“Come to Me”
Rosalie, a young actress, has heard about the Shepherd who is seeking to gather lost lambs into His fold. In this chapter, she is traveling with her dying mother to the next fair, where her father is waiting for them. Jessie, a young lady who had run away to join a circus not long before, has taken refuge with them as she tries to find her way home.
When Rosalie awoke, she saw her mother sitting up in bed. Her breathing was very painful, and she was holding her hand to her side, as if she were in much pain.
The candle had burnt low in the socket, and the early morning light was stealing into the caravan. Jessie was still asleep in the corner, with her head leaning against the wall.
“Rosalie,” said her mother, under her breath, “where are we, and who is that girl?”
“We’re halfway to the town, Mummy—out by a moor; and that’s Britannia!”
“What do you mean?” asked her mother.
“It’s the girl we saw riding on that circus car in Lesborough, and she has run away, she was so miserable there.”
And then Rosalie told her mother the sad story the girl had related the night before.
“Poor thing! Poor young thing!” said the sick woman. “I’m glad you took her in; mind you give her a good breakfast. She does well to go back to her mother; it’s the best thing she can do. Is she asleep, Rosalie?”
“Yes, Mummy dear, she went to sleep before I did.”
“Do you think it would wake her if you were to sing to me?”
“No, Mummy dear, I shouldn’t think so, if I didn’t sing very loud.”
“Then could you sing me your hymn once more? I’ve had the tune in my ears all night, and I should so much like to hear it.”
So little Rosalie sang her hymn. She had a sweet low voice, and she sang it very well; if she had heard a tune once she never forgot it.
When she had finished singing, Jessie moved, and opened her eyes, and looked up with a smile, as if she were in the midst of a pleasant dream. Then, as she saw the inside of the caravan, the sick woman, and Rosalie, she remembered where she was, and burst into tears.
“What’s the matter?” said the child, running up to her, and putting her arms round her neck. “Were you thinking of your mother?”
“No, dear,” she said; “I was dreaming.”
“What were you dreaming?” asked Rosalie’s mother.
“I was dreaming I was at home, and it was Sunday, and we were at the Bible class, and singing the hymn we always begin with. I was singing it when I woke, and it made me cry to think it wasn’t true.”
“Perhaps it was my singing that made you dream it,” said Rosalie; “I’ve been singing to my mummy.”
“Oh, I should think that was it,” said the girl. “What did you sing? Will you sing it to me?”
Rosalie sang over again the first verse of the hymn. To her surprise, Jessie started from her seat and seized her by the hand.
“Where did you get that?” she asked hurriedly. “That’s the very hymn I was singing in my dream. We always sing it on Sunday afternoons at our Bible class.”
“I have it on a card,” said Rosalie, bringing her favorite card down from the wall.
“Why, who gave you that?” said the girl. “It’s just like mine; mine has a ribbon in it just that color! Where did you get it?”
“We were passing through a village,” said Rosalie, “and a kind woman gave it to me. We stopped there about an hour and she was singing it outside her cottage door.”
“Why it must have been our village, surely!” said Jessie. “I don’t think they have those cards anywhere else. What was the woman like?”
“She was a young woman with a very nice face; she had one little boy about two years old, and he was playing with his ball in front of the house. His mother was so good to us—she gave us some bread and milk.”
“Why, it must have been Mrs. Barker!” said the girl. “She lives close to us; our cottage is just a little farther up the road. She often sings when she’s at work. To think that you’ve been to our village! Oh, I wish you’d seen my mother!” she sighed.
About six o’clock Toby, the young caravan driver, came to the door, and asked how his mistress was, and if they were ready to start. He was very surprised when he saw Jessie sitting inside the caravan. But Rosalie told him in a few words how the poor girl came there, and asked him in what direction she ought to walk to get to her own home. Toby was very smart in knowing the way to nearly every place in the country, and he said that for ten miles farther their roads would be the same, and Jessie could ride with them in the caravan.
The poor girl was very grateful to them for all their kindness. She sat beside Rosalie’s mother all the morning, and did everything she could for her. The sick woman was very restless and wakeful. She was burning with fever, and tossed about from side to side of her bed. Every now and then her mind seemed to wander, and she talked of her mother and her sister Lucy, and of other things which Rosalie did not understand. Then she became quite sensible, and would repeat over and over again the words of the hymn, or would ask Rosalie to read to her once more about the lost sheep and the Good Shepherd.
When the child had read the parable, the mother turned to Jessie, and said to her, very earnestly, “Oh, do ask the Good Shepherd to find you now, Jessie; you’ll be so glad of it afterwards.”
“I’ve been so bad!” said Jessie, crying. “My mother has often talked to me, and Mrs. Leslie, the pastor’s wife, has, too; and yet, after all, I’ve gone and done this. I daren’t ever ask Him to find me now.”
“Why not, Jessie?” said Rosalie’s mother. “Why not ask Him?”
“Oh, He would have nothing to say to me now,” said the girl, sobbing, and hiding her face in her hands. “If I’d only gone to Him that Sunday!”
“What Sunday?” asked Rosalie.
“It was the Sunday before I left home. Mrs. Leslie talked to us so beautifully; it was about coming to Jesus. She asked us if we had come to Him to have our sins forgiven; and she said, ‘If you haven’t come to Him already, do come to Him today.’ And then she begged those of us who hadn’t come to Him before, to go home when the class was over, and kneel down in our own rooms and ask Jesus to forgive us that very Sunday afternoon. I knew I had never come to Jesus, and I made up my mind that I would do as our teacher asked us. But, as soon as we were outside the parsonage, the girls began talking and laughing, and made fun of somebody’s bonnet that they had seen at church that morning. And when I got home I thought no more of coming to Jesus, and I never went to Him—and, oh, I wish that I had!”
“Go now,” said Rosalie’s mother.
“It wouldn’t be any good,” said the girl sorrowfully. “If I thought it would—if I only thought He would forgive me, I would do anything—I would walk twice the distance home!”
“ ‘He [goeth] after that which is lost, until he find it,’ (Luke 15:4)” said the sick woman. “Are you lost, Jessie?”
“Yes,” said the girl, “that’s just what I am!”
“Then He is going after you,” said Rosalie’s mother again.
Jessie walked to the door of the caravan, and sat looking out without speaking. The sunlight was streaming on the purple heather, which was spread like a carpet on both sides of the road. Quiet little roadside springs trickled through the moss and ran across the path. The travelers had left the pine forest behind, and there was not a single tree in sight—nothing but large gray rocks and occasional patches of bright yellow gorse among the miles and miles of heather.
At last they came to a large signpost, at a corner where four roads met; here Toby said Jessie must leave them. But before she went there was a little whispered conversation between Rosalie and her mother, which ended in Jessie’s carrying away in her pocket no less than ten dollars of the gift they’d been given.
“You’ll need it before you get home, dear,” said the sick woman; “and mind you go straight to your mother. Don’t stop till you run right into her arms!”
“I won’t,” said Jessie.
The poor girl was very sorry to leave them. She kissed Rosalie and her mother many times; and as she went down the road, she kept turning round to wave her handkerchief, till the caravan was quite out of sight.
“So those girls knew nothing about it, Rosalie darling,” said her mother, when Jessie was gone.
“Nothing about what, Mummy dear?”
“Don’t you remember the girls that stood by our show when the procession went past? They wished they were Britannia, and thought she must be so happy and glad.”
“Oh, yes!” said Rosalie; “they knew nothing about it. All the time poor Jessie was so miserable she did not know what to do with herself.”
“It’s just the mistake I made, Rosalie darling, till I came behind the scenes, and knew how different everything looks when one is there. And so it is, dear, with everything of this world; it is all disappointing and vain when one gets to know it well.”
As evening drew on, they left the moor behind, and turned into a very dark and shady road with trees on both sides of the way. Rosalie’s mother was sleeping, for the first time since early morning, and Rosalie sat and looked out at the door of the caravan. The wood was very thick, and the long shadows of the trees fell across the road. Every now and then they disturbed four or five rabbits that were enjoying themselves by the side of the path, which ran headlong into their snug little holes as soon as they heard the creaking of the caravan wheels. Then an owl startled Rosalie by hooting in a tree overhead, and then several wood-pigeons cooed mournfully their sad good-nights.
The road was full of turnings, and wound in and out among the wood. Toby whistled a tune as he went along, and Rosalie sat and listened to him, quite glad that he broke the silence. She was not sorry when they left the wood behind and came into the open country. And at last there glimmered in the distance the lights of a village, where Toby said they would spend the night. He pulled up the caravan by the wayside, and begged a bed for himself in a barn belonging to one of the small village farms.
The next day was Sunday. Such a calm, quiet day, the very air seemed restful. The country children were just going to the Sunday school as the caravan started.
Their mothers had carefully dressed them in their best clothes, and were watching them down the village street.
The sick woman had had a restless and tiring night. Little Rosalie had watched beside her, and was weary and sad. Her poor mother had tossed from side to side of her bed and could find no position in which she was comfortable. Again and again the child altered her mother’s pillow, and tried to make her more easy; but though the poor woman thanked her very gently, not many minutes had passed before she wanted to be moved again.
But the Sunday stillness seemed to have a soothing effect on the sick woman. And as they left the village she fell asleep.
For hours that sleep lasted, and when she awoke she seemed refreshed and rested.
“Rosalie darling,” she said, calling her little girl to her side, “I’ve had such a beautiful dream!”
“What was it, Mummy dear?” asked Rosalie.
“I thought I was looking into heaven, Rosalie dear, in between the bars of the golden gates; and I saw all the people dressed in white walking up and down the streets of the city. And then somebody seemed to call them together, and they all went in one direction, and there was a beautiful sound of singing and joy, as if they had heard some good news. One of them passed close to the gate where I was standing, Rosalie, and he looked so happy and glad, as he was hastening on to join the others. So I called him, darling, and asked him what was going on.”
“And what did he say, Mummy dear?”
“He said, ‘It’s the Good Shepherd who has called us; He wants us to rejoice with Him; He has just found one of the lost sheep, which He has been seeking so long. Did not you hear His voice just now, when He called us all together? didn’t you hear Him saying, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:6)?’
“And then they all began to sing again, and somehow I knew they were singing for me, and that I was the sheep that was found. And then I was so glad that I awoke with joy! And, oh, Rosalie darling, I know my dream was true, for I’ve been asking Him to find me again and again, and I’m quite sure that He wanted to do it, long before I asked Him.”
“Oh, Mummy dear,” said Rosalie, putting her hand in her mother’s, “I am so glad!”
Rosalie’s mother did not talk any more then; but she lay very quietly, holding Rosalie’s hand, and every now and then she smiled, as if the music of the heavenly song were still in her ears, and as if she still heard the Good Shepherd saying, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”
Then they passed through another village, where the bells were ringing for afternoon service, and the sick woman listened to them very sorrowfully.
“I shall never go to church again, Rosalie darling,” she said.
“Oh, Mummy,” said little Rosalie, “don’t talk like that! When you get better, we’ll go together. We could easily slip into the back seats, where nobody would see us.”
“No, Rosalie,” said her mother. “You may go, my darling, but I never shall.”
“Why not, Mummy dear?”
“Rosalie,” said her mother, raising herself in bed and putting her arm round her child, “don’t you know that I am going to leave you? Don’t you know that in about a week’s time you will have no mother?”
Rosalie hid her face in her mother’s pillow and sobbed aloud.
“Oh, Mummy, Mummy dear!—Mummy, don’t say that! please don’t say that!”
“But it’s true, little Rosalie,” said her mother; “and I want you to know it. I don’t want it to take you by surprise. And now stop crying, darling, for I want to talk to you a bit; I want to tell you some things while I can speak.
“My poor, poor darling!” said the mother, as the child continued sobbing.
She stroked her little girl’s head very gently; and after a long, long time the sobbing ceased, and Rosalie only cried quietly.
“Little woman,” said her mother, “can you listen to me now?”
Rosalie pressed her mother’s hand, but she could not answer her.
“Rosalie, darling, you won’t be sorry for your mother, will you, dear? The Good Shepherd has found me, and I’m going to see Him. I’m going to see Him, and thank Him, darling; you mustn’t cry for me. And I want to tell you what to do when I’m dead. I’ve asked your father to let you leave the caravan, and live in some country village. But he won’t give his consent, darling; he says he can’t spare you. So, dear, you must keep very quiet. Sit in the caravan and read your little Testament by yourself; don’t go wandering about the fair, darling. I’ve been asking the Good Shepherd to take care of you. I told Him you would soon be a little motherless lamb, with nobody to look after you, and I asked Him to put you in His bosom and carry you along. And I believe He will, Rosalie dear; I don’t think He’ll let you get wrong. But you must ask Him yourself, my darling; you must never let a day pass without asking Him: promise your mother, Rosalie—let her hear you say the words.”
“Yes, Mummy dear,” said Rosalie, “I promise you.”
“And if ever you can go to your Aunt Lucy, you must go to her and give her that letter—you remember where it is—and tell her, dear, that I shall see her someday in that city I dreamt about. I should never have seen her if it had not been for the Shepherd’s love. But He took such pains to find me, and He wouldn’t give it up, and at last He put me on His shoulders and carried me home. I am very tired, Rosalie darling, but there is more that I wanted to say. I wanted to tell you that it will not do for you to ask your father about going to your Aunt Lucy, because he would never let you, and he would only be writing to her for money if he knew where she lived. I don’t know how you’ll be able to go to her,” said the poor woman sadly, “but God will find you a way. I believe you will get there someday. I can’t talk any more now, darling, I am so tired! Kiss me, my own little woman.”
Rosalie lifted up a very white and sorrowful face, and kissed her mother passionately.
“You couldn’t sing your little hymn, could you, darling?” said the sick woman.
Rosalie tried her very best to sing it, but her voice trembled so that she could not manage it. She struggled through the first verse, but in the second she quite broke down, and burst into a fresh flood of tears. Her poor mother tried to soothe her, but was too weak and weary to do more than stroke the child’s face with her thin, wasted hand, and whisper in her ear a few words of love.
Very sorrowful were poor Rosalie’s thoughts as she sat by her mother’s bed. She had known before that her mother was very ill, and sometimes she had been afraid as she thought of the future. But she had never before heard that dreadful fear put into words; she had never before known that it was not merely a fear, but a terrible reality. “In about a week’s time you will have no mother.” That was what her mother had told her.
And her mother was everything to Rosalie. She had never known a father’s love or care; Augustus had never acted as a father to her. But her mother—her mother had been everything to her, from the day she was born until now. Rosalie could not imagine what the world would be like without her mother. She could hardly fancy herself living when her mother was dead. She would have no one to speak to her, no one to care for her, no one to love her.
Words of love Thy voice is speaking,
“Come, come to Me.”*
What was it made her think of that just now? Was it not the Good Shepherd’s voice, as He held the poor lonely lamb closer to His bosom?
“Come, come to Me.”
“Good Shepherd, I do come,” said little, weary Rosalie. “I come to Thee now!”