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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XX The Elf

Things As They Are by Amy Wilson-Carmichael

CHAPTER XX The Elf

|You remember what I said once, that you could
not, perhaps, put a whole crown on the head of
Jesus -- that is, bring a whole country to be
His -- but you might put one little jewel in His
crown.|
Bishop French, India and Arabia.

PEARL-EYES, otherwise the Elf, because it exactly describes her, was very good for the first few weeks, after which we began to know her. She is not a convert in any sense of the term. She is just a very wilful, truthful, exasperating, fascinating little Oriental.

When she is, as she expresses it, |moved to sin,| nobody of her own colour can manage her. |You are only me grown up,| is her attitude towards them all. She is always ready to repent, but, as Pearl sorrowfully says, |before her tears are dry, she goes and sins again,| and then, quite unabashed, she will trot up to you as if nothing had happened and expect to be lavishly petted.

I never saw anyone except the Elf look interesting when naughty. She does look interesting. She is a rather light brown, and any emotion makes the brown lighter; her long lashes droop over her eyes in the most pathetic manner, and when she looks up appealingly she might be an innocent martyr about to die for her faith.

We have two other small girls with us; the Imp -- but her name is a libel, she reformed some months ago -- and Tangles, who ties herself into knots whenever she makes a remark. These three have many an argument (for Indian children delight in discussion), and sometimes the things that are brought to me would shock the orthodox. This is the last, brought yesterday:

|Obedience is not so important as love. Orpah was very obedient. Her mother-in-law said, 'Go, return,' and she did as she was told. But Ruth was not obedient at all. Four times her mother-in-law said, 'Go,' and yet she would not go. But God blessed Ruth much more than Orpah, because she loved her mother-in-law. So obedience is not so important as love.| Only the day before I had been labouring to explain the absolute necessity for the cultivation of the grace of obedience; but now it was proved a secondary matter, for Ruth was certainly disobedient, but good and greatly blessed.

The Elf's chief delinquencies at present, however, spring from a rooted aversion to her share in the family housework (ten minutes' rubbing up of brass water-vessels); an appetite for slate pencils -- she would nibble them by the inch if we would let her -- |they are so nice to eat,| she says; and, most fruitful of all in sad consequences, a love of being first.

As regards sin No.1, I hope it will soon be a thing of the past, for she has just made a valuable discovery: |Satan doesn't come very close to me if I sing all the time I'm rubbing the brasses. He runs away when he hears me sing, so I sing very loud, and that keeps him away. Satan doesn't like hymns.| And I quite agree, and strongly advise her to persevere.

Sin No.2 is likely to pass, as she hates the nasty medicine we give her to correct her depraved proclivities; but No.3 is more serious. It opens the door, or, as she once expressed it, it |calls so many other sins to come,| -- quarrelling, pride, and several varieties of temper, come at the |call| of this sin No.3.

She is a born leader in her very small way, and she has not learned yet, that before we can lead we must be willing to be led. |I will choose the game,| she remarks |and all of you must do as I tell you.| Sometimes they do, for her directions, though decisive, are given with a certain grace that wins obedience; but sometimes they do not, and then the Elf is offended, and walks off.

But she is the life of the game, and they chase her and propitiate her; and she generally condescends to return, for solitary dignity is dull. If any of the seniors happen to see it, it is checked as much as possible, but oftener we hear of it in that very informing prayer, which is to her quite the event of the evening; for she takes to the outward forms of religion with great avidity, and the evening prayer especially is a deep delight to her. She counts up all her numerous shortcomings carefully and perfectly truthfully, as they appear to her, and with equal accuracy her blessings large and small. She sometimes includes her good deeds in the list, lest, I suppose, they should be forgotten in the record of the day. All the self-righteousness latent in human nature comes out, or used to, in her earlier days, in the evening revelations. Here is a specimen, taken at random from the first month's sheaf. She and the Imp had come to my room for their devotions, preternaturally pious, both of them, though quite unregenerate. It was the Elf's turn to begin. She settled herself circumspectly, sighed deeply, and then began.

First came the day's sins, counted on the fingers of the right hand, beginning with the fourth finger. |Once,| and down went the little finger on the palm, |I was cross with L.| (L. being the Imp, nine and a half to the Elf's seven and a half, but most submissive as a rule.) |I was cross because she did not do as I told her. That was wrong of me; but it was wrong of her too, so it was only half a sin. Twice,| and the third finger was folded down, |when I did not do my work well. That was quite all my fault. Three times,| and down went the middle finger, |when I caught a quarrel with those naughty little children; they were stupid little children, and they would not play my game, so I spoiled unity. But they came running after me, and they said, 'Please forgive us,' so I forgave them. That was very good of me, and I also forgave L.; so that is three bad things and two good things to-day.|

I stopped her, and expatiated on the sin of pride, but her mind was full of the business in hand.

|Then there were four blessings -- no, five; but I can't remember the fifth. The Ammal gave me a box for my doll, and you gave me some sweets; and I found some nice rags in your waste-paper basket| -- grubbing in rag-bags and waste-paper baskets is one of the joys of life; rags are so useful when you have a large family of dolls who are always wearing out their clothes -- |and I have some cakes in my own box now. There are four blessings. But I forget the fifth.|

I advised her to leave it, and begin, for the Imp was patiently waiting her turn. She, good child, suggested the missing fifth must be the soap -- the Ammal had given each of them a piece the size of a walnut. Yes, that was it apparently, for the Elf, contented, began --

|O loving Lord Jesus! I have done three wrong things to-day| (then followed the details and prayer for forgiveness). |Lord, give L. grace to do what I want her to do; and when she does not do it, Lord, give me grace to be patient with her. I thank Thee for causing me to forgive those little children who would not play the game I liked. Oh make them good, and make me also good; and next time we play together give me grace to play patiently with them. And oh, forgive all the bad things I have done to-day; and I thank Thee very much for all the good things I have done, for I did them by Thy grace.| Praise for mercies followed in order: the cardboard box, the lump of sugar-candy, the spoils from the waste-paper basket, those sticky honey-cakes -- which, to my disquietude, I then understood were secreted in her seeley box -- and that precious bit of soap. Then -- and this is never omitted -- a fervently expressed desire for safe preservation for herself and her friends from |the bites of snakes and scorpions, and all other noxious creatures, through the darkness of the night, and when I wake may I find myself at Thy holy feet. Amen.|

No matter how sleepy she is, these last phrases, which are quite of her own devising, are always included in the tail-end of her prayer. She would not feel at all safe on her mat, spread on the ground out of doors in hot weather, unless she had so fortified herself from all attacks of the reptile world. And when, one day, we discovered a nest of some few dozen scorpions within six yards of her mat, not one of which had ever disturbed her or any of her |friends,| we really did feel that funny little prayer had power in it after all.

You cannot interrupt in the middle of those rather confusing confessions, she is far too much engaged to be disturbed, but when the communication is fairly over, and she cuddles on your knee for the kissing and caressing she so much appreciates, you have a chance of explaining things a little.

She listened seriously that evening, I remember, then, slipping down off my knee, she added as a sort of postscript, very reverently, |O Lord Jesus, I prayed it wrong. I was naughtier than L., much naughtier. But indeed Thou wilt remember that she was naughty first. . . . Oh, that's not it! It was not L., it was me! And I was impatient with those little children. But . . . but they caused impatience within me.| Then getting hopelessly mixed up between self-condemnation and self-justification, she gave it up, adding, however, |Next time we play together, give them more grace to play patiently with me,| which was so far satisfactory, as at first she had scouted the idea that there could be any need of patience on the other side.

Sometimes she brings me perplexities not new to most of us. |This morning I prayed with great desire, 'Lord, keep me to-day from being naughty at all,' and I was naughty an hour afterwards; I looked at the clock and saw. How was it I was naughty when I wanted to be good? The naughtiness jumped up inside me, so| -- (illustrating its supposed action within), |and it came running out. So what is the use of praying?|

Once the difficulty was rather opposite.

|Can you be good without God's grace?|

I told her I certainly could not.

|Well, I can!| she answered delightedly. |I want to pray now.|

|Now? It is eight o'clock now. Haven't you had prayer long ago?| (We all get up at six o'clock.)

|No. That's just what I meant. I skipped my prayer this morning, and so of course I got no grace; but I have been helping the elder Sisters. Wasn't that right?|

|Yes, quite right.|

|And yet I hadn't got any grace! But I suppose,| she added reflectively, |it was the grace over from yesterday that did it.|

As a rule she is not distinguished for very deep penitence, but at one time she had what she called |a true sense of sin| which fluctuated rather, but was always hailed, when it appeared in force, as a sign of better things. After a day of mixed goodness and badness the Elf prayed most devoutly, |I thank Thee for giving me a sense of sin to-day. O God, keep me from being at all naughty to-morrow. But if I am naughty, Lord, give me a true sense of sin!|

[Illustration: We value this photo exceedingly, it was so hard to get. We were in a big heathen village when we saw this Ugly Duckling, in fact she was one of the most tiresome of the |rabbits| mentioned in Chapter I. She saw us, and darted off and climbed a wall and made faces at us in a truly delightful manner. We thought we would take her, and tried. As well try to pick up quicksilver; she would not be caught. The deed was finally done when she had not the least idea of it, and the camera gave a triumphant click as it snapped her unawares. |What do they want her for?| inquired a grown-up bystander, who had observed our little game. |Look at her hair,| said another, |they never saw hair like that in England, that's what they want her for!|]

Professor Drummond speaks of our whole life as a long-drawn breath of mystery, between the two great wonders -- the first awakening and the last sleep. I often think of that as I listen to the little children talking to each other and to us. They are always wondering about something. One day it was, |Do fishes love Jesus?| followed by |What is a soul?| The conclusion was, |It's the thing we love Jesus with.| When they first come to us they invariably think that mountains grow like trees: |Stones are young mountains, aren't they? and hills are middle-aged mountains.| Later on, every printed thing on a wall is a text. We were in a railway station, on our way to the hills: |Look! oh, what numbers and numbers of texts! But what queer pictures to have on texts!| One was specially perplexing; it was a well-known advertisement, and the picture showed a monkey smoking a cigar. What could that depraved animal have to do with a text? When we got to the hills the first amazement was the sight of the fashionable ladies wearing veils. |Don't they like to look at God's beautiful world? Do they like it better spotty?|

Tangles has another name; it is the |Ugly Duckling,| and it is extremely descriptive; but Ugly Duckling or not, she is of an inquiring turn of mind, and one Saturday afternoon, after standing under a tree for fully five minutes lost in thought, she came to me with a question: |What are the birds saying to each other?| I looked at the Ugly Duckling, and she twisted herself into a note of interrogation, in the ridiculous way she has, but her face was full of anxiety for enlightenment about the language of the sparrows. |There,| she said, pointing vigorously to the astonished birds, which instantly flew away, |that little sparrow and this one are making quite different noises. What are they saying? I do want to know so much!|

As I imagined the birds in question had just been having supper, I told her what I thought they were probably saying. Next day, in the sermon, there was something about the praise all creation offers to God, and I saw Tangles knotting her hands together and going into the queerest contortions in appreciation of the one bit of the sermon she could understand.

The Imp's questions were various. |What is that?| -- pointing to a busy-bee clock -- |is it an English kind of insect? Don't its legs get tired going round? Oh! is it dead now?| (when it stopped). |Who made Satan?| was an early one. |Why doesn't God kill him immediately, and stamp on him?| One day I was trying to find and touch her heart by telling her how very sorry Jesus is when we are naughty. She seemed subdued, then -- |Amma, where was the Queen's spirit after she died and before they buried her, and what did they give it to eat?|

|Did you see Lot's wife?| was a question which tickled the Bishop when, on his last visitation, he gave himself up to an hour's catechising upon his tour in the Holy Land. They were disappointed that he had to confess he had not. |Oh, I suppose the salt has melted,| was the Elf's comment upon this.

Tangles is distinctly inclined to peace. The Elf, I grieve to say, is not. Yesterday she announced a quarrel: |I feel cross!| Tangles objected to quarrel. |I do feel cross!| and the Elf apparently showed corroborative symptoms. Then Tangles looked at her straight: |I'm not going to quarrel. The devil has arrived in the middle of the afternoon to interrupt our unity, and I won't let him!| which so touched the Elf that she embraced her on the spot; and then, in detailing it all in her prayer in the evening, this incorrigible little sinner added, with real emotion, |Lord, I am not good. I spoiled unity with L.| (the Imp), |and Thou didst feel obliged to remove her to a boarding-school. Now do help me not to spoil unity with P.| (who is Tangles), |lest Thou shouldst feel obliged to remove her also to a boarding-school,| -- a view of the Imp's promotion which had not struck me before.

Tangles and she belong to the same Caste, and Tangles has the character of that Caste as fully developed as the Elf, and can hold her own effectually. Also she is a little older and taller, and being the Elf's |elder sister,| is, therefore, entitled to a certain measure of respect. All those small things tend to the discipline of the Elf, who is very small for her age, and who would have preferred a junior, of a meek and mild disposition, and whose constant prayer is this: |O Lord, bring another little girl out of the lion's mouth, but, O Lord, please let her be a very little girl!| Shortly after this prayer began, a very little girl was brought; but she was a vulgar infant, and greatly tried the Elf, and she was, for various reasons, promptly returned to her parents. After this episode the prayer varied somewhat: |Lord, let her be a suitable child, and give me grace to love her from my heart when she comes.|

The conversation of these young creatures is often very illuminating, and always most miscellaneous. The Elf's mind especially is a sort of small curiosity shop, and displays many assortments. The Elf, Tangles, and little Delight (Delight is a youthful Christian) are curled up on the warm red sand with their three little heads close together. The Elf is telling a story. I listen, and hear a marvellous muddle of the Uganda Boys and Cyril of North Africa. |He was only six years old, and he stood up and said, 'What you are going to do, do quickly! I am not afraid. I am going to the Golden City!' And they showed him the sword and the fire, and he said, 'Do it quickly!' and they chopped off his arm, and said, 'Will you deny Jesus?' and he said, 'No!' and they chopped off his other arm,| -- and so on through all the various limbs in most vivid detail, -- |and then they threw him on the fire, and burnt him till he was ashes; and he sang praises to Jesus!|

The Elf leans to the tragic. Tangles' mother had a difference of opinion with a friend. The friend snatched at her opponent's ear jewels, and tore the ear. Life with a torn ear was intolerable, so Tangles' mother walked three times round the well, repeated three times, |My blood be on your head!| and sprang in. She rose three times, each time said the same words, and then sank. All this Tangles confided to the Elf, who concocted a game based upon the incident -- which, however, we ruthlessly squashed. They are tossing pebbles now, according to rules of their own, and talking vigorously. |The Ammal told me all the people in England are white, and I asked her what they did without servants, and she said they had white servants, white servants!!| and the note of exclamation is intense. The others are equally astonished. White people as servants! The two ideas clash. They have never seen a white servant. In all their extensive acquaintance with white people they have only seen missionaries (who are truly their servants, though they hardly realise it yet), and occasionally Government officials, whose mastership is very much in evidence. So they are puzzled. They get out of the difficulty, however. |At the beginning of the beginning of England, black people must have gone to be the white people's servants, and they gradually grew white.| Yes, that's it apparently; they faded.

The conversation springs higher. |Do you know what lightning is? I'll tell you. I watched it one whole evening, and I think it's just a little bit of heaven's light coming through and going back again.| This sounds probable, and great interest is aroused. They are discussing the sheet lightning which plays about the sky in the evening before rain. |Of course it isn't much of heaven's light, only a little tiny bit getting out and running down here to show us what it is like inside. One night I shut my eyes, and it ran in and out, in and out, oh so fast! Even if I shut my eyes I saw it running inside my eyes.|

|Did you get caned in school to-day?|

|No, not exactly caned,| and an explanation follows. |I was standing beside a very naughty little girl, and the teacher meant to cane her, but the cane fell on me by mistake. I wanted to cry, because it hurt, but I thought it would be silly to cry when it hurt me quite by mistake. So I didn't cry one tear!|

The Elf hit upon a capital expedient for escaping castigation (which is never very severe). |I found this cane myself. It was lying on the ground in the compound, and I am going to take it to the teacher.| Chorus of |Why?| |Because,| and the Elf looked elfish, |if I give it to him with my own hands, how will he cane my hands with it? His heart will not be hard enough to cane me with the cane I gave him!| and the little scamp looks round for applause. Chorus of admiring |Oh!|

Then they begin again, the Elf as usual chief informant. |I know something!| Chorus, |What?| |A beautiful doll is waiting for me in a box, and I'm going to have it at Ki-rismas!| |What sort of a doll?| is the eager inquiry. |I don't know exactly, but God sent it, of course, so I think it must be something like an angel.| Chorus, delightedly, |Ah!| |Yes, if it came from God, then of course it came from heaven, and heaven is the place all the angels come from, and they are white and shining, so I think it will be white and shining like an angel.| The doll in question is a negress with a woolly head and a scarlet-striped pinafore. It had not struck me as angelic. It is an experiment in dolls. Will it |take|? Ki-rismas came at last, and the heavenly doll with it, but it did not |take.| Grievous were the tears and sobs, and the bitterest wail of all was, |I thought God would have sent me a nicer doll!| We changed it for a |nicer doll,| for the poor Elf was not wicked, only broken-hearted, and Star, who is supposed to be much too old for dolls, begged for the despised black beauty; because, as the Elf maliciously remarked as she hugged her white dolly contentedly, |That black thing has a curly head, just like Star's!|

The habit of praying about everything is characteristic of the Elf, and more than once her uninstructed little soul has grieved over the strange way our prayers are sometimes answered. One day she came rushing in full of excitement. |Oh, may I go and be examined? The Government Missie Ammal is going to examine our school! Please let me go!| The Government Missie Ammal, a great celebrity who only comes round once a year, was staying with us, and I asked her if the child might have the joy of being examined even though she had not had nearly her year at school. She agreed, for the sake of the little one's delight -- for an Indian child likes nothing better than a fuss of any kind -- to let her come into the examination room, and take her examination informally. We knew she was sure of a pass. An hour or two afterwards a scout came flying over to tell us the awful news. The Elf had failed, utterly failed, and she was so ashamed she wouldn't come back, |wouldn't come back any more.| I went for her, and found her a little heap of sobs and tears, outside the schoolroom. I gathered her up in my arms and carried her home, and tried to comfort her, but she was crushed. |I asked God so earnestly to let me pass, and I didn't pass! And I thought He had listened, but now I know He didn't listen at all!|

I was puzzled too, though for a different reason. I knew she should easily have passed, and I could only conclude her wild excitement had made her nervous, for with many tears she told me, |I did not know one answer! not even one!| And again she came back to the first and sorest, |Oh, I did think God was listening, and He wasn't listening at all!|

At last I got her quieted, and explained, by means of a rupee and an anna, how sometimes God gives us something better than we ask for; we ask for an anna, and He gives us a rupee. A rupee holds sixteen annas. She grew interested: |Then my passing that examination was the anna. But what is the rupee?| Now the Elf, as you may have observed, is not weighted with over much humility, so I told her I thought the rupee must be humility. She considered a while, then sliding off my knee, she knelt down and said, with the utmost gravity and purpose, |O God! I did not want that kind of answer, but I do want it now. Give me the rupee of humility!| Then springing up with eyes dancing with mischief, |Next time I fall into pride you will say, 'Oh, where is that rupee?'|

When the school examinations were over, and the Missie Ammal came back to rest, I asked her about the Elf. |She really did very badly, seemed to know nothing of her subjects; should not have gone in, poor mite!| It suddenly struck me to ask what class she had gone into. |The first,| said the Missie Ammal. |But she is in the infants'!| Then we understood. The Elf had only been at school for a few months, and had just finished the infant standard book, and had been moved into the first a day or two before, as the teacher felt she was well able to clear the first course in the next six months and take her examination in the following year, two years' work in one. But it was not intended she should go in for the Government examination, which requires a certain time to be spent in preparation; so when, in the confusion of the arrangement of the classes, she stood with her little class-fellows of two days only, the mistake was not noticed. No wonder the poor Elf failed! We never told her the reason, not desiring to raise fresh questions upon the mysterious ways of Providence in her busy little brain; and to this day, when she is betrayed into pride, she shakes her head solemnly at herself, and remembers the rupee.

She has lately been staying with the Missie Ammals, |my very particular friends,| as she calls them, at the C.E.Z. House, in Palamcottah. She returned to us full of matter, and charged with a new idea. |I am no more going to spend my pocket money upon vanities. I am going to save it all up, and buy a Gee-lit Bible.| This gilt-edged treasure is a fruitful source of conversation. It will take about six years at the rate of one farthing a week to save enough to buy exactly the kind she desires. |I don't want a common Bible. It must be gee-lit, with shining gee-lit all down the leaves on the outside, and the name on the back all gee-lit too. That's the kind of Bible I want!| Just as I wrote that, she trotted in and poured three half-annas in small change upon the table. |That's all I've got, and it's six weeks' savings. Six years is a long, long time!| She confided to me that she found |the flesh wanted to persuade| her to spend these three half-annas on cakes. |It is the flesh, isn't it, that feeling you get inside, that says 'sweets and cakes! sweets and cakes!' in a very loud voice? I listened to it for a little, and then I wanted those sweets and cakes! So I said to myself, If I buy them they will all be gone in an hour, but if I buy that Gee-lit Bible it will last for years and years. So I would not listen any more to my flesh.| Then a sudden thought struck her, and she added impressively, |But when you give me sweets and cakes, that is different; the feeling that likes them is not 'flesh' then. It is only 'flesh' when I'm tempted to spend my Gee-lit Bible money on them.| This was a point I was intended thoroughly to understand. Sweets and cakes were not to be confused with |flesh| except where a Gee-lit Bible was concerned. She seemed relieved when I agreed with her that such things might perhaps sometimes be innocently enjoyed, and with a sudden and rather startling change of subject inquired, |Do they never have holidays in hell?|

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