Near the low window of a little hut, there stood a weeping mother with her children. She passed them, one after the other, to her husband, who stood in water up to his waist and could scarcely keep an upright position.
In another place, grown sons were carrying an invalid mother, fleeing with difficulty on account of their heavy burden. Some brave, humane men hurried along with boats and brought them safely to the hill.
Mrs. Swift, with a child on each arm, was overthrown. Her husband, equally burdened with two other children, could render her no assistance. Two stalwart men rushed toward her, however, and brought mother, children, and father to the neighboring hill.
Some men gathered sticks, and after many futile attempts at last started a fire on the hill, so that the drenched people might dry themselves.
As Mrs. Swift, breathless and in a half-dazed condition, reached the hill top, she looked at her children and uttered a loud cry: "Where is my baby, where is my Edward?" The child—the baby—who had lain in a cradle at the mother's bedside, was missing.
The water had rushed into the house in such volume that the cradle had begun to move, and was carried along gradually by the force of the water, till it passed out unnoticed through the open door. The mother had tried to reach the cradle in the darkness; but, not finding it, she had concluded that the father had taken the cradle and the baby to a place of safety, and so she had given all her attention to the other children. But now, discovering her mistake, she wrung her hands in grief and cried pitifully. She started to return to her home to seize her child from so dreadful a fate, but the father held her in his strong arms.
"Stay," said he, "you could never reach our house safely. The water is rising too quickly and is too powerful. I will go and rescue our child. Our helpful neighbors will go with me."
"Yes, willingly," said the two men who had just helped Mrs. Swift.
Armed with long poles which they could thrust into the ground and with which they could steady themselves, they started forth by the light of a lantern.
All the people on the hill watched those three men tremblingly. At last the light died away in the distance. Still they looked, although they could distinguish nothing. They only heard the dreadful rushing of the waters, the sighing of the winds, and from time to time the crash of a falling house.
Mrs. Swift waited with bated breath for the return of her husband and his faithful assistants. An hour had passed and nothing could be heard or seen of them. Her fears increased each moment. At last the father returned, with saddened countenance. One of his assistants said: "It was impossible to reach your house, my good woman; the water was too deep. We were in water up to our necks and were almost drowned."
Then the other man spoke up and said: "But don't give up hope, for many brave men have been helping, all along the way. Before the water got the upper hand, they went about with lanterns, rousing the people. Perhaps they have cared for the baby in its cradle."
Many people, laden with household goods, reached the hill from time to time, but the cradle never appeared and no one knew the whereabouts of the baby.
After the dreadful night, the dawn at last broke forth; rain and storm subsided; the clouds rolled away and the morning sun streaked the horizon in flaming red.
From the people gathered about the fire, there arose a dreadful cry of dismay. By the morning light, they saw that half of their village had been submerged.
Mr. Swift's house, with many others, had been swept away by the flood. Many a house stood roofless and in a state of threatened collapse. People cried for the loss of their homes, but Mrs. Swift cried for the loss of her babe. "Though everything be gone," said she, "I should care not, had I but my child." Poor Mr. Swift, too, was more concerned about his baby than about his other losses, and it was with a great effort that he controlled his feelings.
The children lamented the loss of their brother as well as that of their big pet dog, Rover.
Meanwhile, from the neighboring towns, many people had come in boats, brought the homeless ones provisions and clothing, and offered them shelter in their own homes. This was a great comfort for the unfortunates.
Mr. Swift accepted their hospitality for that night. "To-morrow morning," said he, "I will try to reach my brother's home, where I know I can be housed with my family until the spring. Then I will rebuild my home and help my neighbors build theirs. Let us not forget that if we faithfully do our best, God will not forsake us. Perhaps this calamity may in time bring us some blessing."
THE FAITHFUL DOG
Shortly after the Swifts fled, on the night of the flood, the walls of their house had fallen with a thud, and only the strong beams remained standing. By the time the house collapsed, the baby in its cradle had drifted many miles down the river, along the banks of which much damage had been wrought. The cradle passed a village which had been built on an eminence and had consequently escaped.
The villagers who had gathered near the shore saw various household goods floating down the river; there a table, here a chair, yonder a trunk, and in one place even the entire roof of a house.
Two daring boys ventured to stand as near the water's edge as possible, in order to see things a little better. All of a sudden one of the boys cried: "Oh, see, there is a cradle afloat in mid-stream!" The other boy, whose sight was keener, shouted: "See, a dog is swimming after it and is trying to push it toward the shore!"
Several strong men standing near-by had long hooked poles, and were busily engaged dragging things out of the river. One of them, a young fisherman, saw the cradle and cried: "A baby must be in that cradle, because the dog would not bother about an empty cradle. Up, brothers, up, let us try to save the child. Let not the fidelity and bravery of a dog put us to shame."
Notwithstanding the threatening danger of being crushed to death by the rushing ice-floes, the men launched a boat and jumped into it. They reached the cradle and discovered the child in it. They placed cradle and babe in their boat and brought them safely to land.
The people rushed forward and crowded around the cradle to look at the infant. Among the spectators were a gentleman and his wife, named Trent.
"Oh, what a beautiful child," cried Mrs. Trent, as she bent over the baby. "See how peacefully it sleeps, not knowing through what dangers it has passed, not dreaming it has been saved."
Mrs. Trent had lately lost a dear little baby, so she approached her husband and said: "Do see how this babe resembles our lost Isabel; and it seems to be of the same age. Let me take this child, and if its parents cannot be found, I will be a mother to it."
Mr. Trent smiled pleasantly, nodded his head and said: "Well, well, take it. Let us not be less sympathetic than these three men, and that pitying dog."
By this time the poor dog had reached the shore, and stood shaking the water from his coat; so that the bystanders had to rush aside to escape a good wetting. Then he began to bark with joy and wag his tail, springing first at this one, then at that one, as if to express his thanks for the baby's rescue.
Mr. Trent noticed this, and said: "See how thankful this dog is, and human beings should never be less thankful." He took some gold coins out of his pocket, and handed two to each of the three fishermen. They hesitated, not wishing to take the money. "What we have done was purely out of love for humanity and without any thought of reward," said they.
Mr. Trent was pleased with them, and said: "Yes, I understand and realize how very noble it is of you to refuse a reward for your self-sacrificing services, but I must insist that you take it."
"Well, then," said the younger fisherman, "we will accept the money and help our poor brothers in the neighboring villages who have suffered so many losses during this flood."
The dog had now passed through the crowd. His loud barks of joy had awakened the babe, and it started to cry. Mrs. Trent raised the child in her arms and kissed it. It looked about as if it were seeking something.
"You are looking for your mother," said she, "but little do we know where she is. Cry not, my dear, I will be your mother."
She then carried it into her house, while the two fishermen followed with the cradle. The faithful dog did not wait for an invitation, but followed of his own accord.
THE FOND FOSTER-PARENTS
Mrs. Trent hastily heated some milk, and with a small spoon she fed the foster-child. Then she dressed it in fine clothes which had belonged to Isabel, and brought it to Mr. Trent, saying: "See what a beautiful babe this is, with its golden, curly hair, blue eyes and red cheeks. How fresh and healthy it looks. But now we have a weighty matter to decide. We do not know the baby's name and we must call it something. Let us take your name."
"Very well," said Mr. Trent, "we will adopt him and call him Daniel Trent. That is a very nice name. As God saved Daniel out of the lion's den, so He saved this child from a dreadful calamity. Let us hope that this boy will grow to be as sensible, with as much faith in God, and as obedient to God's will, as young Daniel was."
"Let us hope it may be so," said his wife, as she cast admiring glances upon the babe.
The faithful dog who had accompanied her now rested for awhile, as he saw the babe in comfort and safety. After he had been fed and had stretched himself awhile before the fire, he suddenly arose, shook himself well, and rushed out of the house. As soon as he reached the water's edge, he swam across the river, ran hastily up on the opposite shore and was soon lost to view.
"Have a care, my dear," said her husband, "I fear you will soon lose your babe. I am sure the dog has gone in quest of the child's parents and will return here with them."
Mrs. Trent sighed. "Oh," said she, "I understand how pained those people must be. For that reason, I would willingly restore the lost babe to its parents. Although it would be very hard for me to part with it."
After an absence of three days, just as Mr. and Mrs. Trent were seated at the fireside, the good, faithful dog rushed into their presence and greeted them by barking and joyfully wagging his tail. But in a few moments he hung his head, dropped his tail, and looked very sad; and from that moment on he showed no desire to leave the house.
"From the dog's manner," said Mr. Trent, "I surmise that he was not successful in finding the baby's parents, who were undoubtedly lost in the flood. Let us take good care of him, for he has so faithfully fulfilled his duty. We, too, have a duty to perform, for we must train and educate this child whom we have taken into our family."
Though the child's position in life was now on a higher plane, yet his training was no different from that which his own parents would have given him. His new parents worked hand in hand. Daniel soon felt a childish reverence for his foster-father, and toward his foster-mother he showed a trusting love. He grew to be a handsome boy, displaying many splendid talents. He was a diligent scholar and stood highest among his classmates. He did everything in his power to give pleasure to his foster-parents. He regarded them as his true parents, for no one had told him otherwise. It had happened that when Daniel was two years old his foster-parents bought a house in another section of the country and moved into it. The new neighbors looked upon Daniel as the real son of Mr. and Mrs. Trent.
When Daniel Trent had reached his fourteenth year, he was able to assist his foster-father in his business. He wrote a fine hand, did much of his "father's" clerical work, and carried out all orders with exactness.
One evening he was sent out on an errand to a little village on the Rhine, not far from where they now resided. Daniel was pleased at the prospect of a long walk in the cool evening air. His good dog, who was still living and in fairly good condition for his age, accompanied him.
Just as Daniel's business had been transacted, a ship came into port. The passengers crowded the gang plank and the wharf. Several boys and young men pressed forward and offered to show the travellers the way and to carry their baggage.
At last a little boy addressed a refined, though shabbily dressed old man, and asked if he could direct him to a hotel.
"Oh, no," said the old man, "I will remain on shipboard over night; I couldn't pay the price of a room in a hotel. My meal will be a sandwich that I have in this bag; and as for a drink, a glass of fresh water will appease my thirst."
Daniel listened with sympathy to the old man, who had an honest kind look. Timidly moving a little closer to him, he said, while his face grew red: "If you would not feel offended, I should like to give you a little money, out of my allowance."
"My dear young man," said the traveller, "true it is that I have never accepted charity, but I must admit, you have offered it to me in such a friendly, well-meaning manner that I would gladly accept it, if I could; I thank you heartily for it. May your kind thoughtfulness be rewarded."
The dog, who in the meantime had hurried to the water's edge to quench his thirst, hastily returned, just as Daniel was about to continue his way. The next minute, he was leaping and springing and barking, as loudly as he could, and showing unbounded joy. The traveller cried out in astonishment: "My dog, you are my Rover. Do I find you again, after so many years? How did you get here?"
Daniel looked surprised and said: "It seems that the dog knows you very well. Did he ever belong to you?"
"Yes, truly," said the man, "but I thought he was drowned thirteen years ago, when the Rhine overflowed and carried my house with it. I never expected to see my dog again.—But," said he, as he dried his eyes, "I sustained at that time a greater loss than could ever be retrieved."
"What was that?" asked Daniel.
Then the old man told the tale of the flood and said that, in the darkness of the night, and in the great hurry and excitement, his youngest child, a babe, had been left lying in its cradle. Perhaps it had been crushed to death by the collapsing walls of his house and been buried in the waters of the river.
Daniel was deeply moved by the sad fate of this babe. Little did he dream that he was the child whom he was pitying. He tried to comfort the old man over the loss of the infant.
The old man then said, "I have learned to accept my grief, as having been sent from God. In the end He will prove to each life that what is sent is for the best."
Daniel agreed with him, and offered him his hand in friendship. Then he bade him good-bye, saying that the lateness of the hour was the cause of his haste.
Daniel walked on and called his dog. The faithful Rover did not wish to forsake his long-lost and newly-found master, but neither did he wish to lose Daniel. He would hurry ahead and stand in front of Daniel, barring the way, as if he wished to stay him, and then he would run back to the old man.
Daniel at last stood still. The dog lay down between them and looked appealingly, first at one and then at the other, as if he wished to beg them to remain together. Again Daniel started, but the dog went through the same antics. A half hour passed in this way. At last Daniel said: "I really don't know what to do. I love this dog, but I would like you to have him, too; but I can't let you take him, for he belongs to my father. Come with me, and let him decide who shall have the dog."
They walked together along the lamp-lighted streets, and the happy dog, with leaps and barks, gave evidence of his great joy.
THE OLD MAN
Mr. Trent and his wife had delayed the evening meal, awaiting Daniel's return. Daniel led the strange man into the dining-room, where the table was spread with a beautiful white cloth, relieved by polished silver and food temptingly arranged. It was a welcome sight to the travel-weary old man.
Mr. Trent was about to reprimand his son for his belated return, but he hesitated at the sight of the stranger. Daniel related the incidents of the evening, and they amply served to excuse him for his tardiness. Mr. Trent then asked the old man what he knew about the dog.
Mr. Swift related at length the same story that he had told Daniel; and added that his losses were great, but that the loss of his baby boy had given him the greatest pain in his life.
Mr. Trent and his wife both came to the conclusion, in a flash, that the babe which they had adopted was most assuredly this man's son. Mr. Trent, a clever, as well as a careful man, wished to probe the matter to his entire satisfaction, so he dismissed Daniel on some errand. Then he questioned the stranger, as to his name, his place of residence, the year and the month and all circumstances surrounding that dreadful night, in minutest detail.
"Tell me," said he, "did your dog wear a collar?"
"O yes," said the old man, "it was made of red leather, and engraved on a metal plate was his name Rover, and the letters J. M. S., which stand for my name, Joseph Martin Swift."
"Now," said Mrs. Trent, "will you describe the cradle?"
"Very well," said the man, "it was made of pine wood. The body was painted blue and it had a red canopy."
Mr. and Mrs. Trent looked deeply into the old man's eyes, and found in his face, looking through the wrinkles which deep sorrow and care had chiseled there, a remarkable resemblance to their adopted son.
"I have no further doubt," said Mr. Trent, "that the son who thirteen years ago, as a tender babe, floated in its cradle down the Rhine, was saved from the flood, and lives today."
"How, what?" cried the man in joyful astonishment. "Oh, where is he? Where is he? Lead me to him at once."
"You have already seen him," said Mr. Trent. "The young man who brought you here is your son."
"What?" cried the old man, "that handsome young lad. Could it he possible? Oh, how miraculous!" He folded his hands and stood in silence, till his overwrought feelings broke forth in a torrent of tears. At last he said: "How was he saved? How did he reach this house and these good circumstances?"
Mr. Trent related everything in a few words: how the faithfulness of the dog had been the first means toward the rescue of the infant. "We took your child, adopted him and brought him up. He always behaved well and has given us great joy. As we did not know his name, we had him renamed Daniel. We never let him know that he was not our own child. We must now disclose this fact to him. I hear him coming and will ask you to withdraw to the next room until you recover yourself."
"Thank you," said the highly elated father, "I should like to be alone for a few moments, that I may offer my thanks for this great goodness."
By this time Daniel had reached the dining-room. As he missed the stranger, but still saw the dog, he asked: "Well, my dear father, did you satisfy the old man?"
"My dear boy, come seat yourself beside me, for I have something to say to you. We, whom you have always considered as father and mother, are not your parents."
Daniel was greatly disturbed by this news and could scarcely speak. At last he said: "Oh, my dear parents, what great good you have always rendered me. How deep has been your love to me. All the rest of my life I will thank you. But, how is it that you only now divulge this great secret? You do not intend to cast me out, I hope?"
"Certainly not, my dear Daniel," said Mr. Trent, "but listen further. You are the child that was rescued from the river, and the stranger whom you brought here is your father."
"This man!" cried Daniel in astonishment; "yet he appears to me to be a good, honest man."
Then Mr. Trent continued, in order to test Daniel, and said: "That may be! But he is so poor, while you are now so rich. You don't need him. Besides, in his poor clothes, he would not be any credit to you. So I thought I would give him a sum of money, and send him back to his village."
"Oh, no," cried Daniel, springing from his chair. "I hope you have not already sent him to the ship. If so, let me hurry after him. I must see my father's face again and embrace him. I trust you did not mean what you said. Were my father the poorest and most unfortunate man in the whole world, I would not be ashamed of him, for he is my father. Everything that I have, I would share with him."
Daniel's own father had heard these words, in the adjoining room. He stepped forward, rushed upon Daniel, and cried: "My son!" and Daniel cried: "My father!" They embraced each other and their tears fell freely.
Mrs. Trent now invited all to partake of the evening meal. The conversation became animated, and Mr. Trent was happy to find that his guest was such a sensible, honest man. He then asked him how he happened to take such a long trip.
Joseph Swift said that a legacy had been bequeathed to him, and that he was on his way to a distant city to claim it. He had stopped at the near-by port in order to break the monotony of the journey. "Before the disaster that befell me," continued he, "I lived in comparative comfort, but ever since I have been struggling. I was obliged to begin all over again and build a new house and start a new business. You can easily understand that I soon fell behind in money matters. The news of this legacy was very welcome, for every little helps. Some difficulty, however, has arisen, so I decided to go personally; and whether I shall get the money or not, remains to be seen."
"I trust you have all the necessary papers and credentials with you."
"O yes," said Joseph, drawing out a wallet containing the papers, in order to prove his words.
Mr. Trent looked them over and found them correct, but conjectured that the outcome would be somewhat doubtful. Besides, when he took into consideration the cost of the journey, living expenses, the cost of the trial, he found that very little would remain of the legacy after all.
Mr. Trent, who was as noble as he was rich, said: "Do you know what I think, my dear friend? The rest of this journey would be very tiresome for you; and besides, you would have to remain there for some time before you could claim the money. I will give you the sum stated, and you can give me a power of attorney so that I can get the money. I can then instruct my business manager in that city to look after this matter for me."
Joseph Swift was delighted with the proposition, and took the proffered money with the heartiest thanks; although he did not realize to its full extent the thoughtfulness of this act.
Mrs. Trent, who was as kind-hearted as her husband, inquired after the other members of Mr. Swift's family, and then said: "Now that you have been spared the weariness of the rest of the journey, I beg you to spend a week with us. Then Daniel may escort you home, and remain a few days with you, and have the pleasure of meeting his mother and sisters and brothers face to face."
Joseph declared that he had never met such good people, in all his life and Daniel was overjoyed in the anticipation of seeing his mother.
"I feel I must give my mother and my sisters each a gift," said he. "How pleased I am that I saved my money. Now I can use it for a good purpose."
Early the next morning, Mrs. Trent and Daniel went forth to purchase the gifts, and many a beautiful present did they bring back. Turning to Mr. Swift, she said: "Here is a handsome gold watch which Daniel bought for you, and also the material for a new suit of clothes. I have ordered the tailor to come and take your measurements, and he promised to deliver the suit in a week."
Poor Mr. Swift could hardly find words to express the thanks that filled his heart.
But Mr. Trent, noticing his deep emotion, said: "Never mind, Mr. Swift, let it be so. Why would God give some people more than they need, unless he intended they should give some of it to those who didn't have enough? Sharing with others, brings us happiness."
Early the following week Daniel and his father started on their journey. The dog accompanied them and sat on the front seat of the carriage, next to the driver.
As Mr. Swift neared his home, the linen lying in the bleachery was plainly discernible, and the dog, recognizing the locality, leaped out of the carriage. Mrs. Swift and her daughters were wetting the linens and the two boys were busy in the vineyard. The dog ran up to his old mistress, sprang at her joyously, and then ran to her daughters. They were much surprised to see the dog that they had thought dead. The sons joined the group, and while they stood discussing the dog's return, they heard the toot of the tally-ho horn. Suddenly the horses galloped up to the door and halted.
Said Mrs. Swift, "What can this mean? The driver must have made a mistake." But in an instant Mr. Swift alighted and greeted his family warmly.
Mrs. Swift's expression was very grave as she said: "What ever possessed you to return in such a carriage; and now that I look at you, I see you are dressed in new clothes from head to foot. Even the dog, for which I suppose you paid a good price, has a new collar. I always looked upon you as a better business man than that, I fear now that nothing remains of the legacy. Most likely you lost your senses when you saw so much money. If you begin by spending it so lavishly it will soon be gone."
Mr. Swift laughingly replied: "Don't be so sure, my dear. Let me unpack the things. You will see that not a penny of the legacy is missing." He opened the trunk which the coachman had just brought in, took out a bag, and shook the golden contents upon the table.
"Oh, my," cried his wife in glee, "so much money! I never saw that much in all my life. It dazzles me. It seems as if I were dreaming—But, tell me, where did you get the clothing?"
"O, never mind, just yet; I haven't shown you all, for I have brought material for new suits for you and all the children." He laid out the goods, the velvets, and the laces upon the table, which was scarcely big enough to hold them all.
"This is too much. My reason actually refuses to take it in. Do tell me, how did you get these costly things?" continued his wife.
"All these things, my dear wife, have been presented to you by my fellow-passenger," pointing his finger at Daniel, who had kept somewhat aloof.
Mother and children had scarcely noticed him in their happiness, but all the while Daniel had been enjoying their rapture.
The mother looked sharply at Daniel and said: "This young man brings us all these things! Well, who is he?"
Mr. Swift bent his head and folded his hands; then he spoke with devout earnestness: "This friendly young man is your son, our child, whom we mourned as dead. A rich merchant and his good wife took him into their home and heart."
Daniel could no longer restrain himself. He fell on the neck of his new-found mother and embraced her tenderly. Then he greeted his brothers and sisters heartily. The ecstacy of moments like these is indescribable.
At first, a little shyness existed between the brothers and sisters and this long-lost brother. But as he was entirely without vanity and modest and friendly, he soon won their confidence and respect, and they conversed with him as naturally as if they had been with him always.
One morning the family mounted the hill to show Daniel the spot where they had spent the night of terror.
"Yes," said the father, "in the morning light, we found that our house had been swept away. In the face of all that disaster, I remember saying: 'This dreadful calamity will yet bring us some blessing,' and so it has happened. The people in the whole country around became more industrious than they had been in the time of their prosperity. Many who had been haughty and extravagant became humble, thrifty and moderate. God awoke many people to the performance of good deeds. Many a family quarrel was terminated; all the people became peace loving; each helped the other in the hour of need.
"Who would have believed that we would again see our beloved child? Who would have thought it possible that we, who once spent on this hill the worst night of our lives, would live to spend upon it the happiest day. Let us learn not to give up hope, no matter how bad the prospect may seem, for better times will come—God will make all things right at last."
In the course of time, when Mr. Trent knew to a certainty of Mr. Swift's honesty, he gave him the position of treasurer in his large business enterprises. This position was accepted, and Mr. Swift transferred his bleachery and vineyard to the care of his eldest son. With his wife and the other members of his family he then moved to a house adjacent to the Trents.
Daniel became his foster-father's assistant, and proved himself worthy of all the care which had been bestowed upon him; and he remained a good, true, helpful son to his own and his foster-parents.
The Damaged Picture
I. The Artist.
II. The Picture.
III. The Discovery.
THE DAMAGED PICTURE
If one had been seeking for a man who combined all the qualities of goodness and greatness, one would have chosen artist Laurier. He bore the title of "Master of Arts" and his works, mostly landscapes, were famous far and wide. He had amassed a considerable fortune, and his house was the handsomest building in the city, equipped with every luxury. Besides, it was the home in which all artists, rich or poor, found welcome at all times.
But conditions changed. Hard times, following quickly in the wake of recent wars, had made the demand for art, particularly painting, less and less urgent, till there was no market whatever for the artist's works. Little by little, he had to draw upon his capital in order to support his family. However, he continued to paint with unabated diligence, for he hoped with the betterment of the times to sell his paintings; or if he should not be permitted to live so long, he would leave them as a heritage, for the benefit of his wife and children.
Alas, the great man did not live to carry out his purpose. A contagious disease swept over the country, numbering him among its victims; and he intuitively felt that he would never again rise from his sick bed.
One morning, following a night filled with great pain and misgivings, his dutiful wife was seated at his bedside trying to cloak the great sorrow which she felt at his approaching death. His two little daughters stood at the foot of his bed. The dying man looked tenderly at his wife and children, and said: "Be comforted and weep not. True, I can bequeath you but little; but God, the Father of the widow and orphans, will watch over you." He then invoked God's blessing upon them, and with his last breath said, "In heaven we shall meet again." His eyes closed and he passed out of this life. Mother and daughters stood convulsed in tears.
The widow now found herself in very straightened circumstances. Her house was so heavily mortgaged that she could no longer hold it. The pictures which her husband had bequeathed to her were valuable as works of art, but the widow could not realize their worth in money. Soon it became imperative to sell them at auction, at any price. Before the day set for the sale, mother and daughters saw, with anguish, these works hurried off to the auction room. The house, too, fell under the hammer. The poor, miserable family left the home in which they had lived for many years in love, peace and contentment. Still, a certain pride and satisfaction filled the widow's heart when she realized that, though her husband had died poor, yet he owed no one a penny—that his name stood in the community respected and revered by all the good people. The poor particularly held him in loving memory.
The widow was obliged to seek a new home in a cheap section of the city. She was an expert in all household arts, particularly in the art of sewing. Each night found the widow busily engaged with her work, the proceeds of which kept the wolf from the door.
Her two daughters, whom she had brought up with the utmost care, were her only joy. They grew into beautiful girlhood, were modest and good, and loved their mother with all the tenderness of devoted childhood. They, too, helped with the sewing; and their combined efforts, though feeble, were not without visible returns.
Mother and daughters often talked about their departed father. "It gives me great pain," said the mother, "that every picture which your father painted should have been taken from us. If it were but a little landscape that we possessed, how happy I should be. It would enrich our otherwise barren home and make it equal to the most beautiful salon of the grandest castle."
Mother and daughters rarely went anywhere, but every Sunday found them attendants at a church at the other end of the city. There, on those sacred walls, hung a beautiful painting executed by their father. "This indeed is exquisite work," said the mother, and the children fully agreed with her sentiments.
When the services were ended they all slowly wended their way through the city to their modest home. Sunday after Sunday, rain or shine, found them carrying out the same program, always returning with hearts filled with reverence and peace.
The long, weary winter nights were passed reading the books which their father had collected during his lifetime, and which, by the merest accident, had not been disposed of.
Thus they passed their days, quietly and contentedly, each one cheerfully doing her daily share of good deeds and good works in this great vineyard of the world, where we have all been placed to do our best.
One day, as the mother was examining the apparel, she turned to her daughters and said: "Children, I see that your summer frocks are really very much worn and faded. As we have saved a little more than we expected, I feel that I want to reward you for your diligence and willingness in helping me so faithfully and uncomplainingly, by giving you each some money, with which to buy material for a few new dresses." She then handed each daughter a hard-earned ten dollar bill, and said: "Select what you wish, and we can make the dresses ourselves."
Both daughters were elated with this generous gift; and at once began to argue with each other as to the shade and material which would be most desirable, and which would also be most durable, from an economical standpoint. At last they started out to make the purchases. Soon they found themselves before a massive building, upon which was placed a sign: "Auction Sale of Paintings." Both girls, as an artist's daughters, had an inherited love for pictures.
"Shall we go in?" said Lottie, the elder, to Louise—"Not to buy, of course; for how could we do that? But just to look at the beautiful works."
They stepped timidly and modestly into the great gallery where several gentlemen and many richly gowned ladies had already assembled. Lottie and Louise remained unnoticed, standing not far from the door.
The auctioneer just then raised a picture to view, and cried: "A landscape, in a handsome gold frame, by the artist Laurier—ten dollars for the first bid."
"Hm," said a portly gentleman, "this picture was certainly executed more hastily than any of his other works. It lacks a certain finish. However, I'm an ardent admirer of Laurier. I bid fifteen dollars."
The children had forgotten all about their dresses, and after a moment's whispering and hesitation, Lottie called out with a beating heart and trembling voice: "Seventeen dollars!"
Several of the ladies and gentlemen turned to see where this gentle, timid voice had come from, and noticed the poorly clad children standing so far back that they could scarcely see the picture. When the children became conscious of the many eyes fastened upon them, they turned pale. The portly gentleman, without taking any notice of them, continued: "I give nineteen dollars."
Then Lottie said, timidly and almost inaudibly, "Twenty dollars."
"Oh, those dear children," said a friendly lady, "they are the artist's daughters; let us bid no higher, so the picture may be theirs!"
Everyone was deeply affected, praised the deceased artist and father, and respected the love of his daughters.
Then the auctioneer went on calling, "twenty dollars once—twice—for the third and last time." He then summoned Lottie, the purchaser, to take the picture.
Lottie stepped forward to the long table, and laid upon it the two ten dollar bills which her mother had given her.
"You have made a good purchase, my child," said the portly gentleman, "and were you not the daughter of the artist, I would not have let you outbid me."
The assembled people wished the children luck; and taking the picture, which was not large, both sisters hurried out of the gallery.
"O mother," they cried, as they entered the neat little living room of their home, "we have had great good luck. The wish you have so long expressed is at last fulfilled. See, here is a picture painted by our beloved father."
The mother looked at it for a long time in deep silence, and at last broke forth in tears of joy and homesick longing.
"Yes," said she, "the picture is his, though I cannot remember ever having seen him work at it. But I know his art, his beautiful thoughts and his delicate colorings. It is an exquisite landscape. Notice the evening glow over the wooded hill, behind which the sun has just disappeared; the huts, from whose chimneys the light-blue smoke ascends; the distant village, with the old church tower which the last rays of the declining sun still illumine; and the rosy, hazy light which spreads over all. It is beautiful beyond description, and stirs within me memories of the past. Such scenes have I ofttimes viewed in company with your father. But how did you ever get this picture?"
Lottie related the incidents leading up to its purchase, and said: "Louise and I are perfectly willing to wear our old clothes."
"We certainly have a treasure in the house now, in comparison with which all the grandeur of the world counts as nothing," said the mother. "You are, indeed, good children, and I appreciate your self-sacrificing spirit. I consider that more acceptable than a great collection of paintings. The love which you have shown for your departed father and for me affords me unbounded joy. Come now, let us hang the picture at once."
Often all three would stand before the painting and gather from it such joy and strength that the work of the day seemed lightened and brightened.
"When you study with exactness the details of a beautiful landscape," said the mother, "you will find more and more to admire at each view. So it is with reading. We learn much that may befall us in life from books, and by thinking and reviewing the good and the beautiful in the lives of others we may better know how to act under the changing scenes of life."
With the returning spring, the mother received an urgent letter from her best friend, a widow, who lived in the country. This friend had been seriously ill for some time, and her life was despaired of. She was particularly desirous of seeing Mrs. Laurier about making a few final arrangements.
The mother made hasty preparations, and at break of day started on her journey, her two daughters accompanying her a short distance from the house.
The mother gave them a parting injunction to work diligently and to remain at home. "Within two or three days, I shall return," she said. "I know that my friend has much to tell me, and will not hear of my going sooner. Behave yourselves in such a manner that when I return, I may be so pleased with your conduct that my troubles will be the lighter to bear."
As the two girls returned to the house, Lottie said to her sister: "Do you know, dear Louise, our rooms have become somewhat dingy during our stay here. Let us, while mother is absent, have them painted. We could launder the curtains and polish the floors. These bright spring days seem to demand it. Then, when mother returns, steps into the house, and sees its whitened walls, its beautiful fresh draperies and its brightened aspect, what a pleasure it will give her. What do you think about it?"
Louise clapped her hands in joy, and said: "You always have the cleverest ideas. Yes, let us send for the painter at once."
The girls then worked industriously for two days, and everything seemed to glide along swiftly and entirely to their satisfaction.
On the morning of the third day, Lottie said: "Everything is now in readiness, and I will hasten to the market and order some things, so that we may provide a good dinner for our mother when she returns this evening."
"That is wise," said Louise, as she helped Lottie put on her coat.
When Lottie returned after an hour's absence, Louise rushed up to her with red-rimmed eyes, and cried: "Oh, Lottie, I have met with a great misfortune. Through ignorance, I damaged the beautiful painting. Come quickly and see it."
Lottie looked at the picture, in horror.
"Oh," said Louise, "it seemed somewhat dusty to me, and I tried to wash it off with soap and water. But, not until it was too late, did I notice that the colors ran together and the beautiful painting was completely ruined."
"Completely!" said Lottie, and began to cry. But, in order to reassure her sister, she said, "Perhaps it may yet be restored by some good artist."
As the two girls sat conferring as to the best method to pursue, the mother stepped into the house. She was exceedingly delighted to find her home in such exquisite order and newness. "You certainly are very dutiful children. But what is troubling you? What has happened that I find you both in tears?"
"Oh," cried Louise, "just look at the painting. I wanted to clean it. I meant well, but met with such disappointment. Forgive me, forgive me!" and she fell at her mother's feet.
The mother was greatly agitated, as she gazed at the painting. She paled and trembled. "This misfortune is indeed pitiable," said she. "You know not how much I would give had it not occurred." She drew on her glasses and viewed the damaged picture scrutinizingly. "The colors," said she, "were but water-colors, and that is why they were so easily blurred. But, it is peculiar. I see, under these water-colors, a ground work of oil paint, and there, I see a little finger, most assuredly painted by a master. What shall I do? I will dare, as long as the picture is damaged and past restoration, to wash it off entirely."
The mother then took a big sponge and deliberately began to wash the painting. A hand, an arm, an angel's form appeared to view, such as only the greatest master could portray. Though the mother hated to destroy the work of her beloved husband, yet she worked assiduously to remove all the water-colors, and lo! a painting of extraordinary beauty and genius met her admiring gaze.
It was a historical picture of ancient times The figures stood forth in living beauty and seemed to speak from out the canvas.
"If I see rightly," said the mother, "this is a painting by an old master. On a journey, which I once took with your departed father, I saw many paintings by this same artist. But this painting, unless I am very much mistaken, is classed among his best productions. It is one of the finest in art. Nothing in this picture is without purpose and shows the stroke of a genius.
"I must seek advice from Mr. Raymond—an old, true friend of your dear father. He is a connoisseur on works of art." So she hurriedly donned her cape and hastened to his house.
The venerable gentleman was only too glad to welcome her to his home. He had scarcely looked at the picture, when he cried in astonishment: "Yes, truly, this painting is by one of the earliest Italian masters. It is exquisite and sublime. And now it dawns on me how this beautiful work came to be hidden by the brush of another artist.
"During the late war, as the besiegers were drawing nearer and nearer a certain castle, the owner had his paintings and works of art concealed in the cellar.
"As this picture, however, was the most valuable and the choicest of his wonderful collection, he could not for one moment think of parting with it. So he sent for your worthy husband to paint a picture over it in water-colors, which could be easily removed, and yet serve to conceal the picture's real value. In this way, he hoped to save it from the hands of the besiegers.
"However, he did not live to see the war ended, and your dear husband passed away also. This twice painted picture could have remained forever undiscovered, but it has been destined otherwise. A wonderful treasure has been sent to save you and your children from all future want. It only now depends upon finding a lover of pictures, and an admirer of genius, who will pay the full value for this work of art."
"But," said the good woman, "can I with a clear conscience keep in my possession so valuable a picture, for which we paid but such a trifling sum of money?"
"Of course you can, and no person can dispute your right to it. The owner of this picture was a noble, right-living man, whom I knew well. He had no relatives and did much good to the poor. For himself he needed but little. His only pleasure in life was buying the paintings by the old masters. Little by little, he collected quite a gallery. This constituted his entire fortune. After his death, the pictures which had been concealed in his home were brought forth and were sold, together with this beautiful one. The late merchant, Mr. Pinole, purchased most of them.
"If you take my advice, I would suggest that you advertise in the daily papers the fact that you have this beautiful picture for sale. Then a purchaser will surely present himself who will pay you its value."
Mrs. Laurier then asked him to undertake this responsibility, to which he kindly acceded.
Soon the whole city was aware of Mrs. Laurier's wonderful possession, and people were filled with astonishment. Mr. Pinole's son, at whose salesroom the picture had been sold at auction, hastened to Mrs. Laurier's house.
He had, he said, not only received less than half his due, but the picture was worth a thousand times more than she had paid for it. As she made no attempt whatever to return the picture to him, he left her presence in rage, and determined to sue her at once.
When he presented the case to his lawyer, the latter explained that as the picture had been sold at public auction, he could do nothing about it. "Besides," said the lawyer, laughingly, "remember, your father paid still less for it."
Disappointed and chagrined, Mr. Pinole returned to his home.
Through the untiring efforts of Mr. Raymond, the picture was at last sold to a wealthy gentleman, who paid a high price for it.
The money which Mrs. Laurier realized from this sale enabled her to live with her two daughters in comparative ease and comfort. The two girls soon married well-to-do merchants, who succeeded in purchasing Mrs. Laurier's former house, which happened just then to be on sale. It was large and sufficiently commodious to admit of the two families occupying it. The best room in the house was accorded to Mrs. Laurier.
The families lived together harmoniously, and vied with each other to brighten the declining years of the mother's peaceful life.
I. The Change of Circumstances
II. The Revelation
The Change of Circumstances
A very wealthy and worthy merchant, named Vollmar, lived in a large commercial city. Here he carried on a prosperous business which had descended to him from his father. By clever management, industry and honesty, he succeeded in enlarging it; and thereby increased his wealth.
Up to the present time, Mr. Vollmar had had unusual success, but circumstances were soon to change. One morning as the family was breakfasting, the postman delivered a letter containing the information that the ship which carried a valuable cargo belonging to Mr. Vollmar had been lost at sea.
This was a severe blow; for the greater part of his fortune was now gone. But as luck and riches had not made him proud, so this misfortune and loss did not make him despondent.
Turning to his children, he said: "God gives and He also takes away. He may restore all things unto us when His wise purposes have been fulfilled. You can see that this is true, when you review the lives of your grandparents and great-grandparents, whose pictures in the golden frames grace this room so beautifully.
"Your great-grandfather, Lucas Vollmar, was the richest man in the city. All that we once had and now have would not have equalled his fortune by one quarter. Owing to the 'Thirty Years' War,' he lost all. He was obliged to flee from the enemy. His wife did not survive the journey. Their only son, my father, was then but a tender youth, and suffered much during those troublous times.
"Soon this city was invaded by the enemy and plundered. Many bombs were fired into it and homes were reduced to ashes. Into this very house, which belonged to him, fell a great cannon ball which did much damage but did not set it on fire. All the families, too, suffered the greatest misery. Hunger and pestilence carried off many of them.
"Your worthy great-grandfather sought refuge in strange lands and suffered many hardships. He had taken as much money with him as he could carry, but on the way he was robbed. He earned his livelihood in various ways, and soon put his son out as an apprentice. When the lad was fourteen years old, he was called upon to face another hardship in the loss of his father, who died in misery and poverty, although he had once been the richest man in this city.
"This son, my father, now alone in the world, continued as an apprentice and made progress in his trade. At last, when the war was over and peace had been restored, he returned to this city, poor in the world's goods, but rich in knowledge and goodness.
"Through a decision of the court, this house was returned to him. The things that he found when he entered were empty chests and those two pictures hanging on the wall opposite. Look at them. Do you not read in those faces kindness and true worth? Yes, my children, they were indeed good people.
"You never saw your great-grandparents, but you do remember your grandfather, for he often held you both on his lap. He had to work hard to build up a business, but through the help of his good wife he soon acquired wealth.
"So, my children, you have now seen how from wealth one may be reduced to poverty, and how from nothing one may rise and become something.
"My father showed me that no matter how rich he became, he always laid by some money for the time of need. He employed the best workers and paid the best wages; and was a great benefactor to the poor.
"His example and his teachings I have followed, or to-day we would be very poor indeed, now that I have lost my goods at sea. We must be very economical and, perhaps, in time we may retrieve our loss."
Other tradesmen, too, suffered by this shipwreck. Mr. Vollmar did what he could to help them and, little by little, they were able to go on with their business. But times changed, and there was little demand for Mr. Vollmar's goods. Failure stared him in the face.
"If I must give up my business, it will comfort me to know that when I have paid all my debts I shall still have a few dollars left. My conscience will be clear when I know that no one has lost one cent through me, and that my honor before God and man remains unspotted."
Pressed on all sides, he was almost forced to give up, but as a last resort he made up his mind to seek aid from two friends, both very rich men. But the one said: "I am sorry that I cannot help you, for I need my money myself." The other man said: "I would lend you some money, but I'm afraid I won't get it back."
This treatment at the hands of his best friends, pained him sorely, and he returned in sadness to his home. Before entering, he seated himself in a little bower to review the situation. The sun shone with a friendly light; the birds sang their gladsome songs; and the flowers stood forth in all their gay coloring.
"How hard it will be for me to leave this beautiful garden upon which I have spent so much money, and in which I have enjoyed so many happy hours. Who knows in what corner of the earth I shall be obliged to seek a new home?"
He became sadder each moment, and, sinking upon his knees, he prayed for help. Hearing footsteps, he arose, and, looking down the footpath, he saw an old man with snow-white hair being led by a little boy. Both seemed very poor, but they were neatly clothed.
Just then the boy said to his companion: "Here, under this tree, is a nice seat. You are so tired, dear grandfather, rest here a little and be comforted; for the way is not much longer." Then they both seated themselves.
"It is a great undertaking for a man like me, blind and feeble, to travel such a distance," said the old man. "'Tis true, oculists often cure blind people, but I wonder if my blindness can be cured by that doctor of whom we have heard so much? Besides, we have so little money, and what will we live on while we're in the city? It must soon be fifty years since I worked as a mason there. I really know no one to whom we could apply for aid; for all my friends have passed on to a better land. But I trust God will help us find some place to rest."
As Mr. Vollmar heard these words, he became greatly touched. "To be blind," said he, "and not to see the blue sky, the trees, the flowers, the sun and the people—that must be hard indeed. This man's sorrows are greater than mine. I have my two strong eyes; and should I lose my whole wealth, it would be as nothing compared to the loss of my sight.
"These poor people—this blind man, this brave boy—know how to find comfort in their sorrow by trusting in God. I will learn from them and trust, too."
Just then Mrs. Vollmar entered the garden with her two children, and Mr. Vollmar beckoned them to join him. He related all that he had heard the old man say.
"My dear husband," said Mrs. Vollmar, "let us take them into our house. Though we are getting poorer each day, I am sure that what we do for them will not hurt us; for, it is written: 'Be merciful and you shall obtain mercy.'"
"True," said Mr. Vollmar, "and you certainly have a bigger heart than I have. Let us not only give them food and shelter, but let us call in an eminent eye doctor and have him examine this man's eyes."
Just then the old man rose to depart with the boy, but Mrs. Vollmar hastened toward them, and said that they could remain with them for a while.
Thanking them for this exceeding kindness, the strangers entered the house, and soon the old man began to talk about himself.
"My name is Armand Seld. At one time I was a builder and mason, and lived with my son in this city. I have been blind for the last seven years."
As he seemed very tired, Mrs. Vollmar urged him to rest. She prepared a repast for him and after he had partaken of it, she showed him to his room.
On the following morning, Mr. Vollmar sent for the doctor. After examining the old man's eyes, he said that they were both covered with cataracts, of such a nature that he could remove them. He also held out the hope that he could cure them in a very short time.
"But," said he, "the old man must rest for three days before I can undertake the work."
After three days had elapsed the doctor returned and began the operation. Then the eyes were bandaged and the old man was kept in a darkened room. At the end of a week, the doctor removed the bandage from the patient's eyes and slowly led him to the light.
"I see! I see the light!" cried the old man. "I see your faces! Oh, I thank God!" Then he folded his hands and silence filled the room; for each one was in sympathy with the old man and thanked God for his mercy.
"But now," interrupted the doctor, "we must cover the eyes again, and let them become accustomed to the light by degrees, and each day they will grow stronger. I will return daily and watch their progress; meanwhile the patient must have nourishing food, in small quantities, and he must be kept very quiet in order to save his strength." Then he bade them good-bye and Mr. Vollmar and his wife escorted the doctor to the door.
The children kept shouting: "He sees! he sees!" and tumult and joy ran riot.
At last the bandages were removed for good, but the doctor warned the patient not to strain his eyes nor look into the sunshine for another week.
Armand Seld was now able to go about the house. The first room that he entered, after his tedious stay in his own darkened bedroom, was the dining-room, where the family loved best to sit. The walls of this room were graced by the pictures of the Vollmar ancestors, together with a landscape by a famous master.
The old man's attention was attracted to this painting.
"What do I see?" he shouted. "This picture I once saw by candlelight, and I cannot forget it."
"Strange," said Mr. Vollmar, "that it should have made such an impression upon you."
"May I ask," continued the old man, "have you owned this picture long? Have you lived here some time?"
Mr. Vollmar replied: "This house, as well as the picture, descended to me from my sainted grandparents. But why do you ask?"
"I must inquire still further before I can answer. Tell me—did your grandfather die in this house, or did he flee to a distant country during the war?"
"He died far from here, in a strange land. But it surprises me how you should hit upon this question."
"Did your grandmother die first?"
"Yes; but your questions disturb me."
The old man continued: "Was your own father present before your grandfather's death, and did he not disclose to him a very important secret?"
"My grandfather died of a malignant fever which robbed him of his senses. My father, then a boy, was sent for, but when he arrived he found his father dead."
"One more question I must ask—and I know you will forgive me. Did your father receive a big fortune?"
"My father," continued Mr. Vollmar, "returned to this city and this house a poor man. He married a woman as poor as himself, but with industry they at last became rich."
"Do you know," continued the old man, "you look just like your grandfather? He, too, was about the same age as you are now, and I feel, as I talk to you, as if he were here. But listen to my story and perhaps it may be of value to you.
"Shortly before this city was plundered I worked as a mason. One day my employer, a very honest man, received word to call at once upon a gentleman who wished him to do some work which was to be kept a secret. As my employer was sick, he sent me in his place, vouching for my honor and trustworthiness.
"I entered the house and was ushered into a room where your grandfather (for I have no doubts but that it was he) was seated. He started, and was indeed surprised that my employer should have sent as a substitute such a young man as I was then. After reading my recommendation, he ordered the servants to light two candles and set them on the table over which this picture hung. He made me vow never to tell the secret which he would entrust to me, except in time of need, and then only to one of his descendants. He spoke the oath and I repeated it, word for word, looking up at this picture all the time.
"Then he led me into the cellar, down another stairway made of stone into a lower cellar, where he opened a strongly bolted door. I gazed into a hollow in the wall, where many chests were standing. 'These boxes hold all my valuables, which I wish to save,' said he. 'Now, I want you to cement this door so cleverly that no one will discover its whereabouts.'
"As all the tools were lying there in readiness, and the mortar had been previously prepared, I started to work at once. It cost a little labor and much pains to do the work well and to hide the door, but I succeeded, and received a gold piece for my labor.
"The gentleman laid his finger on my lips, and said: 'Remember your vow.'
"Soon after the enemy appeared. Your grandfather fled and so did I. Never again did I return to this city, nor did I think of the valuables secreted in these walls. The sight of this picture, however, recalls to my mind my vow." With a sigh of relief, Armand Seld continued: "My dear Mr. Vollmar, God moved your heart to help a poor, strange, blind man. He helped to open my eyes, so that I could behold this picture, and to disclose to you your buried riches. Thus has He rewarded you for your kindness to me."
Mr. Vollmar had listened attentively to the old man's story, and said: "You need not thank me. I did only what was my duty. You may be right about the treasure, for we often wondered what could have become of all my grandfather's wealth.
"Being the wise man that he was, he would have known what havoc the war would bring, and consequently would have collected his money and possibly have hidden it somewhere. But where? Neither my father nor I could ever get the slightest clue. What you have said of the little stone stairway and the lower cellar describes exactly the place under this house. I am more and more convinced, each moment, that my grandfather hid his treasures there, but now the question is whether they are still there. Let us go, at once, and find out."
They went, arm in arm. As they reached the lower cellar, the old man shouted: "This is the place. I remember this little round spot that I filled with putty and covered with cement."
By means of a long crow-bar, an opening was at last made, and one stone after another fell to the floor.
"Victory!" shouted the old man. "Here are the chests, untouched. I know my work. The treasure is still here."
Mr. Vollmar then called his son and a helper to his assistance, and the chests were soon opened. Bags upon bags of money, jewels unnumbered, silverware, hammered copper ornaments and some papers which had yellowed and had almost fallen to pieces—all these, met their astonished eyes.
Taking the papers first, Mr. Vollmar read many important family records, besides an index of the contents of the chests, and the disposition to be made of them.
"Oh, what good luck this is! It has all been sent to us just when we need it most," said Mr. Vollmar.
The family soon assembled to hear the good news and see the treasures.
A feast followed and fun and great merriment filled the house. The care of the old man and his grandchild was willingly undertaken by the Vollmars; and these good people lived together in peace and contentment for many years.
I. MR. ACTON AND HIS SON.
II. THE UNINVITED GUEST.
III. THE FLOWERING PLANT.
IV. THE TWO FAMILIES.
V. THE FEAST.
MR. ACTON AND HIS SON
Mr. Acton was a clever and highly respected merchant who owed much of his success in life to the system and exactness with which he carried on his business. Then, too, he was so reliable, so honest, and sold his goods so cheaply, that everyone preferred to trade with him.
His home, which he could have furnished luxuriously, was the model of simplicity.
The only surviving member of his family was his son George, who was now twenty years of age. He was a sturdy, manly, upright youth; willing and obliging to his friends and kind-hearted to the poor. He reverenced God and everything which should be held sacred in life. He was the joy of his father's heart.
Partly on account of his father's business and partly to increase his own knowledge and ability, George had journeyed to England, and Mr. Acton daily awaited his return.
Late one afternoon, after a day of strenuous work, Mr. Acton sat dreamily near the fireside, smoking his pipe. Mr. Richmond, his bookkeeper, who had been one of his school-mates, and who on account of his loyalty and honesty was classed as his nearest and dearest friend, sat beside him. Together they were planning for a banquet which they would give in honor of George's return.
A knock at the door interrupted their conversation, and in response to the pleasant "Come," the servant entered and delivered a package of letters. Mr. Acton broke the seals and hurriedly glanced over them, in turn. As he took one which seemed to please him, his face suddenly changed color, and the hand which held the letter began to tremble. Mr. Richmond became startled, for he well knew that business losses, which Mr. Acton had often experienced and borne calmly, could not be the cause of this agitation. He touched him lightly on the shoulder and said, with deep concern: "Do tell me what has happened."
"There, read it," said Mr. Acton, with a deep sigh, as he handed him the letter. Then, sinking back in his arm chair and folding his hands, he stared blankly into the distance, his grief too deep for words.
Mr. Richmond read the letter which a fellow merchant in a distant city had written, and which referred incidentally to the sinking of a ship in the English Channel. Unknown to the merchant, this ship had been the one on which George Acton was to have taken passage.
This sad news stunned Mr. Richmond, but he tried to reassure his friend, and said: "Perhaps your son is among the saved, or possibly he may not have embarked, owing to some business delay."
"You certainly do kindle a faint spark of hope in my heart, my dear Richmond, but I fear it will be extinguished. Let us lose no time in getting all the information we can." He rang, and said to the servant who answered: "Go at once and send this telegram." Then taking up the evening newspaper his eye glanced hurriedly over column after column, and finally he read that the ship Neptune had been sunk, and that eleven persons had been rescued, but no names had been reported.
Between hope and fear, the next day passed. He summoned all his courage and waited anxiously for an answer to his telegram.
All the neighbors, in fact all the people of the town, held Mr. Acton and his son in the highest esteem, and they awaited the news of George Acton's fate in dread suspense. At last the answer arrived: "George was numbered among the passengers on board, but not among those rescued."
Poor Mr. Acton was so overcome that his eyes held no tears. With dumb grief he shut himself up in his room to find his comfort in God, alone.
Several days later, there came to Mr. Acton's house an old sailor, who had been on the ill-fated vessel, and who could give an accurate account of the calamity.
"We encountered a storm," said the sailor, "such as I, an old sea-dog, have never experienced. It broke shortly before midnight, and in less than two hours it had driven us out of our course and seriously damaged our ship. Suddenly, we felt a great thud, which threw us off our feet, and a dreadful crash told us that the ship had foundered. The water poured into the vessel from all sides, and the ship was soon submerged.
"The helmsman, seven sailors, two passengers and myself swam through the tempestuous sea toward the cliffs which had shattered our ship. The brave captain and all the other passengers went to their watery grave.
"The loss of young George Acton," continued the sailor, as he dried his eyes, "was deeply lamented by us all. The sailors loved him very much, for he was always so helpful and friendly. I know positively that every one of us would willingly have sacrificed his life, in order to save that of your son. But there was no moment to wait; the ship went under, and we were obliged to sink or swim.
"I last saw him near the bow of the vessel, just as the storm was threatening to break. From that time on, I saw no more of him; but I chanced to find this wallet, as I descended from the rigging;" and he passed it over to Mr. Acton.
"It contains several letters from you to your son, and a bank note of value. That is why I wished to deliver it myself."
Mr. Acton took the wallet, and opened it with trembling fingers. He found the letters there which he had sent his son. "My good boy," said the father, "kept all my letters so carefully, carried them with him, and as I would have wished, read them often!"
The affectionate father whose grief had been dumb and dry, for the first time shed the tears that would give relief to his pent-up feelings.
The sailor continued: "On the morning following the disaster, we found ourselves on the bare rocks, with nothing about us but the immeasurable sea. We found a stick and a piece of sail which had been cast upon the rocks, and this we hoisted. We were taken up by the sailors of another ship and landed at Havre."
Mr. Acton had listened attentively to each word. Then, taking the money from the wallet, he presented it to the sailor, saying: "Take this for your love to my son and for your honesty in returning the wallet to me. Lay the money by for your old age."
The sailor was astonished at this rich gift. He thanked Mr. Acton for his generosity and then departed.
Mr. Acton felt the loss of his son more and more each day, and soon his health began to fail. One Sunday morning, as he returned from church, he suddenly became very ill. He hadn't the strength to remove his clothing, but sank into the nearest chair.
Mr. Richmond, who had accompanied him, hoped that the illness would be slight, and buoyed his spirits with the thought that he would soon recover.
"My dear Richmond," the merchant said, "my hopes in this world are over, and I must now set all my affairs in order. Come, seat yourself at this table. There is pen, ink and paper. I wish to dictate to you my last wishes. The notary can then sign and seal the instrument.
"The great wealth with which God has blessed me would, in the natural course, all fall to my relations. But, as I know them, this would not be the best thing for them, but rather unfortunate. They shall each receive a suitable portion, with the understanding that the money be not wasted, but invested and bequeathed to their children. If the children do not wish to study and learn some trade, they shall not get a penny of mine.
"For you, my dear Richmond, and for all my faithful assistants who helped me amass my fortune, I shall provide generously. The worthy poor and the afflicted, I shall not forget. Come now, write quickly; I fear the time is short."
Mr. Acton began to dictate, but suddenly he stopped and cried: "I hear my summons. I must go. God, who has not permitted me to finish this deed, will in His wisdom fulfill it, and let it reach my heirs to their best advantage!"
He paused, prayed silently and passed away.
All the members of the household were grieved at their loss. Mr. Richmond spoke gently to them and said: "Our good, helpful, pious friend sleeps in peace. Richly did he sow good deeds while here on earth, and now he has gone to the land beyond where richly he will reap."
THE UNINVITED GUEST
The death of Mr. Acton cast a gloom over all the people, with the exception of his relatives, who felt such unbounded joy over the unexpected inheritance, that it gave them much trouble to mask their true feelings.
"The inheritance is enormous!" was all they could say and think. When the time came to make the division, and it was found upon investigation that the value of the estate to be divided was only about a million, the heirs were heard to grumble at the amount. They reprimanded the worthy bookkeeper, Mr. Richmond, and all the other able assistants, as if they had embezzled some of the money. These good, faithful men, instead of receiving what Mr. Acton had fully intended they should, were obliged to accept reproaches and immediate dismissal.
Soon the heirs began to quarrel among themselves, and for a time it seemed as if they would have to settle their affairs in the court. However, their eagerness to possess the money soon brought them into accord, and each one accepted his portion.
Then, one began to build; another bought a country estate; another gave up his business, and rode about in his carriage. Not one of them ever thought of Mr. Acton, much less of erecting a monument on his grave.
Mr. Acton's house, besides a large share of his money, fell to the lot of a man named Mr. Bond. He immediately had the house renovated and furnished magnificently, and when it was completed to his satisfaction, he invited all his relatives to celebrate the event. On the appointed night, hundreds of lights illumined the house and gleamed in the crystal, like so many colors of the rainbow. They were reflected from the mirrors and shone upon the highly polished silver.
All the heirs of the departed Mr. Acton had responded to the invitation, and were dressed to honor the occasion. Especially happy were the wives and daughters, whose elaborate gowns were works of art. Mr. Bond's daughter resembled a princess in the elegance of her attire, and strutted about, in order to display her beautiful diamonds.
After supper had been served, the guests retired to the grand salon. The entrancing tones of the music soon led couple after couple to dance to its rhythm, and the revelry ran high.
It struck twelve by the big church clock. Suddenly there flashed over the faces of the assembled guests, consternation and horror. The music stopped—the dancers seemed rooted to the floor. A sudden stillness, broken only by the echoing tones of the clock, or here and there a gasp of fear or an exclamation of surprise, hovered over all. In one instant the doors had been thrown open, and there on the threshold, clad in black, and with a countenance pale as death, stood George Acton.
If he had really returned from the grave, the fear and shock that his appearance caused could not have been greater.
All present felt a shudder pass over them, as they realized the certainty of his return. However courteous it would have been for them to have hidden their displeasure and to have extended their greetings to him, not one came forward. The loss of their fortune was too distasteful to them; the awakening from a happy dream, from a life of joyous forgetfulness of right and duty, to a life of hard work was too revolting for them. Mr. Bond had been obliged to seat himself to recover his strength. Some swooned and had to be carried out.
The noble George Acton had not for one moment thought that his entrance would have caused his relations such a shock. So he withdrew to another room. Then the questions were heard: "Do we sleep or dream? Was it really he, or was it an apparition?"
The heirs could not understand how George Acton, who was considered as dead by everyone, even by the courts, could have the audacity to live, and by his unexpected return to give them such a blow; but it came about in a very natural way.
George Acton had, on the night of the shipwreck, swung himself from the fast sinking vessel to a plank. Wind and waves soon carried him many miles. Then the storm had subsided and a gentle wind had arisen. He found himself very much exhausted, for it had taken all his strength to cling to the plank.
After a while he managed to seat himself upon the board. At dawn, all he could see on every side was water and sky. Completely drenched, and faint from hunger and cold, he passed the day.
As the sun was beginning to sink, he felt that there was nothing for him but death. He raised his eyes to heaven and prayed silently. Suddenly, in the distance he saw the smoke-stacks of a ship, lighted by the rays of the declining sun. The ship came nearer and nearer. At last, he was spied by the captain and saved. His thanks to God and man for his rescue were as hearty as his prayers had been fervent. When George had been warmed and nourished, he begged the captain to land him at the nearest port.
The captain expressed his willingness to do all that lay in his power; but, said he, "This is an English warship. I dare not deviate one hair's breadth from my appointed course. You will be obliged, unless we meet another vessel, to continue with us on the journey to St. Helena."
The ship reached its destination, and after a weary wait of several months, George was advised to take passage on board a coaling steamer, then in port, and bound for Lisbon. "From there you can easily get to London," said the captain.
George accepted this good advice, but found himself in a very great dilemma. He, the son of a rich merchant, was, what he had never thought possible, without one penny. As he sat lost in thought, the captain aroused him and said: "What is it that troubles you?"
George looked up at him abashed, and said: "How can I make this trip when I am entirely penniless?"
"Is that all?" said the captain. "Well, I have provided for that." Whereupon he counted out to the astonished George a good round sum of money. "Now all I want is a receipt."
"What?" cried George. "You intend to trust me, a person of whom you know so little, with this large amount of money! You know nothing of my circumstances, but what I have told you."
"I know your sentiments, your thoughts," said the captain, "and that is sufficient. I would willingly give you more, if I had it to give. But the amount will be sufficient to carry you to your destination. Were I not able to trust a boy like you, I should not want to deal with anyone. Now perhaps you would not mind doing a little favor for me. When you arrive in London, please deliver this money to my old mother, who needs my help." George promised faithfully to carry out the captain's wish.
On the morning of departure, George bade the captain and his crew farewell, and after a devious journey, he at last arrived in London. He hurried to the home of his father's friend, at whose house he had so recently sojourned.
The merchant was speechless with astonishment when he recognized George, whom he had reckoned among the dead. But greater still was George's grief and despair when he learned that his kind, loving father had passed away.
Without further delay, he transacted the business which the captain had deputed to him, bought some clothing for himself, and sailed with the next steamer to Havre. From there he took the train to his native town, arriving late at night.
With a heavy heart, he walked through the streets to his father's house. He expected to find it quiet and gloomy, but the brightly illuminated windows were a painful sight. The joyous laughter and the music all wounded his saddened heart. He could not resist the temptation to present himself, unannounced, and end this wild revelry, this dreadful disrespect for the dead. So, it happened that he appeared on the threshold of the grand ball-room—an uninvited guest.
THE FLOWERING PLANT
On the following morning, George wended his way to the cemetery to visit his father's grave. After wandering about for some time, he thought: "How strange it is that I can not find it." At last he met a worker there, to whom he said: "Friend, would you be so kind, as to direct me to the tomb-stone that marks the grave of the late Mr. Acton."
The old grave-digger thrust his spade into the newly, upturned sod, and said to George, whom he did not recognize, "Yes, I can show you the grave, but the tomb-stone is still missing. His heirs have set up no stone, and probably will never erect one. They have forgotten the good, noble old soul."
By this time, they had reached the grave, which was graced by a beautiful hydrangea, handsomer than any plant of its kind that George had ever seen. A mass of beautiful flowers crowded forward between the dark-green leaves and thousands of dew-drops hung on the plant and sparkled in the morning sun.
George stood there silent, with his hands clasped tightly before him, and his head bowed in grief, while the tears fell on the grave. The beauty of the plant was a little comfort to him.
After he had spent some moments thinking of his departed father, he turned to the grave-digger, and said: "Who planted this beautiful bush?"
"Oh, that good child, Lucy, the oldest daughter of Mr. Richmond who was the book-keeper for the late Mr. Acton, she planted it. She was very much concerned because it seemed as if the good man were never to have a tomb-stone.
"'Oh, that we were rich' said she, 'then he certainly should have the finest monument here in the church-yard. However, I will do what I can. I will plant this bush and, though it be not costly like a monument, yet it represents no less in good intentions.'
"She bought the bush last April and brought it here; and with the spade I loaned her, she dug the earth with her tender hands and set it here. You see it is a long distance from yonder stream and yet, she brought the water that distance, to wet this plant whenever she visited the grave. She really felt grateful to Mr. Acton for his kindness to her father. All her people, too, loved him."
While George listened with interest to the grave-digger's recital, a young man from the village happened along. He joined the group and admired the bush. After a pause, he added; "I, too, remember Mr. Acton, everyone speaks of his goodness. It would have been better for the old, honest Mr. Richmond and his children had Mr. Acton lived a little longer, for then, they would have suffered no want. Nor would Mr. Richmond have been thrust out of business so shamelessly.
"As one misfortune seldom comes alone," continued the stranger, "so it happened that Mr. Richmond had put all his savings into Mr. Acton's business, where he thought it would be well invested. The heirs accused him of falsifying the accounts and brought him to court. But the case was deferred, and put on the calender for some distant date. In the meantime Mr. Richmond lost his all.
"His daughter's needle is now his only support, as Mr. Richmond's failing sight keeps him unemployed. The other members of the family are too young to earn anything."
George had been deeply touched by these revelations. He picked a flower from the bush, and put it into his button-hole. Then he slipped a golden coin into the old man's hand, asked for the street and number of the humble house where the Richmonds now resided, and turned his steps in that direction.
THE TWO FAMILIES
The report that George Acton had returned was the talk of the town and had reached the ears of the Richmond family in their out-of-the-way home. Mr. Richmond had gone forth in search of more facts on the subject. He returned highly elated, with the good news confirmed, and stood in the midst of his family relating it to them. Lucy stopped sewing and her hands dropped in her lap, for the news was such a wonderful surprise to her. Mr. Richmond closed his remarks by saying that he regretted his inability to find George Acton anywhere, and nobody seemed to know what had become of him. To search for him in the cemetery had not occurred to anyone.