Phelim read very poorly, and was often obliged to spell over the long words, and did not always succeed in giving the correct p.r.o.nunciation; but no fault was found by his eager listeners. He read how Christ healed the leper, and poor Peter Barry found in the story a word of encouragement for him. He read of the Saviour's gracious compa.s.sion for the hungering mult.i.tude; and his ignorant auditors praised the divine Being who so sympathized with mortal infirmities. Phelim was often interrupted by remarks or approving comments, but these in no way diminished the interest of the sacred story.
ANNIE'S DEATH--ANNORAH'S PROSPECTS.
On every pleasant evening Biddy Dillon's cottage was thronged by those who came to listen to the Word of G.o.d. It was in vain that Father M'Clane opposed these meetings. His threats and arguments, once so potent, seemed now but to lessen his power. He even secured the services of a neighbouring priest, and with him visited each Irish family in succession, coaxing and flattering where his authority was not acknowledged. But, alas for him and his prospects! he could do nothing with the people.
The Protestant clergyman of the village, when he heard of the interest felt in lame Phelim's reading, readily came to their a.s.sistance, and joyfully read and explained the divine lessons. As their knowledge of the right way increased, their impressions of its importance to them personally were deepened, and Annorah soon had the happiness of seeing not only her mother and brother bowing at the foot of the cross of Christ, but many others earnestly seeking the salvation of their souls.
The little Irish neighbourhood had been named New Dublin. It stood quite by itself, a thick belt of wood and the narrow mill-stream isolating it from the large village, where Mr. Lee's residence stood.
Nothing but the smoke, which in summer as well as in winter is ever pouring from Irish chimneys, revealed to a visitor the existence of their pleasant hamlet. Still it was not so far retired but that, when a wake was held for the dead, the noise of the revelry seriously disturbed their quieter neighbours; and when a row ensued, as was often the case, the distant uproar alarmed as well as annoyed the timid women and children. But no one thought of interfering. The wealthy owners of the iron-works and factories in the vicinity were glad to secure their labour, because of its cheapness, and never troubled themselves about an occasional noise, if the general interests of their business were not neglected.
There were not wanting those who pitied their low estate, and who would have sincerely rejoiced in their elevation; but until poor invalid Annie Lee began to instruct Annorah, no one had dreamed of winning them, by self-sacrifice and kindness, to a knowledge of the truth. Annie herself, while patiently explaining over and over again what seemed to her as simple and plain as possible, little imagined the glorious results that were indirectly to grow out of her feeble efforts. But G.o.d watches the least attempt to do good, and fosters the tiniest seed sown; and Annie, without knowing it, was sowing seed for a plenteous harvest.
But while the good work prospered, she herself was rapidly ripening for heaven. She knew that she was hastening to a better land, even a heavenly; and she strove to improve every moment of the time that remained, in efforts to give stability to Annorah's religious feelings. Many were the conversations that they had together on the condition of the poor Irish people, and countless almost were the directions that Annorah received in regard to the best methods of winning their love and confidence. Young as she was, Annie had learned that all efforts to benefit the unfortunate or ignorant are vain so long as the cold shoulder is turned towards them. She had proved in Annorah's case the magic effect of loving words and sympathy.
As the spring advanced, Annie grew weaker. The mild air seemed to enervate rather than to brace her system, and she grew daily more emaciated. Her paroxysms of pain were less frequent, and she suffered most from languor and drowsiness. It was apparent to all but her fond parents that her days were numbered. They watched over her with the tenderest affection, hoping when there was no hope, and persuading themselves and each other that she would rally again when the ripe summer brought its gentle breezes and beautiful blossoms.
"She is so fond of flowers and of the open air," said Mrs. Lee to Annorah, when, after an unusually restless and painful day, Annie had fallen asleep at last, and both left the room to breathe the fresh evening air. "When the weather gets settled so that she can let you draw her little carriage down by the mill-stream again, she will brighten up and get stronger. It is enough to make a well person ill, to be shut up so long."
"Ye know best, shure," said Annorah, in her grief resuming her national accent and brogue--"Ye know best, but it's thinner and weaker she's getting, and is a baby for weight in me arms. Och! the dark day it will be for poor Norah when she looks her last on that swate angel face!" And the poor girl burst into tears, and covered her face with her ap.r.o.n. After a few moments she went on to say,--"It'll go hard wi'
ye all, Mrs. Lee: ye'll miss her dear ways an' her heavenly smiles; she is yer own blood, were she not an angel intirely. But oh, ma'am, she's been to me what no words can tell; and the short life o' me will seem without end till I go to wait on her above. Oh, what'll I do without her, when the whole world is dark as night?"
Mrs. Lee could not reply, for she, too, was weeping. There was something in Annorah's desolate tone that went to her heart, and inspired a pitying affection for the plain-looking girl by her side, which she would once have thought impossible. She began to comprehend the mystery of Annie's caressing manner to her young nurse.
"Annorah, my poor girl," she faltered at length.
"Ah, ma'am, in all me troubles, and when I was wickedest, was it not her voice that was full and sweet with the pleasant encouragement? Oh, core o' me heart, acushla, what'll I do? what'll I do?"
"We must trust in G.o.d, Annorah. If he takes her from us, it will be for the best, and we must learn to say, 'His will be done.' She will leave us her lovely example to guide us, and we shall not forget how she strove to do good. We shall be lonely; but is it not selfish in us to wish her to stay here and suffer? G.o.d knows what is best for us all."
It was but a little time that they were permitted to hope. Fair Annie Lee's appointed work was done, her mission of love was accomplished, and she was ready to depart. Shut up by her protracted illness from all the ordinary paths of usefulness, she had found out a way to work in her Saviour's service. Long will it be ere her gentle acts of kindness will be forgotten, or her precious influence cease to be felt by those who knew her.
She died suddenly, perhaps unconsciously at last. Annorah had placed her couch so that she could see the beautiful changes in the rich June sunset; and when she returned after a moment's absence to her side, she found that, with a sweet smile of joyous triumph on her lips, she had fallen asleep in Jesus.
Annorah, although greatly refined by reading and a.s.sociation with educated people, and especially improved by the happy influence of true religion, yet retains enough of the characteristics of her nation to make her an acceptable visitor in the humblest cottage in New Dublin. It was long after the death of her young mistress before she regained her usual cheerfulness. But time, the great healer of sorrow, has gradually softened her grief, and made her cherished memories of Miss Annie, like beautiful pictures, very pleasant to look upon.