Ziphen Central – Seeking Wisdom and Sublimity
From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander
“My little woman in brown was there again. I found myself laughing more than once, she has such a comic look.”
“It is wrong, my dear, to laugh at other people’s oddities.”
“I know it is, mamma, and I just laughed inside. I don’t think it was observed. Really, I couldn’t help it. Brown dress and apron, brown bonnet, brown eyes, brown skin—a regular ‘brownie.’”
“Did you manage to hear any of the sermon, Maud, or were you taken up entirely with Miss Baker’s appearance?”
Maud gave her mother a quick, reproachful glance, and seated herself on a low stool beside the coach; for Mrs. Weir had been kept from church by a severe headache.
“Yes, indeed, I can tell you a good deal about it. He preached about crosses. First, of course, he told how, anciently, people were put to death in that way; what a shameful, ignominious death it was. Then he told us of the death of our Savior on the cross, which forever hallowed it. He spoke of the cross Constantine saw, or thought he saw, and how it became to all devout Catholics a symbol of their religion. O, he told us a great many things about crosses; but the strangest thing was of a sect in our own land, a half-mad people, who hold to the Roman Catholic belief, but who are far more fanatical. They inflict upon themselves, and upon each other, the most cruel tortures. Cactus grows all over their plains, and during Passion week they run barefooted over them until the flesh is torn from their feet and they mark their way with blood. They make themselves great crosses of wood, and, binding them to their backs, crawl for miles. A crowd of men and women go along singing, praying, and whipping the poor cross-bearers.”
“Did you say in our own land, Maud? I never heard of such proceedings here,” Mrs. Weir said, much interested.
“It is in New Mexico, mamma, not very far from the line of Texas. They call themselves the Penitents, and claim to be an outgrowth of the Franciscan order. There is an old weather-beaten cross set upon a high hill, and to it those poor, simple creatures drag themselves and their heavy crosses.”
“But we, as reasonable, intelligent beings, have higher conceptions of cross bearing than they—poor ignorant wretches!” said Mrs. Weir.
“That is the way he made his application, and I was much interested. So you see I did listen to the sermon. Do you think it is true, mamma, that we all find our crosses to bear, sooner or later? If so, I wonder what mine will be.”
Mrs. Weir sighed, and looked with such love as only a mother can feel upon the bright young face beside her. She wondered, too, what the cross would be, and felt rise in her soul the earnest wish that she might shield that dear head from every storm.
“I cannot tell, my dear,” she said. “I have found my crosses, and tried to bear them patiently. Yours are yet to come. I know a young lady—not young, either, but unmarried—who has carried quite a heavy cross for several years.”
“Do tell me about it, mamma. I love to hear stories as well as ever, and you haven’t told a single one for my benefit since I’ve been back from school.”
“Once upon a time, then, there lived a young girl whom we will call Laura. She was a simple country girl, but very fair and sweet and lovable—at least so a young man thought, and he wooed and won her for his bride—won her consent, I should have said, and the consent also of her father and mother. They were plain people, but they lived well at home, and, as there had never been a wedding in the family, they resolved to set her off to housekeeping comfortably; but alas for them and their plans! The old man was stricken by paralysis, and the marriage must be deferred. He lay a long time, and Laura’s lover was patient, kind, and attentive, and she looked hopefully to the future. The old gentleman began to mend, and a new trouble, and a greater, fell upon them. Laura’s mother lost her mind—lost it never to be regained. That bound her closer still to home and its afflicted dear ones; and as she was the mainstay of the family, the burden bore heavier yet upon the poor girl, and her betrothed could not be unkind enough to take her from them then.
“Laura had two sisters—one older, one younger, than herself. The eldest girl took brain fever, and, although she recovered her health, her mind was injured, and she was henceforth called crack-brained, and had to be directed and controlled as a child. This Laura had to do, and on her and her younger sister devolved the task of supporting the family. They sowed their seed, planted their crop, and, getting a man to plow for them, they did the hoeing and gathering.
“You want to know what became of Laura’s lover. He offered to marry her and work for them all, but she could not bind him to her helpless family; and he was not very anxious, either, or he could have had his way. They made barely enough to live on that year, and in the next spring began again to struggle for bread. It seems it was a bad case then, doesn’t it?”
“I think it was,” said Maud. “Poor girl! Poor Laura especially, as she had to give up getting married!”
“They were working in the field one day, when a bit of gravel, struck by the hoe, flew into Mary’s eye. Mary was Laura’s sister. Misfortunes never come singly, you know, and the poor girl became blind in that eye. She suffered dreadfully. For long weeks she had to stay in a darkened room, and poor Laura battled alone as breadwinner.”
“O, poor girl!” said Maud, tears sparkling in her sympathetic eyes. “Poor Laura! What a heavy cross! Did she bear it patiently?”
“Like a martyr, like a Christian, and she just worked on. The neighbors were kind and helped her, but she dug the larger part of their living out of the ground with her own hands. She lost her youth and her beauty; her sweetheart went away and married some one else; her father lived on in his afflictions; her mother was a gentle, harmless lunatic; her elder sister did the housework under her direction, and the blind girl grew slowly better. Nobody ever heard Laura complain. They lived hard, and she denied herself comfortable clothing, that her afflicted ones might fare better. ‘Duty’ was her watchword, and she did it cheerfully. O how hard she has worked! Her hands are hard and brown, her face is brown, and I heard a young lady not long since call her a ‘brownie.’”
Maud sprang to her feet. “Was it Miss Baker? O, mamma! And I laughed at her, and never knew why she was so brown. I feel almost like I had made fun of the Savior. What a heavy cross! But I have learned a lesson. Never again while I live will I be amused at any one’s personal defects. She is better than I am or ever will be.”
“Your offense was only the thoughtlessness of youth, daughter,” Mrs. Weir said, smiling into Maud’s distressed face; “but remember never to judge from appearances again.”