The Mother's Grave
by Timothy Shay Arthur
Frank McPherson, when he was about twelve years old, got acquainted with some bad boys of his own age. Before this, Frank was a very good lad, and gave his mother no trouble. Mrs. McPherson was a very godly woman, and early taught her son that there was a God in Heaven, who was to be loved and worshiped by living in obedience to his commands, which were written in the Bible. As soon as he could speak, he was taught to say his prayers before going to bed; and as soon he had learned to read, the Holy Book was oftener in his hands than any other. Mrs. McPherson had great comfort of mind in thinking about her boy; for there was every promise of his growing up to be a good and useful man. He was obedient to her in all things, and kind to his playmates; and never seemed so happy as when he could help someone.
But, as we have said, when Frank was about twelve years old, he got into the company of bad boys, who enticed him away into evil things. It was sad to see the change which soon passed over him. He learned to use bad language, such as may be heard from the gangs of wicked boys. He was no longer kind to others — but learned to feel pleasure in giving pain through personal injury, by ridicule, or by wounding the feelings of those weaker than himself.
Alas! how quickly do the good thoughts go away from us, when, by our evil thoughts and acts, we associate our minds with evil spirits, who ever stand waiting to flow in upon us and rule our lives. If we would keep out these enemies — we must keep our thoughts pure, and guard our lips as we would guard a precious treasure in a golden casket. Bad thoughts, and language, and acts do not correspond to anything good in Heaven; it only corresponds to something evil in Hell. When a boy, therefore, swears, or uses any kind of obscene or bad language — the evil spirits who are always trying to enter his mind, perceive something that is agreeable to themselves, and come in. Immediately on this occurring, the good thoughts, which cannot occupy the same habitation with evil spirits — leave, and then the boy is more under the influence of evil than of good. The only way to cast the evil out again, and bring back those kind and good thoughts — is to refrain from evil speaking of any kind, and also to push away evil thoughts — and the good thoughts will return and fill the mind with their own pure feelings and peaceful acts.
It is the same when a boy gets angry with his companions, or when he permits himself to have selfish thoughts, or tells a lie, or does or thinks anything which is evil. The moment this takes place, there is a change. Evil spirits perceive their own kind, and flow into it, while the good thoughts are cast out. Only in what is good in the mind, can the latter abide; and when good is removed — the good thoughts must go with it.
If this is understood by the thoughtful young reader, he will see how important it is for him to watch over his thoughts and temper, and guard his lips. Let him not, as he values his best interests, give way to any wrong desire, indulge in any bad temper, or use any but pure and innocent language. If he so watches over his thoughts, words, and actions, and looks for help from God above — he need be in no fear of evil, for it cannot reach him.
But Frank McPherson did not thus guard himself. He thought, when he heard boys of his own age swear, and saw them smoke disgusting cigarettes, and drink alcohol — that all this was being brave and manly. At first, he felt such an inward reluctance — such a painful drawing back — when he made an attempt to swear, in imitation of his bad companions, that he could not utter the word that was in his thoughts. But, after a while, he forced out a wicked swear-word; and then it all came easy enough. Swearing led to other and worse vices; and so the feet of the poor lad, having once entered an evil way, began to move in it swiftly.
Mrs. McPherson was deeply distressed at this sad change in her boy, and did everything in her power to win him away from his dangerous companions. But their influence over him was so great, that all she said made little or no impression upon his mind. At last, when she talked to him, he would get angry, and speak unkindly to his good mother; and even though tears would come into her eyes when he did so — not the least movement of repentance or pity was in his heart.
And so it went on. The lad grew worse and worse; and, when he was eighteen years old, had become so corrupted in his conduct, and so idle in his habits — that no one would give him a job. About this time a Army recruiting-sergeant came into the town, and Frank, when half drunk, was induced to enlist as a soldier for a term of five years. He felt bad enough when he became fully sober, and reflected upon what he had done. But repentance was now too late. As for his mother, she was almost heart-broken.
In a few weeks, Frank was sent off to the frontier, among the Indians, where, for five years, he endured various hardships, and lived among people of the worst kind. As a common soldier, he was tyrannized over by the officers, and made to suffer indignities and degradation worse than is endured by many slaves at the South. And for all this, his pay was no more than the hired slave in his mother's house had regularly received. Once he was thrown from a horse, while riding in a troop over a prairie, and had his leg broken. Once he was shot in the knee by an Indian; and the wound, from which he suffered dreadful pain, kept him in the hospital for two or three months. Exposed to bad weather, in a sickly region — he was frequently ill with raging fevers.
But, when bowed in pain and sickness, there was no gentle mother's hand to make smooth his pillow, and no mother's voice to speak loving words in his ears. The hospital attendant was a rough soldier, and the physician was a cruel tyrant, who could safely exercise his overbearing spirit on poor sick soldiers, who dared not resent his outrages and indignities. Ah! it was all very different from what it would have been — had Frank grown up an industrious, obedient, and good boy. Thus it is, that evil always brings its own punishment. Frank, while lying sick, used to think of all this; and such thoughts always made his heart ache.
A year before his soldier's term of service expired, news came to him, that his mother was dead. Oh! how he wept over this sad news. How bitterly he repented of the evil into which he had fallen, and by which not only his own life, but that of his excellent mother, had been rendered miserable!
"I have broken her heart and killed her!" he murmured, as his eyes grew dim, and he could not see the lines of writing in the letter that conveyed the sad news. From the day Frank received this letter, until his term of service expired, no one saw him smile. On receiving his discharge from the Army, he returned, as quickly as he could come, to his native village. But he did not go among the people, nor seek out old friends, nor search for employment. He went to the graveyard, where, by the side of the green mound of earth which had covered for many years the moldering ashes of his father — he found that another had been buried — and knew the fresh-made grave as the one which contained the earthly remains of his mother. For hours he sat here and wept.
Then he went from the little cemetery, feeling, as he did so, that he was an outcast in the world. Despairing thoughts began to arise, and evil suggestions were flowing into his mind. But, amid these, arose the picture of his mother; and then his thoughts went back to the time when, a little child, he knelt beside her, and prayed that he might not be led into temptation. So softened were his feelings, that, sinking upon his knee, he clasped his hands, and prayed aloud, as his heart went upward —
"Lord, lead me not into temptation!"
And as he did so, there came a light into his heart, and a good purpose formed in his mind.
"I have had enough of this evil life!" he said. "It brings nothing but suffering. Dear God in Heaven — help me!"
After saying this, the young man arose, and returning to the grave of his mother, sat there again and wept. But the shadows of evening, which soon began to fall, warned him that he must retire; and then he went away, firm in his purpose to lead a new righteous life.
Glad are we to say, that this good purpose was never broken, and that Frank McPherson is now a sober, industrious young man. He is engaged in useful employments, and as happy as could be expected, for one who must have so many painful memories.
Dear children! Do not give a moment's place to evil in your minds! Evil is a cruel tyrant, which leads all who give themselves up to its influence — into the worst slavery, and the most direful sufferings! Only the good and holy are truly happy!