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I turned this letter over thoughtfully in my hand after reading it, for it expressed a want often painfully experienced among girls of the upper classes, -a strong wish to do some good work without the power of finding it or doing it, which too frequently ends in unfulfilled aspiration. I could see from the tone of her letter, that my friend, (whom I will call E- -,) was in that restless state of mind described by the author of "My Life, and what shall I do with it ?” ready to rush into
any extreme of self-devotion from sheer weariness with her present aimless and monotonous lot. Now was the time to cast her into the right mould,--but the difficulty was to find it.
Things unnoticed at one time recur to our minds providentially at another. I suddenly remembered that in the very seaport town where I was residing, there was a small asylum for the blind, founded by a benevolent lady who had devoted her fortune and her life absolutely to their service, deserving to be enrolled among the number of “ hidden saints.” I had never before paid much attention to the institution beyond occasional visits, but the idea struck me that there might be an opening for my friend's energies, and thither I repaired at once to make inquiries.
On explaining the nature of my errand I found to my surprise and pleasure that a lady purposing to offer similar services to E's was extremely wanted in the asylum, and was the very person the Ladysuperintendent had been hoping, wishing, praying for; in fact she told me she looked upon my visit as a special answer to her petitions. So, without taking a fanatical view, it really seemed to be. A distinct answer vouchsafed to our prayers startles us because we are too generally in the habit of expecting no answer at all, forgetting that our test as Christians lies not in the non-denial of the truth, but in its reception.
Here everything seemed to fit in. A lady with powers of correspondence was required,—my friend possessed them. Health, strength, cleverness, readiness to submit to and inculcate discipline were necessary, and all these qualities E- had in abundance. There never was a niche more appropriate, and only one day previously my friend had no idea that any place could be found for her. Most earnestly did I hope she would embrace the opportunity, for I knew in her case the bird had long beaten its wings against the bars, crying like the starling, “I can't get out, I can't get out,” and I was thankful to be
cage door. I wrote off immediately urging her to
come at once, and then accepted the Lady-superintendent's offer of inspecting the little sphere of work E- was to occupy.
A very bright and cheerful little sphere it was. The Superintendent first led me into the dining-room, opposite her own private rooms, where some of the blind patients were assembled at tea; she enjoined silence, as the blind are extremely sensitive to a strange voice, and after a brief survey of the blank but generally cheerful faces round the table, we passed into the music-room, graced with a large organ and two pianos. A blind man was sitting at an harmonium, his face beaming with pleasure as he modulated from one chord to another. From thence we went into a sunshiny garden, where some blind girls were walking up and down, in neat cotton dresses, keeping to the boundaries of the gravel walks with as much precision as if all were not to them “ dark amid the blaze of noon.” There was a cow,
and a small cheerful farmyard; and round the garden a number of sheds where blind men were employed in basket and brush making, using their fingers more cleverly than many who possess their sight. Upstairs within the house there were neat dormitories, a schoolroom, and a room for making rugs, and attached to the house was a shop for the sale of the articles manufactured.
The Lady-superintendent told me her institution had sprung to its present dimensions from her first having several years before received two or three blind children privately to maintain and educate, their number and her accommodation gradually increasing, till the applicants for admission became so numerous that she was obliged to refuse many from want both of funds and space. She had given everything she had to the asylum, but still its trade was carried on at a pecuniary loss.
The children and young people in the school, she informed me, were receiving elementary instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic, with religious knowledge, while the elder patients were learning music and useful handicrafts, which should give them the means of earning an honourable subsistence in the future. Even the little children had their lessons in preparing canes and rushes for chairs until their hands were strong enough for harder work, and were thus kept in full occupation when the duties of the school were over. The principle of the establishment seemed to be,“ Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost,” but it was a little depressing to hear that even with the closest economy, the number of voluntary subscriptions and donations were far from adequate to its needs. So difficult is it to find wealthy people willing to fence in sufficient sums from their worldly enjoyments to contribute liberally to the support of their poorer and afflicted brethren.
Within ten days from the receipt of my friend E—'s letter, I had the happiness of seeing her established at her new post, experiencing the satisfaction only known to those who have long craved for an object, and have sought diligently till they have found it, and realising the truth that the highest earthly happiness lies in absolute self-devotion to a good and noble cause. From the manner in which Ewas called to the work, it seemed indeed as if Providence had assigned that particular place to her which she was best fitted to fill. If there are any who, unable to take an active part in benevolent objects like E-, are yet willing to contribute their mite towards the support of her sphere of good works, full particulars will be forwarded on application through the Editor to the writer of this article, who would most gratefully receive any donations of money or clothing.
Should we not each in our several ways cast our portion of bread upon the waters, trusting in God for the result of finding it "after
many days ?”
The morning which succeeded All Saints' Day was calm and fair; less radiant perhaps in colouring, but almost preternaturally warm and still. The weather-wise consulted the barometer, and found that a severe storm was at hand, which would most likely close the reign of summer, and prove the harbinger of wintry tempests. Meanwhile the next twenty-four hours seemed secure-a little golden treasury of warmth and sunshine, how might it be best improved ?
Mabel was up and dressed by half-past seven, and stood thoughtfully before her open window, while debating that important question. She felt a distaste for her usual daily routine; a longing to go somewhere or do something quite out of the common way. Had they been at Penjenick, she would have planned an excursion to some noted point along the coast, or some romantic nook in the interior. In Scilly there was little scope for the indulgence of such fancies, still she might pro
claim a truce to industry, and seek to draw from the fresh air and sunshine, a supply of vital energy which should support her under the depressing influence of subsequent confinement. Having reached this conclusion, Mabel left the details of her scheme to be matured in family conclave around the breakfast table, and drawing her desk nearer to the window, she was soon busied in making out her memoranda for the coming week.
Despite her erratic, even volatile propensities, May Bird was in some respects curiously methodical, as was indeed testified by her present employment, in which she had persevered during the past three years. Two large manuscript volumes, bound the one in red, the other in purple morocco, lay open before her, and with an air of seriousness she was making a few short entries in the former, after busy and careful reference to the latter. The contrast between these books was singular. Week's Schedule,” showing chiefly, long lines of erasures, and its companion "The Week's Labour," being filled with clear legible characters, which almost rivalled Lilian's in their faultless delicacy.
There was a great discrepancy between the two, but Mabel felt encouraged on perceiving that within the last six months, improvement had been gaining ground. Her accounts were more accurately kept, her parish claims more faithfully discharged; and her neat little “ Diary of Correspondence,” showed a fair proportion in the number of “Letters received" and “ Letters written.” Then too, the record of her higher intellectual pursuits proved that while less had been attempted, more had been accomplished ; that the decrease of intermittent feverish energy, was amply counterbalanced by the steady increase of calm resolute fulfilment. This was lowever, as Mabel well knew, the bright side of the picture; there were points concerning which conscience did not so readily acquit her. Witness those long arrears in needle-work, and various branches of housewifery: those promises of sketches ; music, poetry, links in some favourite collection; in short endless little kindnesses, hastily pledged, and thankfully accepted. It was not a pleasant exercise, but Mabel turned page after page, and did not shrink from the array of negligences which with mute reproach met her repen
Deeply she pondered for a moment, and then taking a blank sheet of paper, she recorded all the voluntary obligations to which she had bound herself, and the exact order in which each should be redeemed. Discarding inclination as a guide, she made the choice depend solely upon the relative importance of the several claims, or by priority, where two appeared of equal weight. The list completed, Mabel amid all her real vexation could not refrain from a smile. That miscellany seemed a kind of hydra-headed monster, which could only be annihilated by the sacrifice of ease and leisure during many weeks. Still she had voluntarily conjured him up, and she was pledged to vanquish him, for the time lavishly promised to others could not in common honesty be deemed her own. The future might be better regulated; she need not henceforth be so profuse in offers of those tiny services which, singly rendered, cost us little, but when suffered to accumulate, present such an alarming aggregate. Mabel bent over the obnoxious volume with the pen doubtfully balanced between her fingers. There was a great temptation to erase those columns and begin the world afresh, but single-mindedness came to her aid. A spendthrift may reform his ways, resolve on prudence and economy, and guard against the vain expenditure which has frittered away the wealth that might have been employed to nobler ends, but he is none the less bound by each lawful debt his thoughtlessness may have incurred. So is it with that far more costly treasure, Time! Matured views and increasing earnestness may so far have enhanced our knowledge of its value that we are loath to waste precious hours upon trivial engagements. It is the old truism of “justice before generosity," the portion of our time or substance promised to another can be virtually ours no longer; our part is to make good each plighted word, though it may be “to our own hindrance," and in so far as may be, lay to heart lessons of wisdom as regards that future over which, should God spare us, we may hope to have more control.
The books were closed and laid aside till the ensuing week, then Mabel re-arranged the contents of the hanging shelves which formed her library. The deep drawers of the writing-table, and the desk crowded with MSS., still offered a perfect chaos to the uninitiated, but the general aspect of the chamber was as scrupulously lady-like as that of Lilian, which adjoined it. The habit once formed, brought its own reward in the charm which attends civilization, for indolent though she might be, Mabel had a fastidious eye, and keen sense of refinement. There was much to gratify such tastes when she descended on this morning to the breakfast-room, which she and Mr. Harland entered at the same time from opposite directions. Lilian in a dove-coloured morning dress, was seated at the table ornamented by a vase of flowers,