The Vicar’s Daughter

After she had put some distance between Mr. Rivers’ property and herself, Dora stopped to examine her torn dress.  She was panting and her heart was racing.  She was lucky that all she suffered from her foolish decision to take a shortcut through Mr. Rivers’ property was a torn skirt.  He had set his savage dogs on her, “That will learn you to trespass on my property,” he yelled as she ran for her life with the two beasts in hot pursuit.  How she managed to escape the jaws of death, she didn’t know.  Perhaps it was the Lord showing her mercy.

What a mean man that Mr. Rivers was, she thought.  He was rude and always threatening to loose his dogs on anyone who dared to venture on his property.  She knew it was foolish of her to cut through his property but it would be getting dark soon and she wanted to get back to the vicarage before it did.

She had to catch her breath first before continuing on through the woods.  The dress was ruined.  Sighing, she sat down and thought of how she was going to explain to her parents what had happened.  As the daughter of the Vicar she should have respected Mr. Rivers and stayed off his property.  And she had always been taught not to think badly of people, no matter how miserable they were.  Still, Mr. Rivers irked her so.  She would have to pray to God about him.

She sat there for a while, thinking and then the setting sun reminded her that she had to head back home.  As she rose to her feet, she started when she heard the sound of an approaching horse.  She glanced around the clearing and her eyes settled on a lone rider coming toward her.  Had Mr. Rivers sent the law after her for trespassing on his property?  As the rider got closer, she recognized him.  It was James Hiller of Mannerly Manor where her cousin Mabel worked as a lady’s maid to his mother.

This was the first time she had seen him in these parts.  She stood erect, concealing the tear in her skirt as best as she could.

He drew to a halt beside her and dismounted the horse.  He bowed and she curtsied.  “Miss Baker,” he said.  “What are you doing out here?”

“I went for a walk and was on my way home when I heard you approaching.”

“It is getting dark.  Please permit me to take you home.”

The thought of sitting on the horse terrified her.  “Oh, no, Mr. Hiller, I would rather walk.”

He smiled.  “Nelson will not harm you, I assure you.”

“Nelson?” She looked at the horse and then at him in surprise.

“I named him Nelson after my uncle who taught me how to ride.  Come, let me help you up.  You needn’t be afraid, Miss Baker.  Nelson is a gentle beast.”

Still not convinced but because of his persistence, she allowed him to lift her up onto the fine steed’s back and then he mounted.  She held onto him for dear life as they galloped through the woods.  She was relieved when they reached the vicarage.

He got down and helped her down.  His hands were still on her waist as she tried to steady herself.   Her face was flushed and her heart was racing.  She didn’t know if the ride was the cause or his nearness.  Their eyes held for what seemed like an eon before he released her and took hold of the reins.  And she stepped back.   “Thank you, Mr. Hiller.”

“It was my pleasure, Miss Baker.” There was a brief pause.  “May I call upon you tomorrow afternoon?”

Her eyes widened.  “Call upon me?”

“Yes, I would like to see you tomorrow.”

“All right.  Tomorrow then.”

“Good evening, Miss Baker.”

“Good evening, Mr. Hiller.”

He bowed before he mounted the horse and rode off.

She gazed after him, hardly able to believe that he wanted to call upon her–the Vicar’s daughter.  She hadn’t expected to see him that evening or that he would even stop and talk to her.  She had Mr. Rivers to thank for that.  If he hadn’t run her off his property, she would not have stopped in the place where Mr. Hiller came upon her.

Laughing, her eyes filled with delight, she gathered up her skirt and ran to the house, anxious to tell her mother that a certain gentleman would be coming by for a visit tomorrow afternoon.

A-Pensive-Girl,-C.1865

The Intruder

A storm was raging outside.  The rain was beating relentlessly against the windows.  The lightning flashed across the sky and soon followed by the loud thunderous clap.  She hated storms. And being alone in the house didn’t help the situation.  She chided herself for coming ahead of the family to this place which been closed up for a year.  It feel strange being on her own in this large house.  So many rooms.  So many stairs.

She had come down to check the windows to make sure they were securely locked.  She was half-way down the hall when she heard it.  It was during the intermission between the clap of the thunder and the next flash of lightning.   At first she thought she had imagined it and continued walking.  There it was again.  She froze.  Her heart pounding now with fear.  She hadn’t imagined it.  She heard the jangle of keys.  She wasn’t carrying any keys with her.  Someone else was.  Who was in the house?

Then she heard the footsteps.  They were coming down the hall behind her.   Terrified, she darted into one of the rooms and locked the door.  She leaned against it, shaking like a leaf.  Again she wished she hadn’t come here tonight.  What on earth had possessed her to do so?  Why her parents and siblings were sleeping peacefully at the inn, she was here hiding from an intruder.  All sorts of terrifying thoughts assailed her mind.  It could be an escaped convict and the jangle she heard were his chains.  He had some how gotten into the house.

She heard the footsteps stop outside the room she was in and she almost dropped the candle.  Her heart was pounding in her chest, her breath was coming in short gasps and her legs had turned to jelly.  “Oh please, go away,” she whispered.

Then she heard the key turn in the lock.   She ran away from the door, her eyes darting wildly about the room for some way of escape.  The windows.  She could open one of them and climb out.  She and her brother used to do that when they were children. Climbing down the trellis in the pouring rain and possibly slipping and having a bad fall was preferable to what was going to come through that door.

She quickly blew the candle out and dropped it on the rug.  She ran to the window just as the door opened.  Frantically, she tried to unfasten the latch on the window.

“Who’s there?” a voice boomed.  “You are trespassing on private property.”

She swung around to face the speaker and just then lightning flashed across the sky and she caught sight of a tall figure wearing a raincoat. He was carrying a lantern which he now held up.   In its glow she could make out his features.  This was no convict.  It was Mr. Crawley, the caretaker of the property.  Relief washed over her and she stumbled over to him.  “Oh, it’s you, Mr. Crawley.”

“Miss Catherine?”

“I heard someone moving about in the house and I was dreadfully afraid.”

“I saw a light on in the house and came to investigate.   I didn’t expect anyone to be here until tomorrow, Miss.”

“I know,” she said.  “I decided to come ahead of the family.  I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble, Miss.  Will you be all right?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I’ll be all right.”

“You can take my lantern, Miss.  I can find my way all right.”

“Thank you, Mr. Crawley.  Good night.”

“Good night, Miss.”  He bowed and left her.

She stood there for a moment, listening to the storm, no longer afraid.

woman with a candle

Plead for the Widows

They still hope when they die, that their son probably will come and light their pyre.  A son who breaks your legs, a son who hits you so hard that your skull breaks, a son who is willing to put cow dung in your mouth – and yet you want the same son to come and light your pyre. We need to break that mind-set also, somewhere – Winnie Singh, social activist

I was searching the Internet to see what I could find out about the quality of life for widows in India and was shocked.  After losing their husbands, they are faced with a life of begging and destitution.  Some of them are thrown out by family members.  One widow was beaten by the sons she had raised when she asked them for money.  In-laws refuse to help some widows while others can’t go back home because their parents are too poor to take them back.

Widows face discrimination and are dehumanized.  They are called “it” and in some instances, they are referred to as “randi” which means prostitute in Punjabi.  Some of them marry their brothers-in-law because being man’s property protects them from being raped.

A widow is blamed for her husband’s death.  “You are widowed because you did something wrong in your previous life: that is the view in this predominantly Hindu culture,” explains Dr. Leelavathi Manasseh of the Bible Society. “So, whether a widow is from a rich or poor background, she faces blame, mistreatment and rejection by her family. Many are kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves and their children, leaving them in a desperate situation.”  It’s worse when a woman loses her husband to AIDS and she tests positive for HIV.  She is met with even more rejection and ridicule.

In Northern India, there is a place called, “Widow City.”  It is the holy city of Vrindavan.  Widows go there because they believe that if you die there, you would be freed from the cycle of birth and death and obtain moksha (emancipation). It is a place where these women can get away from a life of isolation and the society where they have no place or value.  They are there because they were cast out families who don’t want to pay for them or by in-laws who don’t want them to inherit money or property.  They are ostracised by their villages.  They have lost their income.  They are at the bottom rungs of society and are prevented from remarrying.  In Vrindavan, they pray at the temples and beg. Other widows go there, as pilgrims, intending to dedicate their remaining years to serving the deities Krishna and Radha.

Life for a widow is hard.  When their husbands were alive, they were protected but once they were gone, these poor women felt like orphans because they had no one to take care of them or help them.  They were all alone.  Perhaps this is why in the Bible, orphans and widows were always paired together because they were defenceless, society’s vulnerable.  God wants us to plead for the widows.  Defend their rights to a future filled with hope and dignity.  God made it clear that He is “Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans” (Malachi 3:5).

While society sees widows as a curse, God sees broken, abused, mistreated and unloved women whom He wants to enter into a loving relationship with.  Their families don’t want them, but God wants them to be a part of His family.

Like so many widows, Netramani was cast out and left to fend for herself.  “I was completely alone. … No one would give me work so I had to beg. … I had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. I was completely senseless and didn’t know anything. . .”

Watch Netramani’s heart-wrenching story and imagine either you or someone you know lying there, sick and helpless and no one stops to help.

…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ – Matthew 25:35-40.  

June 23 is International Widows’ Day, a day when we step into the lives of widows and imagine the desperate places where they find themselves.  Some commit suicide rather than face the shame.  Others turn to prostitution.  Mothers resort to rummaging through the trash in order to feed themselves and their children.  These women don’t deserve to be like this.  You can change this. Through your donations you will make it possible for local pastors to help widows in need, buy them sewing machines, farm animals, or much-needed supplies like winter blankets, water filters and other essentials.  And with your generous gift, these women will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus and His love and compassion for them. To find out more about how you can help, visit http://www.gfa.org/women/widows/

As Christians, we need to demonstrate the love of Christ who reached out to those who were hurting, oppressed and ostracised.  He loved the unloved and valued those whom society deemed worthless. Together let us plead for the widows.  Let us take up their cause.   They have the right to keep their homes, their income and their dignity.  Let us contend with those who mistreat them.  Let us speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  When we do good to others, we honour God.

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widowsIs God in His holy habitation – Psalm 68:5.

Sources:  Gospel for AsiaTime.com; Women Under Seige; The Laws of Manu; BBC.com; Cross Map; India: Widow City; BBC News