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DREAMING OR WAKING?”
A SKETCH FROM LIFE.
A LOVELY summer's evening, such an evening as is known only under the soft sky of France, had drawn forth more than the usual number of Parisian idlers to enjoy the tempting shade of the Tuileries.
Among them might be observed a lady and gentleman who moved a little apart from the crowd, and whose low, calm tones, as they conversed, not in rapid, sparkling French, but in earnest English, contrasted pleasingly with the gay voices around them.
The gentleman was of middle age, tall, and of dignified and military bearing. The lady was in the bloom of youth, and, though fair and delicate, her resemblance to her companion was so striking, that no one could for a moment hesitate in deciding that they were father and daughter.
We will at once introduce them to our readers as Colonel Fleming, an English officer, returning to England after a long residence abroad, and his only daughter, Agnes.
“I approve altogether of your choice, my dear child,” the gentleman is saying ; "there is no patent of nobility like that which is conferred by religion, and I have no doubt it will be for your happiness, as well as your advantage, to remain, during my absence, with my valued friends at the Rectory, rather than to share in all the gaieties of Castle Evelyn. Still, I would not have you decide too hastily. Lady Evelyn, though a very fine lady, and accused of hauteur, is really a good, kind creature. Her invitation to you shows that she has not forgotten our tie of cousinship, and as she is a most elegant woman of fashion, you could not, perhaps, make your debût in society under more favourable auspices. I think it right to set these things before you, lest you should repent of your choice when it is too late."
“ There is no danger of that, papa,” was the reply: “I have always learned to estimate religion so highly, that I am quite willing to resign all these advantages for the sake of living under the roof of such a person as Dr. Hamilton. Besides, I shall have no taste for gaiety while you are away—the quiet and seclusion of the Rectory will suit me much better ; and Mrs. Leslie's kind, affectionate note makes me feel that I shall be happy there."
“ You are right, Agnes,” said her father; "you have decided exactly as I had hoped ; and though I would not influence your choice, you have anticipated my wishes--not for the first time,” he added, turning to her with a smile full of affection.
The soft, blue eyes, which responded to his, filled with tears; for Colonel Fleming was not one who gave frequent expression to feeling, and Agnes was the more touched and gratified when any circumstance which peculiarly pleased him called forth, as now, some expressive word or look of love.
“ Shall you be away many months, papa ?” she asked.
“I expect so,” he said, gravely; “ but it is impossible to tell with any degree of certainty. Come,” he added; “I think it grows chilly here in the shade; we had better finish our walk elsewhere”-and, moving more briskly, they soon left the gardens.
And now we must linger to give a brief sketch of the previous life of her who is the subject of our story.
Agnes Fleming was the only child of an officer highly respected in the English army. She was born in India, and her mother having died when she was almost an infant, Agnes was brought home under the charge of a friend, who, for some years, brought her up with much care and tenderness with her own little ones, and then, at her father's desire, placed her at an excellent school. Here she was well educated in all that related to mental improvement --moral training was closely attended to; and this constant culture, acting on a naturally fine disposition, led to the formation of a character of great value and promise. Those who had known her parents said of Agnes that she combined her father's firmness and high sense of duty with her mother's sweet temper and gentle
It was a happy combination, and won the respect and attachment of all around her.
Agnes continued to pursue her studies at school till she was nearly fifteen, still watched over by her kind and faithful friend, Mrs. Murray, and stimulated to application by her father's short but frequent letters, in which he constantly spoke of her joining him in India as soon as her education should be completed. This, however, was not to be. The sudden failure of his health obliged him to return to Europe,-he was ordered to remain for some time in the mild climate of the South; and Agnes was surprised by a sudden summons to meet him at Marseilles.
They lived abroad for some years, leading a quiet and secluded life, which suited best with Colonel Fleming's invalid state, and the extreme youth of Agnes. She continued to pursue
her studies under foreign masters, and, among other accomplishments, became a very brilliant and finished musician. Her father was devoted to literature, a taste in which Agnes soon shared, growing from an intelligent pupil into a congenial and sympathizing companion. Occasionally they travelled into Italy and Greece, visiting many places worthy of note, which the rich store of well cultured minds invested with the interest of historic lore, and the charm of poetic fancy.
And what, it may be asked, was the religious system in which, amid all this mental and æsthetic culture, the mind of Agnes had been trained ?
There is a story in the beautiful Greek mythology which tells us of a gifted sculptor, who formed from a block of Parian marble a statue—a female form of superb beauty. Enamoured of its loveliness, he fell in adoration before it; but not all the genius of the artist, nor all the passion of the lover, could bring a ray of soul into those lifeless eyes, or the warmth of animation into those exquisitely chiselled but death-like features.
This is a fitting illustration of what education had done for the character of Agnes, working on the fine material of a mind of much native delicacy, veined, as it were, with impulses to all that was good and great. Her disposition had been moulded, her manners polished, and her mind cultivated, till there was scarcely a fault to be seen upon the surface, all was so fair and attractive. And her education sought to do no more. It did not, like the artist-lover, invoke Heaven to kindle the vital spark in the soul of its beautiful but lifeless creation. For lifeless indeed are those who know not the quickening power of the Spirit, who are awake only to the things of time and sense, while their eyes are closed in blindness to the realities of the spiritual and eternal world. And yet Agnes was said
to be religiously educated. Her attention to and respect for religious ordinances was great; the few religious people she knew were most estimable, and she valued them accordingly; and her taste led her to take a sentimental interest in Church history and architecture. Agnes thought herself religious; and when some changes in property made it advisable that her father should for a time return to India to arrange his affairs, her choice of an English home during his absence was one which showed her respect and value for those who were truly and devotedly pious. But was there true vitality within ? Was her spirit wakened from the fatal sleep in which thousands dream on till they reach an eternity of despair ? Was her serenity but the result of temperament and education, or did it flow from the deep, conscious peace of a soul reconciled to God, and resting in faith on the finished work of the Divine Redeemer ?
The question will be answered when we see Agnes in her new bome.
Marston Rectory, with its venerable church, shaded by ivy-grown trees of perhaps greater age, was one of those quaint old places that insensibly lead the mind back to bygone days. But it is in its present inmates, not its historic associations, that we are interested; and we must endeavour to describe the family group at the time when Agnes found a home among them. Dr. Hamilton, the aged reetor, was one whom it was truly a privilege to know-a holy man of God, grown old in his Master's service, and entirely devoted to heavenly things. He suffered much in health, and was unequal to much active exertion ; but the mind was never languid; there was a living fountain within, ever diffusing life and verdure around it, and his conversation was the joy and charm of the domestic circle. Truly might it have been said of him, “ His conversation is in heaven,” so deeply spiritual was his mind, so peaceful, so untroubled by the passing things of time, so imbued with love for the blessed realities of eternity. Mrs. Hamilton had died long since, and the place of mistress of the household was filled by the eldest daughter, Mrs. Leslie, whose husband, a most devoted and excellent man, was Dr. Hamilton's eurate. Some younger sisters, not yet freed from the schoolroom, and three lovely children of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie's, completed the group. It was a household governed in the fear and love of God, and was one of those happy Christian homes, which are the nearest approach earth can offer to a state of perfeet felicity.
Agnes was greatly impressed by the family worship, which, morning and evening, brought together the members of the household to unite in prayer and praise. It was the hour of hours in the day, the time held in higher estimation and importance than any other, and to which every occupation yielded. Even the little ones might be seen hastening in quietly, and with earnest faces, fearing lest they should be a moment late. When all were assembled,—the children grouped around their young mother, and the infant nestling in her arms,—the service began by the singing of a hymn, in which every voice joined with a gladness that made it truly a song of praise. Then a chapter was read, on which Dr. Hamilton made a brief but impressive comment; and Mr. Leslie concluded the service with prayer,—such prayer as Agnes had never heard till then. It was the prayer of a deeply spiritual mind, grieving under a sense of sin, and fully aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart, but seeing in Jesus a remedy for every ill. It breathed forth, too, such a spirit of childlike dependence, of trusting, confiding faith, and grateful, devoted love, as showed that the spiritual plant had taken deep root there, and was now bearing its lovely fruit, and emitting its fragrant perfumes.
Agnes listened with amazement to the humbling confession of sin, which formed so striking a portion of Mr. Leslie's prayer. It was not a form,—it was evidently the true expression, the fervent pouring forth of a spirit mourning under the plague of sin, the ardent breathings of a renewed nature after purity and holiness ; yet, at the same time, there was a peace, a sober certainty of bliss, a calm resting in the love, and merits, and suffering of Another.
Agnes could not understand it. Day by day, she felt there was something very different here from the religious system in which she had been brought up. Her self-complacency was sorely shaken, and she felt more uncomfortable in mind than she had ever felt before. That all mankind were sinners, she had always, in a general way, been ready to admit; but that she, as an individual, was guilty and lost, was more than she could bear to contemplate. Her quiet security seemed to be rapidly ebbing away, and she felt anxious and ill at ease. The Spirit had begun his work of mercy and love in her soul, and was waking her from her deadly sleep. Many questions arose in her mind to which she could not reply; but she resolved not to speak on the subject, but closely to observe the lives of those whose doctrine she felt was something very different from her own.
Oh, how weighty is the responsibility of those who call themselves by the sacred name of Christ ! “ Ye are the light of the world,” says our Lord to his disciples in all ages; and
THE ENGLISH MONTHLY TRAOT SOCIETY, 27, RED LION SQUARE, LONDON.