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"How am I to know what is of consequence and what is not?" returned Charlotte: "I know what mamma said about repeating what I hear, and would you have me disobey her orders ?"
"You do not understand mamma; she did not direct you to hide things from her, but to avoid hearing things which were better not told. But if you have by accident heard any thing against Kate, perhaps it might be set right if we knew it."
"Don't you recollect," said Charlotte, "that mamma told me she prayed I might be deaf to all things which are unprofitable,—that is, to all things which are not very wise and very good. If I don't hear any thing, I can't tell any thing, she says; but you want me to say that I have heard something: you want me to get into trouble."
Elizabeth said no more; but she made up her mind to pay all Kate's schooling herself, if she could possibly do it, for another year. For this, however, she was not called upon. It is of little use to make plans for months to come, for we know not what a day may bring forth; yet those are blessed to whom God has given grace to plan good things, though it may not please him that their schemes should ever come to pass.
Elizabeth had not another shilling to pay before Kate was taken ill, and laid up with the scarlet fever. The disease spread to other cottages, and though Mrs. Howard kept her children at home, she could not preserve them, nor herself, nor her servants from infection. First one and then another sickened; and there was scarcely a house in the parish where some one was not ill, and Mrs. Howard was obliged to send for a nurse from a distance. When Elizabeth sickened her mother gave her all the attention she could spare, though she was not long able to do this, as she was taken ill herself; and the family were glad of the assistance of even the half-blind widow Baring.
Whilst these things were going on, Charlotte remained much in the state in which she was in the beginning of the history. There is no time like a time of illness for the thoughtless member of a family, who loves to hear what the neighbours are about. When Elizabeth was taken ill, there was no more guard upon Charlotte, and she consequently spent her time in hearing what the nurses and people about the sick had to say, and gathered up all sorts of strange tales, old and new, true and false,
as it happened. Nor was she left without the opportunity of hearing any thing better; for there was a truly pious man-ai minister-who called many times before and after Mrs. Howard was taken ill, and said many things not only for profit, but consolation, under the present distressing circumstances. His words were, however, like a tongue unknown to Charlotte; she heard them, but did not take in their sense. The last time that he called, she was quite alone with him: he sat some time, and she walked with him to the garden gate. As she came back, she met the nurse, who had been gathering some balm; "Oh, Mrs. Hales," she said, "that gentleman has been here so long talking to me."
"What has he been saying, Miss?" she asked: "something good, I am quite sure."
"Oh, yes, nurse, of course, it was good; he talked about religion.”
"Can't you tell me something of it, Miss ?" said the nurse. Charlotte tried what she could remember, and then, laughing, answered, "I don't know that I can; but mamma says I am deaf: you can't expect to hear much from deaf people."
Nay, nay, Miss! that won't pass," replied the nurse; can hear some things fast enough; it is only when you don't choose, I reckon, that you don't hear-but I must be back to my sick people."
Many days passed before Charlotte was again in the garden. A violent head-ach came on that afternoon, and she was forced to go to bed. The next day she was very ill, and on the third day she became delirious, and knew not whether she saw real things, or fancied unreal ones, for several days, the gossip to which she had lately hearkened, seeming to be strangely mixed up in her imagination with the words which the pious minister had said to her; these words coming back to her in a wonderful manner. But all her imaginations were dreadful in some way or another; she felt like one in flames, so violent was her fever, and so dreadful was her thirst and the pain of her throat. To make things still more distressing, neither her sister nor her poor mother could come near her; both were under the power of the same fearful disease.
After several days and nights of severe suffering, the malady
came to a crisis; and the fever having abated, she fell into a long, sweet sleep, free from the horrid dreams which had tortured her for several previous days. It was during the hours of darkness when this sleep came over her, and it was bright day when she awoke, though still but early morning. She opened her eyes, and for a minute could not tell where she was, nor what had happened. At the foot of her bed was an open window, and sweet, soft, and fresh was the air which entered into the room, laden with the breath of the fields and gardens over which it passed.
One person only was near her-a girl about her own agewho sat on the bed itself, with her feet extended over the lower part of it, and her back resting against one of the posts, in the attitude of one who had watched long, and was somewhat weary; she had, however, a book in her hand-it was a small bible, and she was reading attentively. Charlotte looked again, and recognized Kate Baring; a moment afterwards the young girl turned her face towards her, and seeing that she was awake, she got up softly, and brought her something in a cup; raising her gently that she might drink it, and then letting her down as softly. "I am better, Kate," said Charlotte; "where is poor mamma ?"
Kate moved her lips in reply, but Charlotte not hearing what she said, repeated her question. She observed the lips of Kate moving again, and thought she heard some inarticulate sound, but not a word reached her; she spoke again with the same result, and observed that Kate looked uneasy and surprised, and that she rang the bell for some person to come.
There is not space here to enter into particulars, but the state of the case was this:-Charlotte's fever had left her; her life had been spared, but she had lost her hearing, or rather it had been so impaired, that although loud noises distressed her much, she could not hear low ones at all, nor distinguish one sound from another in the smallest degree; and not even the most skilful person could predict whether this evil would be only temporary or last for life.
Kate Baring was a most attentive nurse, and poor Charlotte felt her attentions so deeply that Mrs. Howard retained her during Charlotte's convalescence, and so long as she should need
one to supply, as far as another could, the deficiency of that one important sense which her poor daughter had lost.
Not one word did the pitying mother or sister say even to each other, of the ill use which Charlotte had formerly made of that faculty of hearing now lost to her a talent so miserably abused by all worldly persons, and so idly employed, too often, even by the children of God. But the Lord the Spirit was himself dealing with the afflicted child; the mother saw this, and was still.
It will appear by the following conversation between Charlotte and Kate, which took place some time after the former was able to go out, how vast was the change already wrought within her by that unerring and all-powerful Spirit. "How often do I think, dear Kate," remarked Charlotte, "of what mamma once said to me about spiritual deafness, and now I can understand what she meant. I am now naturally deaf, and my natural deafness is the type of the state in which I once was, regarding all heavenly things. I walk now in sweet gardens and pleasant fields; I see the little birds among the green boughs, but I cannot hear their songs; I see the trees waving in the breeze, but I hear no sound of the rustling leaves; I see the water flowing along the meadows, but I hear no murmuring of the stream; I see you and mamma and Elizabeth talking together, but I hear no words; and even the sweetest music is now nothing to me but a dull distressing sound.
"So it was with me, Kate, in days that are past, concerning heavenly things, which other people received by the ear. All pious and improving conversation held in my presence was only like a dull wearisome sound, humming in my ears. Mamma used to tell Elizabeth that all sweet or awful natural sounds, such as the wind, the thunder, sweet music, and the voices of persons singing, even when she did not hear the words, seemed to speak to her of God; and that the visible heavens, with all their glories, had a voice which told her of their Creator's power and goodness; but I could not then understand what she said, nor what any other persons said upon these subjects. My spiritual hearing was then as dull and heavy as my natural hearing is now. I used my natural hearing for evil purposes; I refused to receive instruction by it, and God has justly punished me."
When Charlotte thus spoke, they were sitting on a green bank, by the side of a sanded path. Kate had a slender stick in her hand, and she wrote upon the sand-" Not punished-God is love-he only corrects."
Charlotte watched the progress of the stick as Kate wrote, and kissed her humble little friend, "You are perfectly right, dear Kate," she said, "I do believe that it is in kindness God gives me this present affliction; and that when he took my natural hearing from me, he gave me the same sense in a spiritual form, as much above and beyond the first, as the spiritual man is above the natural."
"God is very good," wrote Kate upon the sand; could love him more."
"I wish we
"How kind you are, dear Kate," said Charlotte; "What should I do if you could not write?"
"Who paid for having me taught?" were the next words which Kate traced on the sand.
"I cannot take credit even for a share in this," answered Charlotte; there is no good in me: and of this I am quite sure, that if ever I enter into glory, it must be through the merits of my Saviour only, and not by any use which I can make of any of the powers given to me by nature. Deaf I was by nature to all instruction, but such as belonged to the things of this world, and deaf I had remained for ever if God had not, when he closed my ears to earthly matters, opened them to such things as unenlightened eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, which are given only to his own renewed ones to apprehend."
How can the unconverted reader account for so marvellous and sudden a change in the whole language and manner of such a girl as Charlotte appeared to be in the first pages of this narrative? A divinely-instructed person will, however, understand it. When the Holy Spirit began to work with her-when the faculty of spiritual apprehension was bestowed upon her, and an understanding given her to comprehend the instructions previously given by a truly pious and intellectual mother, she became in all respects an altered person; and as He is faithful who called her, when, after some months, her hearing was restored, she continued to delight only in those things which are grateful to the spiritual ear, turning away from such as are only acceptable to the natural and unconverted man.