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The Beautiful Garment

The Captive

The Voyage

The Beautiful Garment

"You'll find our Lydia a child after your own heart, Martin," said Captain Neill, a retired officer, to his elder brother, who had lately returned from India.

"She seems to be a quick, intelligent girl," answered Mr. Neill, in a less enthusiastic tone.

"She is that, and a great deal more!" cried the father. "It is wonderful to see the good that child does! From cottage to cottage she goes, reading, talking--really like a grown-up woman; it would surprise you were you to hear her."

"Perhaps it would," said his brother, a pale, reserved man, with dark, thoughtful eyes, and a face on which love to God and good-will to man seemed to have set their stamp.

"Certainly, dear Lydia is a very uncommon child," lisped Mrs. Neill from the sofa, to which long and tedious, though not dangerous illness had confined her for several months.

"You see," pursued the captain, "we've no child but Lydia, so we've devoted all our care to our pet."

"An only child runs some danger of being spoilt," observed Mr. Neill, with a smile.

"Yes, yes, but we never spoil ours," answered the father, quickly.

"Oh, dear, no!" said the lady, from the sofa.

"We have always from the first taught Lydia her duty; and I must say that we've found her an apt pupil," continued the captain. "Would you believe it--though she is just twelve years old, that child has twice read through the Bible, and has started on the third reading of her own accord!"

The partial father looked into his brother's face, expecting to see depicted there admiration and surprise. There was, however, no expression of the kind. Perhaps Mr. Neill was thinking that one verse of the Holy Scriptures, treasured in the heart, might do more for the soul than the whole Bible read hastily over for the sake of boasting that so much had been done.

"And then her charity," recommenced Captain Neil; but he was interrupted by the entrance of a fine-looking girl, who came in with a quick step and self-possessed manner, her checks glowing beneath her white hat from the exercise which she had been taking.

"Where have you been, my darling?" asked her father.

"Oh, round by the mill, and as far as the seven cottages. Poor Jones is getting worse and worse; his wife says that he cannot last long. I tried to get Mrs. Brown to send all her children to school, but she tells me they can't go in such rags. I'm about to make a parcel of my old clothes, my green dress, and a lot of other things--"

"But, my dear," said Lydia's mother, "that dress was quite new this spring; I don't wish--"

"I'm tired of it," interrupted Lydia; and seeing that her mother was about to speak, she cut her short by a decided, "I hate green dresses, and I'm not going to wear it again."

The mother looked vexed, but said nothing. "You've had a long round, my darling; sit down and rest," said Captain Neill, kindly.

"I'm not tired, and would rather stand," replied Lydia, in her short, decided manner, as she flung her hat back on her shoulders, and shook the curls from her heated face. Then, turning to her mother, she said, "Whom do you think I met on the way? All the Thomsons on ponies. I wish I had a pony, too, I should so enjoy riding about."

"Could we afford it, you should have one," said her father, who, though very fond of riding, had never mounted a horse since he had quitted the army. It pained him that his child should ever form a wish which he had not the power to gratify.

"I don't see why the Thomsons should ride when we walk!" observed Lydia, with a little toss of the head. "We are as good as they any day. Their mother was no fine lady, I've heard, and they say in the village that Mr. Thomson is deep in debt, and will have to sell his fine house."

"People say ill-natured things, my love; I would not repeat them," observed Mrs. Neill, mildly.

Lydia looked annoyed at the gentle reproof, and began humming an air to herself, to show that she did not mind it.

"Have you written the notes as I desired you, my dear?" asked the sick mother, after a silence.

"No, I've been busy, and shall be busy all day; I'll write them to-morrow," replied Lydia, sitting down, and carelessly opening a book.

"Did you carry your missionary subscription to the Vicarage?" asked the captain. "My girl keeps a collection box," he added, smilingly turning towards his brother to explain.

"No; I did not," replied Lydia, shortly.

"And why? for the clergyman told us he was anxious to send in the subscriptions directly."

"I would rather wait till I have collected more," answered Lydia. "The Barnes had one pound nine in their box."

"But we cannot attempt to compete with the Barnes, my love; we can give but little, but we give it cheerfully."

"I will wait till I have collected more," repeated Lydia. "I should be ashamed to send in less than my neighbors."

"It is a great privilege to be able to help a good cause," said the captain, again addressing his brother. "My girl does not content herself with gathering money; she gives her work, which is something better. Her little fingers were busy for the fancy fair held for our schools: she made two bags and seven purses--"

"Four bags and eight purses," interrupted Lydia, "and six round pincushions besides. The Charters did not furnish so much, though there are three of them to work. But they are such an idle set of girls, and I don't think they care about schools."

"Four bags and eight purses, to say nothing of the pincushions; pretty well for one little pair of hands!" said the captain, turning again to his brother, in expectation of an approving smile or word; but no smile was given, no word was uttered. Lydia glanced at her uncle in surprise, but could not understand the almost sad expression on her relative's kind face. Could she have read his thoughts, they would have run somewhat as follows:

"It is clear that these fond parents are content with their child, and that the child is content with herself; she has enough of the sweet poison of flattering praise without my pouring out more from a selfish desire to make myself a favorite here. My brother thinks his Lydia perfect, and believes that the soil, cultivated with tender care, is already covered with a glorious harvest. But what is it that eyes less blinded by partial affection see there? In ten minutes I have unwillingly beheld the weeds of pride, selfishness, and disobedience, a disposition to evil speaking, covetousness, and a silly thirst for praise. Small indeed the faults now appear, as weeds scarce showing above the soil; but it is evident that the roots are there, and I fear that the harvest will be different indeed from what my brother expects. What shall I do? Speak openly to him? I fear that the only result would be to wound--perhaps to offend him; he would think me unjust or severe, and retain his own opinion. I must gain some quiet opportunity of speaking a word to Lydia herself; she is an intelligent, sensible girl; but I can see too plainly by her manner toward her mother that nothing will be welcome to the young lady that comes in the shape of reproof. My conscience will not suffer me to leave my niece to her blind security; I will make at least an attempt to open her eyes to the truth."

The party now dispersed--Lydia to take off her hat and cape; the two gentlemen to visit a friend. During their walk, Captain Neill could scarcely discourse on any subject but that of his daughter. He told anecdote after anecdote, which had been treasured up in his affectionate heart; but his conversation only served to convince Mr. Neill that Lydia, brought up in a pious family, had acquired but a sort of hothouse religion, that could stand no blast of temptation. He felt that though his niece might do many things that were certainly proper and right, she only did them when they suited her pleasure; her proud will was yet unbroken--her impatient temper unsubdued.

In the evening, Mr. Neill was sitting alone in the little study, when Lydia entered the room. The girl was anxious to please her uncle, of whose character she had heard high praise, and whose gentle, courteous manner was well suited to win young hearts.

"I like him," thought Lydia, "and I will make him like me." So approaching Mr. Neill, and laying her hand on the back of his chair, she said in her most pleasing manner, "Can I do anything for you, dear uncle?"

"Yes, my dear, you can read the Bible to me; I shall be glad of the help of your young eyes, for mine have suffered from the climate of India."

"I will read with pleasure," said Lydia, taking up the Bible; and she spoke no more than the truth. She was glad to do a kindness to her uncle, but was more glad still of an opportunity of showing him how beautifully she could read aloud.

"Do you wish any particular chapter?" she inquired.

"Pray, begin the twenty-second chapter of St. Matthew."

In a tone very clear and distinct, Lydia commenced her reading--

"And Jesus answered, and spake unto them again by parables, and said, 'The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed and all things are ready; come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise; and the rest laid hold on his servants, and treated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.'"

"Do you understand the meaning of the parable?" asked Mr. Neill.

"Yes," replied his niece, looking up from her book; "the Jews, to whom the invitation of the gospel was first sent, in their pride, would not accept it, but rejected and slew the Lord, and some of His faithful servants; and so the armies of the Romans were sent to take and to burn Jerusalem. The command was given that the gospel should be preached to every creature, as we hear." And Lydia proceeded to read aloud:

"'Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests.'"

"'And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: he saith unto him, Friend, how earnest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? and he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called but few are chosen.'"

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