“Edith and Her Ayah” written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is about turning the heart of an Indian nurse to Christ.
“Mamma,” said little Edith, looking up from the toys with which she was playing at the feet of her mother,—“mamma, why does Motee Ayah never come in to prayers?”
Mrs. Tuller was seated at her desk in the large room of her bungalow (house) in India. The day was hot; the blazing sun shone with fiery glare; but the light came into the room so much softened by green blinds and half-closed shutters, that the place was so dark that the lady could scarcely see to write. The punkah, a kind of huge fan, moving gently to and fro above her, made a refreshing air which would have sent her papers fluttering in every direction had not weights been placed to keep them down.
Mrs. Tuller paused in her writing, but did not reply to the question asked by her child regarding her ayah, or native nurse.
“Mamma,” said little Edith again, “does not Motee Ayah love the Lord Jesus?”
“Alas, my child, she does not know him!”
“But will you not teach her, mamma?” and the fair-haired girl looked up in her mother’s face with such a pleading look in her soft gray eyes, that, touched by her interest in the poor heathen, Mrs. Tuller bent down, kissed fondly the brow of her child, and whispered, “My love, I will try.”
Nor did Mrs. Tuller forget her promise. Again and again she spoke to Motee of the Christian’s faith and the Christian’s God. It saddened the heart of the lady to feel that to seek to teach Motee religion was like trying to write upon water. The ayah joined her dark hands together, listened, or seemed to listen, said, “Very good, very good,” to everything that the beebee (lady) told her, but always returned to her idol, a hideous little wooden image, and performed her poojah (worship) to Vishnu, as if she had never heard of a purer religion. Mrs. Tuller grew quite disheartened about her. Sometimes the lady blamed her own imperfect knowledge of the language, and some times she felt almost angry with the ayah for her blindness and hardness of heart.
Poor Motee had been brought up from infancy amongst idolaters; she had never been taught truth when a child, and now error bound her like a chain. Motee had actually been led to think it honorable to her family that, many years before, there had been a suttee in it; that is to say, a poor young widow had burnt herself with the dead body of her husband. Happily, our Government has forbidden suttees—no widow can thus be burnt now; but still the cruel heathen religion hurts the bodies as well as the souls of the Queen’s dark subjects in India. Motee’s own father had died on a pilgrimage to what he believed to be a holy shrine. Travelling on foot for hundreds of miles under a burning sun, the poor idolater’s strength had given way, and he had laid himself down by the roadside, sick, faint, and alone, to die far away from his home. Poor Motee had never reflected that the religion which had thus cost the lives of two of her family could not be a religion of heavenly love. She worshipped Vishnu, for she knew no better; and when her lady spoke to her of the Lord, the ayah only said to herself, that the God of the English was not the God of the Hindu, and that she herself must do what all her fathers had done.
Mrs. Tuller’s words had little power, but her example and that of her husband were not without some effect upon the ignorant ayah. Motee knew that the sahib (master) who prayed with his family, never used bad words, nor was unkind to his wife, nor beat his servants, nor took bribes. Motee knew that the beebee who read her Bible was gentle, generous, and kind. The ayah could not but respect the religion whose fruits she saw in the lives of her master and mistress.
But it was not only the lady’s words and the lady’s example that were used as means to draw the poor Hindu to God. Little Edith had never heard the beautiful saying, that “the nearest road to any heart is through heaven,” and she would not have known its meaning if she had heard it, but the English child had been taught that the Saviour listens to prayer. Every night and morning Edith, at her mother’s knee, repeated the few simple words, “Lord Jesus, teach me to love thee!” and now, of her own accord, she added another short prayer. Mrs. Tuller caught the soft whispered words from the lips of her darling, “Lord Jesus, teach poor Motee Ayah to love thee!” The mother took no outward notice, but from her heart she added “Amen” to the prayer of her child.
The hot season passed away; the time had come when Mr. Tuller and his family could enjoy what is called “camp life,” and move from place to place, living not in a house but a tent. The change was pleasant to the party, most of all to little Edith. She delighted in running about and playing with the goats, pulling the ropes, watching the black servants taking down the tents, or in riding on her little white pony. Edith’s cheeks, which during the hot weather had grown quite thin and pale, became plump and rosy once more; and merry was the sound of her childish voice as she gambolled in and out of the tent.
One day, as Edith was playing outside, near the edge of a jungle or thicket, her attention was attracted by a beautiful little fawn, that seemed almost too young to run about, and which stood timidly gazing at the child with its soft dark eyes.
“Pretty creature, come here,” cried Edith, beckoning with her small white hand; “have you lost your mother, little fawn? Come and share my milk and bread,—come, and I will make you my pet, and love you so much, pretty fawn!”
As all her coaxing could not lure the timid creature to her side, Edith advanced towards it. The fawn started back with a frightened look, and fled into the jungle as fast as its weak, slender limbs could bear it.
The merry child gave chase, following the fawn, and calling to it as she ran, pushing her way as well as she could between the tall reeds and grass, which were higher than her own curly head.
Motee soon missed her charge, and quickly hurried after Edith. So eager, however, was the child in pursuit of the fawn, that she was some distance from the tents before the ayah overtook her.
“O Missee Baba,” cried the panting nurse, “why you run away from your Motee?”
“I want to catch the pretty fawn; I want to take it to mamma; it is too little to be by itself,—I’m afraid the jackals will get it!”
“I am afraid that the jackals will get Missee Baba,” cried the ayah, catching the little girl up in her arms. “Missee must come back to the beebee directly.”
Edith was a good little child, and made no resistance, though she looked wistfully into the bushes after the fawn, and called out to it again and again in hopes of luring it back. Motee attempted to return to the tents, but did not feel sure of the way,—the vegetation around grew so high that she could scarcely see two yards before her. She walked some steps with Edith in her arms, then stopped and looked round with a frightened air.
“Motee, why don’t you go on?” asked Edith.
“O Missee Baba, we’re lost!” cried the poor Hindu; “lost here in the dreadful jungle, full of wild beasts and snakes!”
Edith stared at her ayah in alarm, yet at that moment the little child remembered her mother’s lessons. “Don’t be so frightened, Motee,” said the fair-haired English girl; “the Lord Jesus can save us, and show us the way to mamma.”
There was comfort in that thought, which the poor heathen could not have drawn from calling on Vishnu and the thousand false gods which the ignorant Hindus adore. The little child could feel, as the woman could not, that even in that lonely jungle a great and a loving Friend was beside her!
Again Motee tried to find her way, again she paused in alarm. What was that dreadful sound, like a growl, that startled the ayah, and made her sink on her knees in terror, clasping all the closer the little girl in her arms! Motee and Edith both turned to gaze in the direction from which that dreadful sound had proceeded. What was their horror on beholding the striped head of a Bengal tiger above the waving grass! Motee uttered a terrified scream,—Edith a cry to the Lord to save her. It seemed like the instant answer to that cry when the sharp report of a rifle rang through the thicket, quickly succeeded by a second; and the wild beast, mortally wounded, lay rolling and struggling on the earth! Edith saw nothing of what followed; the shock had been too great for the child; senseless with terror she lay in the arms of her trembling ayah!
Edith’s father, for it was he whom Providence had sent to the rescue, bore his little darling back to the tent, leaving his servants, who had followed his steps, to bring in the spoils of the tiger. It was some time before Edith recovered her senses, and then an attack of fever ensued. Mrs. Tuller nursed her daughter with fondest care, and with scarcely less tenderness and love the faithful Motee tended the child. The poor ayah would have given her life to save that of her little charge.
On the third night after that terrible adventure in the woods came the crisis of the fever. Mrs. Tuller, worn out by two sleepless nights, had been persuaded to go to rest, and let Motee take her turn of watching beside the child. The tent was nearly dark,—but one light burned within it,—Edith lay in shadow,—the ayah could not see her face,—a terror came over the Hindu,—all was so still, she could not hear any breathing,—could Missee Baba be dead! Motee during two anxious days had prayed to all the false gods that she could think of to make Missee Edith well; but the fever had not decreased. Now, in the silence of the night, poor Motee Ayah bethought her of the English girl’s words in the jungle. Little Edith had said that the Lord could save them,—and had he not saved from the jaws of the savage tiger? Could he not help them now? The Hindu knelt be side the charpoy (pallet) on which lay the fair-haired child, put her brown palms together, bowed her head, and for the first time in her life breathed a prayer to the Christian’s God: “Lord Jesus, save Missee Baba!”
“O Motee! Motee!” cried little Edith, starting up from the pillow with a cry of delight, and flinging her white arms round the neck of the astonished Hindu, “the Lord has made you love him,—I knew he would,—for I prayed so hard. And oh, how I love you, Motee—more than ever I did before!” The curly head nestled on the bosom of the ayah, and her dark skin was wet with the little child’s tears of joy.
Edith, a few minutes before, had awoke refreshed from a long sleep, during which her fever had passed away. And from that hour her recovery was speedy; before many days were over the child was again sporting about in innocent glee. And from that night the ayah never prayed to an idol again. “Willing she now was to listen to all that the beebee could tell of a great and merciful Lord. Of the skin of the tiger that the sahib had slain a rug was made, which Edith called her praying-carpet. Upon this, morning and night, the white English girl and her ayah knelt side by side, and offered up simple prayers to Him who had saved them from death. Mrs. Tuller’s words had done less than her example in drawing a poor wandering soul to God; but the prayer lisped by her little lamb had had greater effect than either.
Oh, if, in our dear land, all the little ones who have no money to give to the missionary cause, who have never even seen an idolater, would lift up their hands and hearts to the Lord, saying, “Teach the poor heathen to love thee!” how rich a harvest of blessings would be drawn down by such a prayer on those who know not the truth, and still sit in darkness and the shadow of death!