Choice Readings for the Home Circle by Anonymous - HTML preview
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"Ah, me!" she sighed, "I thought Henry would have done something for himself long before this; but he is a wild, free-hearted boy, and spends everything as he goes."
"Here's a letter for you at last, Mrs. Peyton," said the well-known voice of the postman, breaking in upon her just at this moment. With trembling hands, Mrs. Peyton broke the seal; a bank-bill crumpled in her fingers as she opened the letter. A portion of its contents read:--
"Dear Mother: I have had some very serious thoughts of late about my way of living. You know I never liked to be considered mean; this led me to be, what seemed to everybody, very generous. Everybody was pleased to eat, and drink, and ride at my expense; but no one seemed inclined to let me do the same at his expense. I have been getting a good salary for six or seven years, and for a part of that time, as much as a thousand dollars. I am ashamed to say that I have not a farthing laid by; nay, what is worse, I owe a good many little bills. But, dear mother, I think I have come fairly to my senses. I have come to a resolution not to spend a dollar foolishly; thus far I have been able to keep my promise to myself, and, by the help of Heaven, I mean to keep it to the end. My first thought, on seeing my folly, was of my shameful disregard to my mother's condition. In this letter are ten dollars. Every month you will receive from me a like sum--more, if you need it. As soon as I can lay by a sufficient amount, I will look around for some means of entering into business, and, as soon after as possible, make provision for you, that your last days may be spent in ease and comfort."
"God bless the dear boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Peyton, dropping the letter, while the tears gushed from her eyes. The happy mother wept long for joy. With her trembling hand she wrote a reply, and urged him, by the tenderest and most sacred considerations, to keep to his good resolutions.
At the end of a year Peyton examined his affairs and found himself freed from debt; but for nearly one hundred dollars of his wages he could not account. He puzzled over it for two or three evenings, and made out over fifty dollars spent foolishly.
"No doubt the rest will have to be passed to that account," said he at last, half angry with himself. "I'll have to watch closer than this. At the end of the next year, I'll not be in doubt about where one hundred dollars have gone."
It was but rarely, now, that you would hear the name of Peyton mentioned. Before, everybody said he was a "fine, generous fellow;" everybody praised him. Now, he seemed to be forgotten, or esteemed of little consideration. He felt this; but he had started to accomplish a certain end, and he had sufficient strength of mind not to be driven from his course.
In a few years he entered into business and succeeded beyond his expectations. He provided a home for his mother, and no one who saw her during the remaining ten years of her life would have called her unhappy.
I know Peyton still. He is not now, by general reputation, "a fine, generous fellow." But he is a good and respected citizen, and was a good son while his mother lived with him. He has won the means of really benefiting others, and few are more willing than he is to do it, when it can be done in the right way. He is still "generous"--but wisely so.CONSOLATION.
"Unto those who sit in sorrow, God has sent this precious word: Not an earnest prayer or impulse of the heart ascends unheard. He who rides upon the tempest, heeds the sparrow when it falls, And with mercies crowns the humblest, when before the throne he calls."CAUGHT IN THE QUICKSAND Victor Hugo gives the following impressive description of a death in the quicksand off certain coasts of Brittany, or Scotland. He says:--
It sometimes happens that a man, traveler or fisherman, walking on the beach at low tide, far from the bank, suddenly notices that for several minutes he has been walking with some difficulty. The strand beneath his feet is like pitch; his soles stick to it; it is sand no longer--it is glue.
The beach is perfectly dry, but at every step he takes, as soon as he lifts his foot the print which it leaves fills with water. The eye, however, has noticed no change; the immense strand is smooth and tranquil; all the sand has the same appearance; nothing distinguishes the surface which is solid from that which is no longer so; the joyous little cloud of sand fleas continue to leap tumultuously over the wayfarer's feet. The man pursues his way, goes forward, inclines to the land, endeavors to get nearer the upland. He is not anxious. Anxious about what? Only he feels somehow as if the weight of his feet increases with every step he takes. Suddenly he sinks in.
He sinks in two or three inches. Decidedly he is not on the right road; he stops to take his bearings. All at once he looks at his feet. They have disappeared. The sand covers them. He draws them out of the sand; he will retrace his steps; he turns back; he sinks in deeper. The sand comes up to his ankles; he pulls himself out and throws himself to the left; the sand is half-leg deep. He throws himself to the right; the sand comes up to his shins. Then he recognizes with unspeakable terror that he is caught in the quicksand, and that he has beneath him the fearful medium in which man can no more walk than the fish can swim. He throws off his load if he has one, lightens himself like a ship in distress; it is already too late; the sand is above his knees. He calls, he waves his hat or his handkerchief; the sand gains on him more and more. If the beach is deserted, if the land is too far off, if there is no help in sight, it is all over.
He is condemned to that appalling burial, long, infallible, implacable, and impossible to slacken or to hasten, which endures for hours, which seizes you erect, free, and in full health, and which draws you by the feet, which at every effort that you make, at every shout you utter, drags you a little deeper, sinking you slowly into the earth while you look upon the horizon, the sails of the ships upon the sea, the birds flying and singing, the sunshine and the sky. The victim attempts to sit down, to lie down, to creep; every movement he makes inters him; he straightens up, he sinks in; he feels that he is being swallowed. He howls, implores, cries to the clouds, despairs.
Behold him waist deep in the sand. The sand reaches his breast; he is now only a bust. He raises his arm, utters furious groans, clutches the beach with his nails, would hold by that straw, leans upon his elbows to pull himself out of this soft sheath, sobs frenziedly; the sand rises. The sand reaches his shoulders; the sand reaches his neck; the face alone is visible now. The mouth cries, the sand fills it; silence. The eyes still gaze, the sand shuts them; night. Now the forehead decreases, a little hair flutters above the sand; a hand comes to the surface of the beach, moves, and shakes, and disappears. It is the earth-drowning man. The earth filled with the ocean becomes a trap. It presents itself like a plain, and opens like a wave.Could anything more graphically describe the progress of a young man, from the first cup of wine to the last? "ONCE AGAIN." Lord, in the silence of the night,
Lord, in the turmoil of the day;
In time of rapture and delight,
In hours of sorrow and dismay;
Yea, when my voice is filled with laughter,
Yea, when my lips are thinned with pain; For present joy, and joy hereafter,
Lord, I would thank thee once again.
"Why, Archie Allen, you are not ready for church yet; we shall surely be late," said the young wife as she entered the elegant library where her husband sat reading a choice volume of poetry. It was Clara's first Sabbath in her new home. She had but lately left the sheltering roof of a kind great-uncle, who had taken her to his home when a lonely orphan, and reared her very tenderly, surrounding her with every comfort and many of the elegancies of life. A gentleman some years her senior had won her heart's affection, and now she was installed as mistress of his beautiful city home. Six months before she had publicly professed her love for the Saviour, but she was yet in the morning of her religious life. She needed the fostering care of an experienced, devoted Christian. Would she meet with such aid from him who was to be her future companion and protector? "Marry only in the Lord," was the advice of an aged friend to the young girl.
"Archie is not a professor of religion," she reasoned with herself; "but he respects religion, I know, and who can tell what influence I may exert over him?""You are not really going to church to-day, Clara, dear, cold as it is?" said the young man dropping his book and looking up with a smile. "Why, who ever heard of such a thing as staying at home from church unless one was ill!" "I think I am not very well, Clara. Won't you stay at home and take care of me? Read me some poetry and sing a few of your sweet songs."
Clara looked at him a moment a little incredulously and then replied, "You are quite well, I know by your laughing. I think it is very wrong to stay at home from church; indeed I do, Archie. Won't you go with me?""But where shall we go, my good wife?" "Wherever you are accustomed to."
"I am accustomed to attend that cozy little brick church down by your uncle's, and I thought I had done duty so well there I should be considered religious enough for the rest of my days. But don't look so sad, Clara. I will go anywhere to please you. I know of a splendid marble church on the Avenue. We will drive there if you like, though I really have no idea of what persuasion it is. I will order the carriage and be ready in a few minutes," and he left the room gaily humming the fragment of an opera air.
It was an elegant, stately church. The brilliant light which flowed through the stained windows almost dazzled the sight of the young girl, accustomed only to the plain green shades of the humble village church. The voice of the deep-toned organ rolled through the marble hall and then burst forth into a light, gay air, which, to her
unaccustomed ears, sounded strangely in a house of worship. God seemed nearer in the little church at home, which, nestled down among the grassy mounds and moss-grown headstones, seemed always pointing to a life beyond.
When the minister arose she marked well his graceful air, the polished words and sentences which flowed so smoothly from his lips as he read them from the page before him. But, alas!"So coldly sweet, so deadly fair, We start, for soul is wanting there."
Clara felt that her soul had not been fed, as the carriage rolled away from the marble church; but there was much around her to attract the gaze of one who had never before spent a Sabbath in the city. Her husband was glad to be released from the sound of "the prosy old doctor's essay," and was in quite good humor with himself for his act of self-denial in going to church. So the drive home was quite a pleasant one, though considerably longer than the one to church.
When they reached home a note was brought in containing an invitation from a fashionable friend of Mr. Allen's to take a little drive out to the new park grounds that afternoon. The carriage would call at three o'clock.
Clara was greatly shocked at such a disregard of the sanctity of God's holy day, and her husband employed a great deal of skilful rhetoric and much more subtle sophistry before she could be brought even to entertain such a project.
"You know I went to church to please you this morning. I am sure you will be kind enough to oblige me by accepting my friend's invitation. I know he would be seriously offended if we did not."
Alas for youth, when the counselors it relies on "counsel to do wickedly"! Clara yielded, though with sad misgivings, and dressed herself for the ride.
The lady beside her was very courteous and attentive, and the gay conversation turned on various frivolous worldly subjects, till in the pleasant excitement of the drive Clara almost forgot the day. When they turned back again Mrs. Harvey insisted that they should dine with her, and the carriage stopped at their residence. A gay evening was spent, Clara being prevailed upon to play some of her choicest music and join her new acquaintance in singing some popular songs, which she did with most exquisite grace and expression. Her dark eye grew brighter and her fair cheek flushed softly, as she felt the proud, admiring glance of her husband bent upon her. But underneath all her pleasure was a dull sense of pain and a consciousness of wrong-doing, which was a very serpent trail among her fragrant flowers. When she reached her home again a flood of regretful sorrow overwhelmed her heart, and she wept bitterly. Her husband sought most tenderly to soothe her grief, and secretly resolved to undermine the "superstition which caused the dear girl so much unhappiness."
"You have done nothing wrong, dear Clara, that you should reproach yourself so bitterly. You have only spent a pleasant afternoon and evening with a friend. We must have dined somewhere, and what difference whether at their house or our own! what is life given us for except to make it just as full of happiness as we can, and to make others around us happy! Just think how much pleasure your sweet singing gave my friends and me. Harvey said it was better than the finest opera he ever heard. Religion ought to make people happy. I am afraid yours has not to-day, Clara, so I cannot think it is just the right sort for you. Now, really, did not the drive to and from church do you more good than the sermon? I am quite sure it did; so I always intend to take a good long road to church in the future."It was some consolation to know that her husband intended to go to church with her in the future; so Clara dried her eyes and listened to a little gem of poetry he had selected to read to her that morning.
Little by little the rock of her faith was worn away, and she was fast learning to look on happiness as the true end of existence instead of _holiness_, "without which no man shall see the Lord." And, alas! many whose associations are far less worldly make this mistake, and look mainly for a great deal of joy and exalted happiness in their religious life. Because they do not attain it they go mourning all their days, looking with weeping eyes on those whom they regard as more favored of God, because the light of gladness shines upon their pathway. Desponding heart! there is no true happiness in religion where that alone is the end you seek. Holiness must be the end and aim of your whole course, or your joy will be like the "hope of the hypocrite, but for a moment." "Be ye holy, for I am holy," is the divine command.
How strange that a truly loving heart could enter upon such a task as that which Mr. Allen now commenced--the work of loosing a trusting nature from its only safe moorings, leaving it to drift without a compass or a guiding star upon a sea abounding with fearful rocks and angry breakers. But such is the hatred of the natural heart to the humbling doctrine of the cross and salvation alone through Him who was crucified upon it.
Clara was fond of reading, and her husband took care to place in her way certain fascinating writers, then quite popular, whose frequent merry flashes and sarcastic allusions to the "orthodoxy" tended more surely than serious reasoning would have done to make her think lightly of the faith in which she had been trained. The old-fashioned Bible was skilfully tortured out of its plainest meaning by these so-called reformers, or utterly ignored where it could not be distorted to suit their views. What their opinions of its inspiration were could never be clearly seen by others, if, indeed, they had ever given such a trifling matter any consideration whatever. Instead of the sure foundation which has Jesus Christ for its corner-stone, and a religion which teaches faith, humility, self-denial, earnest labor for souls, and all lowly virtues, they profess to throw wide open the doors of a "broad church," which should gather in all mankind as brothers, which should teach them the dignity and excellence of humanity, and give every one a free pass at last on the swift train over the celestial railway. In their great harvest-field they claimed the tares to be as valuable as the wheat, and never gave thought to the "harvest day." But, alas! calling the tares wheat will not avail when "the Lord of the harvest" comes and the command is given, "Bind them in bundles to burn them."
But the form in which the fatal error was clothed was fair and pleasing, especially so when her husband would
There was one favorite writer who seemed to possess a magic power in painting every shady nook and mossy wayside spring of the human heart. No old, gray rock or fathomless shadow of feeling seemed to escape that observing eye. And there were clear, bold strokes sometimes which showed a strength not often given to a woman's hand. Through all her writings ran a thread of light reflected from God's word, though bent out of its own right line by the prism through which it flowed. Much was said of the love and tender mercy of God, but the fact that he is also a just God, and will in nowise clear the guilty, was set aside as a hard doctrine. The gay scoffer, the one who despises Christ's tender offers of love and pardon, provided he is amiable and pleasant among his friends and associates, must not be given over to a just
retribution. God is too loving a Father to see such a lovely scorner perish. It is "so incongruous" to think of the one with whom we have had such pleasant converse here being forever lost. The sophistry gradually wrought its work; the more readily, as poor Clara, in the whirl of fashion and gaiety, failed to bring it to the test of "the law and the testimony."
Time rolled on, and Clara was becoming more thoughtful and studious. Various philosophical works which her husband admired, and which he often read and discussed with her, were becoming favorite volumes. There was something grand in the old philosopher's views of life and its little ills and joys. There was something wonderful in their curious speculations respecting the mysteries of the world beyond. Her husband delighted in leading her mind through all their fantastic windings as they groped for the truth so clearly revealed to us. He praised his wife for her appreciation of such intellectual food, and rejoiced that he had been so successful in winning the affection of a truly intellectual woman. Her self-love was gratified, and her diligence in diving deeper into his favorite works daily increased.
In her own home circle her heart had room to expand its choicest tendrils. A noble boy three summers old was prattling at her feet, and all the demands of fashion could not make her forget a mother's duties. Still they were only the duties that pertained to his temporal welfare, for the flame of devotion had smoldered to ashes on the hearthstone of her heart.
The rain was dashing against the closed shutters one November night as an anxious group gathered in Mrs. Allen's chamber. They were standing on either side of a beautiful rosewood crib, whose hangings of azure gauze were closely drawn aside. There lay a little form tossing and restless, his little face and throat seemed scarlet as they rested on the snowy pillow, and his little hand moved restlessly to and fro, as if vainly striving to cool the burning heat. It was the mother's hand that tirelessly bathed the scarlet brow and burning limbs. Servants were constantly in waiting, but no hand but her husband's was allowed to take her place.
"Do you think there is hope, doctor?" was the question she longed to ask, but could not frame it into words. It came at length from her husband's lips. The answer was only a straw to grasp at.
"He is in a very critical state, indeed. If I had been at home when he was first taken ill I think the fever would not have reached such a height. But everything almost depends on the first steps. We must do what we can now to make up for lost hours."
But all that the best medical skill could do proved useless. The
little sufferer lingered through the long night watch, and when the morning dawned seemed once more to know them all. "My mamma," were the first words which fell from his lips, sending a thrill of joy to all their hearts. It was bliss to see the smile of recognition light once more those sweet blue eyes, and the parents grasped each other's hand in silent joy. The old physician alone looked grave and sorrowful. The little light was fast fading out, and this was its dying flicker.
His mother's tearful face bent over him, and as the strange hand of Death was laid upon his heart-strings he clasped her closely about the neck, as if she were a refuge from every danger.
They took the little one gently from her arms and laid him on his couch again. Her husband could not even strive to comfort her. He saw the joy and pride of his existence, the heir of his name and fortune, around whom so many fair hopes clustered, "taken away by a stroke," and his soul seemed crushed within him. He bowed his head upon his hands, and, regardless of other eyes, the proud man groaned, and sobbed, and wept as never in his life he had done before. Both were too deeply stricken to utter words of comfort. Clara felt her bleeding heart torn from her bosom. Yet no tears came to her relief. Her brain seemed bursting with the pressure upon it. Where was the sustaining power of boasted philosophy in this hour of darkness?
Ah, when the afflictions of life come home to "the bone and marrow of our own households" they are far different to us from those which concern only our neighbors. It is an easy thing to look on pleasure philosophically, or even the afflictions of others, but when our turn to suffer comes we shall feel our need of a strong staff to lean upon, a sure support that can keep us in perfect peace, even in the furnace. Clara had sought to pray when the agony of fear was upon her, but God seemed too far away to listen.
"I cannot give him up, my husband!" was the agonized cry of the mother as they stood for the last time by his side before he was to be taken forever from their chamber. "I cannot give him up," was the despairing language of both their hearts. There can be no true resignation where a loving Father's hand is not recognized in the affliction; where this poor world is allowed to bound the spirit's vision. But at last the precious dust was borne away to be seen no more by mortal eye till the resurrection morning.[Illustration: Christ the Good Shepherd.]
Time, the great healer, wore away the sharpness of the bereavement, but Clara could never again delight in her former pursuits. How like very dust and ashes seemed the food she had been seeking to nourish her soul upon! A softened melancholy rested upon her heart, and she would wander about her house looking at the relics of her lost one. And day by day the roses faded from her cheek, her step grew lighter on the stair, and she rapidly declined, till at length she was startled at the shadowy form and face her mirror revealed to her. Her long-neglected Bible was once more sought for, and she read with all the desperate eagerness of a drowning man, who catches at every chance of safety. It was her mother's Bible, and along the margin were delicate pencil tracings, pointing to many precious passages. How eagerly she read them over! and when she was too weary herself, she gave the book into her husband's hand. Still he could give her no advice in her spiritual distress, and looked upon it with compassion as the result of her disease. He gave her the tenderest worldly consolation, but it brought no peace to her anxious soul. Was there no one to offer a word of true counsel? From a very humble source came the advice she so much needed. The kind nurse, Margaret, whom little Bertie had loved next to his parents, was an earnest, humble Christian. It was from her lips he had learned to lisp his morning and evening prayer, and her low, gentle voice that told him over and over the sweet story he never tired of hearing--the story of the Babe of Bethlehem.
Plainly and simply she pointed Clara's mind to the Lamb of God as the only Saviour, praying hourly in her heart that God would bring home the truth with power to her.
At length a little light broke in upon her mind. "It may be he will receive even such a wandering sheep as I," she said, "oh, I will cast myself upon his mercy only, for I can do nothing to make myself better!"
The thin hands were folded over the Bible, the eyes closed wearily, a faint motion of the lips told of the silent prayer her heart was offering, as gently she breathed her life away.A few months later Mr. Allen became a wanderer in many lands.
Do you ever sigh and disquiet your heart, Christian pilgrim, because God has not given you wealth and worldly ease? Remember the words of One who never gave a needless caution nor spoke an untruthful word--"How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!"
It is a dangerous step indeed for a young heart to form a life-long union with one who is a stranger to its hopes of heaven. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers," is a command which may not be lightly broken. Where all of this world, and very probably the world to come, are at stake, the cost should be well counted. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Even the most devoted affection the world can bestow will be no substitute for God's loving favor. "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
"Jesus, my all in all thou art,
My rest in toil, my ease in pain;
The healing of my broken heart, In strife my peace, in loss my gain;
My smile beneath the tyrant's frown,
In shame my glory and my crown."
LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS. "This is pleasant!" exclaimed a young husband, taking his seat in the rocking-chair as the supper things were removed. The fire glowing in the grate, revealed a pretty and neatly furnished sitting-room, with all the appliances of comfort. The fatiguing business of the day was over, and he sat enjoying what he had all day been anticipating, the delights of his own fireside. His pretty wife, Esther, took her work and sat down by the table.
"It is pleasant to have a home of one's own," he again said, taking a satisfactory survey of his little quarters. The cold rain beat against the windows, and he thought he felt really grateful for all his present comforts."Now if we only had a piano!" exclaimed the wife.
"Give me the music of your own sweet voice before all the pianos in creation," he observed, complimentarily; but he felt a certain secret disappointment that his wife's thankfulness did not happily chime with his own."Well, we want one for our friends," said Esther. "Let our friends come to see _us_, and not to hear a piano," exclaimed the husband. "But, George, everybody has a piano now-a-days--we don't go anywhere without seeing a piano," persisted the wife. "And yet I don't know what we want one for--you will have no time to play on one, and I don't want to hear it." "Why, they are so fashionable--I think our room looks nearly naked without one." "I think it looks just right." "I think it looks very naked--we want a piano shockingly," protested Esther emphatically. The husband rocked violently. "Your lamp smokes, my dear," said he, after a long pause.
"When are you going to get a camphene lamp? I have told you a dozen times how much we need one," said Esther pettishly.
"These are very pretty lamps--I never can see by a camphene lamp," said her husband. "These lamps are the prettiest of the kind I ever saw."
"But, George, I do not think our room is complete without a camphene lamp," said Esther sharply. "They are so fashionable! Why, the Morgans, and Millers, and many others I might mention, all have them; I am sure we ought to.""We ought not to take pattern by other people's expenses, and I don't see any reason in that." The husband moved uneasily in his chair. "We want to live as well as others," said Esther. "We want to live within our means, Esther," exclaimed George. "I am sure we can afford it as well as the Morgans, and Millers, and Thorns; we do not wish to appear mean." George's cheek crimsoned. "Mean! I am not mean!" he cried angrily.
"Then we do not wish to appear so," said the wife. "To complete this room, and make it look like other people's we want a piano and camphene lamps.""We want--we want!" muttered the husband, "there's no satisfying woman's wants, do what you may," and he abruptly left the room.
How many husbands are in a similar dilemma? How many houses and husbands are rendered uncomfortable by the constant dissatisfaction of a wife with present comforts and present provisions! How many bright prospects for business have ended in bankruptcy and ruin in order to satisfy this secret hankering after fashionable superfluities! Could the real cause of many failures be known, it would be found to result from useless expenditures at home--expenses to answer the demands of fashion and "what will people think?"
"My wife has made my fortune," said a gentleman of great possessions, "by her thrift, and prudence, and cheerfulness, when I was just beginning."
"And mine has lost my fortune," answered his companion, "by useless extravagance and repining when I was doing well."
What a world does this open to the influence which a wife possesses over the future prosperity of her family! Let the wife know her influence, and try to use it wisely and well.
Be satisfied to commence on a small scale. It is too common for young housekeepers to begin where their mothers ended. Buy all that is necessary to work skilfully with; adorn your house with all that will render it comfortable. Do not look at richer homes, and covet their costly furniture. If secret dissatisfaction is ready to spring up, go a step further and visit the homes of the suffering poor; behold dark, cheerless apartments, insufficient clothing, and absence of all the comforts and refinements of social life, and then turn to your own with a joyful spirit. You will then be prepared to meet your husband with a grateful heart, and be ready to appreciate the toil of self-denial which he has endured in the business world to surround you with the delights of home; and you will be ready to co-operate cheerfully with him in so arranging your expenses, that his mind will not be constantly harassed with fears lest his family expenses may encroach upon public payments. Be independent; a young housekeeper never needed greater moral courage than she does now to resist the arrogance of fashion. Do not let the A.'s and B.'s decide what you must have, neither let them hold the strings of your purse. You know best what you can and ought to afford. It matters but little what people think, provided you are true to yourself and family.THE DARK FIRST.
Not first the glad and then the sorrowful-- But first the sorrowful, and then the glad;
Tears for a day--for earth of tears is full: Then we forget that we were ever sad.
Not first the bright, and after that the dark-- But first the dark, and after that the bright;
First the thick cloud, and then the rainbow's arc: First the dark grave, and then resurrection light.
Mr. Taggard frowned as he observed the pile of bills by his plate, placed there by his prudent, economical wife, not without an anxious flutter at the heart, in anticipation of the scene that invariably followed. He actually groaned as he read the sum total.
"There must be some mistake, Mary" he said, pushing back his plate, with a desperate air: "it is _absolutely impossible_ for us to have used all these things in one month!""The bills are correct, John," was the meek response; "I looked them over myself."
"Then one thing is certain, provisions are either wasted, thrown out the window, as it were, or stolen. Jane has relatives in the place, and I haven't the least doubt but that she supports them out of what she steals."
Mrs. Taggard's temper was evidently rising; there were two round crimson spots upon her cheeks, and she tapped her foot nervously upon the floor."I am neither wasteful, nor extravagant, John. And as for Jane, I know her to be perfectly honest and trustworthy."
"It is evident that there is a leak somewhere, Mary; and it is your duty as a wife, to find out where it is, and stop it. Our bills are perfectly enormous; and if this sort of thing goes on much longer, I shall be a bankrupt."Mrs. Taggard remained silent, trying to choke down the indignant feelings that struggled for utterance. "You will have to order some coal," she said, at last; "we have hardly sufficient for the day." "Is there anything more, Mrs. Taggard?" inquired her husband; ironically. "Yes; neither I nor the children are decently or comfortably clothed; all need an entire new outfit."
"Go on, madam. As I am a man of unlimited means, if you have any other wants, I hope you won't be at all backward about mentioning them." "I don't intend to be," was the quiet, but spirited reply. "I wouldn't do for another what I do for you, for double my board and clothing. Both the parlor and sitting-room need refurnishing; everything looks so faded and shabby, that I am ashamed to have any one call. And the stairs need recarpeting, the blinds and gate need repairing, and the fence needs painting.""That can't be all, Mrs. Taggard. Are you sure that there isn't something else?"
"I don't think of anything else just now, Mr. Taggard; though if there should be a few dollars over and above what these will cost, they won't come amiss. I should like to have a little change in my pocket, if only for the novelty of the thing. You needn't fear its being wasted."
Mr. Taggard was evidently not a little astonished at this sudden outbreak in his usually quiet and patient wife, but who, like most women of that stamp, had considerable spirit when it was aroused.
"Now that you are through, Mrs. Taggard, perhaps you will let me say a word. Here is all the money I can spare you this month; so you can make the most of it."
Laying a roll of bills on the table, Mr. Taggard walked to the door; remarking, just before he closed it, that he should leave town on the next train, to be absent about a week.
The reverie into which Mrs. Taggard fell, as she listened to the sound of his retreating steps, was far from being a pleasant one. Aside from her natural vexation, she felt grieved and saddened by the change that had come over her once kind, indulgent husband. He seemed to be entirely filled with the greed of gain, the desire to amass
money--not for the sake of the good that it might enable him to enjoy, or confer, but for the mere pleasure of hoarding it. And this miserly feeling grew upon him daily, until he seemed to grudge his family the common comforts of life. And yet Mrs. Taggard knew that he was not only in receipt of a comfortable income from his business, but had laid by a surplus, yearly, ever since their marriage.
She had taxed her ingenuity to save in every possible way, but when the monthly bills were presented the same scene was enacted, only it grew worse and worse.
And this penuriousness extended to himself. He grudged himself, as well as wife and children, clothing suitable to his means and station, and went about looking so rusty and shabby that Mrs. Taggard often felt ashamed of him, inwardly wondering if he could be the same man who had wooed and won her.
With a heavy sigh Mrs. Taggard took up the roll of bills upon the table, hoping to find enough to pay what was already due--she did not look for more.
An ejaculation of astonishment burst from her lips as she unrolled the paper in which it was folded. It contained $500 in bills, and a check for $500 more.
With a look of quiet determination in her eyes, Mrs. Taggard arose to her feet. "The family should now have some of the comforts to which they were entitled, if they never did again."
First, she settled every bill; a heavy weight being lifted from her heart as she did so; besides getting a fresh supply of fuel and other comforts. Her next move was to order new furniture for the sitting-room and parlor, have the hall recarpeted and papered, the broken door-step mended, and the fence and blinds repaired and painted. She then took the children out, and got them new garments from hats to shoes. She bought herself three new dresses; a neat gingham for morning wear, a delaine for afternoons, and something nicer for best. And before going home she took the children into a toy-shop; delighting the boy with the skates he had so often asked for, and giving the girl the chief wish of her heart, a doll and doll's wardrobe--not forgetting some blocks for the baby. For, like a wise, as well as kind, mother, Mrs. Taggard desired to make their childhood a happy one; something to look back upon with pleasure through their whole life. Neither was John forgotten; by the aid of some old garments, for a pattern, she got him an entire new suit, together with stuff for dressing-gown and slippers.
The day on which Mrs. Taggard expected her husband's return was a very busy one; but at last the carpets were down, the paper hung, and everything in the best of order.
He was expected on the five o'clock train, and Mrs. Taggard set the children, attired in their pretty new dresses, at the window to watch for papa, while she went below to assist Jane in preparing something extra for supper. She had just returned when Mr. Taggard was seen approaching the house.
It looked so different from what it did when he left, that he stared at it in amazement, and would have hesitated about entering, had it not been for the name on the newly burnished door-plate. But he was still more astonished when he entered."Am I in my own house, or somebody else's?" he ejaculated, as he looked around the bright and pleasant room. "It is the new furniture I have been buying," said his wife, smiling. "How do you like it?" "Have you been running me in debt, Mary?" "Not in the least, John, it was all bought with the money you so generously left me when you went away." Mr. Taggard clapped his hand into one of his pockets. "My goodness!" he exclaimed, in an agitated tone and manner, "I gave it to you out of the wrong pocket!"
Mrs. Taggard did not look at all astonished or disturbed at this announcement; on the contrary, her countenance wore a very smiling and tranquil aspect."You don't mean to say that you've spent it?" inquired Mr. Taggard, desperately. "Why, what else should I do with it, John? You told me to make the most of it; and I rather think I have." "I am a ruined man!" groaned Mr. Taggard.
"Not a bit of it, my dear husband," said his wife, cheerfully, "you wouldn't be ruined if you had given me twice that amount. Besides, I have saved enough for our housekeeping expenses, for three months, at least. I think you had better give me an allowance for that purpose in future; it will save us both much annoyance."The children, who had been led to consider what their mother had bought them as "presents from papa," now crowded eagerly around him.
Mr. Taggard loved his children, and it would be difficult for any one having the kind and tender heart that he really possessed, to turn away from the innocent smiles and caresses that were lavished upon him.
It was a smiling group that gathered round the cheerful supper-table. And as Mr. Taggard glanced from the gleeful children to the smiling face of his wife, who certainly looked ten years younger, attired in her new and becoming dress, he came to the conclusion that though it might cost something to make his family comfortable, on the whole, it paid.
We do not mean to say that Mr. Taggard was entirely cured; a passion so strong is not so easily eradicated. But when the old miserly feeling came over him, and he began to dole out grudgingly the means with which to make his family comfortable, his wife would pleasantly say: "You are taking it out of the wrong pocket, John!"--words which seemed to have a magical effect upon both heart and purse-strings.
"Let us not deprive ourselves of the comforts of life," she would often say, "nor grudge our children the innocent pleasures natural to youth, for the purpose of laying up for them the wealth that is, too often, a curse rather than a blessing."AN INFINITE GIVER.
Think you, when the stars are glinting, Or the moonlight's shimmering gleam
Paints the water's rippled surface With a coat of silvered sheen--
Think you then that God, the Painter, Shows his masterpiece divine?
That he will not hang another
Of such beauty on the line?
Think you, when the air is trembling With the birds' exultant song,
And the blossoms, mutely fragrant, Strive the anthem to prolong--
Think you then that their Creator, At the signal of his word,
Fills the earth with such sweet music As shall ne'er again be heard?
He will never send a blessing But have greater ones in store,
And each oft recurring kindness Is an earnest of still more.
If the earth seems full of glory As his purposes unfold,
There is still a better country-- And the half has not been told!
These houses are opposite each other in a beautiful suburban town. "My house" is large and handsome, with a cupola, and has a rich lawn before it. It is surrounded by a broad piazza, and graced and shaded by ancestral elms and huge button-wood trees. Its barns and stables are large and well-filled; its orchards are gorgeous with fruit, in the season, and the fields around it seem alive with golden grain that waves in the wind. Everything about the place tells of long-continued prosperity. The rich old squire who lives there rides about with fine horses, and talks a great deal to his neighbors about "my house, my orchards, and my horses."
His wife is evidently the lady of the region. She was a model housekeeper and dairywoman in the days when they worked the farm, and is now an oracle on many questions. She, too, talks of "my house, my horses, and my estate."
These persons each brought property to the other, and the two interests have, unfortunately, never flowed together and formed one estate as they should have done; so there are always two separate interests in the house.
Of course the property belongs, legally, to both; but as each has a snug little fund laid away, the question is always to be settled, if repairs are to be made, or horses or furniture bought, who shall pay for it.
It seems but proper to the husband that carpets, and sofas, etc., shall be bought by his wife; also the cows, as the lady is at the head of the house. But she says, "You walk on the carpets, sit on the sofas, and eat the cream and butter just as much as I do, and I see no reason why you should not, at least, help to pay for them."
Such discussions often occur, but, on the whole, each upholds the interest of the other against outsiders, and gets along without open rupture. They ride about in better dress than their neighbors, they receive and return visits, and are called the leading family in town. But "my house," as some have named the great square mansion, is nobody's house but its owners'. No guest who can not return hospitality in equal style is asked to tarry for a night there. All ministers sojourning in the place are directed by them to the humble parsonage for entertainment. Every weary, homeless wanderer is pointed to the distant almshouse; and a neighbor's horse or cow which has strayed from its own enclosure, is at once put into the pound by the squire's man.
If an appeal is made for any benevolent object the squire says, "Go to my house and ask my wife to give you something." She, in turn, points the applicant to the field or the orchard, and says, "Go down there and ask my husband to give you something." So one puts it on the other, and nothing is given; and neither the town nor the world is the better for their living.This is the way things are done at "my house."
Across the street, under the shadow of two wide-spreading elms, stands a very modest cottage nestled in vines and flowers, with curtains drawn up to let in the light of God's blessed sun, and an ever-open door with a great chair in full view, holding out its time-worn arms, as if to invite and welcome in the weary passer-by. The birds are always remembered here in their times of scarcity, and so in token of their gratitude, they gather in the trees and carol out sweet and merry songs by way of paying their bills.
God's peace, as well as his plenty, rests on this place, and while its owners call it, in their hearts, "God's house," they speak of it to others, always as "our house."
Twenty-five years ago a sturdy, brave-hearted young mechanic bought this one acre of land, and with his own hands dug and walled a cellar, at times when he had no work to do for others. When he had earned an additional hundred or two dollars he bought lumber and began to build a house. People asked him what he was going to do with it, and he replied that if he should live to finish it, he was going to live in it.
Well, in two years the house was finished, to the last nail and hook. Then he went away, as it was thought, for a wife. In a week he returned, bringing with him some neat household furniture, and three persons instead of only one.
He did bring a wife--a bright-eyed, merry-hearted young girl--and also two aged women, "our mothers," as he called them. The first night in the house they dedicated their humble home--"our house" to God, and in the name of the Lord they set up their banner, praying that ever after this his banner over them might be love.
Many a family moves into a new home and asks God to come in and prosper them, and take up his abode there; but they do nothing to draw him thither. They begin for self, and go on for self; and sometimes God leaves them to themselves.
But the young owners of "our house"--the children of "our mothers"--made their little home His home and the home of His poor and feeble ones. "Our mothers" now laid down the weapons of toil over which they had grown gray, and came out of the vale of honest poverty into the sunshine of plenty. Their hearts grew warm in this gift of double love. They renewed their youth.
In their first days at their children's home, one of "our mothers" spoke of "Henry's new house," when he checked her, saying, "Never call this my house again. I built it for God and for all of you, and I want it always called 'our house.' There is yet one thing I want done here before I shall feel that I have made my thank-offering to God for the health and strength and the work which have enabled me to build and pay for this house. I promised then that no stranger or wanderer should ever go hungry or weary from this door. You have made sure of a neat and sunny room for our friends. Now I want a bed, a chair, and a table put in the shed-chamber for such strangers as we cannot ask into the house. I want also to fill the little store-closet under the back stairway with provisions to give the needy. They will then not be our own; and if at any time we should be short of money, we will not be tempted to say, 'I have nothing to give.' I want to live for more than self, and I know you all share the feeling. I want to feel that God is here, and to live as if we saw him and were all under his actual guidance and care, and to realize that he sees and approves our way in life."Thus was "our house" opened, and thus was it kept--a home sanctified to humanity and to God.
The years rolled away, not without changes, but peace and plenty still reign in the modest home whose owners are looked up to by all the town's people--rich as well as poor--as friends and benefactors; for all men alike need human sympathy and comfort.
The young carpenter of twenty-five years ago, is now a prosperous builder in the great city near his home. He could afford to erect and occupy a house worth four times what the cottage cost. But he loves the place, and cannot tear himself from it. He has added more than one L to it, and he has refurnished it, and brought into it many articles of taste and luxury.When asked why he does not build a house more in accordance with his means, he replies:--
"No house could be built which would be like 'our house.' I can never forget the night we and our mothers dedicated it to God in prayer and simple trust; and ever since that night I have felt as if we were dwelling in the secret of his tabernacle, under the shadow of the Almighty. We might have a larger and more fashionable house, but it would bring a weight of care on its mistress, and steal the time she has made sacred to others. No other house could have the memories this one has; no other house be hallowed as this house has been by the prayers of the holy and the blessings of the poor."
And so the family still live on and are happy in "our house." Still the pastor's weary wife is relieved of church company, for, from force of habit, all ministers and others on errands of good, draw up their horses before the well-filled stable, and ring, for themselves, at this open door. Still the poor are fed from that store-closet under the back stairway; still the wanderer--though he be a wanderer in a double sense--rests his weary head in that shed-chamber.
The squire wonders at the builder, because he lives in such a modest way compared with his means, and says, "If I were he, I'd be ashamed of that cottage which was all well enough when he was a young journeyman."
The builder wonders what the squire does with all that great house, and why, when half a dozen rooms are empty there, he doesn't allow himself the pleasure of company, and of sheltering strangers and getting the blessing they bring.
The squire's wife peeps through her fine curtains, and says, "I wonder that pretty and intelligent woman hasn't more taste. She might live like a lady if she pleased, and dress as I do; but she pokes on just as she began, and dresses no better than the minister's wife, and has a rabble of poor, forlorn creatures whom I wouldn't let into my house, nor into my wood-shed, running after her for food and clothing, and nobody knows what."So you see, "my house" is literally "my house," and "our house" is God's house. A MOUNTAIN PRAYER MEETING
"Will you go to meeting with me this afternoon, Mabel? Come; this is your last day here; do go once before you leave the White Mountains." "What do you do in 'meeting'?" asked the gay, beautiful, "High Church" New York belle, with just a shade of contemptuous inflection in her voice.
"Well,--there will be no sermon; there never is in the afternoon. The good minister sits in the aisle, in front of the pulpit, and invites any one he likes to make a prayer. Any other one, who feels the need of it, may request that he or she be mentioned personally in the petition; and those who wish it may relate their experience."
"How very funny! All the old women 'speakin' in meetin',' and scaring themselves dreadfully. I'll go. I dare say I shall have a good laugh, if I don't fall asleep."
So we walked through the long, hilly street of Bethlehem, in the pleasant hour before sunset, in the sweet, warm, hazy air of early autumn. The glory of the Lord shone round about us; for all the mountains were burnished, splendid, gorgeous, in purple and crimson and gold. Mabel's deep gray eyes grew large and luminous as her artist-soul drank in the ineffable beauty.
The building was so crowded with the villagers and many visitors that it was with difficulty we obtained seats, apart from each other. Mabel found a place next to a young, sweet-faced country woman, and looked, with her flower-like face and French costume, like some rare exotic by the side of a humble mountain daisy.The minister opened the services with a few fervent, simple words, and then said, "Brother----, will you lead in prayer?"
A plain old country farmer knelt in the aisle before us. His prayer--sincere, and, I doubt not, as acceptable, because sincere, as if it had been offered in polished language--made Mabel shake with laughter.
He rose, and there was utter silence for a moment. Then a high, sweet woman's voice, far in front of us, sang out, clear as a bell,-- "Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father's throne,
Make all my wants and wishes known."
This time Mabel was convulsed with laughter; but the sweet singer, who saw in this utterance only the contrite soul of the speaker, burst forth triumphantly with--
"Oh, gift of gifts! oh, grace of faith! My God, how can it be
That thou, who hast discerning love,
Shouldst give that gift to me?"
"I haven't any gift of language," said she, "but I want to give in my testimony. I've always been a wicked woman; I've always gone against my conscience. I've made my folks at home miserable for many a long year; and that's the reason God poured trouble after trouble down on me, till I was about to take my own life, when some one--it must have been one of God's angels--went singing through the woods. Shall I ever forget the words?--"'With tearful eyes I look around; Life seems a dark and stormy sea;--'" She stopped, her voice breaking into a hoarse sob, when the other sweet voice immediately went on-- "Yet, mid the gloom, I hear a sound,-- A heavenly whisper,--'Come to me.'
"Oh, voice of mercy! voice of love! In conflict, grief, and agony,
Support me, cheer me from above! And gently whisper--'Come to me.'" I looked at Mabel. She was not laughing. A strange, awed expression rested upon her features; her head was bowed down as the sweet-faced woman at her side rose and, turning to the last speaker, said, in a low, gentle voice,--
"My sister, we all thank our heavenly Father that he put his strong arm of protection about you while it was yet time; and since you have joined with us in profession of your faith, there has been no one more earnest in those good works without which faith is nothing."
Then reverently kneeling, she prayed that God would strengthen her dear sister, and give them all love and charity, one for another, and his peace, which passeth all understanding.Out rang the sweet voice,--
"Haste thee on, from grace to glory, Armed by faith, and winged by prayer!
Heaven's eternal day's before thee, God's own hand shall guide thee there."
Mabel was now silently crying, and big tears were blinding my eyes, when a grand old man rose from his seat. Bent and feeble now, I could see that he had once been tall and stately, looking as the Puritan fathers must have looked when they first stepped upon "the stern and rock-bound coast" at Plymouth. Fine, clean-cut features, and eyes still blue and piercing remained, but his voice trembled painfully as he said,--
"I am ninety-four years old, and most of those I love have gone to the graveyard before me; I have lived all these years in Bethlehem, and, boy and man, have tried to serve the Lord: and I owe my blessed hope in my Saviour to the teaching and example of my good and pious mother." Then, with aged, trembling hands uplifted, he prayed that all the children present might be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Near us was a handsome, well-dressed man, past middle age, who had listened with absorbed attention to all that had been said, and who now seemed strangely agitated. In a moment he arose, and then he spoke.
"I presume that no one here remembers a poor boy who nearly fifty years ago left this place to seek his fortune. Fatherless, motherless, with no claim upon any one here, I wandered away with a heavy heart to earn my bread. Many a time have I been exhausted, discouraged, almost hopeless; but my mother had taught me to pray--her dying gift to me was her own Bible. It has gone round the world with me, and God has never forsaken me. I have long been a rich man, and I have come once more to these grand hills--my childhood's home--to testify my gratitude to my Maker for all his goodness. I never intended to speak as I am now doing; but after what I have heard and witnessed, I should be most ungrateful if I did not give my testimony and belief in the abounding love and mercy of God. O friends! take me back! Let me be one with you in this most sweet and touching service, and when I leave you, pray that I may never be ungrateful for the earthly blessings he has heaped upon me, and for the far more priceless gift of his Son, Jesus Christ."
Every one had listened to the stranger in deep silence. Every heart had thrilled responsive to his words. It seemed as if the very breath of Heaven had entered into the little church, cleansing and purifying each soul present, and filling it with inexpressible devotion, when, like a soft, trembling wave, the pure young voice came floating down the aisles, and we heard the solemn acknowledgment,--
"A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify;
A precious, blood-bought soul to save, And fit it for the sky."
She sang alone; a feeling too deep for utterance had prevented the rest from joining in, and many heads were bent in silent prayer and thanksgiving.
But oh! what did I see? Pale as death, her eyes dilated, her whole frame quivering like an aspen, Mabel arose and essayed to speak. The muscles of her mouth refused to obey her will, but with a painful effort she faltered in low, broken tones, "Pray for me," and sank down upon her knees.
It was the voice of God that spoke in those three little words, "_Pray for me_," uttered so low, yet distinctly heard in every part of the church. Joyful tears were streaming down many women's faces, as for the first time the singer's voice trembled, broke, and at last sobbed through the humble entreaty,--
"Just as I am--without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bid'st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come."
As she finished, a young minister who was living in the same house with us, and whose life had been nearly sacrificed in missionary labors, bowed in prayer. The radiance of Heaven was upon his face, and God spoke through him to the awakened soul of Mabel in a way I had never heard before. The words poured out in an inspired flood, carrying her soul resistless upon its mighty waves to repentance, faith, prayer, praise, love, joy, peace, and at last heaven!
With a solemn benediction the services were ended; and when we had come out, it seemed as if the very heavens were rejoicing over the tidings which had gone up of the soul that day redeemed. All that was gorgeous and beautiful in color had taken possession of the sky. The clouds, like great gold and crimson banners, were moving high over our heads, furling and unfurling, as if carried by exultant angels, marching and singing their triumphant allelujahs.
And Mabel, still white as an Easter lily, but with her deep gray eyes full of a new happiness, a steadfast resolution to live henceforth for Christ, walked by my side, watching the great glory of the heavens, with her arm lovingly entwined in mine. We did not speak; we had no need, for our thoughts were in perfect accord. I had witnessed the wonderful mystery of her instantaneous "change of heart;" I knew it was well with her.
Beautiful, gay, fashionable, the pet of society, I knew her also to be a staunch upholder of all that was noble, good, and pure, and I felt a thorough conviction that she had indeed given herself up body and soul to Him who had chosen to send his Holy Spirit into her heart, as she was going out of the little village which bore the blessed name of _Bethlehem_.
However it be, it seems to me,
'Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets, And simple faith than Norman blood.
Tom Darcy, yet a young man, had grown to be a very hard one. Although naturally kind-hearted, active, and intelligent, he lacked strength of will to resist temptation, and had therefore fallen a victim to intemperance. He had lost his place as foreman of the great machine-shop, and what money he now earned came from odd jobs of tinkering which he was able to do here and there at private houses; for Tom was a genius as well as a mechanic, and when his head was steady enough, he could mend a clock or clean a watch as well as he could set up and regulate a steam-engine, and this latter he could do better than any other man ever employed by the Scott Falls Manufacturing Company.
One day Tom was engaged to mend a broken mowing-machine and reaper, for which he received five dollars; and on the following morning he started for his old haunt, the village tavern. He knew that his wife sadly needed the money, and that his two little children were absolutely suffering for want of clothing, and that morning he held a debate with the better part of himself, but the better part had become weak, and the demon of appetite carried the day.
So away to the tavern Tom went, where, for two or three hours, he felt the exhilarating effects of the alcoholic draught, and fancied himself happy, as he could sing and laugh; but, as usual, stupefaction followed, and the man died out. He drank while he could stand, and then lay down in a corner, where his companions left him.It was almost midnight, when the landlord's wife came to the barroom to see what kept her husband up, and she quickly saw Tom. "Peter," said she, not in a pleasant mood, "why don't you send that miserable Tom Darcy home? He's been hanging around here long enough."
Tom's stupefaction was not sound sleep. The dead coma had left his brain, and the calling of his name stung his senses to keen attention. He had an insane love of rum, but he did not love the landlord. In other years, Peter Tindar and he had wooed the same maiden,--Ellen Goss,--and he had won her, leaving Peter to take up with the sharp-tempered damsel who had brought him the tavern, and Tom knew that lately the tapster had gloated over the misery of the woman who had once discarded him."Why don't you send him home?" demanded Mrs. Tindar, with an impatient stamp of her foot.
"Hush, Betsey, he's got money. Let him be, and he'll be sure to spend it before he goes home. I'll have the kernel of that nut, and his wife may have the husk."Betsey turned away, and shortly afterward Tom Darcy lifted himself up on his elbow. "Ah, Tom, are you awake?" "Yes." "Then rouse up and have a warm glass." Tom got upon his feet and steadied himself. "No; I won't drink any more to-night." "It won't hurt you, Tom--just one glass." "I know it won't!" said Tom, buttoning up his coat by the solitary button left. "I know it won't!"
And with this he went out into the chill air of midnight. When he got away from the shadow of the tavern, he stopped and looked up at the stars, and then he looked down upon the earth.
"Aye," he muttered, grinding his heel in the gravel, "Peter Tindar is taking the kernel, and leaving poor Ellen the worthless husk,--a husk more than worthless! and I am helping him do it. I am robbing my wife of joy, robbing my dear children of honor and comfort, and robbing myself of love and life--just that Peter Tindar may have the kernel, and Ellen the husk! We'll see!"
It was a revelation to the man. The tavern-keeper's speech, not meant for his ears, had come on his senses as fell the voice of the Risen One upon Saul of Tarsus."We'll see!" he said, setting his foot firmly upon the ground; and then he wended his way homeward. On the following morning he said to his wife, "Ellen, have you any coffee in the house?"
"Yes, Tom." She did not tell him that her sister had given it to her. She was glad to hear him ask for coffee, instead of the old, old cider."I wish you would make me a cup, good and strong."
There was really music in Tom's voice, and the wife set about her work with a strange flutter at her heart.
Tom drank two cups of the strong fragrant coffee, and then went out, with a resolute step, and walked straight to the great manufactory, where he found Mr. Scott in his office.
Tom's hands were weak and unsteady, but his brain was clear, and under his skilful supervision the engine was set up and tested; but it was not perfect. There were mistakes which he had to correct, and it was late in the evening when the work was complete."How is it now, Tom?" asked Mr. Scott, as he came into the testing-house and found the workmen ready to depart. "She's all right, sir. You may give your warrant without fear." "God bless you, Tom! You don't know how like music the old voice sounds. Will you take your old place again?" "Wait till Monday morning, sir. If you will offer it to me then, I will take it."
At the little cottage, Ellen Darcy's fluttering heart was sinking. That morning, after Tom had gone, she found a dollar bill in the coffee-cup. She knew that he left it for her. She had been out and bought tea and sugar, and flour and butter, and a bit of tender steak; and all day long a ray of light had been dancing and glimmering before her,--a ray from the blessed light of other days. With prayer and hope she had set out the tea-table, and waited; but the sun went down and no Tom came. Eight o'clock--and almost nine.
Hark! The old step! quick, strong, eager for home. Yes, it was Tom, with the old grime upon his hands, and the odor of oil upon his garments.
On the following Monday morning, Tom resumed his place at the head of the great machine-shop, and those who thoroughly knew him had no fear of his going back into the slough of joylessness.A few days later, Tom met Peter Tindar on the street. "Eh, Tom, old boy, what's up?" "I am up, right side up." "Yes, I see; but I hope you haven't forsaken us, Tom."
"I have forsaken only the evil you have in store, Peter. The fact is, I concluded that my wife and little ones had fed on husks long enough, and if there was a good kernel left in my heart, or in my manhood, they should have it."
"Ah, you heard what I said to my wife that night." "Yes, Peter; and I shall be grateful to you for it as long as I live. My remembrance of you will always be relieved by that tinge of warmth and brightness."SONG OF THE RYE.
I was made to be eaten, And not to be drank;
To be thrashed in a barn, Not soaked in a tank.
I come as a blessing
When put through a mill,
As a blight and a curse When run through a still.
Make me up into loaves, And the children are fed;
But if into drink,
I'll starve them instead.
In bread I'm a servant, The eater shall rule;
In drink I am master, The drinker a fool.
"It is not true! I can point to you a dozen cases within my own range of observation to disprove the assertion--to young men who have gone astray in spite of the careful training and good example of religious homes--in spite of all the best of mothers and the wisest of fathers could do."
Yes, we hear such things said every day; but feel certain there is an error somewhere, a defect in your observation. Were you in the homes of these young men from the beginning? Did you observe the personal bearing of their parents toward them--know their walk and conversation? If nay, then you are not competent, with your instances, to disprove our assertion.
A small error at the beginning of a series of calculations in applied mechanics may lead to a great disaster; the slightest variation from a right line at the beginning will throw a projectile hundreds of yards away from its object. It is in the little things at home, the almost unnoticed departures from order and good government, the neglects arising from parental self-indulgence, the weakness of love that fails to nip a fault in the bud; and many other things that might be instanced, which turn the young feet into ways of life that, as the years go by, lead farther and farther from safety and happiness.
The Bible, experience, and reason all declare that the future of a child depends upon his early training. If this is bad, the chances are nearly all against him."But," we hear it said, "children raised under the worst influences often make good and useful men."
The cases are exceptional, and stand out in strong contrast to the general rule. And so we go back to what was declared in the beginning, that the ruin of a soul begins at home. How many instances crowd upon the memory! Let us take a few at this time for their lesson and their warning.
Not long ago, in one of our principal cities, an almost broken-hearted mother parted from her son in the courthouse, and was taken fainting to her home, while he was thrust into a van and conveyed to prison. His crime was stealing. Society held up its hands in pity and amazement, for the young man's father and mother were highly respectable people, and good church members, as the saying is. The father's business reputation stood high. People said of him: "His word is as good as his bond." And yet his son was a condemned thief. He had stolen from his employer.
Did the ruin in this case begin at home?--Yes! It was at home the son learned to be dishonest, and he learned it from his mother! Let us rehearse a few of the lessons, in precept and example, that were given to the boy. We begin when he was just five years of age. The boy, Karl, was standing near his mother, Mrs. Omdorff, one day, when he heard her say to his aunt: "Barker has cheated himself. Here are four yards of ribbon, instead of three. I asked for three yards, and paid for only three; but this measures full four yards."The boy listened and waited for what was to come next. He loved his mother, and trusted in her. "What are you going to do about it?" inquired the aunt.
"Keep it, of course," answered Mrs. Omdorff; "Barker will never be the wiser. He makes enough out of us, dear knows." And she rolled the ribbon about her fingers.
Karl was a little surprised. It did not seem like his mother, nor in accordance with what she had often said to him about truth and honesty, but he had faith in her, and was sure that she could do nothing wrong. His Aunt Ruth, of whom he was very fond, and who had great influence over him, was a weak woman in some respects, and much more inclined to take the current of other's opinions than to give herself the trouble of opposition. Her innate sense of honor was a little disturbed at her sister's views of the case; but she failed to say the right words which were in her thoughts, and which, if spoken, might have helped the boy to see what was just and right.A day or two afterward, Karl heard his mother say: "I saved a car ticket this morning." "How?" inquired her sister. "The conductor forgot to ask for it." "Why didn't you give it to him, mamma?" asked Karl.
"It was his business to look after his passengers," replied Mrs. Omdorff, who felt rather uncomfortable at this question from her little boy. "It will teach him a lesson."Karl thought a moment, and then said: "But he won't know anything about it." "Oh, you're too sharp!" exclaimed his mother, with a laugh. "I wasn't talking to you, anyhow." "Little pitchers have big ears," said Aunt Ruth, echoing her sister's laugh. And so the matter was pushed aside, neither mother nor aunt imagining that the bright and beautiful boy they both loved so tenderly had received a lesson in dishonesty not soon to be forgotten. "I do believe," said Mrs. Omdorff, not long afterward, as she sat counting over some money, "that Poole has given me the wrong change." Karl was in the room and heard her remark.
"Let me see," she added, going over the money again. "Two and a half, three, four and three-quarters. It's a fact; I gave him a ten-dollar bill, and here are four and three-quarters change.""What did the goods amount to?" asked her sister.
"There were eleven yards of muslin at eighteen; that's a dollar and ninety-eight cents. Two yards of silk at a dollar and a half, and an eighth of a yard of velvet one dollar--making just five dollars and ninety-eight cents. If it had come to six dollars, my right change would have been four; but he has given me four and three-quarters."Then, in a tone of satisfaction, she added: "I'm that much richer, you see, Ruth."
Her sister smiled, but did not utter the disapproval that was in her heart. Karl listened and took all in. A little while afterward Mrs. Omdorff got up and rang the bell, saying, as she did so, with a short gurgling laugh, that seemed ashamed of itself: "I guess we'll have a little ice-cream--at Poole's expense."
Aunt Ruth shook her finger, and said feebly: "Oh, that's too bad!" But Karl was not able to see whether she approved or disapproved. The ice-cream was sent for, and enjoyed by the child. While the sweet taste was yet on his tongue, he heard his mother say: "I'm very much obliged to Poole for his treat--it's delicious."
Is it strange that the boy's perception of right and wrong should be obscured? or that, in a day or two afterward, he should come in from the street with an orange in his hand, and, on being questioned about it, reply: "A woman let it drop from her basket, and I picked it up. She didn't see it drop, mamma.""But why didn't you call after her?" asked Aunt Ruth. "'Cause I didn't want to," answered the child. "She dropped it. I didn't knock it off."
Mrs. Omdorff was not satisfied with the conduct of her child; and yet she was amused at what she called his cuteness, and laughed instead of reproving him for an act that was in spirit a theft.
So the child's education for crime was begun--his ruin initiated. The low moral sense of his mother was perpetually showing itself in some disregard for others' rights. A mistake made in her favor was never voluntarily corrected, and her pleasure at any gain of this kind was rarely concealed. "He cheated himself," was a favorite saying, heard by Karl almost every week; and as he grew older he understood its meaning more clearly.
Mr. Omdorff was a man of higher integrity than his wife and just in dealing to the smallest fraction. "Foolish about little things--more nice than wise," as she often said, when he disapproved of her way of doing things, as was sometimes the case. Mrs. Omdorff had learned to be guarded in her speech when he was at home; and so he remained in ignorance of the fatal perversions going on in the mind of his child.
As the boy grew up his father's supervision became more direct. He was careful about his associates, and never permitted him to be away from home without knowing where and with whom he was. He knew but too well the danger of evil association; and guarded his boy with jealous solicitude.
Alas! he dreamed not of the evil influences at home; never imagined that the mother was destroying in her son that nice sense of honor without which no one is safe; nor that she had taught him to disregard the rights of others, to take mean advantages, and to appropriate what did not belong to him whenever it could be done with absolute certainty of concealment.
We do not mean to say that such were the direct and purposed teachings of his mother. She would have been horror stricken at the mere suggestion. But she had so taught him by example. In heart she was not honest; and in many of her transactions she was as much a thief as if she had robbed a till. Retaining what belongs to another, simply because it has come into our hands by mistake, is as much a theft in its spirit as purposed stealing; and the fine lady who keeps the change to which she is not entitled, or the yard of ribbon measured to her in error, is just as criminal, as the sneak-thief who gets into her hall through a neglected door and steals her husband's overcoat. The real quality of an act lies in the intent.
Is it any wonder that amid such home influences the boy did not show, as he advanced toward maturity, a high sense of honor? That he should be mean and selfish and dishonest in little things? "As the twig is bent the tree is inclined." Evil seed will produce evil fruit.
Society punished and execrated the unhappy young man, and pitied his wretched mother, little dreaming that by her hand his prison doors had been opened.
Another instance of the baneful influence that may exist at home is to be found in the ruin of a young man who recently died in one of the lowest and vilest haunts of the city. He had been well educated, and grew to manhood with a fine sense of honor. His mother was a woman of rare culture, and beloved by every one in the circle where she moved. All the moral sentiments of her son had been carefully fostered and developed, and when he reached manhood no one showed a fairer promise.
But it was not long before a shadow fell across his life. He had learned one thing at home that was destined to work his ruin--he had learned to love the taste of wine.
His father belonged to a class of men who considered wine drinking a mark of good breeding. He knew all about wines, and had a weak vanity in being thought a connoisseur. If he had a friend to dinner, he would bring out two or three kinds, and discuss them through half the meal. He called the men who were ranging themselves against the terrible evil of intemperance, and seeking to stay its baleful course, "poor fanatics." He talked of pure wines and liquors as harmless, and gave them to his son at suitable times and occasions, _moderately_; only guarding him by warnings against excess.
But these warnings went for nothing as appetite increased. At twelve years of age the boy was content with a single glass of light wine at his dinner; at eighteen he wanted two glasses, and at twenty-one three. By this time he had acquired convivial habits, and often drank freely with other young men of his age. His mother was the first to take the alarm; but his father was slow to believe that his son was in danger. The sad truth broke upon him at last in a painful humiliation. At a large party in his own house the young man became so badly intoxicated that he had to be removed from the company.
From that unhappy period wine was banished from the father's table. But it was too late! The work of ruin had progressed too far. At twenty-seven the wretched young man died, as we have said, in one of the lowest and vilest dens of the city.
We could give many instances like this. Here, at home, is the chief source of that wide-spread ruin by intemperance, that is every year robbing society of thousands of young men, who, by education, culture, and social standing are fitted for useful and honorable positions. They are ruined at home. Not in one case in ten does a young man acquire the taste for drink in a saloon or tavern, but at home--if not in his own home, in that of some friend. We fear that the drinking saloons men set up in their drawing-rooms, and to which they invite the young and old of both sexes, do more to deprave the taste and lead to intemperance than all the licensed taverns in the land. It is here that the appetite is formed and fostered--here that the
apprenticeship to drunkenness is served. Year by year the sons of our wealthiest and most intelligent and influential citizens are tempted and led astray by the drinking customs of society--ruined at home. How few of the sons of successful men rise to the level their fathers have gained. How many, alas! sink so far below this level that the eyes ache to look down upon them!
I love the words--perhaps because When I was leaving mother,
Standing at last in solemn pause, We looked at one another;
And I--I saw in mother's eyes The love she could not tell me,
A love eternal as the skies,
Whatever fate befell me.
She put her arms about my neck, And soothed the pain of leaving,
And though her heart was like to break, She spoke no word of grieving;
She let no tear bedim her eye,
For fear that might distress me;
But, kissing me, she said good-bye, And asked our God to bless me.
For many years I had been a follower of strange gods, and a lover of this world and its vanities. I was self-righteous, and thought I had religion of my own which was better than that of the Bible. I did not know God, and did not serve him. Prayer was forgotten, public worship neglected; and worldly morality was the tree which brought forth its own deceptive fruit.
But when I shared parental responsibility, and our boy was growing up, our love for him made us anxious about his welfare and future career. His questions often puzzled me, and the sweet and earnest manner in which he inquired of his poor sinful father to know more about his Heavenly Father, and that "happy land, far, far away," of which his nurse had taught him, proved to me that God had given me a great blessing in the child.
A greater distrust of myself, and a greater sense of my inability to assure my boy of the truth contained in the simple little prayers that I had learned from my mother in childhood, gradually caused me to reflect. Still, I never went to church; had not even a Bible in the house. What was I to teach my boy,--Christ and him crucified, or the doctrines I had tried to believe?
One of his little friends died, then another, then his uncle. All these deaths made an impression on the boy. He rebelled against it; wanted to know "why God had done it?" It was hard that God should take away his friends; he wished he would not do it. I, of course, had to explain the best I could. One evening he was lying on the bed partly undressed; my wife and I were seated by the fire. She had been telling me that Willie had not been a good boy that day, and I had reproved him for it. All was quiet, when suddenly he broke out in a loud crying and sobbing, which surprised us. I went to him, and asked him what was the matter."I don't want it there, father; I don't want it there," said the child. "What, my child, what is it?"
"Why, father, I don't want the angels to write down in God's book all the bad things I have done to-day. I don't want it there; I wish it could be wiped out;" and his distress increased. What could I do? I did not believe, but yet I had been taught the way. I had to console him, so I said,--"Well, you need not cry; you can have it all wiped out in a minute if you want." "How, father, how?" "Why, get down on your knees, and ask God for Christ's sake, to wipe it out, and he will do it." I did not have to speak twice. He jumped out of bed, saying, "Father, won't you come and help me?"
Now came the trial. The boy's distress was so great, and he pleaded so earnestly, that the man who had never once bowed before God in spirit and in truth, got down on his knees beside that little child, and asked God to wipe away his sins; and perhaps, though my lips did not speak it, my heart included my own sins too. We then rose, and he lay down in his bed again. In a few moments more he said,--"Father, are you sure it is all wiped out?"
Oh, how the acknowledgment grated upon my unbelieving heart, as the words came to my mouth,--"Why, yes, my son; the Bible says that if from your heart you ask God for Christ's sake to do it, and if you are really sorry for what you have done, it shall be all blotted out."A smile of pleasure passed over his face, as he quietly asked,-- "What did the angel blot it out with? With a sponge?" Again was my whole soul stirred within me, as I answered,-- "No, but with the precious blood of Christ. The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin."
The fountains had at last burst forth. They could not be checked, and my cold heart was melted within me. I felt like a poor guilty sinner, and, turning away, said,--"My dear wife, _we_ must first find God, if we want to show him to our children. We cannot show them the way, unless we know it ourselves."
And in the silent hour of the night I bowed beside that dear boy, and prayed, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!" My wife, too, united with me, and we prayed jointly for ourselves and our child. And God heard our prayers, and received us, as he always does those who seek him with the whole heart.THE WAY TO OVERCOME. When first from slumber waking, No matter what the hour,
If you will say, "Dear Jesus, Come, fill me with thy power,"
You'll find that every trouble And every care and sin
Will vanish, surely, fully,
Because Christ enters in.
It may be late in morning,
Or in the dark before,
When first you hear his knocking; But open wide the door,
And say to him, "Dear Jesus, Come in and take the throne,
Lest Satan with his angels
Should claim it for his own."
For we are weak and sinful,
"Led captive at his will."
But thou canst "bind the strong man," Our heart with sweetness fill.
So would we have "thy presence" From our first waking hour;
All through the swift day's moments, Dwell thou with us in power.
I shall not soon forget the family of Israel Day, who lived neighbor to my father when I was a boy. Mr. Day was working out as a laborer, and as he had a large family dependent upon his earnings for support, and sometimes it was difficult in our neighborhood to find employment, the family was poor, and the strictest economy had to be practiced to furnish the bare necessities of life.
I often wondered how it happened that such a man as Mr. Day should be so poor. He had no intemperate or extravagant habits, and was a man of more than common education, and there was an air of intelligence and refinement about the entire family that commanded the respect of their neighbors. Mr. Day was industrious, but always seemed to me a man who had no ambition in life, and who expected and desired no more than a mere subsistence for his family. No one in the neighborhood knew anything of his history. The family had come from another State a few years previous, and while polite and friendly, they were very uncommunicative as to their former life, and there was something about them that forbade inquisitiveness.
I was at this time sixteen years old, and on very intimate terms with Mr. Day's family. At the time of my story he was helping my father on the farm for a few days and boarding with us. One day when we came in from our forenoon work, we found 'Squire Black was to take dinner with us, and as he was reputed to be the wealthiest man in the township, we felt quite honored. He was a very genial man and an excellent talker, and had an adroit way of flattering and making every one feel easy in his company.
On this occasion he made himself very agreeable; he praised the neat appearance of the farm and buildings, complimented mother on her good cooking, called me a fine, manly fellow, gave some small change to the children, and by the time dinner was over had gained the good will of the entire family.
After dinner Mr. Black asked to see the stock and examine the arrangement of the barn and outbuildings, and as father took pride in having good, well-fed stock and one of the most conveniently arranged barns in the county, he was glad to show him around, and was much pleased with the hearty commendation which Mr. Black bestowed upon them.
He finally made known the object of his visit; he had found a piece of very desirable property for sale, low, so that there was no question that within less than a year he could clear several thousand dollars on it, but he must pay all cash down and he lacked two thousand dollars of having enough money to pay for it. He wished father to become security for him for one year, as he had found a party who was willing to lend him the amount if his signature could be had to the note.
He did not give father time to think or scarcely to answer his questions, but took out his pocketbook and handed him a paper, supposing it to be the note which he had drawn up, and signed by himself, all ready for father's signature. I verily believe that if the paper had been what Squire Black thought it to be, father could not have refused to sign it; but it so happened that he had made a mistake and left the note at home and had substituted for it another paper.
A shade of vexation passed over the 'Squire's face when he discovered the mistake, but he at once recovered his good humor and said, "Never mind; I will call again this evening," and hastily mounted his horse and rode away.
Father looked troubled, and turning to me, said, "I do not like to indorse for any one, but 'Squire Black will be insulted if I refuse, and as he is rich I suppose there can be no risk about it. It is only complying with a legal form, and I suppose I shall be obliged to do it; but I wish he had not asked me to do so."
Before I could reply, the barn door opened and Mr. Day came out; he was pale and deeply agitated, and when he spoke I should not have recognized his voice. Calling my father by name, he said, "I believe that you are in danger, and if you will listen to me I will give you a chapter from my own history that I had never intended should be known to any in this neighborhood."
Father motioned for me to leave, thinking that Mr. Day wished to speak to him alone. He noticed it, however, and said, "No, let him stay, for one cannot learn too soon the lesson that my experience teaches. I would be willing that it should be published to the world if thereby some could be saved from my bitter experience. I overheard, as you know, what 'Squire Black said to you. Listen to my story and then decide as to whether you will put your name on his note."[Illustration: Paul at Athens]
"Fifteen years ago, when I was married, I was not the poor man that you now know me to be. My father gave me as my share of his property two thousand dollars, which I had increased to three, and my wife received as her wedding portion one thousand dollars. We were both strong and willing to work, and ambitious to succeed in the world, and we bought a good farm, running in debt a few hundred dollars. For several years we were greatly prospered. We had good health, and the seasons were favorable, so that we grew heavy crops and obtained fair prices for them.
"At the end of five years we had paid off our debt and had nearly one thousand dollars in the bank, and we felt that it would be safe to build a new house, although we expected to put more than the amount of money on hand into it.
"In the meantime there had come into the neighborhood one of the most companionable men I ever met. He was familiarly known as Capt. Cole. He had been a lawyer, but had been appointed by the General Government to a lucrative office which he held for some years, and had the reputation of being very wealthy. He lived in good style, and was a general favorite in all the community.
"When my house was finished I found myself in debt seven hundred dollars, and as I had given the contract to a carpenter, he to furnish everything, he needed all his money. I went to the bank to borrow the amount until I could find some one who would let me have it for one or two years, and not being accustomed to borrow money, it did not occur to me that an indorser would be necessary, until the cashier of the bank informed me that it was their invariable custom to require security. Capt. Cole, who happened to be in at the time, overheard the conversation and came forward with a pleasant 'Good morning,' saying, 'I shall be only too happy to indorse for my friend, Mr. Day.' I felt both grateful and flattered, and when a few months later I happened to be in the bank when he wanted an indorser, I was glad to return the favor.
"We had two years of prosperity, and I paid the debt on my house. I now determined to build a fine barn, and as I had always paid my debts easily and could not well get along with my old barn until I had saved the money to build the new one, I determined to borrow one thousand dollars, and happening to meet Capt. Cole, I asked him if he knew where I could get that amount for three years. He told me he did, and offered to become my security. The money was borrowed and my barn begun.
"A few weeks later Capt. Cole called to see me. Like 'Squire Black to-day, he seemed delighted with everything he saw. His flattery put me in the best possible humor, and when he asked me to indorse a note of $5,000 for sixty days, and assured me that he could meet it (or even twice as much) promptly, to the day, I consented against my better judgment, and affixed my signature to the note. That act ruined me. Before the sixty days expired I learned that he was bankrupt. My farm was sold at a sacrifice, under the hammer, and when I paid the thousand dollars which I had borrowed to build the barn with, I was left penniless.
"With my history in your possession, do you wonder that I was alarmed to-day when I saw you about to fall into the same trap? I tell you I have a right to feel deeply on this subject. Would that I could make my voice heard by every young man in the land. I would say to him, shun as you would a serpent this evil which has brought ruin to so many families. I realize fully what it means to put my name on another man's paper, and it is just this--that I assume all the risks of his business, without any voice in its management or any possible chance of profit if he is successful; but with a fearful certainty that if from any cause he makes a failure, my earnings must make it good, even though it reduces my family to beggary. Since my own misfortune I have made this a matter of study, and I find that a very large per cent. of the business failures, of the country (and nearly all among farmers) are due to this practice."
The remainder of my story is soon told. My father was deeply impressed by Mr. Day's story, and before night I was dispatched to 'Squire Black's with a note from father stating that after carefully
considering the matter he had decided not to sign the note. In less than a year after this 'Squire Black was declared a bankrupt, and in the final settlement of his business it did not pay ten cents on the dollar.
Father felt that he owed a debt of gratitude to Mr. Day, and he presented him with a good team and helped him to rent a farm. This encouraged him, and he worked so industriously and managed so prudently that in a few years he was able to buy a small farm and has since been able to support his family comfortably.
Many years have passed since these events occurred, and I am now past middle life, but I have never ceased to be thankful for the lesson taught me by Mr. Day, and in fulfilling his wish I would repeat the lesson which the story teaches--never indorse.WATCH YOUR WORDS.
Keep a watch on your words, my darling, For words are wonderful things;
They are sweet like the bee's fresh honey-- Like the bees, they have terrible stings;
They can bless, like the warm, glad sunshine, And brighten a lonely life;
They can cut in the strife of anger,
Like an open two-edged knife.
Let them pass through your lips unchallenged, If their errand is true and kind--
If they come to support the weary,
To comfort and help the blind;
If a bitter, revengeful spirit
Prompt the words, let them be unsaid;
They may flash through a brain like lightning, Or fall on a heart like lead.
The wounds they make, my darling, Are always slow to heal.
May peace guard your life, and ever, From the time of your early youth,
May the words that you daily utter Be the words of beautiful truth.
Albert Moore, at the age of twenty-five, took Alice Warren for his wife. He had been in the army--fought through from Bull's Bluff to Richmond--had come out with a captain's commission. He had come from the army with but little money; but he had a good trade, a stout pair of hands, and had borrowed no trouble for the future. Alice had saved up a few hundred dollars from her wages as a teacher, and when the twain had become husband and wife they found, upon a careful inventory, that they had enough to furnish a small house comfortably. Albert proposed that they should hire a tenement in the city; but Alice thought they had better secure a pretty cottage in the
suburbs--a cottage which they might, perhaps, in time, make their own.
Albert had no disposition to argue the question, so the cottage was found and secured. It was a pleasant, rural location, and so connected with the city by rail, that Albert found no difficulty in going to and from his workshop.
During her five years' experience in school-teaching Alice had learned many things, and having been an orphan from an early age, she had made the problems of real life one of her chief studies; and what she had learned in this latter department served her well in her new station. After marriage she found Albert to be just the man she had known him to be in other years. He was kind to a fault; free-hearted and generous; ready always to answer the call of friendship; and prone to pluck the flowers that bloom to-day, regardless of what may be nurtured to bloom to-morrow.
They had been married but a few months when Alice found he was cutting his garments according to his daily supply of cloth. Not a shred was he likely to save up from the cuttings for an extra garment for a rainy day to come.
"Albert," she said to him one evening, "do you know we ought to be laying up a little something?"
"The comfort of a little sum in the bank, which we should see growing toward the answering of future wants."
Albert could not see how it was to be done; and Alice feared that a lesson of empty words might be wasted. She knew that his ambition needed a substantial prop. Never, of his own accord, would he commence to save by littles. He did not estimate money in that way. Had some kind fairy dropped into his hand a five-twenty bond for five hundred dollars, he would have put it away gladly; and with such a nest-egg in the start, he might have sought to add to the store. But he could see no hope in a dollar bill, and much less could he discover the nucleus of a grand saving in a fifty-cent piece.
With Alice it was different. From her meager earnings as school-teacher she had in less than five years, saved up three hundred dollars; and the first saving she had put by was a silver dime. She knew what little by little could do, and she was determined to show it to her husband. She must be patient and persevering, and these qualities she possessed in an eminent degree. It was to be the grand undertaking of the first years of her married life, and to do it she would bend every available energy. She planned that if possible she would get hold of that fifty cents every day; or, if she could not do that she would do the best she could.
Generous, frank, loyal, and loving, Albert was an easy prey to the wiles of a wife loyal and loving as himself. He gave her money when she asked for it; and she asked for it when she thought he had any to give.
And here let me say that Alice knew her husband would not run in debt. That was an evil they both arrayed themselves against in the outset. When Albert's purse was empty he bought nothing; but when it was full he was apt to buy more than he needed. Alice knew all this and governed herself accordingly.
"I think," said Alice, one evening, "that I must fix over my old brown cashmere for winter, I should like a new one, but I don't suppose you can afford it."Albert looked grieved. The idea that he could not afford his wife a new dress! But such a one as she wanted would cost twenty-five or thirty dollars.
"If you want it, get it," said Albert emphatically. "I will let you have twenty dollars from this month's pay, and the balance you shall have next month."
Alice got the thirty dollars, but she did not get the new dress. By the outlay of five dollars for new trimmings she contrived to fix over the brown cashmere so that it looked every bit as good as new.
And so Alice worked. Sometimes she asked her husband for ten cents, sometimes for fifty cents, sometimes for a dollar, and sometimes for more, and at the end of a year, upon carefully reckoning up, she found that she had managed to get hold of rather more than fifty cents a day; but she had done it by denying herself of many things, some of which seemed really needful.
The result of the first year's effort inspired Alice with new life and vigor. She had saved one hundred and fifty dollars, and had invested it in government funds. Through the influence of a dear friend who was in a banking establishment, and to whom she had confided her secret, she was enabled to get the bonds at their face value.
It was only a little at a time--sometimes a very little--but those littles multiplied by other littles, grew amazingly. The husbandman who would sit himself down by a hill of corn, and wait to see the tender blades put forth would be disheartened; but he knows if he plants the tiny seed, and cultivates it as he ought, the harvest of golden grain will come at length.
Albert and Alice were married in the spring of 1865. It was on an evening of August, 1870, that Albert came home. He had been notified that they must leave the cottage. They must give up the pleasant home, and lose the little garden they had cultivated with so much fondness and care."The owner wishes to sell," he exclaimed; "and has an offer. He asks two thousand dollars, and must have five hundred down." Alice's eyes gleamed with radiant delight.
She had been thinking for some time that she must let her husband into her secret. It had begun to wear upon her. And now the time had come as by providential interposition.She got up and went away to her cabinet, and when she came back she brought a little book in her hand. "Albert!" said she, "lets you and I buy the cottage."
Albert looked at her in amazement; and directly it flashed upon him that there was too much solemnity in her look and tone for badinage. Something that he had noticed during the past few months came back to him, and he trembled with the weight of suspense that fell upon him.
Alice then showed her book--that she had more than eight hundred dollars in the bank. The ice was broken--she told her story in glowing words. She told how she had saved up little by little, and how she had at length found herself able to purchase a fifty-dollar bond. And then she told how her uncle in the banking-house had taken charge of her investment; and how, under his management, the interest had accrued in amazing volume.
But the grand result was not the chief thing. The chief thing was the beginning--was the very little which had been religiously saved until the second little could be added to it.
And now, as a result of his wife's careful and tireless working, Albert found something upon which his ambition could take a fair start. He never could himself, from so small a commencement, have reared the pile; but with the structure started, and its proportions all blocked out, he could help on the work. He could see how it was done--and not only that, but the demonstration was before him that the thing could be done.
One year has elapsed since Albert Moore received the lesson from his wife, and joining hands with her, and bending his energies in the same direction, he has accomplished during the twelve months what would have seemed to him a marvel in the earlier time. He has laid by more than fifty cents a day; and the cigars, and the beer, and the other condiments of life which he has surrendered to the work, are not missed--rather, he holds they are so many enemies conquered. And Albert can improve his home with cheerful heart, and he can set out new trees and vines in his garden with bright promises, because he sees, day by day, the pretty cottage growing more and more his own. The end approaches a little at a time--little by little it
approaches, but surely, nevertheless; and there is a great and satisfying joy even in the labor and in the anticipation.
O deem not they are blest alone Whose lives a peaceful tenor keep;
For God, who pities man, hath shown A blessing for the eyes that weep.
The light of smiles shall fill again The lids that overflow with tears,
And weary hours of woe and pain Are promises of happier years.
For God has marked each sorrowing day, And numbered every secret tear,
And heaven's long age of bliss shall pay For all his children suffer here.
About seventy years ago, a physician with a young family springing up about him, consulting his wife, as all good husbands find it prudent to do, bought a large farm in one of our New England States, where every farmer truly earns his living by the sweat of his brow. Both felt that nowhere could their children be trained to industry and frugality so thoroughly as on a good farm.
The doctor was obliged to "run in debt" for this property, and he gave a mortgage on the place. The payments were to be made quarterly, and promptly, or the whole would be forfeited and revert to the original owner. In those days physicians were not likely to become millionaires, and though Dr. Mason's practice was large, the pay was small, and not always sure. He therefore looked to the farm for the means to release him from the bondage of debt; and the children, even to the youngest, were taught to labor for, and look forward eagerly to, the time "when we have paid for the farm!"
The creditor was the doctor's father-in-law, through his first wife, and while the good old gentleman lived, if by any mishap or overpress of business the quarterly payment had been delayed, it would have been kindly excused. But for the ten or fifteen years that he lived after the sale of the farm, there had not been one delay in payment, though now and then there would come a time when it was very hard to secure the needed sum in time, for even in the olden days "hard times" were often experienced, to the terror of our hard-working New England farmers. But little by little, the heavy debt was diminishing, and the doctor's family were looking forward hopefully to the year of jubilee, when they could sit under their own vine and fig-tree with none to molest and make them afraid.
At this period the father-in-law died. He had but two children,
--daughters. The younger, the doctor's wife, died childless. The elder married a hard, close, scheming man who lost no opportunity of remarking that he would, no doubt, soon come in possession of Dr. Mason's farm, as the latter, with his large family, must fail by and by.
The financial troubles which the war of 1812 had caused, as all wars are sure to do, were not yet adjusted. Money was scarce, and payments very difficult. Ten children now filled the old house with merriment and gladness; but they were to be clothed and educated.
Let us see how successfully they had been taught to make their high spirits and resolute wills cheerful auxiliaries in lifting the burden, which, since their grandfather's death, was pressing upon their parents.
At the time of which we write, among other crops, rye was extensively raised. It was used for food among the farmers quite as much as wheat, and was also valuable for other purposes. When full-grown, but still in the milk, large quantities were cut to be used for "braiding." The heads were used for "fodder;" the stalks, after being soaked in strong hot soap-suds, were spread on the grass for the sun to whiten. When sufficiently bleached and ready for use, they were cut at each joint, and the husk stripped off, and the straw thus prepared was then tied in pound bundles for sale.
Bonnets, then, meant something more than a small bit of silk or velvet with a flower or feather attached, and the "straw braid" for making them was in great demand. Boys and girls were alike taught to braid, and the long winter evenings were not spent idly. Dr. Mason raised large crops of rye, and each child, almost as soon as he could walk, was taught to braid, and was soon able to do much by it toward clothing himself. At six years of age a dollar a week was easily earned; at eight, three dollars; and in something of that proportion up to the eldest.
Does any one think that such a life, with such an object in view, was hard or cruel? Never was there a greater mistake. It was of great value to those young spirits. They had something real, that they could understand, to labor for. There was life and courage and true heroism in it. It was an education--with here and there, to be sure, some rough places to pass over--which was worth more to them than all the money millionaires bequeath their sons and daughters; an education which prepared them in after-life to be courageous and self-helpful.
It is this kind of training that has made New England's sons and daughters strong and self-reliant, and the lack of it which makes these hard times such a horror that we hear of many who seek death by their own hands as preferable to the struggle for better times.
In the long winter evenings, when the labor of the day was over, the children home from school, and the "chores" all finished, the candles were lighted and the evening work began. The mother in her corner was busy making and mending for her large family. The doctor, if not with the sick, read and studied opposite her. The children gathered around the long table in the middle of the room, where lay the school-books and straw previously prepared for braiding, while the old fireplace, heaped with blazing logs of hickory, oak, and fragrant birch, made the room warm and cheerful. Here, with their books before them and fastened open to the next day's lessons, the children with nimble fingers plaited the straw and studied at the same time. For children taught to be industrious, usually carry into the schoolroom the principles thus developed, and are ambitious to keep as near the head of the class as possible.
Such a family as this was well equipped to meet and conquer adversity. For several days Dr. Mason had been unusually grave and silent. All noticed it, but no remarks were made until evening, when he came to supper, so unmistakably worried and despondent that his wife inquired if he were not well.
"Yes, well enough. But, Lucy, I have so far been unable to collect money for our quarterly payment. So much is due me that I had no fears but that enough would be promptly paid to save me any trouble.""How much is there lacking?"
"Not quite a hundred dollars; but it might as well be thousands for any chance I now see of getting it in season. There is now so much sickness about, that, as you know, I have had no rest, and little time to collect money. If not ready before midnight to-morrow, we are ruined. I have kept it from you as long as I dared, still hoping that those who ought to pay me would do so.""Have you told them how very important it is that you should have the money?"
"No; I did not wish to speak of it. Mr. H. is watching greedily for a 'slip,' and we need expect no mercy at his hands. Under our hard labor and good care, this farm has risen greatly in value--too much so for him to spare us an hour, if he can once get hold of it. I am about discouraged. It is the darkest time we have seen yet. But I must be off, and will probably be kept out all night. To think there are not forty-eight hours between us and ruin! And my hands are so tied by several severe cases, that I may not find one hour to make up the little that is needed."For a few minutes after the doctor left, the children stood silent and sad, watching their mother. At last she said,--
"Children, we can help father through this, and save our home, if you are willing to submit to some little self-denial. No; I should have said to _great_ self-denial. Each of you has worked diligently to buy new garments for winter. You need them and deserve them, and I should be happy and proud to see you all neat and comfortable. But to help father, are you willing to let me try to clean, mend, or make over your old clothes, and use what you have earned to help brighten this dark day? The braid you have on hand, and what is now due at the store, is all your own, or to be expended for your own clothes, and if each one of you is not _perfectly willing_, I don't wish you to give it up."
It was a beautiful sight to see those eager faces watching their mother, ready to answer the moment she had finished; for in the olden time children were taught that it was disrespectful to interrupt any one when speaking, even when, as in this case, it was difficult to keep silent. But the reply, when given, was prompt, enthusiastic, as she had confidently looked for it to be."Thanks, dear children? Now, then, hasten. First bring me all your braid, and let us see how much it will come to." The braid, in ten-yard rolls, was brought, and its value estimated.
"With that which is now due us at the store, we have nearly sixty dollars! Well done, for all these little fingers! But now we must devise a way to make up the remainder. Your father spoke last night of a large quantity of straw, which, if cut, would bring in something. He will be away all night. If you work well, we can cut many pounds before midnight. Now, girls, help me wash the dishes, while your brothers bring, before dark, the straw we can cut to-night."By the time the candles were lighted, all was ready to begin.
The younger children were excused at their usual bedtime, but the others worked with their mother till the tall clock in the corner struck one. Then all retired for a few hours' rest.
Dr. Mason returned home in season for breakfast, and his wife inquired if the eldest son could drive her over to the neighboring town to dispose of some braid for the children. He replied that he must be gone again nearly all day, and neither son nor team could well be spared from important work at home. But a strange thing followed this implied refusal. Mrs. Mason, who never allowed her plans or wishes to interfere with her husband's, now repeated her request, and urged it till he yielded, apparently from sheer surprise that his wife could be so persistent.
The doctor went his usual round, and the mother and her son departed on their mysterious errand. Their business accomplished, they returned well satisfied and ready for supper when the father arrived.
A deeper gloom was on his face when he entered; but no word was spoken till all were seated at the table. Then in a slightly agitated voice his wife inquired,--"Have you been successful in obtaining the money?"
He shook his head, but remained silent. Each young quivering face was turned first toward him, then with earnest, questioning glance to the mother."Be not discouraged, dear, even at this late hour." "Are you wild, Lucy? There are but six hours between us and ruin. Can you talk of hope now? I have none." With a warning gesture to the children, she rose, stepped to her husband's chair, and passing her arm round his neck, said, gently,-- "Yet still hope on, my husband; God will not forsake us." He moved impatiently from under her arm; but as he did so, she dropped a roll into his bosom and turned toward her chair. "Lucy! Lucy! what is this? Where did you get it?"
All was wild with excitement. Each child laughing, sobbing, shouting, but one glance from that strong but gentle mother quelled the confusion, and she replied,--
"It is our children's offering, and is sufficient to make up the needed sum. I persisted in going away this morning against your wish, because I saw no escape. We cut the straw last night--many willing hands made quick work; I sold it, and their braid added to it, with what was already due them, completed the sum."
Those who witnessed that scene will never forget it; Dr. Mason with his arm around his wife, and both in tears, calling her all happy names; the children clinging about their parents, so joyful that home was saved, and they had helped to save it.
"Put Charlie into the wagon, quick. If he fails me not, the six miles between here and M---- will be the shortest I ever rode. I shall be home before bedtime to thank you all. I cannot now. I hope we shall never come so near ruin again."
And they never did. In two years the last dollar was paid, and then Dr. Mason resolved he would never again owe any one a cent. He kept his resolution.
It is easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows by like a song,
But the man worth while is the one who will smile When everything goes dead wrong.
A darkened room, spacious and handsomely furnished--being, in fact, the chamber of Mrs. Wilcox, the mother of the little fellow who occupied the wide bed. He lay there in lugubrious state, the rosy face stained with much crying, just showing above the edge of the counterpane; his tangle of yellow curls crushed upon the bolster. Below these was a white mound, stretched along the middle of the bed, just the length of Robby, aged seven and a half, the youngling of the Wilcox family. Two big blue eyes, glazed with tears, wandered from one to another of the two faces gazing at him from opposite sides of the horizontal pillory. Both were kindly, both loving, both sad. They belonged to the parents of Robby, and he had been convicted, sentenced, and punished for telling a lie.
His mother had sent him to the fruit-store with twenty-five cents and an order for two lemons. The tempter, in the form of a "street-boy," waylaid him at the corner with a challenge to a competitive show for tops. The silver "quarter" was in the same pocket with Robby's new air top and card, the pride of his soul. He may have drawn it out with his handkerchief when he wiped his face after the game. The tempter may have known more about it than the tempted suspected. At any rate, the money was not to be found, and he was close by and ready with his proposition when Robby discovered the loss.
"Mamma will certainly scold me this time," he subjoined, turning every pocket inside out, and staring distractedly up and down the street. "I lost ten cents last week, and she told me to be more careful."
"Don't tell her! And don't pay for the lemons. When the bill comes in, your mamma will have forgotten all about sending you for them, or she will think the lemon-feller made a mistake. I know lots of real gamey fellers who get out of scrapes that way. It's only milk-sops who run to mammy with every little bother."The experiment thus suggested and urged, was a success until mamma demanded the change. "He said there wasn't any!" faltered the errand-boy. "No change! out of twenty-five cents!" Then with a searching look at the scarlet face painfully averted--"_Robby!_" The "milk-sop" bethought himself of the "gamey fellers." "Honest-true, mamma!" he plucked up courage to say.
"Put on your hat, my son, and go with me to the store where you bought the lemons. There is something wrong when my boy cannot look me in the eyes!"
Thus came about the tragedy that darkened the June day for the whole Wilcox household. It was at nine o'clock on Saturday morning that the falsehood was detected. At two P.M. Mrs. Wilcox brought up the prisoner's dinner. Only bread and water! He had smelled the savory soup and roast lamb, and the cook had hinted at strawberry short-cake when he passed, whistling, through the kitchen, turning the silver quarter over in his pocket. That was almost five hours ago, and he was to lie here until supper-time, _alone_! When he had eaten the bread of affliction, seasoned with tears of self-pity and remorse, mamma re-appeared with papa.
"My son!" said the latter, "I would rather have you die in your innocent boyhood than grow up a _liar_! Tell the straight, simple truth always and everywhere. No brave man will lie. Papa does not want his boy to be a coward. No honest man will deceive or tell a falsehood. Papa does not want his boy to be a cheat!"
Mrs. Wilcox sat down on the bed when her husband had gone. All the mother-heart in her was crying out and tearing itself with longing and pity ineffable. Arms and heart ached to enfold the precious little sinner so grievously worsted in the battle with temptation. "Mamma is very sorry that her darling has been so naughty!" she said, bowing her head upon the pillow beside the mat of curls dampened by the rain from the culprit's eyes."Mamma! Indeed, I will _never_ tell another lie--not the leastest fib!" he sobbed. "God help you to keep your word, my son. Every falsehood is like a drop of ink upon snow to your soul!"
She stroked back his hair and comforted herself by giving him, one after another, the passionate kisses withheld through all these miserable hours. Holding the chubby fingers in hers, she talked to him a few minutes longer of his sin, and to whom he should look for forgiveness; then bending over him, she prayed in simple words and few for the little one who had stumbled to his own hurt. "Lie still and think it all over, dear!" was her parting injunction.
At the tea-table, Robby was not disposed to talk. He noted and understood the grave gentleness of his father's countenance and demeanor; the chastened loveliness of his mother's look; the quiet tone caught by the other children from the grown-up sister who sat next to him. His transgression had affected the spirits of the whole party. The very avoidance of all direct reference to it was significant and impressive. It was something too disgraceful for table-talk. A blackened soul! soiled lips! These were the figures most distinct to his imagination as he crept after supper into the library, and sat down at the alcoved window looking upon a side street. The boys were playing noisily in the warm twilight. Robby watched them, curled up on the window bench, one foot tucked under him, his face more sober each minute. He was sure his mother would shake her head sadly were he to request permission to join the joyous group of his fellows. Nor did he care--very much--to go out. The recollection of sin and consequent suffering was too fresh.
Nettie, the grown-up sister, had a visitor, and mamma had joined the girls, and was chatting cheerfully with them--not at all as she looked at the cowering little liar under the counterpane up-stairs."Mamma," suddenly exclaimed the daughter, "there are old Mr. and Mrs. Bartol! I do believe you are to be honored by a call from them."
"I sincerely hope not," was the answer. "Papa and I had planned a walk on this lovely evening, and our friends the Bartols are given to long sittings."
"Besides being insufferably prosy," interpolated plain-spoken Nettie. "They _are_ coming in. Milly, you and I can run away!" and they fluttered through the back-parlor door.
Mamma's face was overcast with genuine vexation. Her sigh, "How provoking!" reached the alcoved auditor. Then she advanced to meet a fat old lady, and a fatter, bald old gentleman."Is this really you, Mr. Bartol? It is an age since I have met you. I am happy to see you both. Pray be seated." "Oh, _good_ gracious!" said Robby, under his breath, sinking back into his corner, actually sick and trembling.
When he could listen and think again, papa had been sent for, and Mr. Bartol was apologizing for mingling business with a friendly visit. He wanted to buy a house owned by Mr. Wilcox, situated near his--Mr. Bartol's--home. The play of negotiation, of parry and thrust, was courteous, as befitted actors and scene, but Mr. Bartol's intention to buy cheap, and his host's desire to sell dear, were palpable to the unworldly eavesdropper.
"I am sorry you hold the property at so high a figure!" finally remarked Mr. Bartol, rising to take leave. "I must consult the friend who commissioned me to make inquiries, before I can say anything definite."
Mr. Wilcox was the impersonation of smiling indifference. "The truth is, my dear sir, I do not care to sell at all. The property is rising in value, and I may remove to that part of the city myself next year. I should lose on it were I to take less than the price I have named."When the guests had gone, Mr. Wilcox turned laughingly to his wife: "Well, my love, you have lost your walk, but your husband has made four thousand dollars--clear!" "You think he will buy the place, then?"
"I know he will! He wants to settle his daughter there. She is to be married next month. I had a hint to that effect some days since. I had the game in my hands from the first. I bought the property, three years ago, at a low figure. The rent has covered interest, taxes, etc. I shall never live there myself. It would not be convenient for my business. I have been anxious this great while to sell. I am already carrying more real estate than I ought to hold."
"I am afraid Robby is less impressed by the lesson of to-day than we could desire," observed Mrs. Wilcox sorrowfully to her husband at bedtime. "He strode off to bed without saying 'Good night' to any one, and pretended to be asleep when I looked into his room just now, answering gruffly after I told him I knew he was awake. What shall I do if my child becomes an habitual deceiver?"
"We must watch his associations narrowly," replied the judicious father. "Everything depends upon the examples and impressions of early life."BENEVOLENT SOCIETY.
In the snug, cozy barroom of the "Farmers' Inn," at Madisonville, sat six young men. It was a cold, bleak evening in December; and the wind that howled and drove without, drifting the snow and rattling the shutters, gave to the blazing fire and steaming kettle additional charms and comforts. There was Peter Hobbs, a youth of five and twenty, who seemed to be the leader, _par excellence_, of the party. He was a good-natured, intelligent, frank-looking man, and was really a noble-hearted citizen. Then there was John Fulton, a youth of the same age, who worked with Hobbs, both being journeyman carpenters. Samuel Green was a machinist; Walter Mason, a tin worker; Lyman Drake, a cabinet maker; and William Robinson, a clerk. They ranged, in age, from twenty-three to twenty-eight, and were really industrious youths, receiving good wages, and maintaining good characters for honesty, sobriety, and general good behavior. Yet they were looked upon by some as ungodly youths, and given over to perdition. True, they belonged to no church; and, amid the various conflicting creeds by which they were surrounded, they had not yet settled down upon any one in particular, believing that there was good in all of them, and evil among the members of each.
On the present occasion, they were all of them smoking, and the empty mugs which stood upon the table near them, showed pretty conclusively that they had been drinking something besides water. The subject of the cold winter had been disposed of; the quality of the warm ale and cigars had been thoroughly discussed, and at length the conversation turned upon the missionary meeting, which had been held in the town on the previous Sabbath.
"I don't know but this missionary business is all right," said Sam Green, knocking the ashes from his cigar with his little finger, "but at the same time, I don't believe in it. Them Hindoos and South Sea Islanders may be savage and ignorant, by our scale of measuring folks; but that is no reason why we folks should send all our money off there, while our own folks are starving at home.""Did you put anything into the box?" asked Lyman Drake. "No, I didn't. When they shoved it into my face, I told 'em I'd left all my money at home--and so I had."
"You're about right, Sam," said Bill Robinson. "But I did more than you did. When the box was handed to me, I spoke right out, so that everybody around me heard. I told the old deacon if he'd take up a subscription to help the poor in our town, I'd put in something.""What did he say to that?"
"Why--he said, 'Souls are of more consequence than bodies.' So I just said back that I guessed he'd find it hard work to save a soul out of a starving body. But you see that isn't the thing. They won't try to save the souls, or the bodies either, of their own townfolks. Now when Squire Truman came here to settle, they tried quick enough to save his soul. Ye see his body was already salted down with ten thousand dollars, so his soul was worth something to 'em. Why don't they try to save poor old Israel Trask's soul, and his wife's too?""Wasn't there a committee of the church that visited old Israel last month?" queried Drake.
"Yes--there was," answered Sam, giving his cigar an indignant shake; "and what did they do? They went there--four on 'em--and found the old folks suffering for want of food and clothing. They tried to make the old man believe their religion was the only true one in the world, but he would not. So they gave him three tracts and a little cheap book, and then went away. That's what they did. Afore I'd give a cent to such chaps to send off to feed their missionaries in Baugwang and Slapflam Islands, I'd throw it into the fire."
"But these missionaries are honest people, and do some good," remarked Peter Hobbs, who had not before spoken on the subject.
"Of course they do," responded Sam. "But wouldn't it look better of 'em to begin some of their charities at home? I judge of a man's order by the way his own shop looks, and not by the way he may fuss around on another man's premises. And just so with those philanthropists. I'd rather see how much their religion does toward keeping the Gentiles of their own town, than to go away off to the other end of the earth to look for the fruits of their Christianity. Them's my sentiments."
"And mine too," uttered Walter Mason, who had just thrown away the stump of one cigar, and was about lighting another. "Just think; they collected, last Sunday, to send off to the Hindoos, over two hundred dollars. Now, that would have made half the poor families in this town--and I don't know but all--comfortable for the winter. There was Mr. Netherly--worth forty thousand dollars--he put in a ten-dollar bill. It was a great, new bill, and he opened it, and held it up, and even turned it round, so't everybody could see it before he let it drop. Then at the end, when the box was carried up into the pulpit, the deacon whispered to the minister; and the minister got up, and, said, taking hold of the corner of the rich man's bill: 'Here is ten dollars from one brother. Let that brother be assured that his deed is remembered of him in heaven.' Yes, that's what was said; and Mr. Netherly held up his head, bowed very low, and then looked around at the rest of the congregation, as much as to say, '_that's me_.' Now I know of another thing that I guess'll be remembered in heaven, alongside of this one. Last week, poor old Trask--Uncle
Israel--called at Netherly's with some baskets. You know the old man gets out stuff in the summer, and then in the winter makes it up. Well, he went there, and asked Netherly if he wouldn't buy a basket. No; he didn't want one. Then the old man told him how he and his poor old wife were suffering, and he asked him if he couldn't help him in some way; and what do you think Netherly said?--Why, he said that he had to pay taxes to help support a poorhouse, and told Uncle Israel that he'd find help there, if he'd only apply to the selectmen! Now what d'ye think of that, eh?"
For some moments after this, the party smoked in silence. Peter Hobbs had been pondering very deeply upon something, and at length he spoke: "Now look here, boys," he said, throwing his half-smoked cigar into the fire, "there's a good deal of truth in what's been said--in fact, it's all true; but, before we blame others, we ought to do something ourselves. Now I'm ready to form a regular benevolent society. Let us six go at the work, and see what we can do toward alleviating some of the distress about us. What say you?"The other five looked on in wonder. "But," said Sam, "how are we to do it? We arn't among the favored ones. We weren't born with silver spoons in our mouths." "I should like to do it," added Drake, "but what's the use? We couldn't do much any way--not enough to amount to anything." And so the others expressed their opinions in like manner. They all "would like," but "where was the money to come from?"
"Listen," said Peter; and they all turned toward him with real deference, for they knew he never wore a cloak over his heart, and that when he spoke in earnest, his meaning had depth to it. "Now I have formed a plan. There is old Uncle Israel and his wife; then there is the widow Manley, with four little children, suffering for want of the actual necessaries of life; and then there is Mrs. Williams--she is very poor. Her son Philip, who is her mainstay, was sick all the summer and fall, and is sick now; so the woman got nothing from her little patch of land, and is now absolutely reduced to beggary, with herself and sick son to support. Now let us take these three cases in hand, and support them.""But how?" asked three or four voices, anxiously, for they really and fully sympathized with the noble plan. "I'll tell you," resumed Peter. "Here, Tim," he called, turning to the bar-keeper, "what's our bill?"
"Let's see," responded the worthy, coming up. "There's two cigars apiece, three cents each--that's thirty-six. Then the ale--three pints--eighteen cents; and wine--three gills--that's eighteen more--makes just thirty-six more; and twice thirty-six is--is--seventy-two--seventy-two cents in all.""Come, boys," said Peter, "let's pay an equal share to-night. Let's give him ninepence apiece."
So the "boys" paid up, and after Tim had gone, Peter resumed: "Now see what we've spent to-night for nothing. I'll begin with you, Sam. How much do you suppose you spend each day for cigars and ale? Now reckon fairly."
"Let's see," was Sam's response after gazing into the face of his interlocutor until he had fairly got hold of the idea. "I certainly average four--no, five cigars a day, and I suppose they average three cents apiece. Then comes my ale--but I could not tell how much that amounts to, for I don't drink it regularly, but perhaps six cents a day."
"That's just twenty-one cents a day, utterly wasted," said Peter; "and I'll own up to wasting twenty-five cents a day. How is it with you, John?""I'll say twenty-five." "And you, Walter?" "Just about the same." "Lyman?" "The same." "Bill?" "The same."
"Now look at it. Here we are, a little worse than wasting about a dollar and a half a day. But let us put our loss at a shilling each--"
"No, no," cried Sam, who saw through the whole plan. "Let's give honest measure. I'll own up to the twenty-five. Let's go the whole, if any."
"Very well," returned Peter; "then let us commence and pledge ourselves not to smoke, or drink ale, for one month from this date. Every night we will lay away a quarter of a dollar, and at the end of the week we'll put our savings all together, and then go on our mission. What say you?"
With one voice the other five joined in the plan. The novelty of the thing may have pleased them; but the real incentives lay deeper down in the natural goodness of their hearts. There was no written pledge, but they took a more speedy method. Peter laid his hand upon the table, and said:"Here's my hand, pledged to the work." "And mine too," cried Sam, laying his broad palm atop of Peter's.
"And mine," "and mine," "and mine," chimed the rest, placing their hands atop of the other until the six right hands lay upon the table in a pyramid."This is Tuesday," resumed Peter. "Will we meet next Saturday?" "Yes," answered Sam, "and call it a week. Let's throw in two days." And so the week was begun.
On the next day, as Sam Green sat atop of his bench after dinner, he felt rather lost without his cigar, and for awhile he argued the question with himself, whether it wouldn't be just as well for him to put an extra quarter into his box and have his cigars as usual. But he remembered his pledge. He looked forward to Saturday, when he should find himself an ambassador of mercy to the sick and needy--and his resolution grew strong again. That was his last real hesitation, though it must be confessed he had some trials and hankerings.And so with the rest, they had some moments of doubt and mental warfare with appetite and habit, but conquered, and were true. Saturday came, and the six youths left their work at noon, having done more than enough overwork to make up for the loss of the half day.
"Must have a time once in awhile, eh?" said Sam's boss, as the young man pointed to the work he had done, and informed him that he should not work the rest of the day."Some sort of a time," replied Sam. "Very well, but you're too good a fellow to go very deep into dissipation." "I'll be up bright in the morning, sir;" and with this he left. The new Benevolent Society met at Walter Mason's tin-shop. Each took out his money and they had in all nine dollars, it being in thirty-six silver quarters.
"Now," says Peter, "let's visit the three families we have taken under our charge. We'll go together, and expend the money as we see it is most needed. Let us go to Uncle Israel's first."
So off they went to Uncle Israel Trask's. The old couple lived in a small hut at the edge of the village, which was reached by a narrow lane, and here the six philanthrophists found the old lady, who was now in her eightieth year, suffering with a severe attack of the rheumatism, while the old man sat crouched over the fire, shivering with cold."Good day, good day, Uncle Israel."
"Aha, good day, boys, good day," cried the old man, trying to smile. "Can ye find seats? Sit down somewhere and make yourselves at home. But ye see it's a poor home that old Israel can offer ye to-day.""But how are you getting along?" asked Peter, after the party had found seats.
"Ah, God a'mercy, I won't complain, for he is taking meself and Molly home fast. Only cold and hunger are not kind helpmates, Mr. Hobbs, ye ken that, eh?""Right well, Uncle Israel. And we have come to help you. Do you want any medicine?"
"Nay, nay, the old 'ooman's got a' the medicine laid up we want. It's only the food an' heat we need. I can't wade through the drifting snow as I could once.""Suppose we send you a dollar's worth of other things, such as butter, flour, potatoes and the like--could you live a week on it?" [Illustration: Pure Religion Is Visiting the Fatherless and Widows in Their Affliction.] "Ah, yes, yes, boys, meself and Molly'd live a long, long while on that. But ye'll not do it for us." "Yes, we will."
"Ah, it's too much." "No, no," cried Sam, "we've got to do it, Uncle Israel, for we six have sworn to help you through the winter. So spunk up.""D'ye mean that?" uttered the old man, clasping his thin, tremulous hands. "We do," they all answered, and then Sam added, "and while one of us lives, you shall not suffer the want of what one of us can give." A moment the old man bowed his snow-white head, and then while the big tears streamed down his face, he raised his eyes and murmured:--
"Oh! God's blessin' be on ye, ye noble boys. If me heart was gold, an' I could take it out an' give it ye--for it's yours all, all your own!"
In a little while the six went away, promising to send or come back soon, and even after they had reached the yard they could hear the voices of Israel and his wife, both raised to God in blessings upon their heads."I say, Sam," said Peter, "this is better than cigars and ale." "Don't say a word now," replied Sam, "for my heart's full, and I can't bear any more."
Next, they drove through the biting wind and snow to the humble cot of Widow Manley. They found her in the only habitable room of her dwelling, sitting by a fire of chips and fagots, with a babe asleep in her lap, and engaged in sewing a coarse frock. Three other children were crouched by the fire, the eldest not yet eight years old.
Mr. Manley had been one of the many unfortunates who are swept off by rum, and in the prime of early manhood he had gone, leaving a young wife with four children in absolute penury."Ah, good day, Mrs. Manley." The woman would have arisen, but Sam Green placed his hand upon her shoulders to keep her down. "We have come," said Peter, seeing that she was anxious and fearful, "to see how you get along, and see if we can help you." "Help me, sir?" uttered the widow with amazement. "Yes; now tell us plainly how you are situated." The woman was silent for a few moments, but at length she seemed to regain her self-control, and replied:-- "Ah, gentlemen, it is all comprised in three short words: Hunger, cold, and nakedness!" "And if we will supply you with food and fuel for a week, can you manage to get along until that time without more clothing?" "Oh--h--yes--sirs. But what is it? Who can help us? Who can care for the--"