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Zillah, or the Old Man's Tale.

(Continued from issue #6)

Chapter 6.

"When Zillah recovered, she found Sarah watching anxiously beside her. 'Dearest Zillah,' she whispered, 'how can I ever repay you for all you have undergone for my sake? Only let us keep our own counsel now, and every thing will be soon forgotten.'

"'I will keep your secret, Sarah,' replied Zillah, gravely, 'but you little know the pain it costs me.' Zillah was faithful to her promise, and meekly bore the suspicious distrust with which she was regarded. The bitter taunts of her step-mother, and the look of doubt, more bitter still, from her loved father, who hardly knew what to think from the embarrassment with which she met any inquiries on the subject, she bore with silent resignation.

"Zillah's forbearance made a deep impression on Sarah. It pained her that she should suffer for her fault, yet she had not the moral courage to confess the truth. She was not naturally a bad-hearted girl, but she had been brought up without any principles to guide, or love of truth to control her; thus, in committing a fault, to be found out was the only result which caused her any anxiety. Let me warn my readers against such dangerous notions; let them only ask themselves whether they should stand in greater fear of man than God, and the answer that their conscience will suggest, will keep them in the paths of truth and virtue.

"Sarah observed, with wonder, that the consciousness of innocence was alone sufficient to make Zillah cheerful and serene; while her own mind, burdened with undiscovered guilt, was alternately disturbed by remorse, anxiety, and dread. By degrees her health became impaired by these conflicting emotions, and before very long a severe illness was the consequence. The unceasing care which Zillah bestowed on her throughout, filled her with feelings of love and admiration she had never felt before. She began to look with curiosity on Zillah's character; she had seen her patient and unrepining under provocation, forgetful of injury, ever mindful of acting rightly, and maintaining under every circumstance a sweetness of temper, and a tranquility of mind, that seemed to her perfectly inexplicable. 'Whence had she derived her strength? Could it be religion,' she asked herself, 'that enabled her to overcome fatigue, anxiety, and every bodily and mental weakness?' For the first time in her life she felt her own inferiority, and a desire after the knowledge of God and his ways sprung up within her. She began to take interest in speaking on religious subjects, and with sweet energy did Zillah strive to strengthen these new-born feelings, and impress her with her own deep sense of the bounty and goodness of God. She prayed with her, and as Sarah listened to the hopeful prayers, which seemed like the outpourings of a heart throbbing with love and gratitude to its Creator, she exclaimed, from the very depths of her soul, 'The Lord shall henceforth be my guide. In Him will I trust, for He only can save me from sin and sorrow, and give me grace to work out my own salvation!'

"As her mind became purified and enlarged by the influence of true devotion, she was able to appreciate the beautiful scheme of revealed religion. She no longer sneered at prayer, nor scoffed at ceremonies and observances, for she saw that our hearts, ever prone to go astray, require constant mementos to remind us of our dependence on God, and all that He has done for us; and therefore, by inciting us to gratitude and obedience, they are not only reasonable, but highly necessary. Her mind was thus, as it were, regenerating, when the new year began. It was an appropriate season for repentance and good resolves. How differently the service for the day affected Sarah this year to any of the preceding ones. No stifled laugh, or flippant remark, was elicited by the soul-stirring sounds of the Shophar: in her present frame of mind, it seemed like a voice from heaven warning her against the snares of vice, and encouraging her to persevere in the path of virtue. With a new heart and a contrite spirit she left the synagogue; and, as an earnest of her sincerity, she determined at once to make Zillah all the reparation in her power. She sent for Mrs. Smith, and in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Levisson, disclosed the full extent of her own wicked conduct, not omitting to mention the good advice Zillah had given her. Thus was Zillah's innocence proved at last, to the inexpressible satisfaction of her father; even Mrs. Levisson, in spite of the mortified feelings with which she heard her daughter's confession, was struck with Zillah's generous forbearance, and formed some vague intentions of compensating her for her former harshness. Mrs. Smith positively refused to retain in her employ one who had shown herself so little trustworthy, and was desirous that Zillah should take Sarah's place in her establishment; but seeing how averse she was to supplant her, she contented herself with assuring Zillah of her regard, and told her if at any future time she should ever stand in need of a friend, she should feel it only her duty to make amends, by giving her every assistance in her power, for the unjust opinions she had formed.

Chapter 7.

"It was not long after this promise was given that Zillah remembered it with joy, and gladly availed herself of Mrs. Smith's kindness. Through certain extravagances of Mrs. Levisson, my friend's affairs became seriously embarrassed. Difficulties and anxiety injured his health, already much shattered. Much against his will he was compelled to give up his professional labours. He could no longer afford to keep in the same house, and was obliged to limit his expenses in every way. Through Mrs. Smith's interest, Zillah procured enough work to prevent her being any expense to her father. Mrs. Levisson's temper, always unamiable, was by no means improved by the loss of her comforts, and became a source of constant irritation and disquietude to those about her. She did nothing all day long but bewail the lot her own mismanagement had brought upon her; and her family could not avoid feeling it a great relief, when, at last, with her habitual selfishness, she resolved to look out for some situation which might place within her reach the comforts she so much craved for. Being prepossessing in her appearance, and the wife of a man respected for his piety and learning, she became the successful candidate for the place of housekeeper in the country establishment of a wealthy family.

"At the head of a large household of servants, with a liberal salary, honoured with the consideration of the family she served, surrounded with comfort, nay, comparative grandeur, was Mrs. Levisson more happy or satisfied than before? No; because her querulous temper and discontented mind, unchecked by true religion, destroyed her capacity of enjoyment: thus proving, my friends, what I told you at the commencement of my narrative, that our happiness in this world depends not so much on that which surrounds us as on that which is within us.

"It was some time after Mrs. Levisson had entered upon her new duties, that some business required my presence in London; and as soon as I arrived I made a point of calling on my friends. Full of melancholy regrets for the privations and difficulties which they had encountered, I slowly ascended the narrow stairs leading to the two small rooms which comprised their present home. The door of one stood slightly ajar, and I paused for a moment at the entrance, unperceived by its occupants. The apartment was very small, and meanly furnished, but it was a model of cleanliness and neatness. The snowy cloth which Sarah was spreading on the table for the evening meal, the shining kettle singing on the hob, and the clear, bright fire, combined to give an air of indescribable comfort to the scene. Mr. Levisson was propped up by pillows in an easy chair by the fire-side; a volume of the sacred scriptures lay beside him: he looked ill, but a smile lit up his pale features as his gaze rested on Zillah, who, seated close to a window, and in the midst of a heap of work, was making the most of the waning daylight. She appeared to me much improved, a glow of health beamed on her cheek, and her soft eyes sparkled with affection as she returned her father's look of love; there was no trace of care on her smooth brow, all was cheerfulness and contentment. A warm welcome greeted me, and the memory of that evening stands out like a bright spot amid many a dreary recollection. With sensations very different from those with which I entered did I take my leave of this humble abode. My friends required not the pity I was prepared to bestow; true they were poor, but what then? The warm affection, trusting faith, and pure devotion which filled their bosoms, surrounded them with an atmosphere of peaceful happiness, which the pampered inmate of a palace might well have envied.

"Although Mr. Levisson's long-cherished hope, of laying by some provision for Zillah, had been frustrated by the extravagance of her, who he had expected would have proved a tender guardian to her youth—and although he knew, from his increasing infirmities, that she might soon be left to struggle in the hard unpitying world, alone and uncared for, he would not allow himself to despond. If he could not ensure the temporal welfare of his child, nor guard her from the troubles of this chequered life, he, at least, had taught her to seek refuge and consolation from that divine source which never fails the righteous; and he felt, that in consigning his child to the care of Him who is a father to the fatherless, he could resign his life in peace. 'Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord.'

"Sarah Sloman, by the judicious advice and excellent example of Zillah, had learnt gratitude to God and obedience to his commands. Religion does not unfit us for the common occupations of life, it rather increases our zest for the performance of every duty, however trivial; and when Sarah acquired a serious mind, her former indolence was exchanged for an active industry, which made her useful to herself and those about her: receiving a small weekly sum from her mother, and not being very skilful with her needle, she took upon herself the household duties, while the more arduous task of supporting herself and father devolved upon Zillah.

"Early and late did Zillah toil. She had none of what are termed the enjoyments of youth; she had many sacrifices to make—many hardships to encounter, yet she was happy and contented: for while the smile of affection, and the approval of her own conscience, rewarded her exertions, she felt there was much to enjoy—much to be grateful for."

It is not my intention to follow Zillah through all the vicissitudes that awaited her; but for such of my readers who may feel any curiosity respecting her fate in after life, I will simply state, that her modest worth and unostentatious piety won the affection of an estimable young man, a son of that relative she had visited with me in her childhood, and whose principles were every way calculated to promote her happiness. As the attachment was mutual, in due course of time they were united; and although as a wife and mother she was not exempt from the common lot, her confidence in the Almighty enabled her to discern benevolence and wisdom in every dispensation, and taught her to consider afflictions in the light of salutary warnings sent by our heavenly Parent to wean us from the vanities of the world, and draw us more closely to him. Religion was at once her guide and consolation, and enabled her, however oppressed by poverty and sorrow, to exclaim in the beautiful words of the Psalmist, "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are righteous, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." In a word, it was religion which shed its holy peace over every feeling of her soul; and gave her power to endure, willingness to submit, and faith to look with hope for a happier hereafter.

H. B.