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The two girls
_must_ go to school, and indeed they were too young to be of much use
and the boy would have to be left alone all day, except for the dinner
hour, as he had been before the hospital had been tried for him.

"There, Amy," said Aunt Charlotte, as they were clearing away the dinner
things after the menfolk had gone out, "there's something you could do.
It would be a real kindness to go in and see after that poor little
man."

"Yes," added Rose; "you might run in at dinner time, and I'd spare you a
little time then, and you might read to him, and cheer him up--yes, and
teach him a bit too."

"Edwin Smithers was always a very tiresome, stupid little boy," said
Amy, rather crossly, from her infant school recollections.

"Then he will want help all the more," said Aunt Rose, and it sounded
almost like mimicry of what Amy had said of old Mrs. Long.

She did not like it at all. It is the devices of our own heart that we
prefer to follow, whether for good or harm, and specially when we think
them good. And yet we specially pray that we may do all such good works
as our Lord hath _prepared for us to walk in_, as if we were to rejoice
in having our opportunities set out before us, yet the teaching a dull
little boy of whom she had had experience in the infant school, did not
seem to her half such interesting work as converting an old woman of
whom strange things were said.

However, Amy was on the whole a good girl, though she had her little
tempers, and did not guard against them as she ought, thinking that what
was soon over did not signify.

By and by, Jessie came back radiant with gladness, and found a moment
to say, before Florence Cray came in, that her mother was quite
agreeable to her teaching in the Sunday school, if Miss Manners liked
it. She had gone there herself for some years when she and Miss Manners
were both young, and she was well pleased that her daughter should be
helpful there.

Amy, who was fond of Jessie, was delighted to think of having her
company all the way to school, and her little fit of displeasure melted
quite away. But when Florence was heard coming in, both girls were
silent on their plans, knowing that she would only laugh at their
wishing to do anything so dull.




CHAPTER III.

THE WORKING PARTY.


"ARE these fruits of the sermon on Friday night?" said Miss Manners to
Mr. Somers, as they finished winding up their parish accounts on Monday
morning. "Not only, as you know, here is Grace Hollis wanting to join
Mrs. Somers's Tuesday working parties, Jessie begging to help at the
Sunday school; but I find that good little Amy Lee went and sat with
poor Edwin Smithers for half an hour on Sunday after church, showing him
pictures, and she has promised his mother to come and look in on him
every day. It is very nice of the Lees to have thought of it, and to
spare her."

"Yes," said Mrs. Somers, "the Lees are always anxious to do right."

"I had a talk with Charlotte just now. She came to get some flannel for
Mrs. Long. She says she will make it up for her, if the old woman can
have it out of the club. Well, she says it is quite striking how all
those girls have been moved by Mr. Soulsby's sermon on Friday evening.
Amy came home and nearly said it all off to her Aunt Rose, and the girls
were all talking about it in the workroom in the morning, full of
earnestness to make some effort."

"I saw they were looking very attentive," said Mr. Somers. "Shall you
accept Jessie Hollis's help?"

"I think I can make a class up for her."

"I suppose it would be a pity to check her, but do you imagine that she
knows anything?"

"I don't know; but she is not at all a stupid girl, and she cannot go
far wrong with the questions on the Catechism and Gospels that I shall
give her. Indeed I had thought of asking her and Margaret Roller, and,
perhaps, Amy Lee, to come and prepare the lessons here on Friday
evenings after church."

"A good plan," said Mr. Somers, "if it be not giving you too much to
do."

"Not a bit, especially at this time of year, when nobody wants me in the
evenings. My only doubt is whether it is not keeping the girls out too
late, but I will see whether it can be managed. The children might be
better taught, and the teachers might learn something themselves in this
indirect way."

Perhaps this was Miss Dora's way of acting on the sermon, but she could
not begin that week, as a friend was coming to spend the Friday with
her.

Meantime Grace Hollis had joined the working party that met every
Tuesday afternoon for an hour to make clothes for a very poor district
in London. She had been sometimes known to say that it was all waste of
time to make things and send them away to thriftless, shiftless folk;
but she had heard something of the love of our neighbour, and our
membership with the rest of our Lord's Body, which had touched her
heart. So she brought her thimble and needle, to join the working party
who sat round the Rectory dining-table. Mrs. Somers and Miss Manners
shook hands, made her welcome, and found her a seat and some work. Grace
looked about her to be sure who the party were. Mrs. Nowell, the
gardener's wife, sat next to her. Then came little Miss Agnes from the
Hall, sewing hard away, and Lucy Drew from Chalk-pit Farm, who was about
her age, next to her, and old Miss Pemberton knitting.

"A mixed lot," said Grace to herself, and then her eye lit upon deformed
Naomi Norris, of whom she did not approve at all. Did not the girl come
of a low dissenting family, and had not her father the presumption to
keep a little shop in Hazel Lane which took away half the custom,
especially as they pretended to make toffee? Meanwhile here was Miss
Wenlock, the governess at the squire's, and Miss Dora reading aloud to
the party in turn. It was the history of some mission work in London,
and Miss Lee, who was there, listened with great pleasure, as did many
of the others. Indeed she well might, for her eldest sister's son hoped
one day to be a missionary. But Grace was not used to being read to,
and, as she said, "it fidgeted her sadly," and she was wondering all the
time what mistakes mother would make in the shop without her, and she
began to be haunted with a doubt whether she had put out a parcel of
raisins that Farmer Drew's man was to call for. The worry about it
prevented her from attending to a word that was read; indeed she could
hardly keep herself from jumping up, making up an excuse, and rushing
home to see about the raisins!

Then she greatly disapproved of the shape of the bedgown she had been
set to make, and did not believe it would sit properly. It was ladies'
cutting towards which she felt contemptuous, and yet she would have
thought it impolite to interfere. Besides, it might make the whole
sitting go on longer, and Grace was burning to get home. At last the
reading ended, but oh! my patience, that creature Naomi was actually
putting herself forward to ask some nonsensical question, where some
place was, and Miss Agnes must needs get a map, and every one go and
look at it--Grace too, not to be behindhand or uncivil to the young
ladies; but had not she had enough of maps and such useless stupid
things long ago when she left school at Miss Perkins's?

When at last this was over, Mrs. Somers came and spoke to her while she
was putting on her hat, and thanked her pleasantly, saying that she was
afraid that beginning in the middle of a book made it less interesting,
but that one day more would finish it. Then she added "I don't like the
pattern of that bedgown, do you?"

"No, Mrs. Somers, not at all," replied Grace. "It quite went against me
to put good work into it."

"I wonder whether you could help us to a better shape next time," said
Mrs. Somers. "We should be very much obliged to you. This pattern came
out of a needlework book, and I am not satisfied about it."

Grace promised, and went away in better humour, but more because she had
been made important than because she cared for what she had been doing.
She was glad no one could say she had been behindhand with her service,
but it was a burthen to her, and she did not open her mind to enter into
it so as to make it otherwise.

Indeed, her mind was more full of her accounts and the bad debts, and of
the cheapest way of getting in her groceries than of anything else. As
she walked back through the village she wondered whether Mrs. Somers and
Miss Manners would send to her mother's for their brown sugar this
summer. That would make it worth while to go to a better but more
expensive place, and have in a larger stock; and Grace went on reckoning
the risk all the time, and wondering whether the going to the working
parties would secure the ladies' custom. In that case the time would not
be wasted. It did not come into Grace's head whether what she had
thought of for the service of God she might be turning to the service of
Mammon, if she only just endured it for the sake of standing well with
the gentry. But then, was it not her duty to consider her shop and her
mother's interest?

She was quite vexed and angry when she saw Jessie go and fetch the big
Family Bible that evening, turning off the whole pile of lesson-books to
which it formed the base.

"Now what can you be doing that for?" she said sharply.

"I want to prepare my lesson for to-morrow," said Jessie.

"And is not a little Bible good enough for you, without upsetting the
whole table?"

"My Bible has got no references," said Jessie.

"And what do little children like that want of references? If you are to
be turning the house upside down and wasting time like that over
preparing as you call it, I don't know as ma will let you undertake
it."

"I have ironed all the collars and cuffs, Grace," said Jessie; "yes, and
looked over the stockings."

Grace had no more to say; she knew Jessie had wonderful eyes for a
ladder or a hole; but it worried her and gave her a sense of disrespect
that the pyramid which surmounted the big Bible should be interfered
with, or that the Book itself should have its repose interfered with
"for a pack of dirty children," when it had never been opened before
except to register christenings, or to be spread out and read when some
near relation died, as part of the mourning ceremony.

It really made her feel as if something unfortunate had happened to see
the large print pages on the little round table, and her sister peering
into the references and looking them out in her own little Bible, then
diligently marking them.

Her mother, too, asked what Jessie was about, and though she did not
say anything against her employment, their looking on, and the
expression on Grace's face, worried Jessie so much that she could not
think, and only put a slip of paper into her own book at each she found.
The chapter she had chosen was the Parable of the Sower, on which she
had once heard a sermon.



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