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Home Scenes and Heart Studies written by Grace Aguilar who was an English novelist, poet and writer on Jewish history and religion. This book is one of many works by her. It has already Published in 1876. Now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as blurred or missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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Home Scenes and Heart Studies
Illustrator: Hyde W. Briscoe
The Perez Family.
The Stone-Cutter’s Boy of Possagno.
Amête and Yaféh.
Red Rose Villa, and its Inhabitants.
The Spirit’s Entreaty.
Lady Gresham’s Fête.
The Group of Sculpture.
The Spirit of Night.
Recollections of a Rambler.
“Cast thy Bread upon the Waters; thou shalt find it after many days.”
The Triumph of Love.
Leading out of one of those close, melancholy alleys in the environs of Liverpool, was a small cottage, possessing little of comfort or beauty in outward appearance, but much in the interior in favour of its inhabitants; cleanliness and neatness were clearly visible, greatly in contradistinction to the neighbouring dwellings. There were no heaps of dirt and half-burnt ashes, no broken or even cracked panes in the brightly shining windows, not a grain of unseemly dust or stains either on door or ledge,—so that even poverty itself looked respectable. The cottage stood apart from the others, with a good piece of ground for a garden, which, stretching from the back, led through a narrow lane, to the banks of the Mersey, and thus permitted a fresher current of air. The garden was carefully and prettily laid out, and planted with the sweetest flowers; the small parlour and kitchen of the cottage opened into it, and so, greatly to the disappointment and vexation of the gossips of the alley, nothing could be gleaned of the sayings and doings of its inmates. Within the cottage the same refinement was visible; the furniture, though old and poor, was always clean and neatly arranged. The Mezzuzot (Deut. vi. 9, 20) were carefully secured to every door-post, and altogether there was an indescribable something pervading the dwelling, that in the very midst of present poverty seemed to tell of former and more prosperous days.
Simeon and Rachel Perez had married with every prospect of getting on well in the world. Neither were very young; for though they had been many years truly devoted to each other, they were prudent, and had waited till mutual industry had removed many of the difficulties and obstacles to their union. All which might have been irksome was persevered in through the strength of this honest, unchanging affection; and when the goal was gained, and they were married, all the period of their mutual labour seemed but as a watch in the night, compared to the happiness they then enjoyed.
Simeon had been for several years foreman to a watchmaker, and was remarkably skilful in the business. Rachel had been principal assistant to a mantua-maker, and all her leisure hours were employed in plaiting straw and various fancy works, which greatly increased her little store. Never forgetting the end they had in view, their mutual savings had so accumulated, that on their marriage, Perez was enabled to set up a small shop, which, conducted with honesty and economy, soon flourished, and every year brought in something to lay aside, besides amply providing for their fast-increasing family.
The precepts of their God were obeyed by this worthy couple, not only in word but in deed. They proved their love for their heavenly Father, not only in their social and domestic conduct, but in such acts of charity and kindness, that many wondered how they could do so much for others without wronging their own. Perez and his wife were, however, if possible, yet more industrious and economical after their marriage than before, and many a time preferred to sacrifice a personal indulgence for the purer pleasure of doing good to others; and never did they do so without feeling that God blessed them in the deed.
A painful event calling Perez to London was the first alloy to their happiness. A younger sister of his wife, less prudent because, perhaps, possessed of somewhat more personal attraction, had won the attentions of a young man who had come down to Liverpool, he said, for a week’s pleasure. No one knew anything about Isaac Levison. As a companion, Perez himself owned he was very entertaining, but that was not quite sufficient to make him a good husband. Assurances that he was well able to support a wife and family, with Perez and Rachel (they were not then married), went for nothing; they wanted proofs, and these he either could not or would not bring; but in vain they remonstrated. Leah had never liked their authority or good example, and in this point determined to have her own way.
They were married, and left Liverpool to reside in London, and Leah’s communications were too few and far between to betray much concerning their circumstances. At length came a letter, stating that Leah was a mother, but telling also that poverty and privation had stolen upon them. Their substance in a few troubled years had made itself wings, and flown away when most needed, and Leah now applied for assistance to those very friends whose kindness and virtues she had so often treated with contempt. The fact was, Levison had embarked all his little capital (collected no one knew how) in an establishment dashing in appearance, but wanting the basis of honesty and religion. After seeming to flourish for a few years, it, of course, failed at last, exposing its proprietors to deserved odium and distrust, and their families to irretrievable distress.
For seven years Perez and his wife almost supported Leah and her child (secretly indeed, for no one in Liverpool imagined they had need to do so). Leah was still too dear, for the faults and follies of her husband, and perhaps her own imprudences, to form any subject of conversation with her relatives.
At length Leah wrote that she was ill, very ill. She thought the hand of death was on her; and she feared it for her child, her darling Sarah, whom she had striven to preserve pure amidst the scenes of misery and sin which she now confessed but too often neared her dwelling. What would become of her? Who would protect her? How dared she appeal to the God of the orphan, when her earthly father yet lived, seeming to forget there was a God? Perez and his wife perused that sad letter together; but ere it was completed, Rachel had sunk in bitter tears upon his bosom, seeking to speak the boon which was in her heart; but, though it found no words, Perez answered—
“You are right, dear wife; one more will make little difference in our household. Providence blessed us with four children, and has been pleased to deprive us of one. Sarah shall take her place: and in snatching her from the infection of vice and shame, may we not ask and hope a blessing? Do not weep then, my Rachel; Leah may not be so ill as she thinks. I will go and bring her and her child; and there may be happy days in store for them yet.”
Perez departed that same night by the mail to London; but, prompt as he was, poor Leah’s sufferings were terminated before his arrival. Her death, though in itself a painful shock, was less a subject of misery and depression to a mind almost rigid in its notions of integrity and honour as that of Perez, than the fearful state of wretchedness and shame into which Isaac Levison had fallen. Perez soon perceived that all hope of effecting a reformation was absolute folly. His poor child had been so repeatedly prevented attending school, by his intemperate or violent conduct, that she was at length excluded. Levison could give no good reason for depriving his little girl of these advantages, except that he hated the elders who were in office; that he did not see why some should be rich and some should be poor, and why the former should lord it over the latter. He was as good as they were any day, and his daughter should not be browbeaten or governed by any one, however she might call herself a lady. To reason with folly, Perez felt was foolishness, and so he contented himself with entreating Levison to permit his taking the little Sarah, at least for a time, into his family. Levison imagined Perez was the same rank as himself, and, therefore, that his pride could not be injured by his consenting. Equal in birth perhaps they were, but as far removed in their present ranks as vice from virtue, dishonesty from truth.
Perez, however, glad and grateful for having gained his point, made no comment on the many muttered remarks of his brother-in-law, as to his conferring, not receiving an obligation, by giving his child to the care of her aunt, but hastened home, longing to offer the best comfort to his wife’s sorrow by placing the rescued Sarah in her arms. And it was a comfort, for gradually Rachel traced a hand of love even in this affliction; the loss of her mother, under such circumstances, proving perhaps, in the end, a blessing to the child, if her father would but leave her with them. She feared that he would not at first; but Perez smiled at the fear as foolishness, and it gradually dwindled away; for years passed, and the little Sarah grew from childhood into womanhood, still an inmate of her uncle’s family, almost forgetting she had any father but himself.
But it is not to the unrighteous or the irreligious only that misfortunes come. Nay, they may flourish for a time, and give no evidence that there is a just and merciful God who ruleth. But even those who have loved and served Him through long years of probity and justice, and who, according to frail human perceptions, would look for nothing but favour at His hand, are yet afflicted with many sorrows; and our feeble and insufficient wisdom would complain that such things are. If this world were all, then indeed we might murmur and rebel; but our God himself has assured us, “There will come a day when He will discern between the righteous and the wicked; between those who serve God and those who serve Him not.” And it is our part to wait patiently for that day, and that better world where that word will be fulfilled.
Perez had now five children. Reuben, his eldest son, was full five years older than the rest, a circumstance of rejoicing to Perez, as he hoped his son would supply his place to his family, should he be called away before the threescore and ten years allotted as the age of man.
To do all he could towards obtaining this end, Perez early associated his son with him in his own business of watch-making; but too soon, unhappily, the parents discovered that a heavy grief awaited them, from him to whom they had most fondly looked for joy. They had indeed striven and prayed to train up their child in the way he should go, but it seemed as if his after years would not confirm the sage monarch’s concluding words. Wild, thoughtless, and headstrong, Reuben, after a very brief trial, determined that his father’s business was not according to his taste, and he could not follow it. His father’s authority indeed kept him steady for a few years, but it was continued rebellion and reproof: and often and often the father’s hard-earned savings were sacrificed for the wild freaks and extravagance of the son. Perez trembled lest the other members of his family, equally dear, should suffer eventual loss; but there is something in the hearts of Jewish parents towards an eldest son, which calls imperatively for indulgence towards, and concealment of his failings. Again and again Perez expended sums much larger than he could conveniently afford, in endeavouring to fix his son in business according to his inclinations; but no sooner was he apparently settled and comfortable, and his really excellent abilities fairly drawn forth, than, by negligence or inattention, or some graver misdemeanour, he disgusted his employers, and, after a little longer trial, was returned on his father’s hands.
Deeply and bitterly his parents grieved, using every affectionate argument to convince him of the evil of his ways, and bring him back again to the paths of joy. They did not desist, however their efforts and prayers seemed alike unanswered; they did not fail in faith, though often it was trembling and faint within them. One hope they had; Reuben was not hardened. Often he would repent in tears and agony of spirit and deplore his own ill fate, that he was destined to bring misery to parents he so dearly loved. But he refused to believe that it only needed energy to rouse himself from his folly, for as yet it was scarcely more. He said he could not help himself, could not effect any change, and therefore made no effort to do so. But that which grieved his parents far more than all else, was his total indifference to the religion of his forefathers. His ears, even as his heart and mind, were closed to those divine truths his parents had so carefully inculcated. He knew his duty too well to betray infidelity and indifference in their presence, but they loved him too well to be blind to their existence.
“What is it to be a Jew,” they heard him once say to a companion, “but to be cut off from every honourable and manly employment? To be bound, fettered to an obsolete belief, which does but cramp our energies, and bind us to detestable trade. No wonder we are looked upon with contempt, believed to be bowed, crushed to the very earth, as void of all spirit or energy, only because we have no opportunity of showing them.”
Little did he know the bitter tears these words wrung from his poor mother, that no sleep visited his father’s eyes that night. Was this an answer to their anxious prayer? Yet they trusted still.
Anxiety and grief did not prevent Perez attending to his business; but either from the many drains upon his little capital, or that trade was just at that time in a very low state, his prosperity had begun visibly to decrease. And not long afterwards a misfortune occurred productive of much more painful affliction than even the loss of property which it so seriously involved. A dreadful fire broke out in the neighbourhood, gaining such an alarming height ere it was discovered, that assistance was almost useless. Amongst the greatest sufferers were Perez and his family. Their happy home was entirely consumed, and all the little valuables it had contained completely destroyed. Perez gazed on ruin. For one brief moment he stood as thunderstricken, but then a terrible shriek aroused him. He looked around. He thought he had seen all whom he loved in safety, but at one glance he saw his little Ruth was not there. His wife had caught a glimpse of the child in a part of the building which the flames had not yet reached, and with that wild shriek had flown to save her. He saw her as she made her way through falling rafters and blazing walls; he made a rush forward to join and rescue or die with her; but his children clung round him in speechless terror; his friends and neighbours seconded them, and before he could effectually break from them, a loud congratulatory shout proclaimed that the daring mother had reached her child. A dozen ladders were hurried forward, their bearers all eager to be the first to plant the means of effectual escape; and clasping her Ruth closely to her breast, regardless of her increasing weight (for terror had rendered the poor child utterly powerless), the mother’s step was on the ladder, and a hush fell upon the assembled hundreds. There was no sound save the roar of the devouring element and the play of the engines. The flames were just nearing the beam on which the ladder leaned, but hope was strong that Rachel would reach the ground ere this frail support gave way; and numbers pressed round, regardless of the suffocating smoke and heat, in the vain hope of speeding her descent.
Perez had ceased his struggles the moment his wife appeared. With clasped hands, and cheeks and lips so blanched, as even in that lurid light to startle by their ghastliness, he remained, his eyes starting from their sockets in their intense and agonized gaze. He saw only his wife and child; but his children, with horror which froze their very blood, could only look on the fast-approaching flames. A wild cry of terror was bursting from young Joseph, Ruth’s twin brother, but Sarah, with instinctive feeling, dreading lest that cry should reach his mother’s ears and awaken her to her danger, caught him in her arms, and soothed him into silence.
Carefully and slowly Rachel descended. She gave no look around her. No one knew if she were conscious of her danger, which was becoming more and more imminent. Then came a smothered groan from all, all save the husband and the father. The flame had reached the beam,—it cracked—caught—the top of the ladder was wreathed with smoke and fire. Was there faltering in her step, or did the frail support fail beneath her weight? The half was past, but one-third to the ground remained; fiercer and fiercer the flames roared and rose above her, but yet there was hope. It failed, the beam gave way, the ladder fell, and Rachel and her child were precipitated to the ground. A heavy groan mingled with the wild shriek of horror which burst around. Perez rushed like a maniac forward; but louder, shriller above it all a cry resounded “Mother! Mother! Oh God, my mother! Why was I not beside you, to save Ruth in your stead? Mother, speak; oh speak to me again!” And the father and son, each unconscious of the others presence, met beside what seemed the lifeless body of one to both so dear.
But Rachel was not dead, though fearfully injured; and it was in the long serious illness that followed, Reuben proved that despite his many faults and follies, affection was not all extinguished; love for his mother remained in its full force, and in his devotion to her, his almost woman’s tenderness, not only towards her, but towards his little sister Ruth, whose eyes had been so injured by the heat and smoke as to occasion total blindness, he demonstrated qualities only too likely so to gain a woman’s heart, as to shut her eyes to all other points of character save them.
A subscription had indeed been made for the sufferers by the fire, but they were so numerous, that the portion of individuals was of course but small; and even this Perez’ honest nature shrunk in suffering from accepting. Religious and energetic as he was, determined not to evince by word or sign how completely his spirit was crushed, and thus give the prejudiced of other faiths room to say, “the Jew has no resource, no comfort,” he yet felt that he himself would never be enabled to hold up his head again, felt it at the very moment friends and neighbours were congratulating him on the equanimity, the cheerfulness with which he met and bore up against affliction.
Yet even now, when the sceptic and unbeliever would have said, surely the God he has so faithfully served had deserted him, Perez felt he was not deserted, that he had not laboured honestly and religiously so long in vain. The wild and wayward conduct of the son could not, in candid and liberal minds, tarnish the character of the father; and thus he was enabled easily and pleasantly to obtain advantageous situations for his two elder children.
The dwelling to which we originally introduced our reader was then to let; and from its miserably dilapidated condition (for when Perez first saw it, it was not as we described), at a remarkably low rent. An influential friend made it habitable, and thither, some three months after the fire, the family removed.
And where was Sarah Levison in the midst of these changes and affliction? In their heavy trial, did Rachel and Perez never regret they had made her as their own? Nor permit the murmuring thought to enter that, as the girl had a father, they had surely no need to support an additional burden? To such questions we think our readers will scarcely need an answer. As their own daughter Leah, they loved and cherished their niece, whose affection and gratitude towards them was yet stronger and more devoted than that of their own child, affectionate as she was. Leah had never known other than kind untiring parents, never, even in dreams, imagined the misery in which her cousin’s early years had passed. To Sarah, life had been a strange dark stream of grief and wrath, until she became an inmate of her uncle’s house. Though only just seventeen when these heavy sorrows took place, her peculiarly quiet and reflective character and strong affections endowed her with the experience of more advanced age. She not only felt, but acted. Entering into the feelings alike of her uncle and aunt, she unconsciously soothed and strengthened both. She taught Leah’s young and, from its high and joyous temperament, somewhat rebellious spirit, submission and self-control. She strengthened in the young Simeon the ardent desire to work, and not only assist his father now, but to raise him again to his former station in life. She found time to impart to the little Joseph such instruction as she thought might aid in gaining him employment. Untiringly, caressingly, she nursed both her aunt and the poor little patient sufferer Ruth, telling such sweet tales of heaven and its beautiful angels, and earth and its pleasant places, and kind deeds, that the child would forget her sorrow as she listened, and fancy the sweet music of that gentle voice had never seemed so sweet before; and while it spoke she could forget to wish to look once more on the flowers and trees and sky. And Reuben, what was his cousin Sarah not to him in these months of remorseful agony, when he felt as if he could never more displease or grieve his parents; when again and again he cursed himself as the real cause of his father’s ruin; for had not such large sums been wasted upon him, there might have been still capital enough to have set him afloat again? For several days and nights Sarah and Reuben had been joint-watchers beside the beds of suffering; and the gentle voice of the former consoled, even while to the divine comfort and hope which she proffered Reuben felt his heart was closed. He bade her speak on; he seemed, in those still silent hours, to feel that without her gentle influence his very senses must have wandered; and that heart must have been colder and harsher than Sarah’s which could have done other than believe she was not indifferent to him. Sarah did not think of many little proofs of affection at the time; she was only conscious that, at the very period heavy affliction had visited her uncle’s family, a new feeling, a new energy had awakened within her heart, and she was happy—oh, so happy!
It was to Sarah’s exertions their new dwelling owed the comfort, cleanliness, and almost luxury of its interior arrangements; her example inspired Leah to throw aside the proud disdain with which she at first regarded their new home—to conquer the rebellious feeling which prompted her to entreat her father to apprentice her anywhere, so she need not live so differently at home, and not only to conquer that sinful pride, but use her every energy to rouse her natural spirits, and make her parents forget how their lot was changed: and the girl did so; for, in spite of youthful follies, there was good solid sense and warm feelings on which to work.
Sarah and Leah, then, worked in the interior, and Perez and Simeon improved the exterior of the house, so that when the little family assembled, there was comfort and peace around them, and thus their song of praise and thanksgiving mingled with and hallowed the customary prayer, with which the son of Israel ever sanctifies his newly-appointed dwelling.
Rachel could no longer work as she had done; her right arm had been so severely injured as to be nearly useless, but Sarah supplied her place so actively, so happily, that Rachel felt she had no right to murmur at her own uselessness: the poor motherless girl she had taken to her heart and home returned tenfold all that had been bestowed. She could have entered into more than one lucrative situation, but she would not hear of leaving that home which she knew needed her presence and her services; and this was not the mere impulse of the moment—week after week, month after month, found her active, affectionate, persevering as at first.
The most painful circumstance in their present dwelling was its low neighbourhood; and partially to remedy this evil, Sarah prevailed on her uncle to employ his leisure in cultivating the little garden behind the house, making their sitting-room and kitchen open into it, and contriving an entrance through them, so as scarcely to use the front, except for ingress and egress which necessity compelled. This arrangement was productive of a twofold good; it prevented all gossiping intercourse, which their neighbours had done all they could to introduce, and gave Perez an occupation which interested him, although he might never have thought of it himself. Both local and national disadvantages often unite to debar the Jews from agriculture, and therefore it is a branch in which they are seldom, if ever, employed. Their scattered state among the nations, the occupations which misery and persecution compel them to adopt, are alone to blame for those peculiar characteristics which cause them to herd in the most miserable alleys of crowded cities, rather than the pure air and cheaper living of the country. Perez found pleasure and a degree of health in his new employment; the delight which it was to his poor little blind Ruth to sit by his side while he worked, and inhale the reviving scent of the newly-turned earth or budding flowers, would of itself have inspired him, but his wife too shared the enjoyment. It was a pleasure to her to take the twins by her side, and teach them their God was a God of love, alike through His inspired word and through His works; and Joseph and Ruth learned to love their new house better than their last, because it had a garden and flowers, and they learned from that much more than they had ever learned before.
For nine months all was cheerfulness and joy in that lowly dwelling. The heavy sorrow and disquiet had partially subsided. Reuben was more often at home, and seemed more steadily and honourably employed. Twice in six months he had poured his earnings in his mothers lap, and while he lingered caressingly by her side, how might she doubt or fear for him? Though when absent, his non-attendance at the synagogue, his too evident indifference to his faith, his visible impatience at all its enjoyments, caused many an anxious hour. Simeon and Leah gave satisfaction to their employers, and Sarah earned sufficient to make her aunt’s compelled idleness of little consequence. Perez himself had been gladly received by his former master, as his principal journeyman, at excellent wages; and could he have felt less painfully the bitter change in his lot, all might have been well. Pride, however, was unhappily his heirloom, as well as that of Levison. With Perez it had always acted as a good spirit—with Levison as a bad; inciting the former to all honourable deeds and thoughts, and acting as religion’s best agent in guarding him from wrong. Now, however, it was to enact a different part. In vain his solid good sense argued misfortune was no shame, and that he was as high, in a moral point of view, as he had ever been. Equally vain was the milder, more consoling voice of religion, in assuring him a Father’s hand had sent the affliction, and therefore it was love; that he failed in submission if he could not bear up against it. In vain conscience told him, while she was at rest and glad, all outward things should be the same; that while his wife and children had been so mercifully preserved, thankfulness, not grief, should be his portion. Pride, that dark failing which will cling to Judaism, bore all other argument away, and crushed him. Had he complained or given way to temper, his health perhaps would not have been injured; but he was silent on his own griefs, even to his wife, for he knew their encouragement was wrong. There was no outward change in his appearance or physical power, and had he not been attacked by a cold and fever, occasioned by a very inclement winter, the wreck of his constitution might never have been discovered. But trifling as his ailments at first appeared, it was but too soon evident that he had no strength to rally from them. Gradually, yet surely, he sunk, and with a grief which, demonstrating itself in each according to their different characters, was equally violent in all, his afflicted family felt they dared not hope, the husband and the father was passing to his home above, and they would soon indeed be desolate.
It was verging towards the early spring, when one evening Perez lay on his lowly pallet surrounded by his family; his hand was clasped in that of his wife, whose eyes were fixed on him with a look of such deep love, it was scarcely possible to gaze on her without tears; the other rested lightly on the beautiful curls of his little Ruth, who, resting on a wooden stool close beside his bed, sometimes lifted up her sightless orbs, as if, in listening to the dear though now, alas! But too faint voice, she could see his beloved face once more. One alone was absent—one for whom the father yearned as the patriarch Jacob for his Joseph. Reuben had been sent by his employer to Manchester, and though it was more than time for him to return, and tidings of his father’s illness had been faithfully transmitted, he was still away. No one spoke of him, yet he was thought of by all; so little had his conduct alienated the affections of his family, that no one would utter aloud the wish for his presence, lest it should seem reproach; but the eyes of his mother, when they could turn from her husband, ever sought the door, and once, as an eager step seemed to approach, she had risen hastily and descended breathlessly, but it passed on, and she returned to her husband’s pallet with large tears stealing down her cheeks.
“Rachel, my own dear wife, do not weep thus; he will come yet,” whispered Perez, clasping her hands in both his; “and if he do not, oh, may God bless him still! Tell him there was no thought of anger or reproach within me. My firstborn, first beloved, beloved through all—for wayward, indifferent as he is, he is still my son—perhaps if he tarry till too late, remorse may work upon him for good, may awaken him to better thoughts, and if our God in His mercy detain him for this, we must not grieve that he is absent.”
For a moment he paused; then he added, mournfully, “I had hoped he would have supplied my place—would have been to you, my Rachel, to his brothers and sisters, all that a firstborn should; but it may not be. God’s will be done!”
“Oh, no, no; do not say it may not be, dear uncle! Think how young he is! Is there not hope still?” interposed Sarah, so earnestly, that the colour rose to her cheeks. “He will be here, I know he will, or the letter has not reached him. You cannot doubt his love; and whilst there is love, is there not, must there not be hope?”
The dying man looked on her with a faint, sad smile. “I do not doubt his love, my child; but oh, if he love not his God, his love for a mortal will not keep him from the evil path. His youth is but a vain plea, my Sarah; if he see not his duty as a son and brother in Israel now, when may we hope he will? But you are right in bidding me not despond. He is my heaviest care in death; but my God can lighten even that.”
“Death,” sobbed Leah, suddenly flinging herself on her knees beside the bed and covering her father’s hand with tears and kisses, “death! Father, dear, dear father, do not say that dreadful word! You will live, you must live—God will not take you from us!”
“My child, call not death a dreadful word, it is only such to the evil doers, to the proud and wicked men, of whom David tells us, ‘They shall not stand in the judgment, nor enter the congregation of the righteous, but shall be as chaff which the wind driveth away.’ For them death is fearful, for it is an end of all things; but not to me is it thus, my beloved ones. I have sought to love and serve my God in health and life, and His deep love and fathomless mercy is guiding me now, holding me up here through the dark shadows of death. His compassion is upon my soul whispering my sins are all forgiven, that he has called me unto Him in love, and not in wrath. There was a time I feared and trembled at the bare dream of death; but now, oh, it seems but as the herald of joy, of bliss which will never, never change. My children, think that I go to God, and do not grieve for me.”
“If not for you, my father, chide us not that we weep for ourselves,” answered Simeon, struggling with the rising sob; “what have you not been to all of us? And how may we bear to feel that to us you are lost for ever, that the voice whose accents of love never failed to thrill our hearts with joy, and when in reproach ever brought the most obdurate in repentant sorrow to your feet, that dear, dear voice we may never—” he could not go on for his own voice was choked.
“My boy, we shall all meet again; follow on in that path of good in which I have humbly sought to lead you; forget not your God, and the duties of your faith; obey those commands and behests which to Israel are enjoined; never forget that, as children of Israel, ye are the firstborn and beloved of the Lord; serve Him, trust Him, wait for Him, and oh, believe the words of the dying! We shall meet again never more to part. I do but go before you, my beloved ones, and you will come to me; there are many homes in heaven where the loved of the Lord shall meet.”
“And I and Ruth—father, dear father, how may we so love the Lord, as to be so loved by him?” tearfully inquired the young Joseph, drawing back the curtain at the head of the bed, which had before concealed him, for he did not like his father to see his tears. “Does he look upon us with the same love as upon you, who have served him so faithfully and well? Oh, what would I not do, that I may look upon death as you do, and feel that I may come to you in heaven, written amongst those He loves.”
“And our God does love you, my little Joseph, child as you are, or you would not think and wish this; my works are not more in His sight than yours. Miserable indeed should I now be, if I had trusted in them alone for my salvation and comfort now. No, my sweet boy, you must not look to deeds alone; study the word of your God to know and love Him, and then will you obey His commandments and statutes with rejoicing, and glory that He has given you tests by which you may prove the love you bear Him: and in death, though the imperfection and insufficiency of your best deeds be then revealed, you will feel and know you have not loved your God in vain. His infinite mercy will purify and pardon.”
His voice sunk from exhaustion; and Rachel, bending over him to wipe the moisture from his brow, tenderly entreated him not to speak any more then, despite the comfort of his simplest word.
“It will not hurt me, love,” he answered, fondly, after a pause. “I bless God that He permits me thus to speak, before I pass from earth for ever. When we meet again, there will be no need for me to bid my children to know and love the Lord; for we shall all know Him, from the smallest to the greatest of us. But to you, my own faithful wife, oh, what shall I say to you in this sad moment? I can but give you to His care, the God of the widow and the fatherless, and feel and know He will not leave you nor forsake you, but bless you with exceeding blessing. And in that heavy care—which, alas! I must leave you to bear alone—care for our precious Reuben, oh, my beloved wife, remember those treasured words, which were our mutual strength and comfort, when we laboured in our youth. How well do I remember that blessed evening, when we first spoke our love, and in our momentary despondence that long years must pass ere we could hope for our union, we opened the hallowed word of God, and could only see this verse: ‘Commit thy ways unto the Lord, trust also in him and he will bring it to pass.’ And did He not bring it to pass, dear wife? Did He not bless our efforts, and oh, will He not still? Yes, trust in Him; commit our Reuben unto Him, and all shall yet be well!”
“Yes, yes, I know it will; but oh, my husband, pray for me, that I may realize this blessed trust when you are gone. You have been my support, my aid, till now, cheering my despondence, soothing my fears; and now—”
“Rachel, my own wife, I have not been to you more than you have to me; it is our God who has been to us more—oh, how much more!—than we have been to each other, and He is with you still. He will heal the wound His love inflicts. But for our erring, yet our much-loved boy, I need not bid you love him, forgive him to the end—and his brothers and sisters. Oh, listen to me, my children.” He half-raised himself in the energy of his supplication. “Promise me but this, throw him not off from your love, your kindness, however he may turn aside, however he may fall; even if that fearful indifference increase, and in faith he scarcely seems your brother, my children, my blessed children, oh, love him still. Seek by kindness and affection to bring him back to his deserted fold. Promise me to love him, to bear with him; forget not that he is your brother, even to the last. Many a wanderer would return if love welcomed him back, many a one who will not bear reproach. Do not cast him from your hearts, my children, for your dead father’s sake.”
“Father, father, can you doubt us?” burst at once from all, and rising from their varied postures, they joined hands around him. “Love him! Yes. However he may forget and desert us, he is still our brother and your son. We will love him, bear with him. Oh, do not fear us, father. There needed not this promise, but we will give it. We will never cease to love him.”
“Bless you, my children,” murmured the exhausted man, as he sunk back. “Sarah, you have not spoken. Are you not our child?”
She flung down her work and darted to his side. She struggled to speak, but no words came, and throwing her arms round his neck, she fixed on his face one long, piercing look, and burst into passionate tears.
“It is enough, my child. I need not bid you love him,” whispered Perez, so as to be heard only by her. “Would you were indeed our own; there would be less grief in store.”
“And am I not your own?” she answered, disregarding his last words, which seemed, however, to have restored her to calmness. “Have you not been to me a true and tender father, and my aunt as kind a mother? Whose am I if I am not yours? Where shall I find another such home?”
“Yet you have a father, my gentle girl; one whom I have lately feared would claim you, because they told me he was once more a wealthy man. And if he should, if he would offer you the rest and comfort of competence, why should you labour throughout your young years for us? If he be rich, he surely will not forget he has a child, and therefore claim you.”
“He has done so,” replied Sarah, calmly, regardless of the various intonations of surprise in which her words were repeated. “My father did write for me to join him. He told me he was rich; would make me cease entirely from labour, and many similar kind offers.”
“And you refused them! Sarah, my dear child, why have you done this?”
“Why,” she repeated, pressing the trembling hand her aunt held out to her between both hers; “why, because now, only now, can I even in part return all you have done for me; because I cannot live apart from all whom I so love. I cannot exchange for short-lived riches all that makes life dear. Had my father sent for me in sickness or in woe, I should fly to him without an hour’s pause. But it is he who is in affluence, in peace; and you, my best, kindest friends, in sorrow. No, no; my duty was to stay with you, to work for you, to love you; and I wrote to beseech his permission to remain, even if it were still to labour. I did not feel it labour when with you; and I have permission. I am still your child; he will not take me from you.”
“God’s blessing be upon him!” murmured Rachel, as she folded the weeping girl to her bosom.
A pause of deep emotion fell upon the group. Perez drew her faintly to him, and kissed her cheek; then saying he felt exhausted, and should wish to be left alone a brief while, Sarah led the twins away, and, followed by Leah, softly left the apartment. Simeon and his mother still remained beside his couch.
The night passed quietly. Sarah put the twins to bed, and persuaded Leah to follow their example, and, exhausted by sorrow, she was soon asleep, leaving Sarah to watch and pray alone; and the poor girl did pray, and think and weep, till it seemed strange the night could so soon pass, and morning smile again. She had not told that permission to remain with her aunt had been scornfully and painfully given; that her father had derided her, as mean-spirited and degraded; that as she had chosen to remain with her poor relations, she was no longer his daughter. Nor did she pray and weep for the dying, or for those around him. One alone was in that heart! Why was he not there at such a moment? And she shuddered as she pictured the violence of the self-accusing agony which would be upon him when he discovered he had lingered until too late. Hour after hour passed, and there was no footstep. She thought the chimes must have rung too near each other; for as one struck, she believed he must be at home ere it struck another, and yet he came not: she watched in vain.
Day dawned, and as light gleamed in upon the dying, there was a change upon his face. He had not suffered throughout the night, seeming to sleep at intervals, and then lay calmly without speaking; but as the day gradually brightened, he reopened his eyes and looked towards the richly glowing east.
“Another sun!” he said, in a changed and hollow voice. “Blessed be the God who sets him in the heavens, strong and rejoicing as a young man to run a race: my race is over—my light will pass before his. I prayed one night’s delay, but still he does not come; and now it will soon be over. Rachel, my true wife, call the children; let me bless them each once more.”
They were called, and, awestruck even to silence at the fearful change in that loved face, they one by one drew near and bowed down their bright heads before him. Faintly yet distinctly, he spoke a blessing upon each; then murmured, “The God of my Fathers bless you all, all as you love Him and each other. Never deny him: acknowledge Him as One! Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one!”
The words were repeated in tears and sobs by all; he fell back, and they thought his spirit gone. Minutes rolled by, and then there was a rapid step without; it neared the door, one moment paused, and entered.
“My son, my son! O God, I thank thee! Reuben, my firstborn, in time, I bless, bless—” the words were lost in a fearful gurgling sound, but the father’s arms were flung wildly, strongly round the son, who, with bitter tears, had thrown himself upon his neck—and there was silence.
“Father! Oh, my father, speak—bless, forgive me!” at length Reuben wildly exclaimed, breaking from that convulsive hold to sink as a penitent upon the earth. He spoke in vain; the spirit had lingered to gaze once more upon the firstborn of his love, then fled from earth for ever.
It is two years after the mournful event recorded in our last chapter that we recommence our simple narrative. When time and prayer had softened the first deep affliction, the widow and her family indeed proved the fulfilment of that blessed promise, “Leave thy fatherless children to me, and I will keep them alive, and let thy widows trust in me;” for they prospered and were happy. Affliction, either of failing health in those compelled to labour, or in want of employment, was kept far from them. The widow, indeed, herself often suffered; but she thanked God, in the midst even of pain, as she compared the blessings of her lot with those of others. Little Ruth, too, from her affliction and very delicate health, was often an object of anxiety; but so tenderly was she beloved, that anxiety was scarcely pain in the delight her presence ever caused. Sweet-tempered, loving, and joyous, with a voice of song like a bird’s, and a laugh of child-like glee, and yet such strong affections, such deep reverence for all things holy, that who might grieve for her afflictions when she was so happy, so gratified herself? She was the star of that lowly little dwelling, for sorrow, or discord, or care could not come near her.
Joseph, her twin brother, had attracted the notice of a respectable jeweller, who, though he could not take the boy into his house as a regular apprentice till he was thirteen, not only employed him several hours in the day in cleaning jewels, etc., but allowed him small wages—an act of real benevolence, felt by the widow as an especial blessing, rendered perhaps the dearer from the fact that it was the high character her husband had borne which gave his youngest son so responsible an office, intrusted as it was to none but the strictly honest.
Simeon, now nearly seventeen, was with the same watchmaker who had formerly brought forward his father. It was not a trade he liked; nay, the delicate machinery required was peculiarly annoying to him, but it was the only opening for him, and he conquered his disinclination. He had long since made a vow to use his every effort to restore his parents to the comfortable estate from which they had unfortunately fallen, and no thought of himself or his own wishes should interfere with its accomplishment. Persevering and resolute, he took a good heart with him to the business; and though his first attempts were awkward, and the laughter of his companions most discouraging, the praise of his master and his own conscience urged him on, and before the two years which we have passed over had elapsed, he had conquered every difficulty, and promised in time to be quite as good a workman as his father.
The extent of suffering which his father’s death had been to him no one knew, but he had felt at first as if he could not rouse himself again. It was useless to struggle on; for the beloved parent, for whose sake he had made this solemn vow, was gone for ever. His mother indeed was spared him; but much as he loved and reverenced her, his father had been, if possible, first in his affections. Perhaps it was that his own feelings, his own character, gave him a clue to all that his father had done and endured. He had all his honesty and honour, all his energy, and love for his ancient faith. One difference there was: Perez could bear with, nay, love all mankind—could find excuse for the erring, even for the apostate, much as he abhorred the deed; could believe in the sincerity and piety of others, though their faith differed from his own; but Simeon could not feel this. Often, even in his childhood, his father had to reprove him for prejudice; and as he grew older, his hatred against all those who left the faith, or united themselves in any way with other than Israelites, continued violent. Prejudice is almost the only feeling which reason cannot conquer—religion may, and Simeon was truly and sincerely religious; but he loved his faith better than he loved his God. He would have started and denied it, had any one told him so, and declared it was impossible—one feeling could not be distinct or divided from the other; yet so it was. An earnest and heartfelt love of God can never permit an emotion so violent as hatred to any of God’s creatures. It is no test of our own sincerity to condemn or disbelieve in that of others; and those who do—who prejudiced and violent against all who differ from them—may be, no doubt are, sincerely religious and well intentioned, but they love their faith better than they love their God.
These peculiar feelings occasioned a degree of coldness in Simeon’s sentiments towards his brother Reuben, of whom we have little more to say than we know already.
The death of his father was indeed a fearful shock; yet, from a few words which fell from him during some of his interviews with Sarah, she fancied that he almost rejoiced that he was bound by no promise to the dying. In the midst of repentant agony that he had arrived too late for his parent’s blessing, he would break off with a half shudder, and mutter, “If he had spoken that, he might have spoken more, and I could not have disobeyed him on his death-bed. Whatever he bade me promise I must have promised; and then, then, after a few brief months, been perjured. Oh, my father, my father! Why is it my fate to be the wretch I am?”
This grief was violent, but it did not produce the good effect which his parents had so fondly hoped. Even in the days of mourning, it was evident that the peculiar forms which his faith enjoined, as the son of the deceased, chafed and irritated him; and had it not been for the deep, silent suffering of his mother, which he could not bear to increase, he would have neglected them altogether. When he mixed with the world again, he followed his own course and his own will, scarcely ever mixing with those of his own race, but seeking, and at last finding employment with the stranger. He had excellent abilities; and from his having received a better education than most youths of his race, obtained at length a lucrative situation in an establishment which, trading to many different parts of the British Isles, often required an active agent to travel for them. His peculiar creed had been at first against him; but when his abilities were put to the proof, and it was discovered he was in truth only nominally a Jew, that he cared not to sacrifice the Sabbath, and that no part of his religion was permitted to interfere with his employments, his services were accepted and well paid.
Had then Reuben Perez, the beloved and cherished son of such good and pious parents, indeed deserted the religion of his forefathers? Not in semblance, for there were times when he still visited the synagogue; and as he did so, he was by many still conceived a good Jew. The flagrant follies of his youth had subsided; he was no longer wild, wavering, and extravagant. Not a word could be spoken against his moral principles; his public, even his domestic conduct was unexceptionable, and therefore he bore a high character in the estimation alike of the Jewish and Christian world. What cause had his mother, then, for the grief and pain which swelled her heart almost to bursting, when she thought upon her firstborn? Alas! it was because she felt there was One who saw deeper than the world—One, between whom and himself Reuben had raised up a dark barrier of wrath—One who loved him, erring and sinful as he was, with an immeasurable love, but whose deep love was rejected and abused—even his God, that God who had been the Saviour of his forefathers through so many thousand ages. The mother would have preferred seeing him poor, dependent, obtaining but his daily bread, yet faithful to his faith and to his God, than prosperous, courted, and an alien.
The brothers seldom met, and therefore Simeon was ignorant how powerfully coldness was creeping over his affections for Reuben; how, in violently condemning his indifference and union with the stranger, he was rendering the observance of his promise to his dying father (to bear with and love his brother) a matter of difficulty and pain. Faithful and earnest himself, he could not understand a want of earnestness and fidelity in others. But, however the world might flatter and appear to honour his exemplary moral conduct, one truth it is our duty to record—Reuben was not happy. It was not the mere fancy of his mother and cousin, it was truth; they knew not wherefore—for if he neglected and contemned his religion, he could scarcely feel the want of it—but that he was unhappy, perhaps was the secret cause which held the love of his mother and Sarah so immovably enchained, bidding them hope sometimes in the very midst of gloom.
Of the female members of Perez’ family we have little to remark. Leah’s good conduct had not only made her the favourite of her mistress, but her liveliness and happy temper had actually triumphed over the sometimes harsh disposition she had at first to encounter. There was no withstanding her good humour. She had the happy knack of making people good friends with themselves, as well as with each other, and was so happy herself, that, except when she thought of her dear father, and wished that he could but see her and hear her sing over her work, sorrow was unknown. Every Friday evening she went home to remain till the Sunday morning, and that was superlative enjoyment, not only to herself, for her mother looked to the visit of her merry, affectionate daughter as a source of pure feeling, delight, and recreation.
In Sarah there was no change. Still pensive, modest, and industrious, she continued quietly to retain the most devoted affections of her relatives, and the goodwill and respect of her employers. Of her own individual feelings we must not now speak, save to say that few even of her domestic circle imagined how strong and deep was the under-current of character which her quiet mien concealed.
It was the evening of the Sabbath, and the widow and her daughters were assembled in their pretty little parlour. Simeon and Joseph were not yet returned from synagogue. Reuben, alas! Was seldom there on the Sabbath eve. The table was covered with a cloth, which, though not of the finest description, was white as the driven snow; and the Sabbath lamp was lighted, for in their greatest poverty this ceremony had never been omitted. When they had no lamp, and could not have afforded oil, they burnt a wax candle, frequently depriving themselves of some week-day necessary to procure this indulgence. The first earnings of Sarah, Leah, and Simeon had been used to repurchase the ancient Sabbath lamp, the heirloom in their family for many generations. It was silver and very antique, and by a strange chance had escaped the fire, which rendered perhaps the sale of it the more painful to Perez. His gratification on beholding it again had amply repaid his affectionate children. Never being used but on Sabbaths, it seemed to partake of the sanctity of that holy day.
Bread and salt were also upon the table, and the large Bible and its attendant prayer-books there also, open, as if they had just been used. Ruth had plucked some sweet flowers just before Sabbath, and arranged them tastefully in a china cup, and Leah had playfully removed a sprig of rosebuds and wreathed it in the long glossy curls which hung round Ruth’s sweet face and over her shoulders. The dresses of all were neat and clean, for they loved to make a distinction between the seventh day and the six days of labour.
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