“The Gypsies” on Proverbs 24:11, 12, is written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is from “Precepts in Practice,” and is about reaching out to the less fortunate.
“If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it; and he that keepeth thy soul, doth he not know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?”—Proverbs 24:11, 12.
Alie sat on the threshold of her home on a bright morning in May, eating a cake which her uncle had given her, and now and then throwing a crumb to the merry little swallows that were twittering in the eaves and darting in and out of their nests.
Alie had not sat long when a tall, large-boned woman, in a red cloak, with sun-burnt features and wild dark eyes, approached her, followed by a miserable-looking little girl, about six or seven years of age, who had neither shoes on her blistered feet nor bonnet over her tangled hair. The gypsy stopped before Alie, and, in a tone which she intended to be winning, said, “Good mornin’ to ye, my dear. Will ye cross my hand with silver, and I’ll tell ye your fortin’?”
Alie promptly declined the offer, not only because she had been taught by her mother never to encourage those who pretend to be able to look into the future and to see what God has hidden from our eyes, but because the appearance of the woman frightened her. And had the gypsy said anything more to her, Alie would have retreated at once from the door. The woman, however, passed on, and a few yards further on found a willing listener in a flighty girl of the village, whose long gilt earrings, red ribbons and curl-papers, were the outward tokens of such vanity and folly as might easily make her the dupe of a gipsy fortune-teller.
But the thin little girl lingered behind, shyly eyeing Alie’s tempting-looking cake. Alie broke off a piece and held it out to her. The child sidled up, took it, and devoured it as though she were famished. Alie smiled and gave her another bit.
“What is your name, little girl?” said Alie, first glancing to see that the gypsy was too much occupied to listen to her.
“Madge,” answered the child.
“And is that woman your mother?”
Madge nodded her head in reply.
“And you go wandering about the country with her?”
Madge gave some low confused answer, which Alie could not at first understand; she made out from the child at last that the gypsy had pitched her tent somewhere near, and that she could not tell how long she would stay.
“Do you ever go to school, little Madge?”
The child only answered by a stare.
“Does any one teach you to read?”
Madge either did not comprehend the meaning of the question, or her eyes were wandering to Alie’s white kitten, and she paid no attention to what was said. Alie marked the curious glance, and setting down her cake, went after her shy favorite, drew it from under the table where it had crouched, and carried it to the little girl at the door.
Alie’s cake was nowhere to be seen, and the gypsy child was turning away!
“My cake!” exclaimed Alie. The girl started, and the piece of cake fell from her hand to the ground!
Alie, astonished as well as distressed, stood looking for a moment at the little culprit, then said in a voice of pity, “Pick it up, little Madge; you may eat it. I daresay that you are more hungry than I. But, oh!” she continued, as the child obeyed with an awkward air and a look of shame, “did you not know that it was very, very naughty to steal it? Did your mother never teach you that it is wrong to take what is not your own?”
A strange expression stole over the face of the wretched girl, which, coupled with the gypsy woman’s appearance and what Alie had heard of the character of some of the race, made her suspect that Madge would derive little benefit from her parent’s instructions.
“Do you not know that God sees you?” pursued the young questioner.
“I know nothing about him!” muttered the child.
“Not know about God!—never pray to him!” exclaimed Alie.
But here the conversation was suddenly broken off by the gypsy woman calling to the child. Madge looked frightened, like one who had often found a word to be followed by a blow, and obeyed the call, though reluctantly, casting a parting look of regret, not at Alie, but at her pretty white kitten, and in a few minutes more both the gypsy and child had disappeared down a lane.
“Oh, poor, wretched little Madge!” thought Alie; “no wonder that she took the cake,—no wonder if she grow up miserable and wicked! She does not know about God,—she does not know that he made her,—that he watches over her,—that he hates sin, and will punish it! What will become of her in this world? what will become of her in the next?”
When her brother Johnny came home from the fields, Alie told him of the little gypsy girl.
“I’ve heard of the gypsies,” said he; “they’ve pitched their tent down yon lane, not a quarter of a mile from hence; and the farmer says that he must keep a good look out after his poultry. There’s a big woman, and an ill-looking man with a fur cap and a patch over his eye, who offers to mend kettles and pans. Farmer says he’s sure the fellow has seen the inside of many a jail, and hopes the party won’t stay long in the place.”
“Poor little Madge! it’s not her fault that she is the child of such people!” said Alie.
“She’ll not get much good from them, I take it. She’ll learn to tell falsehoods like her mother, and to steal like her father, and perhaps end her days in prison,” observed Johnny.
Alie was silent for some time. Her fingers were now busily hemming a seam, but her thoughts were far away from her work. At last she said softly, as if to herself, “And yet that poor child is precious!”
“Precious to her parents? I don’t believe it!” exclaimed Johnny. “She looks as though they half starved her; and didn’t you see the bruises on her bare arms? I don’t believe they’d care if she died in a ditch.”
“She is precious in the eyes of the Lord,” murmured Alie. “That poor little girl has a soul!”
Johnny did not answer for some time; and when he did so, it was with a forced lightness of manner. “I don’t see what you and I have to do with the matter, Alie; we are not the little beggar’s keepers!”
“I am not my brother’s keeper: I have read these words somewhere in the Bible,” said Alie; “but I can’t at this moment remember what part of it they come from.”
“Can’t you?” replied Johnny; “why, they were the words of Cain, when he was asked about his brother Abel.”
There was another long silence.
“I wonder,” exclaimed Alie, clasping her hands, “if we could do nothing to save that poor child?”
“I can do nothing, at least,” replied Johnny, and went whistling out of the house.
But Alie’s mind was not so easily satisfied. She was one of those who have learned, from such solemn verses as that which stands at the commencement of my tale, that there is sin not only in doing the things which we ought not to do, but in leaving undone the things which we ought to do; and doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? She knew that it is the duty, and ought to be the delight, of every Christian to help others on in the road to heaven, or lending good books, or assisting with the purse such valuable societies as have been formed to carry out this holy work.
Alie thought at first of watching for an opportunity when Madge might again pass the door, and giving to her a little copy of the “Young Cottager,” which she had earned as a prize at school. But common sense (and common sense should always be taken into our council whenever we try to do good), showed her great objections to this. Madge could not read the book, nor understand it even if she could read. She was so ignorant, that whoever would teach her must begin with the very simplest form of instruction.
Alie dared not go to the gypsy tent: she was afraid of the woman, and yet more of the man; nor did she think that her mother would like her to visit those who bore such evil characters. Much did Alie wish that she could consult her mother, ever her best and wisest friend; but Mrs. Morris was at this time absent from home. Alie was not sufficiently at her ease with her uncle to speak to him on the subject; and as for her brother Johnny, he cared nothing at all about the matter.
Many children in Alie’s place would have given up all idea of helping the gypsy girl, as a thing quite out of their power to do, and would have rested contented with the thought that this work was not intended for them. But Alie, timid and gentle as she was, was not one to be easily discouraged where her pity and her conscience were concerned She remembered how the attention of Madge had been attracted by her pretty white kitten. Might not that kitten serve as a lure to draw the child a little way from the tent? There was a spot well known to Alie, where an old thorn-tree grew at the meeting of two lanes; it was about midway between the village and the place where the tent was pitched, and in sight of both. Abe thought that she might venture thus far, and seek to win an inter view with the poor gipsy girl. There was one great difficulty in her way, at which the reader perhaps may smile: the old thorn could not be reached without passing the carrier’s little yard, and the tenant of this yard was a large, fierce dog. True, the dog was chained; but Alie never felt as if iron or brass could stand the force of his sudden spring; and the sound of his low growl, and sharp, short bark, was to her terrible as the voice of a lion!
“Johnny,” said Alie, “ I wish that you would go a little way with me this evening; just as far as the thorn where the two roads meet.”
“Do you want your fortune told, Alie?” replied Johnny, looking up with a saucy smile.
“No; but I wish to speak to little Madge, if you would only walk beside me so far.”
“Oh, I wish you may get me!” exclaimed Johnny, chucking up a penny. “I’ll have nothing to do with those beggarly gypsies!”
“If I go at all, I must go alone!” thought Alie; and alone she resolved to go! She saved a piece of bread from her own dinner, and wrapping up her white kitten in her checked apron, set out on her little expedition. She repeated to herself, as she walked, one of Watts’ hymns for children, which, she thought, contained much truth in very small space, and might easily be both learned and remembered. The sound of it, too, was so pretty, that Madge could not dislike to learn that. Alie forgot all about the hymn, however, as she drew near the carrier’s yard, and heard the rattle of a chain within. Almost as much afraid for her kitten as for herself, she pressed it closely to her bosom, and, going as near as she could to the opposite hedge, ran with a light, noiseless step past the spot; then paused to congratulate herself on the dreaded danger being over.
Alie reached the thorn in the lane, and to her pleasant surprise found Madge seated on the ground beneath it! The tent was at some little distance, though nearer than Alie liked to have it. A donkey was grazing beside it, and smoke was rising from a fire kindled of brushwood, over which a kettle was boiling.
I shall not dwell upon the conversation which passed between the two little girls. Alie found Madge more intelligent than she had expected; and the heart of the poor child, accustomed as she was to harshness and neglect, readily warmed towards one who seemed to take an interest in her welfare. Madge could not tell Alie how long the gypsies were likely to remain in that neighborhood, but she eagerly agreed, as long as they stayed there, to meet her young friend every morning under the thorn.
The shadows were now growing long; the sun was sloping down to the west. A heavy step was heard along the lane, and a dark and ill-looking man approached, with a fur cap drawn low over his brow, and a stout crab-tree cudgel in his hand. Madge started to her feet like a frightened fawn, and, without a word of good-bye to her companion, started off for the tent. The man called after her in language which made Alie tremble, and it was the greatest relief to her when the gypsy had passed her without addressing or seeming to notice her. Again carefully wrapping up her kitten in her apron, Alie turned her face towards the village. As she proceeded along the lane, the distant sound of a sharp cry of pain coming from the direction of the tent, and then the angry tones of a man’s voice, thrilled to her very soul. Full of sorrow and pity for another, Alie never even thought of the dog, till startled by a sudden bound and bark, which made her quicken her steps towards her home.
Madge was now almost constantly in the thoughts of Alie. To find some way of helping one so unhappy, of teaching one so ignorant, of pouring any sweetness into a cup so bitter, became the frequent occupation of her mind. Alie took pleasure in mending up old things and making new ones, reserving little dainties, contriving small surprises for the poor gypsy child in the lane. She searched out the most suitable verses to teach her, thought over improving stories to tell her, and never forgot, morning and night, to pray earnestly for the unhappy little girl.
And was all this trouble in vain? No; there was one lesson which poor Madge easily learnt, and that was, to love her young teacher; and the next step was not a very hard one,—to love that which she taught. It was glad tidings to the desolate girl to learn that there was a great and good Being who cared even for her; that there was a glorious crown prepared even for a gypsy child; that she who had never enjoyed the comfort of a home upon earth, might, after death, dwell in a bright home above the skies. Alie had not yet had many opportunities of serving God, or benefiting her fellow-creatures; but she had done what she could. She had sought out one wandering lamb; she had cheered one sorrowing heart; she had been a guide to one who had no other to win her from the way of misery and destruction. Oh! dear reader, could the same be said of you? If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
Souls are perishing before thee,—
Save, save one!
It may be thy crown of glory,—
Save, save one!
From the waves that would devour,
From the raging lion’s power,
From destruction’s fiery shower,
Save, save one!
Not in thine own strength confiding,
Save, save one!
Faith and prayer thy efforts guiding,
Save, save one!
None can e’er, unless possessing
Heavenly aid and heavenly blessing,
To the work of mercy pressing,
Save e’en one!
Who the worth of souls can measure?—
Save, save one!
Who can count the priceless treasure?—
Save, save one!
Like the stars shall shine for ever
Those who faithfully endeavour
Dying sinners to deliver,—
Save, save one!