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Little Peace by Nora Ryeman

 

In the heart of England stands a sleepy hollow called “Green Corner,” and in this same sleepy hollow stands a fine old English manor house styled “Green Corner Manor.” It belongs to the Medlicott family, who have owned it for generations. In their picture gallery hangs a most singular picture, which is known far and wide as “The Portrait of Little Peace.” It depicts a beautiful child in the quaint and picturesque costume of the age of King Charles II. A lamb stands by her side, and a tame ringdove is perched on her wrist. Her eyes are deeply, darkly blue, the curls which “fall adown her back are yellow, like ripe corn.” Beneath this portrait in tarnished golden letters are these words of Holy Writ, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and if you read the chronicles of the Medlicott family you will read the history of this child. It was written by Dame Ursula, the wife of Godfrey Medlicott, and runs as under:—

“It was New Year's Eve, and my heart was heavy, so also was my husband's. For 'Verily our house had been left unto us desolate.' Our son Hilary had died in France, and our daughter, Grace, slept in the chancel of the parish church with dusty banners once borne by heroic Medlicotts waving over her marble tomb. 'Would God, that I had died for thee, my boy,' said dead Hilary's father when he looked at the empty chair in the chimney corner; 'and, my darling, life is savourless without thee,' I cried in bitterness of spirit, as I looked at the little plot of garden ground which had been known as Mistress Gracie's garden when my sweet one lived. Scarcely had this cry escaped my lips when a most strange thing befel. Seated on the last of the terrace steps was a little child, who as I passed her stretched out her hand and caught fast hold of my gown. I looked down, and there, beside me, was a most singular and beautiful child. The moonlight fell on her small, pale face and long, yellow hair, and I saw that she was both poorly and plainly clad. 'What do you want, my little maid?' I asked. 'You, madam,' she said serenely. 'From whence have you come?' was my next query. 'From a prison in London town,' was the strange reply. Doubtless this child (so I reasoned) was the daughter of some poor man who had suffered for conscience' sake; and, mayhap, some person who pitied his sad plight had taken the girl and thrown her on our charity, or, rather, mercy. 'Child,' said I, 'wilt come into the Manor with me, and have some chocolate and cake?' 'That will I, madam,' she answered softly. 'I came on purpose to stay with you.' The little one has partly lost her wits, I thought, but I said nothing, and the stranger trotted after me into my own parlour, just as a tame lamb or a little dog might have done. She took her seat on a tabouret at my knee, and ate her spiced cake and sipped her chocolate with a pretty, modest air. Just so was my Gracie wont to sit, and even as I thought of her my dim eyes grew dimmer still with tears. At last they fell, and some of them dropped on the strange guest's golden head, which she had confidingly placed on my knee. 'Don't, sweet madam,' she said, 'don't grieve overmuch! You will find balm in giving balm! You will find comfort in giving comfort! For I am Peace, and I have come to tarry with you for a little space!' I perceived that the child's wits were astray, but, somehow, I felt strangely drawn to her, and as she had nowhere else to go I kept her with me, and that New Year's Eve she slept in my Grace's bed, and on the succeeding day she was clothed in one of my lost ewe lamb's gowns, and all in the household styled her Little Peace, because she gave no other name at all.

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“Time passed on—and the strange child still abode with us, and every day we loved her more, for she 'went about doing good,' and, what is more, became my schoolmistress, and instructed me in the holy art of charity. For my own great woe had made me forgetful of the woes and afflictions of others. This is how she went about her work. One winter day, when the fountain in the park was frozen, the child, who had been a-walking, came up to me and said, 'Dear madam, are apples good?' 'Of a surety they are—excellent for dessert, and also baked, with spiced ale. Wherefore dost ask?' 'Because old Gaffer Cressidge, and the dame his wife, are sitting eating baked apples and dry bread over in Ashete village, and methinks that soup would suit them better. Madam, we must set the pot boiling, and I will take them some. And, madam, dear, there must be a cupboard in this house.' 'Alack, my pretty one,' said I, 'of cupboards we already have enow. There is King Charles's cupboard in which we hid his Majesty after Worcester fight, and the green and blue closet, as well as many others. Sure, you prattle of that of which you do not know.' She shook her fair, bright head, and answered, 'Nay, madam, there is no strangers' cupboard for forlorn wayfarers, and there must be one, full of food, and wine, and physic, and sweet, health-restoring cordials. And the birdies must have a breakfast daily. Dorothy, the cookmaid, must boil bread in skimmed milk, and throw it on the lawn; then Master Robin and Master Thrush and Mistress Jenny Wren will all feast together. I once saw the little princes, in King Edward's time, feed the birdies thus; and so did Willie Shakespeare, in Stratford town.' Alas, I thought, alas, all is now too plain. This child must have been akin to some great scholar, who taught her his own lore, and too much learning hath assuredly made her mad; but I will humour her, and then will try to bring her poor wits home. Thus reasoning, I placed her by my side, and cast my arms around her, and then I whispered, 'Tell me of thyself.' 'That will I,' she replied. 'I am Peace, and I come both in storms and after them. I came to Joan the Maid, on her stone scaffold in the Market Place of Rouen. I came to Rachel Russel when she sustained her husband's courage. I came to Mère Toinette, the brown-faced peasant woman, when she denied herself for her children. I came to Gaffer and Grannie Cressidge as they smiled at each other when eating the apples and bread. And I came to a man named Bunyan in his prison, and lo! he wrote of me. Now I have come to you.' 'Yea, to stay with me,' I said, but she answered not, she only kissed my hand, and on the morrow, when the wintry sunlight shone on all things within the manor house, it did not shine upon her golden head! Her little bed was empty, so was her little chair; but the place she had filled in my heart was still filled, and so I think it will be for ever! Some there are who call her a Good Fay or Fairy, and some there are who call her by another and sweeter name, but I think of her always as Little Peace, the hope giver, who came to teach me when my eyes were dim with grief. For no one can tell in what form a blessing will cross his threshold and dwell beside him as his helper, friend, and guest.”

 
 
 

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