The homely meal was at last concluded—the man thanked him kindly for the hospitality he had received, and opened the door to go. But it was quite dark and the clouds denoting a storm filled the heavens.
"You say it is full three miles to D——?"
"I do," said Mr. W. coldly. "I said so when you first stopped, and you ought to have pushed on, like a prudent man. You could have reached there before it was quite dark."
"But I was cold and hungry, and might have fainted by the way."
His manner of saying this touched the farmer's feelings a little.
"You have warmed and fed me, for which I am thankful. Will you now bestow another act of kindness upon one in a strange place, who if he goes out into the darkness, may lose himself and perish in the cold?"
The particular form in which this request was made, and the tone in which it was uttered, put it out of the farmer's heart to say no.
"Go in there and sit down," he answered, pointing to the kitchen, "and I will see my wife and hear what she says."
And Mr. W. went into the parlor where the supper table stood, covered with snow-white cloth, and displaying his wife's set of blue-sprigged china, that was brought out only on special occasions.
The tall mold candles were burning thereon, and on the hearth blazed a cheerful fire.
"Hasn't that old fellow gone yet?" asked Mrs. W. She heard his voice as he returned from the door.
"No, and what do you suppose, he wants us to let him stay all night."
"Indeed, we will do no such thing. We cannot have the likes of him in the house now. Where could he sleep?"
"Not in the best room, even if Mr. N. did not come."
"But really I don't see, Jane, how we can turn him out of doors. He doesn't look like a strong man, and it's full three miles to D——."
"It's too much; he ought to have gone on while he had daylight, and not lingered here, as he did, till it got dark."
"We can't turn him out of doors, Jane, and it's no use to think of it. He'll have to stay somehow."
"But what can we do with him?"
"He seems like a decent man at least; and doesn't look as if he had anything bad about him. We might make a bed on the floor."
When Mr. W. returned to the kitchen, where the stranger had seated himself before the fire, he informed him that he had decided to let him stay all night. The man expressed in few words his grateful sense of their kindness, and then became silent and thoughtful. Soon after the farmer's wife, giving up all hope of Mr. N.'s arrival, had supper taken up, which consisted of coffee, warm short-cake, and broiled chicken. After all was on the table, a short conference was held as to whether it would do not to invite the stranger to take supper. It was true they had given him as much bread and bacon as he could eat, but then, as long as he was going to stay all night, it looked too inhospitable to sit down to the table and not ask him to join them. So, making a virtue of necessity, he was kindly asked to come to supper—an invitation which he did not decline. Grace was said over the meal by Mr. W., and the coffee poured, and the bread helped, and the meat carved.
There was a fine little boy, six years old, at the table, who had been brightened up and dressed in his best, in order to grace the minister's reception. Charles was full of talk, and the parents felt a mutual pride in showing him off, even before their humble guest, who noticed him particularly, though he had not much to say. "Come, Charley," said Mr. W., after the meal was over, and he sat leaning in his chair, "can't you repeat the pretty hymn mamma taught you last Sabbath?"
Charley started off without any further invitation, and repeated very accurately two or three verses of a camp-meeting hymn, that was then popular.
"Now let us hear you say the commandments, Charley," spoke up the mother, well pleased with her son's performance.
And Charley repeated them with a little prompting.
"How many commandments are there?" asked the father.
The child hesitated, and then looking at the stranger, near whom he sat, said innocently:—
"How many are there?"
The man thought for some moments, and said, as if in doubt,
"Eleven, are there not?"
"Eleven!" ejaculated Mrs. W. in unfeigned surprise.
"Eleven?" said her husband with more rebuke than astonishment in his voice. "Is it possible, sir, that you do not know how many commandments there are? How many are there, Charley? Come, tell me—you know, of course."
"Ten," replied the child.
"Right, my son," returned Mr. W., looking with a smile of approval on the child. "Right, there isn't a child of his age in ten miles who can't tell you there are ten commandments."
"Did you ever read the Bible, sir?" addressing the stranger.
"When I was a boy I used to read it sometimes. But I am sure I thought that there were eleven commandments. Are you not mistaken about there being ten?"
Sister W. lifted her hands in unfeigned astonishment, and exclaimed:—
"Could any one believe it? such ignorance of the Bible!"
Mr. W. did not reply, but rose, and going to the corner of the room where the good book lay upon the stand, he put it on the table before him, and opened to that portion in which the commandments are recorded.
"There," he said, placing his finger upon the proof of the stranger's error, "There, look for yourself."
The man came around from his side of the table and looked over the stranger's shoulder.
"There, do'ye see?"
"Yes, it does say so," replied the man, "and yet it seems to me there are eleven. I'm sure I always thought so."
"Doesn't it say ten here?" inquired Mr. W. with marked impatience in his voice.
"It does, certainly."
"Well, what more do you want? Can't you believe the Bible?"
"Oh, yes, I believe the Bible; and yet it strikes me somehow that there must be eleven commandments. Hasn't one been added somewhere else?"
Now this was too much for Brother and Sister W. to bear. Such ignorance of sacred matters they felt to be unpardonable. A long lecture followed, in which the man was scolded, admonished, and threatened with divine indignation. At its close he modestly asked if he might have the Bible to read for an hour or two before retiring for the night. This request was granted with more pleasure than any of the preceding ones.
Shortly after supper the man was conducted to the little spare room, accompanied by the Bible. Before leaving him alone, Mr. W. felt it to be his duty to exhort him to spiritual things, and he did so most earnestly for ten or fifteen minutes. But he could not see that his words made much impression, and he finally left his guest, lamenting his obduracy and ignorance.
In the morning he came down, and meeting Mr. W., asked if he would be so kind as to lend him a razor, that he might remove his beard, which did not give his face a very attractive appearance. His request was complied with.
"We will have prayers in about ten minutes," said Mr. W., as he handed him the razor and shaving box.
The man appeared and behaved with due propriety at family worship. After breakfast he thanked the farmer and his wife for their hospitality, and parting went on his journey.
Ten o'clock came, but Mr. N. had not arrived. So Mr. and Mrs. W. started for the meeting-house, not doubting they would find him there. But they were disappointed. A goodly number of people were inside the meeting-house, and a goodly number outside, but the minister had not arrived.
"Where is Mr. N——?" inquired a dozen voices, as a crowd gathered around the farmer.
"He hasn't come yet. Something has detained him. But I still look for him—indeed, I fully expected to find him here."
The day was cold, and Mr. W., after becoming thoroughly chilled, concluded to keep a good lookout for the minister from the window near which he usually sat. Others, from the same cause, followed his example, and the little meeting-house was soon filled, and one after another came dropping in. The farmer, who turned towards the door each time it was opened, was a little surprised to see his guest of the previous evening enter, and come slowly down the aisle, looking on either side, as if searching for a vacant seat, very few of which were now left. Still advancing, he finally got within the little enclosed altar, and ascended to the pulpit, took off his old grey overcoat and sat down.
By this time Mr. W. was by his side, and had his hand upon his arm.
"You mustn't sit here. Come down and I will show you a seat," he said, in an excited tone.
"Thank you," replied the man in a composed voice. "It is very comfortable here." And the man remained immovable.
Mr. W., feeling embarrassed, went down, intending to get a brother "official" to assist him in making a forcible ejection of the man from the place he was desecrating. Immediately upon his doing so, however, the man rose, and standing up at the desk, opened the hymn-book. His voice thrilled to the finger ends of Brother W. as in a distinct and impressive manner he gave out the hymn beginning:
"Help us to help each other, Lord, Each other's cross to bear; Let each his friendly aid afford, And feel a brother's care."
The congregation rose, after the stranger had read the entire hymn, and had repeated the first two lines for them to sing. Brother W. usually started the tunes. He tried this time, but went off on a long meter tune. Discovering his mistake at the second word, he balked and tried it again, but now he stumbled on short meter. A musical brother came to his aid and led off with a tune that suited the measure in which the hymn was written. After singing, the congregation knelt, and the minister—for no one doubted his real character—addressed the throne of grace with much fervor and eloquence. The reading of a chapter in the Bible succeeded. Then there was a deep pause throughout the room in anticipation of the text, which the preacher prepared to announce.
The dropping of a pin might have been heard. Then the fine, emphatic tones of the preacher filled the room:—
"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another."
Brother W. had bent forward to listen, but now he sunk back in his seat. This was the eleventh commandment.
The sermon was deep, searching, yet affectionate and impressive. The preacher uttered nothing that could in the least wound the brother and sister of whose hospitality he had partaken, but he said much that smote upon their hearts, and made them painfully conscious that they had not shown as much kindness to the stranger as he had been entitled to receive on the broad principles of humanity. But they suffered more from mortification of feeling. To think that they had treated the presiding elder of the district after such a fashion was deeply humiliating; and the idea of the whole affair getting abroad interfered sadly with their devotional feelings throughout the whole period of service.
At last the sermon was over, the ordinance administered and the benediction pronounced. Brother W. did not know what was best for him to do. He never was more at a loss in his life. Then Mr. N. descended from the pulpit; but he did not step forward to meet him. How could he do that? Others gathered around him, but still he lingered and held back.
"Where is Brother W.?" he at length heard asked. It was the voice of the minister.
"Here he is," said one or two, opening the way to where the farmer stood.
The preacher advanced, and catching his hand, said:—
"How do you do, Brother W., I am glad to see you. And where is Sister W.?"
Sister W. was brought forward, and the preacher shook hands with them heartily, while his face was lit up with smiles.
"I believe I am to find a home with you," he said, as if it was settled.
Before the still embarrassed brother and sister could make reply, some one asked:—
"How came you to be detained so late? You were expected last night. And where is Brother R.?"
"Brother R. is sick," replied Mr. N., "and I had to come alone. Five miles from this my horse gave out, and I had to come the rest of the way on foot. But I became so cold and weary, that I found it necessary to ask a farmer not far from here, to give me a night's lodging, which he was kind enough to do. I thought I was still three miles off, but it happened that I was very much nearer my journey's end than I supposed."
This explanation was satisfactory to all parties, and in due time the congregation dispersed, and the presiding elder went home with Brother and Sister W.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.
MAKE IT PLAIN.
On the sixteenth day after the battle of Gettysburg, I entered the room where a young wounded colonel was apparently near to death. As I entered, he was roused from his stupor and beckoned me to his bedside, and threw his feeble arms around my neck.
"O my father, how glad I am to see you. I was afraid you would not come till it was too late. I am too feeble to say much, though I have a great many things to say to you; you must do all the talking. Tell me all about dear mother and sister."
I soon perceived by the appearance of those in the house, that there was no hope entertained of his recovery. But as I could no longer endure the agony of suspense, I at last inquired of the doctor, "Doctor, what do you think of my son's case?"
"But is there nothing more that can be done to save him?"
"No, sir. Every thing that human skill and kindness can do has been done. Your son has been a brave and very successful officer; has been a great favorite in the army; has won the highest esteem of all who have known him, but he now must die. Immediately after the amputation the gangrene set in, and defies all efforts to arrest it."
"Well, Doctor, how long do you think he can live?"
"Not more than four days. He may drop away at any hour. We are constantly fearing that an artery will give way, and then it is all over with the colonel. What you wish to do in reference to his death, you had better do at once."
"Have you, or has any one, told him of his real condition?"
"No. We have left that painful duty for you to do, as we have been expecting your arrival for several days."
As I entered the room with the dreadful message of death pressing on my heart, the eyes of my son fastened on me.
"Come, sit by my side, father. Have you been talking with the doctor about me?"
"What did he tell you? Does he think I shall recover?"
There was a painful hesitation for a moment.
"Don't be afraid to tell me just what he said."
"He told me you must die."
"How long does he think I can live?"
"Not to exceed four days, and that you may drop away any hour,—that an artery may slough at any moment which you cannot survive."
With great agitation he exclaimed,
"Father, is that so? Then I must die! I cannot. I must not die! Oh! I am not prepared to die now. Do tell me how I can get ready? Make it so plain that I can get hold of it. Tell me, in a few words, if you can, so that I can see it plainly. I know you can, father, for I used to hear you explain it to others."
'T was no time now for tears, but for calmness and light, by which to lead the soul to Christ, and both were given.
"My son, I see you are afraid to die."
"Yes, I am."
"Well, I suppose you feel guilty."
"Yes, that is it. I have been a wicked young man. You know how it is in the army."
"You want to be forgiven, don't you?"
"Oh, yes! That is what I want. Can I be, father?"
"Can I know it before I die?"
"Well now, father, make it so plain that I can get hold of it."
At once, an incident which occurred during the school days of my son, came to my mind. I had not thought of it before for several years. Now it came back to me, fresh with its interest, and just what was wanted to guide the agitated heart of this young inquirer to Jesus.
"Do you remember while at school in —— you came home one day, and I having occasion to rebuke you, you became very angry and abused me with harsh language?"
"Yes, father, I was thinking it all over a few days ago, as I thought of your coming to see me, and felt so bad about it, that I wanted to see you, and once more ask you to forgive me."
"Do you remember, how, after the paroxysm of your anger had subsided, you came in, and threw your arms around my neck, and said, 'My dear father, I am sorry I abused you so. It was not your loving son that did it. I was very angry. Won't you forgive me?'"
"Yes, I remember it very distinctly."
"Do you remember what I said to you as you wept upon my neck?"
"Very well. You said, 'I forgive you with all my heart,' and kissed me. I shall never forget those words."
"Did you believe me?"
"Certainly. I never doubted your word."
"Did you then feel happy again?"
"Yes, perfectly; and since that time I have loved you more than ever before. I shall never forget how it relieved me when you looked upon me so kindly, and said, 'I forgive you with all my heart.'"
"Well, now, this is just the way to come to Jesus. Tell him you are sorry just as you told me, and ten thousand times quicker than a father's love forgave you, will he forgive you. He says he will. Then you must take his word for it, just as you did mine."
"Why, father, is this the way to become a Christian?"
"I don't know of any other."
"Why, father, I can get hold of this. I am so glad you have come to tell me how."
He turned his head upon his pillow for rest. I sank into my chair and wept freely, for my heart could no longer suppress its emotions. I had done my work, and committed the case to Christ. He, too, I was soon assured had done his. The broken heart had made its confession, had heard what it longed for, "I forgive you," and believed it. It was but a few moments of silence, but the new creation had taken place, the broken heart had made its short, simple prayer, and believed, and the new heart had been given. A soul had passed out from nature's darkness into marvelous light, and from the power of sin and Satan unto God.
I soon felt the nervous hand on my head, and heard the word "father," in such a tone of tenderness and joy, that I knew the change had come.
"Father, my dear father, I don't want you to weep any more, you need not. I am perfectly happy now. Jesus has forgiven me. I know he has, for he says so, and I take his word for it, just as I did yours. Wipe your tears. I am not afraid to die now. If it is God's will, I should like to live to serve my country, and take care of you and mother, but if I must die, I am not afraid to now, Jesus has forgiven me. Come, father, let us sing,—
"'When I can read my title clear,'"
And we did sing.
"Now, father, I want you should pray, and I will follow you."
We did pray, and Jesus heard us.
"Father, I am very happy. Why, I believe I shall get well. I feel much better."
From that hour all his symptoms changed—pulse went down, and countenance brightened. The current of life had changed.
The doctor soon came in and found him cheerful and happy—looked at him—felt his pulse, which he had been watching with intense anxiety, and said,—
"Why, Colonel, you look better."
"I am better, Doctor. I am going to get well. My father has told me how to become a Christian, and I am very happy. I believe I shall recover, for God has heard my prayer. Doctor, I want you should become a Christian, too. My father can tell you how to get hold of it."
In the evening three surgeons were in consultation, but saw no hope in the case, and one of them took his final leave of the colonel.
Next morning the two surgeons, who had been in constant attendance, came in and began as usual to dress the wound.
On opening the bandage, they suddenly drew back, and throwing up their arms, exclaimed,—
"Great God, this is a miracle! The gangrene is arrested, and the colonel will live! God has heard your prayers!"
"Why, Doctor," replied the colonel, "I told you yesterday, that I believed I should get well, for I asked Jesus that I might live to do some good. I knew he heard my prayer, and now you see he has. Bless the Lord with me, Doctor."
Meanwhile, "Our son must die," had gone over the wires, and made sadness at home. Next day, "Our son will live, and is happy in Christ," followed, and joy came again to the loved ones.
After his recovery, the colonel returned to the people whose sons he had led with honor through fifteen hard-fought battles. They, in return, gave him the best office in the gift of a loyal and grateful people. Among them he now lives in prosperity and honor, he is a member of the church of Christ, and the father of a happy family growing up around him, and consecrated to the service of his Redeemer.
I, too, was made a better man and better minister by that scene, where this dear son, struggling with his guilt and fear of death, was led to Jesus, and found the pardon of his sins. I there resolved never to forget that charge he made me, in his extremity: "Make it so plain that I can get hold of it."
I have made this the motto of every sermon I have preached, and God has blessed the effort.
A CHRISTIAN LIFE.
"A Christian life, have you ever thought How much is in that name? A life like Christ, and all he taught We must follow, to be the same.
How little of ease the Saviour knew With his life of labor and love! And if we would walk in his footsteps too, We must look not to earth, but above.
The darkest hour the Christian knows Is just before the dawn; For as the night draws to its close, It will bring in the morn.
So if you trust, though shadows fall, And dark your pathway be, The light, which shines from heaven for all, Will surely fall on thee."
A RETIRED MERCHANT
A London merchant engaged in Mediterranean commerce, had successfully prosecuted his business, and amassed what all merchants desire, an ample fortune. His, indeed, was a princely one. He had purchased a large and beautiful estate in the country, and had built and furnished a splendid mansion in town, on the Surrey side of the river, and now that he was verging towards sixty, he concluded to retire and enjoy the remnant of his life in peaceful leisure.
He negotiated for the sale of his abundance-making business, and sold it for another fortune. He then retired. He was a bachelor. He had his halls, his parlors, dining-rooms, and drawing-rooms, his library and cabinets of curiosities. The floors were covered with the most mosaic specimens of Brussels and Turkey carpetings, the furniture was of the most complete and exquisite selections, the walls were adorned with splendid mirrors and with classic paintings, and fine linen decorated all.
Carriages, horses, grooms, and servants were at his command. Books, pictures, and engravings were at hand to interest him. The daily and the weekly papers, and the periodicals, brought to his table all the news of the great world, and his friends and his acquaintances paid him homage. How happy must the man be who has all this!
He was not happy. He had no aim, no motive. The zest with which he read the papers when he was a merchant, he had lost now he had ceased to be engaged in commerce. A storm, a fleet, a pestilence along the Mediterranean shores, was full of interest to him before, because he had investments there. Now, they were of no consequence to him. The views and aims of government were watched by him before with searching scrutiny, because his destiny was bound up with theirs. The parliamentary debates were of the greatest consequence before, as indicating British policy; but that to him now ceased to be an object of importance. His fortune was achieved, his course was run, his destiny fulfilled.
Soon, every thing and place appeared to him one uniform and universal blank. His beautiful apartments were unused, his carriage and horses unemployed, his books unread, his papers unopened, his meals untasted, and his clothes unworn. He had lost all enjoyment of life, and contemplated suicide.
Saturday night arrived, and he resolved on Sunday morning early, before the busy populace were stirring, he would make his way to Waterloo bridge and jump into the river, or tumble off.
At three o'clock, he set out on his final expedition, and had nearly reached the bridge, the shadows of the night protecting him from observation, when a figure stood before him. Amazed at being seen by any one, he turned out of the path, when the figure crouching low before him, revealed a tattered, miserable man, baring his head in abjectness.
"What are you doing here?" inquired the retired merchant.
"I have a wife and family, whom I can't help from starving, and I am afraid to go and see them. Last night I knew they would be turned into the streets," replied the man.
"Take that," replied the merchant, giving him his purse, with gold and silver in it—thinking to himself, "how much more useful this will be to him, than in my pockets in the water."
"God bless you, sir—God bless you, sir," exclaimed the man several times, kneeling before the astonished merchant.
"Stop," said the merchant, "do not overwhelm me so with your thanksgivings—but tell me where you live."
"In Lambeth, sir."
"Then why are you here this morning?" said the merchant.
"I do not like to tell you," said the man. "I am ashamed to tell a gentleman like you."
"Why so?" replied the merchant.
"Well, sir," replied the man, "as I had not a single penny, and did not know how to get one, I came here to drown myself, although I knew 't was wicked!"
The merchant was astonished and appalled, and after a long silence, said, "Sir, I am overwhelmed with wealth, and yet I am so miserable that I came here this morning for the same purpose as yourself. There's something more in this than I can understand at present. Let me go with you to see your family."
The man made every excuse to hinder the merchant, but he would go.
"Have you lost your character?" said the merchant.
"No, sir," replied the man, "but I am so miserably poor and wretched—and, for anything I know, my wife and children may be turned into the street."
"Why are you out of work and pay?" resumed the merchant.
"I used to groom the horses of the stage-coaches," said the man, "but since the railroads are come up the coaches are put down, and many men, like me, have no employment."
They plodded on their way, two miles of brick and mortar piled on either side. At last they came to a third-rate house, when a rough, common-looking woman opened the door and shutter. As soon as she saw the man, she let loose her tongue upon him for all the villainy in the world, but something which passed from his hand to hers hushed her in an instant; and observing the merchant, she courtesied to him civilly.
The man ran up-stairs, leaving the merchant and woman together, which gave the former an opportunity to make inquiries. Having satisfied himself that want was the crime of the family, he told the woman who he was, promised to see her paid, and induced her to set on and cook a breakfast for the family, and supply them with any thing which they needed.
The man returned, and the merchant went up-stairs to see, for the first time, the wretched family in rags, dirt, and misery. He comforted them with hope of better days, and bidding the man take a hasty meal below, took him with him, and helped with his own hands to load a cart with bed, bedding, clothes, furniture, and food for the family.
The man was gone, and the merchant for the first moment, reflected on all that had passed. He was relieved of his misery by doing something for another, and out of mere selfishness he resolved on doing good to others, to prevent the necessity for drowning himself.
He employed the man in his stable, removed the family near, and placed them in a cottage, sending the children to school. Soon he sought out misery to relieve, and was led to consider the cause of all misery—sin. He turned to God and found him, and sought to turn his fellow sinners.
He aided every good word and work, and was the humble teller of his own humbling story. He had been a merchantman seeking goodly pearls, and having found the pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it; and the retired earthly merchant became an active heavenly merchant.
"Better the valley with peace and love Than the desolate heights some souls attain; Lonely is life on the hills above The valley lands and the sunny plain. What is fame to love? Can it satisfy The longing and lonely hearts of men? On the heights they must hunger and starve and die, Come back to the valley of peace again!"
EFFECT OF NOVEL READING
On the romantic borders of a beautiful river, in one of our Northern States, there is situated an elegant mansion. Spacious grounds surround the dwelling, and, what is not usual in this country, it has a terraced garden. This is a hill, situated at the side of the house, presenting a mass of living verdure. You ascend gradually, step by step, each platform, as it were, richly embroidered with brilliant flowers.
In this retreat of elegance and retirement, lived Mr. and Mrs. M., their daughter, and a French governess. No expense or labor had been spared to make this daughter an accomplished woman; but not one thought was ever bestowed upon the immortal interests of her soul. At the age of sixteen, she was beautiful and intelligent, but utterly destitute of all religious principle. Enthusiastically fond of reading, she roamed her father's spacious library, and selected whatever books best pleased her. Of an imaginative turn, earnest and impassioned, hers was the very mind that required the strong, controlling hand of a matured judgment. Yet it was left to feed at will upon the poisoned fruits that lie scattered around. She naturally turned to the novels that stored the library shelves; and at sixteen was as much at home in the pages of Bulwer as she was in her French grammar. The ridiculous romances of Mrs. Radcliffe were laid aside with disgust, and Bulwer, James, and others, took their place. But she descended a step, many steps lower, and, supplied by the governess, eagerly devoured the very worst fictions of Eugene Sue and George Sand. Next she was heard discussing and excusing the most heinous crimes of which human nature can be guilty.
Her parents heard with horror her freely expressed sentiments, and wondered where she had inhaled such lax ideas. They never thought of looking into her library for the cause, or at the unprincipled governess. The poison began to do its work; she could no longer live this tame life; she must have something more exciting, more exhilarating. The resolution was formed; with a beating heart she collected her mother's jewels; took one long look at her indulgent parents; bade a silent farewell to the scenes of her happy childhood, and left the house forever. No warning voice implored her to return; no hand was stretched out to save. On, on she went, until she reached the far-off city. Its lights dazzled her, its noise confused her, but she never regretted the peaceful home she had so culpably deserted. Her plan was to go on the stage, and become a renowned actress, like the heroine of one of her French novels. But this was not so easily achieved as she imagined; and after a most unsuccessful attempt, she was compelled to act only in subordinate parts. She had lost home, happiness, and respectability, and had not gained that fame for which she had sacrificed so much.
But it would be too painful to follow her through all her wretched life, and tell how each succeeding year she grew more degraded and more miserable, until at length having run a fearful career of vice she sank into a dishonored and early grave. No mother's hand wiped the cold death-dew from her brow; no kind voice whispered hope and consolation. Alone, poor, degraded, utterly unrepentant, she will appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; we pause; for we dare not follow it further.
The sound of her name never echoed through the halls of her childhood. Her father, stern and silent, buried all memories of his guilty child deep within his heart; whilst the mother, wan, broken-hearted, hopeless, wept in secret those tears of bitter agony whose fountain was perpetually welling afresh.
It is "to point a moral" that we have opened these annals of the past; and we would have the young ponder well the lesson that this history teaches. There is a danger in novel reading; it vitiates the taste, enervates the understanding, and destroys all inclination for spiritual enjoyment. The soul that is bound in fetters of this habit, cannot rise to the contemplation of heavenly things. It has neither the inclination nor the power. We knew one, who, even with death in view, turned with loathing away from the only Book that could bring her peace and salvation, to feed greedily on the pages of a foolish romance. It matters not that some of the finest minds have given their powers to this style of writing; that bright gems of intellect flash along their pages. The danger is so much the greater; for the jewels scattered by Genius, blind even while they dazzle. "Some of the greatest evils of my life," said a remarkable woman, "I trace to the eager perusal of what are called 'well-written novels.' I lived in a world of delusion. I had no power to separate the false from the real. My Bible lay covered with dust; I had no desire for its pages." Oh, then, if the young would reach a heavenly haven; if they would be guided unto "the still waters" of everlasting bliss, let them avoid the dangerous rock of novel reading, upon which so many souls have been shipwrecked and utterly lost.
Sow the shining seeds of service In the furrows of each day, Plant each one with serious purpose, In a hopeful, tender way. Never lose one seed, nor cast it Wrongly with an hurried hand; Take full time to lay it wisely, Where and how thy God hath planned.
This the blessed way of sharing With another soul your gains, While, though losing life, you find it Yielding fruit on golden plains; For the soul which sows its blessings Great or small, in word or smile, Gathers as the Master promised, Either here or afterwhile.
BE JUST BEFORE GENEROUS.
My friend Peyton was what is called a "fine, generous fellow." He valued money only as a means of obtaining what he desired, and was always ready to spend it with an acquaintance for mutual gratification. Of course, he was a general favorite. Every one spoke well of him, and few hesitated to give his ears the benefit of their good opinion. I was first introduced to him when he was in the neighborhood of twenty-two years of age. Peyton was then a clerk in the receipt of six hundred dollars a year. He grasped my hand with an air of frankness and sincerity, that at once installed him in my good opinion. A little pleasure excursion was upon the tapis, and he insisted on my joining it. I readily consented. There were five of us, and the expense to each, if borne mutually, would have been something like one dollar. Peyton managed everything, even to paying the bills; and when I offered to pay him my proportion, he said:—
"No, no!"—pushing back my hand—"nonsense!"
"Yes; but I must insist upon meeting my share of the expense."
"Not a word more. The bill's settled, and you needn't trouble your head about it," was his reply; and he seemed half offended when I still urged upon him to take my portion of the cost.
"What a fine, generous fellow Peyton is!" said one of the party to me, as we met the next day.
"Did he also refuse to let you share in the expense of our excursion?" I asked.
"After what he said to you, I was afraid of offending him by proposing to do so."
"He certainly is generous—but, I think, to a fault, if I saw a fair specimen of his generosity yesterday."
"We should be just, as well as generous."
"I never heard that he was not just."
"Nor I. But I think he was not just to himself. And I believe it will be found to appear in the end, that, if we are not just to ourselves, we will, somewhere in life, prove unjust to others. I think that his salary is not over twelve dollars a week. If he bore the whole expense of our pleasure excursion, it cost him within a fraction of half his earnings for a week. Had we all shared alike, it would not have been a serious matter to any of us."
"Oh! as to that, it is no very serious matter to him. He will never think of it."
"But, if he does so very frequently, he may feel it sooner or later," I replied.
"I'm sure I don't know anything about that," was returned. "He is a generous fellow, and I cannot but like him. Indeed, every one likes him."
Some days afterwards I fell in with Peyton again, and, in order to retaliate a little, invited him to go and get some refreshments with me. He consented. When I put my hand in my pocket to pay for them, his hand went into his. But I was too quick for him. He seemed uneasy about it. He could feel pleased while giving, but it evidently worried him to be the recipient.
From that time, for some years, I was intimate with the young man. I found that he set no true value upon money. He spent it freely with every one; and every one spoke well of him. "What a generous, whole-souled fellow he is!" or, "What a noble heart he has!" were the expressions constantly made in regard to him. While "Mean, stingy fellow!" and other such epithets, were unsparingly used in speaking of a quiet, thoughtful young man, named Merwin, who was clerk with him in the same store. Merwin appeared to set a due value upon time and money. He rarely indulged himself in any way, and it was with difficulty that he could ever be induced to join in any pleasures that involved much expense. But I always observed that when he did so, he was exact about paying his proportion.
About two years after my acquaintance with Peyton began, an incident let me deeper into the character and quality of his generosity. I called one day at the house of a poor widow woman who washed for me, to ask her to do up some clothes, extra to the usual weekly washing. I thought she looked as if she were in trouble about something, and said so to her.
"It's very hard, at best," she replied, "for a poor woman, with four children to provide for, to get along, if she has to depend upon washing and ironing for a living. But when so many neglect to pay her regularly"—
"Neglect to pay their washerwoman!" I said, in a tone of surprise, interrupting her.
"Oh, yes. Many do that!"
"Dashing young men, who spend their money freely, are too apt to neglect these little matters, as they call them."
"And do young men for whom you work really neglect to pay you?"
"Some do. There are at least fifteen dollars now owed to me, and I don't know which way to turn to get my last month's rent for my landlord, who has been after it three times this week already. Mr. Peyton owes me ten dollars and I can't"—
"Mr. Peyton? It can't be possible!"
"Yes, it is though. He used to be one of the most punctual young men for whom I washed. But lately he never has any money."
"He's a very generous-hearted young man."
"Yes, I know he is," she replied. "But something is wrong with him. He looks worried whenever I ask him for money; and sometimes speaks as if half angry with me for troubling him. There's Mr. Merwin—I wish all were like him. I have never yet taken home his clothes, that I didn't find the money waiting for me, exact to a cent. He counts every piece when he lays out his washing for me, and knows exactly what it will come to; and then, if he happens to be out, the change is always left with the chambermaid. It's a pleasure to do anything for him."
"He isn't liked generally so well as Mr. Peyton is," said I.
"Isn't he? It's strange!" the poor woman returned, innocently.
On the very next day, I saw Peyton riding out with an acquaintance in a buggy.
"Who paid for your ride yesterday?" I said to the latter, with whom I was quite familiar, when next we met.
"Oh, Peyton, of course. He always pays, you know. He's a fine, generous fellow. I wish there were more like him."
"That you might ride out for nothing a little oftener, hey?"
My friend colored slightly.
"No, not that," said he. "But you know there is so much selfishness in the world; we hardly ever meet a man who is willing to make the slightest sacrifice for the good of others."
"True. And I suppose it is this very selfishness that makes us so warmly admire a man like Mr. Peyton, who is willing to gratify us at his own charge. It's a pleasant thing to ride out and see the country, but we are apt to think twice about the cost before we act once. But if some friend will only stand the expense, how generous and whole-souled we think him! It is the same in everything else. We like the enjoyment, but can't afford the expense; and he is a generous, fine-hearted fellow, who will squander his money in order to gratify us. Isn't that it, my friend?"
He looked half convinced, and a little sheepish, to use an expressive Saxonism.
On the evening succeeding this day, Peyton sat alone in his room, his head leaning upon his hand, and his brow contracted. There was a tap at his door. "Come in." A poorly clad, middle-aged woman entered. It was his washerwoman.
The lines on the young man's brow became deeper.
"Can't you let me have some money, Mr. Peyton? My landlord is pressing hard for his rent, and I cannot pay him until you pay me."
"Really, Mrs. Lee, it is quite impossible just now. I am entirely out of money. But my salary will be due in three weeks, and then I will pay you up the whole. You must make your landlord wait until that time. I am very sorry to put you to this trouble. But it will never happen again."
The young man really did feel sorry, and expressed it in his face as well as in the tone of his voice.
"Can't you let me have one or two dollars, Mr. Peyton? I am entirely out of money."
"It is impossible—I haven't a shilling left. But try to wait three weeks, and then it will all come to you in a lump, and do you a great deal more good than if you had it a dollar at a time."
Mrs. Lee retired slowly, and with a disappointed air. The young man sighed heavily as she closed the door after her. He had been too generous, and now he could not be just. The buggy in which he had driven out with his friend on that day had cost him his last two dollars—a sum which would have lightened the heart of his poor washerwoman.
"The fact is, my salary is too small," said he, rising and walking about his room uneasily. "It is not enough to support me. If the account were fully made up, tailor's bill, bootmaker's bill, and all, I dare say I should find myself at least three hundred dollars in debt."
Merwin received the same salary that he did, and was just three hundred dollars ahead. He dressed as well, owed no man a dollar, and was far happier. It is true, he was not called a "fine, generous fellow," by persons who took good care of their own money, while they were very willing to enjoy the good things of life at a friend's expense. But he did not mind this. The want of such a reputation did not disturb his mind very seriously.
After Mrs. Lee had been gone half an hour, Peyton's door was flung suddenly open. A young man, bounding in, with extended hand came bustling up to him.
"Ah, Peyton, my fine fellow! How are you? how are you?" And he shook Peyton's hand quite vigorously.
"Hearty!—and how are you, Freeman?"
"Oh, gay as a lark. I have come to ask a favor of you."
"I want fifty dollars."
Peyton shrugged his shoulders.
"I must have it, my boy? I never yet knew you to desert a friend, and I don't believe you will do so now."
"Suppose I haven't fifty dollars?"
"You can borrow it for me. I only want it for a few days. You shall have it back on next Monday. Try for me—there's a generous fellow!"
"There's a generous fellow," was irresistible. It came home to Peyton in the right place. He forgot poor Mrs. Lee, his unpaid tailor's bill, and sundry other troublesome accounts.
"If I can get an advance of fifty dollars on my salary to-morrow, you shall have it."
"Thank you! thank you! I knew I shouldn't have to ask twice when I called upon Henry Peyton. It always does me good to grasp the hand of such a man as you are."
On the next day, an advance of fifty dollars was asked and obtained. This sum was lent as promised. In two weeks, the individual who borrowed it was in New Orleans, from whence he had the best of reasons for not wishing to return to the North. Of course, the generous Henry Peyton lost his money.
An increase of salary to a thousand dollars only made him less careful of his money. Before, he lived as freely as if his income had been one-third above what it was; now, he increased his expenses in like ratio. It was a pleasure to him to spend his money—not for himself alone, but among his friends.
It is no cause of wonder, that in being so generous to some, he was forced to be unjust to others. He was still behindhand with his poor washerwoman—owed for boarding, clothes, hats, boots, and a dozen other matters—and was, in consequence, a good deal harassed with duns. Still, he was called by some of his old cronies, "a fine, generous fellow." A few were rather colder in their expressions. He had borrowed money from them, and did not offer to return it, and he was such a generous-minded young man, that they felt a delicacy about calling his attention to it.
"Can you raise two thousand dollars?" was asked of him by a friend, when he was twenty-seven years old. "If you can, I know a first-rate chance to get into business."
"Indeed! What is the nature of it?"
The friend told him all he knew, and he was satisfied that a better offering might never present itself. But two thousand dollars were indispensable.
"Can't you borrow it?" suggested the friend.
"I will try."
"Try your best. You will never again have such an opportunity."
Peyton did try, but in vain. Those who could lend it to him considered him "too good-hearted a fellow" to trust with money; and he was forced to see that tide, which if he could have taken it at the flood, would have led him on to fortune, slowly and steadily recede.
To Merwin the same offer was made. He had fifteen hundred dollars laid by, and easily procured the balance. No one was afraid to trust him with money.
"What a fool I have been!" was the mental exclamation of Peyton, when he learned that his fellow-clerk had been able, with his own earnings, on a salary no larger than his own, to save enough to embrace the golden opportunity which he was forced to pass by. "They call Merwin mean and selfish—and I am called a generous fellow. That means, he has acted like a wise man, and I like a fool, I suppose. I know him better than they do. He is neither mean nor selfish, but careful and prudent, as I ought to have been. His mother is poor, and so is mine. Ah, me!" and the thought of his mother caused him to clasp both hands against his forehead. "I believe two dollars of his salary have been sent weekly to his poor mother. But I have never helped mine a single cent. There is the mean man, and here is the generous one. Fool! fool! wretch! He has fifteen hundred dollars ahead, after having sent his mother one hundred dollars a year for five or six years, and I am over five hundred dollars in debt. A fine, generous fellow, truly!"
The mind of Peyton was, as it should be, disturbed to its very center. His eyes were fairly opened, and he saw just where he stood, and what he was worth as a generous man.
"They have flattered my weakness," said he, bitterly, "to eat and drink and ride at my expense. It was very easy to say, 'how free-hearted he is,' so that I could hear them. A cheap way of enjoying the good things of life, verily! But the end of all this has come. One year from to-day, if I live, I will owe no man a dollar. My kind old mother, whom I have so long neglected, shall hear from me at once—ten dollars every month I dedicate to her. Come what will, nothing shall touch that. This agreement with myself I solemnly enter into in the sight of Heaven, and nothing shall tempt me to violate it."
"Are you going to ride out this afternoon, Peyton?" inquired a young friend, breaking in upon him at this moment.
"Yes, if you'll hire the buggy," was promptly returned.
"I can't afford that."
"Nor I either. How much is your salary?"
"Only a thousand."
"Just what mine is. If you can't, I am sure I cannot."
"Of course, you ought to be the best judge. I knew you rode out often, and liked company."
"Yes, I have done so; but that's past. I've been a 'fine, generous fellow' long enough to get into debt and mar my prospects for life, perhaps; but I am going to assume a new character. No doubt the very ones who have had so many rides, oyster suppers, and theater tickets at my expense, will all at once discover that I am as mean and selfish as Merwin, who has refrained from not only injurious, expensive indulgences, but even denied himself many innocent pleasures to save time and money for better purposes. I now wish I had been as truly noble and generous in the right direction as he has been."
Peyton went to work in the matter of reform in right good earnest, but he found it hard work; old habits and inclinations were very strong. Still he had some strength of mind, and he brought this into as vigorous exercise as it was possible for him to do, mainly with success, but sometimes with gentle lapses into self-indulgence.
His mother lived in a neighboring town, and was in humble circumstances. She supported herself by keeping a shop for the sale of various little articles. The old lady sat behind her counter, one afternoon, sewing, and thinking of her only son.
"Ah, me!" she sighed, "I thought Henry would have done something for himself long before this; but he is a wild, free-hearted boy, and spends everything as he goes."
"Here's a letter for you at last, Mrs. Peyton," said the well-known voice of the postman, breaking in upon her just at this moment.
With trembling hands, Mrs. Peyton broke the seal; a bank-bill crumpled in her fingers as she opened the letter. A portion of its contents read:—
"Dear Mother: I have had some very serious thoughts of late about my way of living. You know I never liked to be considered mean; this led me to be, what seemed to everybody, very generous. Everybody was pleased to eat, and drink, and ride at my expense; but no one seemed inclined to let me do the same at his expense. I have been getting a good salary for six or seven years, and for a part of that time, as much as a thousand dollars. I am ashamed to say that I have not a farthing laid by; nay, what is worse, I owe a good many little bills. But, dear mother, I think I have come fairly to my senses. I have come to a resolution not to spend a dollar foolishly; thus far I have been able to keep my promise to myself, and, by the help of Heaven, I mean to keep it to the end. My first thought, on seeing my folly, was of my shameful disregard to my mother's condition. In this letter are ten dollars. Every month you will receive from me a like sum—more, if you need it. As soon as I can lay by a sufficient amount, I will look around for some means of entering into business, and, as soon after as possible, make provision for you, that your last days may be spent in ease and comfort."
"God bless the dear boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Peyton, dropping the letter, while the tears gushed from her eyes. The happy mother wept long for joy. With her trembling hand she wrote a reply, and urged him, by the tenderest and most sacred considerations, to keep to his good resolutions.
At the end of a year Peyton examined his affairs and found himself freed from debt; but for nearly one hundred dollars of his wages he could not account. He puzzled over it for two or three evenings, and made out over fifty dollars spent foolishly.
"No doubt the rest will have to be passed to that account," said he at last, half angry with himself. "I'll have to watch closer than this. At the end of the next year, I'll not be in doubt about where one hundred dollars have gone."
It was but rarely, now, that you would hear the name of Peyton mentioned. Before, everybody said he was a "fine, generous fellow;" everybody praised him. Now, he seemed to be forgotten, or esteemed of little consideration. He felt this; but he had started to accomplish a certain end, and he had sufficient strength of mind not to be driven from his course.
In a few years he entered into business and succeeded beyond his expectations. He provided a home for his mother, and no one who saw her during the remaining ten years of her life would have called her unhappy.
I know Peyton still. He is not now, by general reputation, "a fine, generous fellow." But he is a good and respected citizen, and was a good son while his mother lived with him. He has won the means of really benefiting others, and few are more willing than he is to do it, when it can be done in the right way. He is still "generous"—but wisely so.
"Unto those who sit in sorrow, God has sent this precious word: Not an earnest prayer or impulse of the heart ascends unheard. He who rides upon the tempest, heeds the sparrow when it falls, And with mercies crowns the humblest, when before the throne he calls."
CAUGHT IN THE QUICKSAND
Victor Hugo gives the following impressive description of a death in the quicksand off certain coasts of Brittany, or Scotland. He says:—
It sometimes happens that a man, traveler or fisherman, walking on the beach at low tide, far from the bank, suddenly notices that for several minutes he has been walking with some difficulty. The strand beneath his feet is like pitch; his soles stick to it; it is sand no longer—it is glue.
The beach is perfectly dry, but at every step he takes, as soon as he lifts his foot the print which it leaves fills with water. The eye, however, has noticed no change; the immense strand is smooth and tranquil; all the sand has the same appearance; nothing distinguishes the surface which is solid from that which is no longer so; the joyous little cloud of sand fleas continue to leap tumultuously over the wayfarer's feet. The man pursues his way, goes forward, inclines to the land, endeavors to get nearer the upland. He is not anxious. Anxious about what? Only he feels somehow as if the weight of his feet increases with every step he takes. Suddenly he sinks in.
He sinks in two or three inches. Decidedly he is not on the right road; he stops to take his bearings. All at once he looks at his feet. They have disappeared. The sand covers them. He draws them out of the sand; he will retrace his steps; he turns back; he sinks in deeper. The sand comes up to his ankles; he pulls himself out and throws himself to the left; the sand is half-leg deep. He throws himself to the right; the sand comes up to his shins. Then he recognizes with unspeakable terror that he is caught in the quicksand, and that he has beneath him the fearful medium in which man can no more walk than the fish can swim. He throws off his load if he has one, lightens himself like a ship in distress; it is already too late; the sand is above his knees. He calls, he waves his hat or his handkerchief; the sand gains on him more and more. If the beach is deserted, if the land is too far off, if there is no help in sight, it is all over.
He is condemned to that appalling burial, long, infallible, implacable, and impossible to slacken or to hasten, which endures for hours, which seizes you erect, free, and in full health, and which draws you by the feet, which at every effort that you make, at every shout you utter, drags you a little deeper, sinking you slowly into the earth while you look upon the horizon, the sails of the ships upon the sea, the birds flying and singing, the sunshine and the sky. The victim attempts to sit down, to lie down, to creep; every movement he makes inters him; he straightens up, he sinks in; he feels that he is being swallowed. He howls, implores, cries to the clouds, despairs.
Behold him waist deep in the sand. The sand reaches his breast; he is now only a bust. He raises his arm, utters furious groans, clutches the beach with his nails, would hold by that straw, leans upon his elbows to pull himself out of this soft sheath, sobs frenziedly; the sand rises. The sand reaches his shoulders; the sand reaches his neck; the face alone is visible now. The mouth cries, the sand fills it; silence. The eyes still gaze, the sand shuts them; night. Now the forehead decreases, a little hair flutters above the sand; a hand comes to the surface of the beach, moves, and shakes, and disappears. It is the earth-drowning man. The earth filled with the ocean becomes a trap. It presents itself like a plain, and opens like a wave.
Could anything more graphically describe the progress of a young man, from the first cup of wine to the last?
Lord, in the silence of the night, Lord, in the turmoil of the day; In time of rapture and delight, In hours of sorrow and dismay; Yea, when my voice is filled with laughter, Yea, when my lips are thinned with pain; For present joy, and joy hereafter, Lord, I would thank thee once again.
—Elmer James Bailey.
"WHAT SHALL IT PROFIT?"
"Why, Archie Allen, you are not ready for church yet; we shall surely be late," said the young wife as she entered the elegant library where her husband sat reading a choice volume of poetry. It was Clara's first Sabbath in her new home. She had but lately left the sheltering roof of a kind great-uncle, who had taken her to his home when a lonely orphan, and reared her very tenderly, surrounding her with every comfort and many of the elegancies of life. A gentleman some years her senior had won her heart's affection, and now she was installed as mistress of his beautiful city home. Six months before she had publicly professed her love for the Saviour, but she was yet in the morning of her religious life. She needed the fostering care of an experienced, devoted Christian. Would she meet with such aid from him who was to be her future companion and protector? "Marry only in the Lord," was the advice of an aged friend to the young girl.
"Archie is not a professor of religion," she reasoned with herself; "but he respects religion, I know, and who can tell what influence I may exert over him?"
"You are not really going to church to-day, Clara, dear, cold as it is?" said the young man dropping his book and looking up with a smile.
"Why, who ever heard of such a thing as staying at home from church unless one was ill!"
"I think I am not very well, Clara. Won't you stay at home and take care of me? Read me some poetry and sing a few of your sweet songs."
Clara looked at him a moment a little incredulously and then replied, "You are quite well, I know by your laughing. I think it is very wrong to stay at home from church; indeed I do, Archie. Won't you go with me?"
"But where shall we go, my good wife?"
"Wherever you are accustomed to."
"I am accustomed to attend that cozy little brick church down by your uncle's, and I thought I had done duty so well there I should be considered religious enough for the rest of my days. But don't look so sad, Clara. I will go anywhere to please you. I know of a splendid marble church on the Avenue. We will drive there if you like, though I really have no idea of what persuasion it is. I will order the carriage and be ready in a few minutes," and he left the room gaily humming the fragment of an opera air.
It was an elegant, stately church. The brilliant light which flowed through the stained windows almost dazzled the sight of the young girl, accustomed only to the plain green shades of the humble village church. The voice of the deep-toned organ rolled through the marble hall and then burst forth into a light, gay air, which, to her unaccustomed ears, sounded strangely in a house of worship. God seemed nearer in the little church at home, which, nestled down among the grassy mounds and moss-grown headstones, seemed always pointing to a life beyond.
When the minister arose she marked well his graceful air, the polished words and sentences which flowed so smoothly from his lips as he read them from the page before him. But, alas!
"So coldly sweet, so deadly fair, We start, for soul is wanting there."
Clara felt that her soul had not been fed, as the carriage rolled away from the marble church; but there was much around her to attract the gaze of one who had never before spent a Sabbath in the city. Her husband was glad to be released from the sound of "the prosy old doctor's essay," and was in quite good humor with himself for his act of self-denial in going to church. So the drive home was quite a pleasant one, though considerably longer than the one to church.
When they reached home a note was brought in containing an invitation from a fashionable friend of Mr. Allen's to take a little drive out to the new park grounds that afternoon. The carriage would call at three o'clock.
Clara was greatly shocked at such a disregard of the sanctity of God's holy day, and her husband employed a great deal of skilful rhetoric and much more subtle sophistry before she could be brought even to entertain such a project.
"You know I went to church to please you this morning. I am sure you will be kind enough to oblige me by accepting my friend's invitation. I know he would be seriously offended if we did not."
Alas for youth, when the counselors it relies on "counsel to do wickedly"! Clara yielded, though with sad misgivings, and dressed herself for the ride.
The lady beside her was very courteous and attentive, and the gay conversation turned on various frivolous worldly subjects, till in the pleasant excitement of the drive Clara almost forgot the day. When they turned back again Mrs. Harvey insisted that they should dine with her, and the carriage stopped at their residence. A gay evening was spent, Clara being prevailed upon to play some of her choicest music and join her new acquaintance in singing some popular songs, which she did with most exquisite grace and expression. Her dark eye grew brighter and her fair cheek flushed softly, as she felt the proud, admiring glance of her husband bent upon her. But underneath all her pleasure was a dull sense of pain and a consciousness of wrong-doing, which was a very serpent trail among her fragrant flowers. When she reached her home again a flood of regretful sorrow overwhelmed her heart, and she wept bitterly. Her husband sought most tenderly to soothe her grief, and secretly resolved to undermine the "superstition which caused the dear girl so much unhappiness."
"You have done nothing wrong, dear Clara, that you should reproach yourself so bitterly. You have only spent a pleasant afternoon and evening with a friend. We must have dined somewhere, and what difference whether at their house or our own! what is life given us for except to make it just as full of happiness as we can, and to make others around us happy! Just think how much pleasure your sweet singing gave my friends and me. Harvey said it was better than the finest opera he ever heard. Religion ought to make people happy. I am afraid yours has not to-day, Clara, so I cannot think it is just the right sort for you. Now, really, did not the drive to and from church do you more good than the sermon? I am quite sure it did; so I always intend to take a good long road to church in the future."
It was some consolation to know that her husband intended to go to church with her in the future; so Clara dried her eyes and listened to a little gem of poetry he had selected to read to her that morning.
Little by little the rock of her faith was worn away, and she was fast learning to look on happiness as the true end of existence instead of holiness, "without which no man shall see the Lord." And, alas! many whose associations are far less worldly make this mistake, and look mainly for a great deal of joy and exalted happiness in their religious life. Because they do not attain it they go mourning all their days, looking with weeping eyes on those whom they regard as more favored of God, because the light of gladness shines upon their pathway. Desponding heart! there is no true happiness in religion where that alone is the end you seek. Holiness must be the end and aim of your whole course, or your joy will be like the "hope of the hypocrite, but for a moment." "Be ye holy, for I am holy," is the divine command.
How strange that a truly loving heart could enter upon such a task as that which Mr. Allen now commenced—the work of loosing a trusting nature from its only safe moorings, leaving it to drift without a compass or a guiding star upon a sea abounding with fearful rocks and angry breakers. But such is the hatred of the natural heart to the humbling doctrine of the cross and salvation alone through Him who was crucified upon it.
Clara was fond of reading, and her husband took care to place in her way certain fascinating writers, then quite popular, whose frequent merry flashes and sarcastic allusions to the "orthodoxy" tended more surely than serious reasoning would have done to make her think lightly of the faith in which she had been trained. The old-fashioned Bible was skilfully tortured out of its plainest meaning by these so-called reformers, or utterly ignored where it could not be distorted to suit their views. What their opinions of its inspiration were could never be clearly seen by others, if, indeed, they had ever given such a trifling matter any consideration whatever. Instead of the sure foundation which has Jesus Christ for its corner-stone, and a religion which teaches faith, humility, self-denial, earnest labor for souls, and all lowly virtues, they profess to throw wide open the doors of a "broad church," which should gather in all mankind as brothers, which should teach them the dignity and excellence of humanity, and give every one a free pass at last on the swift train over the celestial railway. In their great harvest-field they claimed the tares to be as valuable as the wheat, and never gave thought to the "harvest day." But, alas! calling the tares wheat will not avail when "the Lord of the harvest" comes and the command is given, "Bind them in bundles to burn them."
But the form in which the fatal error was clothed was fair and pleasing, especially so when her husband would
"Lend to the charm of the poet The music of his voice."
There was one favorite writer who seemed to possess a magic power in painting every shady nook and mossy wayside spring of the human heart. No old, gray rock or fathomless shadow of feeling seemed to escape that observing eye. And there were clear, bold strokes sometimes which showed a strength not often given to a woman's hand. Through all her writings ran a thread of light reflected from God's word, though bent out of its own right line by the prism through which it flowed. Much was said of the love and tender mercy of God, but the fact that he is also a just God, and will in nowise clear the guilty, was set aside as a hard doctrine. The gay scoffer, the one who despises Christ's tender offers of love and pardon, provided he is amiable and pleasant among his friends and associates, must not be given over to a just retribution. God is too loving a Father to see such a lovely scorner perish. It is "so incongruous" to think of the one with whom we have had such pleasant converse here being forever lost. The sophistry gradually wrought its work; the more readily, as poor Clara, in the whirl of fashion and gaiety, failed to bring it to the test of "the law and the testimony."
Time rolled on, and Clara was becoming more thoughtful and studious. Various philosophical works which her husband admired, and which he often read and discussed with her, were becoming favorite volumes. There was something grand in the old philosopher's views of life and its little ills and joys. There was something wonderful in their curious speculations respecting the mysteries of the world beyond. Her husband delighted in leading her mind through all their fantastic windings as they groped for the truth so clearly revealed to us. He praised his wife for her appreciation of such intellectual food, and rejoiced that he had been so successful in winning the affection of a truly intellectual woman. Her self-love was gratified, and her diligence in diving deeper into his favorite works daily increased.
In her own home circle her heart had room to expand its choicest tendrils. A noble boy three summers old was prattling at her feet, and all the demands of fashion could not make her forget a mother's duties. Still they were only the duties that pertained to his temporal welfare, for the flame of devotion had smoldered to ashes on the hearthstone of her heart.
The rain was dashing against the closed shutters one November night as an anxious group gathered in Mrs. Allen's chamber. They were standing on either side of a beautiful rosewood crib, whose hangings of azure gauze were closely drawn aside. There lay a little form tossing and restless, his little face and throat seemed scarlet as they rested on the snowy pillow, and his little hand moved restlessly to and fro, as if vainly striving to cool the burning heat. It was the mother's hand that tirelessly bathed the scarlet brow and burning limbs. Servants were constantly in waiting, but no hand but her husband's was allowed to take her place.
"Do you think there is hope, doctor?" was the question she longed to ask, but could not frame it into words. It came at length from her husband's lips. The answer was only a straw to grasp at.
"He is in a very critical state, indeed. If I had been at home when he was first taken ill I think the fever would not have reached such a height. But everything almost depends on the first steps. We must do what we can now to make up for lost hours."
But all that the best medical skill could do proved useless. The little sufferer lingered through the long night watch, and when the morning dawned seemed once more to know them all. "My mamma," were the first words which fell from his lips, sending a thrill of joy to all their hearts. It was bliss to see the smile of recognition light once more those sweet blue eyes, and the parents grasped each other's hand in silent joy. The old physician alone looked grave and sorrowful. The little light was fast fading out, and this was its dying flicker.
"Mamma, please take Bertie," said the little one, holding up the dimpled hands. Very tenderly was he lifted up and laid in her arms.
"Good night, papa, it's most dark now; Bertie is going to sleep."
His mother's tearful face bent over him, and as the strange hand of Death was laid upon his heart-strings he clasped her closely about the neck, as if she were a refuge from every danger.
They took the little one gently from her arms and laid him on his couch again. Her husband could not even strive to comfort her. He saw the joy and pride of his existence, the heir of his name and fortune, around whom so many fair hopes clustered, "taken away by a stroke," and his soul seemed crushed within him. He bowed his head upon his hands, and, regardless of other eyes, the proud man groaned, and sobbed, and wept as never in his life he had done before. Both were too deeply stricken to utter words of comfort. Clara felt her bleeding heart torn from her bosom. Yet no tears came to her relief. Her brain seemed bursting with the pressure upon it. Where was the sustaining power of boasted philosophy in this hour of darkness?
Ah, when the afflictions of life come home to "the bone and marrow of our own households" they are far different to us from those which concern only our neighbors. It is an easy thing to look on pleasure philosophically, or even the afflictions of others, but when our turn to suffer comes we shall feel our need of a strong staff to lean upon, a sure support that can keep us in perfect peace, even in the furnace. Clara had sought to pray when the agony of fear was upon her, but God seemed too far away to listen.
"I cannot give him up, my husband!" was the agonized cry of the mother as they stood for the last time by his side before he was to be taken forever from their chamber. "I cannot give him up," was the despairing language of both their hearts. There can be no true resignation where a loving Father's hand is not recognized in the affliction; where this poor world is allowed to bound the spirit's vision. But at last the precious dust was borne away to be seen no more by mortal eye till the resurrection morning.
Time, the great healer, wore away the sharpness of the bereavement, but Clara could never again delight in her former pursuits. How like very dust and ashes seemed the food she had been seeking to nourish her soul upon! A softened melancholy rested upon her heart, and she would wander about her house looking at the relics of her lost one. And day by day the roses faded from her cheek, her step grew lighter on the stair, and she rapidly declined, till at length she was startled at the shadowy form and face her mirror revealed to her. Her long-neglected Bible was once more sought for, and she read with all the desperate eagerness of a drowning man, who catches at every chance of safety. It was her mother's Bible, and along the margin were delicate pencil tracings, pointing to many precious passages. How eagerly she read them over! and when she was too weary herself, she gave the book into her husband's hand. Still he could give her no advice in her spiritual distress, and looked upon it with compassion as the result of her disease. He gave her the tenderest worldly consolation, but it brought no peace to her anxious soul. Was there no one to offer a word of true counsel? From a very humble source came the advice she so much needed. The kind nurse, Margaret, whom little Bertie had loved next to his parents, was an earnest, humble Christian. It was from her lips he had learned to lisp his morning and evening prayer, and her low, gentle voice that told him over and over the sweet story he never tired of hearing—the story of the Babe of Bethlehem.
Plainly and simply she pointed Clara's mind to the Lamb of God as the only Saviour, praying hourly in her heart that God would bring home the truth with power to her.
At length a little light broke in upon her mind. "It may be he will receive even such a wandering sheep as I," she said, "oh, I will cast myself upon his mercy only, for I can do nothing to make myself better!"
The thin hands were folded over the Bible, the eyes closed wearily, a faint motion of the lips told of the silent prayer her heart was offering, as gently she breathed her life away.
A few months later Mr. Allen became a wanderer in many lands.
Do you ever sigh and disquiet your heart, Christian pilgrim, because God has not given you wealth and worldly ease? Remember the words of One who never gave a needless caution nor spoke an untruthful word—"How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!"
It is a dangerous step indeed for a young heart to form a life-long union with one who is a stranger to its hopes of heaven. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers," is a command which may not be lightly broken. Where all of this world, and very probably the world to come, are at stake, the cost should be well counted. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Even the most devoted affection the world can bestow will be no substitute for God's loving favor. "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
"Jesus, my all in all thou art, My rest in toil, my ease in pain; The healing of my broken heart, In strife my peace, in loss my gain; My smile beneath the tyrant's frown, In shame my glory and my crown."
LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS.
"This is pleasant!" exclaimed a young husband, taking his seat in the rocking-chair as the supper things were removed. The fire glowing in the grate, revealed a pretty and neatly furnished sitting-room, with all the appliances of comfort. The fatiguing business of the day was over, and he sat enjoying what he had all day been anticipating, the delights of his own fireside. His pretty wife, Esther, took her work and sat down by the table.
"It is pleasant to have a home of one's own," he again said, taking a satisfactory survey of his little quarters. The cold rain beat against the windows, and he thought he felt really grateful for all his present comforts.
"Now if we only had a piano!" exclaimed the wife.
"Give me the music of your own sweet voice before all the pianos in creation," he observed, complimentarily; but he felt a certain secret disappointment that his wife's thankfulness did not happily chime with his own.
"Well, we want one for our friends," said Esther.
"Let our friends come to see us, and not to hear a piano," exclaimed the husband.
"But, George, everybody has a piano now-a-days—we don't go anywhere without seeing a piano," persisted the wife.
"And yet I don't know what we want one for—you will have no time to play on one, and I don't want to hear it."
"Why, they are so fashionable—I think our room looks nearly naked without one."
"I think it looks just right."
"I think it looks very naked—we want a piano shockingly," protested Esther emphatically.
The husband rocked violently.
"Your lamp smokes, my dear," said he, after a long pause.
"When are you going to get a camphene lamp? I have told you a dozen times how much we need one," said Esther pettishly.
"These are very pretty lamps—I never can see by a camphene lamp," said her husband. "These lamps are the prettiest of the kind I ever saw."
"But, George, I do not think our room is complete without a camphene lamp," said Esther sharply. "They are so fashionable! Why, the Morgans, and Millers, and many others I might mention, all have them; I am sure we ought to."
"We ought not to take pattern by other people's expenses, and I don't see any reason in that."
The husband moved uneasily in his chair.
"We want to live as well as others," said Esther.
"We want to live within our means, Esther," exclaimed George.
"I am sure we can afford it as well as the Morgans, and Millers, and Thorns; we do not wish to appear mean."
George's cheek crimsoned.
"Mean! I am not mean!" he cried angrily.
"Then we do not wish to appear so," said the wife. "To complete this room, and make it look like other people's we want a piano and camphene lamps."
"We want—we want!" muttered the husband, "there's no satisfying woman's wants, do what you may," and he abruptly left the room.
How many husbands are in a similar dilemma? How many houses and husbands are rendered uncomfortable by the constant dissatisfaction of a wife with present comforts and present provisions! How many bright prospects for business have ended in bankruptcy and ruin in order to satisfy this secret hankering after fashionable superfluities! Could the real cause of many failures be known, it would be found to result from useless expenditures at home—expenses to answer the demands of fashion and "what will people think?"
"My wife has made my fortune," said a gentleman of great possessions, "by her thrift, and prudence, and cheerfulness, when I was just beginning."
"And mine has lost my fortune," answered his companion, "by useless extravagance and repining when I was doing well."
What a world does this open to the influence which a wife possesses over the future prosperity of her family! Let the wife know her influence, and try to use it wisely and well.
Be satisfied to commence on a small scale. It is too common for young housekeepers to begin where their mothers ended. Buy all that is necessary to work skilfully with; adorn your house with all that will render it comfortable. Do not look at richer homes, and covet their costly furniture. If secret dissatisfaction is ready to spring up, go a step further and visit the homes of the suffering poor; behold dark, cheerless apartments, insufficient clothing, and absence of all the comforts and refinements of social life, and then turn to your own with a joyful spirit. You will then be prepared to meet your husband with a grateful heart, and be ready to appreciate the toil of self-denial which he has endured in the business world to surround you with the delights of home; and you will be ready to co-operate cheerfully with him in so arranging your expenses, that his mind will not be constantly harassed with fears lest his family expenses may encroach upon public payments. Be independent; a young housekeeper never needed greater moral courage than she does now to resist the arrogance of fashion. Do not let the A.'s and B.'s decide what you must have, neither let them hold the strings of your purse. You know best what you can and ought to afford. It matters but little what people think, provided you are true to yourself and family.
THE DARK FIRST.
Not first the glad and then the sorrowful— But first the sorrowful, and then the glad; Tears for a day—for earth of tears is full: Then we forget that we were ever sad.
Not first the bright, and after that the dark— But first the dark, and after that the bright; First the thick cloud, and then the rainbow's arc: First the dark grave, and then resurrection light.
OUT OF THE WRONG POCKET
Mr. Taggard frowned as he observed the pile of bills by his plate, placed there by his prudent, economical wife, not without an anxious flutter at the heart, in anticipation of the scene that invariably followed. He actually groaned as he read the sum total.
"There must be some mistake, Mary" he said, pushing back his plate, with a desperate air: "it is absolutely impossible for us to have used all these things in one month!"
"The bills are correct, John," was the meek response; "I looked them over myself."
"Then one thing is certain, provisions are either wasted, thrown out the window, as it were, or stolen. Jane has relatives in the place, and I haven't the least doubt but that she supports them out of what she steals."
Mrs. Taggard's temper was evidently rising; there were two round crimson spots upon her cheeks, and she tapped her foot nervously upon the floor.
"I am neither wasteful, nor extravagant, John. And as for Jane, I know her to be perfectly honest and trustworthy."
"It is evident that there is a leak somewhere, Mary; and it is your duty as a wife, to find out where it is, and stop it. Our bills are perfectly enormous; and if this sort of thing goes on much longer, I shall be a bankrupt."
Mrs. Taggard remained silent, trying to choke down the indignant feelings that struggled for utterance.
"You will have to order some coal," she said, at last; "we have hardly sufficient for the day."
"Is there anything more, Mrs. Taggard?" inquired her husband; ironically.
"Yes; neither I nor the children are decently or comfortably clothed; all need an entire new outfit."
"Go on, madam. As I am a man of unlimited means, if you have any other wants, I hope you won't be at all backward about mentioning them."
"I don't intend to be," was the quiet, but spirited reply. "I wouldn't do for another what I do for you, for double my board and clothing. Both the parlor and sitting-room need refurnishing; everything looks so faded and shabby, that I am ashamed to have any one call. And the stairs need recarpeting, the blinds and gate need repairing, and the fence needs painting."
"That can't be all, Mrs. Taggard. Are you sure that there isn't something else?"
"I don't think of anything else just now, Mr. Taggard; though if there should be a few dollars over and above what these will cost, they won't come amiss. I should like to have a little change in my pocket, if only for the novelty of the thing. You needn't fear its being wasted."
Mr. Taggard was evidently not a little astonished at this sudden outbreak in his usually quiet and patient wife, but who, like most women of that stamp, had considerable spirit when it was aroused.
"Now that you are through, Mrs. Taggard, perhaps you will let me say a word. Here is all the money I can spare you this month; so you can make the most of it."
Laying a roll of bills on the table, Mr. Taggard walked to the door; remarking, just before he closed it, that he should leave town on the next train, to be absent about a week.
The reverie into which Mrs. Taggard fell, as she listened to the sound of his retreating steps, was far from being a pleasant one. Aside from her natural vexation, she felt grieved and saddened by the change that had come over her once kind, indulgent husband. He seemed to be entirely filled with the greed of gain, the desire to amass money—not for the sake of the good that it might enable him to enjoy, or confer, but for the mere pleasure of hoarding it. And this miserly feeling grew upon him daily, until he seemed to grudge his family the common comforts of life. And yet Mrs. Taggard knew that he was not only in receipt of a comfortable income from his business, but had laid by a surplus, yearly, ever since their marriage.