The Ways of Providence
Or, "He Does All Things Well!"
by Timothy Shay Arthur, 1852
Few esteem the operations of Divine Providence, so far as themselves are concerned, as having regard to anything beyond what is natural; and, for this reason, "adverse" and "favorable" providences are so often spoken of with reference to the mere temporal well-being. Some even think that prosperity or adversity are sent as rewards or punishments for good or evil doing. In this, we think, there is an error. God is an eternal Being — all of His dealings towards us must, therefore, have an eternal end; and what higher end can such a Being, whose very nature is love, have, than the eternal salvation of His creatures?
That the whole of the Lord's providence with man is governed by such a purpose, and that we are in prosperity or adversity, according as those conditions best subserve our eternal interests; and, moreover, that this Providence is intimate with every man, from the dawning of natural life until its close — we fully believe. And this is the doctrine of our book.
Riches and Poverty
"Hard at work, friend Gresler," said a neighbor, as he stepped into the shop of an industrious, but not very contented tailor. "No rest in this world."
"Not for some of us, certainly. It's work, work, work, day in and day out, from one year's end to another, and, after all, we hardly receive enough to keep soul and body together. I get out of all heart sometimes."
"There goes one who has an easy time of it," said the neighbor, glancing out of the window at a middle-aged man, who was riding past on a large and beautiful horse.
"Who? Oh, yes, Melville. Humph! Yes, he has an easy time of it, you may well say. Nothing under the sun to do but ride about and take his pleasure. People talk about a wise and just Providence, but as to the wisdom and justice of giving all the comfort and happiness to one class of people — and all the trouble, poverty, and wretchedness to another class — is what I for one cannot understand."
"It does seem a little unaccountable, friend Gresler," replied the neighbor; "but still it is not wise to arraign Providence. All is no doubt right, if we could only see it so."
"A thing it would be very hard to make me see. Oh, no; you needn't tell me it's all right for one set of people, no better than the rest, to have all — and the others to have none, so to speak. Why should Melville there, for instance, have a fine horse, plenty of money, and nothing to do — while I can scarcely afford to live in this poor den, although I nearly work my finger-ends off? He is no better than I am. There is something wrong in all this, depend upon it. If you were to talk till doomsday, you couldn't convince me to the contrary."
"Depend upon it, neighbor Gresler, it is all right, notwithstanding. We may not be able to see how it is, but still I am satisfied that we have no real cause of complaint against Providence for partiality."
"Not for making one half of the world happy — and the other half miserable?"
"I doubt if that is the case. I doubt very much whether Mr. Melville is a happier man than you are — nay, if he is even as happy."
"Preposterous!" ejaculated the tailor. "His very countenance gives the lie to that assumption!"
"I can't say how that is; I don't see him very often."
"I do, then, frequently; he is often in the shop. I work for him. He was here not an hour ago, looking as sleek and contented as one of his own carriage-horses. And why shouldn't he look so? What has he to trouble him?"
"More than you think, for I have not the least doubt. My doctrine is, that happiness and misery are about equally distributed between what are designated the higher and lower classes, or the rich and the poor. A man in either class may be happy or miserable, but this will depend very much upon himself. I, for instance, am no better off than you are, externally; but I am a happier man, because, though I am compelled to work hard, I try to be contented with my lot; and I envy no man, rich or poor. I would not exchange conditions with any man living."
"I would, then. I would exchange with Melville, tomorrow."
As Gresler had said, the rich man, whose condition he envied, had been in his shop that morning, to order some clothes. The tailor was all smiles and bows to his customer, and showed no evidence of the envy and discontent which were rendering his life miserable.
"Happy dog!" muttered Melville to himself, as he left the tailor's shop and mounted his horse to ride away. "I'd give half my fortune to be as free from trouble as he is. There he sits from morning till night, with little or no care beyond his shop-door. His children look healthy, while mine are always under the doctor's hands, or giving me more heart-trouble than I have ever had in my life. His wife is the picture of health and contentment, while my poor Rosalind, alas, is never free from pain or gloomy despondency. I have heard him singing gaily at his work, as I opened the door of his shop, but I haven't hummed a tune for three years. I always feel as if a ten pound weight were pressing upon my bosom. They call the rich happy, and the poor miserable. The reverse is nearer the truth!"
Such were the thoughts of Mr. Melville, as he rode slowly away from the humble shop of the poor tailor. He was a retired merchant, who had, during a long period of commercial prosperity, amassed a very handsome property. But, in doing this, he had neglected the cultivation of social habits and feelings, and thought and cared too little about the best interests of his family. This neglect did not arise from any lack of home affections, for he was tenderly attached to his wife and children; its cause lay in the absorbing nature of his business pursuits, to which he gave up his thoughts too entirely. The period during which he was thus actively engaged in gathering in a harvest of wealth, was the very period when his elder children's characters and habits were forming, and when they most required a parent's earnest and affectionate care. But this care they did not receive from Mr. Melville, with whom business was the thing of primary importance; and not until he retired into private life and began to turn his thoughts more earnestly upon his family — was he aware of the fatal error he had committed.
The oldest son of Mr. Melville was at this time just twenty years of age; he had been to college up to within a year, and was now reading law, in the office of a distinguished attorney. William Melville was a young man of very fair abilities, and it required only a little more than ordinary application on his part to insure him eminence in the profession he had chosen. But, though he possessed naturally a good disposition and had respectable talents, he had not received from his father, as he grew up, any precepts for right government, nor any warnings of the dangers which beset the path of a young man just entering upon life. He had the advantage of as good an education as could be procured, a liberal allowance of money, and was subjected to but few parental restrictions.
Notwithstanding all this, it was some time after Mr. Melville saw with pain, that his son was falling into bad habits and keeping bad company — before he could comprehend the cause and feel sensible of the error he had committed, when it was too late to remedy the evils arising from it.
Nor did Ardelle, his oldest daughter, give him cause for any more pleasing reflections. Her mother was not a woman of an active, energetic mind, naturally. Ill-health and the lack of an adequately felt purpose, had taken from her even the small measure of activity, decision, and promptness, which she possessed at the time of her marriage.
As Ardelle grew up, she soon showed herself to possess a stubborn will, which her mother, after making a few feeble efforts to subdue, left entirely unbroken. Mr. Melville saw, at times, the exhibition of this, but he had always left the management of Ardelle to her mother, and satisfied his mind on the subject by assuming that she would govern her rightly. At the boarding-school to which Ardelle went, she learned, besides the various branches of education taught there, sundry romantic notions in regard to love and marriage. When she came home, at the age of eighteen or nineteen, she had not only the appearance of a woman of twenty-one or two, but considered herself as much an object of attention from the beaux as any other marriageable young lady in the whole circle of her acquaintance. Long before she had entered her twentieth year, she had, without a word of consultation with either of her parents, engaged herself in a marriage contract with an insolent adventurer.
When this fact became known to Mr. Melville, his mortification and anger may well be supposed. In a moment of passion, he threatened, in the presence of Ardelle, to shoot the young man, if he ever dared to pass his foot across his threshold. This intemperate declaration had been made on the morning of the very day we have introduced him to the reader.
When Mr. Melville returned home, he found his wife in a very unhappy state of mind. Ardelle had left the house, shortly after her father had gone out, taking with her some of her clothes and her mother's purse, containing about a hundred dollars. She left a note upon her dressing-table, stating what she had done, and declaring her intention to fulfill her engagement with the young man, in opposition to the wishes and commands of her parents. This note was brought to Mrs. Melville by a servant, about two hours after Ardelle had taken this rash and imprudent step. When her husband came home, he found her alone in her chamber, weeping most bitterly. To his eager inquiries, Mrs. Melville placed the daughter's note in his hands. He read it, turned pale, and sank with a groan upon a chair. It was some time before he recovered from the shock occasioned by this distressing intelligence. When he arose from his seat, which was not for nearly five minutes, during which time he suffered more than he had under any circumstances in his whole life, he said, with bitter emphasis, and a dark frown upon his face — "He shall not have her, the false-hearted, accursed villain!"
He was turning away to leave the room, when his wife sprang forward, and, seizing him by the arm, said earnestly, "Do nothing rash, William. Find them out, and bring Ardelle home; but, oh! do nothing that will make us worse trouble than we now have."
Mr. Melville broke away from the grasp of his wife, without making any reply, and hurried from the house. The young man who had made so strong an impression on the heart of Ardelle was named Bertrand; he was from the South, and was living at one of the principal hotels. What his business was, if indeed he had any, was not known. As he might be seen almost any day, and any hour in the day, on the fashionable street of the city, the presumption was, that he had no regular vocation. He represented himself as being the son of a rich Southern planter; but this was doubted. How he got introduced into fashionable society, no one could tell. He never had ventured to call at Mr. Melville's to see Ardelle, but once or twice. His reception by all but the daughter was so cold, that he deemed it prudent to keep away.
Mr. Melville, after some inquiry, ascertained at which hotel the young man boarded, and went there immediately.
"Is Bertrand in?" he asked eagerly of the barkeeper.
"I will see," replied the man, ringing a bell.
A servant was despatched to the young man's room, and soon returned with the information that he was not there.
"Are you sure?" asked Mr. Melville, in a tone of incredulity.
"His door is locked, sir."
"Did you knock?"
"Oh, yes, two or three times."
"Is the proprietor of the hotel in?"
"I wish to see him immediately."
The proprietor was called, to whom Mr. Melville explained his errand, and expressed his belief that the young man was really in his room.
"If so, we will soon bring him out," replied the hotel-keeper, with indignation.
In company with Mr. Melville, he went up to Bertrand's room. He knocked, but no answer was returned. On examining the key-hole, no key was seen inside of the lock.
"He is not here," said the hotel-keeper.
"It is easy to take the key out from the inside. He must be here. Is there no other key that will fit the door?" said Mr. Melville, now much excited.
The chambermaid was called and directed to unlock the door with her key, which was so constructed as to spring the bolt of every lock in that particular part of the house. As the door swung open, Mr. Melville stepped in quickly; but the chamber was empty. A trunk stood in the middle of the floor open, but its contents had been removed.
"The bird has flown!" said the hotel-keeper, as he saw this. "You will have to seek him elsewhere, Mr. Melville."
Strict inquiries were made of the bar-keeper and servants, but no one had seen Bertrand since ten o'clock in the morning.
Mr. Melville's next step was to look up his son William, and inform him of what had occurred. The young man, who was of a fiery temperament, had been drinking rather freely. The bad news made him almost wild with anger. Thrusting a pistol into his pocket, he was striding towards the door with a threat of murder on his tongue, when his father laid his hand upon his arm, and said, somewhat sternly — "William, give me your pistol."
"No, father; I will blow out the scoundrel's brains," returned the young man, passionately, "the moment I get my eyes upon him."
"If you cannot go in a better spirit than that, William, I do not wish you to go at all. Let me have the pistol."
With a good deal of reluctance, William yielded up the pistol, and at his father's request sat down and entered into conference with him as to the steps which ought to be taken in order to discover Ardelle. The father and son then separated, with the understanding that they were to meet in an hour if not successful in their search for the young lady, in order to determine upon some more prompt and efficient mode of action.
When William parted with his father, his first step was to go to the store of a gunsmith in order to procure another pistol. While examining one previous to purchasing it, the thought of a whip as a substitute crossed his mind. This led him to change his purpose. A stout whip was procured and carefully concealed about his person, and then he commenced an eager search for Bertrand and his sister. He first went to all the principal hotels in the city, but gained no information of the objects of his search. This occupied the entire hour, at the close of which he was to meet with his father.
In returning to the place at which they had agreed to meet, William Melville passed a fashionable boarding-house, before the door of which stood a carriage. It was within half an hour of the starting of one of the steamboat lines for the south, and, as there were two trunks on behind, the carriage was evidently waiting to convey some passengers to the boat. Just as William was passing, Bertrand came out with a lady closely veiled upon his arm. William instantly recognized her as his sister. Without a word, or a moment's pause for reflection, he struck Bertrand a heavy blow with the whip, which stunned him so much that he reeled and fell forward upon the pavement. Before Bertrand could recover himself, William was laying his whip over his face and shoulders, with almost the fury of a madman! Ardelle screamed wildly, and sank fainting to the ground.
The quick, smarting strokes of the whip soon restored Bertrand's lost senses and presence of mind. He sprang eagerly to his feet, and before either William or the crowd of bystanders that had already gathered round could prevent the movement, drew a pistol and shot his assailant. William staggered backwards with a curse and fell. During the confusion and excitement of the moment, Bertrand escaped, and succeeded in getting away from the city, and ultimately of eluding all pursuit.
The bullet passed between a pair of the ribs on the right side, shattering one of them and burying itself deep in the left lung, from which it was found impossible to extricate it. Violent inflammation followed, which caused the young man's death in forty-eight hours.
As if to make more bitter the cup which the father had to drink, if that could add to the bitterness of such a cup, when Ardelle was brought home, she had in her possession a regularly signed and witnessed certificate of marriage. She was the wife of Bertrand!
With a weakened frame, shattered nerves, and strength of character all gone, Mrs. Melville sank down under this terrible visitation, and for a time exhibited the most fearful indications of approaching imbecility, thus making the burdens of her husband still more heavy to bear.
Two or three days after the occurrence of the sad event just detailed, Gresler, the tailor, sat humming a tune at his work, much happier than he was willing to acknowledge himself to be. His oldest son, who had been apprenticed to a jeweler, had become free about two months previous to this time. He had proved a steady, industrious boy, was now a good workman, and had received immediate employment at good wages. This son had just left his shop. He had called in to inform him that his old master, whose health was bad, and who had more business than he could possibly attend to under the circumstances, had offered him a good interest in his shop if he would accept of a partnership, and take the management of the most laborious and active branch of the business off of his hands. Before closing with the offer, he had come to consult with his father on the subject, to whose judgment he still felt willing to defer in a matter of so much interest. The father advised an immediate acceptance of the proposition, and the son had just left for the purpose of doing so.
While Gresler's mind was still elated by the circumstance just mentioned, he received a message from Mr. Melville, by a servant, requesting his attendance. Gresler was fully aware of the distressing events that had thrown a pall of gloom over the family of his wealthy customer, and of the precarious state in which William Melville was lying. His death had not yet been announced.
"How is young Mr. Melville?" he asked of the servant who brought the message.
"Dead!" was the brief reply.
"Dead? Poor young man! What a terrible blow it must be to his father!"
"Yes, it almost kills him. But he would have broken his heart anyhow, I am afraid."
"Was he very wild?"
"Yes; he was hardly ever in until after midnight, and then he usually came home in a bad way. It hurt the old gentleman dreadfully, for he always set a good deal of store by William, and calculated on his making a man one of these days. But it is no wonder; he always had his own way, and as much money as he wanted, and that, you know, is not very good for a young man. But everybody liked him, for he was kind to all."
A thought of his own boy, just about the age of William Melville, passed through the mind of Gresler, and, for the first time in his life, he felt thankful that he was as poor as he was.
The tailor repaired immediately to the house of Mr. Melville, and was shown by a servant into one of the parlors. He had never before been in a room so splendidly furnished. Large mirrors reached from the ceiling to the floor; the window curtains were of heavy silk damask; the furniture rich with elaborate carving. Pictures from the most celebrated artists, ancient and modern, covered almost the entire surface of the walls, except those portions occupied by mirrors; while a dozen exquisite pieces of statuary gave to the room more the appearance of a museum to the half-bewildered tailor. Gresler had full time to examine, with a curious eye, the various items of use and luxury around him. He felt the heavy drapery of the windows; pressed his foot over and over again upon the yielding Turkish carpet; viewed the pictures and statuary, and examined the richly-carved furniture with its many curious patterns. From surprise and wonder, his feelings gradually changed. He forgot the object for which he had been summoned. Envy of the rich man filled his whole mind, and he was angry against the Providence that had made him a poor tailor — and Melville a "rich man." This feeling had nearly reached its height, when a servant came in and asked him to step upstairs. The silent tread of the servant as he stepped with him into the hall, the death-like stillness which reigned around, coming as it did upon his immediate recollection that this was the house of mourning, dispelled his envious and murmuring thoughts, and prepared him to come with better feelings into the presence of the stricken-hearted father.
The room into which he was shown was so darkened, that at first he could see objects but indistinctly. Mr. Melville came forward with a slow step, and spoke to the tailor in a voice so changed and mournful, that it caused the tears to spring to his eyes. A low moan, followed by a few quick sobs, gradually sinking away until lost in silence, directed Gresler's eyes to a large cushioned-chair that the darkness of the room had at first prevented his seeing. It needed no one to tell him that these sounds of grief came from the mother of William Melville.
"We have had a terrible affliction, Mr. Gresler," said Mr. Melville, after a pause; "and sometimes it seems as if we could not bear up; but we must look for strength to Him who has sent the trial, and will enable us to endure it."
The quivering voice and lip, the bowed head and air of deep humiliation and distress, touched the feelings of Gresler. He did not venture to make any reply. In a little while, Mr. Melville, recovering himself so as to be able to speak without visible emotion, gave the tailor a few directions about mourning garments for himself and younger sons, and then Gresler withdrew.
"I would not exchange places with that man," said the tailor, as he gained the street and was able to breathe more freely, "for all the wealth he possesses, were it doubled a hundred times!"
But of this mind, the envious and discontented man did not long remain. To be rich, and have nothing comparatively to do — seemed to him to confer all the means of happiness. He could not comprehend how enlarged possessions brought corresponding needs, and, as a natural consequence, disappointment in a like ratio; nor how attendant upon wealth, were dangers and temptations from which the poor man was freed. He felt the lack of money to be an evil; and therefore considered the possession of it, as the greatest good.
But, even with all his discontent and envy, Gresler was and always had been — a happier man than Mr. Melville. And so may every poor man be happier than his rich neighbor, if he will be industrious and frugal in his expenditures; and more especially if he will cultivate a spirit of contentment with his lot. Riches themselves, never bring happiness. The rich have cares and troubles — as well as the poor, and they are usually of a more troublesome and heart-aching kind. They stand higher, and, when stricken down by affliction — fall to the earth with a heavier blow!
Let every man strive to better his condition; let every man get rich if he can; but let none indulge the folly of imagining that, because another is wealthier than he — he is a happier man; for, in nine cases out of ten, if he could see into his heart — the sight would awaken in his own bosom the liveliest feelings of commiseration!
The Bargain with Heaven
Justin Palmer was twenty-seven years of age. He had come into the possession of fifteen thousand dollars, and was about entering into business for himself. Being a lover of money, he was particularly anxious to succeed. He thought much, therefore, of the prospect before him, and, naturally enough, endeavored so to mature his plans as to make failure next to impossible. While in this state of mind, he fell into company with the minister of the church to which he belonged. During a conversation that passed between them, Palmer referred to the circumstance of his being about to make a start in the world for himself, and expressed confidence in the result.
"I think," said he, "that I understand business well enough to make success certain."
"Nothing is certain in this life," replied the minister. "The Lord sets up whom he will, and whom he will he casts down. Riches, you know, often take to themselves wings and fly away."
"True, but riches fly from many, because they do not take proper care of them."
"Or, you might better say, do not make proper use of them. So many abuse the wealth which comes into their hands, by turning all the streams of benevolence, so to speak, in upon themselves, that Providence diverts the waters into new channels, that the many may enjoy their refreshing influences. I often wonder that thousands who commence business are not as wise as Rawson, whom you know to be one of the wealthiest men we know."
"What particular course did he adopt?" asked Mr. Palmer.
"He commenced business," replied the minister, "at twenty-five, possessing a thousand dollars capital. He was a pious young man, and fully acknowledged all he possessed as a gift from Heaven; and, in view of this, he made a resolution in the beginning, that he would yearly devote one-tenth of his clear income to charitable and religious purposes. This he has faithfully done ever since; yet he has steadily increased in wealth, and is now no the enjoyment of several hundred thousand dollars. There are many, not worth a cent today, who, if they had acknowledged a partnership with Heaven, as Rawson did, would be in the possession of large wealth. If men, under the influence of selfishness, forget the source of all their blessings — how can they hope to prosper?"
"And he really gives one-tenth of all his income, yearly, to benevolent purposes?" said Palmer with surprise.
"Yes, so he has himself assured me. He says, that he has always been exceedingly careful in making up his estimates every year, in order to be certain that he does not give away less than his original stipulation; if any error has been committed, he thinks it is against himself."
"And does he attribute his prosperity to the fact of having thus tithed his income?"
"He does; and so do I."
This conversation made a strong impression on Palmer. The leading desire of his life was to accumulate riches; at the same time, a religious education had stamped his mind with a bias to the things of the church, and given him an entire belief in the governing and disposing agency of Divine Providence. "That the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof," he fully acknowledged. This being so, it was natural for him to seize upon the minister's suggestion and to turn it over and over again in his mind. To part with a tenth of his income every year, seemed a large sacrifice of property.
"One hundred dollars out of every thousand," said he to himself as he mused on the subject. "It really seems like too much. But the Israelites," thus came in the counter argument in his mind, "were tithed for the support of their church; and this tithing, being of Divine appointment, was of course right. If now, without an ordinance from Heaven, I voluntarily set apart one-tenth of my income for religious and benevolent purposes, it cannot but be pleasing in the sight of God. Were all men to devote as large a share of their yearly increase for the spread of the gospel and the relief of human suffering — the wilderness would soon blossom as a rose, and springs of water abound in the arid deserts. But so few use the bounties of Providence as almoners of Heaven, that it is little wonder few are permitted to accumulate wealth. Yes, Rawson acted wisely and justly. It is not a matter of surprise that he prospered in his basket and in his store. It would have been remarkable had the case been otherwise. I will follow so good an example. I will yearly devote a tenth of my income to the church and to charity."
With this resolution, Palmer commenced business. At the end of the first year he found, after a careful estimate of everything, that his actual profits were just one thousand dollars. They were larger on his gross business transactions; but the expense of fitting up a store, and sundry charges incident to a beginning, were all deducted, thus leaving a balance of one thousand dollars. To decide whether he should call the profits of the year three thousand or one thousand, caused a long and serious debate in his mind. The expense of fitting up his store, it occurred to him, was a necessary investment of capital, and should not be charged out against the profits of the year. But, as his personal expenses had been a thousand dollars, and the clear profit, after the reductions referred to, was no more, he could not decide to place three hundred dollars on interest in the Lord's treasury. So one hundred had to suffice as the tenth of his income. Already he had paid thirty dollars for pew rent, an extra assessment of twenty dollars to make up a deficiency in the minister's salary; five to help constitute said minister a life member in a missionary society; and twenty more had gone during the year in contributions for various religious and benevolent purposes in items too small for enumeration, leaving a balance on hand of fifteen dollars to the account of Heaven. This sum he placed in the hands of the minister, to be disbursed as that individual might, in his better judgment in such matters, determine.
"I have followed your good advice," said Mr. Palmer, in making this disposition of the balance; "my profits this first year have been one thousand dollars, and I have given one hundred to the Lord."
"Well and wisely done, brother Palmer," was replied to this. "Be sure, if you continue to practice, through life, on this system, you will be largely the gainer in worldly goods, besides laying up treasure in Heaven. Remember, that he who gives to the poor, lends to the Lord, and He will repay him again."
Palmer felt much encouraged — in fact, he considered that he held Heaven's guarantee for success. During the second year, everything prospered with him. His business increased beyond his anticipations. His gross profits were over five thousand dollars; but, as there were a good many outstanding accounts, one or two of which were a little doubtful, he was not able to make a clear division of profits, on the side of Heaven, of over one hundred and fifty dollars. He felt a little uneasy at assessing so small a sum, when the profit was, apparently, so much larger, lest God should be offended and withdraw its favor. For a time he debated the question, whether it would not be his wisest policy to assume five thousand dollars as the real profit of the year, and set off five hundred as his offering to the sacred treasury; thus, as it were, securing the cooperation of Heaven in aid of the safe collection of the year's balance of outstanding debts. But when the settlement of the account came, the merchant's faith was hardly strong enough for this. He felt that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. Were he to part with the additional three hundred and fifty dollars, he was not absolutely certain that the nine-tenths, his own property, which it represented, would come in.
Prosperity crowned the efforts of the third year, and the merchant paid over four hundred dollars as the tithe of his income. In the fourth year the sum amounted to five hundred dollars, and in the fifth year to seven hundred. Justin Palmer made fewer bad debts than any of his neighbors, at which, as well as at his rapid progress, many wondered. He knew, or thought he knew, the secret; but, strange enough, he felt willing to keep his secret to himself. His real motive for this he did not know, for he was not a man habitually in the practice of examining his motives. To his bargain with Heaven he was strict to the letter, and therefore he felt that, in the eyes of Heaven, he was a faithful steward, and that, while he remained faithful, more and more would be committed to his hands, nine-tenths of which, under the contract, would be absolutely his own, to be held and used exclusively for his own purposes. If he were to impart to his neighbors the secret referred to, many of them, he believed, would adopt the same system, thus dividing the almoners of Heaven's bounty, and, as a consequence, dividing the profits and injuring his prosperity. He was able and willing to dispense thousands every year; and it would be just the same for the interests of religion and charity, as if the work were committed to a dozen, and a vast deal better for himself.
Here was his real motive for being silent on the subject. He did not really know that such was his end, for he was not, as has been said, an investigator of motive; and his self-love, and consequent good opinion of himself, gave him credit for being a man of the purest intentions.
Year after year went by, and Mr. Palmer continued to gather in riches. Of course he gave liberally to the church, and liberally for all benevolent purposes, for he had a large fund to draw upon, and did not feel, when he put his hand into the coffer which contained it, that he was making any sacrifice. He paid over, with scrupulous exactness, into this fund every year, the tenth of his income; and when he drew from it, it was with the same feeling, in a certain sense, that a man draws upon a fund entrusted to his care for the use of another. If he paid over fifty or one hundred dollars for any benevolent purpose, the gift was not accompanied by any unpleasant reluctance. It went freely, and the self-congratulation and pleasure were without an alloy.
Of course, Mr. Palmer was looked upon in the church to which he belonged, and in the general community, as a very benevolent man. He was usually called upon to head subscription papers, and this, when the object seemed to call for it, was usually done in a liberal style. But, in another relations to society, men thought less favorably of the merchant's real kindness and good-will to his fellows. The car-man, the porter, the poor day-laborer — in fact, all who in any way performed a service for Mr. Palmer — found him stingy, even to injustice, in his dealings. With two interests to serve, his own and the interest of Heaven, he felt under obligation to make the most of every transaction, and to save the pennies, that they might accumulate into dollars, in all ways possible. In doing this, as we have intimated, he was not always just to others. In bargaining, he felt a certain right to get the best side, if possible, and he always strove to do so. He was therefore known as a sharp dealer, and merchants who had transactions with him, were accustomed to be on their guard.
In matters of religion, Mr. Palmer was known as a pious man. This, in fact, was a part of his co-partnership. He was a regular church-goer; a partaker of the ordinances; held family worship every morning, and said grace at meals. Moreover, he was a superintendent in a Sabbath-school, the president of a Bible society, and connected, in some way, with half a dozen religious and benevolent institutions, to the support of all of which he liberally contributed. As he grew older and wealthier, men in all ranks deferred to him more and more; and he began, occasionally, to see his name in the newspapers as one of "our liberal and benevolent citizens."
At last, Mr. Palmer was fifty years of age, and worth some two hundred thousand dollars. Annually he paid over, in accordance with his original bargain with Heaven, from two to three thousand dollars. This sum was dispensed somewhat ostentatiously. He liked the reputation for benevolence it brought him; but beyond this, he never went. His own money, as he considered it, was held with a clinging tenacity, made more selfish by the fact that he annually gave, under a liberal contract, all that even God required him to give. No matter how strong or touching the appeal, never did he go one dollar beyond his tithe, never did he give a dollar of that which he looked upon as absolutely his property.
Such was the condition and character of Mr. Palmer when the city of New York, in which he lived, was threatened with a commercial crisis. Hundreds took the alarm, and commenced taking in sail; while others lost, through alarm, their ability to determine correctly any course of action. Among those who calmly viewed the approaching storm, was Mr. Justin Palmer. He had large interests at stake, but he was not alarmed. He felt that his feet were on a rock.
During the twenty-three years that Mr. Palmer had been in business, a change of ministers had twice taken place in the church to which he belonged. The present incumbent was a Mr. Orville, a clear-seeing, deep-thinking, pure-minded, conscientious man. He understood the quality of Mr. Palmer's mind, far better than Mr. Palmer understood it, and did not give him half the credit for benevolence, that he took to himself. It happened, one day, that Mr. Orville dined with the merchant. After dinner, while they sat alone in the parlor, the subject of the threatened collapse in trade was referred to.
"For my part," said Mr. Palmer, "I do not feel any alarm on this score. I have a great deal at stake, to be sure, but I am willing to trust in Providence."
"Our only sure refuge and defense," replied the minister. "To be able to say with the psalmist — 'Though He slays me — yet will I trust in him; is indeed a blessed privilege. Few attain so high a state."
Mr. Palmer saw that he was not understood.
"I don't even anticipate a reverse," said he, in a confident manner.
"Few can say that," replied the minister.
"Because few have laid their worldly prosperity on the same broad basis that I have."
The face of the minister showed that he did not comprehend the merchant's meaning. He looked at his companion in silence.
"My mode of doing business is peculiar," said the merchant. "I started on a different principle from most men. In a word, I have, from the first, appropriated one-tenth of my whole income to religious and benevolent purposes, thus practically acknowledging that all worldly goods are the Lord's, and to be used as gifts from his hand. It is to this fact, more than to any superior business capacity, that I attribute my success in life; and, while I faithfully distribute this tenth of my income — I am in no fear of its diminution."
The minister, instead of expressing gratification at the announcement of this fact, and assenting to the truth of Mr. Palmer's conclusion, sat silent, with his eyes upon the floor.
"Is not my confidence well based?" asked the merchant, who was a little surprised at the coldness of Mr. Orville's manner.
"I do not see, in the reason you give, any guarantee for immunity."
"Will God mock me?" There was something indignant in the way this was uttered.
"The Lord regards the eternal good of his creatures, and causes all natural things to subserve that purpose. If to retain your property will best promote your spiritual welfare — you will be permitted to retain it; but if you need the reaction of its loss — be sure that the loss will come. God is a spiritual and eternal being, and regards only spiritual and eternal ends. He does not give wealth to anyone, in consideration of the charitable uses he may make of it; but only because such a condition is better for him, spiritually, than poverty. Many are permitted to enjoy this world's goods for a season — and afterwards made to feel the pressure of adversity; but the first condition was not given as any reward of merit — nor was the other sent in anger as a punishment: both were designed as aids to the soul in its rejection of evil and elevation into good."
These were higher truths than Mr. Palmer had been in the habit of contemplating, and they sounded strangely and unpleasantly in his ears. They were not higher truths than Mr. Orville had preached to his congregation Sabbath after Sabbath; only the merchant's spiritual intelligence had ranged below them. Truth, whenever enunciated, always makes its own impression — is always seen, at a first glance, to be true. Afterwards it may be confirmed or rejected, according to the state of him who hears it. What Mr. Orville said, struck the mind of Mr. Palmer with the jarring force of unwelcome news. Instantly, however, he sought reasons for discrediting the positions assumed.
"I don't know, Mr. Orville," replied the merchant, "that it follows as a consequence that a man's spiritual state determines his external condition. The bounties of Heaven are distributed in the earth through human agencies, and it seems to me that the best steward — will have the largest stewardship. It is because I have acknowledged the Lord as the proprietor of all earthly goods, and distributed liberally of what came into my hands — that I have prospered in my basket and store. At least, so I have always been willing to believe."
"In the order of Providence," said Mr. Orville, speaking seriously, "I have been appointed to minister of the things pertaining to God, in the congregation to which you belong. Your spiritual welfare has, consequently, been committed to my charge, and it is my duty to speak to you, if occasion calls for it, with the utmost plainness. Can you bear it?"
"Oh, certainly! certainly!" replied the merchant. Yet he moved uneasily in his chair, and looked as if he thought the minister was acting strangely.
"You seem," said Mr. Orville, "to have been laboring, for years, under a very serious error."
"How so?" quickly inquired the merchant.
"In imagining, that because you gave a tenth of your income for pious and charitable purposes — the Lord prospered you as a reward. But, depend upon it, my brother, no such bargain with God can be made. You hold your wealth by a far different tenure. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. His are the cattle upon a thousand hills. He stands not, therefore, in such need of man's service as to give him nine-tenths of all this, in consideration of his faithful distribution of a tithe.
"Your spiritual good is as much regarded, as the spiritual good of the doorkeeper of the house of God; and your wealth is given for your spiritual well-being, as much as the poverty of the other is given for his. In the progress of life, if reversed circumstances will be best for each of you — then a change will certainly come. It is not because a man abuses his wealth that it is sometimes taken from him; nor because he uses it charitably that it is left in his possession. But he retains or loses it — according as it best serves the ends of Divine Providence in saving him from baser evils, or raising him into higher states of good."
"Then the Divine Providence does not take into consideration the amount of good a man who rightly uses his wealth may do in the world."
"One individual, be he poor or rich, is as much under the care of God as another. His external condition is nothing, only so far as it affects his internal state. As the Bible says, The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; and he can always cause such a distribution of the bounties of nature, in all individual cases, as will best serve His great and good designs in saving men eternally. Be assured, Mr. Palmer, that if the possession of wealth hurt your spiritual state — you will not be permitted to retain it, though you distribute one-half instead of one-tenth of your income; and that it does hurt you thus, pardon me for saying, with all plainness, I believe."
"Mr. Orville!" exclaimed the merchant, in surprise.
"I only give utterance to my solemn convictions."
"Will you explain what you mean?"
"Your present conversation illustrates this. You seem to consider that you have made a bargain for a certain amount of worldly goods, to which you have an absolute title, even against all the claims of Heaven itself. For, it is plain, that if you were to lose your property, you would feel that you had been dealt with unfairly. Under the system you have pursued, active benevolence has not flowed from a spring of good-will to mankind issuing from your heart; but your charity has been a regular business transaction, in which you were most largely interested. Therefore, it has not, in your case, borne with it a double blessing. How much do you think under your system you have given away?"
"I have kept the account accurately. In twenty-three years I have distributed over forty thousand dollars. Last year, my business paid fifty thousand dollars, and I gave away five thousand. It was the best year I have had. Every year there is an increase."
"Over forty thousand dollars offered on the shrine of piety and charity," said the minister, "and yet the giver of all this unblessed by a truly generous impulse! All a matter of contract! All done for a selfish and worldly ends! Mr. Palmer, my heart aches at the thought!"
It is not strange that the merchant was offended; nor that he replied in language which closed the subject at once. But he did not feel confident as before. The language of Mr. Orville carried with it the force of truth, and, as the words fixed themselves in his memory, the truth thus conveyed, dimly though it shone in the darkened chamber of his mind — made enough of error plain to create doubt and consequent uneasiness. If it were indeed as the minister said, then he did not hold his wealth by the inalienable right he had supposed. His feet were not planted upon an immovable rock. His bargain with Heaven was far from being valid. With more anxious eyes, he surveyed the approaching storm, and marked the progress it made. He was no longer certain that Heaven was on his side, and, therefore, felt bound to look more carefully after his own interests. A reef here, and a reef there, were caught in his sails. His chart was examined more frequently, and his observations taken with greater care. Yet, for all, he felt unsafe; and when the storm began to break, and his vessel to feel some of its violence, his heart was oppressed with anxiety. Notwithstanding he had paid forty thousand dollars to Heaven as a kind of premium, for which he was to be insured against all adversity, he was conscious of a flaw in his policy, and, therefore, deeply troubled.
At last, failures began daily to occur in all the commercial cities. Men who had been considered as strongly-rooted as the century-old oak, bent and broke like a willow sapling. A panic pervaded all business circles. Chartered money institutions, and private bankers and money-lenders, taking the alarm, increased the evil by a restriction of the line of discounts. For some weeks, not a failure affected Mr. Palmer, and his bank account showed a handsome surplus. He was gaining confidence, and beginning to feel the rock, upon which his feet had rested so long, steadfast under him again — when he was startled one day by a protest on a discounted note of ten thousand dollars. The house by which it had been given, was considered one of the safest in the city.
Hoping that there might be some mistake, Mr. Palmer started forth for certain information. He obtained it from the first person he met. It was too true — the house had failed, and the failure was said not only to be a bad one, but likely to involve three or four other firms, each of which was more or less indebted to our merchant. In a word, the yielding of this house, bid fair to involve Mr. Palmer in losses equal to the whole amount of interest paid to Heaven, for prosperity during a period of nearly twenty-five years! It was a terrible shock, and, for a short time, his mind was prostrate under it. But, he had still large possessions left, and he aroused himself to struggle for their retention.
But he struggled in an unequal contest. There were fearful odds against him. What he had supposed to be a rock under his feet — proved now to be a heap of loose, smooth stones, which yielded, turned, and fell away — the more he strove to stand erect and firm. Shock after shock came, loss after loss was sustained; every new disaster in the commercial world — had a greater or less injurious effect upon the merchant, until, in the end, his name was among those dishonored on Exchange.
From the day of his conversation with the minister, Mr. Palmer had not been to church. When Sunday morning came, he was in no state for attending worship. Business anxieties on the one hand, and distrust of God on the other, brought his mind into spiritual darkness. There was besides, a latent feeling of indignation in his heart, as if he had been unfairly treated. This increased to something like anger, when the shock of the first disaster smote him. Observing his absence from church, Mr. Orville called to see him once or twice, but found him in a state of mind so adverse to religious impressions, that he did not attempt anything more than a conversation on general subjects. When, however, he learned the final disaster, he felt it to be his duty to visit, and offer such sustaining advice as it might be in his power to give. On entering the house of the merchant, he found him sunk in almost hopeless despondency. His property had nearly all passed from his hands. Little beyond the dwelling in which he lived remained, of over two hundred thousand dollars.
"The Lord gives — and the Lord takes away," said Mr. Orville, when allusion was made to the sad reverse the merchant had sustained.
A silent, but expressive and indignant rejection of the sentiment, was given by Mr. Palmer. There was no resignation in his heart.
"Think, my brother," resumed the minister, after a pause, "of the words of Him who spoke as never man spoke, when he said that 'not even a sparrow falls to the ground unnoticed' and then added, 'You are of more value than many sparrows.'"
"I have not deserved this," said the merchant bitterly.
"Hundreds of others are involved in a like ruin," replied the minister. "Are you better than they?"
To this, there was an answer. Mr. Palmer felt that he was better than the mass around him. Had he not given away over forty thousand dollars of his substance in public charity? Who was there, who could say as much? And this was his reward! "Let me get hold of money again," he said in his heart, "and see if I don't take better care of it! Give me back my forty thousand dollars, and I'll snap my fingers at the world!"
It was in vain that Mr. Orville sought to make an impression on his mind. The time had not yet come for purification from dross, although the crucible was in the fire.
Mr. Palmer had a son, now in his twenty-fifth year, who had been liberally educated. But the fact that his father was wealthy, left his mind without a stimulant to use rightly, the fine abilities he possessed. He had, more from the name of the thing, than with a view to its practice, studied law, and been admitted to the bar. But though two years had passed since he took an office, and assumed the appearance of attending to business, he was yet a caseless lawyer; and at his own door, lay the fault. With nothing to do, and much money to spend — Edward Palmer was in a dangerous position; far more dangerous than his father imagined. There were plenty of young men to lead away into evil habits, a fine, generous young fellow like himself, who had usually a well-lined pocket, and time enough for all purposes on his hands.
The oldest daughter of Mr. Palmer was, likewise, in a most critical position. A single step more — and wretchedness for life would be her dowery. A young man, who had neither conscience, sincerity, nor love for any object out of himself — had succeeded in gaining her affections. He was connected with a wealthy family, and had some property in his own right, with large expectations from an uncle. His advances had been well received by the family, and an engagement was about being made, when the storm broke with terrific fury over the head of the astonished merchant.
To both Edward and Grace Palmer, the misfortunes of their father came with a severe personal shock. The one was thrown upon his own resources, to struggle for self-sustenance — and the other deserted by a lover upon whom her heart had lavished its best affections.
In the bosom of Edward Palmer, there were many good impulses, which only needed a proper stimulant to come into activity. If he mingled too often with the idle and the wicked, it was not so much from a naturally perverse inclination, as the result of circumstances. When the sad reverses came which reduced his family from wealth to comparative poverty, and when he saw the depression and suffering of his father — he felt inspired by a generous desire to aid him in all possible ways. But he had not a single case in court. In thinking earnestly over the matter, it occurred to him that, in the breaking up of his father's business, and the loss of heavy amounts by other failures, much might be saved if the right legal measures were adopted and pressed through with vigor and decision. On first approaching his father on this subject, Mr. Palmer exhibited entire indifference.
"No — no — " said he, half impatiently — "nothing can be saved. The wreck is complete."
The truth was, Mr. Palmer had little confidence in his son's ability to do anything useful. He had become discouraged in regard to him. But as Edward urged the matter with earnestness and strong manifestation of interest, the father began to listen.
"There is one matter," said he, at last, "which needs looking into. I'm not satisfied with the assignment of a certain creditor; and, if you will take the matter in hand, you perhaps may save a thousand or two dollars. And even that small sum, will be something now."
Moved by a better impulse, Edward prosecuted, with an intelligence that surprised his father, inquiries into every particular of the case submitted to his investigation, and he was not long in discovering that the assignment had been fraudulent, and would have to be broken. In the second arrangement, his father would be benefitted at least three or four thousand dollars.
The success of this first attempt, gave his heart a new energy, and encouraged his father to submit to his legal eyes, other transactions, and to place in his hands for prosecution, a large amount of claims abandoned as hopeless. Two years of vigorous application to the business of his father, in which the native abilities of the young man were daily developing, and in which he was almost constantly before the courts, resulted in a reserve of over twenty thousand dollars from the wreck, which would inevitably have been lost.
And, better than all, these two years of close application, fixed the young man's destiny as a useful citizen for life, thus saving him from a vortex of ruin into which he must inevitably have fallen. When he had finished prosecuting the last case of his father, he found himself with other cases on hand, and the prospect of a gradually increasing and profitable business. The false friends of his days of sunshine, had all left him like leaves falling away in the autumn; and new associates, made in circles of business, influenced him in another and higher direction.
Thus it was with the son. This had been the saving effect of adverse circumstances. As for Grace — when the bitterness of her first grief at the loss of her lover had left her eyes with a clearer vision, she saw the young man's character in a new light, and with a subdued, yet aching heart, looked up and was thankful.
Nor had Mr. Palmer passed through two years of severe trial, without marking the effect upon his children; nor without some changes in his own views of Providence. He was again in business, though it was a moderate one — the returns only sufficient to meet a greatly reduced style of living. But he was no longer a murmurer at the course of events; and no longer felt like charging upon Heaven a violation of its contract. One evening, while sitting with his family, he made some remark upon the calamities he had sustained.
"But for them," said Edward, "calamities of a worse nature, I fear, would have visited us! In my own case, ruin would have been almost inevitable. I had become surrounded with idle and wicked companions, who would have led me away into debasing evils. The necessity for exertion saved me. And do you know that Eldridge, to whom Grace was about being betrothed, has this day been detected in a crime that will, in all probability, send him to the State Prison for years. How we have escaped!"
Mr. Palmer loved Grace with more than common tenderness, which had gained strength since his misfortunes; for pressure upon this household flower had made its perfume sweeter.
"Oh! such an escape!" he half murmured to himself, as his eyes glanced involuntarily upward. There was a more genuine feeling of thankfulness in his heart, than he had known for years. Any evil, he felt, was light — compared to the ruin of his son, and the destruction of his daughter's happiness. The ruin of a fortune might be repaired; but for the ruin of a soul — the crushing of a heart — there was no remedy.
After a long absence from church, Mr. Palmer again appeared in the congregation. His countenance was more subdued; yet his pious observance was far from being as ostentatious as before. When Mr. Orville visited him, which he did soon after his reappearance at church, he found him in a far different state of mind than at their last interview.
"It was for the best; I see it and I feel it," was his brief allusion to the past. "The loss of wealth was a great good — instead of a great evil. The bargain with Heaven was all of my own making, and that it did not hold good, is no cause of wonder. Spiritually, it was doing me a great injury; and the effect of wealth upon my children, was of the most disastrous character. God, in His own good time, rebuked and corrected me. It is all for the best. I can understand now, how the Divine Providence regards spiritual and not natural ends, in its dealings with men. This was once to me a strange doctrine, but I see it now in manifest light. Yes, let me repeat, all was for the best!"
The Kind Providence
"Behind a frowning providence
God hides a smiling face!"
"I feel, sometimes, well-near discouraged, Mrs. Clement, about this matter. I have already tried three schools for my little boy and girl, but have felt myself compelled to take them away from each, successively. And for the reason, that I could distinctly perceive a change passing upon their dispositions that was not for good. This is no doubt owing, in a degree, to their contact with other children. But I am convinced that such contact would prove beneficial, were the teacher who has charge of them possessed of the true wisdom of one in so important a station. I am not disposed to attach blame to the teachers with whom my children have been placed. No doubt they performed their duties to the best of their ability. But the lack of a true perception of their duties, is what I cannot but regret."
"And few indeed, Mrs. Van Wyck," replied the lady to whom the above had been addressed, in the course of a conversation, "have a true perception of these duties. Yet how important it is, that the minds of young children should receive, in their first development, a right direction.
"I have had a painful consciousness of this fact, Mrs. Clement; and it is the more painful under the reflection that it will be impossible, in transferring them for a time to the care of others, to secure the wise and judicious influence I desire."
"I believe," Mrs. Clement remarked, after sitting silent for some moments, "that if there is any one thing more than another for which I am, by nature, better fitted, it is for the management of young children; and if I were compelled to follow any pursuit for a living, it would be that of keeping a school for little boys and girls. And I would have none who were over eight or nine years of age. After that period, boys especially, should be placed under the care of a judicious master."
"I wish — no, I cannot wish that either; for it would be a selfish and cruel wish."
"Wish what, Mrs. Van Wyck?"
"I was going to say, without a moment's reflection, that I wished you might be compelled to keep such a school."
"I certainly cannot join in the desire. At my age, and with my habits, such a change would be an exceedingly painful one."
"It would, indeed, Mrs. Clement."
"I sometimes wish that I had half a dozen children around me, that I might observe the effects produced on their minds by a contact with the world, full of wonders to them, and guide their thoughts aright. I am often very lonesome, and grow tired of myself. For, you know, I have nothing to do. But I cannot turn school-mistress now. That would be a strange employment for a lady, with a clear income of five or six thousand dollars per annum."
"Not so strange, really, as the world might think," Mrs. Van Wyck said to herself.
About a week after this conversation occurred, a friend came to see Mrs. Clement. He was a man in business, and had always interested himself for her ever since her husband's death. In fact, he advised her in all matters relating to her property, and his advice was always taken.
"I have been thinking a good deal, lately, about your affairs, Mrs. Clement," said he; "and have made up my mind that the best thing you can possibly do, is to sell all your houses and lots at once, and invest the entire proceeds in the United States Bank stock. Property is now high, and yours will bring the very best prices, if offered at this time. But there is no telling how long present rates will be maintained. On the contrary, United States Bank stock is the safest and surest investment in the country, and the dividends are always large. Stocks are also the best kind of property for a woman to have. There is no trouble and loss from bad tenants. No painful necessity from distresses. No loss in repairs — nor the constant attention to insurance, taxes, and other matters that are not only troublesome, but constitute a very heavy drawback upon the annual income. All that is required is to go every six months, when dividends are declared, and receive your dues."
"You certainly know best, Mr. Stevens," was the old lady's reply. "Much better, of course, than I can know. If you really think the investment a safe one, I see no objection to its being made; and to tell the truth, these matters of rents, and repairs, and taxes, and insurance, etc. are a great annoyance to me."
"Safe, Mrs. Clement! why, I would as soon trust the United States Bank, as the Government itself! Its stock is one hundred and fifteen now, and those who have money to place at interest are seeking eagerly to obtain it."
"Well, I am willing to be governed by you in the matter. If you see best, you may make arrangements to throw all my real estate into the market, and, with the proceeds, purchase for me shares in this excellent institution."
Acting, as he supposed, for the true interests of the widow, now considerably advanced in years, Mr. Stevens sold off, as rapidly as possible, and at good prices, the whole of a fair estate that had been left to her on the death of her husband. The proceeds amounted to about one hundred thousand dollars, and were all immediately invested in the stock of the bank just mentioned.
Not long after this event, occurred that unsuccessful effort at resumption of specie payments by all the Philadelphia banks; which was sustained for only a few weeks, during which period millions of dollars in gold and silver were drawn out and transmitted to New York. Then came the shock of another suspension, the cause of which was mainly charged upon the United States Bank. Suspicions of her solvency began to circulate through the country, uttered in low, ominous whispers. Then her stock began slowly to decline. Day after day it fell, and continued to fall steadily until it reached its par value. How many a widow's heart trembled as her little all melted thus slowly away, like ice in the warm sunshine. A thrill of alarm passed through the whole country, as the stock, after lingering briefly at one hundred, fell to ninety-eight — then to ninety-seven, ninety-six, and so on downward.
Still there was hope that it would go up again; and few were willing to sell, and meet the heavy loss that would be the consequence.
"Had I not better let it go at ninety?" Mrs. Clement said, in a concerned tone, to her friend Mr. Stevens, when the stock had fallen to that amount. "I shall still have enough left for all my needs."
"Oh, no, not on any account, Mrs. Clement. The stock must certainly rise again. I have a large amount invested in it, and I would not sell my shares at even the par value. These are times of doubt, and fear, and strong trial. But we shall pass through them. So don't be alarmed, Mrs. Clement, all will come right again."
"I hope so, Mr. Stevens."
"I know so," was the positive reply.
''Well. I will still confide in your judgment, Mr. Stevens. I have never yet had cause to question it."
"You may rest with perfect safety."
Still the stock continued to fall, slowly, but surely, from day to day; and there was little hope of any more dividends for a long time to come. In spite of all Mr. Stevens' efforts to assure Mrs. Clement, she still felt greatly troubled — nor could he, after a time, conceal the deep concern which he himself began to experience.
"I did it all for the best," he said to her one day, when his own fears had become so strong, that they could not be disguised.
"I am sure of that, Mr. Stevens; and I do not blame you. But do you not think I had better sell now?"
"At fifty dollars a share, when you paid one hundred and sixteen! Oh, no, Mrs. Clement. That will never do! It would be throwing away more than fifty thousand dollars in a single moment. The stock certainly must go up."
"I would rather sell, Mr. Stevens."
"Wait a little longer. I cannot bear that you should submit to such a terrible loss."
Thus persuaded, Mrs. Clement consented to delay day after day and week after week, until, with the hundreds who had been vainly hoping to see a rise in the stock, she was startled by the announcement that the bank had closed its doors.
This event swept her entire property from Mrs. Clement! The shock was such, as, for a time, almost to paralyze her energies of mind. From a condition of liberal affluence — she was suddenly reduced almost to a state of dependence. For a time she held on to her stock, in the vain hope that it would rise, and, finally, sold for six thousand — what had cost one hundred thousand dollars. But, unfortunately, as it seemed, even this small sum could not be retained, as there were some claims due by her, which had not been closed at the time her investment in stocks had been made, and which she had expected to liquidate mainly by the dividends that were expected to accrue. When these were paid off, she had scarcely five hundred dollars left.
Having known, all her life, no condition but one of affluence — to be left, at the age of fifty, almost alone in the world, and in poverty, was a trial of no light character. But Mrs. Clement was a woman of a decided cast of mind, and had been, at one time in her life, eminently useful in her sphere. But as years passed on, her enervating habits of life gradually enfeebled the activities that had once been exercised for good to others, and she sank into a condition of ease and indolence.
"I am too old now," she would sometimes say, "to engage in these schemes of active benevolence. I must give place to younger people. At my age, repose is necessary."
Still she was not happy in her inactivity, nor did she feel altogether satisfied in thus voluntarily ceasing to be engaged in positive uses to others. She felt that she was living in vain.
But the shock that her whole moral nature sustained in the loss of her property, aroused the slumbering energies of a mind yet unenfeebled.
"What shall I do?" was a question often asked, and the answer long pondered.
About three weeks after she had closed up her business, and settled down in the certainty that she was worth only about five hundred dollars, instead of one hundred thousand — her friend Mrs. Van Wyck called in to see her.
"How do you find yourself today, Mrs. Clement?" she asked, in a kind and sympathizing tone.
"Really, Mrs. Van Wyck, I can hardly tell how I am. My mind seems like a sea that has recently been vexed by a great storm — the ground-swell is still heavy, and comes, at times, with powerful shocks. But I am trying to bear up like a woman and a Christian. Our gender, it is said, though weak and fragile in the sunshine, can brave the tempest with even more than man's firmness. It may be. But not in our own strength, can we do it. We must look up to the Strong for strength. Up, then, to Him who bore our sorrows, and is acquainted with our grief, I am endeavoring to look with patient confidence."
"And you will not, I am sure, look in vain, Mrs. Clement."
"I humbly hope not. The question with me now, is — what shall I do? I must do something, of course, or I cannot live — for I am resolved not to be an idle, moping dependant on anyone. I feel younger, by many years, than I did a twelvemonth ago, and fully able to perform my part. What an utter blank my life has been, Mrs. Van Wyck, for the last few years! I have added nothing to the common stock of good. To others, I left the business of performing uses, content to fold my hands in unproductive ease. But I can do so no longer. Whether I am willing or not, I must enter the arena of life as an active participator. I wish to receive, and, in turn, I must give to others."
"I am glad, my friend," Mrs. Van Wyck replied, "that you can look thus calmly through this distressing event, and extract sweets from bitterness. It is a wise Providence which rules the events of life, and happy shall we be, if we can see and acknowledge the Divine hand in what is adverse, as well as in what is prosperous."
"Thus have I felt," Mrs. Clement said. "But the trial is hard, indeed, for one of habits like mine, to acknowledge with submission, the divine hand which sweeps away all earthly dependence."
"Truly it must be! But only in that feeling, can there be any happiness."
"Of that I am fully convinced. And my daily, indeed almost my hourly effort is, to subdue a murmuring and repining spirit."
A pause ensued, when the visitor said —
"Have you yet, Mrs. Clement, been able to decide upon what you will do?"
"Indeed, I have not. I have about five hundred dollars left, and with this I might open a little dry goods and trimming store, and readily support myself. But, somehow or other, I have a most unconquerable reluctance to doing so. Not that I would feel above it — for I believe that I have fully subdued that feeling — but the place does not seem the one suited for me. I might take a few boarders, but I have an aversion to doing that, and it would, besides, involve a high rent and many heavy expenses, and might result in my falling into debt — a condition that I think of with feelings allied to horror. I wish you would suggest something — for something I must do."
"I can think of but one thing, Mrs. Clement, but I am afraid you are almost too old for that."
"How would you like to open a select school for young children? I have two, whom I should be happy to see under your judicious care — and I will engage to get you just as many more as you want, and at a good price for tuition. How does that strike you?"
"Strange that I should not have thought of it myself!" Mrs. Clement said, in a low, musing tone, falling into a state of mental abstraction, from which she at length aroused with a deep inspiration.
"You have suggested the very thing for me, Mrs. Van Wyck," she said. "It will not be irksome nor laborious. I love children, and seem to have an intuition of what will please and at the same time instruct them. It may seem strange to you, but I feel a delight, already, enkindling in my heart at the thought of being surrounded with children. Most earnestly do I thank you for the suggestion."
In the course of a week, arrangements were made for receiving a number of children, and Mrs. Clement's school was opened, with about twelve little boys and girls, each of whom had often met her before, and loved her for her uniform kind attentions to them. Her natural love of children went out in an affectionate interest toward her young scholars, and was felt by them; and while there was in her mind the delight of imparting instruction, there was in their minds a reciprocal delight in receiving. She did not seem to them a school mistress, requiring an arbitrary obedience, but a kind mother, who loved them, and in obeying whom, they found an unalloyed pleasure.
"Well, Jane, how do you like your new schoolmistress?" asked Mr. Van Wyck of his little girl, taking her on his knee one evening on her return from school.
"Mrs. Clement isn't any school-mistress, father," the child replied, in a half offended tone.
"Then what is she, my dear?"
"I don't know what to call her, father. But she isn't like the school-mistresses that we have been to. She is never cross, but always speaks so soft and good to us. Oh, I would not do anything that was wrong, for the world."
"Why would you not, my child?" asked the father.
"Because it would make Mrs. Clement feel so bad. When any of the children do wrong, she does not get angry and scold, but seems so sorry, and tells them about their Father in Heaven who sees all that they do, and who cannot love anything in them that is disobedient."
The heart of the father was moved. "Does she always tell the children about their Father in Heaven, when they do wrong?" he asked.
"What does she say to them, then?"
"Sometimes she does not say anything to them, but only looks them right in the face, as if she felt very sorry."
"And then they cease to do wrong?"
"Oh, yes. There are no little boys and girls in the school who will act bad, for a long time, after she has looked at them for doing wrong."
"You all love her very much, do you not?"
"Yes, father, all of us. And we are so glad that she lets us come to her. We like to go to school now. Sarah Armon, our minister's little girl, you know, says that Mrs. Clement's school is like a little Heaven."
"And why does she say so?"
"Because we all love one another, and Mrs. Clement loves us all. And then, when we come in the morning, before school opens, she takes the Bible and reads some of the beautiful verses in it to us."
"Oh, yes. About little children and Heaven, and being good."
"And does she always do that?"
"She always does now. But the first few days she did not do it. We were not so good then, nor did we love her so much, nor did she seem so kind and affectionate to us."
"Sarah Armon was right, my child. Your school is like a little Heaven, and Mrs. Clement is your good angel, for she loves you, and tries to do you good. I am glad to hear you say that you love her."
"Oh, I do love her, father, and we all love her very much," was the child's earnest response.
"How do you like your new employment, Mrs. Clement?" asked her friend Mrs. Van Wyck, a few evenings after the above conversation had occurred between her husband and child.
The moisture dimmed the eyes of the old lady as she replied, in an earnest tone —
"I can hardly tell why it is, Mrs. Van Wyck, but I never felt so much delight in the performance of anything in my life, as I do in teaching these children. For the first day or two, it did seem a little irksome, but that passed away as I lifted up my thoughts and asked a blessing from above on my efforts to teach children. Since then, I cannot express the delight I experience whenever I am in the effort to impart some good or true things to the little ones who have been committed to my charge."
"But do not the evils of their natures sometimes become manifest, especially in the form of disobedience to you, or unkindness to each other?"
"Yes, sometimes, of course. But to meet these, I first look into my own heart to see that I am not angry, and put away all that is not of love to them, and then my words and manner seem instantly to subdue them, even while I speak in the mildest possible tone."
"You seem really happier, Mrs. Clement, than you did before your great change in external circumstances," Mrs. Van Wyck said, after a pause, in which she was endeavoring to keep down the rising emotions of her heart.
"Far happier, my dear friend. It is said that the happiness of the angels in Heaven consists in the delight of doing good, and I can believe it; for something of a corresponding delight is mine while engaged in trying to do good to the children under my care — a delight so far above any merely selfish delight, that it is, in comparison with the other, inexpressible. What I thought the greatest evil which could have befallen me — I believe is going to prove my greatest blessing. How wise are the dispensations of a good Providence!"
Years have passed since Mrs. Clement parted with the almost worthless representatives of a handsome fortune. She is still engaged in keeping a small school for children, to whom her ministrations are indeed a blessing. A few days ago, in conversation with a friend, she said —
"I cannot but see and acknowledge the hand of a Divine Providence, ever active for the good of his creatures, in the recent events of my life. My friend, Mr. Stevens, who acted for me with a sincere desire for my good — of this I have never had a doubt — induced me to sell all my property and invest the proceeds in United States Bank stock, only a very short time before the institution began to lose its hold on the public confidence. I might have sold when the first shock came, and had a handsome property left; or I could have sold, and wished to sell at various points of the stock's depression, but was overruled, until the proceeds of the sale, when it was made, were barely enough to pay off a few unsettled claims against me. Had it not been that I was, in consequence, driven into active usefulness — I would have wasted the rest of my days in indolence and ease; nor would I have been, in any degree, so cheerful and happy as I now am. Thus, I am really elevated in my internal and true condition, and am actively engaged in doing good.
"I have thought much on the subject of divine Providence, of late. How remarkable it is, that all the various uses in society are made to go on by a kind of necessity, acting upon the selfishness of individuals! All employments which result in benefits to the whole are prosecuted, not for the good of the whole, but from a desire to benefit self; and thousands are kept poor, as the only condition in which they will be active. But how happy a social condition it would be, were all engaged in the performance of general uses from a feeling of regard and love to the whole! Under such a condition of things, individual benefit would be the certain result; for, even now, he who renders the greatest good to the whole — generally receives the largest return.
"As for myself, I believe that my peculiar use lies in teaching the young, and I have been driven into it. Had I remained rich, I could not have been induced to enter into such an employment; but now that I have been forced into it, I find a delight in its performance that I did not imagine I could feel in any act of use to others. And of how much more importance that some twenty, or perhaps more than a hundred children, should receive judicious early instruction, should have good seed sown in their minds — than that a single individual should be protected in the possession of wealth, which only prevented her from filling her true place of usefulness in society!"
Who will say that Mrs. Clement did not reason fairly?
Rich and Poor
"Our conversation," said Mr. Barton, a gentleman who sat talking, one pleasant evening, with his children, "has brought to mind the story of a discontented man, that I once heard. His name was Willis. He was always complaining and finding fault with God's Providence. Nothing happened just as he wanted it. He enjoyed a tolerably good income, the result of industry and skill in his business; but, although all his real needs were supplied, he was far from being satisfied."
"Then I think he must have been a very unreasonable man," said William, the oldest son, a lad in his fifteenth year.
"Not more unreasonable than a great many others; nor, perhaps, more unreasonable than we all are sometimes," replied Mr. Barton. "But if I remember rightly, I wrote the story down when I heard it, and, if I can find it in my desk, will read it to you."
Mr. Barton went to his desk, and, after searching among his papers for some time, said —
"Yes, here it is." And he brought out a few sheets of paper, from which he read the following story:
"I think," said Mr. Benjamin Willis, speaking to a neighbor, "that I am as good as Mr. Jones, and quite as deserving of prosperity as he is. They say that Providence is impartial. But it will be hard to make me believe that. If it is so, why is it that the worst people have generally the most of life's blessings; while those who would do some good in the world with money, if they had it, can scarcely get enough to keep soul and body together?"
"I suppose it is all best as it is," replied the neighbor. "At least, I am willing to believe so. God is too wise to err in regard to his creatures — and too good to be unkind to them. My doctrine is, to do the best I can — to do my duties in life faithfully and earnestly — and let the result come out as it will, satisfied in my own mind that all will be well."
"I wish I could think and feel so, but I can't," replied Mr. Willis. "It is impossible to make me believe that all that happens is best for me. Do you think it was best for me to lose a thousand dollars last year to a man who cheated me out of that sum?"
"I suppose it was," said the neighbor, "or it wouldn't have happened."
"You can't make me believe that doctrine," returned Mr. Willis, shaking his head. "It was all for the best, too, I suppose, when I fell and broke my leg, and couldn't attend to business for three or four months?"
"No doubt of it. When I get sick, and my business suffers in consequence; or when I meet with losses and disappointments, I say to myself, 'This is permitted for some wise purpose, and I will try and think that it is a blessing in disguise.'"
"It's all very well for you, if you can do it; but I can't," replied Mr. Willis. "I don't believe in such blessings in disguise. They are no blessings to me."
"The time may come when you will think differently," said the neighbor.
"I doubt that very much," returned Mr. Willis, and then they parted.
Mr. Jones, to whom allusion was made, had hired a vessel, and sent out a cargo of flour to the West Indies, upon which he had made a large sum of money. At the same time that his vessel sailed, Mr. Willis sent one out, also with a cargo of flour, in expectation of getting a handsome return. It so happened that the vessel of Mr. Jones reached its destination four days earlier than those of Mr. Willis. Mr. Jones, of course, got a high price. When the cargo of Mr. Willis came, prices had fallen so low, that his flour scarcely brought its cost. This was what had worried his mind, and set him to complaining against Providence. He thought himself a great deal better man than Mr. Jones, and felt quite angry with the Great Disposer of all events for favoring Mr. Jones and disappointing him in his scheme of profit. "Mr. Jones," said he to himself, "is a selfish and bad man, and does no good at all with his money, and yet everything he touches is turned into gold; while I, who would make a much better use of riches, if I had them — am permitted barely to make a living. Don't tell me about a wise, good, and impartial Providence — I don't believe a word of it."
In this state of mind Willis came home in the evening. His children ran out to meet him, when they saw him coming; but he had no kind words for them. His wife stood at the door to welcome him; but he did not return her pleasant smile. There was a warm fire in the grate, and, soon after he came in, cheerful lights burned in the family sitting-room. His comfortable chair was moved up to its usual place by one of his children; another brought his slippers; and all seemed rejoiced that he had come home again, and were anxious to show the love that was in their hearts. But all these great blessings, freely given by a good Providence, Mr. Willis did not then feel to be blessings, because he had been disappointed in the adventure he had made with a cargo of flour.
By the time the tea-bell rang, the cold and silent manner of Mr. Willis had caused all of his children to shrink from him. Two of them had taken their books and were reading, and the two youngest had stolen quietly away, and seated themselves at a distance. No cheerful conversation passed around the table at tea-time, for Mr. Willis had nothing to say; and a single glance at his face was enough to check, in the children, all desire to speak.
After tea, Mr. Willis retired, alone, into the parlor, and sit down there to brood river his disappointment, and complain against Providence for permitting Mr. Jones to make several thousand dollars profit on his flour, while he had made nothing. The more he thought about it, the more unhappy he felt, for, in complaining against Providence, he permitted murmuring and complaining spirits to have access to his mind, which they filled with doubt, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. He had been in this unpleasant state for nearly half an hour, when a drowsy feeling came over him. He leaned his head back against the large chair in which he was sitting, and closed his eyes. He had been sitting thus, it seemed to him, for only a moment or two, when he heard the door open; on looking around, an old man, whom he had never seen before, was standing in the room. His face had a serene and benevolent look. He approached Mr. Willis, and taking a chair that was near him, said, in a low voice, while he looked earnestly at him, "God is good."
The words and tones of the old man chilled through the heart of Mr. Willis. He tried to speak, but his tongue refused to do its usual office.
"God is good," resumed the old man. "He is good to all, and kind even to the complaining and unthankful. His tender mercies are over all his works. But man, poor, short-sighted man, is ever doubting his goodness; is ever seeing his gifts dispensed with a partial, instead of a wise and generous hand. Your complaints have been heard. He who, because he knows what is in man, knows what is best for him, has, thus far in your life, so disposed all events as to make them subserve the best and highest interest of your immortal soul. He gave you all the good things of this life that it was possible to give you, without doing your soul an injury. But, because He would not curse you with wealth, you murmured against him, and called his providence unjust. Behold, you are given up to the desires of your own heart. Money you can now have in abundance."
The old man, after saying this, arose slowly from the place where he had sat down, and, turning away, walked silently from the room. He had been gone only a few moments, it seemed to Mr. Willis, when the door opened, and one of his clerks walked in, holding a letter in his hand, which he said had been sent to the store after he left by a merchant in whose package it had come. The letter proved to be from the captain of the vessel, in which his flour had been shipped. It stated that he had refused to sell at the price he had agreed to take, as mentioned in a former letter, and had sailed for a neighboring island, where he obtained a very handsome price for the whole cargo. This made the profit of the voyage, four thousand dollars to Mr. Willis, who was now as much elated as he was before depressed. The singular visit of the old man was at once forgotten, in the gladness of mind that followed this unexpected news.
From this period, the life of Mr. Willis seemed to be one whirl of excitement. There appeared little or no intervening space between the time of his reception of this letter and the morning; nor between his parlor and his counting-room. He next found himself at his desk, busy with schemes for making money. Another adventure was planned, and executed in great haste. It was even more successful than the first. Business increased at every point, and all his operations were profitable. Money flowed in to him, rapidly, from almost every quarter. In his eagerness for gain, he scarcely allowed himself sufficient time to eat and sleep. He took no pleasure in his family; the old evening home-circle was broken up. He had no time to indulge in pleasures of this kind. The consequence was, that his children, as they grew up, felt but few attractions at home, and wandered away.
Before these prosperous times came, Mr. Willis used to go regularly with his family to church, every Sunday; but he had no inclination to attend public worship now. It was irksome to him. He would much rather stay at home, and think over his plans and business for the coming week.
Years went by with almost the speed of days. His children grew up and passed from under his care. One son became dissipated, another fell into dishonest practices, and his oldest daughter was married to a man whose unkindness and evil courses were breaking her heart. These things began to seriously disturb the mind of Mr. Willis. Eager as he was for more money, and successful as were all his efforts to attain it, he could not be indifferent to these sad consequences of his neglect of his children.
One day there was presented to Mr. Willis, the opportunity of making a very large sum of money, provided he would enter into a scheme that must certainly result in serious loss and injury to others.
The only thing that made him hesitate about entering into this scheme, was the fear that his reputation might suffer. He thought nothing of what his neighbors might lose, nor of the spiritual injury that he would himself sustain. All day he pondered over the golden opportunity which had presented itself, and, in the evening, he still thought about it, while sitting alone, as he was now accustomed to do, in the parlor, musing on plans for getting more gain. Every argument, for and against the scheme, was carefully weighed, and at length it was deliberately settled in his mind, that he would enter into it, and risk all danger of suffering in the good opinion of others.
While contemplating, in a pleasant mood, the rich return he would get from this new mode of acquiring wealth, he was disturbed by the entrance of someone, and looking up he saw the venerable old man who had visited him, in the same place, years before. His countenance was not so mild as then; but upon it there rested a severe expression. He advanced close to Mr. Willis, and stood looking at him for some time in silence. At length he said —
"You have had your wish."
A tremor and a fear seized upon the heart of Mr. Willis.
"God has given you over," continued the old man, "to your own evil lusts. Wisely he withheld from you that which he knew would prove to be your ruin, and the ruin of your children; but you complained against him. With a pleasant home, innocent children, and all things needful for bodily comfort and worldly well-being, you were not satisfied. You envied your neighbors the goods they possessed, and made yourself miserable because you were not as rich as they were; and now, in your eager pursuit of wealth, you are about doing a great wrong — you are about robbing, in fact, your neighbor of what is rightfully his. Will this make you happy? No — only the wise and good are happy. A conscience stained with evil, is no pleasant companion. Are you a better man for the wealth you have been permitted to accumulate? No — you are a worse man, and your eternal condition will be a hundred-fold more miserable. And how is it with your children, the precious jewels given into your care by God? What account of them are you prepared to render?"
At these words the mind of Mr. Willis was filled with anguish.
"Come," said this strange monitor, and he moved toward the door. An impulse, that he could not resist, caused Mr. Willis to follow him. As he stepped into the hall, he startled at the sight of one of his sons lying in deep intoxication upon the floor.
"There is one of these precious jewels!" said the old man, sternly. "His ruin is the price you paid for gold. — But come!"
The unhappy father moved on after the mysterious old man, who passed into the street, and walked rapidly along for a considerable distance, until he reached the court-house, where he entered. At the bar stood the oldest son of Mr. Willis, arraigned for forging the signature of his employer to a check, and drawing the money. The trial, it seemed, had drawn to a close, the jury had brought in their verdict of guilty, and the judge was pronouncing sentence upon the trembling culprit — a sentence of imprisonment for many long years.
"While you were in the eager pursuit of wealth," said the old man, as the officer took the criminal in charge, and bore him away, "you scarcely thought or cared for your children. This son, inheriting from you a desire to possess what was not his own, was never taught the evil of theft, nor led, with all possible diligence, into the practice of honesty, in little as well as great things. No — you had not time to think about or care for him. The getting of money was of far more consequence than the spiritual health of your children. — But come!"
The old man turned from the court-room, and the wretched father followed him. In a little while they entered a house, and went up into one of the chambers. A low cry of fear and pain fell upon his ear as he reached the door of this chamber. As he entered, he saw the husband of his unhappy daughter Jane, with a face like that of a madman, raising a billet of wood with which to strike her. The blow, if it fell, he was conscious must deprive her of life. Instantly he felt paralyzed in every limb. The missile hung suspended in air over the unprotected head of his child; but he could not move a step for her defense; nor could he even cry out. For a moment or two, there was a wild struggle in his bosom; then his senses reeled, and he felt like a man falling through space. Suddenly all was changed, and he was sitting alone in his parlor, with his head resting against the back of the large cushioned chair in which he had seated himself. Startling up, he stood for some moments on the floor, striving to collect his scattered senses. These were not fully restored until he heard the voice of his little daughter Jane at the door, calling his name, and asking him to let her in.
"Thank God that it is all, all a dream I" he exclaimed, drawing a long breath.
"And was it, then, only a dream, father," eagerly asked Henry Barton. "Didn't Mr. Willis get rich?"
"No, Henry, he didn't get rich. And all this was only a dream," replied the father.
"Wasn't it strange that he should have just such a dream as that?" said William. "It seems as if it were sent to him from Heaven, to make him see how wrong it was to find fault with Providence."
"No doubt it came by the permission of that wise and good Providence against which he was ever complaining, and for the very purpose you suppose," replied Mr. Barton.
"And do you think, father," inquired Mary, "that if Mr. Willis had been permitted to get rich, that he would have acted just as the dream made him act?"
"That I cannot tell, my daughter. But, as he couldn't get rich, although he tried very hard to accumulate money, I am very sure that there was something in him which would have caused riches to have injured him very seriously."
"Spiritually, you mean, father?"
"Of course I do. Always when we think of the operations of Divine Providence toward us, we should bear in mind that they, in every case, regard, as I have before told you, eternal ends."
"I will try and not forget that as long as I live," said Mary. "Often things do not happen just as I could wish them to happen, and then I am very apt to feel fretted, and wish that it were different. But this, I see, is very wrong."
"It certainly is, Mary. In everything, little and great, which happens in our whole lives — the Lord is present in his Divine providence, overruling all for good. Our disappointments, our losses, and our crosses — are all permitted for our spiritual good. And if we will but bear this in mind as we travel on through our journey of life, we shall be happier and better men and women than would otherwise be the case."
"And all this is true, as well with the richest as with the poorest," remarked William.
"Yes, my son. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, and he could give bountifully to all. But it would do very many more harm, spiritually, than good, to receive liberally of these benefits, and therefore all do not receive them alike. It is no respect for people which causes the Lord to make some rich and some poor; but it comes from his infinite love to all, to save all from the evils and corruptions of their own hearts. This being so, you can easily see how everything in the Lord's providence must have reference to man's salvation."
The children listened to their father with great attention. They all looked more serious than usual, but still they felt a deep quiet in their hearts; and there was peace there, and a feeling of confidence in the Lord that he would order every event of their future lives for the best.
Passing Through the Fire
"The trials of life are the tests which ascertain how much gold is in us."
Few men moved before the world in so blameless a life as Francis Hartley. For strict integrity, few bore so high a character. His word was regarded as equal to his bond; and this was said of him by hundreds.
"As honest as Frank Hartley!" passed into a proverb in the immediate circle of his most intimate friends.
That he was held in this honorable estimation, was no secret to Hartley. And the reader will not feel much surprise when we say that a knowledge of the fact was to him a source of no ordinary pride and pleasure.
"I am an honest man," he would often say to himself, in the silent chamber of his thoughts; and as he gave mental utterance to this impression, Mr. Hartley's bosom would swell, his head become more erect, and his step more stately.
"I am an honest man." With what an intense feeling of self-gratification would Mr. Hartley sometimes give utterance to these words! And this, not always in his own heart; for that which gives us a high degree of pleasure will find oral expression.
"Yes, I am honest," he said to a business man, one day, in whose account he corrected a mistake of five hundred dollars against himself. The words were in response to these words of like import —
"Mr. Hartley, you are an honest man."
"Yes, I am honest; and that reflection gives me the highest pleasure of my life," said Hartley, with something of pride in his bearing; for in him, the love of reputation was strong.
He did not remember, at the time, the quick impulse which moved him to an appropriation of the five hundred dollars to his own benefit; nor the brief struggle that followed, before he arose above the temptation. No! The struggle was brief — the conquest easy; so brief and so easy, that it left but a slight impression behind.
Well for Mr. Hartley would it have been if he had closely examined his heart, and learned by what power he so quickly overcame in this trial of his principles. Had he done so, he would have discovered that the argument — "It is an evil thing to wrong my neighbor; and, because it is evil, I will not take advantage of his error" — never once was urged. Instead thereof, there came this instinctive thought, followed by a low shudder —
"The mistake might be discovered, and then I would be disgraced."
A sense of pleasure supervened, as his mind pictured the surprise, gratitude, and admiration of the merchant, when he called upon him to rectify an error of five hundred dollars against himself.
The single instance referred to, may be regarded as one in hundreds that occurred in Mr. Hartley's business life. And the glimpse we have given of his true character, is sufficient to enable the reader to understand something of his real quality, and the difference between that and the appearance he presented to the world.
"I would scorn such an act," was a favorite expression of Hartley's, whenever instances of trickery, overreaching, or gross acts of dishonesty, happened to be the theme of remark in business circles.
This, and other expressions of a similar character, were ever on the tongue of Mr. Hartley; and, if judged by his actions, he would not have been found lacking.
"So much for honesty! So much for a good reputation!" he murmured to himself, after having received from one of the largest and wealthiest houses in the city, a proposition to wind up his rather limited business operations, and take charge of their Western branch, with a co-partnership interest.
When this proposition, so advantageous in every way, was made to him, it was accompanied with a frank avowal, that he had been selected, because it was known that he could be trusted.
The position of Western resident-partner, was one of great responsibility, and as the presence of the member of the firm who had been in Cincinnati for five years was needed at the East, it became necessary to bring into the business, another partner. Hence the offer to Hartley.
"So much for honesty! So much for a good reputation!" repeated Hartley to himself, over and over again, with a feeling of pride and self-elation that, for a time, gave a low, delightful tremor to every nerve.
It is usually the case that men who value themselves on the possession of certain good qualities — to despise those who do not possess the same qualities, and are often too prone to visit severely derelictions in that particular direction. Thus it was with Hartley. He never spared the dishonest man. The unfortunate, he pitied; but towards the dishonest, he felt anger.
Not always were his discriminations accurate in the case of the unfortunate. He was a sort of dishonesty-hunter; and quick to start his game; so quick, that he not infrequently shot the wrong bird!
Proud in the advantage which came to him, as the result of years of honesty in business, Mr. Hartley entered upon his new sphere of activity in the West. He soon found himself in the command of large interests, large influence, and immense sums of money — compared with the amount formerly handled. So entire was the confidence reposed in him by his partners in the East, that few of the usual checks and balances were arranged before his departure. And now was to come the great trial of his life — the test of his real principles. Hitherto, a love of reputation, and a belief in the old adage — "Honesty is the best policy," had made him scrupulously honest in all his dealings. But now his reputation was established — he was known as "Honest Frank Hartley" — and he had gained the reward of his honesty, in an association that would, in the end, give him a large fortune.
From this time, there was a change in the current of Mr. Hartley's thoughts and feelings. He no longer acted from a love of reputation — no longer had pleasant feelings as the thought glided through his mind that his name had passed into a proverb. A stronger affection possessed his heart — partially latent before — but now quickened into the fullest activity; this was the love of gain. And as it grew stronger, day by day, the thoughts of Mr. Hartley gradually became more active in the consideration of personal benefit, than it was in furthering the interest of those who had so largely confided in him.
Of this, he was at first scarcely aware, for our affections bear us on as the current of a stream bears a vessel upon its bosom — so quietly and pleasantly, that we hardly perceive the motion.
For a year, in all his actions Mr. Hartley was true to the trust reposed in him. There had been occasional allurements, though not so strong as to draw him aside. But he was in the way of temptation; for the balance of his bank account was frequently heavy, and he had so large a range of money operations, of which his partners were not cognizant, that it would be the easiest thing in the world to use funds for purposes of his own, reap a benefit, and return them, without any knowledge of the fact passing on to the East.
One day a keen money-speculator said to him —
"Do you want to make a few thousand dollars?"
"How?" was the question of Hartley.
"Have you four or five thousand dollars idle?"
"Buy up shares in the ___ Company."
"That stock has been running down."
"I know. But the tide is about changing. It will run up some twenty or thirty dollars a share. I say this to you as a friend. You can take advantage of it or not."
"Do you speak by the card?" said Hartley, with some eagerness of manner.
"Very well. I'll think of it. Thank you for the information."
Hartley understood clearly the meaning of this. He knew that there was no change in the prospects of the Company to warrant a rise in its depressed stock; and that, if a rise did take place, it would be only the effect of speculation — or, in plainer words, falsehood, trickery, and fraud.
"Is it honest?" Was this the question he asked himself? No! That thought did not cross his mind. He was rather intent upon the question — "Can I fully rely upon this opinion about the stock?"
Satisfied, from his knowledge of the money-speculator, that his judgment might be trusted, he determined to make a temporary investment of five thousand dollars in the stock referred to, and to sell out as soon as the quotations reached a certain price. For the benefit of his partners, as well as himself? Oh, no! For his private benefit alone.
It must not be supposed that, when Mr. Hartley came to the act of checking to the amount of five thousand dollars on the funds in bank for his own speculating purposes — he was not warned by conscience of the wrong he was about enacting.
"Is this right?" It seemed almost as if a voice had given audible utterance to these words.
But he shut his ears and moved onward in the dangerous path he had entered. In two months from that day, Hartley sold the stock which had cost him five thousand, for eight thousand dollars. In the mean time, letters came from the East, asking for all the money he could remit, as large payments had to be made. Of course, the money invested by him in stock could not be sent. He felt a little uncomfortable about this; the more particularly, as the fact that he ought to have forwarded a larger sum, made him feel that his partners would expect a larger one. With some little uneasiness, he waited until an acknowledgment of the remittance was received. It was satisfactory, and Hartley breathed freely again.
This stock speculation was the initiatory step in a dangerous path. It was the first slight deviation in Hartley's line of virtue, or rather, his first deviation from the line of virtue. Two lines, projected side by side, may slowly diverge from each other in the beginning, so imperceptibly as scarcely to show a difference in parallel; but the longer they are continued, the wider will be their divergence, until the distance between them becomes immense. All this is equally true of the two lines of virtue and vice. At first, they often seem perfectly parallel to each other; and thousands have been led on to ruin for lack of a just perception of the difference. Thus it was with Hartley.
It is not our design to pursue Hartley, step by step, along the path in which his selfish desire for gain induced him to enter. His first successful speculation not only dimmed his moral perceptions, but awakened new and stronger avarices; and thus his mind was turned more away from the co-partnership interests — to such as were directly personal to himself. Daily, from this time, did his path of life diverge from that of the strictest rectitude of conduct. The love of gain was swallowing up or overlaying all the better principles of his mind. He had two interests now to subserve — that of the business entrusted to his care so confidingly, and his own interests separate from those of his partners. He found it, as all will find it, hard to serve two masters.
Five or six years passed away, and not a breath of suspicion had been wafted to the ears of Mr. Hartley's associates at the East; for he had, with great prudence, as he thought, remained apparently unconnected with large operations out of his legitimate business, in which he was really concerned. This very prudent arrangement proved his ruin.
About this time, we will again present him to the reader. He was sitting alone, with a stern cast of thought on his brow, when a man entered his little private office, with a hurried air.
"You must raise ten thousand dollars today for me," said the latter, in an excited, imperative manner.
"It is impossible. Did I not tell you so last evening, Mr. Parker?"
"I know you did; but, for all that, you must raise it. You can do it, if you will; and there is far too much at stake for you to hesitate a moment."
Hartley arose and crossed the narrow room four or five times in an agitated manner.
"Too much at stake!" How like blows did the words fall upon his heart. Yes, there was too much at stake.
"The notes of our firm are already out for over fifty thousand dollars," said he, with a look of distress, "and this independent of the regular business. Our credit will stand no more."
"Give me notes for ten thousand more, and I will trust to the good credit of your business," returned his companion.
"I dare not do it," said Hartley, in a quick, stern voice.
"Rather say you dare not refuse," answered Parker, who had regained his self-possession, and stood with his small, keen eyes fixed upon the countenance of Hartley.
For a considerable time, the latter remained in deep thought. Then slowly resuming his place at his desk, he opened a book of bill-forms and drew a note at ninety days, for ten thousand dollars, in favor of Andrew Parker, and signed it with the signature of the firm to which he belonged.
"That will do," said Parker, as he fairly clutched the little piece of paper. "All is safe. Good day. I will see you again tonight."
For the space of nearly half an hour, Hartley remained almost immovable in body, but there was a tempest of agitation in his mind. For some time past, he had not been altogether satisfied with the movements of his partner in gain, outside of the firm of F. Hartley, Jones & Co., with whom he had involved himself and the firm to the amount of over a hundred thousand dollars. And he had good reason to be troubled. Before his first arrangement with this man, he should have remembered that it is always dangerous for anyone to put himself in the power of another who is willing to enter into a league with him, in operations of doubtful morality. What was exceedingly doubtful on this score in the operations of Hartley and Parker, was the use of the money and credit of F. Hartley, Jones & Co. in operations outside of their business, and for private benefits. Such use of money and credit was not honest.
A very troubled day for Mr. Hartley followed. More than once, during the past few weeks, had doubts of Parker crossed his mind; and now, as a thought of his playing false occurred to him, he shuddered, and became really heart-sick.
It was about half-past three, and Mr. Hartley had just returned to his store after dining, when a notary came in and asked for the payment of a note of five thousand dollars drawn by Parker & Co., and endorsed by F. Hartley, Jones & Co.; and the payment of a note of like amount, drawn by F. Hartley, Jones & Co., in favor of Parker & Co.
"Have you seen Mr. Parker?" asked Hartley, in a hoarse voice. He had become instantly as pale as death.
"I called at his place of business, but he was not there."
Stunned and bewildered, it was some time before Hartley could collect his thoughts sufficiently to say —
"I will have all right before bank-hours tomorrow morning."
The notary departed, and Mr. Hartley left a few minutes afterwards hurriedly. He had not proceeded far, before he met a friend, who said to him, "Have you heard the news?"
"Parker has been protested."
"So I have just learned," replied Hartley, in a disturbed voice.
"Does he owe you much?"
"Yes, a good deal," was answered evasively.
"It will be a bad failure, in my opinion."
"You think so?"
"I'm pretty sure of it; Parker is a slippery fellow. This is not his first failure."
"Does he owe you?" asked Hartley.
"Not a dollar. He tried to draw me into some of his wonderful money-making schemes, but I'm too old a bird to be caught with such chaff. I'm only sorry you did not know him better."
"Good-day," murmured Hartley, as he turned off. To Parker's place of business he went, but did not succeed in finding the person he sought — nor was he able to see him until near eleven o'clock that night. The first ten minutes of the interview that followed, satisfied him that he was a ruined man — ruined in fortune and reputation. He had been playing a desperate game, and the cards had turned up adversely.
A week from that time, protested liabilities of the Cincinnati branch of the firm in which Hartley was a partner, came to the East for collection. They were in heavy sums. These, with a brief, hurried, and unsatisfactory letter from Hartley, proved to his partners the first intimation that anything was wrong. It was to them as sudden and astounding as a clap of thunder from an unclouded sky. In Hartley, they had reposed the most implicit confidence. Not in a single instance had doubts as to his unflinching integrity, under the severest enticements, crossed their minds.
The result is told in a few words. One of the partners proceeded to the West immediately. He found Hartley self-possessed, and inclined to evade a severe scrutiny into his business operations. The love of reputation, the desire still to be thought an honest man had returned, and he was anxious to conceal the fact that he had been using the money and credit of the firm to an enormous amount, in private enterprises.
But evasion and hindrances of investigation were of little avail. The whole affair was sifted to the bottom, and Hartley's operations exposed to the public eye.
It was then that the unhappy man fell from a dizzy height. It was then that he shrank, as it were, into very nothingness. It was then that he saw his real face in a mirror, and knew what kind of man he was. Not "Honest Frank Hartley." Alas, no! He had never been honest at the core; had never shunned wrong to his neighbor, as sin. He had tried to appear honest in the sight of man, but not in the sight of God; and when the great trial of his life, which was to test his quality, came, the apparent gold which glittered so brightly before the world's eye, vanished into worthless dross!
Ten years have glided away, and there is now, in a far western city, an unobtrusive man engaged in a small trading business; he shuns society, and has only a few friends. Those who can get near enough to him to understand his disposition and character, like him. He is intelligent, but has little to say about the moralities of life; yet, to all appearance, his own life is blameless. He is known to be strictly honest in his dealings, man with man, and he is esteemed a kind husband and father by all his neighbors; but his expression of countenance is always sober, and at times troubled.
This man is Francis Hartley. In the great trial of his life, a small portion of gold remained after the gilded dross, which the world thought gold, had vanished. There was yet in his heart a germ of integrity; and, happily, this was preserved in its feeble vitality.
Humbling himself before God and man, he began a new, a true, and a better life. But for this great temptation, in which he fell, he never would have known the real quality of his heart. He would have remained puffed up in proud self-estimation, and hugged to his bosom a soul-destroying evil — the evil of dishonesty. Now he saw himself as he really was, and in the sadness of a stricken soul, sought earnestly to be what he had only before seemed to be.
Yes, it was even so. "The trials of life are the tests which ascertain how much gold is in us." And these trials, which come in the order and permission of Providence, are for eternal purposes.
The Strange Providence
"A strange, sad providence!" sighed one of a company of mourners, assembled to pay the last tribute of respect and affection to a departed sister, who had been cut down in the very flower of womanhood, and at a time when a thousand of the tenderest ties were binding her to the earth. "What a strange, sad, mysterious providence!"
"Strange and sad enough," was the sober response. "Ah, me! the ways of Him who sits amid clouds and shadows are dark and impenetrable. She was a thoughtful, loving mother."
"None could have been more so," answered the first speaker.
"And her little ones need her care now, perhaps, more than they will ever need it again. Tender, innocent lambs! the chilling winds will blow too roughly upon them."
"Ah, me! it is strange! very strange?" added the other. "I cannot comprehend it. Why should God remove a true-hearted mother from the guardianship of her children?"
"Often have I asked myself that question; but there has come no satisfactory reply."
But, while these friends of the departed one are vainly striving to penetrate this mysterious providence, let us glance back a little, and see if some incidents in her life will not throw light upon the subject.
It was an evening in early spring. The day was warm for the season; so warm that the lingering fires of the departed winter oppressed the atmosphere, and the windows and doors were, in consequence, thrown open to admit the fresher air without.
It was early in the evening, and Mrs. Carlton, a bride of a few weeks, had seated herself at an open window, with her neck and shoulders bared to the in-pressing air, that came cool and loaded with vapor.
"Why, Clara!" exclaimed Mr. Carlton, on entering the room, and seeing the exposed condition of his thoughtless young wife. "How imprudent you are!" And he came forward quickly to close the window.
"Oh, don't shut it down, don't!" interposed Clara. "The air is so refreshing!"
There was a slight huskiness in her voice as she spoke, which was perceived by her husband, who, without hesitating, closed the windows, remarking, as he did so —
"It is wrong to expose yourself in this way, Clara, dear; you might take a cold that would cost you your life."
Mr. Carlton spoke seriously, and he felt as he spoke.
"Oh, dear, no!" lightly returned the young bride. "I'm not so tender as that. Fresh air will never kill me."
"No, not dry, fresh air, blowing upon your hands and face. But this evening the atmosphere is loaded with humidity, and you have thrown your handkerchief from your neck. Already I can perceive that you have taken cold."
But Mrs. Carlton made light of her husband's concern, and, soon after, went and stood in the door without protecting her neck and shoulders with a shawl or handkerchief. The consequences were such as might have been naturally expected. On the next morning she had a cough, with slight febrile symptoms, and a pain and soreness in her chest. Her form being slight, her chest somewhat narrow, and her constitution by no means robust, the effects of this cold were more painfully marked than is ordinarily the case in such forms of indisposition. Several weeks passed before she recovered from its effects; or, we might say, from its apparent effects — the seeds of disease, which had been sown in her system, remained.
A few weeks later, at a large party given to Mrs. Carlton by a friend, as a bridal party, she danced till nearly two o'clock, notwithstanding a slight indisposition which had manifested itself early on the previous day. Moreover, she ate several times of rich cake, and other indigestible things, drank wine, and, to add the last "pound to the camel's back," took freely of coffee and oysters at the close of the party.
On the morning that followed, in attempting to rise about ten o'clock, she felt a sharp pain through her left temple. Soon followed an attack of dim-sightedness, accompanied by a sense of numbness in her tongue and along one of her arms. Faintness and a deathly sickness succeeded; and Mrs. Carlton threw herself back upon her pillow with a groan. For hours she suffered from this sickness, which was accompanied by a most distressing pain through her left eye, that went deeply boring into her temple. When, at length, under the active treatment of a physician — which active treatment was added to the exhausting effects of the sickness — the violence of the attack abated, Mrs. Carlton was in a low, weak, nervous state, from which she did not recover for some time. The least exertion was accompanied by a tremor and feeling of lassitude.
Undeterred by this serious reaction upon a delicate constitution, Mrs. Carlton, in the face of warning and remonstrance on the part of her husband, continued to expose herself to cold, damp airs, while unprotected with proper clothing; and to over-fatigue, when tempted by the allurements of pleasure. And thus it went on, from month to month, and from year to year, her frame gradually losing its vigor, and the beautiful freshness of her young cheeks fading away into a sickly paleness. Yet, strange to say, Mrs. Carlton was as little mindful of her health as before, and expressed herself with impatience when her husband sought to check her imprudence.
Three days after Mrs. Carlton's first sweet babe saw the light, her husband, on returning home, found her sitting up in bed and hem-stitching a fine cambric handkerchief.
"Why, Clara!" he exclaimed. "Isn't that very imprudent?"
"Oh, dear, no!" she returned. "I feel almost as well as ever I did. And it's impossible for me to lie here and do nothing."
"It is very imprudent, Mr. Carlton," said the nurse, seriously. "I have tried my best to induce her to remain perfectly quiet. But she will not listen to me. It will be all the worse for her. I've known many a woman to shorten her life by just such conduct as this."
"Come! Give me that work." And as Mr, Carlton said this, in a firm voice, he took the sewing from his wife's hands, and then, with a gentle pressure, forced her back upon the pillow. This done, he added —
"How can you be so thoughtless, Clara? Are health and life of so little value, that you hold them in light estimation?"
"Oh, dear! You're always croaking about health," returned Mrs. Carlton, in a half playful, half serious manner. "I'm well enough. It's all nonsense to keep me lying here."
"No, madam; take my word for it, that it is not," spoke up the nurse. "Upon perfect quiet, freedom from excitement, and bodily exertion, depends your future health. Disregard the injunction of your physician — he spoke very plainly to you today — and you not only shorten your life, but mar your happiness by bodily pain and self-upbraidings, during the brief years that are left to you."
The manner as well as the words of the nurse rather startled the imprudent young mother, and she turned to where her sleeping babe lay by her side, and, taking it in her arms, drew it with an emotion of tenderness to her bosom.
On the next morning, it was with Mrs. Carlton as the nurse had told her, over and over again, it would be. This over-exertion had produced fever, and she was so sick, that she could not raise herself from her pillow. When the doctor came, and saw her condition, he looked sober, and rather sharply reproved the nurse, on learning the cause of this change, for having permitted his patient to do herself so serious an injury.
A day or two elapsed, and the worst symptoms abated; but Mrs. Carlton remained very weak, and could only sit up in her bed for a few minutes at a time. After that, her strength began to return, but it came back slowly. Imprudent as before, she over-exerted herself at every stage of her convalescence, so that at the time when full health should have been regained, she was yet a drooping invalid.
And so it went on. The wife and mother, upon whose life and health hung the comfort and happiness of the dearest objects in life, continued, almost daily, to violate the commonest laws of physical health; and daily, in consequence, was she undermining the foundations of health.
Five years have elapsed since Mrs. Carlton became a mother; and again she has given birth to a lovely babe, the third that has blessed her union.
Four days have elapsed since the birth of this child, and, earlier by some hours than is usual for him, Mr. Carlton has returned from business. He has walked the streets hurriedly, and his face wears an anxious expression. As he enters, he meets the doctor, who is just leaving.
"How is Mrs. Carlton?" he asks, in a voice of concern.
The doctor looks serious and shakes his head.
"No worse, I hope!"
"She is no better."
"There seemed to be a favorable change at dinner-time."
"So there was, but — "
There is a pause. The doctor adds — "But she would get up for a little while, insisting that she felt strong enough to do so. In consequence, all her worst symptoms have returned, and we have now everything to fear. Keep her very quiet, as you value her life. I will come around again before nine o'clock."
A long, tremulous sigh comes up from the oppressed and troubled bosom of Mr. Carlton, and he passes up to the sick chamber of his wife. He starts, and a cold fear runs through his veins, as his eyes rest upon her countenance, for he sees therein a great change. There is a deeper shadow upon it; and his stricken heart tells him that it has fallen from the wing of death. With his lips he touches her forehead — it is cold and clammy, and he almost startles at the chilling contact. He takes her thin and colorless hand — it, too, is cold. With a strong effort he masters his feelings, lest their exhibition should disturb, and thus injure his wife, in whose pulses life was beating with but a feeble motion.
The hours pass on. There is a stillness through the house, for the inhabitants speak to each other in low whispers, or walk through the rooms and passages stealthily and noiselessly. Alas! hope had failed. The wife and mother is about to die. Hark! She is uttering something in a low, murmuring voice, and a sudden light has flashed over her face. What does she say?
She is looking around, eagerly.
One by one they are brought to her. Willy — sweet-faced, bright-eyed, loving-hearted Willy — is lifted, sleeping, from his little bed, and laid beside his dying mother. Grace, with her long, dark lashes resting upon her sweet young cheeks, and all unconscious of the sad loss she is about to sustain, is held for her to impress a last kiss on lips and brow and cheek; and then the feeble infant, to which she gave birth a few days before, and towards which her mother's heart is yearning with a most intense affection, is laid against her bosom. A little while she looks upon these treasures of her heart, and then lifts her tearful eyes to the face of her husband. Her lips quiver for a moment, and then come forth, sobbing, the words —
"Oh, how can I leave you all! Who will be a mother to my children? — who will love them as I love them? Oh! it is hard! It is hard!"
Her lids have closed, and her voice has sunk into silence. But tears glisten on her cheeks, and the expression of her pale face is sad beyond conception.
For half an hour a stillness like that of death broods over the chamber; and now the last struggle has come. The overtried and overworked physical system can no longer react upon the life of the spirit, and death quickly closes the brief earthly existence of one who hoped to live for her husband and children, yet committed, daily, some act of violence against the unchanging laws of health.
There is a bereaved husband and three motherless children left in the hushed and lonely house. "What a strange, sad providence!" This is said on every side.
Is it strange? Was it Providence?
Let the reader glance back at the brief history of Mrs. Carlton, and answer these questions for himself.
Mistook His Calling
It often happens that the occupation for which a man is best qualified, is that in which he engages the most reluctantly. Few men, indeed, work from any affection for the use in which they are employed; though all men are more happy while busy, even at hard work, than when idle. In proportion as we serve the community, is our reward in the natural good things of life; though not always is the highest service rewarded best; the public estimation has much to do with this.
Mr. Leland was well qualified for a teacher of children. He understood their character, and could impart instruction in an easy, familiar way, that rendered it comprehensible to young, unfolding minds. In first entering upon life, no better way presented itself for gaining a subsistence than by teaching, and so he opened a school, in the conducting of which he was successful. The children liked him, and learned well; but he was not altogether satisfied. To use his own words, he looked for something higher. There was not honor enough, in his idea, in the calling of a mere instructor. So, he applied himself to the study of medicine, with the view of graduating and becoming a physician.
It is difficult to engage in two pursuits and do justice to both. To make a good teacher, a man must let his affection come into it as a life-calling, and devote to it the most active energies of his mind. And so in any other pursuit. As a natural result, in becoming a student of medicine, Mr. Leland neglected his school. He was scarcely conscious of this neglect himself, but it was perceived, and dissatisfaction was the result. One scholar after another was taken away, and his school kept falling off, term after term, until, at the period of his graduation, which took place after a three years' course of study, he had not enough scholars in his school to pay expenses. At this time Mr. Leland had a wife and four children.
"It's well I've got this to depend upon," said the new M.D. to his wife, holding up his diploma. "Teaching has got to be worse than nothing."
"I haven't a great deal of faith even in that," replied Mrs. Leland, half smiling, half serious.
"You always look on the dark side of things. But I have more hope in my composition," said Mr. Leland. "In a year or two, you will see a very different result from what you anticipate."
At teaching, while undivided attention was given to the work — good returns had been realized, and Mr. Leland, in the course of a few years, was able to lay up two or three thousand dollars. On this he had drawn, during the last year of his devotion to the study of medicine, pretty seriously. On breaking up and removing to the small town of Putnam, numbering some five or six thousand inhabitants, he found his property reduced in amount to less than two thousand dollars. But this he considered ample to sustain him until he got into a lucrative practice.
For the science of medicine, Leland had a passion; or imagined that he had. It was the profession, above all others, for which he believed himself best qualified by nature. Had he examined himself interiorly, he would have discovered that his love of medicine was not so much an affection for the art of healing as an art, as for the honors he believed to attend its successful practice. The sound of Doctor Leland came like music to his ears: and, when it was first pronounced, he felt more of the real dignity of manhood than it had ever been his privilege to experience. The term "office" had, likewise, an agreeable sound; and when he walked to and fro in the little room appropriated to books, bottles, and consultations, he felt that he was indeed somebody.
A week elapsed after getting fairly settled in Putnam, without a call upon Doctor Leland for any professional service, notwithstanding his sign had been up all that time, and his card had appeared in both the Whig and Democratic newspapers. Though the doctor made no remark on the subject, the fact was to him rather unaccountable. Another week passed with no different result. What could it mean? There must be some combination against him among the physicians of the place — some stories prejudicial to him must be afloat in the community. In no other way could he explain it. This thought found utterance to his wife, who was looking on the experiment with a doubting heart.
"It may be," was her desponding answer, "though I hardly think it is so. People don't like to trust their lives in the hands of a physician about whom they know nothing. I'm sure I would hesitate to do so. It takes a long time to gain confidence and make a practice. In many cases it is the work of half a lifetime."
"For drones it may be," replied the doctor, confidently, "but not for one whose heart is in his profession; and who is up with all the progressive developments of science. Let me once get a foothold here, and I will show the people that a new man is among them. I'll wake up the plodding old fellows they've got, and show them they've been sleeping for half a century."
Mrs. Leland sighed, but did not answer. She saw their subsistence gradually wasting, day by day, and had no rational hope in the future.
"Ah! if he had only been content to let well enough alone," she would sometimes sigh to herself, as she still saw no dawning of light in the future prospect.
The doctor's first patient came after he had been in Putnam some two months. The case was that of a young girl afflicted with epilepsy. She had passed, successively, through the hands of all the physicians in the town, without receiving any benefit; and catching at a new hope, her parents called in the new doctor. After he had examined the patient, and obtained as intelligible a history of the treatment she had received from her former physicians, as it was in the power of her friends to give, he said —
"It is plain that her case has not been understood."
The countenance of the anxious parents brightened at this.
"The history of medical science," continued the doctor, "to which I have devoted great attention, records very many cases like this. It is a serious disease, but by no means incurable. I do not in the least doubt my ability to give your daughter great relief; and I cherish the hope of being able to restore her to perfect health."
"Do so," promptly replied the father, "and your fortune is made. Everyone in town has heard of the case, and if you cure it, you will stand at once in the front rank of the profession here."
Inspired by this inducement, as well as by his self-confidence, Leland undertook the case. He doctored it so well — that the poor girl was buried in less than a month! We will not say that he killed her; but the parents said so, and the people believed them.
A year's experience in Putnam satisfied Doctor Leland that he had chosen the wrong location. He did not get practice in a dozen families; and not a third of them were willing or able to pay his bills.
"A large city is a better place," said the doctor to his wife, when the subject of moving came up for serious consideration. "People are less bound by old forms and prejudices. They understand the value of new men. In a place like New York, with my knowledge of the profession, and my earnest devotion to it, there is nothing to prevent my attaining the most eminent success. We will go to New York."
Mrs. Leland was passive. All was but an experiment, that must fail — at least so she believed. In the year of their residence at Putnam, there had been another birth in the family, bringing additional care and expense, and making the gaze of both into the doubtful future, more anxious than before. A year in New York resulted like the one spent in Putnam; and, at its close, Doctor Leland found himself without practice and out of money. The two thousand dollars with which he had begun his career as a physician were all spent; and yet he was not established. The fact that he had committed a mistake, began at last to dawn upon his mind. At first he pushed the suggestion away; but it came up so pertinaciously, and presented itself in so many forms, that he was forced to admit that it was so. But of what good was the admission? Experience had come too late.
The third year of Dr. Leland's experiment was the great year of trial and suffering. In coming to New York, he had taken a house at six hundred dollars rent. In three months he was satisfied that he had only made matters worse by the change, and that, unless something like a miracle occurred, he would soon be penniless. By this time, his professional enthusiasm had nearly died out under the pressure that was on him. A competence for his rising family was now, in his eyes, a thing more to be desired than any medical honors which could be lavished. Where was bread to come from, if no speedy change occurred? was the question that ever and anon intruded. Thus it went on during the third year, and, at its close, as we have said, Doctor Leland found himself without money and without practice; and, still worse, indebted for a quarter's rent.
"We must move from here," said he, in a voice of despondency, to his wife.
"How are we to get away?" she inquired sadly. "Our rent is not paid."
"There is no help but to sell a part of our furniture."
Mrs. Leland sighed.
"Where shall we go after that?" she asked.
The doctor was silent. It was the very question he could not answer for himself.
"You will never succeed as a physician," said Mrs. Leland.
"Not under present circumstances. If I could wait a few years for a practice. If my expenses would cease until I obtained an income. But that is out of the question."
"What shall we do?"
The doctor ventured not to answer; for no way opened before him. He had, in his journey through life, come to a high mountain that stretched across his way, and he had not sufficient strength to climb it.
"When we move from here, we shall have nothing with which to buy even bread for our children," said Mrs. Leland, who was looking the evil before them steadily in the face. "Ah! if you had never given up your school!"
"That was a great mistake. But it is too late to mourn over it now. Unhappily, regrets will not cancel our errors, nor remove the sad effects which flow from them. I never liked teaching."
"Though you were well qualified for it."
"But it was irksome to me; and it seemed such a waste of time. I felt ambitious to use the abilities I possessed in a higher calling."
"And do you really think the profession of medicine higher than that of teaching?" asked Mrs. Leland.
"Certainly I do. Can any use in the community be higher than that of saving life?"
"Which is the highest use," asked Mrs. Leland, "to lead to good — or to save from evil?"
The question struck the doctor as new, and he did not for some moments reply. At length he said —
"Why do you ask?"
"I ask it, of course, in connection with the subject about which we are conversing," said Mrs. Leland. "To me it seems that teaching, guiding, and seeking a right development for the young, immortal mind — is a far higher, more noble, and important work than the mere cure of bodily diseases. There is no estimating the influence of a single mind, rightly educated, when it comes to full maturity, and acts upon the world; and, in assisting to develop, in just order, all the elements of that mind, a man may do more good than in curing a hundred diseased bodies."
This was presenting an entirely new view to the ambitious doctor. In an instant he saw that, so far as the true honor and value of professions were concerned, he had mistaken the relative elevation.
"Perhaps you are right," said he. "At least, there is one thing certain, in giving up the teacher for the physician, I committed a sad mistake. Gladly would I return to my old employment. But, alas! it is too late now."
"Perhaps not," urged Mrs. Leland. "As a physician, there seems to he no hope left for you. Had we not better return to the old place? You are known there as a successful teacher, and, if you open a school and give your whole mind to it, as before, no doubt you will obtain scholars."
"But how are we to return? How are we to live until a school begins to pay? Everything is gone."
"We must go somewhere. Privation, and perhaps suffering, are before us in any event. That we must expect. A change is necessary; in making that change, let us do it as wisely as we can. Can you not see more hope in a return to the old pursuit, than in a continuance in the new one?"
"Ah! if it had not been put off to so late an hour. If the change had been determined when there was strength to make it."
"Let us not despond," said the more hopeful wife. "Night is no permanent season. Day always breaks, though the season of darkness often seems long. We will go back to the old place, and I am sure it will be well with us again."
But the doctor shook his head and sighed.
"It is too late!"
He was utterly discouraged. But to sit and fold his hands, he felt would be worse than useless. The first step which prudence and common sense dictated was to remove from a house the rent of which was six hundred dollars. The final quarter of the year was drawing to a close, and it was necessary to see the landlord and notify him that his house would be given up.
The landlord was a man of large property and influence in the community; and he exercised both usefully. When his sad-hearted tenant appeared, he greeted him cheerfully.
"Good morning, doctor," said he, smiling and extending his hand. "I'm glad to see you. What's the good news?"
"Nothing very encouraging,'' replied the doctor, trying to assume a voice not altogether desponding. "I've come to say that I shall have to give up your house."
"Ah! Why so?" inquired the landlord.
"Can't make my expenses."
"It isn't much to be wondered at. Too many doctors now. The ranks of the profession are more than full."
"So it seems. At least, in a great city like this, there is but small chance for a stranger."
"I can't say that I am sorry for your lack of success," remarked the landlord, smiling.
The doctor looked surprised.
"Why do you say that?" he inquired.
"Because I think we can make use of you in a better business. I was going to call on you this very day."
"For what purpose?"
"I had a long conversation yesterday with a gentleman who resided in the town where you lived for some years. He says that you were engaged in teaching, and, while you gave it your undivided attention, had one of the best schools he ever knew. But that when you commenced studying medicine, your mind was divided, and your school declined. From all he said, I would think that you possessed higher qualifications for a teacher than for anything else; and, if you would return to the profession, would be eminently successful."
"No doubt," replied Doctor Leland, "I made a great mistake in changing my profession. I have been going down ever since."
"Then why not change back?"
"It's too late, I'm afraid. I have exhausted myself too far."
"Would you be willing to take charge of a school, as principal, if the place could be procured for you?"
"I would accept it gladly," replied Leland, with a brightening countenance.
"It has become necessary to remove the principal of a large school, in the management of which I have a leading influence, on account of incompetency and had conduct; and the place is now vacant. We have been looking around for the right kind of a man for some weeks. It strikes me that you are just the person we want. The salary is twelve hundred dollars. If you will procure testimonials and bring them to me, I will submit them, and obtain for you, without doubt, the place."
For some time after Dr. Leland left the house of his landlord, his mind was so bewildered, that he was more than once in doubt whether he were not really dreaming. The required testimonials were speedily obtained, and the doctor returned to his old employment a wiser man.
In the school which now came under his charge, were three or four lads, the sons of wealthy parents, who, from injudicious treatment both at home and while under instruction, had become so warped in their characters, that they gave but a sad promise for the future. It had been for some time in serious contemplation to remove them from the institution, when Dr. Leland came into it, and he was informed of the fact.
"I think I can manage them," said he, speaking from a knowledge of his ability to govern children. And he was successful. The lads soon came under his influence, and were in a short time as orderly and studious as any in the school.
"You have laid me under a weight of gratitude that I shall ever feel," said the father of one of these boys to Leland, a year after he had taken charge of the institution; "for you have done for my child, what other teachers have failed to accomplish. You have developed his good — at the same time that you have restrained his evil. Ah, sir! the calling of a teacher is one of the highest and most responsible. How many children have been ruined by bad teachers; how many saved by good ones! If we had better teachers — we should have better men."
When the doctor related this to his wife, in whose bosom the dove of peace had again folded its wings, she replied —
"There is a wise Providence in all things. Doubtless men are driven by the pressure of varying circumstances, which often come in misfortunes and the loss of worldly goods, into those pursuits wherein they may best minister to the common good. Society is sustained by mutual services; and the Father of all, who seeks the good of all, will force men into those places where they can be most useful, if they do not fill them willingly."
"In that you are, no doubt, right. I sought only honor and reputation, when I decided to enter the medical profession; not good to my fellows," replied the doctor.
"And yet," said his wife, "there can be no true honor that is not based upon good deeds."
And she was right. How many commit mistakes similar to that made by Doctor Leland! And how many, like him, are driven back, through the reaction of disastrous circumstances, and compelled to enter upon those employments in which they are best fitted to serve the community! If we all looked less to personal results, and more to the effect of what we do upon others — we would be equally prosperous in things pertaining to the world, and far happier than at present.
"More bad luck!" said Mr. Pierson to his wife, as he threw himself on the sofa in a desperate manner. "I believe Heaven itself is against me! Nothing I touch prospers!"
Mr. Pierson had just come home from his store. He was a merchant, and by most people thought to be a successful one. He had been in business once before, and, after accumulating a comfortable little fortune of sixty or seventy thousand dollars, had lost it all through a bad speculation.
The wife saw, by the manner of her husband, that something serious had occurred, or was in danger of occurring. He looked very much troubled, and his tone was more troubled than his countenance. She waited for some moments in expectation that he would say more; but, as he remained silent, she inquired as to the cause of his anxiety.
"Philpot & Markham have failed," he replied, in an abrupt manner.
"They have!" said the wife, turning pale.
"Yes; and besides owing me twenty thousand dollars, they will, in all probability, cause the suspension of four or five businesses largely in my debt. If so, I am ruined again. It's nothing but bad luck — bad luck! I am utterly disheartened!"
"Hope for the best, dear husband!" said Mrs. Pierson, speaking in a voice of encouragement. "It may not turn out so badly as you fear."
"Hope for the best — and get the worst! Humph! that has been, thus far, my experience in life."
"Do not say that, Henry. Few have enjoyed more of life's blessings than we. Even what we used to call our dark days were oftener bright with the heart's sunshine, than gloomy with clouds or wet with the falling rain. Was it not so? Think!"
"I can't think of anything but the present, and that is dark enough!"
"All is for the best, Henry. Do not forget that."
"I don't believe a word of it, and never did. Oh dear!" and Mr. Pierson started up and commenced pacing the floor hurriedly.
His wife knew his character well enough to be sure that any further attempt on her part to give him the strength he needed, would only produce irritation of mind, and so she forbore saying anything further than to inquire more particularly into the circumstances of the failure likely to involve them in ruin.
Tea was soon after announced, and Mr. Pierson, after sitting at the table without eating anything, until the family had partaken of the meal, arose and left the house, in order to see a merchant with whom he had confidential business transactions.
Shortly after Mr. Pierson went out, and while Mrs. Pierson and her oldest daughter, Jessie, then just eighteen years of age, were sitting alone together, a servant came to the room and said that there was a gentleman in the parlor.
"Who is he?" inquired Mrs. Pierson.
"Mr. Garland," replied the servant.
"Oh, yes," said Jessie, "he has called for me. We are going to the opera."
"With Mr. Garland!" returned the mother, evincing surprise.
"Why not with him, mother?"
"Your father and I have both said that we would rather not have you keep company with this man."
"You indulge a causeless prejudice against him, mother."
"No. Our objection is founded on what we know of him, as well as in observation and experience."
Jessie had arisen, and was moving slowly towards the door while her mother was speaking.
"My daughter," said Mrs. Pierson, her manner changing, "you surely will not go to the opera with this person!"
"I have promised him that I would do so, and I cannot break my word."
"Your father will be greatly displeased."
"I shall be sorry. But, mother, my word is passed, and I must not break it."
And as Jessie said this, she withdrew from the room, and closed the door as she went out. Mrs. Pierson, who had arisen from her chair, sat down with a sighing moan, and, covering her face with her hands, bent her body and rocked herself to and fro restlessly. Up to within a few months, a more loving or dutiful child than Jessie was not to be found. Since then, she had made the acquaintance of a man named Garland, and became completely fascinated with him. He was some years older than she was, and had seen a good deal of the world. In exterior, he was a polished gentleman; and, being well educated, was just the kind of a person to dazzle a young girl who was able only to judge from mere appearances.
On leaving her mother, Jessie went to her own room, and, in a little while, descended to the parlor, where Mr. Garland awaited her. She was not dressed to go out. Better counsels had prevailed in her mind. She hesitated to act in such direct opposition to the views and feelings of her mother.
"Ah, how do you do?" said Mr. Garland, in his frank, free way, taking Jessie's hand familiarly as she entered. "Are you not going to the opera?"
"Not if you will excuse me for breaking my word with you."
"That will depend entirely upon the reason you have to offer," said the gentleman. "But no doubt it is a good one. You could have no other."
"I think it good. My mother seems unwilling to have me go."
"The best reason in the world," returned Mr. Garland.
"I am glad you think so. I would act contrary to her wishes, with great reluctance."
"What reason does she give?" asked Mr. Garland, smiling, while he looked into Jessie's face, yet evidently deeply interested in her answer.
Jessie blushed slightly, and there was a momentary hesitation in her manner, as she said — "Mothers are a little over-careful of their daughters sometimes, you know. My mother is particularly so. She has an objection to my attending public places of amusement, unless in company with my father."
"Ah!" Mr. Garland looked serious for a moment. "Has she made this objection before?"
"Not in any particular instances; but she has this general objection."
"It is a prejudice, certainly,'" said Mr. Garland. "Still, it is one that, as a daughter, you should respect. As for me, it is no disappointment. An hour spent with you here, in the quiet of your own parlor, will fully compensate for all I had anticipated at the opera."
"I am happy to hear you say that. I feared it would be a great disappointment."
"Oh, no, none in the least. In fact, I am pleased at the turn things have taken. I wanted to have a little quiet conversation with you, and now the opportunity has come."
Mr. Garland looked earnestly into the face of the maiden as he spoke; and the maiden's eyes shone with a deeper and more liquid brightness, while a gentle warmth pervaded her lovely countenance. There were a few moments of silence, which Garland broke by saying, in a low voice, while he bent nearer — "Jessie, you must pardon my freedom in saying, with all frankness — I never speak in any other way — that the most pleasant hours of my life are passed in your society. This is not meant as simply a compliment. I do not waste words in mere compliments, but in saying just what I think and feel."
Jessie's heart bounded with a wild impulse, and the blood went quicker through her veins, while a thrill of delight pervaded her whole being. She bent her head to listen, and, at the same time, to conceal the too gratified expression of her beautiful young face. Garland saw the effect of his words, and went on.
"Nay, more than that; the hours that are spent away from you are duller and more irksome to me than they have ever been. It is so, and I cannot help it."
There was another pause. The eyes of Jessie were cast upon the floor, and her face was so turned away, that Garland could not see its expression; but it did not escape his observation that her respiration was fuller — almost panting, and that her hand had a visible tremor. He understood fully the meaning of these signs; and they emboldened him to touch, with a gentle pressure, the hand that lay most temptingly near his own, and the hand did not shrink. His fingers clasped upon it, and it yet remained passive. There was no longer any doubt in the mind of Garland — the maiden was his.
Tenderer words were then spoken. To these followed an open confession of love, which Jessie met by a blushing reference to her parents. When Garland parted on that evening with the happy and bewildered girl, a kiss of love was left burning upon her lips.
On the next day, more certain news in regard to the failure was received by Mr. Pierson — it was even more ruinous than at first believed.
While brooding gloomily over the probable result to himself, a letter was handed to him. On breaking the seal, he found it to be a note from Garland, which briefly stated the writer's attachment for his daughter Jessie, and preferred a request for her hand. The receipt of this offer had the effect to disturb Mr. Pierson still more deeply. Jessie was his best beloved child, and the interest felt in her welfare had ever been most intense. Garland, he had never liked. Though well connected, and moving freely in the best circles, he had always doubted the correctness of his principles, and considered him a cold-hearted man of the world. He was engaged in no business, and in Mr. Pierson's mind, were many unsatisfied questions in regard to his mode of obtaining an income. To have such a man win the affections of his child was indeed an affliction, which, coming at such an unfavorable time, nearly completed the prostration of his feelings. Mr. Pierson immediately replied that he could not accept the offer for Jessie's hand, and begged Garland to dismiss the subject at once and forever from his mind.
But Garland sought Jessie, and by flattery and promises of fidelity at stolen interviews, neutralized parental influence over her. Meantime her father struggled on for a few months, when a second failure compelled him to decide on calling a meeting of his creditors.
On the very day this course was resolved upon, Mr. Pierson received, from some unknown hand, a letter warning him that, at a certain time not a week off, a secret marriage was arranged to take place between his daughter and Garland. His first thought was to show Jessie the letter, and demand of her whether the statement were true; but, upon reflection and consultation with her mother, it was thought best to observe her movements in silence, and to be ready to prevent the step, if she were really so blind as to think of taking it.
Painful — deeply painful was the trial through which Mr. Pierson found himself obliged to pass, not the less so from the circumstance that a vivid recollection remained of a former trial, alike in character, the enduring of which had well-near crushed him hopelessly to the earth. But there was no alternative. To go on longer in business was impossible. A meeting of creditors was called, and a full statement of his affairs submitted. The cause of his embarrassment was plain. There was not one of his creditors who had not suffered by the failure which had paralyzed him. Some were for closing up the debtor's business forthwith, while others, seeing that he had a fair surplus if everything were settled, wished to extend his time liberally, and thus give him a chance to recover himself.
Meantime, and while all was yet undetermined, the news of Mr. Pierson's failure spread from lip to lip, until it was known everywhere in the city. Of course, the lover of Jessie became apprized of the circumstance.
The information received by Mr. Pierson in regard to Jessie's intended marriage was true. Garland had so won upon the infatuated girl, as to gain her consent to leave her father's house and become his wife clandestinely. The time fixed for this act arrived before any settlement of her father's affairs could possible be made, and before the news of his failure had even reached his ears. The arrangement was, for Jessie to meet Garland at the house of a young lady friend, who was in the secret, and to proceed from thence to the house of a minister, and get the marriage-rite said. Rooms had been taken at the American Hotel, where the young couple were to sojourn until the anger of Jessie's parents was appeased.
Jessie thought it rather strange that, for several evenings previous to the one on which the marriage was to take place, her lover had not called at the friend's house, where they usually met, two or three times a week, nor had he sent even a perfumed letter to tell her that love's flame still burned brightly. No doubt of his constancy came, however, like a shadow across her spirit; and she prepared herself to keep to the minute, her engagement.
Mr. Pierson had come home gloomier than usual. On the day before, he had hopes of making such an arrangement with his creditors as would enable him to go on and finally recover himself; but two or three parties were urgent for an immediate settlement, and a realization of whatever his effects would pay; and their influence upon other parties seemed likely to prevail. Amid this trouble, however, the unhappy man did not forget his child. Her blindness and folly pained him, even more than the wreck of all his worldly prospects. It was his intention to intercept his daughter as she attempted to leave the house; and in order to be fully in time to do so, he came home earlier than usual. His first inquiry was for Jessie; and he learned that she had been in her room alone during the entire afternoon.
"Are you certain that she has not already gone?" he inquired, a doubt suddenly crossing his mind.
"Oh, no, I would have heard her," replied the mother.
"Suppose you go up to her room, and see if she is there?" suggested Mr. Pierson.
The mother did so; but, in a few moments, came down hurriedly, looking pale and frightened.
"She is not there!" said she, huskily.
Mr. Pierson clasped his hands together, and groaned aloud.
They were too late. Fearful of being observed and questioned, if she left the house after her father came home for the evening, Jessie had determined upon going to the residence of her friend at an earlier hour than at first decided upon, and she acted accordingly. The time appointed for Mr. Garland to come was eight o'clock. Up to that hour, Jessie waited for his arrival — her feelings in a high state of excitement. As the clock struck, the hall-bell rang. Breathlessly the young girl listened for the footsteps of her lover. The door was opened, and a strange voice said something to the waiter. A note was then handed in to the parlor. It was for Jessie. Some moments passed before the excited girl could break the seal. She read, and then, uttering a faint cry, fell insensible to the floor. The note was from Garland, and was in a few words as follows:
"Circumstances unforeseen prevent my seeing you tonight, or at present fulfilling our engagement. When we meet again, I will explain all. Adieu for the present."
So long did Jessie remain unconscious, that, in alarm, a messenger was sent for her father. Mr. Pierson had just returned from a fruitless search after his daughter, when the messenger arrived, and he instantly repaired to the house where she had gone. He found her partially recovered from her swoon, but in a most wretched state of mind. From the note written by Garland, which was placed in his hands, he understood the precise state of affairs, and forbore giving voice to reproach or censure. As soon as he could remove her, she was taken home. For days she kept her room, most of the time weeping, or, in gloomy silence, refusing every offer of comfort.
By all this, Mr. Pierson was rendered doubly unhappy. It seemed as if his cup were full.
"All things are against me!" said he, murmuringly; "I was born to disappointment!"
"Say not so," returned his wife, who had a far more hopeful and confiding spirit. "In all this seeming evil, rely upon it, there is a hidden good. Let us be thankful that our child is not lost to us. No misfortune could have been greater than that."
"I doubt if we shall ever see the good," said Mr. Pierson, fretfully. "No — it is all my bad luck — I was born to it. Other people escape misfortune and domestic trials; but I am doomed to reverses and disappointment at every turn, and the curse rests upon all who bear any relation to me."
It was in vain that his wife argued with him; her voice could not charm away the evil spirit that came with its dark suggestions.
A few days more elapsed, and then light began to fall upon the gloomy way the embarrassed merchant was treading. Through the influence of his friends among the creditors, liberal extensions were granted him, and all his business property left in his hands, to be used to the best advantage.
"Can you recover yourself?" asked his wife, when this fact was communicated.
"I believe so," replied Mr. Pierson, confidently.
"Must we give up this house and change our style of living? If necessary, speak the word, and I am prepared for whatever is right."
A smile played around the lip of the merchant, as he replied:
"No — no; that will not be required. I am still worth thirty thousand dollars, and will bring it out clear of the business in a couple of years. Things are not really so bad as I feared."
"Then, we have had good, instead of bad luck."
"How will you make that appear?"
"Nothing but your misfortune saved our Jessie from a marriage, which would have made us all unhappy."
"You are right. It was clearly an advantageous marriage, in a monetary view, that the fellow sought. The mercenary, false-hearted scoundrel!"
"And Jessie begins to see this now, since I have told her of your recent change of fortune — bad-luck, as you called it."
"It was good luck for her, the silly girl! And she will understand it fully, one of these days. A man with a heart as base as Garland's, generally acts himself out before he dies, in such a way as to secure the infamy he deserves."
While this conversation was going on, an acquaintance dropped in.
"Have you heard about this Garland?" he asked.
"No; what of him?"
"He was arrested this afternoon, for forgery."
"He forged a check on Green & Lane for five thousand dollars, and got the money."
"Is it possible! When did this occur?"
"He passed the check on the teller at the Bank of America, just before three o'clock today. Something created suspicion, and the fraud was discovered in a few minutes after he left the counter. The police were immediately put upon his track, and arrested him on the boat, as he was leaving for the South."
"What an escape!" murmured Mr. Pierson, in a low voice, as he thought of his child.
"Was it bad or good luck?" inquired Mrs. Pierson, as soon as they were again alone, laying her hand upon her husband's arm, and looking him earnestly and almost tearfully in the face.
"Good luck!" was the emphatic reply. "The loss of property is nothing, compared to the dreadful sacrifice our dear child has so narrowly escaped. I would let all go without a murmur, to save her from such a fate. I shudder to think of it."
"Yet, to all human appearance, had not this misfortune come — "
"Do not speak of it; it makes my heart sick. She is safe, and small indeed has been the sacrifice required to secure her safety. I acknowledge that there is a wise Power ruling in the affairs of men."
"And good, as well as wise."
"Yes — yes; good as well as wise."
Mr. Pierson bowed his head and sat silent, while the truth he had just uttered sank into his heart.
Many years have passed since that experience, and all has not been sunshine. But Mr. Pierson has never been heard to lament over his bad luck, nor to say that he believed Heaven was against him. He had cause to know better.
A Strange Story
"Truth is stranger than fiction!"
Many years ago a young merchant in the city of Boston, who had started with a small capital, found himself seriously embarrassed. His business was that of a retail dry goods dealer. As his credit was fair, and he had several friends from whom he could borrow money, when occasion required, he did not fear any sudden disaster; but a sober view of his affairs satisfied him that in the end, unless saved from ruin by some fortunate event — ruin would certainly come.
Burton (that was the young man's name) was the son of a farmer, in moderate circumstances. At home, at school, everywhere, the "Poor Richard" philosophy had been as earnestly taught him as the creed and articles of faith — yes, more earnestly taught him; for the creed and articles were taught on one day in the week, and the "Poor Richard" philosophy during the other six. Burton had naturally a sound, well-balanced mind, and, under a different system of early training, would have made a wiser man.
As it was, the cardinal virtue in his eyes was money-making. The Ten Commandments were too well remembered to permit him to become a common plunderer; but all manner of sharp bargains that his ingenuity could suggest, were considered fair in trade, and practiced on every fitting occasion. Yet, as keen as he was, Burton so seriously overreached himself in bargain-making on two or three occasions, that he got himself embarrassed almost hopelessly. Still, he could not make up his mind to stop, settle up his business, and come out as nearly square as possible; but, in the hope of recovering himself by some fortunate speculation, still kept on buying, selling, and borrowing.
One day, as Burton sat in the back part of his store, pondering the chances for and against his future success, he saw a young lady enter, whom report said possessed a very handsome property. She was from the South, and had resided in Boston for some time with a distant relative of her father. Her parents had been dead for many years.
The young lady asked for various articles, which were shown her by a clerk, and as she examined the goods, and still continued to name other articles and express a desire to see them, Burton, with his eyes upon her, mused something after this fashion:
"If I could only win my way into the heart of someone with the substantial virtues she possesses, I might snap my fingers at the world. And why not? I'm as good as any, and as worthy of a rich wife as those who secure these prizes. 'Faint heart never won fair lady.' Aren't I good looking? Haven't I brains enough to hold my own with most people? It's a good idea. I'll look about me."
He paused suddenly, in his revery, for a movement of the young lady, which for a moment completely astonished him arrested his attention. He saw her, after she had paid for some trifling article, and while the clerk's attention was not directed towards her, stealthily take up a pair of kid gloves and conceal them in her muff. He felt his heart bound with a quick throb. Immediately the clerk turned to her, the young lady looked at him, and with a bow and a smile moved away and left the store.
Burton took up his hat, and, without saying a word to any one, passed quickly out. His store was in Washington Street, and the lady, as soon as she left it, turned into the first street leading therefrom. Burton followed. In Tremont Street she paused for a moment or two, thoughtfully, and, then crossing over, passed through one of the gates leading into the Common. She had not gone far, after being within the enclosure, before the young man was by her side.
"Miss Ledyard," said he, in a firm voice, "I saw you take a pair of gloves from my store just now, without paying for them. You have them in your muff at this moment!"
Thus suddenly and unexpectedly charged with the crime she had committed, the poor girl turned pale with fear and shame, and trembled so that she could scarcely stand.
"Oh, sir! here they are!" said she, in her alarm and bewilderment. "Take them! — and go — go — leave me, for mercy's sake!" drawing forth the gloves as she spoke.
"Oh, no, miss," replied Burton, coldly and severely. "I can't take them; nor can I leave you. You have been guilty of theft, and must answer to the law for your crime."
The poor girl turned deadly pale.
"Come!" said the young man. "Don't let us stand here to attract attention."
"Come? Where?" asked Miss Ledyard, in an agony of terror.
"We will take a turn across the Common," he said, still with an angry brow and a threatening tone. "By that time, I shall be able to determine how to act."
The girl moved on by his side, spell-bound.
"To think," said Burton, with unmitigated sternness, "that one who has every comfort that money can bring, should be guilty of an act of petty larceny like this! — an act, for which a poor wretch, urged on by poverty, would be sent to the State's Prison. Surely your crime is tenfold greater, and should receive a tenfold punishment."
"Oh, sir, pity me!" pleaded the unhappy girl. "It was more a weakness than a crime. More a strange infatuation than a desire to do wrong, which has led me into this error."
"In the poor we call this stealing," said Burton. In the rich, it can have no other name."
"You will not" — pleaded the wretched creature, turning her beautiful eyes, filled with tears, upon Burton, "oh, you cannot forever destroy me for this little act of folly. I will remunerate you a thousand fold."
"Do you suppose that it is upon the value of the article that I stand? If so, you are grievously mistaken. It is the principle — the crime against society that is involved in the act."
"Oh, sir, spare me!" pleaded the now weeping girl.
"I will," said Burton, in a slightly changed voice; "but only upon one condition."
"Name it!" eagerly demanded his prisoner.
"That you become my wife!"
The girl instantly shrank from him, ejaculating an indignant,
"As you please," coldly retorted the young man. "It is your only hope of escape from the penalty of your crime!"
"Would you marry a thief?" asked the girl, gathering some composure.
"That is my look-out," was replied. "I clearly understand my position; and hope you as clearly understand yours."
"No happiness could grow out of such a marriage," said the girl.
"If I am willing to run the risk, you ought to think it a fortunate chance to escape the State's Prison."
"Take me before a justice," replied the girl, speaking with more than usual firmness.
"As you please, come!" And Burton placed his hand upon her arm. They walked in silence for a few rods, when Miss Ledyard stopped suddenly, and covering her face with her hands, began weeping bitterly. Burton saw a company of ladies and gentlemen approaching.
"Here are people coming," said he. "They will naturally wonder to see you as you are. If they ask questions, I can but tell the truth."
The young girl drew her veil quickly, and Burton offering his arm, after an instant's hesitation she took it, and they moved on in an opposite direction to that from which the strangers were approaching.
"I have heard of many kinds of cruelty, sir," said Miss Ledyard, as soon as she had a little recovered herself; "but yours is worst of all. Compel me to marry you, whom I do not know — have never before seen in my life — whose station is below mine!"
"Low as my station is," interrupted Burton, "I was never guilty of stealing. I came of honest blood. I hold myself to be a man of honor and integrity, and the equal of any in the land."
"If you have any sense of honor — any feeling — any touches of compassion — pity me and let me go!" sobbed Miss Ledyard.
"You have but a single choice of alternatives. That I have already given. The fact is, my dear young lady," — and Burton's tones softened — "I am driven to this act by the stern force of circumstances. I am not cruel by nature, as you suppose, but am only acting under the impulses of necessity. You are in my power, and I cannot let you go. It is in vain for you to plead with me. Am I warped in person? Am I debased in mind? Look upon me, and answer, from my form and face, if this be so?"
"You ask an impossible thing when you ask me to become your wife," replied Miss Ledyard, but not with the tones of anguish in which she had before spoken.
"No, I do not."
"Give me time to reflect."
"Not an hour. You must become my wife before we part."
Poor Miss Ledyard again burst into tears. But Burton was inexorable. Worn out, at length, by terror and the stern perseverance of her strange lover, the unhappy girl finally consented to his demand. The proper legal forms were complied with, and they went before a minister and were pronounced man and wife, in less than an hour from the time his strange wooing began. A more singular or inauspicious wedding was never, perhaps, celebrated; and Burton himself, so soon as calm reflection took the place of hurried excitement, after he had permitted his wife, on the conclusion of the ceremony, to go home to her friends, felt amazed at what had occurred.
"Was I mad?" he said to himself. "The whole thing appears incredible! And the consequences? What are they to be? Will this young creature, whom I have forced into so strange a union, consider herself bound by her marriage vow? And if she does not, what is my remedy? I have none. It was bad enough for me to frighten her into my wishes by threats of exposure which I never meant to keep. Suppose she confesses all to her friends, and they sue in her name for a divorce? But I will not look at the dark side. I will hope for a better outcome to this strange business."
It is by no means surprising that Burton walked the floor of his room throughout nearly the whole of the night that followed, nor that for days he was unable to attend to business. He allowed nearly a week to elapse before venturing to call upon his bride. She received him calmly, but coldly. He made no reference to what had occurred: stayed only a short time, and, on leaving, mentioned when he would see her again. At the second visit her manner was a little softened. His deportment was respectful, and he evidently sought to win her favor.
Thus he continued to visit her, week after week, until, strange to say, he awoke a tender interest in her heart; and, six months after their first meeting, they were publicly married; and no one present at the nuptial festivities had even a remote suspicion of what had previously occurred.
Forty thousand dollars was the fortune that Burton received with his bride. It enabled him to extend his business, and laid the foundation of a large fortune, which he acquired in the course of his next twenty years.
Singularly enough, the husband and wife in this remarkable union became most tenderly attached to each other. The penny-save, penny-gain philosophy, which Burton had been taught from earliest childhood, caused him to set an undue value upon wealth, and warped his judgment in many things; but he was, naturally, a man of kind feelings, and possessed more than common intelligence. His wife, except one unaccountable peculiarity, was a woman that almost any man could love. She was gentle, affectionate, and full of devoted tenderness; and leaned on her husband with the confidence and almost the fondness of a child.
But the drawback in her character was a sad and painful one. It was an obsession, to the controlling of which her better reason and sense of right were not at all times adequate. The taking of the gloves from his store, Burton had looked upon as a little peccadillo; as the result of a momentary weakness, which the lesson he gave her would fully correct. But he erred in this. The moral defect was far more deeply seated, and not so easy of eradication.
They had been married for five years, and had two children, before Burton's mind was startled from its pleasant dream of domestic happiness, by a suspicion of the truth. In two or three instances he had observed silver spoons in his wife's drawers, with strange initials on them; but they had created no question in his mind. They might be old relics of old friends, for anything he knew. Indeed, it was a matter of such little importance to him, that he did not even think about it. Bills were frequently sent to his store for articles purchased by his wife, which he paid, sometimes mentioning the fact at home, and sometimes saying nothing about it. At last, it occurred to him as singular that bills containing but a single article, sometimes of small value, should so frequently be rendered. There was a manner, too, about the way in which some of them were presented, that he could not understand. Whenever he asked at home if the charges were right, his wife invariably admitted them, and sometimes showed him the articles purchased.
One day, a large drawer, which his wife always kept locked, happened to be left open, and on going near it for something, Mr. Burton was a little surprised to notice that it was half-filled with a curious medley of jewelry, silverware, small articles of fancy dry goods, and a little of almost everything that could be named. He counted ten silver, and three gold thimbles; rings of various patterns; earrings, breastpins, laces, gloves, collars, and teaspoons, with a variety of initials engraved upon them; three butter knives, salt spoons, several large table-spoons; small ornaments of many kinds, and other things not needful to mention; most of them new.
Burton closed the drawer, after a hurried inspection of its contents, and left the room with his heart fluttering. The incident of the pair of gloves — never, of course, to be forgotten — now presented itself in a new light, and he pondered it with troubled feelings.
On the day following, a man came into his store, and handed him a bill.
"What is this?" he asked, before noticing the charge. "Oh!" he added, seeing that it was for a gold thimble purchased by his wife. A chilliness went creeping along his veins.
The charge for the thimble was ten dollars. As he was selecting a bill from his pocket-book, it occurred to him that this was more than double the value of the article.
"Ten dollars!" said he. "Isn't that a mistake? You meant to say five?"
There was a threat in the impertinent eye and voice of the man, as he replied, significantly —
"It's a cheaper thimble to you than it might be, sir. We always charge double — on sales of this kind."
Burton made no reply, but handed over the money, and took the man's receipt.
Here was a confirmation of the strange suspicion that had begun to haunt him. His soul was filled with a terrible dread. How to act, he could not determine; nor could he estimate, by any known rules, the effect upon his wife's mind, if he were to reveal to her his too well confirmed suspicion of her dishonest proceedings. For days, he thought of little else. He looked at his wife's young, beautiful, and innocent face; he watched her, as with a mother's pure affection she ministered to the wants of her little ones; he felt her light arms about his neck, and her warm kiss upon his brow; and then turned his thoughts away from all this joy, to muse on the blasting secret he had discovered.
But truth warned him, that while he paused in astonishment and dismay, the strange infatuation of his wife might lead to the most dreadful consequences. As he thought of the past, he shuddered at the many narrow escapes from exposure that must have occurred, while he reposed in his fond dream of happiness. The avarice that had led him to act as he had done, five years before, was too plain an evidence of what was in the human mind, and he wondered that someone, pressed by necessity or urged on by a love of gain, had not used the dreadful secret of his wife's folly as a means of extorting money.
This last thought was but the shadow of approaching evil. While it occupied his mind, a stranger asked a private interview with him. There was something in the man's countenance that awoke an instinctive fear. When they were alone, he said, without apology or apparent concern for the smarting pain his words must occasion —
"Mr. Burton, I detected your wife, yesterday, in the act of purloining a gold watch from my store. I took it from her person, in the presence of my clerk. There are, therefore, two witnesses to the fact, and her conviction in a court of justice is certain, if I let the matter go into the hands of the police."
The man looked, without a quivering muscle, upon the instantly blanched face of the merchant; who, as soon as he could speak, said, in a pleading voice —
"But this, of course, you will not do?"
"Why not, sir?" sternly asked the man.
"What good will arise from it?"
"It will protect others, as well as myself, from loss. She visits my store frequently, and my losses may already be hundreds of dollars. Besides, I am bound as a good citizen, and also by the laws of the State, to give information to the proper authorities."
"I will fully remunerate you for all supposable losses," said the agonized merchant. "Do not, let me beg of you, make use of your fatal secret, to blast forever the happiness of my family. It is not for the value of the watch, that my unfortunate wife committed the folly of taking it. She has money at will to supply all her wants. But from a strange obsession — I can call it nothing else. She is more to be commiserated, than blamed. Cheerfully, most cheerfully, will I repay you for every loss you think you may have sustained."
"In the poor, your obsession would be called theft," retorted the man with a sneer; "and the wretch who took a loaf of bread or a pair of shoes, would be sent unpitied to prison. This excuse won't do, sir!"
Humiliated and distressed, Burton knew not what to reply. A sharp retort would only make matters worse. He, therefore, awaited in silence for what further the man had to say. He was not long kept in suspense. The proposition was in these words. It was made unblushingly.
"Circumstances have rendered me desperate, Mr. Burton. It may be, that, at some period of your life, you have felt as I do now; and may have acted, for all I know, in a similar spirit. But that is neither here nor there, at present. As I said, circumstances have made me desperate, and desperate cases admit the application of desperate remedies. This is all the excuse I have to offer for my present course of action. Suffice it to say, that I must have two thousand dollars tomorrow, or my credit is gone. Here is my due-bill for that sum. Give me your check in exchange. I do not come to extort money from you; only to coerce you into the loan of what I need. Circumstances have placed you in my power, and I must use you. At some future day, I will redeem my obligation; but how soon, I cannot tell. Meet my wishes in this matter, and your secret is safe."
Without a word of reply, Mr. Burton drew a check for two thousand dollars, and handed it to the man, who laid his due-bill on the desk at which the merchant sat, and departed.
"Gracious Heaven!" murmured the wretched man, bowing his head in silent anguish.
A warning like this was not to be unheeded. Even while he had been debating what to do, the most dreadful calamity that could befall them hung trembling over their heads. Leaving his store, Mr. Burton turned his steps homeward. He met his wife at the door of his residence, dressed to go out. Her face wore a smiling aspect. But the smile faded the moment her eyes rested upon the countenance of her husband.
"What is the matter? Are you not well, dear?" she asked, retiring from the door into the hall, as he came in.
"No," he replied. "I am not at all well."
The street-door was closed, and they went upstairs together. As soon as they entered their chamber, Burton turned the key, and then sunk with a pale face and heavily laboring chest upon a couch, while a groan struggled up from his bosom. An expression of alarm spread over the features of his wife, whose eager inquiries as to the cause and nature of his sudden illness were not answered for many minutes. At last he said —
"I need not tell you the contents of that drawer" — pointing to the one that contained the many articles she had taken unlawfully. "You know them too well."
Burton had scarcely uttered these words before he sprang forward, and was just in time to catch the falling body of his wife in his arms. Her countenance had become as pale as death, and every muscle in her body suddenly relaxed. He held her for a few moments in anguish to his bosom, and then laid her upon the bed. Days passed before she lifted her head from the pillow where he placed it, and then she looked like one who had just arisen from a long and severe illness.
Most earnestly did Burton desire to speak to his wife more particularly on the subject uppermost in his mind; but the bare mention of it had produced such painful consequences, that he could not introduce it again.
For weeks after, she was able to go about her house and look after its domestic arrangements, Mrs. Burton immured herself at home. Not once, during this time, did her husband, though often and earnestly he gazed into her pensive face, meet a glance from her downcast eyes. When he spoke to her, she answered him in a meek and tender voice; and she sedulously strove to minister in every way to his comfort.
One day happening to be alone in their chamber, he noticed that the drawer before mentioned was unlocked and partly open. He could not resist the desire he felt to look into it again. He did so. With the exception of a few articles of clothing and a book, it was empty. He took up the volume, and found it to be a small, beautifully-bound edition of the Bible. It opened in his hands at a page where a leaf had been turned down; and he instantly remarked that the page was moist from tear-drops, which had fallen upon it here and there. One large drop led his eyes to a particular part of the page, and he read the line — "You shall not steal."
He closed the book; replaced it; shut the drawer, and sunk into a chair. Many thoughts crowded through his mind, and a ray of light dawned upon it.
On the same day, coming into his room, he found his wife standing by this drawer, with the book open in her hand. She laid it down and closed the drawer; but kept her head turned from him. When he at length saw her face, he noticed that a tear glistened upon one of her drooping lashes.
What was done with the articles she had accumulated in that drawer, he never knew. His conjecture was that she had destroyed them, or, as far as she could do so, had returned them to their various owners.
From that time, for seven or eight years, nothing occurred to give room for the fear that Mrs. Burton was lapsing into her old ways. No more bills came in, and no repository of suspicious-looking articles was discovered. But the consequences of past acts were not to be escaped. The man who had borrowed the two thousand dollars from Burton called upon him again and again, and always demanded more money, coupling his demand with a threat of exposure if it were not complied with immediately. His threat always produced the desired result. The various sums of money thus extorted, amounted to nearly fifteen thousand dollars. But for this circumstance, the mind of Mr. Burton would have attained confidence and repose on a subject that had dreadfully disturbed him, and the shock of awaking from a pleasant dream of security been even more terrible than it proved to be.
By this time his oldest child was nearly twelve years of age. He had three other children; and they, with his wife, made up a dear home-circle, in which the cares of business and the toil of the day were, when evening came, forgotten.
One morning, while Mr. Burton was engaged at his store, a messenger came from one of the police offices, with the intelligence that a lady who had been detected in the act of purloining a piece of lace from a dry goods store had been arrested, and, though refusing to give her name, had desired that he should be sent for.
Burton's head reeled. It was some moments before he was able to move from the spot where he stood. Then he started from the store, and ran at full speed to the office where the lady — he knew it to be his wife — was detained. On entering, he saw her seated in a chair, looking like marble. She lifted her eyes to his face, as he entered; then let them droop slowly. Her limbs slightly quivered, and she fell forward from the chair into his arms, insensible. There were many people in the office, witnesses of this scene; and to most of them, Mr. Burton was well known. There had already been a hearing of the case, in which the theft was clearly proved; and Burton was permitted to give bail for his wife's appearance to answer to the charge, and take her away, which he did with as little delay as possible.
At last had come the consequences so often dreaded, and to prevent which Burton had allowed thousands of dollars to be extorted from him. The dry goods dealer, when he learned who the lady was, and also learned the fact of the strange propensity which impelled her at times, like a kind of obsession, to take things that did not belong to her — deeply regretted what he had done under the impulse of a momentary indignation. But it was too late to retract. The matter had passed from his hands, and was now with the commonwealth.
For weeks the unhappy woman kept her bed, and refused to answer to any word of her husband's, as earnestly and kindly as he spoke to and entreated her. During most of the time she was in tears, feeling deeply it may be hoped, the evil of what she had done, and, in sincere repentance, earnestly resolving to conquer, though by a higher power than she possessed, the impulse that led her into wrong.
As for Burton, he was completely broken down. He did not love his wife less tenderly for this last act, which had destroyed the happiness of both; for he knew the good that was in her, and knew the strange propensity which led her, almost blindly, into wrong; nay, he loved her even more tenderly for her helplessness and deep affliction.
Time went on, and the case of Mrs. Burton was called in court. But there was no appearance. Months before, her husband had closed up his business, and gone with his family, no one knew, or, with reference to the law, cared to know where. The prosecuting attorney was glad of an excuse to let the matter drop, and there it has ever since rested.
But not so quietly have rested the anxious hearts of Burton and his wife, now residing, under an assumed name, in a Southern city. The daily newspapers are opened by them with a kind of nervous dread of evil tidings, and a stranger, who bears the aspect of a northern man, rarely enters the store of the merchant without creating a sudden bound of his heart, agitating his bosom for hours.
Years have gone by. But since the lapse from integrity which was threatened with such dreadful consequences to Mrs. Burton, she has been able to resist and successfully control the almost insane desire to commit petty thefts, which had been for years an overmastering impulse. The various reactions upon her of this evil tendency, whenever she allowed it to lead her into wrong actions, were of a nature calculated to show her its enormity, and to prompt to earnest struggles for the mastery over it. Such power it was not impossible for her to gain, for no one is permitted to live and grow up to a responsible age, whose evil inclinations may not be successfully resisted and kept in entire subjection to good, no matter how active they may be — for all are held in freedom. The circumstances of her life were such as, under a wise Providence, best concurred to give her the power to resist an impulse, that, when unopposed, carried her away like a vessel on a rapid stream.
As for Burton, the consequences of a wrong act — a base, unmanly act — were visited upon him in a way little dreamed of — in a way the most painful and afflicting. His whole life has been, and continues to be, one of fear and trembling; not only for the wife he loves most tenderly, but for his children, whose every act is watched with anxious scrutiny; and whose slightest departure from a just regard of other's rights, is visited by instant reproof or correction. This watchfulness of mind; this ever looking at the precept — "You shall not steal," and holding in abhorrence its violation, has not only been useful in rightly educating his children, and giving them strength to overcome the peculiar natural tendency inherited from their mother, but has made Mr. Burton himself much more careful than he would otherwise have been in paying a just regard to the rights of others. Thus, has he, also, been reacted upon by consequences growing out of his own wrong deed, and the reaction has helped to give him power to subdue the evil lust of his mind by which it was created.
Few marriages occur that do not, in some way, create surprise, or induce remarks upon the unfitness of the parties for the union into which they have entered. But no marriage grows out of merely fortuitous circumstances.
Here, as everywhere else, a wise Providence directs or restrains selfishness and base motives, and brings the greatest good possible to be obtained out of both. Perhaps a more marked instance of this, than the one we have given, cannot be found.
Mr. Barlow's Country Home
"What a lovely spot!" said Mr. Barlow, reining up his horses, and leaning forward to look at a beautiful country residence, which was shaded by fine old elms, and surrounded by choice shrubbery, and gardens filled with beautiful flowers, vines, and fruit trees.
"It is lovely, indeed!" returned his wife, who was riding out with him.
"I never look at this pleasant little place," resumed Mr. Barlow, "that I do not envy the owner its possession. I am sometimes half tempted to see him, and ask if he will not sell it. It is just the right distance from the city, and I could ride in to business every day."
"We could be very happy here, no doubt," said Mrs. Barlow.
"If we couldn't be happy here — we couldn't be happy anywhere. Look at that fine grassy lawn. What a grand place it would be for the children, shaded as it is by those noble sycamores and sturdy elms! I really must see if this place can be bought."
Mr. Barlow spoke to his horses, and the carriage moved on.
"Don't you think you would like the country, Sarah? I am sure it would be better for your health, as well as for that of the children."
"Oh yes, I would like it very well, especially if we could get a situation like that."
"I don't know of any other place that would tempt me into the country. Certainly I have not seen it yet. But if this one can be had at a price that I think I can afford to pay, I will strain to become its owner."
Mrs. Barlow was pleased at the thought of living on the delightful spot at which they had just been looking; but she did not urge her husband to make the purchase. If he felt able to do so, she would have no objections; but she avoided saying as much in favor of it as she would have done, had she been sure that he could spare the money from his business.
On the next day Mr. Barlow made inquiries, and found that the owner of this beautiful country-residence did not live upon it. He was a merchant named Gregory, doing business in the city, and happened to be well known to Mr. Barlow, who immediately called upon him, and put the question whether he was disposed to sell the place. "I have not thought of doing so," was replied. "It is occupied by a good tenant, and yields me a fair interest."
"Have you any idea of living there yourself?"
"No. My wife doesn't like the country, and I am rather indifferent on the subject than otherwise. The whole of my thoughts are engaged in business, and I might, therefore, just as well be in the city. If I were on the place, I would neglect it."
"Then you have no positive objection to selling?"
"Why, no — not very positive; although I would rather not let it go out of my hands. My tenants are much attached to the place, and I would be unwilling to disturb them. The investment is good, and the income unfailing. The very day the rent is due, it is paid down in my counting-room."
"What value do you set upon the place?"
"It cost me eight thousand dollars. But it has been much improved since I bought it."
"Would you take ten thousand dollars for it?"
The merchant shook his head.
"Would twelve thousand tempt you?"
"I don't know. Perhaps it might. I could use that sum in business to considerable advantage. Still, I am not anxious."
"Will you take twelve thousand dollars?"
"I will give you an answer tomorrow."
"Very well. I will call around and see you tomorrow, and, in the mean time, decide whether I can pay that price."
Not long after Mr. Barlow left the store of Mr. Gregory, the tenant of the beautiful country-house came in with a quarter's rent. After the money had been counted and a receipt given, the merchant said,
"I don't know, Mr. Phillips, but I am half afraid I shall have to give you notice to leave before a great while."
"Why so?" asked the tenant, with a look of surprise.
"Mr. Barlow wants to buy it, and, I expect, will tempt me to sell by a very liberal offer. If he should do so, I may let it go, although, on your account, I will regret to do so."
"I am sorry," said Mr. Phillips. "I don't know what my wife will do. She fairly worships the place. She was in bad health and bad spirits for some years before we moved out there; but, since we have been in the country, she has been a different woman. She takes great delight in flowers and shrubbery — in fact, almost lives among them."
Mr. Gregory made no reply to this remark, but it caused him to feel strongly inclined to refuse any offer of Mr. Barlow's for the place.
When Mr. Phillips mentioned to his wife what their landlord had said, she could not refrain from tears.
"I've dreaded this all along," she said. "The place is too beautiful not to attract some envious eyes."
"It is not our own, and we cannot, therefore, expect to live here always. Sooner or later, we must inevitably be compelled to move. I was in hopes that it would not be for some years; but this now seems doubtful."
"Well, I will try my best to be content. If possible, I shall not again allow my mind to sink down as it did some years ago, unless my health should again fail, and then I may not be able to help it."
"Try earnestly to bear the change if it does come," said the husband. "We must not expect all to be sunshine and fair weather. Others do not find it so — and neither shall we. Since we have lived in this delightful spot, we have been very happy. Let us try to be happy, even in a less attractive place, if compelled to move; and let us find pleasure in the reflection that others enjoy this lovely home, if we do not."
"I don't think I shall derive much pleasure from that," said the wife.
"Why should you not? Is it not pleasant to know that others are happy?"
"Not happy at our expense."
"You must not think that. The comforts that are enjoyed by those who have more of this world's goods than we have, are not enjoyed at our expense. We do not own this place, and it is a great privilege that we have been permitted to call it our home. Let us be thankful for the favor we have received, and not murmur because we cannot have it continued to the end."
In this way, Mr. Phillips sought to strengthen the mind of his wife; but, in spite of all he could say, her spirits became depressed, and she could not rally herself.
Twelve thousand dollars was a good deal of money for Mr. Barlow to take out of his business. It was, in fact, one-half of his capital in trade. The thought of doing so made him feel serious. But his heart was set upon the beautiful country residence, and, to obtain it, he felt willing to make almost any sacrifice. On the next day, he called upon Mr. Gregory, who said that he had concluded to take twelve thousand dollars, if he were willing to pay it.
"On what terms?" asked Mr. Barlow.
"One-fourth cash, one-fourth in six months, one-fourth in twelve, and the remaining fourth in eighteen months; a full title to be given on the payment of the last note."
"I will give you an answer in three or four days," said Mr. Barlow.
"Very well. Take time to think about it," returned the owner.
Twelve thousand dollars in eighteen months was a large sum for Mr. Barlow to pay, and he felt that it was so. But to gain the lovely spot upon which he had set his heart, was worth an effort. In a few days he decided that he would make the purchase, possession to be given at the expiration of the tenant's year, which would be at the end of three months.
The cash payment was to be made as soon as the property could be handed over to him, which took place at the expected time. In order to make this payment, a bank loan of fifteen hundred dollars had to be obtained; the other fifteen hundred, withdrawn from his regular business, made his cash account show rather a meager balance.
It was a happy day for the family of Mr. Barlow when they took possession of their elegant country home. Before doing so, after many long debates on the subject, it was decided to retain their town-house, and live in the city during the winter season. Considerable furniture had, therefore, to be purchased for the country-house. The outlay, before they were fairly settled, was little short of a thousand dollars.
"Isn't it a lovely place! Oh! I shall be so happy here," said Mrs. Barlow, after they were settled in their new home.
Mr. Barlow, to whom this remark was made, did not reply. He was sitting by an open window, looking out upon the grassy lawn, where his children were playing. But he did not see them, nor hear the sound of their laughing voices. Nor did he notice what his wife had said about the beauty of the place. His mind was away to the city, and he was thinking about his business. The withdrawal of about twenty-five hundred dollars from his active capital had made everything "tight" with him. On the next day he had to pay bills amounting to two thousand dollars, and he was too busy in devising the ways and means by which this was to be done to see the beautiful objects by which he was surrounded, or to hear the pleasant sounds with which the air was ringing.
No response being made to Mrs. Barlow's words, she looked into her husband's absent face, and wondered of what he could be dreaming. But she did not break in upon his revery. The effort to raise the money he needed on the next day was successful; but it cost Mr. Barlow a good deal of anxiety, and sent him home in the evening, in a browner mood than usual. His wife met him with renewed expressions of the delight she felt in being the mistress of such a "paradise." He tried to enter into her feelings, but was not able. Beauties were all around him — but he did not see them. His mind was absorbed in business.
But in a few days he recovered himself, and was able to appreciate the loveliness with which nature and art had crowned their pleasant home. He had obtained a discount of two thousand dollars, and this made all right with him again.
Happily passed the days to the family of Mr. Barlow, until the frosts of approaching winter robbed the trees of their leafy garments, and made everything dreary, even around their beautiful country home. Then they returned to the city, to spend a few months, until spring should warm the earth into greenness.
Not long after this removal, the first note given for the purchase of the country-home fell due. Almost from the day on which Mr. Barlow went to the country, the thought of this note had created a sensation of uneasiness that more than counterbalanced the pleasure he derived from being the owner and occupier of the most charming place he had ever seen; and the nearer its due-day approached, the more did this uneasiness increase. His accommodations, made necessary by the first outlay on his new place of about four thousand dollars, had fallen due; and, to meet them, other discounts had to be obtained, and an amount of interest paid that he could not help feeling ought, in prudence, to have been avoided.
To meet this second payment, he had no resource but to borrow again. He could not borrow on a mortgage of his late purchase, for he was not yet in possession of a title-deed, and would not be until the payment of the last note given for the purchase. There was but one mode of raising the money, and that was by getting a friend to endorse for him, as he had done before. This was never a pleasant operation. But there was no help for it. The note must be lifted, and there was no other mode of doing it. The endorsement was obtained, or rather an exchange of notes was made, and three thousand dollars more of false capital raised and invested where it was completely locked up.
The difficulties of his position, began now to stare Mr. Barlow fully in the face. He saw that he had committed a mistake that threatened to ruin him. One half of the twelve thousand dollars was paid, but the money had all been borrowed, and that upon short accommodations which would have to be renewed and renewed again, he could not tell for how long, unless he greatly reduced all of his operations, in doing which there was danger of ruining his business.
Mr. Barlow was no longer the cheerful man he had been. Instead of giving life, as he had long done, to the evening circle — he usually sat silent and absent-minded, for his many difficulties had increased so fast upon him, that there was a constant pressure upon his feelings, which he could not throw off.
When the spring opened, preparations were made for moving into the country. But much of the enthusiasm felt when last preparing to leave the city, had subsided — especially with Mr. Barlow. The children were, of course, delighted. But Mrs. Barlow saw the change that had taken place in her husband, although he concealed the cause; and she could not feel delight, even in anticipation of a summer in their lovely villa.
Spring passed quickly into summer, and all was bright and beautiful; but, though nature said, with a thousand voices, "Be happy!" — there was not even peace in the heart of Mr. Barlow. He came and went even for days, without noticing or remarking upon the beautiful things with which he was surrounded. It was rarely that he saw them. His eyes were with his mind, and that was on his business, now becoming seriously embarrassed.
For a few months longer he struggled on, and then the second note fell due. To meet this, Mr. Barlow could see no way. It was as much as he could do to bear up under the weight of borrowed money and bank accommodations. It seemed to him that five hundred dollars added to his present difficulties would inevitably crush him. What, then, was he to do with three thousand?
A week before this note was to be paid, Mr. Barlow returned home from the city, with his mind more than usually oppressed. He had passed through a very severe day, in which his credit had well-near suffered dishonor. His last note was not obtained from the bank until five minutes before three o'clock. On arriving at home, he sat down by a window from which there was a charming prospect. His eye could not only range over the most beautiful portion of his own property, but there was a distant view of the city, with the river winding far below it. But, even if he saw all this, he did not feel its beauty. Soon after he had taken his place by the window, Mrs. Barlow came in, and drew a chair near him.
"Isn't this a lovely view?" she said.
"It is indeed beautiful," he replied, making a strong effort to hide his real feelings.
"The children are so happy! Dear little Mary said today — 'Mother, isn't father good to buy us such a nice place as this? It is full of flowers and green grass; and the birds hop about our feet, and are not afraid."
Mr. Barlow smiled and sighed at the same time.
"All here are happy, Edgar," said Mrs. Barlow, laying her hand affectionately upon his arm. "And you, who make others so happy, should be happy too."
A deeper sigh came up from the bosom of the husband.
"Tell me, Edgar, what is it that troubles you? There has been a weight upon your mind for months. Indeed, I have noticed a change in you ever since we left the city last summer. You make me the sharer of your joys, let me also share your gloomier feelings. It is my right, as well as my duty."
To this appeal, Mr. Barlow was silent. He could not make up his mind to reveal to his wife the embarrassed state of his affairs, and the cause which had produced them. She urged him more strongly, and then he said, in a gloomy voice —
"My business is dreadfully embarrassed."
At this, Mrs. Barlow turned pale.
"I have most earnestly desired to spare you the pain this revelation must occasion; but, as there is a crisis rapidly approaching, and you must know it very soon, this may be as good a time as any other for you to hear the painful truth."
"What has occasioned it?" Mrs. Barlow asked, in a tremulous voice.
"The purchase of this place."
"Then sell it again, and let us return to the city," was said in a quick, emphatic voice. "I would not stay here another week!"
"Can you be content to leave so beautiful a place?"
"Beautiful! It is beautiful to me no longer. No — no. We must return at once to the city, and let the place be sold. This should have been done long ago. The moment you felt it as an embarrassment, you ought to have given it up. Can any mere external thing, however attractive, compensate for peace of mind and dangers such as you say are threatening you? No — no!"
The decisive manner in which the subject was treated by his wife restored, to some extent, the disturbed balance of Mr. Barlow's mind. Still, the difficulties of his position were very great. It was one thing to determine to sell — and another thing to find a purchaser. Besides, he had agreed to pay several thousand dollars more for the place, than he could hope to obtain for it; and a serious loss was, therefore, inevitable. But, worse still, one of the notes given for the purchase must be paid in a week — or he would be ruined. There was no time to recoup, by a sale.
In this pressing dilemma, Mr. Barlow went to a friend who had endorsed pretty freely for him, stated frankly his difficulties, and asked him if he could not get him the money he needed until he could sell his country-home. The friend was a timid man, and became dreadfully alarmed. He censured Mr. Barlow strongly for buying the property, and charged him, by implication, with dishonorable conduct in getting his name upon his paper, when he knew that he was trembling on the brink of failure.
Distressed beyond measure, Mr. Barlow knew not which way to turn. Having met with such a rough reception, where he had fully expected sympathy and aid, he shrunk from an exposure of his necessities in any other quarter. And yet to stand still, was certain ruin. A day or two of anxiety and suffering passed, and then Mr. Barlow determined, as a last hope, to throw himself upon the mercy of Mr. Gregory. This was all he could do; if he failed — then he was a ruined man. With a trembling heart, he called at the store of the merchant, who received him with his usual kindness. He opened his business by saying —
"Mr. Gregory, when I purchased that property in the country from you, I undertook to do more than it has turned out I am able to do."
"Ah! I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Barlow," was replied. The manner of Mr. Gregory changed.
"I have paid you six thousand dollars on the purchase," resumed Mr. Barlow, "and, in doing so, I have withdrawn more capital from my business than it can spare. In consequence, all my operations are embarrassed, and I have been obliged to depend on bank loans, which are uncertain, and require the endorsements of friends."
"That is bad," Mr. Gregory sententiously remarked.
Barlow felt that there was little hope for him; but he continued —
"One of my notes to you falls due tomorrow" —
"Which you want extended?"
"Yes — until I can sell the place and pay it."
Mr. Gregory mused for some time before he replied. Then he said — " I think I had better release you from your bargain."
Barlow startled, and looked bewildered. He could hardly believe that he had heard aright.
"I have several times regretted having sold the place," continued Gregory, "but you seemed so desirous to have it, and made such a liberal offer, that I was tempted to meet your wishes. The change to my old tenant has been almost, if not quite, as unfortunate as to yourself."
"Indeed! How so?"
"His wife, who had become much attached to the place, left it with great reluctance, and has since fallen into ill health and low spirits. I saw Mr. Phillips only a few days ago, and he says that she gets worse instead of better. He has been trying to procure another situation in the country, but has not succeeded. If he could only get back again to the old place — he says he is sure both the health and spirits of his wife would be restored. She has a very delicate constitution, and is of a highly nervous temperament. For three years, at one time in her life, Phillips tells me that she was in an insane hospital, and he fears her present depressed state will end in another aberration of intellect. I pity both of them sincerely, and if you, as you say, wish to sell this property — I will release you from your contract, and pay you back the amount of purchase-money I have received."
"Then you will confer a double blessing," said Mr. Barlow, much affected. "You will save me from ruin, and, I trust, from a worse calamity those of whom you speak. So much for my envy of the good enjoyed by another. In my eagerness to possess this lovely place, I did not pause to think that others would be thrust out in order that I might obtain possession. I thought only of myself, and cared only for myself. But I have been punished; and it grieves me to think that others have likewise been involved in suffering."
About an hour after the termination of this interview between Mr. Gregory and Mr. Barlow, in which all the preliminaries of the business between them were settled, Mr. Phillips received a note from the former, offering him the country-home, which he had purchased back, as a residence. Phillips glanced over the note hurriedly, and then, with a few light bounds, was in the chamber of his wife. She was lying upon the bed, with her eyes closed as if asleep. He called her name, and she looked with a languid expression.
"Do you want to hear some good news?" he said, in a cheerful voice.
His wife merely looked at him; but neither changed countenance nor made any remark.
"Mr. Gregory has bought back our old country-home, and says we can have it again if we want it."
This caused Mrs. Phillips to rise up quickly, while a flush came into her wan face.
"What is that?" she asked, with marked interest in her voice.
Her husband handed her the note he had received. She read it over, and then said — "You will take it?"
"Oh yes! that is, if you wish to go there."
"I know it is weak and wrong in me, dear husband," she said, with much feeling, "to let so light a thing as the mere change of place depress my spirits as it has done. But I could not help it. The thought of getting back there again makes my heart feel as if the sun were once more shining upon it."
A year afterwards, Mr. Barlow and his wife rode past, for the first time since they had left it, the pleasant spot that had been for a brief season their home. All was now fair weather. The weight of a whole country-home having been thrown off of Mr. Barlow's business, his ship floated lightly again, and moved pleasantly along the surface of a smooth sea. As they drew near, they noticed a lady busily engaged among some flowers that were growing in rich masses upon a figure cut tastefully out of the center of a grass-plot. She turned her face towards them as they passed close to the gate which opened from the road upon a smoothly graveled walk. There was a glow of health upon her countenance, and a cheerful light in her eyes. She looked at them for a moment, and then resumed her employment.
"She is happy again, and I am thankful for it!" remarked Mr. Barlow. "I do not envy her."
"And we are happy, too — are we not?" said his wife; "as happy as we were before?"
"Yes, and wiser too, I trust. At least, I think that I am."
Ten years have passed, and Mr. Barlow has a very handsome country-home, within a few miles of the city. But he did not buy it until he was able to pay the cash down. He had, indeed, grown wiser.
Don't Be Discouraged
"Don't be discouraged, my young friend!" said an elderly man to his companion, whose youthful appearance indicated that few more than twenty-five years had passed over his head.
"But I am discouraged, Mr. Linton. Haven't I been disappointed in everything that I have yet undertaken? Success is a word, the meaning of which, I shall never realize."
"You are young, Henry."
"Quite old enough to have proved, beyond a doubt, that, try as I will, I shall never rise in the world. I am doomed to struggle on, like a swimmer against a strong current. Instead of advancing at all, I shall be gradually borne down the stream."
"If you cease to struggle — you will, unquestionably."
"And will, whether I struggle or not.
"No, that cannot be. Vigorous and long-continued effort will gradually strengthen and mature your thoughts. Rough contact with the world, in which you are made to suffer keenly, will bring out the latent energies of your mind. Bear on manfully for a few years — falter not, though everything looks dark, and success will as certainly crown your efforts as an effect follows its producing cause."
"I wish I could think so," the young man replied, shaking his head despondingly. "But I am fully convinced, that for me, at least, the door of success is closed."
"How old are you, Henry?"
"And have you already failed in three business efforts?"
"Yes, and what is worse, have become involved in debt."
"But you mean to pay all you owe, if it is ever in your power?"
"Can you doubt that, for a moment, Mr. Linton?" the young man said in a quick tone, while a flush passed over his face. "I will pay all, if I die in the struggle."
"And yet you were just now talking about giving up in despair?"
"True. And I do feel utterly discouraged. For the last five years, no man has labored more earnestly than I have done. Early and late, have I been at my business, sometimes even until midnight, and yet all has been in vain. Like a man in a quagmire, every struggle to extricate myself from difficulties, has only had the effect to sink me deeper. And now, with honest intentions towards all men, I am looked upon by many, as little better than a swindler."
"You are wrong in regard to that, Henry. Such is not the estimation in which you are held."
"Yes, but it is. I have been told to my teeth, that I was not an honest man."
"By one of my creditors."
"That is the solitary case of a man whose inordinate love of self, showing itself in a love of money, has made him forget the first principles of the law of human kindness."
"No matter what prompted the unkind remark, its effect is none the less painful, especially as he fully believed what he said."
"You cannot tell, Henry, whether he fully believed it or not. But suppose that his words did but express his real thought? — what then? Does his opinion make you different from what you really are?"
"Of course not. But it is very painful to have such things said."
"No doubt of it. But conscious integrity of purpose should be sufficient to sustain any man."
"It might in my case, if I were not thoroughly crushed down. My mind is like an inflamed body — the lightest touch is felt far more sensibly than would be a heavy blow if all were healthy. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly, and I can feel for you. But, knowing that the state of mind in which you are is, as you intimate, an unhealthy one, I cannot agree with you in your discouraging conclusions."
"But what can I do? Have I not failed in three earnest and well-directed efforts to advance myself in the world?"
"Try again, Henry."
"And come out worse than before!"
"No — no — that need not follow."
"Try in a better way."
"Do you mean to intimate that I have not conducted my business in a proper manner?" asked the young man, in a quick voice, his cheek instantly glowing.
"I do not mean to intimate," returned Mr. Linton calmly, "that you committed any willful wrong in your business. And yet, I suppose you will not yourself deny the position, that there was something wrong about it, or success would have met your earnest efforts, instead of failure."
"I don't know," was the gloomy response. "The fates, I believe, are against me."
"What do you mean by the fates?"
The young man made no reply, and his monitor resumed, in a still more serious tone —
"You can only mean, of course, that Divine Being, who is the author of our existence and the controller of our destinies. That Being, who is essential love and wisdom, and whose acts towards us can only flow from a pure regard for the good of his creatures. And if such regard is directed by wisdom that cannot err, can any act of his towards you be evil? —
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face!
"His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower!"
"I try to think in that way — and try often," returned the young man, in a softened tone. "But it is hard, very hard, to believe that a Being of infinite goodness, would so hedge up the path of any one, as mine has been hedged up — would so mock with vain hopes, the heart of anyone, as mine has been mocked."
"Your mind is not now in a state to think calmly and rationally upon this subject, Henry," Mr. Linton said; "but the time will come, when you will see in this state of severe trial — a dispensation of mercy. It will then be perceived, that all this was for the purpose of giving you most just views of life, and confirming you in higher ends than any that you have heretofore acted upon. For the present, I will only repeat — Don't be discouraged! Try again! Put your shoulder once more to the wheel. Depend upon it, your time will come; but not until you can bear success in a right spirit. And to have success before you are thus prepared to bear it, would be the worst injury that could befall you."
Henry Grant, the young man here introduced to the reader's notice, had, at the age of twenty-one, done the very imprudent thing of entering into business for himself. True, from the age of seventeen he had been in the store of a merchant, who had carried on a very extensive trade, and had, moreover, acquired so thorough a knowledge of business, that the most important subordinate position in the house had been assigned to him. But this confidence reposed in him, and this familiarity with the business in which he was engaged, deceived him. He saw that heavy profits were accruing every year; that while he was toiling on through the long months of an annual cycle for a single thousand dollars — tens of thousands were added to the coffers of his already wealthy employer.
"Why should I waste the best years of my life in making money for others?" he asked himself, the day after he had attained his majority.
This thought was the germ of discontent in his mind. It was nourished, and grew into a tree, whose thick leaves so overshadowed his mind, that he could not see the clear sky of sober truth above, in which shone stars whose light beamed forth to guide him. He became eager for wealth — that he might have selfish enjoyments. Every beautiful dwelling, the reward of, perhaps, years of steady industry, and now enjoyed by some opulent merchant — he envied its possessor. He sighed when a rich man's carriage rolled by him in the street. Nothing rare, or new, or elegant gratified his eye — because it was not his own.
Impelled by a weak and selfish desire to be suddenly rich, a few weeks after he had come to the age of manhood, he drew from the hands of his guardian five thousand dollars, the hard-earned and carefully husbanded treasure left him by his father, and threw himself with large ideas and unwavering confidence upon the troubled sea of business. The story of this adventure is soon told. In two years he was compelled to wind up his business, having lost his entire capital.
This was a painful shock. But it was of use to him in unsealing his eyes, and giving him a truer view of life, and soberer ideas from which to act. Still, he could not think — having once been in business for himself — of falling back into the monotonous, dull, and humble condition of a clerk. There was something in the fact of mingling with merchants on a plane of equality, which flattered his vanity. He had thus mingled, and thus felt flattered. The thought of taking his old position, and of losing the courtesies that had been so grateful to him, was more than he could think of enduring. This feeling alone, had none other operated upon his mind, would have induced him again to make an effort to get into business.
A few months enabled him to so arrange his old affairs as to be ready to go on again. He found numbers ready to sell him goods on short credit, and this determined him once more to cast himself upon the ocean. He did so. Two more years passed on, and at their termination he found himself, alas! again in a narrow place. Much more than all his profits in that time were locked up in bad debts, remnants, and unsaleable goods. For a time, by borrowing from a few friends, he had been enabled to meet his payments; but that resource at last failed, and trouble again came upon him. But it was a worse trouble than before, and shocked his proud, sensitive feelings severely. His goods and accounts, after all had been given up, were not sufficient to pay the claims against him. He was, therefore, an insolvent debtor.
As fairy castles fade away under the magician's touch, so faded away, at this event, the glowing ideas of wealth and splendor that had passed so temptingly before the eyes of Henry Grant. He did not now ask for his tens of thousands, his country homes, glittering equipages, and all the splendid paraphernalia attendant upon high station in society, united with immense wealth. To have possessed the few thousands of dollars, that were exhibited as deficits in his accounts, would have compassed his dearest wishes. But even this humble and honorable desire was not granted. He was in debt, and what was worse, with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness added thereto.
In due course of time, his business was settled up and he again thrown upon the world. While debating in his mind the propriety of accepting an offer from his old employer, and entering his store as a clerk, propositions were made to him from an individual to accept a share in his business. He did so without consultation with any friend. The result was unfavorable. Scarcely a year had elapsed, before crash went the whole concern about his ears.
It was under the disheartening effects of this last disaster, that we have seen him laboring. How far he had just cause of despondency, or just cause to suppose that the fates were against him, the reader will be more likely to determine more wisely than he was able to do himself.
"Don't be discouraged, Henry!" said his old employer to him a few days after the conversation between the young man and Mr. Linton. "You are young yet. I was thirty-four when I commenced my present business, and you are but twenty-seven. You have seven years, therefore, in your favor."
"But I am in debt."
"Five thousand dollars. Or, if I am to be held liable for my late partner's obligations, some twenty or thirty thousand. But I believe those claims will not come against me. When I entered into the co-partnership, I happened to be wise enough to have a clause inserted in the agreement protecting me from all prior obligations of my new associate in business."
"And well for you it is that you did so. Five thousand dollars, then, is all you owe. For your comfort, I will tell you, that, at your age, from imprudences similar to your own, I was ten thousand dollars in debt."
"And remained so for seven years?"
"Yes, and for more than that. It was ten years before I was able to wipe off old scores."
"Oh, dear! I would die if I thought it would be ten years before I could write myself free from debt."
"It is not so easy a matter to die, as you might think," the merchant replied, smiling.
"But what am I to do?" asked Grant, in real distress of mind.
"Do? Why, there are many ways to do. All that is needed is patience and resolution — not mere excitement — you have had enough of that. You felt, six years ago, as if you had the world in a basket. I saw it all, and knew where it would all end."
"Why did not you tell me so?"
"Because you would not have believed me; and, besides, 'bought wisdom is best.' No experience like a man's own. A few years of disappointment and trouble, I saw would be necessary to thresh off the chaff of your character."
"And pretty well threshed I have been, truly! But, to come back to the one question ever uppermost in my mind, what am I to do?"
"There is one thing you can do, Henry," replied the merchant, "and that is to come into my store and receive a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year."
"My heart thanks you for your kind offer," replied the young man, earnestly. "But to do so would be to act from a mere selfish regard to my own interests."
"The salary of a clerk will yield simply a support; it cannot pay off my debts."
"You wish, then, to go again into business?"
"I must do something to relieve myself from debt."
"I do not see, as things now are, that going into business will accomplish this very desirable object. So far, business has only tended to involve you deeper and deeper."
"I know that, and it is because of this that I am so terribly disheartened."
"Then come into my store, and devote yourself for a year or so to my business; it will yield you a living. By that time, something may open before you. It is time enough yet, depend upon it, for you to enter the arena of strife as a merchant. The position is one requiring a cooler head and more experience than you are yet possessed of. I have long since been satisfied, from extensive observation, that, as a general rule, nine men out of ten fail, who enter into business as merchants under thirty years of age."
At last, but with some reluctance, Henry Grant fell back into his old place as clerk, where he remained for four years. During that period, early painful experiences formed in his mind a true plane of thought. He was enabled to see how and where he had been in error, and how wrong ends had led him into imprudent acts. He could not, at times, help smiling as a recollection of former states came up, in which it seemed to him, that he had but to lift his hand and gather in wealth to any extent. Then he was eloquent on principles of architectural taste, and could descant wisely upon rural beauties enhanced by liberal art. Nowhere could he find a mansion, either in the city or country, which fully came up to his ideas of what a rich man's dwelling should be.
But a spirit far more subdued had now come over him. He could go up into higher regions of his mind, and see in existence there, principles whose pure delights flowed not from the mere gratification of selfish and sensual pleasures. He was made deeply conscious, that even with all the wealth and all the external things which wealth could give for the gratification of the senses and for the pampering of selfishness and pride — he could not be happy; that happiness must flow from an internal state, and not from any combination of external circumstances.
About this time the oldest son of his employer arrived at his thirtieth year. Up to this period he had, since the attainment of his majority, held an interest in his father's business, which regularly yielded him about two thousand dollars per annum. A proposition to enter into business with this son, on a cash basis of twenty thousand dollars, and credit to any reasonable extent, was at once accepted by Grant.
Ten years from that day, he was a sober-minded merchant, steadily and wisely pursuing his business, and worth every cent of fifty thousand dollars.
"The fates have at last grown propitious," remarked old Mr. Linton to him one day with a look and tone that was understood.
"I have only become a wiser man, I presume, and therefore better able to bear an improved condition," was the reply of Mr. Grant.
"Then you do not now regret your early disappointments?"
"Oh, no. I am truly thankful that I was not allowed to acquire wealth while under the influence of my vain, weak, and foolish ideas. My reverses were blessings in disguise; they were sent as correctors of evil."
"That you can now see clearly!"
"Oh, yes. Had I been allowed to go on successfully, treasuring up wealth, I would have been made miserable. My weak desires would have been ever in advance of my abilities. I should have envied those who were able to make a more imposing appearance than myself, and despised all who were below me; and surely, in this life, I can imagine no state so truly unhappy as that."
"He is the wise man," returned Mr. Linton, "who thus, from seeming evil — still educes good. The longer we live, and the more of the ups and downs of life we see, the stronger becomes our conviction that there is One above all, and wiser than all, who rules events for our good. Between the ages of twenty-one and thirty are usually crowded more disappointments and discouraging circumstances — more trials and pains — than in all a man's after life. Will anyone who has passed forty tell you, in his sober reflective moments, that he cannot look back and see that these have all worked together for his good? I think not. And this will be the case, as well with him who has grown rich — as with him who still toils early and late for his daily bread."
"There is, then, you believe, an overruling Providence that has some reference to man's external condition in the world — permitting one to grow rich, and keeping another poor?"
"I do. But all this regards his eternal, and not his mere temporal condition. Our mistake lies in estimating the dealings of Providence, as referring particularly to our external condition. This is not the case. We are regarded with a love that looks to our higher and better interests — to our spiritual and eternal good. External things, because it is by these that we are most affected, are so governed as to lead us to think of interior things that appertain to the life within — to that life which we are to live when separated from the body. It matters not how blindly we are pursuing a course in which we are determined to succeed; the Great Ruler and Governor of all things will obstruct our way, if that way leads to our spiritual destruction, and it is possible to turn us into a better way. Too often it happens that men are allowed to go on in evil courses, because, if turned from them, they would pursue after more direful, soul-destroying evils."
"If this lesson could only be understood by us, and fully believed, when we first enter upon life — how many bitter hours of discouragement it would save us," replied Mr. Grant, with feeling. "But experience is the only sure teacher. We only know — what we have lived.'"
The Merchant's Dream
Algeron was a merchant. All through a long summer day he had been engaged among boxes, bales, and packages; or poring over current accounts; or musing over new adventures. When night came, he retired to his quiet chamber and refreshed his wearied mind with music and books. Poetry and the harmony of sweet sounds elevated his sentiments, and caused him to think, as he had often before thought, of the emptiness and vanity of mere earthly pursuits.
"In what," he said, "am I wasting my time? Is there anything in the dull round of mercantile life, to satisfy an immortal spirit? What true congeniality is there between the highly-gifted soul — and bales of cotton or pieces of silk? between the human mind — and the dull insensible objects of trade? Nothing! nothing! How sadly do we waste our lives in the mere pursuit of gold! And after the glittering earth is gained — are we any happier? I think not. The lover of truth — the wise, contemplative hermit in his cell — is more a man than Algeron."
Thus mused the merchant, and thus he gave utterance to his thoughts, sighing as he closed each sentence. The book that he loved was put aside, the instrument from which his skillful hand drew eloquent music, lay hushed upon a table. He was unhappy. He had remained thus for some time, when the door of his room opened, and a beautiful being entered and stood before him; her countenance was calm and elevated, yet full of sweet benevolence. For a moment she looked at the unhappy merchant, then extending her hand, she said —
"Algeron, I have heard your complaints. Come with me, and look around with a broader intelligence."
As she spoke, she laid her finger upon the eyes of the young man. Arising, he found himself in the open air, walking, by the side of his strange conductor, along a path that led to a small cottage. Into this they entered. It was a very humble abode, but peace and contentment were dwellers in the bosoms of its simple-minded occupants — an aged female and a little girl. Both were engaged with reels of a curious and somewhat complicated construction, and both sang cheerily at their work. A basin of cocoons on the floor, by each of the reels, told Algeron the true nature of their employment. A small basket of fine and smoothly-reeled spools were upon a table. While the merchant still looked on — a man entered, and after bargaining for the reeled silk, paid down the price and carried it away. A few minutes after, the owner of the cottage came; he asked for his rent, and it was given to him; then he retired. Shortly after, a dealer in provisions stopped at the humble dwelling, and liberally supplied the needs of its occupants; he received his pay and drove off, singing gayly, while the old woman and the child looked contented and happy.
"Come," said his conductor, and Algeron left the cottage. The scene had changed. He was no longer in the open country, but surrounded by small houses; it was a village. Along the streets of this, they walked for some time, until they came to a store, which they entered. Standing beside the counter was the same man who had bought the cottager's silk. He had many parcels, which he had collected from many cottages, and now he was passing them over to the store-keeper, who was as ready to buy, as he was to sell.
"Another link in the great chain," remarked the mysterious companion, significantly. "See how they depend the one upon the other. Can the hermit in his cell, idly musing about truths that will not abide — (for truth is active — is, in fact, the power by which good is done to our fellows, and will not remain with anyone who does not use it) — thus serve his fellows? Is his life more excellent, more honorable, more in accordance with the high endowments of the soul, than the life of him who engages in these employments by which all are benefitted?"
Algeron felt that new light was breaking in upon him; but, as yet, he saw dimly.
"Look up," continued his companion, "and see yet another link."
The merchant raised his eyes. The scene had again changed. The village had become a large town, with ranges of tall buildings, in which busy hands threw the shuttle, weaving into beautiful fabrics, of various patterns, the humble fibers gathered from hundreds of cottages, farm-houses, and cocooneries, in all the region roundabout. Through these, he wandered with his guide. Here was one tending a loom, there another folding, arranging, or packing into cases the products thereof; and at the head of all was the manufacturer himself.
"Is his a useless life?" asked the guide. "Is he wasting the high endowments of an immortal mind, in thus devoting himself to the office of gathering in the raw material, and reproducing it again as an article of comfort and luxury? But see! another has presented himself. It is the merchant. He has come to receive from this man the product of his looms, and send them over the world, that all may receive and enjoy them. Are his energies wasted? No, Algeron! If the merchant were not to engage in trade, the manufacturer could not get his goods to market, and would no longer afford the means of subsistence that he now does to hundreds and thousands who produce the raw material. Without him, millions who receive the blessings furnished by nature and art in places remote from their city or country, would be deprived of many comforts, of many delights. The agriculturist, the manufacturer, the merchant, the artisan — all who are engaged in the various callings which minister to the wants, the comforts, and the luxuries of life — are honorably employed. Society, in all its parts, is held together by mutual interests. A chain of dependencies binds the whole world together: sever a single link — and you affect the whole. Look below you. As a merchant, your position is intermediate between the producer and the consumer. See how many hundreds are blessed with the reception of nature's rich benefits, through your means! Could this take place if you sought only after abstract truth, in idle, dreamy musings? Cease, then, to chafe yourself by fallacious reasonings. Rather learn to feel delight in the consciousness that you are the means of diffusing around you, many blessings. Think not of the gold you are to gain — as the end of your activity; for so far as you do this, you will lose the true benefits which may be derived from pursuing, with diligence, your calling in life — that for which by education you are best qualified, and into which your inclination leads you."
"I see it all now — as clear as a sunbeam," Algeron said, with a sudden enthusiasm, as light broke strongly into his mind. The sound of his own voice startled him with its strangeness. For a moment he seemed the center of a whirling sphere. Then all grew calm, and he found himself sitting alone in his chamber.
"Can all this have been but a dream?" he murmured, thoughtfully. "No — no — it is more than a dream. I have been taught, not by a mere phantom of the imagination, but by Truth herself — beautiful Truth. Her lovely countenance I shall never forget, and her words shall rest in my heart like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Henceforth I look upon life with a purified vision. Nothing is mean, nothing is unworthy of pursuit, which ministers to the good of society. On this rock, I rest my feet. Here I stand upon solid ground."
From that time, Algeron pursued his business as a merchant with renewed activity. The thought that he was ministering, in his sphere, to the good of all around him — was a happy thought. It cheered him on in every adventure, and brought to his mind, in the hour of retirement, a sweet peace, such as he had never before known. Fully did he prove that the consciousness of doing good to others, brings with it the purest delight.