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Bearing the Cross

Ziphen Central – Seeking Wisdom and Sublimity

From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander

鈥淢y little woman in brown was there again. I found myself laughing more than once, she has such a comic look.鈥

鈥淚t is wrong, my dear, to laugh at other people鈥檚 oddities.鈥

鈥淚 know it is, mamma, and I just laughed inside. I don鈥檛 think it was observed. Really, I couldn鈥檛 help it. Brown dress and apron, brown bonnet, brown eyes, brown skin鈥攁 regular 鈥榖rownie.鈥欌

鈥淒id you manage to hear any of the sermon, Maud, or were you taken up entirely with Miss Baker鈥檚 appearance?鈥

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.

鈥淵es, 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.鈥

鈥淒id you say in our own land, Maud? I never heard of such proceedings here,鈥 Mrs. Weir said, much interested.

鈥淚t 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.鈥

鈥淏ut we, as reasonable, intelligent beings, have higher conceptions of cross bearing than they鈥攑oor ignorant wretches!鈥 said Mrs. Weir.

鈥淭hat 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.鈥

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.

鈥淚 cannot tell, my dear,鈥 she said. 鈥淚 have found my crosses, and tried to bear them patiently. Yours are yet to come. I know a young lady鈥攏ot young, either, but unmarried鈥攚ho has carried quite a heavy cross for several years.鈥

鈥淒o tell me about it, mamma. I love to hear stories as well as ever, and you haven鈥檛 told a single one for my benefit since I鈥檝e been back from school.鈥

鈥淥nce 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鈥攁t least so a young man thought, and he wooed and won her for his bride鈥攚on 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 mother lost her mind鈥攍ost 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.

鈥淟aura had two sisters鈥攐ne 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.

鈥淵ou want to know what became of Laura鈥檚 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鈥檛 it?鈥

鈥淚 think it was,鈥 said Maud. 鈥淧oor girl! Poor Laura especially, as she had to give up getting married!鈥

鈥淭hey were working in the field one day, when a bit of gravel, struck by the hoe, flew into Mary鈥檚 eye. Mary was Laura鈥檚 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.鈥

鈥淥, poor girl!鈥 said Maud, tears sparkling in her sympathetic eyes. 鈥淧oor Laura! What a heavy cross! Did she bear it patiently?鈥

鈥淟ike 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. 鈥楧uty鈥 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 鈥榖rownie.鈥欌

Maud sprang to her feet. 鈥淲as 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鈥檚 personal defects. She is better than I am or ever will be.鈥

鈥淵our offense was only the thoughtlessness of youth, daughter,鈥 Mrs. Weir said, smiling into Maud鈥檚 distressed face; 鈥渂ut remember never to judge from appearances again.鈥

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