Rosalie’s First Sermon
The next morning, as soon as they had started on their journey, Rosalie begged her mother to continue her story. So, after satisfying herself that her husband did not intend to join them, the poor woman took up the thread of her story at the place at which she had left it when they were interrupted the day before.
“I was telling you, dear, about my life in that quiet country mansion. I think I can remember nothing worth mentioning, until an event happened which altered the whole course of our lives.
“Lucy and I had been out riding in the park on the beautiful new horses which our father had given us a few months before, and we had had a very pleasant afternoon. I can see Lucy now in her riding-habit—her fair hair hanging down her back, and her cheeks glowing with the air and exercise. She was very pretty, was my sister Lucy. People said I was handsomer than she was, and had a better figure and brighter eyes; but Lucy was a sweet-looking little thing, and no one could look at her without loving her.
“We got down from our horses, leaving them with the groom who had been riding out with us, and ran into the house. But we were met by one of the servants, with a face white with alarm, who begged us to go quietly upstairs, as our father was very ill, and the doctor said he was to be perfectly quiet. We asked her what was the matter with him, and she told us that as he had been riding home from the railway station, his horse, which was a young one he had just bought, had thrown him, and that he had been brought home unconscious. More than this she could not tell us, but our mother came into our bedroom, and told us, with more feeling than I had ever seen in her face before, that our father could not live through the night.
“I shall never forget that night. It was the first time that I had been brought close to death, and it frightened me. I lay awake, listening to the hall clock as it struck one hour after another. Then I crept out of bed, and put my head out of the window. It was a close, oppressive night—not a breath seemed to be stirring. I wondered what was going on in the next room, and whether I should ever see my father again. Then I thought I heard a sound, but it was only Lucy sobbing beneath the bedclothes.
“ ‘Lucy,’ I said, glad to find she was awake, ‘isn’t it a long night?’
“ ‘Yes, Norah,’ she answered. ‘I’m so frightened. Shall we have a light?’
“I found the matches and lighted a candle; but three or four large moths darted into the room, so that I had to close the window.
“We lay awake in our little beds watching the moths darting in and out of the candlelight, and straining our ears for any sound from our father’s room. Each time a door shut we jumped, and sat up in bed listening.
“ ‘Wouldn’t you be frightened if you were dying, Norah?’ said Lucy, under her breath.
“ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m sure I should.’
“Then there was silence again for a long time; and I thought Lucy had fallen asleep, when she got up in bed and spoke again—
“ ‘Norah, do you think you would go to heaven if you were to die?’
“ ‘Yes, of course,’ I said quickly. ‘Why do you ask me?’
“ ‘I don’t think I should,’ said Lucy; ‘I’m almost sure I shouldn’t.’
“We lay still for about another hour, and then the door opened, and our mother came in. She was crying very much, and had a handkerchief to her eyes.
' “Your father wants to see you,’ she said. ‘Come at once.’
“We crept very quietly into the room of death, and stood beside our father’s bed. His face was so altered that it frightened us, and we trembled from head to foot. But he held out his hand to us, Rosalie, and we drew closer to him. Then he whispered, ‘Goodbye! don’t forget your father. And don’t wait till you come to die to get ready for another world.’
“Then we kissed him, and our mother told us to go back to bed. I never forgot my father’s last words to us; and I often wondered what made him say them.
“The next morning we heard that our father was dead. Gerald arrived too late to see him. He was at college then, and was just preparing for his last examination.
“My mother seemed at first very much distressed by my father’s death; she shut herself up in her room, and would see no one. The funeral was a very grand one. All the people of the neighbourhood came to it, and Lucy and I peeped out of one of the top windows to see it start. After it was over, Gerald went back to college, and my mother returned to her novels. I think she thought, Rosalie, that she would be able to return to her old life much as before. But no sooner had Gerald passed his last examination than she received a letter from him saying that he intended to be married in a few months, and to bring his bride to the Hall. Then for the first time the truth flashed upon my mother’s mind, that she would soon be no longer the mistress of the mansion, but would have to seek a home elsewhere. She seemed at first very angry with Gerald for marrying so early. But she could say nothing against his choice, for she was a young lady of the nobility, and one in every way suited to the position she was to occupy.
“My mother at length decided to move to a town in the midland counties, where she would have some good society and plenty of gaiety, s as soon as her mourning for my father was ended.
“It was a great trial to us, leaving the old home. Lucy and I went around the park the day before we left, gathering leaves from our favorite trees, and taking a last look at the home of our childhood. Then we walked through the house, and looked out of the windows on the lovely wooded hills with tears in our eyes. I have never seen it since, and I shall never see it again. Sometimes, when we are coming through the country, it brings it back to my mind, and I could almost fancy I was walking down one of the long grassy terraces, or wandering in the quiet shade of the trees in the park. Hush! what was that, Rosalie?” said her mother, leaning forward to listen. “Was it music?”
At first Rosalie could hear nothing except Toby whistling to his horse, and the rumbling of the wheels of the caravan. She went to the door and leaned out, and listened once more. The sun was beginning to set, for Rosalie’s mother had only been able to talk at intervals during the day, from her frequent fits of coughing, and from numerous other interruptions, such as the preparations for dinner, the halting to give the horses rest, and the occasional visits of Augustus.
The rosy clouds were gathering in the west, as the pure evening breeze wafted to the little girl’s ears the distant sound of bells.
“It’s bells, Mummy,” she said, turning round, “church bells; can’t you hear them? Ding-dong-bell, ding-dong-bell.”
“Yes,” said her mother, “I can hear them clearly now; our old nurse used to tell us they were saying, ‘Come and pray, come and pray.’ Oh, Rosalie, it is such a comfort to be able to speak of those days to someone! I’ve kept it all hidden up in my heart till sometimes I have felt as if it would burst.”
“I can see the church now, Mummy,” said Rosalie. “It’s a pretty little gray church with a tower, and we’re going through the village; aren’t we, Toby?”
“Yes, Miss Rosie,” said Toby; “we’re going to stop there all night. The horses are tired out, and it’s so easy to see, that even Master can see it now. We shall get on all the quicker for giving them a bit of rest.”
“Can’t you hear the bells nicely now, Mummy?” said Rosalie, turning around.
“Yes,” said the poor woman. “They sound just like the bells of our little church at home. I could almost cry when I hear them.”
By this time they had reached the village. It was growing dark, and the country people were lighting their candles, and gathering around their small fires. Rosalie could see inside many a cheerful little home, where the firelight was shining on the faces of the father, the mother, and the children. How she wished they had a little home!
Ding-dong-bell, ding-dong-bell; still the chimes went on, and one and another came out of the small cottages, and took the road leading to the church, with their books under their arms.
Toby drove on; nearer and nearer the chimes sounded, until at last, just as the caravan reached a wide open field in front of the church, they ceased, and Rosalie saw the last old woman entering the church door before the service began. The wagons and caravans were drawn up on this open space for the night. Toby and the other men led the horses away to the stables of the inn. Augustus followed them, to enjoy himself among the lively company assembled in the little coffee room, and Rosalie and her mother were left alone.
“Mummy dear,” said Rosalie, as soon as the men had turned the corner, “may I go and peep at the church?”
“Yes, child,” said her mother. “Only don’t make a noise if the people are inside.”
Rosalie did not wait for a second permission, but darted across the field, and opened the church gate. It was getting dark now, and the gravestones looked very solemn in the twilight. She went quickly past them, and crept along the side of the church to one of the windows. She could see inside the church quite well, because it was lighted up; but no one could see her as she was standing in the dark churchyard. Her bright quick eyes soon took in all that was to be seen. The minister was kneeling down, and so were all the people. There were a good many there, though the church was not full, as it was the mid-week service.
Rosalie watched at the window until all the people got up from their knees, when the pastor gave out a hymn, and they began to sing. Rosalie then looked for the door, that she might hear the music better. It was a warm evening, and the door was open, and before she knew what she was about, she had crept inside, and was sitting on a low seat just within. No one noticed her, for they were all looking in the opposite direction. Rosalie enjoyed the singing very much, and when it was over the pastor began to speak. He had a clear, distinct voice, and he spoke in simple language which everyone could understand.
Rosalie listened with all her might; it was the first sermon she had ever heard. “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10) That was the text of Rosalie’s first sermon.
As soon as the service was over, she stole out of the church, and crept down the dark churchyard. She had passed through the little gate and was crossing the field to the caravan before the first person had left the church. To Rosalie’s joy, her father had not returned; for he had found the society in the village inn extremely attractive. Rosalie’s mother looked up as the child came in.
“Where have you been all this time, Rosalie?”
Rosalie gave an account of all she had seen, and told her how she had crept in at the open door of the church.
“And what did the minister say, child?” asked her mother.
“He said your text, Mummy—the text that was on your picture: ‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.’ ”
“And what did he tell you about it?”
“He said Jesus went up and down all over to look for lost sheep, Mummy; and he said we were all the sheep, and Jesus was looking for us. Do you think He is looking for you and me, Mummy dear?”
“I don’t know, child; I suppose so,” said her mother. “I shall take a good deal of looking for, I’m afraid.”
“But he said, Mummy, that if only we would let Him find us, He would be sure to do it; He doesn’t mind how much trouble He takes about it.”
Rosalie’s mother was quite still for some time after this. Rosalie stood at the caravan door, watching the bright stars coming out one by one in the still sky.
“Mummy dear,” she said, “is He up there?”
“Who, Rosalie, child?” said her mother.
“The Savior; is He up in one of the stars?”
“Yes; heaven’s somewhere there, Rosalie. Up above the sky somewhere.”
“Would it be any good telling Him, Mummy?”
“Telling Him what, my dear?”
“Just telling Him that you and me want seeking and finding.”
“I don’t know, Rosalie; you can try,” said her mother sadly.
“Please, Good Shepherd,” said Rosalie, looking up at the stars, “come and seek me and Mummy, and find us very quick, and carry us very safe, like the lamb in the picture.”
“Will that do, Mummy?” said Rosalie.
“Yes,” said her mother, “I suppose so.”
Then Rosalie was still again, looking at the stars; but a sudden thought seized her.
“Mummy, ought I to have said amen?”
“I heard the people at church say it. Will it do any good without amen?”
“Oh, I don’t think it matters much,” said her mother. “You can say it now, if you like.”
“Amen, amen,” said Rosalie, looking at the stars again.
But just then voices were heard in the distance, and Rosalie saw her father and the men crossing the dark field, coming in the direction of the caravan.