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Zillah, or The Old Man's Tale.

(Continued from Issue #4)

Chapter 3.

"Nothing of consequence occurred during Zillah's journey to town; she espied her father waiting to receive her, as soon as the stage drew up before the office, and in the next moment she was clasped in his arms. She had so much to tell as they proceeded homewards, that she never remarked that he was unusually silent and abstracted, merely expressing, from time to time, his satisfaction at her improved appearance. When they entered the house, Zillah, all life, health and spirits, was bounding forwards to the fondly-remembered little parlour, but her father held her back. 'Stay, Zillah,' said he, 'I must introduce you to the person who is in that room, longing to embrace you.' He then opened the door and led her towards a gaily-dressed female, whose face was turned partially aside; as they entered she arose.

"'Mrs. Sloman!' exclaimed Zillah, in surprise; for having only seen her in deep mourning, she had not at first recognised her.

"'We must call her so no longer,' interposed Mr. Levisson; 'but a dear kind friend, who will supply the fond cares my poor Zillah has never known; come, embrace your mother; she is now my wife, and you and Sarah are equally her children.'

"Zillah stood transfixed to the spot; she looked first at her father, then at Mrs. Levisson, for so she must now be called, her colour rapidly came and went, she breathed quickly—she understood it all; she no longer possessed the only place in her father's heart; henceforth he might love her as a child—no more as the companion, the confidant, the friend. She struggled to suppress her emotion, but it would not do; she burst into tears, and rushing from the room sought refuge in the solitude of her own little chamber. For some minutes she sobbed as if her very heart would break, but gradually she began to reflect that it was wrong thus to give way to the bitterness of her feelings; it was like reproaching her beloved father, who had certainly a right to do as he pleased. She found it hard, very hard, to look upon the widow in the light of a mother—the widow, who, with all her assumed affection, she felt had never liked her. Still, now was the time to put in practice those principles of forbearance and self-control, which her father had so often impressed upon her, and she resolved to exert herself, and prove they were not all thrown away; but Zillah knew that resolves avail us little, unless strength is granted us to keep them; and she prayed long and earnestly that God would give her the support she needed. The very act of prayer is sure to shed a peaceful serenity over the mind; and Zillah arose from her devotions, composed and comforted, and with a lightened heart washed away her tears, and was preparing to quit her chamber, when a soft knock at the door announced her father.

"'My Zillah!' said he, gently drawing her towards him, 'this burst of feeling deeply grieves me. In making Mrs. Sloman my wife, God knows I have had your welfare at heart, my child, and yours only. My bad health and low spirits prevent my giving you the care and companionship your age and sex require. Your description of the judicious treatment your kind hostess bestowed upon you, and the bright pictures of social pleasures with which your letters glowed, first gave me the desire to surround you with similar benefits at home; how could I do so more effectually than in affording you the watchful attentions of a tender mother? And where could I find one more fitted to fill this place of trust than Mrs. Sloman, who loves you with all the fervour of a parent's love?'

"'O, say no more, father,' murmured Zillah, 'you are always kind and good; but, al, we used to be so happy!' and she look up his hand and kissed it. Mr. Levisson was affected—her simple words, and the action which accompanied them, went straight to his heart. Thoughts of no pleasing nature crossed his mind, and doubts arose as to whether he had sufficiently and maturely reflected on the importance of the step he had taken—short as the time had been since his marriage with Mrs. Sloman, he could not disguise from himself that he had in many points greatly mistaken her character, and that many of the qualities for which he had esteemed her, had vanished since she had become his wife—still as she seemed always delighted to hear good tidings of Zillah, and was exceedingly anxious to have 'the darling girl,' as she called her, home again, he consoled himself with the idea that she certainly did love her, and this would compensate for many failings.

"'Come, my little girl,' said he, rousing himself from his reverie, 'the Sabbath lamp is lighted, and we wait for you to begin the evening service.'

"Zillah no sooner entered the parlour than she went directly up to Mrs.Levisson.

"'Forgive me,' said she, with a faltering voice, 'I am better now; I will, indeed, do all I can to please you.'

"Mrs. Levisson made no reply, and Zillah inquiringly raised her eyes, but the glance that met hers chilled her to the soul, it was so cold, harsh, and unpitying, and she saw that it would be a hopeless task to try and win the affection of her step-mother; she drew back dejectedly, and took her seat by her father's side, who now commenced the Sabbath service.

"He had hardly concluded, when Sarah Sloman came in; a situation had been found for her at a milliner's where the remuneration was liberal, and the labour easy, but she could never be spared till a late hour in the evening, and at times was even obliged to be there on the Sabbath-day. Such conditions would have been sufficient to have prevented her taking the situation, had it depended upon Mr. Levisson; but, too late, he found that her mother was very self-willed, and had peculiar notions of religion, or, rather, her feelings on this momentous subject were so mingled with worldly motives, that they were generally cast aside, when found to interfere with interest or convenience. Yet Mrs. Levisson passed for a religious woman; she certainly was very rigid and exact in attending to many ceremonies of our creed, but the only reason she could have assigned for so doing, was, as she expressed herself, 'the she liked to follow old customs.' Her religion was the result rather of habit than of principle; and while she thus carefully adhered to external forms, instituted to bind us Israelites to each other in fraternal union, and to preserve in us a vivid and constant recollection of the important principles of our faith, Mrs. Levisson, alas, had no idea of that religion of the heart, without which the rest is an imperfect, and consequently an unavailing offering to Him, who knoweth our most hidden thoughts.

"When the hour came for retiring, Zillah discovered that her room was to be shared by Sarah Sloman. She would have preferred occupying it alone, but her good nature prevented her expressing any regret.

"'Well, Zillah,' said Sarah, as soon as they were alone for the night, 'were you not surprised to find a new mother on your return? To tell the truth, I don't think you'll find your condition much improved; but you are so gentle! Perhaps you will not mind her fidgety ways as much as I did; we used to quarrel sadly, and so, directly after she married your father, she got me out at Mrs. Smith's. It is a fine thing, Zillah, to be out in the world, doing for one's self; it makes one so independent; I do nearly just as I like; and I don't know how it is,' added she, conceitedly, 'that although I hate work, and get through very little, I have made my mistress think me a paragon of industry and cleverness. Poor old soul! I can turn her to any thing.'

"'Why don't you beg permission to leave sooner on the Sabbath eve?' asked Zillah.

"'Well, I dare say I could, if I liked; but if I am in time for supper, I am very well satisfied. My mother reads prayers enough for herself and me too, and I really can't see that she is one bit the better for them.'

"'O, Sarah,' said Zillah, 'if you are thus neglectful of God, how can you expect he will watch over and protect you? Your mother seems more strict than my father; how is it you are so different?'

"'One thing that makes me so careless about religion is, that my mother is so very inconsistent; for instance, she would scold me for an hour if I were to touch that candlestick to-night, and yet says nothing to my passing the Sabbath-day at Mrs. Smith's, provided I read over the prayers first, and when there, neither work nor cut out, but merely fold up, or clear away. Now I fancy there is no comparison between these two crimes, but, as I cannot take the trouble to decide in which she is right, or in which she is wrong, I do as I like, without thinking at all about it; I dare say I shall be as religious as most people when I am old, but there's time enough yet!'

"'I would not have such feelings for all the world,' replied Zillah; 'I look up to God, as to a kind and watchful parent, whom it is equally my pleasure and my duty to obey; and I feel it a blessed privilege to be allowed to open my heart to him in prayer. Have you never thought of the uncertainty of life; how soon you may be called upon to appear before him, to answer for every thought and deed? I am sure you only spoke in jest, it cannot—'

"'Now don't begin to preach,' said Sarah, laying her hand on Zillah's mouth; 'for I will not listen to another word—I am tired—so good night!'

"Zillah pondered long and deeply, before she slept. She had never heard prayer spoken of irreverently before; to her, it seemed as much a want of the soul, as hunger and thirst are of the body. And when she offered up her cimple orisons that night, they were, perhaps, more fervent and heartfelt than they had ever been before.

(To be continued.)