"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