When I was a Little Girl
Some sheets of rather thick paper of a light yellow colour are near me as I write; they are covered with dots, hardly larger than the head of a good sized pin. These dots represent letters or what are called “word signs,” such as are used in Braille-type writing. The hand that wrote these sheets is cold and pulseless now, for the Lord who had so loved as to give Himself for Maria James took her very gently home nearly two years ago. For some time before her death she had had a great desire to write the story of her own early days, and especially of her conversion, in the hope that some dear boy or girl by reading it might learn to take an interest in blind children and so grow up to be their friend and helper.
The record was begun, though left in an unfinished state. Not many days before her departure she said to a friend who was much with her: “My little story I should have liked to finish, but the Lord makes no mistakes and He knows I am too weak to hold my dotter now; but some day, perhaps, He will allow you to finish it; you know all I would have written, it will be a TRUE story.”
CHAPTER 1: A TRUE LIFE STORY
At last I have made up my mind to write a story. I meant to do it a long time ago; I had all that I wanted to say floating about in my mind, I had even got the title. Why I did not write it is more than I can explain. Perhaps the Lord intended me to wait till the evening of my life was drawing near before I wrote about the things that happened in its early morning; perhaps I shall write it all the better for having waited, at least I am looking to the Lord that it may be so. There will not be anything very exciting in my story, but it will be real and true, just what I should like to put into the hands of any little friend of mine, and ask him or her to read without being afraid of father or mother disapproving.
The first thing I can remember is that I lived with my parents in a not very large house in one of the side streets, not far from the market-place, in the old garrison town of Colchester. It was a clean, well-kept town, at least so they told me when I grew old enough to take an intelligent interest in my surroundings. Perhaps you will wonder why I say, “they told me.” Well, when I tell you that all my life I have been obliged to depend upon others for any information respecting the outside world, simply because I could not see things for myself, you will understand if I sometimes use the expression, “they say,” or “they told me.” I cannot give a description of the scenery around my birth-place, for how could I give a really interesting account of things I have never seen? But a sightless little girlie can remember facts as well as a seeing child of the same age, and I shall try to tell you just a few of the things in which I was even then interested, in the hope that you like true stories much better than made-up ones.
At the time my story begins there were five of us in the family, four girls and a boy, and though baby Willie went to be with the Lord Jesus before three summers had passed over his curly head, Arthur came in his place, so again there were five birdies in the home nest.
I was very fond of my little brother and seldom got tired of nursing and trying to amuse him. Sometimes my mother would say in such a tired voice, “I cannot get baby to sleep, take him and try what you can do.” Then I would take him in my arms and walk up and down the house or garden. How proud and pleased I used to feel when the fretful cry ceased, the little head drooped lower and lower upon my shoulder, and I knew by the soft, regular breathing that Arthur was asleep. When about two years old he suffered a great deal from inflammation in his eyes, so much so that my parents were afraid he would lose his sight, and when I tell you that out of the ten children born to them five were blind from birth, you will understand that there was some reason for their anxiety. For some time the doctor came nearly every day to look at his eyes, and when he wished to put some drops into his eyes that he knew would make them smart quite badly for a little while, though they were always better afterwards, he would tell me to take the poor little fellow in my arms and sing to him very softly, as he said it always soothed him and helped him to forget the pain.
Like most children who live in a garrison town I soon learnt to distinguish the different calls of the bugle, and always knew when the soldiers were passing by the way in which they marched. Sometimes the picket came very near our house, and if I had been naughty my father used to tell me that he would call the soldiers in and let them take me away. Of course he did not really intend doing so, but I thought it was all real and used to be terribly frightened, and would be very quiet and hide in some corner, hardly daring to breathe till they were out of hearing. I think that sometimes I must have been a troublesome child and tried the patience of my mother greatly, for though, as you already know, I was blind from birth, I had a strange, unaccountable fancy for getting into all kinds of dangerous places.
Quite a long garden lay behind the house in which we lived; beyond the garden a field ending in a low wall formed the boundary of that part of the river in which the far-famed Colchester oysters are fed and fattened for market. My sisters and I had often played in the field and one day, finding myself alone there, a great longing seemed to take possession of me to find out what was beyond the wall; I succeeded in climbing it, and walked for some distance along its sloping, slippery edge. Had I taken one false step I should most likely have fallen into the water and been drowned. Do you not think it was very good of God to take such care of a wilful, naughty little girl? At last my mother saw me from the cottage window, and I was severely punished for the fright I had given her, but I do not think my love of wandering has ever quite left me.
But I must not forget to tell you about some well-remembered days that, though so many years have passed, still live in my memory as among the happiest of my childhood: days spent in a large house standing in lovely grounds a little way out of the busy town. The house was called “The Rectory,” and was the home of a lady whose father used to preach in the church near my home. Miss May, as I will call her, was always very kind to me, and I have often thanked God for giving me a friend who not only took some trouble to give me pleasure, but sowed good seed in my young heart, seed that with the blessing of the Lord was in after years to spring up and bring forth fruit.
Miss May was not at all strong, indeed I think she must often have been weak and suffering. In fine weather she would often spend almost the whole day in the garden, lying in a hammock slung among the branches of a shady beech tree. But her hands were not idle ones; she was nearly always at work making some warm and useful garment, sometimes for a sick child, at others for one of the poor old women in the almshouse, and now and then I had the great treat when the garment was finished of going with her in the pony carriage to take it to the one for whom it was made.
But I had other good times; very often I was allowed to climb up into the hammock, and nestling snugly down by her side (I was very small for my age, or there might not have been room for both) I listened to Bible stories or learnt hymns. There was one story I never seemed to grow tired of listening to or Miss May of telling. It was about Christ being not only the Saviour of sinners, but the Friend of little children, how He used to take them in His arms and bless them; and when I heard of His giving sight to the blind, I cried when I was told He was no longer on earth. I would I thought have gone to Him and asked Him to open my eyes, for even then I longed to see birds and flowers and all the bright and beautiful things of which others told me, and more than all the faces of those I loved. I do not feel like this now, and am content to wait, for I shall see fairer things than these. I shall “see Jesus,” the Saviour I have through grace learned to love and trust; and I am glad now to think that His will be the first face that I shall see.
The first hymn my kind friend taught me has been a favourite all through my life, and I expect many of my readers know and love it too.
“Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,
It is not night if Thou art near;
Oh, may no earth-born cloud arise,
To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.”
I was always afraid during a thunderstorm, for though I could not see the lightning flash, I could hear the peals of thunder, and though I trembled very much, I used to sing my favourite hymn, and find a sort of comfort in doing so. I am not afraid in a storm now, for I have learnt the joy of having the Lord as my keeper, and know that no harm could come to me without His permission.
CHAPTER 2: LEARNING TO READ
My visits to the Vicarage were, you will hardly need to be told, always pleasant ones, and though it must be quite forty years since I played in its pleasant garden, or learnt the texts and hymns my kind lady friend loved so well to teach, the happy hours spent there are still fresh in my memory, and I believe the seeds of truth sown in my heart when I was not more than five years of age (for we left Colchester shortly before my sixth birthday) formed a link in the chain by which the Lord in later years drew me to Himself.
I did not go very often, but perhaps I enjoyed my visits all the more because they were so few and far between. Now I am going to give you a peep at my everyday life. There were not many pretty things in our home, and I was by no means rich in toys, yet my childhood was far from being an unhappy one. I loved the song of birds and the scent of flowers, and when on Sundays my father took me to the old garrison church, though I am afraid I thought or cared very little about the service, the music used to fill my whole being with a delight that I could not find words to express. I am glad that I have learnt since, that
“No heart but by the Spirit taught,
Makes melody to God.”
But I am telling you of things that happened when I was a very little girl. Sometimes, in fine weather, I used to go with my sisters into the fields and soon learned to fill my small basket with daisies as quickly as any of the party. All through December we used to sing carols at the doors of our richer neighbours; I was often left to sing alone, my voice being even at that early age considered good, and it was very seldom that the “little blind singer” was allowed to go unrewarded by a penny, always claimed by my elders.
When I was about five years old, my father, who worked at home, thought it was time to begin teaching me to read. He had heard of many blind people being taught to read by Dr. Moon’s system of raised or embossed letters; and though at the time he had never seen a book printed in that type, he obtained one; it was the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel by John, and having mastered the alphabet for himself, he began to teach me. That old, well-worn copy was for many years the only book I possessed, but it taught me to read; never after do I remember having any difficulty in reading any book printed in the same type. I liked to read it for myself, and would pass my fingers almost lovingly over its pages long after I knew its every word by heart. Oh! how I used to muse about the “many mansions,” and wonder what they were like, and if there would be room in them for a poor little blind girl like me. I do not wonder now, for I know the Lord Jesus, who said, “I am the way,” as my very own Saviour, and when my work on earth is done, He will take me to Himself, and I shall not be blind then, for I shall see Him as He is.
I told you that when about six years of age I removed with my family from Colchester. My next home was London, which at first I did not like at all. Our garden was so small that I could not find room to run and play as I had been used to do at Colchester; I often had gone out alone to do errands for my mother and had never had the slightest fear in crossing the roads; I used to stand on the footpath for a few seconds listening intently, to be sure that I did not hear the rumble of wheels, or the tramp of horses’ feet, and when assured that there was no danger would dart across with almost the speed of a frightened hare.
Soon after our removal to London my parents decided that I should be sent to a day-school, in company with seeing children, not so much I think in the hope of my learning much as to keep me out of mischief and to pass the time, which had begun to hang heavily on my hands. Later on it was hoped that I should be able to obtain admission to a blind school, but as I was far from being a robust child and very small for my age, the doctor when consulted said, “Plenty of time for that, just let Maria live and grow for the next half-dozen years.”
I soon began to like going to school, and though of course I could not learn to read from printed books or write in a copy-book, yet I had a good memory, so retained a good deal of what was taught orally. The teacher kindly took some trouble in teaching me to knit, and I cannot tell you how delighted I was when able to help her, as I was often called upon to do, by picking up dropped stitches in the work of seeing pupils. I also attended the Sunday-school and soon grew much attached to my teacher, but though I retained my old fondness for Bible stories, my heart had not opened to the love of Christ; when I thought of God I was afraid, for I remembered naughty things that I had done, and thought He would surely punish me. Yet all the time there was a great, hungry longing for affection, for some one who would understand, and could love, even a naughty little girl. I do not think that at the time, with all my church-going, I had ever heard the gospel of the grace of God. If any one had said to me, “Do you know who Christ died for?” it is quite likely I should have replied, “For good people.” Now by the light of the glorious gospel I know that it was for sinners Jesus died, so I am sure it was for me.
There were times when my father and I did not get on very happily together. Perhaps we did not understand each other, but he was never really unkind to me; and all through my life I have been grateful to him for the pains he took in teaching me to read. I do not think anything remarkable occurred during the next five or six years of my life. Changes, it is true, came into my home Sickness and death entered it from time to time, and my two eldest sisters married and went to homes of their own. When I was between eleven and twelve years of age the doctor said he thought it would be good for me to be admitted as a pupil to the “School for the Indigent Blind,” Southwark, London, and several friends who had taken an interest in my case kindly promised to do all in their power to secure the required number of votes necessary for my election. The next few months was quite a busy time, I was always greatly pleased to hear of fresh votes or promises being obtained, for though I was by no means anxious to leave my home, I felt there were many things I very much wished to learn and which I had been told I should be taught when admitted to “St George’s.” I have a great affection still for the old school in which seven very happy years of my life were spent. It is no longer used as a school, as the work of educating poor blind children is carried on in much larger and finer premises with pleasant country surroundings at Leatherhead, in Surrey. But I must not anticipate my story; still I feel sure that old pupils of St. George’s will always have a grateful recollection of their school-days.
The election was drawing near and about twenty votes were still wanted to complete the number required for my admission. The friends who had worked hard and written a great number of letters were beginning to feel almost discouraged, when only a day or two before the date fixed a gentleman entered the day-school which I still attended with (the girl who sat next to me whispered) an open letter in his hand, and after exchanging a few words with the mistress I was called to her desk, and in a very kind manner he told me that the number of votes was completed by those he had received by that morning’s post. My election was, he said, almost beyond a doubt; he asked the teacher as a favour to himself if she would allow me to leave at once and be the bearer of the good news and the votes to my parents. Permission being given, I started off with great delight, holding the precious packet tightly with both hands. My father and mother were greatly pleased and very grateful to the gentleman for the trouble he had so kindly taken.
A few days later the election took place, and I was among the successful candidates. In little more than four weeks I was to leave home for the first time, and though still a school-girl, my surroundings would be so different, that it would seem almost a new life. As the time drew near, it might not have been easy to say how far a strange, nameless dread of the new scenes I was about to enter mingled with my desire to go; but as I knew it had been decided that I should go on the day appointed, I kept my fears to myself, and spoke so cheerfully of the approaching change that no one even guessed that for many nights I had cried myself to sleep at the thought of going to live among strangers who might not be so kind to me as my parents had been.
The day for the parting came at last; my father took me to Southwark, where I was kindly received by the matron, who said that though not the youngest, I was certainly the smallest girl in the school. She was quickly called away, as new and old pupils were arriving in quick succession, but before leaving, she gave me into the care of one of the elder girls, who led me into a long room, with a row of small beds arranged along either side of it where quite a number of girls were taking off their outdoor wraps, or putting their clothes neatly into small lockers.
But my story of school-days and school friends must stand over till my next chapter.
CHAPTER 3: SCHOOL-DAYS AND SCHOOL PLAYS
My guide led me to the little bed that was to be mine and told me that the contents of the small parcel I carried were to be neatly packed into the green painted locker that stood by its side, and then left me to chat with some of her friends, who were at that moment entering the room, which I soon after found to be one of the larger dormitories, in which nearly forty girls slept. The room was filling fast, all the old scholars seemed to know each other, and a great deal of laughing and talking was going on. One girl who had been to a real party was giving her friends a very lively account of the pleasures of the evening, and was, I could not help noticing, an object of admiration, almost of envy, to those who had been less favoured than herself.
No one spoke to or took any notice of me, and as I stood by my locker trying in a sort of dreamy way to put my brush and comb bag and a few other things into it, I felt a very sad and lonely little girl, and it was as much as I could do to keep back a few tears that seemed just ready to fall. I do not know how long I stood there, when I heard some one calling my name. It was a servant who had been sent to take me to the housekeeper’s room. I little guessed what a delightful surprise was waiting for me there. A box which I was to be allowed to open had just been left for me. I could not remember ever having had a parcel or even a letter addressed to me before, and for the next half-hour I felt quite grown-up. I had quite a battle with string and paper wrappings, the lid was removed, and I lifted out a lovely doll, almost as large as a real baby, sent and dressed by Miss May, who said in a kind note, read to me by the housekeeper, she thought her little friend might feel lonely on her first day at school.
I was then told that the tea-bell would ring in a few minutes; but as school would not begin till the following morning, we should, after prayers, be allowed to play till bed-time; and I might take my waxen baby into the schoolroom and make friends with some of the girls. At the sound of a bell nearly eighty girls trooped into the dining-hall, the newcomers being led to their places by old pupils. Grace was sung and we drank our mugs of tea and ate our bread and butter in silence. Prayers were read before we left the hall. I was again led to the schoolroom, and the news that I had a large doll having spread quickly, several of the younger girls came to me and were made happy by being allowed to nurse and play with it.
“Early to bed and early to rise” was one of our school rules, and did us good, I believe, in more ways than one. When the great clock in the hall struck nine every girl was expected to be in bed, and talking, or going from bed to bed, was forbidden. I do not think I slept much the first night, everything was so new and strange to me.
We rose early, and by half-past seven we had assembled in the hall for prayers, followed by breakfast. We then made our beds, did some dusting, or helped the servants till nine o’clock, when the bell rang for school. Perhaps you would like to know something about the books we used and the lessons we learnt. The dotted system called Braille, now so largely used in the education of the blind, had not been introduced into England, though I have since heard that even a few who did not grudge time spent, or trouble taken, if others were to be served or helped, were even then working at, and trying to perfect the system and adapt it to the languages of France and Belgium.
All our school-books were embossed in what was, and is called, Dr. Moon’s type. Printed books would have been of no use to us, as one of the conditions required for the admission of a pupil to “St. George’s” was the possession of a certificate from some doctor stating that owing either to the total loss of or very defective sight, he or she could not be taught to read and write in the same way as seeing children.
In the place of slates and copy-books most of the elder scholars had what was called an “Alstone frame.” For many years I myself used one, still I am afraid I shall not find it easy to describe. It is made of polished wood, and can be opened, like the leaves of a book. A sheet of thin writing-paper is then placed in the required position, and the frame closed. The upper side is divided into cells, just large enough to admit a single letter. Our type box, or case, was something like that of a printer’s, the letters being formed by short lengths of very stout wire being fixed firmly into small blocks of very hard wood. Taking up the required letter, it was placed in a cell, and by applying a slight pressure, the wire points perforated the paper. The letters were all Roman capitals, and we liked this method of writing, because it enabled us to correspond with our seeing friends.
We worked sums upon boards drilled with small holes, fitted with pegs, the metal heads of which represented different numbers, according to the way in which they were turned. We were taught geography by the use of raised maps. Needlework and knitting were afternoon occupations, and some of the girls knitted really beautiful lace, or shawls in the finest and softest wool that could be bought. Twice a week we had a singing lesson, and as my voice again attracted attention, I was told that I had been one chosen to sing in the choir of the church we attended on Sundays; but before I could be admitted to it, a long lesson must be learnt, the whole of the Book of Psalms, one hundred and fifty in number, committed to memory. I was to attend the “practice class” for an hour daily for the purpose of learning and repeating some verses every day. I set to work with a will, and though at the time I understood very little of the meaning or beauty of my wonderful lesson-book, I have often been thankful in later years that my mind was stored with so large a portion of the word of God. When trials have gathered thickly around me the Holy Spirit has often brought to my mind some long familiar passage such as “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”; it has flashed into my mind, and brought with it an untold flood of joy and comfort, and the answer of my soul has been, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”
Trades, by which it was hoped that some at least of our number would be able after leaving school to obtain a livelihood, were also taught. The boys had a good-sized workshop in which they made mats and the coarser kind of baskets and brushes, fancy work-baskets, hair and clothes-brushes being generally made by the girls.
But I do not want you to suppose that it was “all work and no play.” We had games in the playground in fine weather, and when our weekly half-holiday proved wet, we were allowed to amuse ourselves in the schoolroom. I think we enjoyed “recreation” as thoroughly as any party of school-girls could. We were fond of skipping in the rope, and I soon gained a reputation for being good at this game, for though I could not see when the rope touched the ground, I could hear, and a naturally correct ear for time seemed to suggest the right moment at which to jump. But some of our amusements were more ambitious. We gave parties with a set of doll’s tea things, a birthday present to one of the girls, and though the dainties of which we invited each other to partake were more often than not make-believes, still we enjoyed the fun as we visited our friends and partook of afternoon tea in different corners of the schoolroom.
We got up exhibitions, too, but I cannot say that our exhibits were either numerous or varied. About half a dozen dolls, a box of toys, one or two puzzle maps, a very pretty shell necklace brought from abroad and given to one of the girls by her sailor uncle, with a few other odds and ends, are all I can remember. We spent a good deal of time and thought in laying out the stalls, as we called the schoolroom desks. I had nothing to display, but was often called upon to sing or recite to the amusement of our visitors, girls who did not exhibit, but who generally came by what we dignified with the name of private invitations.
On the whole we were a happy party, our teachers were kind, and our food, though plain, was plentiful. Now and then a girl came who did not take kindly to school life. I remember one, a Scots lassie, who could not, or would not, make herself happy and contented in our midst. For the six or seven weeks she remained she did little but cry and beg to go back to “bonnie Scotland.” Our teachers did all they possibly could to reconcile her to school life, and asked us to be very kind to her. But all attempts failed: she would not eat, and got so weak and low that at last it was decided to write to her friends, and advise her return home. One day, to her great delight, her brother arrived to take her back to the land of her birth. I think you will agree with me in saying that she was a foolish girl to miss the opportunity of gaining an education that would have been of such use to her in after life. Let us be careful to use our opportunities to the best advantage. Once lost they will never come our way again.
CHAPTER 4: LEAVING SCHOOL
We all know that school-days must come to an end, and as they are only a preparation for the real work of our lives, I do not think that boys and girls are doing wrong when they take a look beyond the walls of their schoolroom with the question, “What am I going to do with my life?” Will you not pause, dear ones, before you venture on the untried path that may lie before you, and making the words of scripture your own, say to that great and holy God whose goodness has surrounded you with so many mercies it, “My Father, thou art the guide of my youth” (Jer. 3:4).
Though, as you know, I and my schoolfellows were blind, we were, I believe, very much like seeing girls of the same age, we looked forward to leaving school, and often talked to each other about the things we hoped to do when we left school; all I think, or nearly all, wished to be of some use to others.
One of our girls, Nellie M—, whose mother had died when Nellie was hardly old enough to remember her at all, was to be her father’s housekeeper, and as she really wished to be a help and comfort to him, she was often, at her own request, allowed to go into the kitchen and help with the cooking. I still remember how pleased she was to tell her special friends that she had prepared the vegetables or made the puddings—the latter certainly did her credit. Susie S— hoped to live with her widowed mother and, by getting work as a chair-caner, a trade she had been taught at “St. George’s,” to be a help and not a burden to her. “And what was my ambition?” some young friend will ask. A good deal of pains had been taken in training my voice, and teaching me to sing with correctness and expression. I loved music, and often thought how much I should like to earn my living, or at least part of it, as a public singer—a path on which I was allowed to enter only to find my bright visions fade away and to learn much of sorrow and disappointment.
But perhaps you would like to hear a little more about my school-days. Bank holidays always formed a pleasant break in our school life and were looked forward to with great delight for two reasons, one being that a holiday was given to the whole school, the other that these holidays being what we called “liberty days,” any of the girls whose friends or relations were able and willing to fetch and bring them back were allowed to spend the day in paying a pleasant visit, either to their own homes, or in one of the London parks, while a few were looking forward to the still greater treat of a day on Hampstead Heath. I do not remember whether it was the first or second Bank holiday I had spent at “St. George’s,” but it must have been early in my school life, and perhaps I was a little home-sick; no one was, I knew only too well, likely to take me out, and hard, rebellious thoughts began to fill my mind. I do not think that I really envied others, who were, I thought, happier than myself; but I had a great, hungry longing for affection. I wondered if any one would, or could, ever love me. Even then, if any one had spoken to me in simple words of the Lord Jesus and His love, my heart would have been open to the sweet story, as flowers, I have been told, do to the sunshine; but though the Bible was our principal school reading book, and Sunday after Sunday I took my place in the choir and joined in singing, I did not know the gospel. I had been told that I must be good and God would love me. I had often resolved, and even tried to be what I then thought was meant by “good,” but as I never could succeed, all my trying only ended in failure and disappointment. I am glad now that I know that “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). But I must not forget to tell you how much pleasure fell to my lot on that long to be remembered holiday.
One by one the girls went, talking and laughing merrily with their friends, till only six of the younger pupils remained. After finishing the light household tasks assigned to us, we went into the schoolroom; how desolate and empty it seemed! We soon left it for the playground, but our favourite games did not go well. The morning seemed long and dull; at last the dinner bell sounded and soon after the meal was ended we heard a well-known voice in the hall, that of a lady who took a great interest in the school and seldom lost an opportunity of showing us girls that she was our true friend. “It is Mrs. J—,” we said to each other; “only think of her coming today when every teacher is away and nearly all the girls are off holiday making.” We were in a mood to welcome any change, or even the prospect of one, and began to wonder what her errand could be. Had she called on some business with the housekeeper? Should we or any of us be sent for? Perhaps Mrs. J— would tell us a story, or teach us a new game.
We were not left to wonder long. We were invited to spend the afternoon at her house, which was only a short distance from our school; and as the day was fine and warm, we were to have tea on the lawn. It did not take us long to put on our hats and jackets, and we were enjoying our holiday to our heart’s content. We drank our tea out of real china cups and were indulged with the unwanted luxuries of fruit and cakes. After tea, Mrs. J— said there were quite a number of daisies on the lawn, which she would like us to gather. I was, I think, the first to find a daisy, having often gone into the fields with my sisters to gather them when we lived at Colchester. We were soon all happily at work, picking the pretty flowers. When the sun set we went into the drawing-room, and while Mrs. J— played for us, we sang several hymns, and then our friend said a few earnest words about the good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep.
I was greatly impressed by her words and for some days after redoubled my efforts to be good, only to fail as I had done before. I know now why I never could succeed. I made a wrong beginning: instead of taking my place as a lost sinner before God, and believing that the Lord Jesus had borne the punishment my sins deserved, I wanted God to be pleased with me and my doings. I wonder if any who will read what I am writing are making the same mistake; give up trying, and let trusting, simply trusting, take its place. The Lord Jesus said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). You need not fear to rest upon His word.
Among such a number of pupils, some were at times so unwell as to be unable to take their places in the schoolroom, or attend to such duties as were required of us. A large room called the infirmary was set apart for the sick ones; and as I grew older, my half-holidays were very often spent there in reading aloud from some bulky volume in “Dr. Moon’s” type, or singing to any who were on our sick list. I do not want you to think that love to Christ was the motive that led me to do this; for the time when I was to know Him as my own trusted Saviour had not yet come, but from being quite a tiny child, I had a great idea of being useful, and I liked to feel that my visits to the infirmary were always welcomed by my school-fellows.
I was, as you may remember, twelve years of age at the time of my election as a pupil of “St. George’s School for the Blind,” and as seven years of my life were spent there, I was nineteen when the time came for me to leave the institution that had so long sheltered me. My school-days had been on the whole happy ones, aid yet during the last year of my stay I grew almost impatient and wished the days would pass more quickly. I longed not only to enter upon the profession I had chosen, but to hear the voices of my father and mother, little thinking that so soon after finally leaving school I should have lost both parents.
When the leave-taking with my teachers and school companions really came, I hardly know whether I was most glad or sorry; but there is no standing still in life, and I was a schoolgirl no longer.
CHAPTER 5: WAS I SATISFIED?
The seven years I had spent at “St. George’s” lay behind me and I was a schoolgirl no longer. During the last half-year or so very bright visions filled my mind. My home had always been a humble and not always a very happy one, still the hope of once more living with my parents was very pleasant. How little I then thought that in less than two years from the time of my leaving school both would be taken from me by death, and I should weep bitter tears as I drank the cup of sorrow and felt that I was indeed an orphan.
All my sisters were married and the room that during the school-holidays I had shared was to be all my own. I was beginning to get just a little tired of the large dormitories with their long rows of beds, and thought the change would be a delightful one. Tea would, I thought, taste much nicer and prove more refreshing if drank out of a real cup than from the thick mugs we used at school. But I should be sorry to lead you to think that such childish longings and desires were the only reasons that made leaving the school where I had been treated with so much kindness hardly a matter of regret to me. I was nineteen years of age, and life, with all its possibilities of useful, happy work, seemed just opening up before me. I was perhaps impatient too to enter upon the profession I had decided to follow. If I expected to succeed as a public singer I must, I knew, devote from two to three years to further voice training, study and practice. I had several friends who encouraged me to do my very best, and a lady well known in the musical world kindly offered to give me singing lessons.
I was often restless and unhappy, for though my early desire to be of use to others was still strong within me, in a sort of vague, uncertain way, I had resolved to lead what I then called “a good life,” as I thought God would be pleased with me; but though Sunday after Sunday I had joined with others in calling myself “a miserable sinner,” and asking God to have mercy upon me, I had not taken my true place as a sinner needing a Saviour, and so I had no real peace, no lasting joy. I almost envied any one I heard speak of having been converted, and often wondered if I should ever be really sure that my sins were forgiven. Sometimes I almost made up my mind to tell some Christian the real state of my feelings, and ask for advice and help. But a secret misgiving held me back. I knew that what I longed for was not so much the favour of God and the joy of having the Lord Jesus Christ as my Master as the praise and approval of my fellow creatures. I wanted, as you know, to be a public singer, and I thought, if I decide for Christ, I must not go to concerts and the worldly parties at which I expected to be asked to sing. So I kept putting off coming to Jesus. I have often wondered since at the wonderful patience the Lord had with me, “The long-suffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Pet. 3:15).
Only a few months after my return home I was surprised one morning not to hear my mother moving about as usual, and on going downstairs, was shocked to find her lying on the floor in an insensible condition. I called my father, who lost no time in fetching a doctor, who said it was a fit, and he did not think she would recover. He was right, for she died within a few hours, without one word or sign of consciousness. I felt her death greatly, as, since leaving school, we had been a great deal to each other. The shock of her death seemed to have completely unnerved my father, who fell into a low way, and died about a year later. The death of both parents broke up my home, and for a time I went to live with one of my married sisters. I must, I knew, earn my living, and already I had booked several engagements to sing at private and other concerts.
My life for the next few years was a very hard one. My new home was the reverse of comfortable. I often went out to sing so hungry that I should have been glad of the plainest and coarsest food, and after singing (if I might judge by the applause and praise they gave me), to the satisfaction of my hearers, return, tired and heart-sick, to my cheerless home, to go cold and often supperless to bed, all my earnings being claimed toward the cost of my support. Perhaps I should not have written so much about my early womanhood, were it not in the hope that this simple story will be read by some who are leaving or have left school, and I want to press upon them, that no heart is truly happy till it finds in Christ One who can really and truly meet its need and satisfy its longings.
About this time, a very earnest and faithful clergyman came to preach at the church I attended. Mr. S—, having found for himself joy and peace in believing, longed that those who Lord’s day after Lord’s day listened to his voice should know Christ as a living, personal Saviour; his preaching seemed altogether different from anything I had ever listened to before. He spoke of the holiness of God, and showed from His word that even if it were possible for an unforgiven sinner to go to heaven, he could not be happy there, because he would be unfit for the presence of that holy God. Like Felix of old, I trembled. But it was the story of the love of God, in the gift of His Son, that won my heart. It was some time before I spoke to any one of what had passed between God and my soul, but one day, finding myself alone with Mr. S—, I summoned up resolution to tell him. He was greatly pleased, and several quiet talks with him were both at the time and afterwards a great help and blessing to me.
On one occasion he said, “It is always a grief to me when I hear that you are singing the world’s songs. God has lent you a fine voice, it is a talent to be used for His glory. Why not keep it to sing His praises with?” These words made a deep impression upon me, and from that time I gave up, almost entirely, singing at concerts, as I found the society into which such engagements took me was not such as would help me to please and follow Christ. I still sang in public, but nearly always hymns and gospel songs. I did not see till some years later that the path to which the Lord was calling me was a narrow one, and meant a thorough break with the world in its religious, as well as its giddy, pleasure-loving aspect.
I still longed to be useful, and often prayed that some soul might be won for Christ through hearing me sing the gospel. Years passed and then in a way I little expected the Lord gave me the joy of knowing that my prayer had been answered. But as I do not wish to make this chapter so long that perhaps you might not care to read to the end of it, and after all, it was not my singing, but the written word of God that won Mrs. A— for Christ, her story, which always seems to me a remarkable one, shall stand over till next chapter.
CHAPTER 6: NEWS FROM A FAR COUNTRY
I can hardly remember a time when I did not love singing. When quite a tiny child I sang when I felt happy; and when trouble came, for my childhood had its cloudy days as well as its bright ones, I sang because the sound of my own voice seemed to help me to forget my troubles. As I grew older I felt glad and thankful to know that by singing I could give pleasure to others. It was a great comfort to me to remember that although I could not see the beautiful and wonderful things of which I heard others speak, I, even I, a poor blind girl, had a talent lent to me by God, and I was always pleased when, as was often the case, I was asked to sing in one of the wards of the workhouse infirmary, or to some near neighbour.
But after my conversion I began to sing in a different way. I wanted to win some soul for Christ, and often asked the Lord to indulge me, if according to His will, with the joy of knowing that my song had led some poor, wandering sinner to the Saviour. And though not till after some years of waiting, the answer came, it was in a way and from a place I did not expect.
For some years after I knew the Lord Jesus as my own precious Saviour I continued to attend a large and generally well-filled church. Many, I believe, got blessing there, for the gospel was faithfully preached; and though I see now that many things were allowed that could not have been pleasing to the Lord, God is a God of grace, and loves to bless His own word.
I was often chosen to sing Bible words set to beautiful music. I should not do so now, as I have learnt that God’s word does not need the aid of man’s music, but at that time I lived, or tried to do so, up to the light I had. One Sunday I had been asked to sing part of John 20, that wondrous scene, when in the dim twilight of the resurrection morning the Lord made Himself known to Mary Magdalene in the garden. I tried to think how very glad she must have been when she really knew it was the Lord Himself who called her by her name. I felt sure that I, too, should have known Him by His voice, so I expect there was a good deal of happy surprise in my voice as I sang that one word “Master.”
Ten or twelve years had passed; I had left many things with which I had formerly been connected, and after many weary wanderings had found a haven of rest among those gathered to the name of the Lord, when to my great surprise a letter came from a lady living in South Africa. It told how on the Sunday already referred to she had gone into the church simply to hear the singing, with very little thought or care for eternal things. But wherever she went for some days after that one word, “Master,” seemed to follow her. All through the day, no matter how she tried to occupy herself, she seemed to hear that word, and at night she heard it again in dreams. At last she made up her mind to get a Bible and read it for herself. She was not quite sure, but thought the words I had sung were somewhere in the Gospel by John, so began to search for it in chapter 1, but of course it was not there. Page after page was turned, but still in vain, till her eye rested upon the words, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee” (John 11:28).
As she read a great longing, surely wrought by the Holy Spirit, seemed to fill her soul. If the One of whose grace and tenderness she read would but call her, how gladly she would, she thought, answer to His call. She began to read her hitherto neglected Bible, and pray for light to understand it, and it was not long before she knew that the call of God had come to her. She believed and was saved. A year or two later she was united in marriage to a Christian man, and went with her husband to live in Africa.
About this time a new interest opened up to me. Many friends of the blind were talking about a system of writing and reading that had been introduced from the Continent, where it was already in use. It was called the Braille system, and took its name from a French gentleman, Louis Braille, who was, or had been, a professor in a large institution for the blind in Paris. I was asked to learn, and afterwards to teach it, both of which I enjoyed doing. My new occupation quickly enlarged my circle of friends, as I began in my capacity of teacher to attend several of the classes held for the blind in different parts of London, in which any who wished to learn to read either the embossed or dotted type had an opportunity of so doing. They also received Bible teaching, and listened to simple gospel addresses. Sometimes friends from a distance came to speak to them.
On one occasion a gentleman, whose name I do not now remember, told a true story which, I believe, made a deep impression upon many. He was speaking about the need of being real in all we had to do with God, and used as an illustration something that happened when he lived in California, in which country he had spent some years.
In one of its large cities is a well-known bank in which the miners employed in the gold diggings always find a ready sale for any nuggets or gold-dust they may have found. One day a Chinaman presented himself at its counter with a nugget of more than ordinary size and weight. It was indeed a prize. The manager was at that moment absent, but the one who took his place, after applying one or two of the usual tests, decided that it was pure gold, and so of considerable value. A good price was paid for it, and the Chinaman left, well pleased with his success.
On the manager’s return he looked somewhat doubtfully at the purchase. He was told of the tests that had been applied, but still he was not satisfied, and ordered it to be placed in the melting-pot. There the cheat that had been practised was soon discovered. The supposed golden nugget was only silver, over which a thin layer of real gold leaf had been so cleverly and evenly spread as to escape detection.
Some weeks later the same Chinaman again made his appearance with another nugget larger than the first. But he soon found that things did not run as smoothly as he had expected. The manager said that if it was what it claimed to be, gold, he was quite willing to buy it, but ordered it to be tried in the melting-pot. The Chinaman on hearing the order exclaimed, “No cookie, no cookie,” and catching up his gilded nugget ran out of the bank as fast as he could. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
CHAPTER 7: TEDDIE GILL
I told you in the last chapter how my new occupation of teaching brought me into touch with quite a number of blind friends, and I think you would like to hear about a dear old man who used to attend one of the classes in which I taught, but who, not very long ago, passed away from earth to be with the Saviour he loved and trusted.
Teddie Gill and I were always good friends, the real bond of our friendship being, I believe, that we both loved the Lord Jesus. The son of a noted prizefighter, his up-bringing had been a very rough and hard one. When quite a little fellow, not more than seven or eight years of age, his father would take him into public-houses where, for the amusement of men who ought to have known better than to encourage such cruel sport, he was set to fight with other small boys, drink being freely given to the one who came off conqueror. There is little wonder that, with such a training, he soon became a noted fighting and sporting man, and was not a little proud of being known as “the Whitechapel Pugilist.” He was, however, the slave of strong drink, and when fighting in a state of intoxication, lost an eye, and afterwards became quite blind. Soon after he was induced to attend one of the East London classes for the adult blind. There he heard, perhaps for the first time in his life, the story of a Saviour’s love. Sorrow and shame filled his heart as his wasted life seemed to pass before him. How he longed to know that all was forgiven, but for some time he thought himself too great a sinner to come to Jesus, till encouraged by His word, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37), he very simply believed and was saved. He loved to speak of himself as “a brand plucked from the burning,” and always seemed to have a deep sense of the grace that had sought and found him, a sinner of the deepest dye.
No one who knew Teddie Gill ever doubted the reality of his conversion. For him “old things had passed away,” he was a “new creature [creation] in Christ Jesus.” He was a new man, living a new life. Among his old companions he became an earnest worker for Christ, begging them to give up the drink, but not to stop there, but decide for Christ. He was always ready when opportunity was afforded to tell others of his own precious Saviour, his very face, I have been told, seeming aglow with the holy joy that filled his soul. He was fond of singing, and greatly enjoyed taking part in gospel hymns and choruses. He fell asleep at a good old age, and though his bright face and cheery voice were missed by many, we love to think of him where he is, safe home with the One who loved and died for him, or as he would have said, “Safe in port.”
“Where all the ship’s company meet,
Who sailed with the Saviour beneath
With rapture and gladness each other they’ll greet,
And triumph o’er sorrow and death.”
But Teddie Gill was far from being the only friend with whom my connection with these classes brought me into happy, helpful touch. I shall always have a kindly recollection of a Mr. West, who was, though more than commonly afflicted, for, in addition to blindness, having lost both legs, and being unable to move from place to place, a cheerful, consistent Christian. I almost seem to hear some young friend say, “But as Mr. West was so helpless, how were you able to meet him at the classes? I should not have thought he would ever have left his own home.”
I can hardly wonder at your surprise, and it is quite likely I might never have known him, had it not been for the unselfish, patient devotion of his wife, who never seemed to get tired of waiting upon and caring for her afflicted husband. Week after week she brought him to the class in a Bath-chair, which, with its occupant, was always placed in one corner of the room, where it became quite a gathering-spot for many of our blind friends, who loved to cluster round him, to get one of the warm, friendly handshakes he was always ready to give; he had often, too, a word of cheer for the sorrowful. I remember a message he once asked me to take a friend who had sent him some flowers, but was passing through somewhat trying circumstances. It was only a line of a hymn we often sang at the class,
“God will take care of you; yes, to the end;”
but it proved a word in season, and was often gratefully recalled.
As I do not think the valued superintendent of the classes, Mr. William Mead, is likely to be offended if I include him in my list of friends, I should like, before closing this part of my story, to tell you a little about him and his work. Converted when quite a young man, not more than twenty years of age, only a few months later he became suddenly blind. At first the total loss of sight seemed like a crushing blow, closing doors of usefulness he had hoped to enter, and writing death upon his hopes and plans for life.
But he was soon enabled to take his affliction as from a Father’s loving hand. He had longed to serve the One of whom through grace he could say, “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,” and it was not very long before he was sent into “fields white unto harvest.” For upwards of forty years he has worked among the blind of London, not only in holding meetings, but in visiting them at their homes and in more ways than I can tell you of proving himself a true friend to great numbers of his fellow sufferers.
One of his many visits was paid to a blind woman, who lived in one of the rooms of a large house that had seen better days, but was let off in single rooms to very poor people. She told him that one of the upper rooms was rented by a blind man, but added, “I must beg you, sir, on no account to go upstairs. His violent temper has made him a terror to the whole house, and he says he does not believe the Bible, and that if any one tries preaching or praying on him, he’ll make them go downstairs quicker than they came up. You won’t attempt it, will you, sir?”
But Mr. Mead would not promise. The outlook was certainly far from a bright one, but the man had a soul; perhaps he did not even know how
“God in mercy sent His Son,
To a world by sin undone;
Jesus Christ was crucified
’Twas for sinners Jesus died.”
And a great God-given pity for this poor bond-slave of Satan seemed to spring up in his heart, and after committing himself to the Lord in silent, though believing prayer, he resolved he would make the attempt. He found the door open, and entered, saying pleasantly, “We can’t see each other, but that need not hinder our having a friendly chat.” Asking to be guided to a seat quite near the man, he sat down by his side, laying his hand upon his shoulder as he talked. The man, whose name I do not remember, so we will call him Mr. R—, seemed too much surprised to say a word, and when, after nearly an hour, Mr. Mead rose to go, he was warmly invited to “come again, very soon.” Other visits followed, and it was not long before the Holy Spirit convinced the man of his need of a Saviour, and led him to see that Christ was just the Saviour he needed.
Next chapter I hope, if the Lord will, again to take up my own life-story, and tell you how, through being a teacher, I became a learner.
CHAPTER 8: LED INTO CLEARER LIGHT
I need hardly remind you that my life was a busy one; but my whole heart was in my work, and for the two or three years that followed nothing very remarkable happened. Then a keenly-felt sorrow came in the removal by death of the godly clergyman whose ministry had been used in my conversion. He had always been very kind to me, and I had learnt to love and value him as a personal friend. For some months before his home-call he seemed to have been losing strength, and did not come among us as he had been used to do; then we heard that, owing to increased weakness, he was unable to leave his room; still he always appeared cheerful, and though for some weeks he could not rise from his bed, he still wrote and sent messages of encouragement to young Christians, or urged the need of decision for Christ on some about whom he had been long anxious.
I do not think any one really believed (I am sure I did not) that we should hear his voice no more. The spring was coming, and with warmer weather he would, we hoped, gain strength. But his work on earth was done, and I think he knew it long before we did. He was mercifully spared much suffering, but day by day he grew weaker and his son was sent for; when he arrived all saw the end was near. Mr. S— was, however, able to welcome him, and lay very still with closed eyes for some time. Then rousing himself he said with effort, “Pray, pray,” and before the voice of prayer had ceased he peacefully fell asleep in Christ.
I do not think I really grieved for him, for I knew he was safe home with the Saviour he had long loved and faithfully preached to others, but though I knew quite a number of people, my circle of friends was by no means a large one, and a sense of loneliness seemed to creep over me I see now that it was just another link in the chain by which the Lord intended to draw me more closely to Himself. While my sorrow for the death of Mr. S— was still fresh, I received a visit which, though I did not in any way foresee it, was to influence my whole after-life
I was asked if I would teach Braille to a single pupil at her own home, I knew something of the applicant, having met her once or twice, and often heard of her as, though unconnected with any society for the relief of the blind, a quiet worker among them. Her wish to learn Braille was from a desire to correspond with or write to some of her sightless friends who had gone to live at a distance. Slight as our acquaintance had been I had already hoped it might some day ripen into friendship, and the opportunity seemed too good to be lost. So I consented gladly. Saturday afternoons were at that time free for both teacher and pupil; our lessons were arranged for that day, and as the lessons were almost always followed by a pleasant walk, I soon learnt to look forward to them as among my happiest hours.
Some things about my new friend puzzled me greatly. I had known from our first meeting that she did not attend any of the local churches or chapels, but, what I then thought very strange, met with Christians who gave a large place to what I then called “holy communion,” but to which I soon found they gave a more scriptural name, “the breaking of bread.” I heard, too, much that was new to me in connection with the return of the Lord Jesus. I had, it is true, often heard of His coming, but if I had been asked its object, I should most likely have answered, “to judge the quick and the dead.” But I learnt that before He came as Judge, He would come to claim “His own.” Then, O grand and glorious hope, sleeping saints would be raised, and those still living on the earth changed to meet their Lord in the air.
You must not think that I learnt all this at once, for my new friend was careful not to force anything. She listened with kindly interest to all I told her about what I still called “my church,” but I was not long in finding that “musical evenings and social entertainments” had no attraction for her. Soon after my pupil could read and write Braille with tolerable ease, she was asked to help a lady with whom she was associated in Christian fellowship, in conducting a Braille-type Magazine, called “Gleams from the Lamp,” to be sent free of charge to several blind people we knew, the object being to help them to a clearer understanding of some Bible truths. I was employed to make some copies of its first numbers, and though the work has long since grown much too large to be done without the aid of a Braille printing-press, I can never forget how in a pleasant morning-room at Forest Hill we three talked and prayed over its first issue.
Perhaps I was not quite prepared for all I had to learn from the dots over which, in copying, my fingers had to pass so often, but one thing impressed me deeply. It was that the Lord Jesus is still rejected. I had, from babyhood, or very early childhood, been taught to think of Him as honoured and accepted by all, except the heathen, to whom missionaries were sent. Every church spire pointing heavenward was, I had been told, a reminder that I lived in a Christian land. Yet all, I felt sure, were not Christians. I could not understand it at first, so I began to ask questions, which were, I found, always answered by an appeal to the written word of God. So I began to read my Bible in a way I had not done before, and to pray for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. I also went a few times with my pupil, who had become my much loved friend, to the Meeting-room, and felt the reality of all I heard there. But I was not quite prepared for a break with the system of things in which I had grown up. Links alike of affection and gratitude seemed to bind me to the Establishment. Still I really desired to do the will of God, and the more I read my Bible, the more fully convinced I became that, though ruin and confusion might be all around, there was still a place where the Lord loved to gather His own round Himself; and where the Holy Spirit was free to take of the things of Christ and make them glad, joy-giving realities to the gathered company.
I learnt, too, that no building of brick or stone could rightly be called the church. God had, it is quite true, a house on earth, the temple at Jerusalem, but after the Lord was crucified, God could no longer own it. It is in ruins now, and the Turks have built a mosque over the place where it once stood, where a false worship is carried on. Now believers, saved through the work of the Lord Jesus, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, form the church, in which each one is a living stone.
I often prayed that God would make His will in the matter very plain to me, and give me courage and faith to break with whatever He showed me was not suited to Himself. And in ways I little expected the answer came. A time of trial and testing followed, but it seemed as if cords that had bound me were burnt, and at last I was free to take the “outside place,” in other words, to ask to be received to the fellowship of those gathered to the name of the Lord. Glad and thankful indeed I was when my request was granted. I had found a haven of rest; a home from which I could count upon His grace to keep me from ever wandering.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
CHAPTER 9: “GOING STRAIGHT HOME”
It has been pleasant and encouraging to hear of many young friends, and some older ones, who have followed with real interest the simple but ALL-TRUE story of my much-loved blind friend and fellow-worker, and now its last chapter must be written, and I am glad that it should be my privilege to give some record, brief and imperfect as I feel it must be, of her last days on earth; for “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15).
For quite two years before the home-call came, those who knew her well and watched her closely, noticed that her strength seemed to be failing, dear Maria seemed languid and grew tired more quickly than she had been used to do. Still she kept so bravely on with her work—Braille writing, or setting type with small metal pins for the printed sheets—and was generally so cheerful and always ready to help others, that it was difficult to think of her as seriously ill. Very often during the last year of her life she spoke gratefully of one short, but very happy holiday we had enjoyed together, saying, “You don’t know how often I seem to hear the rustling of the breeze among the leaves of the trees in Miss L—’s garden. Oh, it was lovely!”
What seemed at first only a slight cold developed lung trouble, and it was felt advisable that she should have medical advice. Even in this the way in which the Lord cares for “His own” was very real and precious to the hearts of both, as Dr. N—, who is an earnest worker for Christ, took from the first a great interest in his patient, proving himself not only a skilled medical attendant, but a kind and greatly valued friend. He did not attempt to hide his doubts as to her recovery, but advised that for a time at least, the heavier part of her work (Braille-type printing) should be laid aside, and a few months later, at his suggestion that she might receive benefit from sea-air and special medical treatment, many of the Lord’s dear people expressed their practical interest in and sympathy with, by giving her a three months’ holiday, which she spent at “The Eversfield Hospital for Consumption,” St. Leonards-on-Sea. There she made several friends, and again found a kind and clever doctor in its Medical Superintendent Dr. T. Gambier.
She was certainly better on her return, and grateful for all the care and kindness she had met with at “Eversfield,” and took up work with something of her old energy. But the seeming improvement did not last very long. Disease in her case, though for a time its progress had been arrested, was not cured, and colder weather had brought a return of some of its worst symptoms. A second but shorter visit to Dr. Gambier followed, but she did not rally, as we had hoped she might. Her journey’s end was very near, nearer than any one of us thought. The suggestion that she should entirely give up her Braille work seemed to cause her so much grief that at last I ceased to press it.
An attack of acute bronchitis proved more than a frame already weakened by disease could resist, and she sank rapidly. Her old interest in the joys and sorrows of her friends did not appear to flag for a moment, and within two hours of her home-going she joined so brightly in conversation that it was difficult to believe, that for her, home and rest were so near.
All for her was “Peace, perfect peace,” and joy was not withheld. A few minutes before her departure she repeated clearly and distinctly Bible words familiar to her from her school-days: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth — — —” then her voice ceased; when she spoke again, it was to bear her last testimony to the power and grace of Christ. “The Lord is good, so very good; I’m going straight home. Perfectly lovely!” and then without a struggle or a sigh, she quietly fell asleep in Christ. Hers had been a useful life, and she was greatly missed, but those who loved her could not sorrow, that for her years of blindness and months of suffering were for ever past. “With Christ, which is far better,” was true of her, for He had loved her and given Himself for her. Would it be true for you? Do you know the Lord Jesus as your own trusted Saviour? If you cannot say from your very heart
“Lord Jesus, I do trust Thee,
Trust without a doubt,”
you do not know the joy you are missing. Perhaps you are saying, “I really do mean to be a Christian some day.” Do not put off decision for Christ.
More than a quarter of a century ago, two young men were standing late one night near a street lamp, speaking to each other in low, earnest tones. Now and then a Bible was opened, and a short passage of scripture read by the light of the friendly lamp. What was the subject that so detained them? It was salvation, the “Salvation of God, offered as a free gift,” without money and without price, to all who believe on the Lord Jesus. One of the young men had not very long before accepted Christ as his personal Saviour, and a joy he longed to share with others was filling his heart. The other, though an anxious soul, had not fully decided to be on the Lord’s side, and his friend was seeking to point him to God’s way of peace. “Decide for Christ tonight, Edward, you will never regret it.” That night another soul was won for Christ; “saved to serve” became the motto of his new life. Our friend has often told the story of his conversion to young people in various parts of England and Scotland, adding “Did I regret it? No, never! Knowing and trusting Christ has brought the very peace of God into my soul, and filled my life with “such joy as the world never knew.” You will never regret decision for Christ: then why should you linger to regret wasted years and lost opportunities?
The following Poems were composed by Maria James, the Blind Authoress.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope” (Ps. 130:5).
I wait for Him when in the early morn
I rise to meet the duties of the day;
I think of Him, and in my heart I say—
“How long, O Lord, ere I the shout shall hear
Which tells me He for whom I wait is near
And I from earth be borne?”
I wait for Him, the noontide hours are o’er,
And still I listen for His blessed voice
Whose tender tones will make my heart rejoice,
When He shall speak the word that calls me hence
To be with Him; and things of time and sense
Shall cease for evermore.
I wait for Him, fast cometh on the night,
And ere another morn these eyes of mine
May look upon His loveliness divine,
I, who have never yet beheld a face,
May gaze unhindered on the King of Grace
In that unsullied light.
I wait for Him, and when the path is rough,
And of the darkness I have weary grown,
I find sweet rest in Him, and Him alone,
Whose loving hand each bitter tear doth dry,
And every need of mind to satisfy,
In Him I find enough.
I wait for Him, and should I fall asleep
Ere He doth come, all will be well, I know,
For I can trust my Lord who loves me so;
Sleeping or waking, I to Him am dear,
And till the moment when He doth appear,
He will His loved one keep.
I wait for Him, and, oh, it is so sweet
To wait, not for the streets of glittering gold,
But Christ in all His glory to behold;
I know His love, I trust His blessed word,
I long to be with Thee; come quickly, Lord,
And make my joy complete.
Teach me, my Lord, how little do I know
Of all Thou hast for me and all Thou art;
Yet in Thy knowledge I would gladly grow,
And learn the deeper depths of Thine own heart;
A full salvation Thou hast purchased me,
And for that gift I love Thee and adore,
Yet there is more that I would learn of Thee,
O teach me more
Longings, immeasurable and intense,
Rise like a flood and bear me up to Thee:
Thy love and wisdom, Lord, are so immense,
That Thou canst understand; wilt succour me:
Thoughts that are far too deep for human speech,
Desires that only unto Thee are known;
These and my every need Thy power can reach,
Thy power alone!
My soul is all aquiver, all aglow,
While sitting, blessed Master, at Thy feet;
For Thou dost long to teach and I to know;
’Tis in wondrous intercourse we meet;
O bliss unspeakable! O joy divine!
O light in which unhindered I may bask!
Yes! Thou canst give me from that store of Thine
More than I ask.
While occupied with Thee, what need I fear
From all the changing, shifting scenes around,
The world’s confusion falls upon mine ear,
But all is peace for me while with Thee found;
Thy beauty, blessed Lord, hath won my heart,
Thy love hath wooed me to Thy tender breast;
Here would I stay, and never more depart,
For this is rest.
Soon, soon shall I behold Thee face to face,
When from this house of clay my soul is free;
Then shall I sing the wonders of Thy grace,
And magnify Thy mighty love to me;
Then shall I fully know as I am known,
Then all my longings shall be satisfied;
And in Thy blessed presence, peerless One,
I shall abide.
I SHALL SEE
“Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty, they shall behold the land that is very far off” (Isa. 33:17).
Oh! the day has been a long one,
And a little trying too:
Hand and brain alike are weary,
They have had so much to do;
But the night brings rest and silence,
Not a sound falls on my ear,
Save the gentle, even ticking
Of the old clock standing near.
I have fetched my precious Bible
From its place upon the shelf,
Feeling glad that with my finger
I can read it for myself;
And I turn its sacred pages
With a tender, reverent touch,
I am searching for a promise
I have learned to love so much;
’Tis a sweet and blessed promise,
And ’tis doubly sweet to me:
For it says the time is coming
When these eyes of mine shall see.
It was written by the prophet.
In the ages long ago;
It was God who bade him write it,
Every word is true I know.
These my eyes shall look on Jesus,
That is what the promise tells;
I shall see Him in His beauty,
In the fair land where He dwells.
I who never in my lifetime
Gazed on any lovely thing,
With a clear and perfect vision
Shall behold my Lord and King.
Christ, the altogether lovely;
Christ, our Shepherd good and true;
Christ, my ever blessed Saviour,
And my mighty keeper, too.
He will only need to whisper
What He wants to say to me;
I shall be so very near Him
When these eyes of mine shall see.
Oh, the joy this promise brings me
What unutterable bliss!
I shall then be safely folded
In those loving arms of His.
Never more shall I be weary,
When I rest in His embrace,
All the darkness will be banished
By the light of His dear face;
For His eyes will beam upon me,
Bright with love-light all divine;
What a large full cup of blessing
In that moment will be mine;
I shall see Him crowned as Monarch,
I shall see Him on His throne;
I shall yield Him all the homage
That is due to Him alone;
What a blessed revelation,
What a wonder it will be,
When the glory bursts upon me,
And these eyes of mine shall see.
I shall keep so close to Jesus,
There will be so much to tell,
I shall talk about the dear ones
I have learned to love so well.
I will tell Him how they cheered me,
How they helped me in my need,
I will lovingly remember
Every kindly little deed.
Many will be there to greet me,
I shall see their faces bright;
We shall all rejoice together
In the glory of that light.
And the dear Lord will reward them
For the kind things they have done
For their tender ministrations
To His much tried suffering one.
I shall praise Him for their friendship,
Which was always sweet to me;
I shall see ’twas all His mercy
When these eyes of mine shall see.
’Tis a little weary waiting,
For I long to reach my home;
But I must not be impatient,
For it may be He will come
Very soon. Perhaps at midnight,
Or at dawn of morning fair,
Bidding all His blood-bought children
Rise to meet Him in the air
Oh! it would indeed be glory
All at once to flit away
From the darkness and the shadows
Into realms of endless day.
Yet it may be He will guide me
Through death’s valley’s awful shade!
But I know He will not leave me,
So I shall not be afraid.
I can trust my precious Saviour,
For whichever it may be,
He will surely keep His promise,
And I know that I shall see.
HIS LOVING HAND
“What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it” (Isa. 38:15).
His hand hath sealed mine eyes: I may not see
The light that makes this world look bright and fair;
Its radiant beaming cannot gladden me,
Though shining all around me everywhere.
His hand hath sealed mine eyes: yet day by day,
Although His way I do not understand,
He gives His grace, and from my heart I say,
“It is His loving hand.”
His hand hath sealed mine eyes these many years,
And I have longed the light of earth to see,
And in past days have shed such bitter tears,
Knowing this boon could not be granted me.
But now I wait to see a better light,
That shineth ever in the glory-land,
And I confess while hope within is bright
That ’tis His loving hand.
His hand hath sealed mine eyes: ’tis better so,
The darkness will but last a little space;
Then that same hand will open them I know
And I shall gaze upon His blessed face;
Oh, then! what joy, what rapture will be mine,
When in the presence of my Lord I stand
And magnify Him for His grace divine,
And bless His loving hand.
His hand hath sealed mine eyes: but ah! how sweet
To know that He is with me all the way,
And that His hand will safely guide my feet
Until I reach the land of endless day.
Lord Jesus, in Thy tender love I rest,
Whose wisdom all my life for me hath planned;
I know Thy way is right, Thy will is best,
And Thine a loving hand.
A LITTLE WHILE
Only a little while, when I am weary,
How often I repeat it o’er and o’er;
Only a little while of patient waiting,
And I shall be with Christ for ever.
Only a little while to bear the darkness,
And I shall be where eyes are never dim;
A little while to tread the dreary desert,
And then heaven’s golden streets to walk with Him.
Only a little while my Lord to follow,
And, for His sake, the world’s reproach to bear;
For Him, like Him, to be despised, rejected.
And then His everlasting glory share.
Only a little more of pain and sorrow,
A few more trials in this world below,
And then to be with Christ, which is better,
And all the fulness of His joy to know.
Only a little longer here to serve Him,
As I may never serve Him when above;
A little while to yield Him heart devotion,
And then to revel in His changeless love.
Lord, I would go where Thy blest hand may lead me,
Helped by Thy grace, cheered by Thy loving smile,
Oh teach me how my life may best express Thee,
And glorify Thee in this little while.
“With Christ which is far better” (Phil. 1:23).
“To be with Christ,” how blessed is the thought
That I, who tread this dreary desert way,
In virtue of the work His love hath wrought,
Shall be with Him through an eternal day:
That I should be to Him so deeply dear,
And that His heart of love should yearn for me,
That He should fit me for that heavenly sphere,
And make me suited to His company:
O Lord! what untold rapture will it be.
That sweet “far better” to enjoy with Thee,
“To be with Christ,” and to be like Him then,
How I adore my Lord who wills it so;
I cannot grasp it, ’tis beyond my ken,
Yet ’tis the purpose of His heart I know:
Illimitable ocean of delight!
Unfathomable breadth and depth of bliss,
Where hope will vanish, faith be lost in sight,
The poor, vain world hath nought to give like this:
It is amazing, Lord! Thy love divine,
That makes the sweet “far better” wholly mine.
“To be with Christ,” how softly should I walk,
And in that lowly attitude be found;
Not joining in unprofitable talk,
Not lingering on the world’s polluted ground,
Not seeking in earth’s joys to take a part,
Time flies apace, ah, how can I afford
E’en for a moment to engage my heart
With things that do not suit my absent Lord?
The sweet “far better,” oh, I shall be blest
To spend it with the Friend my soul loves best.
“To be with Christ,” I would with patience wait
Until His love and wisdom set me free,
It will not be too soon, nor yet too late,
His time will surely be the best for me;
Awhile to tread the desert path alone,
Guarding His interests just this tiny space,
Content to be unnoticed and unknown,
And then for ever to behold His face;
O Lord, how bright the prospect is for me,
The sweet “far better” and the home with Thee.
“As for God, his way is perfect” (2 Sam. 22:31).
Lord, I would know Thy way, my soul doth tire
Of ways that I in bygone years have known,
And with an irresistible desire
I long to know Thy way, Thy way alone:
The world allured me by its subtle power,
I chose a way that was not good for me;
Alas, O Lord! it was an evil hour
In which I turned my steps away from Thee:
But Thou didst seek me when I went astray,
When from behind me Thy sweet voice I heard,
My footsteps were arrested by the word,
“Turn ye, this is the way.”
Lord, I would know Thy way, with purpose set
I seek to follow Thee, my Guide, my Friend,
’Tis little distance I have gone as yet,
But Thou canst keep me faithful to the end:
I shall not fear the dangers of the road
If through the desert Thou wilt with me walk;
And of the beauty of that fair abode
To which I journey, Thou wilt sweetly talk:
All will be good to hear what Thou wilt say,
And time that would be long will swiftly glide,
With such a blest Companion at my side,
And I shall learn Thy way.
Lord, I would know Thy way, though I must be
Into the furnace for a season cast,
The fiery trial will be hard for me,
But Thou wilt strengthen me till all is past:
As the refiner Thou wilt sit near by
The heat to temper, not to hurt my soul;
All will be well beneath Thy watchful eye,
For Thou of all wilt take entire control;
I would not have it otherwise, but pray
That I like gold may be of dross bereft,
So that Thy heart can treasure what is left;
Thine is a perfect way.
Lord, I would know Thy way, e’en though I drink
Of Marah’s bitter waters for a while,
My heart may fail me, coward flesh will shrink,
But Thou wilt woo me onward with Thy smile;
Thy loving hand will smooth the path I tread,
The desert into rosy blossom burst,
And Thou wilt show me Him just ahead,
And Eshcol’s clusters bring to slake my thirst
I lean on Thee, Thou art my strength and stay,
My soul adores Thee for Thy faithful love,
Which daily, hourly, Thou dost make me prove,
While teaching me Thy way.
Lord, I would know Thy way, though I may find
I cannot sometimes do my daily task,
Yet Thou art so compassionate and kind,
Thou wilt afford me all the help I ask;
And when at length the knowledge I shall gain,
That shall for Thy blest presence make me meet,
I shall forget the sorrow and the pain,
Because my joy in Thee will be complete;
And when at last I see Thee in display,
My Lord divine in heaven’s unsullied light,
I shall confess with rapture infinite,
How perfect is Thy way.
A secret there will be so passing sweet
’Twixt Thee and me,
When in the glory (blessed Lord) we meet:
And it will be
Such joy to hear from gracious lips divine
The thrilling story
Of the sweet secret that is Thine and mine,
Told in the glory.
Then I shall hear Thee whisper my new name,
And with delight
Take that which none from me can ever claim,
The stone of white:
I shall receive it from Thy bounteous hand,
Dazzling in splendour;
And then appreciate and understand
Thy love so tender.
O blessed, precious Lord! Thou art so good!
And my poor heart
Is filled today with joy and gratitude
For what Thou art:
Attracted by Thy loveliness I bow,
With soul all ravished,
And marvel at the mighty love that Thou
On me hast lavished.
How faithful I have ever found Thee, Lord,
Through all my days;
How perfect is Thy work, how true Thy word,
How grand Thy ways;
How good it is Thy blessed heart to trust
I’m daily proving;
I love Thee, precious Lord, because I must,
Thou art so loving.
How longs my soul to leave this house of clay
And come to Thee;
Yet while it is Thy will that I should stay,
’Tis best for me:
And when it pleases Thee, my Lord, to close
My life’s brief story;
Then shall my raptured soul find sweet repose
With Thee in glory.
“But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (Heb. 1:8), “Thou remainest” (v. 11); “Thou art the same” (v. 12).
When my feet are growing weary,
And the path seems steep and rough,
Comes the precious thought to cheer me
Christ can give me strength enough:
Thou remainest, Lord, the same,
And though weakness may assail me,
Thou art God; Thou canst not fail me;
Glory to Thy name.
When the tempter comes to test me,
And the fight is fierce and long,
Come, this precious thought to rest me,
Christ will shield my soul from wrong;
Thou remainest, Lord, the same,
Thou hast power to quell temptation,
So I sing in adoration,
Glory to Thy name.
When the links of life are breaking,
And I drink of sorrow’s cup,
Thou for me art undertaking,
This assurance bears me up;
Thou remainest, Lord, the same,
Scenes may change, and friends may falter,
But Thy love can never alter,
Glory to Thy name.
When desire is strong within me,
And my soul doth thirst for Thee,
Thy soft accents woo and win me,
To Thy blessed company;
Thou remainest, Lord, the same,
With Thy banner bright above me,
Storm or calm, Thou still dost love me,
Glory to Thy name.
Soon I know that Thou wilt call me
Evermore with Thee to dwell,
Till that hour, whate’er befall me,
I am safe, and all is well;
Thou remainest, Lord, the same,
I shall sing it in the glory,
What a prospect lies before me,
Glory to Thy name.
THE CHILDREN’S SONG
I was waiting, I remember,
All impatient to be gone,
For I saw the light was waning,
And the night was coming on;
And while wearily I questioned,
Would the waiting time be long?
I was gladdened by the music
Of a sweet and happy song.
It was all so unexpected,
Such a welcome sound to me,
But I could not see the singers,
Though I strained my eyes to see;
And they said it was the children,
Passing on their homeward way,
That they always heard them singing
At the closing of the day.
They were in the lane, they told me,
’Twas a darksome lane, and long,
So they made the way seem shorter,
With their sweet and joyous song;
And the people always listened
For the singing in the lane,
For it cheered their hearts and helped them,
When they heard the pleasant strain.
Ah, I thought, if we as pilgrims
Were to sing a happy song,
As we journey through the desert,
It would help us all along;
Yes, our footsteps would be lighter,
And our hearts be lighter, too,
If we sang as did the children,
When they passed the long lane through.
Let us sing how good the Lord is,
And unite His name to praise,
Let us tell of all His glory,
Let us chant His mercy’s ways
And perhaps when others hear us
They will join our pilgrim throng;
Thus our Father will be honoured,
By His children’s happy song.
Where is the way? this world is but a maze,
Where millions wander without help or light;
I am aweary of the world’s false ways,
Show me the way, for I would walk aright.
Be still, my soul, a sweet voice speaks to thee,
“I am the way, look up, and follow Me.”
Where is the truth? I cannot find it here,
All is confusion in this world below;
Oh, tell me who will make it plain and clear,
Show me the truth, for I the truth would know;
Be still, my soul, a sweet voice speaks to thee,
“I am the truth, look up, confide in Me.”
Say, where is life? it is not here, I know,
Oh, who hath power the priceless boon to give?
All here is sorrow, sin, and death, and woe;
Say, where is life? for surely I would live;
Be still, my soul, a sweet voice speaks to thee,
“I am the life, look up, find life in Me.”
All that I sought, Lord, I have found in Thee;
Thou art the way, the truth, the life Thou art;
All that I asked for Thou hast given me,
Well may I trust Thee, trust Thy constant heart;
Low at Thy feet adoring do I fall,
Own Thee, my Lord, my best-beloved, my all.
THE CLOSE OF THE DAY
The day is ended and I come to Thee,
So thankful that the hours of toil are past,
I have been longing that I might be free,
And now rejoice that I am free at last.
I said “Good-night” to those my heart holds dear;
On them and all things else I shut the door;
Now, all expectant I am waiting here,
To meet Thee as I oft have done before.
I ask for nought, it is Thyself I seek,
Thy company, my Lord, is all I need;
To sit at Thy blest feet, to hear Thee speak,
Is bliss unspeakable, is rest indeed.
No friend however clear may come between
My soul and Thee, this is our trysting spot;
I dwell a season in a blessed scene,
Where earth-stains cannot come, where pain is not.
I would be so accustomed to Thy speech,
So learn Thy voice, that every change of tone
May tell me something that Thy love would teach,
Some sweet thing I as yet have never known.
And I shall listen to Thee with delight,
And all Thy revelations ponder o’er,
Because I love Thee better, Lord, tonight,
Than I have ever loved in days of yore.
The purpose of the Father’s sovereign grace,
It is Thy will that I should understand;
I read His goodness in Thy blessed face;
How marvellous! how altogether grand!
My soul is overwhelmed, and would respond
To all Thy love and give Thee joy of heart;
I bow before Thee, and I bless the bond
That binds us, so that we shall never part.
I know my love is cold compared with Thine,
Yet surely Thou art precious, Lord, to me,
My soul is glad to know that Thou art mine,
That we are one, through all Eternity.
I said I wanted nothing, Lord, tonight,
Yet this one thing I would Thou should’st bestow
So fill me with Thy Love, and with Thy light.
That all I come in contact with may know.
O, let me live to Thee, so very near,
So magnify Thy blessed self in me;
So that Thy beauty in my life appear,
That souls may be attracted, Lord, to Thee.
Then shall these meetings be divinely blest,
For through them Thou, Thyself, shalt be made known;
I shall have gained a season of sweet rest,
And all the glory, Lord, will be Thine own.