The Little Blind Maid to Lady Charlotte

by Douglass Sherley

 

THE LITTLE BLIND MAID

Overlooking a big smoky city which lies below, and a wide and winding river which runs beyond, there is a large building on the top of a hill which is dedicated to education. But it was built for the comfort and the pleasure of a certain rich man and his family.

Shortly after its occupation the owner died, leaving a large fortune, a young widow and three daughters.

During the long period of mourning, which was strictly observed but only partially felt by the widow, there came to live in the big house an attractive man of about five and thirty, who had been both friend and partner of the merchant prince. He had been given entire charge of the large estate, and he gave to it and the family most of his time. His habits were excellent, but his tastes were convivial, and his little bachelor dinners the desire of his acquaintances and the delight of his friends. His apartments were entirely separate from the family, but he spent most of his unengaged evenings in their quiet little circle. The children called him uncle, the mother called him Basil, and the people who knew them looked upon him as one related, and spoke no gossip concerning them.

But one fine day that little fellow—always young—who is said to have wings and a quiver full of arrows, came into the house. He kissed the mother, a woman of forty and with attractions more than passing pleasant; he touched the heart of the eldest daughter, Rose, eighteen years of age, and he took the bandage off of his own eyes and put it over the head of Basil, who straightway thought he loved the daughter, who was a woman of no beauty, little intelligence and less amiability. Being blind with the bandage of the boy Love, he could not see that the mother had centered her full blown affections upon him. Therefore it came to pass that the mother and daughter were rivals. He, being a man, did not understand; they, being women, did. When he asked for the hand of her daughter he could not comprehend not only why she should make denial, but why she stormed, wept bitter tears, filled his startled ears with unreasonable reproaches, and upbraided him as an ingrate and a man without feeling.

Her opposition made him believe in his love for Rose, but shortly the beauty and the charm of Grace, the second daughter, about sixteen, dissipated that belief, although he had pledged himself with word and ring to Rose.

Grace, mortified by the rivalry between her mother and sister, and conscious of a growing passion for the man who had, unintentionally, crept into the lives of three women in one household bound by the closest ties of blood, fled the place, and went down the broad river to a little town, where she found quiet and friendly shelter in the home of a relative. It was a curious place, very old, and in the heart of evergreens. There was a young girl, Lydia, who was much older, had loved, and knew that priceless art of bringing comfort to those who were loving either wisely or too well. Letters, books, and gifts came from Basil bearing one burden—his love for Grace. The mother, more jealous of Rose than of Grace, consented to his marriage with either, and fell into a state of despondency which made quick and mysterious inroads upon her hitherto excellent health.

When Grace, being called home by the alarming state of her mother's health, parted with Lydia, she said:

"My duty is clear; I can not be the rival of my mother and Rose. I love him, but I must give him up." And so she did, although the engagement between Rose and Basil was broken and never renewed.

Rumor said cruel things about Basil: that he had wasted their beautiful estate and enriched himself out of their many possessions. Anyhow, they left their mansion on the hill-top, and it was sold to an institution of learning, and the grounds were divided and subdivided into lots. The mother never recovered. After an illness of several years she died suddenly at some winter resort, with the old name of Basil on her lips that formed the word and then were forever still. Rose and Grace could look upon those familiar features and behold the trace of beauty which time and disease had tenderly spared. But Mary, the third daughter, blind from her birth, could only feel the face of her beloved and kiss the lips that could no longer speak her name. Blind! and without a mother, even if she had been foolish for her years, and had, in an hour of human weakness, yielded to a love which was useless, out of the question, unnatural. She was twelve, yet the little blind maid was old enough to know her loss, to feel her sorrow.

Rose, cold, selfish, unsympathetic, lamenting the loss of a lover whom she had no power to hold more than the death of her mother, feeling no love for the sister who had made for her sake a useless sacrifice, was not a desirable companion for the little blind sister.

Grace, upon whom the care of the child had fallen these latter years, and who had been faithful and loving to her charge, had begun to put worldly things from her, and when that long-expected but sudden death came upon them, she resolved, after much meditation and prayer, to enter some holy order and lead a life dedicated to the Master.

Clad in the robes of a Carmelite nun, she may have been too unmindful of the little blind one who had clung to her and plead with her not to leave her alone with Rose. For after all, what is raiment even if it be fine, aye, purple and fine linen; what is food, even if it be dainty like the ambrosia of the Gods; what is warmth, what is comfort, what are all these things if the heart be cold, naked and hungry? Grace had provided for her bodily comforts, but she had failed to fill her own place left vacant with some heart that would be kind and loving to Mary, blind and helpless.

After Grace entered the Carmelite Convent, which was many miles away from their old home, Rose and Mary returned to the big smoky city, and were swallowed up in the multitude of people who exist in buildings and houses, where men and women huddle together and have, as they had, a certain amount of comfort, but lose their identity, and are finally swept away into that great stagnant pool of obscurity where existence in great cities goes on and on without either ebb or flow.

The little blind maid was lonely and sick at heart. The noise and the cry of the street smote her to the earth. The people in the house where they lived, were as kind as they knew how to be; but how little they knew about kindness, and nothing about peace and quiet. She felt that she was a burden to Rose, and she knew that Rose could never be any thing to her. Those poor, sightless eyes shed tears of homesickness for Grace, and she was sorely oppressed with the desire to be with her again and feel the touch of those cool, quiet hands against her face and over her eyelids that so often burned with pain, and to hear that voice, which was never loud and harsh. But what could she do? This is what she did: With her own hand, unaided, she wrote a letter to the Pope at Rome, and gave it with a piece of silver to an honest house-maid, who carried it to her priest for proper direction, which he wrote upon it, marveling much when he read her earnest words of entreaty, begging the Pope to please send back her Sister Grace from the convent, because she was a little girl, "blind, helpless and very lonely."

The Pope may be infallible, but he is surely human, for when he read the simple words sprawled out upon a sheet of paper, blistered with the tears of the little blind maid crying out from across the seas her appeal for the return of her sister from those convent walls, he was moved to a compassion which was not only priestly, but very human. He bestirred himself in her behalf. He wrote letters to the convent of those Carmelite nuns. He made earnest inquiry about Grace, and finally, after many days of weary, heart-sick waiting, a letter came to the parish priest for little Mary. It was written by the Pope himself, and brought to the blind girl in far-off America the greeting and the blessing of the great Roman Pontiff. He told her in kindly words that she had asked what he was powerless to grant; that he could not drive out her sister from the shelter of those holy walls which she had so wisely chosen, and where she devoutly wished to remain, and therein peacefully, prayerfully end her days, but that he could send her there to the arms of that sister; that he could and would gladly give her dispensation from the duties and the obligations of the holy order; that she might do, as no other had ever done, live among the Carmelites and yet not be a Carmelite. "Go," he wrote, "little blind maid, and have quickly gratified the wish of your heart. No holy vows, no robes of the order need be yours. Your sister can not come to you, but you may go to her, and live where you may daily hear the sound of her voice and often feel the touch of her loving hands, which have been consecrated to holy service. God for some wise purpose hath made you blind, but He has put it into my heart, His servant, to do this thing for you. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen."

So she went among them, this little blind maid, and the nuns of that Carmelite convent called her the "Blessing of the Pope," and they loved her the more because her name was Mary.

Grace, now free from the passionate desires which had driven her there, made prayers for Basil as a good sister makes supplication for her favorite brother, and she found favor not only in the sight of those about her, but in the eyes of the Lord. The old pain in her conscience about the little blind sister left out in the world had been removed, and she secretly and openly rejoiced in the companionship of Mary.

Basil and Rose lived in the big city of smoke and commerce, but no unkindly chance brought them together. She led that life which suited her best. She followed out her own selfish desires, which were not many, and easy to gratify. She made no friends, and was not lonely; because she had never known the sweet and the joy of real companionship.

He (Basil) lived at the club. They spoke of him as being well preserved, whatever that means. He was popular, went to good dinners, and frequently gave them, yet—ah! that little word yet! Yet he sometimes made pause in the social round, and alone, by his own fireside, caught the sound of a voice which he had not heard for years, and the fleeting glimpse of a woman's face which he had fondly loved. Had loved? Yes, still loved. Then the vision of convent walls, a Carmelite cloister, a sister kneeling at the shrine of the Blessed Virgin praying for him, and by her side, feeling her way to the altar rail, Mary, the little blind maid, repeating a fervent amen to her sister's petition; then—darkness about him, cold ashes on the hearth, and in his heart a shiver of regret and a feeling of unworthiness.

In that Carmelite convent this is the prayer each night of little Mary, blind, but happy: "God, give my dear sister Rose more kindness and sweetness. God, keep my good and beautiful sister Grace, and may God please send a big, strong angel to help my Uncle Basil make a good fight. Give him faith, and afterwhile a mansion and a crown in that pretty land where little Mary will not be blind, and where she will not only hear the songs of the angels, but see their shining faces. God, make me good and keep me true. Amen."