CARLETTA AND THE MERCHANT
“If I could have your faith, Hawkins, gladly would I, but I was born a skeptic. I cannot look upon God and the future as you do.” So said John Harvey, as he walked with a friend under a dripping umbrella. John Harvey was a skeptic of thirty years standing, and apparently hardened in his unbelief. Everybody had given him up as hopeless. Reasoning ever so calmly made no impression on the rocky soil of his heart. It was sad, very sad.
But one friend had never given him up. When spoken to about him “I will talk with and pray for that man until I die,” he said; “and I will have faith that he may yet come out of darkness into the marvelous light.” And thus whenever he met him (John Harvey was always ready for a “talk “), Mr. Hawkins pressed home the truth. In answer, on that stormy night, he said: “God can change a skeptic, John. He has more power over your heart than you, and I mean still to pray for you.” Oh, I’ve no objections, none in the world, seeing is believing, you know.
I’m ready for any miracle; but I tell you, it would take nothing short of a miracle to convince me. Let’s change the subject, I’m hungry, and it’s too far to go up town to supper this stormy night. Here’s a restaurant; let us stop here.” How warm and pleasant it looked in the long, brilliant dining saloon!
The two merchants had eaten, and were just on the point of rising, when a strain of soft music came through an open door a child’s sweet voice. “`Pon my word, that is pretty,” said John Harvey; “what purity in those tones” “Out of here, you little baggage!” cried a hoarse voice and one of the waiters pointed angrily to the door. “Let her come in,” said John Harvey. “We don’t allow them in this place, sir,” said the waiter ; “but she can go into the reading-room.” Well, let her go somewhere. I want to hear her,” responded the gentleman.
All this time the two had seen the shadow of something hovering backwards and forwards on the edge of the door; now they followed a slight little figure, wrapped in patched cloak, patched hood, and leaving the mark of wet feet as she walked. Curious to see her face, she was very small, John Harvey lured her to the farthest part of the great room, where there were but few gentlemen, and then motioned her to sing. The little one looked timidly up.
Her cheek of olive darkness, but a flush rested there; and out of the thinnest face, under the arch of broad temples, deepened by masses of the blackest hair, looked two eyes, whose softness and tender pleading would have touched the hardest heart. “That little thing is sick, I believe,” said John Harvey, compassionately. “What do you sing, child?” he added. “I sing Italian, or a little English.” John Harvey looked at her shoes. “Why,” he exclaimed, and his lip quivered, “her feet are wet to her ankles; she will catch her death of cold.”By this time the child had begun to sing, pushing back her hood, and folding before her little thin fingers.
Her voice was wonderful; and simple and common as were both, air and words, the pathos of the tones drew together several of the merchants in the reading-room. The little song commenced thus “There is a happy land, Far, far away.” Never could the voice, the manner, of that child be forgotten. There almost seemed a halo round her head; and when she had finished, her great speaking eyes turned towards John Harvey. “Look here, child; where did you learn that song?” he asked. “At the Sunday-school, sir.” “And you don’t suppose there is a happy land?” he continued, heedless of the many eyes upon him. “I know there is; I’m going to sing there,” she said, so quietly, so decidedly, that the men looked at each other. “Going to sing there?” “Yes, sir. My mother said so.
She used to sing to me until she was sick. Then she said she wasn’t going to sing any more on earth, but up in heaven.” “Well and what then?” “And then she died, sir,” said the child; tears brimming down the dark cheek, now ominously flushed scarlet. John Harvey was silent for a few moments. Presently he said: “Well, if she died, my little girl, you may live, you know.” “Oh, no, sir! No, sir! I’d rather go there, and be with mother. Sometimes I have a dreadful pain in my side, and cough as she did. There won’t be any pain up there, sir it’s a beautiful world” “How do you know?” faltered on the lips of the skeptic. “My mother told me so, sir.” Words how impressive! Manner how child-like, and yet so wise.
John Harvey had had a praying mother. His chest labored for a moment, the sobs that struggled for utterance could be heard even in their depths and still those large, soft, lustrous eyes, like magnets, impelled his glance towards them. “Child, you must have a pair of shoes.” John Harvey’s voice was husky. Hands were thrust in pockets, purses pulled out, and the astonished child held in her little palm more money than she had ever seen before. “Her father is a poor, consumptive organ grinder,” whispered one. “I suppose he’s too sick to be out tonight.” Along the soggy street went the child, under the protection of John Harvey, but not with shoes that drank the water at every step.
Warmth and comfort were hers now. Down in the deep den-like lanes of the city walked the man, a little cold hand in his. At an open door they stopped up broken, creaking stairs they climbed. Another doorway was opened, and a wheezing voice called out of the dim arch, “Carletta!” “O father! Father! See what I have brought you!” “Look at me! Look at me! ” and down went the silver, and venting her joy, the poor child fell, crying and laughing together, into the old man’s arms. Was he a man? A face dark and hollow, all overgrown with hair black as night, and uncombed, a pair of wild eyes, a body bent nearly double – hands like claws. “Did he give you all this, my child?” “They all did, father; now you shall have soup and oranges.” “Thank you, sir, I’m sick, you see sir I had to send the poor child out, or we’d starve.
God bless you, sir! I wish I was well enough to play you a tune;” and he looked wistfully towards the corner where stood the old organ, baize-covered, the baize in tatters.
One month after that, the two men met again as if by agreement, and walked slowly down town. Treading innumerable passages they came to the gloomy building where lived Carletta’s father.
No not lived there; for, as they paused a moment, out came two or three men bearing a pine coffin. In the coffin slept the old organ-grinder.”It was very sudden, sir;” said a woman, who recognized his benefactor. “Yesterday the little girl was took sick, and it seemed as if he drooped right away. He died at six last night.”The two men went silently up stairs. The room was empty of everything save a bed, a chair, and a nurse provided by John Harvey.
The child lay there, not white, but pale as marble, with a strange polish on her brow. “Well, my little one, are you better?” “Oh, no, sir; father is gone up there, and I am going.” Up there! John Harvey turned unconsciously towards his friend.”Did you ever hear of Jesus?” asked John Harvey’s friend. “Oh, yes” “Do you know who he was” “Good Jesus,” murmured the child. “Hawkins, this breaks me down,” said John Harvey; and he placed his handkerchief to his eyes. “Don’t cry, don’t cry; I can’t cry, I’m so glad! ” said the child, exultingly. “What are you glad for, my dear?” asked John Harvey’s friend. “To get away from here,” she said deliberately.
“I used to be so cold in the winter, for we didn’t have fire sometimes; but mother used to hug me close, and sing about heaven. Mother told me never to mind, and kissed me, and said if I was His, the Savior would love me, and one of these days would give me a better home; and so I gave myself to Him, for I wanted a better home. And, oh, I shall sing there, and be so happy! With a little sigh she closed her eyes. “Harvey, are faith and hope nothing?” asked Mr. Hawkins. “Don’t speak to me, Hawkins; to be as that little child, I would give all I have.” “And to be like her you need give nothing only your stubborn will, your skeptical doubts, and the heart that will never know rest till at the feet of Christ.”
There was no answer. Presently the hands moved, the arms were raised, the eyes opened yet, glazed though they were, they turned still upward. “See! ” she cried; “Oh, there is mother! And angels and they are all singing.” Her voice faltered, but the celestial brightness lingered yet on her face. “There is no doubting the soul triumph there,” whispered Mr. Hawkins. “It is wonderful,” replied John Harvey, looking on both with awe and tenderness. “Is she gone?”
He sprang from his chair as if he would detain her; but chest and forehead were marble now, the eyes had lost the fire of life; she must have died, as she lay looking at them.”She was always a sweet little thing,” said the nurse, softly. John Harvey stood as if spellbound. There was a touch on his arm; he started. “John,” said his friend, with an affectionate look, “shall we pray?” For a minute there was no answer-then came tears; the whole frame of the subdued skeptic shook as he said it was almost a cry: “Yes, pray, pray!” And from the side of the dead child went up agonizing pleadings to the throne of God. And that prayer was answered the miracle was wrought the lion became a lamb the doubter a believer the skeptic a Christian!