"Yes, sir. To Saratoga. We always go there. We shall close the season at Newport this year."
"Who else is going?" My father's manner was strange. I had never seen him just in the mood he then appeared to be.
"Jane is going, of course; and so is Emily. And we are trying to persuade mother, also. She didn't go last year. Won't you spend a week or two with us? Now do say yes."
My father shook his head at this last proposal, and said, "No, child!" very decidedly.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I have something of more importance to think about than Saratoga and its fashionable follies."
"Business! business!" said I, impatiently. "It is the Moloch, father, to which you sacrifice every social pleasure, every home delight, every good! Already you have laid health and happiness upon the bloody altars of this false god!"
A few quick flushes went over his pale face, and then its expression became very sad.
"Anna," he said, after a brief silence, during which even my unpracticed eyes could see that an intense struggle was going on in his mind, "Anna, you will have to give up your visit to Saratoga this year."
"Why, father!" It seemed as if my blood were instantly on fire. My face was, of course, all in a glow. I was confounded, and, let me confess it, indignant; it seemed so like a tyrannical outrage.
"It is simply as I say, my daughter." He spoke without visible excitement. "I cannot afford the expense this season, and you will, therefore, all have to remain in the city."
"That's impossible!" said I. "I couldn't live here through the summer."
"I manage to live!" There was a tone in my father's voice, as he uttered these simple words, partly to himself, that rebuked me. Yes, he did manage to live, but how? Witness his pale face, wasted form, subdued aspect, brooding silence, and habitual abstraction of mind!
"I manage to live!" I hear the rebuking words even now—the tones in which they were uttered are in my ears. Dear father! Kind, tender, indulgent, long-suffering, self-denying! Ah, how little were you understood by your thoughtless, selfish children!
"Let my sisters and mother go," said I, a new regard for my father springing up in my heart; "I will remain at home with you."
"Thank you, dear child!" he answered, his voice suddenly veiled with feeling. "But I cannot afford to let any one go this season."
"The girls will be terribly disappointed. They have set their hearts on going," said I.
"I'm sorry," he said. "But necessity knows no law. They will have to make themselves as contented at home as possible."
And he left me, and went away to his all-exacting "business."
When I stated what he had said, my sisters were in a transport of mingled anger and disappointment, and gave utterance to many unkind remarks against our good, indulgent father. As for my oldest sister, she declared that she would go in spite of him, and proposed our visiting the store of a well-known merchant, where we often made purchases, and buying all we wanted, leaving directions to have the bill sent in. But I was now on my father's side, and resolutely opposed all suggestions of disobedience. His manner and words had touched me, causing some scales to drop from my vision, so that I could see in a new light, and perceive things in a new aspect.
We waited past the usual time for my father's coming on that day, and then dined without him. A good deal to our surprise he came home about four o'clock, entering with an unusual quiet manner, and going up to his own room without speaking to any one of the family.
"Was that your father?" We were sitting together, still discussing the question of Saratoga and Newport. It was my mother who asked the question. We had heard the street door open and close, and had also heard footsteps along the passage and up the stairs.
"It is too early for him to come home," I answered.
My mother looked at her watch, and remarked, as a shade of concern flitted over her face,
"It certainly was your father. I cannot be mistaken in his step. What can have brought him home so early? I hope he is not sick." And she arose and went hastily from the room. I followed, for a sudden fear came into my heart.
"Edward! what ails you? Are you sick?" I heard my mother ask, in an alarmed voice, as I came into her room. My father had laid himself across the bed, and his face was concealed by a pillow, into which it was buried deeply.
"Edward! Edward! Husband! What is the matter? Are you ill?"
"Oh, father! dear father!" I cried, adding my voice to my mother's, and bursting into tears. I grasped his hand; it was very cold. I leaned over, and, pressing down the pillow, touched his face. It was cold also, and clammy with perspiration.
"Send James for the doctor, instantly," said my mother.
"No, no—don't." My father partially aroused himself at this, speaking in a thick, unnatural voice.
"Go!" My mother repeated the injunction, and I flew down stairs with the order for James, our waiter, to go in all haste for the family physician. When I returned, my mother, her face wet with tears, was endeavoring to remove some of my father's outer garments. Together we took off his coat, waistcoat and boots, he making no resistance, and appearing to be in partial stupor, as if under the influence of some drug. We chafed his hands and feet, and bathed his face, that wore a deathly aspect, and used all the means in our power to rekindle the failing spark of life. But he seemed to grow less and less conscious of external things every moment.
When the physician came, he had many questions to ask as to the cause of the state in which he found my father. But we could answer none of them. I watched his face intently, noting every varying expression, but saw nothing to inspire confidence. He seemed both troubled and perplexed. Almost his first act was to bleed copiously.
Twice, before the physician came, had my father been inquired for at the door, a thing altogether unusual at that hour of the day. Indeed, his presence in the house at that hour was something which had not occurred within a year.
"A gentleman is in the parlor, and says that he must see Mr. W——," said the waiter, speaking to me in a whisper, soon after the physician's arrival.
"Did you tell him that father was very ill," said I.
"Yes; but he says that he must see him, sick or well."
"Go down and tell him that father is not in a state to be seen by any one."
The waiter returned in a few moments, and beckoned me to the chamber door.
"The man says that he is not going to leave the house until he sees your father. I wish you would go down to him. He acts so strangely."
Without stopping to reflect, I left the apartment, and hurried down to the parlor. I found a man walking the floor in a very excited manner.
"I wish to see Mr. W.——," said he, abruptly, and in an imperative way.
"He is very ill, sir," I replied, "and cannot be seen."
"I must see him, sick or well." His manner was excited.
The door bell rang again at this moment, and with some violence. I paused, and stood listening until the servant answered the summons, while the man strode twice the full length of the parlor.
"I wish to see Mr. W——." It was the voice of a man.
"He is sick," the servant replied.
"Give him my name—Mr. Walton—and say that I must see him for just a moment." And this new visitor came in past the waiter, and entered the parlor.
"Mr. Arnold!" he ejaculated, in evident surprise.
"Humph! This a nice business!" remarked the first visitor, in a rude way, entirely indifferent to my presence or feelings. "A nice business, I must confess!"
"Have you seen Mr. W.——?" was inquired.
"No. They say he's sick."
There was an unconcealed doubt in the voice that uttered this.
"Gentlemen," said I, stung into indignant courage, "this is an outrage! What do you mean by it?"
"We wish to see your father," said the last comer, his manner changing, and his voice respectful.
"You have both been told," was my firm reply, "that my father is too ill to be seen."
"It isn't an hour, as I am told, since he left his store," said the first visitor, "and I hardly think his illness has progressed so rapidly up to this time as to make an interview dangerous. We do not wish to be rude or uncourteous, Miss W——, but our business with your father is imperative, and we must see him. I, for one, do not intend leaving the house until I meet him face to face!"
"Will you walk up stairs?" I had the presence of mind and decision to say, and I moved from the parlor into the passage. The men followed, and I led them up to the chamber where our distressed family were gathered around my father. As we entered the hushed apartment the men pressed forward somewhat eagerly, but their steps were suddenly arrested. The sight was one to make its own impression. My father's face, deathly in its hue, was turned towards the door, and from his bared arm a stream of dark blood was flowing sluggishly. The physician had just opened a vein.
"Come! This is no place for us," I heard one of the men whisper to the other, and they withdrew as unceremoniously as they had entered. Scarcely had they gone ere the loud ringing of the door bell sounded through the house again.
"What does all this mean!" whispered my distressed mother.
"I cannot tell. Something is wrong," was all that I could answer; and a vague, terrible fear took possession of my heart.
In the midst of our confusion, uncertainty and distress, my uncle, the only relative of my mother, arrived, and from him we learned the crushing fact that my father's paper had been that day dishonored at bank. In other words, that he had failed in business.
The blow, long suspended over his head; and as I afterwards learned, long dreaded, and long averted by the most desperate expedients to save himself from ruin, when it did fall, was too heavy for him. It crushed the life out of his enfeebled system. That fearful night he died!
It is not my purpose to draw towards the survivors any sympathy, by picturing the changes in their fortunes and modes of life that followed this sad event. They have all endured much and suffered much. But how light has it been to what my father must have endured and suffered in his long struggle to sustain the thoughtless extravagance of his family—to supply them with comforts and luxuries, none of which he could himself enjoy! Ever before me is the image of his gradually wasting form, and pale, sober, anxious face. His voice, always mild, now comes to my ears, in memory, burdened with a most touching sadness. What could we have been thinking about? Oh, youth! how blindly selfish thou art! How unjust in thy thoughtlessness! What would I not give to have my father back again! This daily toil for bread, those hours of labor, prolonged often far into the night season—how cheerful would I be if they ministered to my father's comfort. Ah! if we had been loving and just to him, we might have had him still. But we were neither loving nor just. While he gathered with hard toil, we scattered. Daily we saw him go forth hurried to his business, and nightly we saw him come home exhausted; and we never put forth a hand to lighten his burdens; but, to gratify our idle and vain pleasures, laid new ones upon his stooping shoulders, until, at last, the cruel weight crushed him to the earth!
My father! Oh, my father! If grief and tearful repentance could have restored you to our broken circle, long since you would have returned to us. But tears and repentance are vain. The rest and peace of eternity is yours!
THE CHRISTIAN GENTLEMAN.
IT has been said that no man can be a gentleman who is not a Christian. We take the converse of this proposition, and say that no man can be a Christian who is not a gentleman.
There is something of a stir among the dry bones at this. A few eyes look at it in a rebuking way.
"Show me that in the Bible," says one in confident negation of our proposition.
"Ah, well, friend, we will take your case in illustration of our theme. You call yourself a Christian?"
"By God's mercy I do."
Answered with an assured manner, as if in no doubt as to your being a worthy bearer of that name.
"You seem to question my state of acceptance. Who made you a judge?"
Softly, friend. We do not like that gleam in your eyes. Perhaps we had better stop here. If you cannot bear the probe, let us put on the bandage again.
"I am not afraid of the probe, sir. Go on."
The name Christian includes all human perfection, does it not?
"Yes, and all God-like perfection in the human soul."
So we understand it. Now the fundamental doctrine of Christian life is this:—"As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them."
"Faith in Christ is fundamental," you answer.
Unless we believe in God, we cannot obey his precepts. The understanding must first assent, before the divine life can be brought into a conformity with divine laws. But we are not assuming theologic ground. It is the life to which we are looking. We said "The fundamental doctrine of Christian life."
"All doctrine has relation to life, and I contend for faith as fundamental."
We won't argue that point, for the reason that it would lead us away from the theme we are considering. We simply change the form of our proposition, and call it a leading doctrine of Christian life.
"So far I agree with you."
Then the way before us is unobstructed again. You asked us to show you authority in the Bible for saying that a man cannot be a Christian who is not a gentlemen. We point you to the Golden Rule. In that all laws of etiquette, so called, are included. It is the code of good breeding condensed to an axiom. Now it has so happened that our observation of you, friend objector, has been closer than may have been imagined. We have noted your outgoings and incomings on divers occasions; and we are sorry to say that you cannot be classed with the true gentleman.
Gently! Gently! If a man may be a Christian, and not a gentleman at the same time, your case is not so bad. But to the testimony of fact. Let these witness for or against you. Let your own deeds approve or condemn. You are not afraid of judgment by the standard of your own conduct?
"Of course not."
And if we educe only well-remembered incidents, no offence will be taken.
We go back, then, and repeat the law of true gentlemanly conduct. "As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them." You were at Stockbridge last summer?
And took supper at the hotel there, with a small company of strangers?
There was a dish of fine strawberries on the table, among the first of the season. You are fond of strawberries. They are your favorite fruit; and, as their rich fragrance came to your nostrils, you felt eager to taste them. So you counted the guests at the table, and measured the dish of strawberries with your eyes. Then you looked from face to face, and saw that all were strangers. Appetite might be indulged, and no one would know that it was you. The strawberries would certainly not go round, So you hurried down a cup of tea, and swallowed some toast quickly. Then you said to the waiter, "Bring me the strawberries." They were brought and set before you. And now, were you simply just in securing your share, if the number fell below a dozen berries? You were taking care of yourself; but in doing so, were not others' rights invaded. We shall see. There were eight persons at the table, two of them children. The dish held but little over a quart; of these nearly one-third were taken by you! Would a true gentleman have done that? You haven't thought of it since! We are sorry for you then. One of the children, who only got six berries, cried through half the evening from disappointment. And an invalid, whose blood would have gained life from the rich juice of the fruit, got none.
"It was a little selfish, I admit. But I am so fond of strawberries; and at hotels, you know, every one must take care of himself."
A true gentleman maintains his character under all circumstances, and a Christian, as a matter of course. A true gentleman defers to others. He takes so much pleasure in the enjoyment of others, that he denies himself in order to secure their gratification. Can a Christian do less and honor the name he bears?
"It wasn't right, I see."
Was it gentlemanly?
"Perhaps not, strictly speaking."
In the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity still, we fear, for all your profession. Christianity, as a system, must go deeper down into the heart than that. But we have begun with you, friend, and we will keep on. Perhaps you will see yourself a little differently by the time we are through. A poor mechanic, who had done some trifling work at your house, called, recently, with his little bill of three dollars and forty cents. You were talking with a customer, when this man came into your store and handed you his small account. You opened it with a slight frown on your brow. He had happened to come at a time when you felt yourself too much engaged to heed this trifling matter. How almost rudely you thrust the coarse, soiled piece of paper on which he had written his account back upon him, saying, "I can't attend to you now!" The poor man went out hurt and disappointed. Was that gentlemanly conduct? No, sir! Was it Christian? Look at the formula of Christian life. "As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them."
"He should have waited until I was at leisure," you answer. "When a man is engaged with a customer who buys at the rate of hundreds and thousands, he don't want paltry bills thrust into his face. He'll know better next time."
Have you settled the bill yet?
"No. He called day before yesterday, but couldn't give change for ten dollars."
Why haven't you sent him the trifling sum? He worked over half a day at your house, and your family have been more comfortable for what he did there ever since. He needs the money, for he is a poor man.
You half smile in our face at the suggestion, and say, "Merchants are not in the habit of troubling themselves to send all over the city to pay the little paltry bills of mechanics. If money is worth having, it is worth sending or calling for."
In thought, reverse your positions, and apply the rule for a Christian gentleman; remembering, at the same time, that God is no respecter of persons. In his eyes, the man's position is nothing—the quality of his life, everything.
A gentleman in form, according to the rules of good breeding, is one who treats everybody with kindness; who thinks of others' needs, pleasures and conveniences; and subordinates his own needs, pleasures and conveniences to theirs. He is mild, gentle, kind and courteous to all. A gentleman in feeling does all this from a principle of good-will; the Christian from a law of spiritual life. Now, a man may be a gentleman, in the common acceptation of the term, and yet not be a Christian; but we are very sure, that he cannot wave the gentleman and be a Christian.
You look at us more soberly. The truth of our words is taking hold of conviction. Shall we go on?
Do you not, in all public places, study your own comfort and convenience? You do not clearly understand the question! We'll make the matter plainer then:
Last evening you were at Concert Hall, with your wife and daughter. You went early, and secured good seats. Not three seats, simply, according to the needs of your party; but nearly five seats, for extra comfort. You managed it on the expansive principle. Well, the house was crowded. Compression and condensation went on all around you; but your party held its expanded position. A white-haired old man stood at the head of your seat, and looked down at the spaces between yourself, your wife and daughter; and though you knew it, you kept your eyes another way until he passed on. You were not going to be incommoded for any one. Then an old lady lingered there for a moment, and looked wistfully along the seat. Your daughter whispered, "Father, we can make room for her." And you answered: "Let her find another seat; I don't wish to be crowded." Thus repressing good impulses in your child, and teaching her to be selfish and unlady-like. The evening's entertainment began, and you sat quite at ease, for an hour and a half, while many were standing in the aisles. Sir, there was not even the gentleman in form here; much less the gentleman from naturally kind feelings. As to Christian principle, we will not take that into account. Do you remember what you said as you moved through the aisles to the door?
A friend remarked that he had been obliged to stand all the evening, and you replied:
"We had it comfortable enough. I always manage that, in public places."
He didn't understand all you meant; but, there is One who did.
How was it in the same place only a few nights previously? You went there alone, and happened to be late. The house was well filled in the upper portion, but thinly occupied below the centre. Now you are bound to have the best place, under all circumstances, if it can be obtained. But all the best seats were well filled; and to crowd more into them, would be to diminish the comfort of all. No matter. You saw a little space in one of the desirable seats, and into it you passed, against the remonstrance of looks, and even half uttered objections. A lady by your side, not in good health, was so crowded in consequence, and made so uncomfortable, that she could not listen with any satisfaction to the eloquent lecture she had come to hear.
We need say no more about your gentlemanly conduct in public places. Enough has been suggested to give you our full meaning.
Shall we go on? Do you call for other incidents in proof of our assumption? Shall we follow you into other walks of life?
Very well. And, now, to press the matter home: Do you, in the sight of that precept we have quoted, justify such conduct in a man who takes the name of Christian? It was not gentlemanly, in any right sense of the word; and not being so, can it be Christian?
Assuredly not. And you may depend upon it, sir, that your profession, and faith, and church-going, and ordinance-observing, will not stand you in that day when the book of your life is opened in the presence of God. If there has been no genuine love of the neighbor—no self-abnegation—no self-denial for the good of others, all the rest will go for nothing, and you will pass over to abide forever with spirits of a like quality with your own.
Who made us your judge? We judge no man! But only point to the law of Christian life as given by God himself. If you wish to dwell with him, you must obey his laws; and obedience to these will make you nothing less than a Christian gentleman—that is, a gentleman in heart as well as in appearance.