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dear, dear!' And here the old woman burst into tears, and her sister had to lull and quiet her like a child.
The Spirit took Mary's hand again, and led her out; and her eyes were dim, so that she could not see the moonlight clearly ; but the veil seemed to be thinner before the Spirit's face.
Then they came into old Miss Maxton's room. She was sitting alone, looking at the fire. She had no one to talk to, so they could not listen to her; but the Spirit touched Mary's eyes, and bade her look at the fire, and she would see there the things that Miss Maxton saw.
And when Mary looked, she saw a young girl with sleeves as wide as her shoulders, and hair frizzed up with a high comb far above her head; and she was talking to a young man in tight swallow-tailed coat and white trousers, with a high stiff collar which seemed as if it must hold his head in one position.
'I can't, I can't,' the girl was saying, crying as she spoke. "When I promised you, Charles, how could I tell that Mamma would fall ill like this? How can she manage the children, and the housekeeping, and everything, without me? Only wait until she gets better.'
Louisa, you know what the doctor said—how very likely it may go on for years and years like this, and even then, If you loved me really, as you have often said you did, you would not put me to such a proof. You must throw in your lot with me or her.'
‘Perhaps you are right,' said the girl proudly, drawing herself up. ‘But I thought that you loved me enough to feel with me.'
* And I thought that you loved me enough to feel with me. You are mine, Louisa! You can't recall your promise.'
“I must, if you will not wait. It is my duty.'
And then there came the sound of harsh bitter words and sobs, but in the midst they died away. I will think of that no more,' said Miss Maxton aloud to herself; “Charles knows better now, and I have not had an unhappy life after all. Thank God, there are many who love me still, though I am only a lone old maid.'
And instead of the sad story which had been in the fire, the Christmas Spirit waved his hand, and Miss Maxton saw blankets, and warm cloaks and waistcoats, and savoury slices of Christmas beef and plum-pudding, and merry parties of cottage children enjoying themselves ; and Miss Maxton woke up from her reverie with a smile. "I have been dreaming,' she said, 'I hope my good things will give them as much pleasure as they have given me.'
So Mary and the Spirit left Miss Maxton, and came into Mr. Collinson's, the doctor's house; and there the story that she saw was being enacted in the present, not in the past.
Mrs. Collinson, in her dressing-gown, was pouring out a cup of hot coffee for her husband, and trying hard to keep the tears out of her eyes meanwhile. He had just received a summons to a village at a little distance, where there was said to have been a sudden outbreak of most
virulent 'black' typhus fever; and his poor little wife, naturally nervous and sensitive, had gathered up all her strength in one mighty effort not to distress him.
Don't cry, Alice,' he said kindly, kissing her as she bent down over him, and nearly upsetting her. It is my duty, you know, darling, and I must go. I don't the least think I shall take the infection; I have been in as bad dens of fever before. But you must trust, you know.'
'Christmas Eve and all!' half-sobbed poor Mrs. Collinson.
“Come up at least with me while I look at little Walter,' said Mr. Collinson. He bent over and kissed the sleeping baby in its crib, then he put his arm round his wife, and kissed her very tenderly. Goodbye, darling. I am afraid it would be a farce to wish you a happy Christmas Day—but you must not let it be unhappy. Be my own brave Alice-there.' And she put up her face to him, and he kissed it; and then, after hearing him ride away, she threw herself down by the side of the still sleeping baby, and sobbed, and prayed for strength to be brave and trustful. The Spirit waved his hand over her, and presently poor Alice slept.
"So much for the commonplace people you met at your dinner-party,' said the Spirit. At another time Mary would have thought it very odd to hear the Spirit of Christmas talk about a dinner-party; but now it seemed quite natural.
Then perhaps,' she said very humbly, my brothers and sisters are not so commonplace either. But they have had no story, like all these people.'
* All human souls,' said the Spirit, ‘have either memories of the past, or capabilities for the future. Would you like to know what capabilities lie hidden in those despised brothers and sisters of yours? Mind, I do not show you the future: what I show you may be, or may not be. I only show you what sort of things they will be capable of under good. management and influence-home influence, above all.'
He spoke a little sternly, and Mary remembered that her influence upon her brothers and sisters was not in all respects what it might be.
Then, in her dream, the Spirit gave her a little glass—very much like the one with which she always arranged her chignon. But the difference was, that instead of seeing herself in it, she saw a strange country, far away; and it came into her head, she did not know why, that it was either Australia or New Zealand. The scene was the inside of a palisaded court, upon the top of which dark faces were constantly showing themselves, and grinning like demons. “Exactly like the end of Masterman Ready,' thought Mary to herself.
Then there came out into the court a tall, large-boned, tawny-haired woman, who yet bore an extraordinary likeness to her fourteen-year-old sister, Lizzie--the practical, strong-minded girl, alike the torment and the main-stay of the house. And to this Lizzie, at least twenty years older than she was now, came out a tall, pale, stooping man, evidently her husband.
‘Lizzie, I wish you would let me fetch the water instead of you,' he said. Your life is too precious to be risked by those demons' darts.'
'I wish you would stop in and rest, Fred,' she said, turning upon him. You have not had an hour's sleep this week.'
"Well, I will come in when I have got this water.' And coolly enough Lizzie filled her pitcher, heedless of the darts which were thrown at her from the top of the palisade, one of which actually pinned the skirt of her dress to the ground. Then she went in with her husband, and Mary could see them, and hear their talk, interrupted by the report of the rifles, which every now and then picked off one of those grinning heads.
'I question now and then whether it would not be as well to give up at once, and end it,' said Lizzie's husband despondently. We have no chance; the whole settlement is destroyed, and we can die but once. Only, Lizzie, God grant that we may be starved to death, not killed by those ruffians! Have you had your share of food to-day ?'
Lizzie smiled; Mary knew perfectly well that she had only lived on water for the whole of that day.
'If it could last out for a week I might have hope. The soldiers would by that time have arrived from Port Leas.'
'It will,' said Lizzie. • You reckoned it wrong, Fred; there is enough.'
He looked at her; and she, in her noble deceit, met his eyes confidently. “Let him only be saved—what mattered it if she died ?'
And then the scene shifted, and she knew that the week was over, and that the Port Leas troops were pouring into the little fortress; and Lizzie was lying on the ground, her husband bending over her-all but dead. She had fulfilled her noble purpose. Mary burst into tears.
“This is no magic picture of the future,' said the Spirit. 'I only show you the capabilities of Lizzie's soul-if it is not checked and thwarted, and twisted the wrong way. That is for you to watch, Mary.'
Then Mary looked into the glass again, and this time she saw an assembly of statesmen, grave and anxious.
'If it can ever be said that one man has saved a nation,' they said, that one man has been Benjamin Fisher to-day.'
How ?' asked another. 'He has stood staunchly to his principles, while his fellow-ministers gave way basely, and lost themselves the trust of the people. If he had given way too, the flood would have been upon us—all would have been swept away. They did mistrust him, because he has courage to oppose them when he thinks them wrong: had he failed to-day, and retained his office, we should have had a revolution in a month.'
"Yet he has lost the favour of - by so doing.'
but his own conscience.'
Mary thought of her blunt straightforward brother Ben, and tried to picture him to herself as the hope of a future England; but even as she did so, the statesmen’s figures faded from the glass, and she saw the interior of a vast lecture-room, crowded to excess. The lecturer was Tom, her brother, who had at this time only distinguished himself by a remarkable talent for mathematics and mental arithmetic, and a persistent love of arguing every possible subject.
Mary knew by intuition—she could not tell how—that Tom was one of the first professors at Cambridge, and was now lecturing on some important social subject, at some great lecture-hall in the London of the future. All his audience were listening to him with profound attention, when he made some statement which did not please them. Naturally, considering that grave statesmen believed that there would be a revolution in a month, men’s minds were in an irritable and easily excited state, and the lecture-hall was in a ferment in a moment. “Bigot! Coward ! Turn-coat! Enemy of Progress !' Mary heard shouted out by the audience, and for a moment she wondered that they should be so ill-bred; but then she remembered that she was in the future, not in the present, and that education was no longer the exclusive sign of a gentleman. The country was well-instructed, but not well-mannered, and these were only mechanics and artizans, notwithstanding their broad-cloth and education. She began to wonder how much longer it took to cultivate the manners than the mind.
Tom Fisher stood silent on the platform, waiting till the storm was over. Then he said very quietly,
'Gentlemen, I am sorry if any of you have come here to listen to me under a misapprehension of my real views. I have always believed and taught that the road of human progress lies through Christianity; such is my conviction, and I am in nowise ashamed of the avowal. If
any of you disagree with me, that is your own affair; as for me, I am a Christian, and I hope always to speak and act as such.'
The tumult of voices sank down to a low buzz. Tom Fisher's fearless declaration had won him honour, and he was suffered to proceed with his lecture. As he did so, a change seemed to come over the assembly as they listened to his earnest and eloquent words. He was speaking earnestly against some popular fallacy of the day; and though most of his audience were upon the opposite side, his burning words seemed to carry conviction with them. When he had finished there was loud applause, and several men, among whom were some of his chief opponents, came to the platform to shake hands with him.
You have shown us another side to the question,' they said ; and we see now that it will not do to go so fast as we wished to do. Not that we are come round to your views, Mr. Fisher; but still, we see that you and your side have something to say for yourselves. And they went out more thoughtful than they had come in.
Soon another picture appeared upon the glass. It was the long ward of a hospital, full of beds, each containing its sufferer; and up and down it, lingering first beside one bed, then beside another, passed a slender woman in a soft dark widow's dress. As she neared each bed in turn, the patient lying there looked up with a smile; and as she passed by, each turned his head to follow her with his eyes.
It is Susan !' said Mary.
"Susan,' said the Spirit, whom you always despise as a selfish fretful child. As you look at her now, you may see how selfish and fretful she is. She has had a happy home, a loving husband, bright children; she has lost them all; now she is alone in the world. Look at her face.'
Mary looked, and she saw a most touching sweetness on the woman's face-not sorrow exactly, but the look of one who has triumphed over pain. She had forgotten herself—it was dead and buried. She only lived now for others.
“Those to whom she ministers will bless her, and the memory of her name will not soon pass,' said the Spirit.
Again the scene shifted. Mary saw a beleaguered town-where, she did not know. There was a loud noise of cannonading without; and in a small room there stood three or four British officers, pale, weary, and battle-stained.
‘Do you see that young man with his arm in a sling ? said the Spirit. “Yes,' said Mary; 'it is little Jack, grown older.'
Jack spoke. 'I'm off to blow up the magazine. I thought I should like just to bid you good-bye first—and bid you tell them all at home how it was—and give them my love.'
“Nonsense, boy! You sha’n't do it-you, with your young life and all before you. Let me go instead. I've had twenty years more life than you.'
No, Morison,' said Jack quietly, 'you've got a wife and children, and I've none. Let me do it; if anyone's life is to be sacrificed it had best be mine. I'm off. God bless you, old fellow.'
They shook his hand, each with a lingering clasp and a choking good-bye ; and then, when he was gone, Morison laid down his face upon his hands, and sobbed with the terrible force of a strong man's sobs. And his comrades were not far from doing the same. Soon there was a terrible explosion, shaking the whole town with the force of an earthquake, and they knew that Jack Fisher had done his work, and had died in doing it.
Then the Spirit took the glass from her hand. She looked up at him with eyes swimming in tears.
“These are your commonplace brothers and sisters,' he said. Mary, did you never hear the words, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ?”?