Fancy our little forlorn one then standing under the shelter of the rock, which, hanging over him in rough masses, threatened to fall an crush his baby form, the stream rushing impetuously at his feet, and one little place beneath the rock, in fact part of the rock itself being somewhat elevated from the bed of the stream below, forming his only secure and dry resting place. I have said before, he had no covering on fit for walking attire, his arms, neck, and head being fully exposed to the breezes which now blew cruelly on his young figure, so that he could scarcely keep his feet, and glad was he to creep under the shelter of the threatening rock. There he stood looking around him in wild despair, for he had raised his voice to cry for pity, and its infant tones were not heard amidst the roaring waters; again and again he looked round him, but no help was there, and he trembled more from fear than cold. He was frightened at the roaring waters, for they seemed to him to be approaching, and wholly overcome with fear and wretchedness, and quite incapable of contending against his unhappy situation, he crouched beneath the threatening rock, too miserable to shed a tear. "Mamma, mamma," he said,—"Mamma, mamma," and that weak cry was repeated again and again, though no human ear could hear his sorrows or soothe his cries. Poor baby, what availed it then? your earthly father was the tenderest of parents—he could not have foreseen this trouble, and therefore he could not have been armed against it, but your heavenly Father's eye was on you, little one, and his eyes are ever on infants, the loveliest beings of his creation, and he who spared Nineveh, because there were in that wicked city more than six score thousand souls, who knew not their right hands from their left, still watches over his babies now, for has he not said of "Such is the kingdom of heaven."
But observe the little one, what makes his cry of 'Mamma, Mamma,' cease? the babe has heard a sound, a pleasant sound, and he forgets his trouble. It is the sweet song of a bird upon a branch of a tree on the rock above him, and the bird likes the morning air and the sound of the waters, and he is singing his song of joy, and Reuben listened to him and was pleased, and then the little bird hopped down from his high perch and came lower and lower till he was quite close to the child, so close that the little one held out his hand, which frightened away the pretty bird, and Reuben was once more alone again, and commenced his cry of "Mamma, Mamma, come to Reuben, Mamma." But the bird had come to the rock because it had seen some bright berries on the bushes there, and before it had began its song it had pecked off one or two with its bill, or perhaps it might have been that other birds had pecked them off, and then rejected them, or the wind might have blown them from the parent bush; be that as it may, there were about as many as a dozen red berries scattered on the ground, where the little bird had hopped, and Reuben had seen them in looking at the bird, and now he began to collect them, looking here and there to find some more, and he thought if he put them into a nice heap together, their bright red colour would draw thither another singing bird to visit him. So he collected his berries, and tried to pile them together, and thus more time passed, for whilst doing so, every little thing seemed to divert his attention—a skeleton leaf, a small flower, a smooth pebble, a drop of water sparkling in the sunshine, all attracted his infant eye, and thus, as we might say, his heavenly Father watched over the boy and soothed him from the real sorrows of his situation, till the time of his deliverance was at hand. And are we not children of a large growth? are not our sorrows soothed and relieved by our Creator's mercies? and are not innocent pleasures and consolations put in the way of every child of God? and it is our own fault, yes, our own fault, and very much are we to blame when we reject the blessings of consolations offered us. "When our Saviour left us, he promised to send us a comforter to abide with us for ever." John xiv. 16; and as the Divine Spirit never fails in his fulfilment of his promises, be assured, you mourners, if you are not comforted, it is because you will not accept the consolation offered to you; for he has said, "I will not leave you comfortless, for he shall dwell with you, and shall be in you." John xiv. 17 and 18.
But why does little Reuben suddenly move his curls from off his cheek? why does he listen, as he never listened before? and why does a merry little laugh escape his lips? and then he listens again, and now he does not laugh, but springing to his feet, with arms extended, he calls out "Nero, Nero." It is not that Nero hears that baby voice, it is not that the noble dog responds to the call, for the soft sound is lost amidst the roar of the waters; but he who fed Elijah by the means of ravens, and taught the dove to bear the olive leaf to Noah, has guided hither to the child a sure and safe conductor to his home. Look, look there! across the stream stands Nero. Nero let out by Thomas for a wild run for exercise as directed first by Mr. Mortimer, and then by Marten; there he stood, his eyes red with eagerness, his tongue protruding, and panting and impatient as not knowing where next to turn his agile bounds. But not for another moment did this hesitation continue, for Reuben ran to the edge of the rock, both arms extended, and scarcely able for the breeze to keep his little feet firm upon the ground. "Nero, Nero," he cried, and almost ere his lips had closed, after the appeal, the noble dog, with a glorious bound sprang from stepping-stone to stepping-stone across the stream, and had overwhelmed the boy with his caresses. What mattered it to Reuben, that his kind friend in his joy at their meeting had absolutely overturned the child upon the ground? What cared he for that? It was Nero, his own Nero, his Nero from home, and Reuben did so love him, and Nero returned his love so warmly, and they were always so happy together, and there was no danger to be feared for Reuben, whilst the faithful animal was by him, which he had power to ward off. Reuben had recognised the dog's bark even amidst the waters roar, and that had made him laugh, for he never doubted that Nero would come to him shortly. And now I don't know how to tell how the rest happened, for in truth Reuben never could explain how things went on, particularly after the arrival of Nero, and there was no other living thing in that solitude but the child and dog. All that Reuben could recollect afterwards was, that he was cold and hungry, and that he wished to get home, and that Nero, too, seemed even more anxious than himself to get home, but Reuben dared not cross the stream, and Nero seemed almost as unwilling as himself to take the child across, and yet the faithful creature would not leave the boy for more able assistance. Reuben was frightened at the threatening rock above his head, and yet he knew not how to leave it, for he had run on far enough to lose the way to the lane which led to Mr. Jameson's, and he was frightened at all around, and shivering and hungry, for he had tasted no food that morning.
At last, finding all his efforts useless to tempt the little one across the stream, a new idea seemed to strike the sensible dog, for Nero was very sensible. He seemed all of a sudden to bethink himself that there might be another road home; and taking hold of Reuben's dress in his mouth, he attempted to draw him along the road the child had come. Now to this the little one was rather inclined, for he believed it would take him home, but on attempting to walk he found that he had hurt his foot before he had reached the rock, and that the cold air had made it stiff and painful. Poor Reuben was going to cry, and then I do not know what would have happened if Nero, finding out that something was wrong, had not seated himself beside the child on the ground to comfort him; and in so doing, reminded Reuben that Marten always told Nero to sit on the ground before he told his brother to get on the dog's back for a ride, for Reuben often took a ride on Nero's back. And now, then, fancy the child seated upon Nero, who rose at once gently from the ground, and with great care and stateliness commenced his progress homewards. It is said that a white elephant will not allow any one to ride upon him who is not of royal descent, and then the king of beasts steps on with full consciousness of the honour of his kingly burthen; but what could his pride be, compared with that of Nero's, as the faithful creature stepped on and on with his infant rider? It was not, after all, so slow a progress as might have been imagined, and as it is believed the dog followed the scent of the child's footsteps, he naturally went up the lane the little one had trod that morning. On arriving where the road divided, Nero was, however, no longer at a loss, for he knew which direction his own home lay, and Nero was not likely to be tempted elsewhere than home, for if he could have reasoned he would have said, in as strong terms as nurse herself could have used, that Reuben had better be at home than anywhere else whilst he was so young. Nero, as I said, now knew the road, for he had often accompanied the different members of Mr. Mortimer's family when they went to visit Mr. Jameson's, and how carefully, on account of his young rider, did he step on his way towards home.
And now I could say a great deal upon the fidelity of Nero, the trustfulness of Reuben, and the useful lesson the little one was learning; but I am anxious to speak of Marten and nurse, and all those who loved the child and trembled for his loss. And yet I cannot talk of their distress, the deep deep remorse of Marten, his full and complete acknowledgment of his own carelessness and ignorance of himself, so that nurse could not even say one word to him, though her tears and sobs were a deep reproach. No, I cannot speak of this, I would rather tell of how in the midst of all this trouble, tears were changed to smiles, and even laughter took the place of sobs, when Reuben came riding into the court yard tired, cold, and hungry, it is true, but no little important at his wonderful adventure. And then came such kisses and caresses, such warming by the kitchen fire, such a comfortable breakfast for the child, such luxuries for the dog, which Reuben was allowed to bestow; and then such runnings hither and thither to inform all the kind searchers all was right with the child, and such congratulations, that I should never have done, if I attempt but to repeat one half of them; so let me conclude in these words of the apostle, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death." James i. 13, 14, 15. But our Saviour has declared, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave. I will redeem them from death. Oh! death, I will be thy plague: Oh! grave, I will be thy destruction." Hosea xiii. 14.
By this little narrative we are taught that whoever fills himself up with the belief that he is wise and clever, will be apt, like Marten, to fall into some sort of trouble, which he did not look forward to. All the wisdom of man lies in knowing that unless he is guided in all his actions by his heavenly Father, he is sure to go wrong, let his age or condition be what it may. If little Reuben had been really lost or hurt, very severe indeed would have been the punishment of Marten for his conceit, but God in his tender love let him off for his fright only; which, however, we doubt not, was sharp enough to make him remember the lesson all his life.
It is well for poor sinful men, women, and children, however, that they have a brother, even the Lord the Saviour in his human person, who cannot forget them as Marten forgot Reuben, no, not for one moment.
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