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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 7. Amy Amber
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 7. Amy Amber Post by :KeisEnt Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2605

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 7. Amy Amber

CHAPTER VII. AMY AMBER

Some gentle crisis must have arrived in the history of Hester, for in these days her heart was more sensitive and more sympathetic than ever before. The circumvolant troubles of humanity caught upon it as it it had been a thorn-bush, and hung there. It was not greatly troubled, neither was its air murky, but its very repose was like a mother's sleep which is no obstacle between the cries of her children and her sheltering soul: it was ready to wake at every moan of the human sea around her. Unlike most women, she had not needed marriage and motherhood to open the great gate of her heart to her kind: I do not mean there are not many like her in this. Why the tide of human affection should have begun to rise so rapidly in her just at this time, there is no need for conjecturing: much of every history must for the long present remain inexplicable. No man creates his history any more than he creates himself; he only modifies it--sometimes awfully; gathers to him swift help, or makes intervention necessary. But the tide of which I speak flowed yet more swiftly from the night of the magic lantern. That experience had been as a mirror in which she saw the misery of the low of her kind, including, alas! her brother Cornelius. He had never before so plainly revealed to her his heartlessness, and the painful consequence of the revelation was, that now, with all her swelling love for human beings, she felt her heart shrink from him as if he were of another nature. She could never indeed have loved him as she did but that, being several years his elder, she had had a good deal to do with him as baby and child: the infant motherhood of her heart had gathered about him, and not an eternity of difference could after that destroy the relation between them. But as he grew up, the boy had undermined and weakened her affection, though hardly her devotion; and now the youth had given it a rude shock. So far was she, however, from yielding to this decay of feeling that it did not merely cause her much pain but gave rise in her to much useless endeavor; while every day she grew more anxious and careful to carry herself toward him as a sister ought.

The Raymounts could not afford one of the best lodgings in Burcliff, and were well contented with a floor in an old house in an unfashionable part of the town, looking across the red roofs of the port, and out over the flocks of Neptune's white sheep on the blue-gray German ocean. It was kept by two old maids whose hearts had got flattened under the pressure of poverty--no, I am wrong, it was not poverty, but _care_; pure poverty never flattened any heart; it is the care which poverty is supposed to justify that does the mischief; it gets inside it and burrows, as well as lies on the top of it; of mere outside poverty a heart can bear a mountainous weight without the smallest injury, yea with inestimable result of the only riches. Our Lord never mentions poverty as one of the obstructions to his kingdom, neither has it ever proved such; riches, cares and desires he does mention. The sisters Witherspin had never yet suffered from the lack of a single necessary; not the less they frayed their mornings, wore out their afternoons, scorched their evenings, and consumed their nights, in scraping together provision for an old age they were destined never to see. They were a small meager pair, with hardly a smile between them. One waited and the other cooked. The one that waited had generally her chin tied up with a silk handkerchief, as if she had come to life again, but not quite, and could not do without the handkerchief. The other was rarely seen, but her existence was all day testified by the odors that ascended from the Tartarus of her ever-recurrent labors. It was a marvel how from a region of such fumes could ascend the good dinners she provided. The poor things of course had their weight on the mind of Hester, for, had they tried, they could not have hidden the fact that they lived to save: every movement almost, and certainly every tone betrayed it. And yet, unlike so many lodging-house keepers, resembling more the lion-ant than any other of the symbolic world of insects, they were strictly honest. Had they not been, I doubt if Hester would have been able, though they would then have needed more, to give them so much pity as she did, for she had a great scorn of dishonesty. Her heart, which was full of compassion for the yielding, the weak, the erring, was not yet able to spend much on the actively vicious--the dishonest and lying and traitorous. The honor she paid the honesty of these women helped her much to pity the sunlessness of their existence, and the poor end for which they lived. It looked as if God had forgotten them--toiling for so little all day long, while the fact was they forgot God, and were thus miserable and oppressed because they would not have him interfere as he would so gladly have done. Instead of seeking the kingdom of heaven, and trusting him for old age while they did their work with their might, they exhausted their spiritual resources in sending out armies of ravens with hardly a dove among them, to find and secure a future still submerged in the waves of a friendly deluge. Nor was Hester's own faith in God so vital yet as to propagate itself by division in the minds she came in contact with. She could only be sorry for them and kind to them.

The morning after the visit to the aquarium, woeful Miss Witherspin, as Mark had epitheted her, entered to remove the ruins of breakfast with a more sad and injured expression of countenance than usual. It was a glorious day, and she was like a live shadow in the sunshine. Most of the Raymounts were already in the open air, and Hester was the only one in the room. The small, round-shouldered, cadaverous creature went moving about the table with a motion that suggested bed as fitter than labor, though she was strong enough to get through her work without more than occasional suffering: if she could only have left pitying herself and let God love her she would have got on well enough. Hester, who had her own share of the same kind of fault, was rather moodily trimming her mother's bonnet with a new ribbon, glancing up from which she at once perceived that something in particular must have exceeded in wrongness the general wrongness of things in the poor little gnome's world. Her appearance was usually that of one with a headache; her expression this morning suggested a mild indeed but all-pervading toothache.

"Is anything the matter, Miss Witherspin?" asked Hester.

"Indeed, miss, there never come nothing to sister and me but it's matter, and now it's a sore matter. But it's the Lord's will and we can't help it; and what are we here for but to have patience? That's what I keep saying to my sister, but it don't seem to do her much good."

She ended with a great sigh; and Hester thought if the unseen sister required the comfort of the one before her, whose evangel just uttered was as gloomy as herself, how very unhappy she must be.

"No doubt we are here to learn patience," said Hester; "but I can hardly think patience is what we are made for. Is there any fresh trouble--if you will excuse me?"

"Well, I don't know, miss, as trouble can anyhow be called fresh--leastways to us it's stale enough; we're that sick of it! I declare to you, miss, I'm clean worn out with havin' patience! An' now there's my sister gone after her husband an' left her girl, brought up in her own way an' every other luxury, an' there she's come on our hands, an' us to take the charge of her! It's a responsibility will be the death of me."

"Is there no provision for her?"

"Oh, yes, there's provision! Her mother kep a shop for fancy goods at Keswick--after John's death, that is--an' scraped together a good bit o' money, they do say; but that's under trustees--not a penny to be touched till the girl come of age!"

"But the trustees must make you a proper allowance for bringing her up! And anyhow you can refuse the charge."

"No, miss, that we can't. It was always John's wish when he lay a dyin', that if anything was to happen to Sarah, the child should come to us. It's the trouble of the young thing, the responsibility--havin' to keep your eyes upon her every blessed moment for fear she do the thing she ought not to--that's what weighs upon me. Oh, yes, they'll pay so much a quarter for her! it's not that. But to be always at the heels of a young, sly puss after mischief--it's more'n I'm equal to, I do assure you, Miss Raymount."

"When did you see her last?" inquired Hester.

"Not once have I set eyes on her since she was three years old!" answered Miss Witherspin, and her tone seemed to imply in the fact yet additional wrong.

"Then perhaps she may be wiser by this time," Hester suggested. "How old is she now?"

"Sixteen out. It's awful to think of!"

"But how do you know she will be so troublesome? She mayn't want the looking after you dread. You haven't seen her for thirteen years!"

"I'm sure of it. I know the breed, miss! She's took after her mother, you may take your mortal oath! The sly way she got round our John!--an' all to take him right away from his own family as bore and bred him! You wouldn't believe it, miss!"

"Girls are not always like their mothers," said Hester. "I'm not half as good as my mother."

"Bless you, miss! if she ain't half as bad as hers--the Lord have mercy upon us! How I'm to attend to my lodgers and look after her, it's more than I know how to think of it with patience."

"When is she coming?"

"She'll be here this blessed day as I'm speakin' to you, miss!"

"Perhaps, your house being full, you may find her a help instead of a trouble. It won't be as if she had nothing to employ her!"

"There's no good to mortal creature i' the bones or blood of her!" sighed Miss Witherspin, as she put the tablecloth on the top of the breakfast-things.

That blessed day the girl did arrive--sprang into the house like a rather loud sunbeam--loud for a sunbeam, not for a young woman of sixteen. She was small, and bright, and gay, with large black eyes which sparkled like little ones as well as gleamed like great ones, and a miniature Greek face, containing a neat nose and a mouth the most changeable ever seen--now a mere negation in red, and now long enough for sorrow to couch on at her ease--only there was no sorrow near it, nor in its motions and changes much of any other expression than mere life. Her hair was a dead brown, mistakable for black, with a burnt quality in it, and so curly, in parts so obstinately crinkly, as to suggest wool--and negro blood from some far fount of tropic ardor. Her figure was, if not essentially graceful yet thoroughly symmetrical, and her head, hands and feet were small and well-shaped. Almost brought up in her mother's shop, one much haunted by holiday-makers in the town, she had as little shyness as forwardness, being at once fearless and modest, gentle and merry, noiseless and swift--a pleasure to eyes, nerves and mind. The sudden apparition of her in a rose-bud print, to wait upon the Raymounts the next morning at breakfast, startled them all with a sweet surprise. Every time she left the room the talk about her broke out afresh, and Hester's information concerning her was a welcome sop to the Cerberus of their astonishment. A more striking contrast than that between her and her two aunts could hardly have been found in the whole island. She was like a star between two gray clouds of twilight. But she had not so much share in her own cheerfulness as her poor aunts had in their misery. She so lived because she was so made. She was a joy to others as well as to herself, but as yet she had no merit in her own peace or its rippling gladness. So strong was the life in her that, although she cried every night over the loss of her mother, she was fresh as a daisy in the morning, opening like that to the sun of life, and ready not merely to give smile for smile, but to give smile for frown. In a word she was one of those lovely natures that need but to recognize the eternal to fly to it straight; but on the other hand such natures are in general very hard to wake to a recognition of the unseen. They assent to every thing good, but for a long time seem unaware of the need of a perfect Father. To have their minds opened to the truth, they must suffer like other mortals less amiable. Suffering alone can develop in such any spiritual insight, or cause them to care that there should be a live God caring about them.

She was soon a favorite with every one of the family. Mrs. Raymount often talked to her. And on her side Amy Amber, which name, being neither crisp nor sparkling, but soft and mellow, did not seem quite to suit her, was so much drawn to Hester that she never lost an opportunity of waiting on her, and never once missed going to her room, to see if she wanted anything, last of all before she went to bed. The only one of the family that professed not to "think much of her," was the contemptuous Cornelius. Even Vavasor, who soon became a frequent caller, if he chanced to utter some admiring word concerning the pretty deft creature that had just flitted from the room like a dark butterfly, would not in reply draw from him more than a grunt and a half sneer. Yet now and then he might have been caught glowering at her, and would sometimes, seemingly in spite of himself, smile on her sudden appearance.

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