep. ‘My sheep,’ He calls them. Am I one of them? I hope I am. I have asked the Good Shepherd to find me, and I think He has.
“ ‘My sheep hear My voice.’ Oh, please Good Shepherd, said little Rosalie, “may I hear Your voice. May I do all that You tell me, and always try to please You!
“ ‘And I know them.’ I’m glad the Good Shepherd knows me,” said Rosalie; “because if He knows me, and knows all about me, then He knows just how worried and troubled I am. He knows all about Father getting married, and the lady of the house coming to live in our caravan. And He knows how hard it is to do right when I’ve only bad people around me. Yes, He knows all that.
“ ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.’ ‘They follow Me.’ Where the Good Shepherd goes the sheep go,” said Rosalie to herself. “He walks first, and they walk after; they go just where He went. Oh, dear! I’m sure I don’t think He ever went to fairs or theaters or shows. And I must go; can I be a sheep after all? But then I don’t want to go; I don’t like going one bit. As soon as ever I can, I won’t go any more. And the Good Shepherd must know that, if He knows His sheep. And I do want to follow Him, to walk after Him, and only say and do what the Good Shepherd would have said and done. I do hope I am a little sheep, though I do live in a caravan.”
But the second verse seemed to Rosalie even more beautiful than the first: “I give unto them eternal life.”
She knew what eternal meant; it meant forever and forever. Her mother had taught her that. And this was the Shepherd’s present to His sheep. Eternal life; they were to live forever and ever. It was a wonderful thought. Rosalie’s little mind could not quite grasp it, but it did her good to think of it. It made her present troubles and worries seem very small and insignificant. If she was going to live forever, and ever, and ever, what a little bit of that long time would be spent in this sorrowful world! All the troubles would soon be over. She would not have to live in a caravan in heaven. She would never be afraid there of doing wrong, or growing up wicked. Oh, that was a very good thought. The sorrow would not last always. Good times were coming, for Rosalie had received the Good Shepherd’s present, even eternal life.
“And they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
“After all,” thought Rosalie, “that is the very sweetest bit of all the text. If I am one of the sheep, and if I am in the Good Shepherd’s hand, no one can pluck me out of it. What a strong hand He must have to hold all His sheep so fast!”
“Oh, Good Shepherd,” prayed Rosalie again, “hold me fast. Don’t let anyone pluck me out of Thy hand; not Father, not the new mother, nor any of the people here. Please hold me very tight. I am so afraid. I’m only a little sheep, and I have no one to help me, so please hold me tighter than the rest. Amen.”
Oh, how this prayer lightened little Rosalie’s heart! She rose from her knees comforted. Safe in the Good Shepherd’s hand, who or what could harm her?
It was well she had been thus strengthened and comforted, for a few minutes afterwards she heard her father’s voice calling her, and, going downstairs, she found him sitting in the parlor with the lady of the house.
“Rosalie,” said her father, with a theatrical bow, “allow me to introduce you to your lady mother!”
He evidently expected her to be very much astonished, but Rosalie tried to smile, and gave her hand to the lady of the house. And, as she put her little trembling hand in that of her new mother, it seemed to Rosalie as if the Good Shepherd tightened the hold of His hand on His little forlorn lamb.
Her father, after a few heartless remarks about Rosalie having a mother again, dismissed her, and she went up again to her attic.
But the very next day Rosalie saw clearly that Betsey Ann’s predictions were likely to be fulfilled.
“Rosalie,” said her stepmother, as soon as she came downstairs, “I intend that you shall make yourself useful now. I’m not going to have a daughter of mine idling away her time as you have been doing lately. Fetch some water and scour the sitting room floor. And when you’ve done that, there’s plenty more for you to do! I know how to make girls work!”
Rosalie thought she could very easily believe that.
Her father was standing by, and only laughed at what his wife said.
“It will do her good,” Rosalie heard him say, as she went out of the room. “She needs a bit of hard work.”
And a bit of hard work Rosalie certainly had. It was difficult to say whether she or Betsey Ann had the more to do. Perhaps Rosalie’s life was the harder, for every night she had to go, weary and footsore as she was, to the theater, and take her usual part in the play. And when she came home at night, she was so worn out that she could hardly drag herself up to the attic to bed.
But the hard work was not what Rosalie minded most. There was fault-finding from morning till night, without one single word of praise and encouragement. There were unkind, cruel words, and even blows to bear. But what was worse than all these was that the child had to wait upon many of the rude and noisy and wicked lodgers, and heard and saw much, very much, that was so bad and unholy, that the very thought of it made her shudder as she knelt at night to pray in her little attic.
Would she ever be kept from harm in this dreadful place? Sometimes little Rosalie felt as if she would sink under it. But the Good Shepherd’s hand was around her, and she was kept safe. No one could pluck her out of that hand. No evil thing could touch her. By staying close to him the Good Shepherd’s little sheep was perfectly safe in His almighty grasp.
Rosalie saw very little of her father at this time. He was out nearly all the afternoon, only coming home in time to go with them to the theater at night. Then, when the performance was over, he often did not go home with his wife and Rosalie, but sent them off in a cab, and went with one of his friends in another direction. Where they went Rosalie never knew. She feared it was to one of the taverns, which stood at the corner of almost every street in that crowded neighborhood.
And Rosalie never knew when her father returned home. He had a key, and let himself in after all in the house were asleep. Rosalie saw him no more until lunchtime the next day, when he would come downstairs in a very bad temper with everyone.
She was often unhappy about him, and would have done anything she could to make him think about his soul. But it seemed of no use speaking to him. Ever since his wife’s death he had appeared quite hardened, as if he had buried his last convictions of sin in her grave. Augustus Joyce had resisted the Spirit of God, and that Spirit seemed to strive with him no longer. The Good Shepherd had longed and yearned to find him; but the wayward wanderer had refused to hear His voice. He had preferred the far country and wilderness of sin to the safe folds and the Shepherd’s arms. He had hardened his heart to all that would have made him better, and for the last time had turned away from the tender mercies of God!
One night, when Rosalie had gone to bed, with the kitten beside her on the pillow, and had fallen asleep from very weariness and exhaustion, she was startled by a hand laid on her shoulder, and Betsey Ann’s voice saying, “Rosalie, Rosalie! What can it be?”
She started up quickly, and saw Betsey Ann standing beside her, looking very frightened.
“Rosalie,” she said, “didn’t you hear it?”
“Hear what?” asked the child.
“Why, I was fast asleep,” said Betsey Ann, “and I woke all of a sudden, and I heard the doorbell ring.”
“Are you sure?” said Rosalie. “I heard nothing.”
“No, you didn’t,” said Betsey Ann. “And the missis doesn’t seem to have heard. Everyone’s been asleep a long time. But then, you see, I have to go so fast to open it when it rings in the day, I expect the sound of it would make me jump up if I was ever so fast asleep.”
“Are you quite sure, Betsey Ann?” said Rosalie once more.
But she had hardly spoken the words before the bell rang again very loudly, and left no doubt about it.
“Do you mind coming with me, Rosalie?” said Betsey Ann, as she prepared to go downstairs.
“No, I don’t mind,” said the child. “I’m not afraid.”
So the two girls hastily put on their clothes and went downstairs. Just as they arrived at the bottom of the steep staircase, the bell rang again, louder than before, and the lady of the house came on the landing to see what it was.
“Please, ma’am,” said Betsey Ann, “it’s the house bell. Me and Rosalie are just going to open the door.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, I should think,” said she. “It will be someone who has arrived by the train, and has come to the wrong door.”
While they were talking, the bell rang again, more violently than before, and Betsey Ann opened the door. It was a dark night, but she could see a man standing on the doorstep.
“Is this Mrs. Joyce’s?” he inquired.
“Yes,” said the girl. “She lives here.”
“Then she’s wanted,” said the man. “Tell her to be quick and come.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Rosalie.
“It’s an accident,” said the man. “He’s in the hospital, is her husband. He’s been run over by a van. I’ll take her there if she’ll be quick. I’m a mate of Joyce’s, and I was passing at the time.”
Rosalie stood as if she had been stunned, unable to speak or move, while Betsey Ann went upstairs to tell her mistress.
“It’s all because of that drink,” said the man, more as if talking to himself than to Rosalie. “It’s an awful thing is drink. He never saw the van nor heard it, but rolled right under the wheels. I was passing by, I was, and I said to myself, ‘That’s Joyce.’ So I followed him to the hospital, and came to tell his wife. Dear me! it’s a bad job, it is.”
In a few minutes Mrs. Augustus Joyce came downstairs dressed to go out. Rosalie ran up to her and begged to go with her, but she was ordered to go back to bed, and her stepmother hastened out with the man.
What a long night that seemed to Rosalie! How she longed for morning to dawn, and lay awake straining her ears for any sound which might tell her that her stepmother had returned.
At length, as the gray morning light was stealing into the room, the doorbell rang again, and Betsey Ann went to open the door for her mistress. Rosalie felt as if she did not dare to go downstairs to hear what had happened.
Presently the slipshod shoes came slowly upstairs, and Betsey Ann came into the attic.
“Tell me,” said the child, “what is it?”
“He’s dead,” said Betsey Ann solemnly. “He was dead when she got there. He never knew nothing after the wheels went over him. Isn’t it awful, though?”
Little Rosalie could not speak and could not cry. She sat quite still and motionless.
What of her father’s soul? That was the thought uppermost in her mind. Oh, where was he now? Was his soul safe? Could she have any hope, even the faintest, that he was with her mother in the bright home above?
It was a terrible end to Augustus Joyce’s ungodly and sinful life. Cut off in the midst of his sins, with no time for repentance, no time to take his heavy load of guilt to the Savior, whose love he had scorned and rejected. Oh, how often had he been called and invited by the Good Shepherd’s voice of love! But he would not hearken, and now it was too late.