« PreviousContinue »
One of My First Difficulties.. 17 | Troublers ..
78 To the Editor ..
113 The Love of Childhood..
You ask me to write out the
story of my sister Lilian's life. You think it may do good, and perhaps serve as a warning to other young girls. Therefore, painful as it is to me to recall the past, and to re-open the yet recent wound, I see that it may be a duty from which, God helping me, I will not shrink.
Our family consisted, only a few short years ago, of father, mother, and two daughters. My father was a gentleman and a good manall who knew him respected him, and his own family loved him. My mother was a quiet but energetic woman—the best of mothers, of friends, and of Christians. My sister and I were all in all to each other, and we could look back to a happy childhood.
Our position in the town of - I cannot better describe than by relating an incident to which my father often referred.
And who did you say lives in that red brick house? “A family of the name of Mortimer.”
Any connection of the county people of that name ?"
“I really cannot tell you. I know very little of them. They are not much visited—not in society, you know.” “ How is that?”
• They are Dissenters; it's a great pity, for Mr. Mortimer is a clever, interesting man-well-educated, intellectual, and quite a gentleman, and his wife is a thorough lady."
“And will you kindly explain to me how it is that their being Dissenters prevents their being visited ? "
“Well, you know Dissenters are not visited. I can't explain it; it's a fact-it can't be helped." The speaker glanced uneasily, as he spoke, at his companion, who said,
" It seems to me a piece of the grossest injustice; so much so, that if it were not, alas, so common, it would be difficult to believe in such bigotry and narrow-mindedness. That a gentleman, acknowledged to be so by birth and breeding, well-educated and clever, in every way fitted to mix with his equals on equal terms, should be shunned, scorned, put under a ban, because of his honest convictions on a personal matter like religion! why it's monstrous! it's persecution !"
“No, no,” replied the other, wishing he had not said so much; “there's no persecution nowadays; that's a thing of the past. Dissenters like to make out that they have a grievance, but it's all nonsense.”
“ Is persecution a thing of the past ?” exclaimed his companion. “ Ask the poor man in a village whose children go to a Nonconformist school ! Ask the parents who cannot get their dead baby buried because it has not been baptized ! Ask the President of the Wesleyan Conference, who recently stated that there are in England 2,000 villages where religious liberty is a thing unknown, villages where farmers have been driven from their farms, and shop-keepers compelled to close their shops because they were Dissenters, and who says he could fill the sixteen pages of the Times with similar instances of oppression ! Ask the lady who applied for an appointment the other day, as school-mistress to a Board-School, with the highest testimonials and recommendations, but who was refused by the vicar of the parish because she was a Dissenter! Ask the child who was told by the great lady of the village, “You are a very good little girl, but I can't give you a present as I have done to the other scholars, because you go to the Methodist chapel on Sundays!' And, lastly, ask the hundreds of well-born and well-bred gentlefolks, who cannot mix with their equals, and who are subjected to incessant mortifications and deprivations from the same cause ! Is not this persecution ? Imprisonment, tortures, and burnings are things of the past, and why? Because they are not allowed now; if they were, we should soon see them again. The spirit is the same — fierce and bitter as ever, showing itself in word, deed, and look; by contemptuous tolerance in some, and by outspoken hatred in others. As for torture, is there not such a thing as moral torture ? is not neglect, contempt, and scorn, as hard to bear as bodily pain ? I say it is often harder-I maintain that Dissenters have a grievance, and will have one so long as one form of religion is taken up and patronised by the State to the exclusion of others, and thus made fashionable, and the religion of the land. Depend upon it, sir, it's a disgrace to this land, and to any land. An Established Church is an established wrong."
My father's remark on hearing of this conversation was that for once that gentleman heard the truth !
He was a well-known inhabitant of the town in which he lived. His companion, who afterwards became a friend of my father's, was
a stranger both to him and to the town, which he was visiting on the occasion of some public meetings. And I need not say that the family in the red brick house were ourselves.
I well remember my own feelings when, as I grew old enough to observe and reason, I saw that my father was shut out from much that he would have enjoyed in the way of social companionship, public interests, and intellectual and congenial intercourse; that my mother's beautiful character was scarcely known out of her own immediate circle, and that we girls were also deprived of many pleasures and advantages.
We were not rich, or that might have made, as it does often make, a difference. Money even Dissenters' money — has sometimes a magic influence in converting supercilious disdain into transitory friendliness.
I think I have said enough to explain the peculiar position we occupied in
a town my
father would never have chosen for his residence, being rather celebrated for its party spirit, had not circumstances connected with his business made it necessary. And I wish it to be understood that I write in no censorious or bitter spirit, exaggerating evils by which I was personally annoyed. Circumstances by which one is surrounded have a great and important influence upon one's character as well as one's comfort and discomfort, and I shall endeavour to state the simple truth, “nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.”
Full of evil as I consider such a state of things to be, yet, except perhaps as a first cause to which our troubles might be traced back, it was no “ Dissenter's grievance" which embittered our lives, and has given me a sorrow which I shall carry with me to the grave.
Was there ever a brighter, merrier girl than our Lilian ?-myonly sister, four years younger than myself, my darling, and the darling of both our parents. Other children had been born, but had died in infancy, and only we two girls remained. We were as different as possible in appearance, disposition, and tastes. Whereas I was old for my age, Lilian was young for hers. I was grave and thoughtful, she was light-hearted and careless. I was plain, she was a beauty with dancing blue eyes, sunny hair, and a complexion like a wild rose. I was fond of reading and pondering, and had to be urged to go out into company. She enjoyed nothing more, and was a favourite wherever she went. “ The elder Miss Mortimer is proud or shy,” people would say, “but the younger is charming.”
ab: the ha
My father used to say Margaret was his steady useful little helper for work-days, and Lily his sunbeam for holidays. But I think sunbeams are wanted for all days, and what our home would have been without Lily I used to think it would be impossible to imagine. She would come to me in all her troubles, and the difference in our ages gave me a motherly as well as a sisterly feeling towards her.
As we grew up, Lily felt the mortifications I have described far more than I did, though she did not think of them so seriously. She was, as I have said, naturally sociable and fond of society, and the first troubles that clouded her happy life were those which it was inevituble that we should encounter, and which I was already learning to bear with equanimity.
“ Margaret, I do think papa inight just as well have gone to church: he could have believed what he liked."
So said Lilian one day on coming home from the school, which at fifteen she still attended, though I had left it two years before.
“Why should he go to church, if he prefers chapel ? " I asked.
“ Because it's wretched the way we are looked down upon and slighted! It is bad for papa, and bad for us !” and indignant tears stood in Lily's pretty blue eyes.
It is worse for those who slight us," I said ; " it makes me thankful that we are the victims rather than the persecutors.”
• Yes, of course it does, you good old Maggie, and that's all right and proper; still it does not make things any pleasanter,” persisted my little sister, still frowning, and leaning her elbows on the table. “All the girls are invited to Mrs. Fitzjames's picnic except me, and it's too bad !”
Perhaps you will be, dear; you know the Fitzjameses are only lately come, and they may not know who you are.”
• They know quite well,” exclaimed Lily. Amy Allen heard Alice Fitzjames talking about us, and asking what church we attended ; and when she heard that we went to chapel she seemed quite shocked, and said she felt sure her mother would have nothing to do with us. Oh, Maggie, it's horrid.”
“It was very wrong of Amy to repeat it to you. Never mind, darling, we will be happy without the Fitzjameses. I don't believe she is half so much of a lady as our mother."
“ That makes it all the worse,” declared Lily, who would not be comforted.
ан А be fo