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A short story by T. S. Arthur

Aunt Rachel

Title:     Aunt Rachel
Author: T. S. Arthur [More Titles by Arthur]

WE remember as it were yesterday the first time we saw her, though it was a brief glance, and she was so quickly forgotten that most of us had passed into the supper-room and the rest had reached the door, heedless of the stranger, when one of our party, perhaps more thoughtful than the others, cast her eyes on the quiet little figure that stood, near the fire as if irresolute, whether to follow or remain. With lady-like politeness she received the excuses which one of the gentlemen offered for having preceded her, and entered the room.

She was very slight, and thin, and pale, her, eyes were of a light gray and her hair inclined to redness, but her forehead, was broad and smooth and, about her thin lips there hovered an expression of sweetness and repose.

We have forgotten now what first led us to feel that beneath that unprepossessing exterior were concealed the pulses of a warm, generous heart, and the powers of a strong and cultivated mind, but we remember well the morning that she set her seal upon our heart.

It was a clear, cold, brilliant morning in March. The whole broad country was covered with a thick crust of hard, glittering snow, and every tree was encased in ice. The oaks and elms and chestnuts and beeches from their trunks upward and outward to their minutest twigs, and the pines and firs with their greenness shining through, sparkled like diamonds and. emeralds in the brightness of the sun.

O, it was a glorious morning, and we have seldom since been so young in feeling as never we are sure in years, as when we walked forth into its bracing air. And Aunt Rachel--she enjoyed it; the broad icy fields, the difficult ascent of the steep slippery hills and the "duckies" down them, and the crackling of the icicles as we thrust our way through the bristling under-brush of those diamond-cressed woods. We loved even to eat the icicles that hung from the pines with their pungent flavour, strong as though their pointed leaves had been steeped in boiling water. It was a pleasure to taste as well as see the trees.

As we entered the "Main Road" and were passing along by the "Asylum for the Insane," a clear, pleasant voice from one of the cells in the upper story, accosted us: "Good morning, ladies." We looked up and bowed in reply to the salutation. "It is a beautiful morning," he continued, "and I should like myself to take a walk down on 'Main Street,' but my folks have sent me here to be shut up because they say I am crazy, but I am sure I am not crazy, and I can't see why they should think so." And we thought the same as we listened to the calm, pleasant tones of his voice, till he added, "It will soon make me beside myself to be with this wild, screaming set; and it doesn't do them any good either to shut them up here. What they want is the Grace of God, and I'll put the Grace of God into them."

His voice grew wild and excited, but we knew that a whole volume of truth had been uttered in those simple words: "What they want is the Grace of God."

The Grace of God. How many has it saved--rescued--from madness! how have prayer and watchfulness been blest in conquering self, in subduing rampant passion and the wild, disorderly vagaries of the brain!

As we listen, the low whispered prayer of a Hall when he felt the billows of angry passion about to sweep over his soul, "O, Lamb of God, calm my perturbed spirit," we feel that but for such interceding prayer and that watchfulness which accompanied it, the insanity to which he was temporarily subject would have won the same mastery over the mighty powers of his mind as over those of Swift, and the glory of his "wide fame" as well as the peace of his "humble hope," would have been exchanged for the vagaries of the madman or the drivellings of the idiot.

The Grace of God. We thought of John Randolph, with his sway over the minds of others, with a "wit and eloquence that recalled the splendours of ancient oratory," yet with so little command over himself that his weak frame sometimes sank beneath the excitement of his temper, and gusts of passion were succeeded by fainting-fits; and when the one desire of his heart was denied, when a love mighty as every other passion of his soul failed him, his grief, ungovernable and frenzied as his rage, overwhelmed him, and the "taint of madness which ran in his line," flooded his brain. But when the atheist became a Christian; when, in his own words, he felt "the Spirit of God was not the chimera of heated brains, nor a device of artful men to frighten and cajole the credulous, but an existence to be felt and understood as the whisperings of one's own heart;" his prayer of, "Lord! I believe, help thou my unbelief," was answered in calm and peace to his soul.

"The saddest thought," said Aunt Rachel, as we turned away from that gloomy edifice, "the saddest thought connected with that building is, that so large a number of its unhappy inmates have brought their misery upon themselves, are the victims of their own irregular and indulged passions."

As we turned and looked upon her smooth brow, her serious and serene eyes and her sweet, calm mouth, we marked a look of subdued suffering mingled with an expression of Christian triumph; and we knew that she had felt "the ploughings of grief;" that she had learned "how sublime a thing it is to suffer and grow strong;" but, though we wondered deeply, we never knew in what form she had been called "to pass under the rod;" but we heard a voice that said,

"Fear not; when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee."

Nay, fear not, weak and fainting soul,
Though the wild waters round thee roll,
He will sustain thy faltering way,
Will be thy sure, unfailing stay.

And though it were the fabled stream
Whose waves were fire of fearful gleam,
He still would bear thee safely through
The fire, but cleanse thy soul anew.

[The end]
T. S. Arthur's short story: Aunt Rachel