The snow lay long upon the ground

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On Christmas Eve, Rhoda Farren sat watching the hungry birds no longer. A little human life was drawing very near to immortality. The baby—Helen’s wee, fragile baby—was hovering between two worlds.

And then, for the first time, all Rhoda’s sleeping instincts started up, awake and strong. Anger and selfishness were alike forgotten. Let the solemn feet of death be heard upon the threshold of the house, and all the petty wranglings of its inmates are stilled. He was coming—“the angel with the amaranthine wreath”—but Rhoda held the little one in her arms, and prayed the Father to shut the door against him.

We know not what we ask when we pray for a child’s life. We are pleading with the Good Shepherd that He will leave a little lamb in the wilderness instead of taking it into the fold. We are asking that it may[32] tread the long, toilsome way home, instead of the short, smooth path that leads straight to rest. Surely our Lord never loves us better than when He says nay to such prayers as these. When we become even as they—the little children—and enter into the kingdom, we shall understand the infinite compassion of His denial.

Christmas night closed in; and outside the cottage, the mummers, gay in patchwork and ribbons, clashed their tin swords, and sang their foolish rhymes. John went out and entreated them to go away. A glance through the open door showed Rhoda the clear, broad moonlight, shining over the snow-waste, and she heard the subdued voices of the men as they went off to some happier house. Then the door closed again, and she saw nothing but the little child’s wan face.

“If it were taken,” she thought, “they should all feel something as the shepherds did when ‘the angels were gone away from them into heaven.’” Even she had begun to realize that[33] a babe is indeed God’s angel in a household. Often, like those Christmas angels, it stays just long enough to be the messenger of peace and good-will, and then returns to Him who sent it. Like them, it leaves us without an earth-stain on its vesture; without a regret for the world from which it is so soon withdrawn.

But Helen’s little one was to remain. The household rejoiced, and Rhoda learnt to recognise herself in a new character. She became the baby’s head-nurse and most devoted slave.

“Was there ever such a child?” she asked, as it gained strength and beauty. “It will be as pretty as Helen by-and-by.”

“It has a look of Robert,” said the farmer, thoughtfully.

Rhoda’s smiles fled. She wanted to forget the relationship between that man and her darling. Nor was she without a fear that it might have inherited some touch of his evil nature. Her heart never softened towards him because he was the father of the child. And[34] yet how much richer her life had grown since she had taken the baby into it!

It was so lengthened a winter, that spring seemed to come suddenly. There was a burst of primroses on the borders of the fields. They lit up shady places with their pale yellow stars, and spread themselves out in sheets. Every puff of wind was sweet with the breath of violets; birds sang their old carols—now two or three clear notes—now a shake—then a long whistle. All God’s works praised Him in the freshness of their new life. Old dry stumps, that Rhoda had thought dead and useless, began to put forth green shoots. The earth teemed with surprises; all around there was a continual assertion of vitality. And so hard is it to distinguish the barrenness of winter from the barrenness of death, that every spring has its seeming miracles. The tree that our impatient hands had well-nigh hewn down may be our sweetest shelter in the heat of summer noontide.


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