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Chapter XIV.

Death of Maggie.—Death of Simon Goldstone.—Mrs Stubble goes to Briarburn.—Mr Stubble goes to Illawara to look for a farm.

THE late startling occurrences had been carefully kept from the knowledge of Maggie; still, she suspected that there was some fresh trouble in the family. Biddy Flynn's evasive, though tender, replies to her questions, confirmed her suspicion, and the painful suspense was perhaps as trying to her as a full disclosure would have been.

Ben Goldstone's estate had been placed in the Insolvency Court; and as all the household effects were to be sold off, it was deemed expedient to remove Maggie, to prevent her knowing of the sale. Accordingly, she was conveyed in a close carriage to Stubbleton, ostensibly for the advantage of being under her mother's immediate charge. Her doctor, who had not been consulted as to her removal, was so highly displeased at it, that he declined to attend the case any longer. A fresh doctor was called in, who condemned the professional system of his predecessor, and forthwith began a totally opposite course of treatment. But nothing seemed to alleviate poor Maggie's sufferings; she continued to grow worse, until she was reduced to a mere shadow, and even hopeful Biddy began to fear that she would soon lose her darling young mistress.

Three weeks elapsed from Ben's departure, and Maggie's anxiety respecting his prolonged absence grew so intense, that it was at length decided to tell her that Ben had left the colony for a time. Accordingly, the news was communicated to her one evening by her mother, as gently as possible. Maggie listened in pensive silence, while tears rolled down her withered cheeks; presently she sobbed, “It was cruel of him to leave me so ill;” but she asked no questions, evidently dreading lest she should hear something even more distressing, and which she could see her mother was desirous of concealing from her.

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Mrs Simon Goldstone called every day, though she was not always allowed to see Maggie. Her kindness was extreme; and she requested Mrs Stubble to leave no means untried for Maggie's relief, and said that her husband had wished her to supply any money that was required. He was still confined to his bed, with a severe attack of an old complaint; consequently could not go to see his daughter-in-law; but he was tenderly interested in her.

One afternoon Biddy was watching beside Maggie's bed, to relieve Mrs Stubble, who had gone to lie down for a while. She had been sleeping, and seemed, from the calmness of her features, to be free from pain. Presently she opened her eyes and fixed them for some time on her faithful attendant; then held out one of her thin hands, which Biddy took and pressed to her quivering lips.

“Biddy!” she softly whispered, “I have had such a pleasant dream. I thought I saw dear Percy in heaven among a host of shining angels; and he smiled at me so lovingly, and held out his arms to come to me, as he used to do when he awoke up from a sleep in his cot. But he looked so amazingly beautiful, ten times brighter than a star. I wonder if I shall know him in heaven, Biddy. Tell me; what do you think?”

“To be shure you will, darlint,—that is a clear case; for supposin' ye shudn't be a bit more wiser nor ye are at prisent, ye'd know yer own child. It is ony common sinse to think that. But it's my belief you'll be a hundred times wiser nor ye are now, honey; so ye'll be shure to know yer own blissed boy the minute ye git to heaven; an' ye'll know all yer other frinds besides who have got safe there, though they may be all shining like rainbows an' sunset-glory. It isn't a bit likely that dear frinds will be separated in heaven. Not at all. That was a lovely dream Miss Maggie; so it was. An' what a happy place heaven must be! all joy an' no sorrow,—no pain, no trouble, nothin' but love—the love of God itself. Shure it makes me heart full of joy to think of it.”

“Oh Biddy! do you really think God will forgive me for all my sins and shortcomings?”

“Didn't ye tell me last night, honey, that ye was sartin sure God had forgiven ye for the sake of Jesus Christ? Ye sed ye know'd God loved ye, an' that His love was filling yer heart an' making yez happy; forbye all yer pains an' sorrow.”

“Yes, I know I did, Biddy; but I am not so sure about it

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now. I don't feel so happy as I did last night; my mind seems beclouded.”

“It is the natur' ov us poor wake mortials to change a dozen times a day; but the Almighty God never changes. That is a blessed thought to cheer us. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and he loves ye to-day as much as he did last night; so don't ye be onaisy about that same, honey. Ye are not always doubtin' whether yer own father loves ye. An' don't ye be lookin' at yer own heart ivery minute to know how it feels, darlint; shure ye'll niver git much comfort doin' that same, bekase yer feelings will change as often as the wind that blows, an' oftener too. Look to Jesus; an' jist whisper that ye want Him to comfort ye, an' yer poor ruffled mind will get as calm as a summer's evening. Try now, honey. Look to Jesus.”

“Yes, Biddy; I am looking to Jesus. He is helping me. I am happier now, Biddy, and my distressing doubts are gone. Jesus is mine!

“Could my tears for ever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone;
Christ must save, and He alone.
In my hands no price I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling.”

After Maggie had softly repeated the foregoing verse, she said, “Is not that a beautiful verse, Biddy? So soothing! so comforting! Jesus is my rock.”

That night poor Maggie's weary spirit left the world for its eternal rest. The doctor had apprised her friends that the crisis of her disease was approaching. A large abscess had formed in her side, and a fatal result was expected. Mrs Stubble and Biddy were watching beside the bed about midnight, when they suddenly observed a change, and whilst gazing on her death-stamped face, Maggie opened her eyes and extended a hand to each; she then softly whispered, “Jesus is my refuge!” and before Mr Stubble could be summoned to the room, Maggie was dead.

Mr and Mrs Stubble were much affected by the loss of their beloved daughter; still, they did not utter a word of murmuring, and for the first time they learnt what it was to be “sorrowful, yet rejoicing.”

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Biddy Flynn's grief was more demonstrative, but it was very brief. When the first outburst subsided, the affectionate old creature declared, with tears in her eyes, that “she was glad from her heart that the dear darlint was gone home to glory before she knew all the wickedness of her worthless husband, or seed the ruination he had brought upon the whole family wid his dishonest cheatin'.”

Maggie's death had a most disastrous effect upon Mr Simon Goldstone, who was at the time in a very precarious state of health. Lydia and her uncle were from home when a messenger arrived from Stubbleton with the sad news, so he was shown up into Mr Goldstone's bedroom. He had previously heard that Maggie's illness was mainly caused by a brutal kick she had received from her husband; and when the news of her death was suddenly communicated to him, the shock was too severe for his weakened system; he was seized with an apoplectic fit, and that night he died without having shown any signs of consciousness in the interim.

A fortnight after Maggie's funeral Mr Stubble sold off all his household effects by auction. Mrs Stubble then went to Briarburn to spend a few weeks with Mrs Rowley, who had very kindly invited her. After resigning all his offices of trust in the city, including his seat in the Legislative Assembly, Mr Stubble went to Illawara to look at a dairy-farm which was advertised for sale. Biddy Flynn went to live with Widow Goldstone.