Mother Manikin’s Chairs
When Rosalie awoke it was almost dark. The woman was lighting the little oil-lamp, and filling the kettle from a large can of water, which stood in the corner of the caravan.
“Where are we?” said the child, in a sleepy voice.
“Close upon Pendleton, little ’un,” answered Jinx. “Get up and see the lights in the distance.”
“Oh, dear, and it’s nearly dark!” said Rosalie.
“Never mind, my dear; we’re just there,” said John Thomas. He did not know that she had five more miles to walk.
So the wheels of the caravan rumbled on, and in about a quarter of an hour they came into the streets of the town. It was quite dark now, and the lamps were all lighted, and the men were going home from work.
Then they arrived at the field where the fair was held; the very field where the old man had given Rosalie the picture. Not many caravans had arrived, for John Thomas had come in early.
And now Rosalie must leave her kind friends, which she did with many grateful thanks. But before she said goodbye, she whispered a few words in the woman’s ear.
To which the old woman replied, “Yes, child; this very night I will.” And she gave Rosalie a warm, loving kiss on her forehead.
Then the little girl went down the caravan steps, and turned into the neighboring street. The Good Shepherd who had helped her so wonderfully as far as this would never leave her now. This was her one comfort. Yet she could not help feeling very lonely as she went down the street, and peeped in at the windows as she passed by. In nearly every house a bright fire was burning, and tea was ready on the table. In some, a happy family was just sitting down to their evening meal. In all, there was an air of comfort and rest.
And Rosalie, little motherless Rosalie, was out in the cold, muddy, damp street alone, out in the darkness and the rain, and five miles from her Aunt Lucy’s house! How could she ever walk so far, that cold, dark night? She trembled as she thought of going alone down those lonely country roads, without a light, without a friend to take care of her. And yet she would be still more afraid to wander about the streets of this great town, where she was sure there was so much wickedness and sin.
Even now there were very few people passing down the street, and Rosalie began to feel very much afraid of being out alone. She must find someone at once to show her the way to Melton.
The child was passing a small neat row of houses built close upon the street. Most of them were shut up for the night, but through the cracks of the shutters Rosalie could see the bright light within.
But the last house in the row was not yet shut up, and as Rosalie came near to it, she saw a childish figure come out of the door and go up to the shutters to close them. The fasteners of the shutters had caught in the hook on the wall, and the little thing was too short to unloose it. She was standing on tiptoe, trying to undo it, when Rosalie came up.
“Let me help you,” she said, running up and unfastening the shutter.
“I’m extremely obliged to you,” said the other in a voice which made Rosalie start.
It was no child’s voice. It was a voice she knew well, a voice she had often longed to hear. It was little Mother Manikin’s voice!
With one glad cry of joy, Rosalie flung herself into the little woman’s arms.
Mother Manikin drew back at first. It was dark, and she could not see Rosalie’s face.
But when the child said, in a tone of distress, “Mother Manikin, dear Mother Manikin, don’t you know me? I’m little Rosalie Joyce,” the dear little old woman was full of love and sympathy in a moment.
She dragged Rosalie indoors into a warm little kitchen at the back of the house, where the table was spread for tea, and a kettle was singing cheerily on the fire. And she sat on a stool beside her, with both her little hands grasping Rosalie’s.
“And now, child,” she said, “how ever did you find me out?”
“I didn’t find you out, Mother Manikin,” said Rosalie. “You found me out.”
“What do you mean, child?” said the old woman.
“Why, dear Mother Manikin, I didn’t know you were here. I didn’t know who it was till I had finished unfastening the shutter.”
“Bless me, child! Then what makes you out at this time of night? Has your caravan just arrived at the fair?”
“No, dear Mother Manikin, I’ve not come to the fair. I’m quite alone, and I have five miles farther to walk.”
“Tell me all about it, child,” said Mother Manikin.
So Rosalie told her all—told her how and where her mummy had died; told her about the great lodging house, and the lady of the house; told her about her father’s marriage and death; told her of her Aunt Lucy, and the letter and the locket; told her everything, as she would have told her own mother. For Mother Manikin had a motherly heart, and Rosalie knew it. And the tired child felt a wonderful sense of comfort and rest in pouring out her sorrows into those sympathising ears.
But in the middle of Rosalie’s story the little woman jumped up, saying hurriedly, “Wait a minute, child; here’s a strange kitten got in.”
She was just going to drive out the little black stranger, which was mewing loudly under the table, when the child stopped her.
“Please dear Mother Manikin, that’s my little kit. She has come with me all the way, and she’s very hungry—that’s why she makes such a noise.”
In another minute a saucer of milk was placed on the rug before the fire, and the poor little kitten had enough and to spare.
Rosalie was very grateful to Mother Manikin, and very glad to be with her; but just as she was finishing her story, the tall clock in the corner of the kitchen struck seven, and Rosalie started to her feet.
“Mother Manikin,” she said, “I must be off. I’ve five miles farther to walk.”
“Stuff and nonsense, child!” said the old woman. “Do you think I’m going to let you go tonight? Not a bit of it, I can tell you. Old age must have its liberties, my dear, and I’m not going to allow it.”
“Oh, Mother Manikin,” said Rosalie, “what do you mean?”
“What do I mean, child? Why, that you’re to sleep here tonight, and then go, all rested and refreshed, to your aunt’s tomorrow. That’s what I mean. Why, I have ever such a nice little house here, bless you!” said the little woman. “Just you come and look.”
So she took Rosalie upstairs, and showed her the neatest little bedroom in the front of the house, and another room over the kitchen which Mother Manikin called her greenhouse, for in it, arranged on boxes near the window, were all manner of flowerpots, containing all manner of flowers, ferns, and mosses.
“It’s a nice sunny room, my dear,” said Mother Manikin, “and it’s my hobby, you see. Old age must have its liberties, and these little bits of plants are my hobby. I live here all alone, and they’re company, you see. And now, come downstairs and see my little parlor.”
The parlor was in the front of the house, and it was the shutters of this room which Mother Manikin was closing as Rosalie came up. A bright lamp hung from the ceiling of the room, and white muslin curtains adorned the window. But what struck Rosalie most of all was that the parlor was full of chairs. There were rows and rows of chairs. Indeed, the parlor was so full of them that Mother Manikin and Rosalie could hardly find a place to stand.
“What a number of chairs you have here, Mother Manikin!” said the child in amazement.
The old woman laughed at Rosalie’s astonished face.
“Rosalie, child,” she said, “do you remember how you talked to me that night—the night when we sat up in the caravan?”
Rosalie’s eyes filled with tears at the thought of it.
“Yes, dear Mother Manikin,” she answered.
“Do you remember how I looked at your picture, and you told me all about it?”
“Yes, Mother Manikin,” said the child, “I remember that.”
“And do you remember a question that you asked me then, Rosalie, childl! ‘Mother Manikin,’ you said, ‘has He, found you?’ And I thought about it a long time; and then I told you the truth. I said, ‘No, child, He hasn’t found me.’ But if you asked me that question tonight, Rosalie, child; if you asked little Mother Manikin, ‘Do you think the Good Shepherd has found you now, Mother Manikin?’ I should tell you, Rosalie child, I should tell you that He went about to seek and save them which were lost, and that one day, when He was seeking, He found little Mother Manikin.
“Yes, my dear,” said the old woman. “He found me. I cried out to Him that I was lost, and wanted finding, and He heard me, child. He heard me, and He carried me on His shoulders rejoicing.”
Little Rosalie could not help crying when she heard this, but they were tears of joy.
“So I gave up the fairs, child. It didn’t seem as if I could follow the Good Shepherd there. There was a lot of foolishness, and nonsense, and distraction; so I left them. I told them old age must have its liberties. And I brought away my savings, and a little sum of money I had of my own, and I took this little house. So that’s how it is, child,” said the little old woman.
“But about the chairs?” said Rosalie.
“Yes, about the chairs,” repeated the old woman. “I’m coming to that now. I was sitting one night thinking, my dear, over the kitchen fire. I was thinking about the Good Shepherd, and how He had died for me, just that I might be found and brought back to the fold. And I thought, child, when He had been so good to me, it was very bad of me to do nothing for Him in return. Nothing to show Him I’m grateful, you see. I shook my fist, and I said to myself, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mother Manikin! You little, idle, ungrateful old thing!’
“But then, Rosalie, child, I began to think, ‘What can I do?’ I’m so little, you see, and folks laugh at me, and run after me when I go out. And so all things seemed closed upon me. There seemed nothing for little Mother Manikin to do for the Good Shepherd. So I knelt down, child, and I asked Him. I said, ‘O Good Shepherd, have You got any work for a woman that’s only three feet high? Because I do love You, and want to do it.’
“Well, Rosalie, child, it came quite quick after that. Mr. Westerdale called, and, said he, ‘Mother Manikin, I want to have a little Bible meeting for some of the poor folks around here—the mothers who have little babies, and can’t get to any place of worship, and a few more, who are often ill, and can’t walk far. Do you know,’ he asked, ‘anybody in this row who would let me have a room for my class?’
“Well, child, I danced for joy. I really did, child. I danced like I hadn’t danced since I left the Royal Show. So Mr. Westerdale, he says, ‘What’s the matter, Mother Manikin?’ He thought I’d gone clean off my head!
“ ‘Why, Mr. Westerdale,’ I cried, ‘there’s something I can do for the Good Shepherd, though I’m only three feet high!’
“So then he understood, child. And he finds the parlor very convenient, and the people come so nicely, and it’s a happy night for me. So that’s what the chairs are for.
“Mr. Westerdale will be here in a minute, child. He always gets a cup of tea with me before the folks come. That’s why I’m so late tonight. I always wait till he comes.”
She had no sooner said the words than a rap was heard at the door, and the little woman ran to open it for Mr. Westerdale. He was an old man, with a rosy, good-tempered face, and a kind and cheerful voice.
“Well, Mother Manikin,” he said, as he came into the kitchen, “a good cup of tea ready for me as usual! What a good, kind woman you are!”
“This is a little friend of mine, Mr. Westerdale,” said Mother Manikin, introducing Rosalie.
But Rosalie needed no introduction. She shook hands with the old man, and then darted out of the room, and in another minute returned with her small bag, which she had left upstairs. Hastily unfastening it, she took from it her dear picture—the picture which had done so much for her and her mother and little Mother Manikin—and, holding it up before the old man, she cried out, “Please, sir, it’s quite safe. I’ve kept it all this time. And, sir, I do love it so!”
For Mr. Westerdale was Rosalie’s old friend, who had come to see her in the fair, just a year ago. He did not remember her, but he remembered the picture. And when Rosalie told him where she had seen him, a recollection of the sick woman and her pretty child came back to his mind. As they sat over their comfortable little tea, and Rosalie told how that picture had been the messenger of mercy to her dying mother, the old man’s face became brighter than ever.
And after tea the people began to arrive. It was a pleasant sight to see how little Mother Manikin welcomed them, one by one, as they came in. They all seemed to know her well, and to love her, and trust her. She had so many questions to ask them, and they had so much to tell her. There was Freddy’s cough to be inquired after, and grandfather’s rheumatism, and the baby’s chickenpox. And Mother Manikin must be told how Willie had got that situation he was trying for, and how old Mrs. Joyce had got a letter from her daughter at last; and how Mrs. Price’s daughter had broken her leg, and Mrs. Price had told them to say how glad she would be if Mother Manikin could go in to see her for a few minutes sometimes.
Little Mother Manikin had “a heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathise,”* and their troubles were her troubles, their joys her joys.
At last everyone had arrived, and the chairs in the parlor were all filled. Then the clock struck eight, and they were all quite still as Mr. Westerdale gave out the hymn. And when the hymn and the prayer were ended, Mr. Westerdale began to speak. Rosalie was sitting close to Mother Manikin, and she listened very attentively to all that her old friend said.
“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18): that was the text of the sermon.
“A long way from here, my friends,” said Mr. Westerdale, “a long way from here, in the land of Palestine, is a beautiful mountain, the top of which is covered with the purest, whitest snow. One day, a very great many years ago, the Apostle John and two of his friends were lying on the mountain asleep, and when they awoke, they saw a wonderful sight. They saw the Lord Jesus in His glory, and His raiment was exceeding white—as white as snow.
“A few years later, God let this same Apostle John look into heaven; and there he saw everything the same color—pure, unstained white. The Lord Jesus had His head and His hair as white as wool, as white as snow. He was sitting on a white throne, and all the vast multitude standing round the throne had white robes on—pure, spotless white; as white as snow.
“Nothing, my friends, that is not perfect white can enter heaven, for pure, perfect white is heaven’s color.
“What does all this mean? It means that nothing can enter that holy heaven that is not perfectly pure, perfectly holy, perfectly free from sin.
“For there is another color mentioned in my text, a color which is just the opposite to white—scarlet—glaring scarlet. And this color is used as a picture of that which is not pure, not holy, that upon which God cannot look—I mean sin.
“Your sins are as scarlet, God says; and no scarlet can enter heaven. Nothing is found within the gates of heaven but pure white, as white as snow. Nothing short of perfect holiness can admit you or me into heaven. When we stand before the gate, it will be no good our pleading, I’m almost white, I’m nearly white, I’m whiter than my neighbors. Nothing but pure white, nay, white as snow, will avail us anything. One single scarlet spot is enough to shut the gates of heaven against us.
“Oh, dear friends, this is a very solemn thought. For who in this room, which of you mothers, which of you young girls, can stand up and say, ‘There is no scarlet spot on me, I am free from sin. Heaven’s gate would be opened to me, for I have never done anything wrong—I am quite white, as white as snow.’
“Which of you can say that? Which of you would dare to say it, if you stood before the gate of heaven tonight?
“There is no hope, then, you say, for me. Heaven’s gates are forever closed against me. I have sinned over and over again. I am covered with scarlet spots, nay, I am altogether scarlet.
“Red like crimson, deep as scarlet,
Scarlet of the deepest dye,
Are the manifold transgressions
Which upon my conscience lie!
“God alone can count their number!
God alone can look within;
Oh, the sinfulness of sinning!
Oh, the guilt of every sin!”
“So there is no hope, not the least, for me! Only spotless white can enter heaven, so I must be for ever shut out!
“Must you? Is there indeed no hope?
“Listen, oh, listen again to the text—‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’
“Then there is a way of changing the scarlet into white. There is a way of making the deep, glaring scarlet turn into pure white, as white as snow.
“Oh, what good news for us! What glad tidings of great joy!
“But how is it done? How can you or I, who are so covered with scarlet stains of sin, be made as white as snow?
“Dear friends, this is the way. There is One, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been punished instead of us, who has taken all our sins upon Him, just as if they were His own sins, and has been punished for them, as if He had really done them. The great God who loved us so planned all this. And now He can forgive us our sins, for the punishment is over. He can not only forgive, but He can forget. He can blot them out. He can make us clean and white, as white as snow.
“This then is His offer to you tonight. ‘Come now,’ He cries, ‘only accept My offer.’ Only take the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior; only ask Him to wash you in His blood; only see, by faith, that He died in your place, instead of you. And your sins—your scarlet sins—shall be made as white as snow. This very night, before you lie down to sleep, you may be made so white, that heaven’s gate will, when you stand before it, be thrown wide open to you. So white, that you will be fit to stand among that great multitude which no man can number, who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“My dear friends, will you accept God’s offer? Will you come to the Lord Jesus to be made white? Will you plead this promise, the promise in my text? Will you, before you lie down to sleep, say, ‘O Lord, my sins are indeed as scarlet. Make them, in the blood of Christ, as white as snow.’
“Will you, I ask you again, accept God’s offer? Yes, or No?”