The Two New Year’s Gifts, Part 2
by S. M. F.
Tract Magazine; or, Christian Miscellany, vol. 1, issue 1 (1857)
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: This didactic piece of short fiction was originally published in Tract Magazine; or, Christian Miscellany, and follows a young woman and the results of her receiving a New Year’s gift of five pounds. Through the story, the consequences that follow the actions of each character attempt to teach the reader about the necessity of Christian charity and eschewing worldly pleasures.
This entry was published as the second of two parts:
It was the morning after Mrs. Holmby’s party. Ellen Martin no longer sat—
“With fingers weary and worn.
Plying her needle and thread.”1“The Song of the Shirt” by Thomas Hood.
She was at the bazaar, and with joy in her face, and hope in her heart, was busily re-arranging her little stock of wares in her long deserted stall. At the same moment Annie Deene was passing through the street, in which the Turners resided; she had been to the bazaar, and her countenance too looked happy and joyful. Whether her gladness was in any way connected with that of Ellen Martin, we leave to the discernment of the reader to decide. “I may as well call and see how Emma is after the party,” said she to herself, and she glanced up to the windows of cousin’s room, the blinds of which were not yet drawn up, and, suiting the action to the word, she at once went up the steps and knocked at the door. She found Emma still in her bed-room, reclining in an easy chair by the fire; she looked flushed, and to use an expressive term “put out.”
“Well,” said Annie after the first salutation was over, “how did you enjoy yourself last night, Emma?”
“Not at all; not one of the people whom I wished to meet was there, and altogether it was the most dull, stupid party I ever was at in my life.”
“Not very complimentary to your hostess I must say,” said Annie smiling; “had you not even the much wished for introduction to Lady G—?”
“Lady G—,” repeated Emma; well, I must tell you about her, though I know you will say that Mrs. Holmby was rightly served. She, it seems, knowing her ladyship’s dislike to large parties, never told her that it was to be a regular ball, but merely invited her to spend a quiet evening; and consequently she came, of course, in deep mourning for her mother, and a high dress. I was near the door when she was announced. I never shall forget her look as she glanced round the room, or the tone with which, when Mrs. Holmby came forward full of smiles to meet her, she said, ‘Mrs. Holmby, you have (unintentionally perhaps) misled me; I was invited to spend a quiet evening; you must excuse me if I say that I cannot remain; neither my dress nor my feelings at all accord with this scene.’”
“And did she go?” said Annie.
“Instantly; and Mrs. Holmby was, of course, put out for the rest of the evening, and all the people were disagreeable.”
“Well,” said Annie, “I must say that I do think it was nothing more than Mrs. Holmby deserved. But your dress, Emma, I suppose that looked very nice.”
“My poor dress, that was another source of mortification; I felt I was a regular butterfly, for as it happened all the girls wore remarkably plain dresses, most of them white. I cannot tell you how annoyed I felt to think that I had gone to such an expense; I wished to my heart a dozen times that uncle William had never given me the five pounds, for if he had not I should most likely have remained at home.”
But this wish, as far as she herself was concerned, found no echo in Annie’s heart; how was it possible for it to do so, when she remembered the happiness which her own new year’s gift had been the means of imparting not only to herself but to others also, when the bright hopeful looks of the once drooping Ellen came before her, and the grateful accents of the widow and the orphan were still sounding in her ears?
“It certainly seems to have been an unfortunate affair altogether,” said she, in reply to Emma’s last remarks, “and shows the truth of the old saying, that ‘all is not gold that glitters.’ You are not looking well either, Emma; you have not taken cold I hope.”
“I rather think that I have,” she replied, “for I feel dreadfully shivery; something was the matter with the window of the carriage in which we came home; I could not close it, and there was consequently a great draught; but I shall say nothing about it, for the Gardiners have invited me to go with them to the theatre to-night, which I shall certainly do, in order if possible to get into a good temper again.”
Annie soon after took her leave. She signed as she thought of the false and hollow foundation on which her cousin endeavoured to rear a superstructure mis-called happiness. Gladly would she have striven to show her a more excellent way, but she knew from past experience that her words would only be met either with covert sarcasm or open jest, so she held her peace; and inwardly thanking God that she had herself been taught to think differently, and praying that her cousin’s mind might be awakened to right views, she again returned to her quiet but happy home.
In the course of a day or two she heard that Emma had a severe cold, but supposing that it was “only a cold,” she did not go to inquire after her. Two days after she received the following hurried note from her aunt:—
“Pray come to us; Emma is very ill; the doctor has just alarmed us dreadfully.”
The facts of the case were these: Emma had taken cold on returning from the party; with care it would probably have gone off, but the visit to the theatre increased it; an attack of inflammation followed, and the once gay, sparkling girl now lay stretched upon what proved to be the bed of death. It was not long before Annie was in the sick-room, bending over the poor sufferer with looks of the deepest pity and concern.
“Annie,” she exclaimed, as soon as she saw her, “I am dying: tell me, oh do tell me, what I am to do;” and she clasped Annie’s hand with an energy which seemed almost like that of despair.
“Dear Emma,” she replied, “calm yourself; I hope you are not so ill as you think.”
“Annie, I am,” she replied; “I know I shall die, I feel it, I feel it here;” and she laid her hand upon her chest. “Oh, what shall I do?”
The Bible was no strange book to Annie, and with its blessed words of hope and encouragement she endeavoured to instruct and comfort the dying girl, but her words seemed to impart no consolation.
“Oh, Annie,” said she, “if I had only listened to you before, I should not have been the miserable creature I now am. Oh, to think of the hours, the days, the years I have wasted! What shall I do? what shall I do?”
“You must go to the Lord Jesus, dear Emma,” replied Annie, “he is your only refuge; a broken and a contrite heart he will not despise; and he says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;’2Matthew xi. 28. (Original Footnote.) he bids you cast your burden upon him, and he will bear it for you.”
“Annie,” said Emma, solemnly, “if this were the first time I had heard these things, I think I might venture to hope, but it is not; they have been sounding in my ears for years, but I have refused to listed; I have sought nothing but my own pleasure and amusement, what right then can I have to expect that God will accept these few last miserable hours, instead of the life-time which ought to have been devoted to his service?”
The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy,” replied Annie, in a gentle voice; “‘He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.’”3Psalm ciii. 10. (Original Footnote.)
“Ah yes,” said Emma, “how often have I heard those words! but, Annie, the Bible says, I cannot forget it, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’”4Philippians ii. 12. (Original Footnote.)
“Yes, dear Emma, but it says also, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’51 John i. 7. (Original Footnote.) We are to work, not that we may be saved thereby, but to show that we love him.”
The next day Emma died. Like as the grass withereth, like as the flower fadeth, so was she cut down. She appeared penitent during the short time given her for repentance. Earnestly did Annie endeavour to persuade her to trust only to that Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. She tried to do so: but it was with fear and trembling, not with peace and holy confidence, that Emma seemed to cling to his cross, and dark and dismal were the misgiving and mistrust which clouded her mind to her very last moment
✻ ✻ ✻ ✻
When the next new year came it found Annie in sorrow such as she had never known before. She was mourning over the newly closed grave of her mother, and to her grief was added the bitter pang of knowing that she must now, if she could not make up her mind to seek a home amongst strangers, at least depend almost entirely upon her own exertions for support; for her father having been a naval officer, the pension which Mrs. Deene had enjoyed as his widow had expired with her. Annie had two brothers, both younger than herself, and for their sakes she determined if possible, to avoid giving up her home and going out as resident governess. But what could she do? There seemed but one thing open to her, she must try to obtain morning or daily pupils. She did try, but without any success, for no one seemed in want of a morning governess just then, and no pupils were to be heard of.
One day returning from an unsuccessful expedition of inquiry, she sat down by the fire, and in a desponding mood took up her portfolio, and began to turn over the drawings which it contained. “How I wish I could make something of my drawings!” said she half aloud; “but it is of no use to think of it, no one wants to buy drawings, and there are so many who teach.”
She had scarcely uttered the words when a visitor made her appearance. It was Ellen Martin. She had a small parcel in her hand.
“You look so smiling, Ellen,” said Annie, as she shook hands with her, “that I begin to hope that you have brought me good news; have you heard of a situation?”
“No, dear Miss Deene,” she replied, “but if you will try my plan, I believe I have thought of something which will answer your purpose even better.”
Annie eagerly inquired what it was.
“Last night,” she replied, “as I lay awake thinking of you, I remembered all at once seeing you, one day when I called, painting a pair of fire-screens; you said they were for a friend, do you recollect it?”
“Oh yes, quite well; they had embossed borders.”
“Well,” continued Ellen, “there is nothing of that kind I am certain sold in our bazaar, and it struck me that if you would like to paint a pair or two, as well as some cards for blotting cases and other things, I could make them up prettily and dispose of them for you. I am quite sure they would sell, your painting is so different to what is usually seen on such articles.”
“I shall be delighted to do so,” said Annie, her countenance brightening as she spoke; “how kind of you, Ellen, to think of me so!”
“Don’t say that, Miss Deene,” replied Ellen; “do I not owe everything I have to you? If you had not so generously lent me the money you did twelve months ago I might have been in my grave: I believe I should long before this. I have brought a pair of screens,” she added, opening the paper in her hand, “and some cards, so if you please you can begin them at once.”
With a light heart Annie set to work. She had great natural talent for painting, and in a week a pair of screens and several cards for blotting cases were completed, and prettily made up by the tasteful hand of Ellen Martin. They attracted great admiration, and in the course of a week she had the delight and satisfaction of placing in Annie’s hand nearly double the sum which she had expected to receive for them.
The next day a lady with two little girls appeared at the stall; she was one of Ellen’s best customers.
“I have seen a very pretty blotting case which a friend of mine purchased of you a few days ago,” said she; “have you another of the same description?”
“I am sorry to say that I have not at present, my lady,” replied Ellen, “but I expect to have some more in a week or two.”
“But will they be painted by the same person?” inquired the lady; “the one which I saw was much more beautifully painted than articles of that description usually are.”
“They will be painted by the same person, my lady,” replied Ellen.
“Very well,” said the lady, “then you will put one by for me: good morning;” and so saying she walked away to another stall. In a few minutes, however, she returned, saying, “I think that I should prefer choosing my own flowers for the blotting case; I should like roses and violets on one side, and a group of azaleas on the other; I suppose there would be no objection.”
“Certainly not, my lady,” replied Ellen; “I can take any orders which you may please to leave, or the young lady would call upon you herself.”
“I think that would be the better plan; or it might be better still for me to call upon her; her time is doubtless valuable to her: could you give me her address?”
Ellen immediately took out a card, wrote Annie’s address, and handed it to her.
“Miss Deene?” said the lady glancing at it; “it is not a very common way of spelling the name. I will call upon her to-morrow.”
The next morning after Annie had been quietly settled to her painting for an hour or two, a carriage drove up to the door, and she saw a lady alight from it. What was her surprise when the door of her own little sitting-room was thrown open, and the servant announced “Lady G—.” If Lady G— had been more pleased with her friend’s blotting case, she was still more so with the ladylike appearance and gentle but diffident manners of the young artist. With the quick eye of one accustomed to read human life in all its varied phases of trial and sorrow, she at once surmised how matters stood with Annie. In a few sentences she explained her errand, and but the kindness and suavity of her manner soon set Annie at ease. She looked over all her paintings, and complimented her highly on the taste and skill displayed in their execution. At length, after a prolonged stay, she arose to depart. As she did so Annie could not help feeling that her eye fell upon her in that sort of way, which makes one conscious that the observer is noting something, it may be either to your advantage or otherwise in your appearance. She blushed deeply.
“Pardon me,” said Lady G. instantly withdrawing her eye, “but may I ask if you are in any way related to the family of the the Deenes who used to live at —— vicarage; there is something in your face which reminds me so forcibly of old Mr. Deene, that your name being also spelt in the same way I cannot resist asking.”
Annie, with some surprise at so unexpected a question, replied that her father was son to the old clergyman mentioned by Lady G—, adding that she had always been thought very like her grandfather, who had now been dead many years.
“How delighted I am!” exclaimed Lady G—, seizing Annie’s hand and shaking it warmly; you are then, the grand-daughter of one of the best and dearest friends I ever had in the world.”
A long explanation followed, in the course of which it appeared that Lady G—, not having always occupied so high a position as that which she now filled, had many years ago been very much indebted to the good old clergyman for acts of great kindness and friendship. She had afterwards married, left England, and resided abroad for several years. On her return home her benefactor was dead, and all her inquiries for any members of his family proved fruitless, although she in some way discovered that he had grandchildren yet living. Little more remains to be said. Annie was no longer without friends; and when in after days she sometimes looked back through the circumstances of her past life, she never failed to think with gratitude of the manner in which, by the good providence of God, she had been led to appropriate her new year’s gift as the event which had been, as it were, the starting point of her happiness.6Original text spelled ‘providence’ as provideuce.
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