When she came to the village, the Little Grey Woman came quietly and without the slightest ostentation. Her needs were few, and from her orders the village tradesmen gathered no knowledge of her life. On the Sabbath she attended service at the church, but gave no encouragement to those who were inclined to break down the barrier of reserve. She distrusted them. She could not conceive that she and they had anything in common. Pecuniarily, they might not be so well placed as herself; but they had friends and husbands, and wives and children. And they were happy, while she was lonely. They knew she was lonely, and she feared their pity more than her loneliness. For two years she lived in that village without allowing a single person to cross the threshold of her cottage, and she aged so quickly that the mirror must have mocked her.
One day a child threw its ball over the hedge surrounding her garden, and then knocked at the door timidly, and with fear in its eyes. She took the child by the hand. recovered the lost ball, and sent the child home happy and contented. The next morning the child came again to the door of the cottage, and gravely offered the Little Grey Woman a bunch of honeysuckle. The Little Grey Woman thanked the child, closed the door, and sat down to weep. She felt lonelier than ever. A few days later she found that a boy of four or five had wormed his way through the hedge, and was enjoying
Woman's Work himself in her strawberry-bed. He cried bitterly when she surprised him, but within a few minutes she had learned that he was one of a family of seven, that his father was a farm labourer, and had three children who were too young to be sent to school out of the way of the hard-working mother.
An idea occurred to the Little Grey Woman. Through the boy she invited the mother to send her three children to the cottage every morning, and she would prepare them for school. The offer was eagerly accepted, and at the end of a fortnight no fewer than nine children were attending regularly at the cottage. Two of the mothers called to thank the Little Grey Woman for relieving them of a burden, and each left a bunch of field flowers on the table. When the Little Woman looked in the mirror that night, she came to the conclusion that the drab, grey hair had a silvery sheen and a beauty that she had never before suspected.
One morning a child attending her " school " brought the information that a farm labourer, while mowing a field of grass fifty yards from the cottage, had fallen from the machine, and the knife had severed an artery in his leg. She sent the child for a doctor, and then made her way into the field. She found the man lying in a condition of semi-consciousness through loss of blood. Instinct guided her in the tying of two knotted handkerchiefs round the limb and just above the injured artery. When the doctor arrived he looked up at the Little Grey Woman, and said: " You have saved this man's life; he was bleeding to death." She went back to her " school " with new emotions flooding her throat.
Late one night a labourer knocked at the door, and asked if she could come to his cottage and sit with his wife until the doctor returned from the town. She hesitated, then expressed a fear that she would be of no use.
You're a woman," he answered simply; and within a quarter of an hour she was sitting at the bedside of the labourer's wife, helping her in a hundred ways to brave the ordeal of motherhood. When the winter came the Little Grey Woman founded all kinds of clubs for the youth of the village, and among the women she formed sewing-classes. Gradually the word " woman " was dropped when in conversation the villagers referred to her and her work. They called her the Little Grey Lady.
The Little Grey Lady
She lived in the village for six years, and died in the spring of the seventh. The doctor said that she must have caught a chill during one of her many errands of mercy. The women of the village knew better. The Little Grey Lady, who at one time had suffered the agonies of having nothing to do, had just worked herself to death. But she died with a smile of supreme happiness on her lips. Those who sat with her as she fell asleep said afterwards that towards the end her face was as sweet to look upon as that of a girl of eighteen. Almost every villager - men, women, and children - followed her up the winding hill to the churchyard, six rough-hewn labourers bearing the coffin on their broad shoulders. As they returned down the hill many of the children were sobbing, and one man, looking back at the mound of newly-turned soil, voiced the sentiment of all the mourners as he said: " The old village 'll seem terrible lonesome to-night." Surely the career of the Little Grey Lady suggests many fields of labour to those lonely women whose lives would be all the brighter if they could be brought to realise that nothing was ever created without a. purpose. It is well to bear in mind that there are lonely women in every station in life, and that wealth does not necessarily mean happiness of mind. The laugh of a little child is often sweeter to the ears of a woman than the rustling of the finest silk that was ever spun, and its eyes far brighter than the purest gem that was ever cut.
Many a lonely woman, to whom money is a secondary consideration, will find a new life and a new joy in the adoption of a child. But the greatest care should be exercised, lest in finding a new joy a new sorrow should follow in its wake.
It is unwise to take one of a large family - no matter how poor the parents may be - and bring it up as one's own, lavishing upon it that luxury which may be commonplace to you, but of which the child would never have dreamed had it been left under the roof of its parents. In the first place, you rob that child of the best of all feelings - filial devotedness; you leave in the minds of the other children a feeling of envy and disappointment which can never be eradicated, not even after they have grown out of adolescence. And there is always the danger of unscrupulousness - to use a very mild term - on the part of the parents.