"But just once cannot hurt me," pleaded Nellie.
"The one party, my child, will be followed by a score of them. If you go to Miss Shelburne's, the other girls will wonder why you cannot attend theirs, and ill feeling will arise. We will talk no more about it now. Sometime you will thank me for my course. Are you satisfied?"
"I'll try to be, mamma," said Nellie; but there were a few suspicious drops on her eyelashes.
The night of the party arrived. Nellie had had a very trying week at school, for the girls thought of nothing else besides their fine preparations. She bore it bravely, and after tea sat resolutely down to her lessons, which were unusually difficult. Half-past eight found her closing her books with the air of a conqueror, while she exclaimed,—
"Now, mamma, they're all done, every one. May I run over and see Cousin Sue off?"
Consent was given, and Nellie entered her uncle's vestibule just as Sue was descending the stairs, in a cloud of lace and pink silk. She felt a little choking in her throat, but said, quietly, "Sue, you look lovely; but to-morrow's French exercise is terribly hard."
"And Miss Propriety Stay-at-home has prepared for it, I infer. Aren't you sorry you can't go?" said Sue, settling her flounces with a satisfied air.
"Mother knows best," said Nellie, decidedly; then she went home. While her sixth hour of sleep, sweet and restful, was passing by, poor, tired, cross Sue returned home, and wearily climbed the stairs to her room.
Next day Nellie came home, saying, "I am at the head of all my classes. Some of the girls were late, others had headaches, all of them were disagreeable, and none of them had half prepared their lessons. Professor Marshly was very angry, but he thanked me for my good example to others. You dearest mother! I'll trust you as long as I live." And grateful Nellie sealed the compact with a kiss.
Years afterward, two ladies were seated in a pleasant room engaged in conversation. One of them reclined on a sofa, and her sallow features and restless, dissatisfied manner marked her an invalid. The face of the other was bright with health and vivacity. Her sunny smile and cheery voice showed her a stranger to sickness and pain.
"Nellie, my dear," sighed the former, "you can have no idea of the dreadful condition of my nervous system. I spend the greater part of the day on the sofa. The children are a perfect worriment, everything about the house goes wrong, Ralph looks so discontented. I cannot enjoy society at all. In fact, the doctor says I had too much dissipation when young, and ruined my constitution with the parties and late suppers. I would give my fortune for your good health and cheerful spirits."
"Cousin Sue, I remember when you used to drive off to parties, and think scornfully of my quiet home evenings."
"I remember, Nellie. Do hand me the hartshorn and another cushion, and please lower that shade a little. There, thank you. Now will you inform me to what you owe your healthy, happy life?"
At this moment the door opened, and a silver-haired, sweet-faced lady entered. Nellie rose to meet her, and twining one arm about the lady's waist, "Cousin Sue," she said, "my perfect health, my calm, happy mind, the good I am enabled to do for God and humanity, the comfort I succeed in giving to my husband and children, the knowledge I have of my heavenly Father, and the love I bear him, I owe to the judicious care, the wise counsel, and the tender love and prayers of my mother."
LOOK TO YOUR THOUGHTS.
Many suppose that if they can guard themselves against improper words and wicked deeds, they cannot be very guilty on account of thoughts which may revolve in their minds, however corrupt they may be. They look upon their thoughts as things which spring up in the heart by some laws of association which they cannot understand, or which, if understood, they cannot control. As they have not summoned, so neither, in their view, can they dismiss them; but must surrender themselves to their influence for a period, longer or shorter, until some circumstance occurs which gives a new direction to the current of thinking. When they confess their sins, there are oftentimes words and deeds which they admit to be grievously in conflict with the demands of the divine Word. But it rarely happens that any unhallowed imaginations in which they have indulged awaken emotions of genuine sorrow. Now the thoughts are the guests we entertain—the company we receive into the innermost privacy of our bosoms. And just as a man is censurable who voluntarily and habitually consorts with corrupting company, so is he to be condemned who deliberately entertains depraved thoughts.
Let every one, and especially every young man, remember that God holds us responsible for our thoughts. Man can take cognizance only of the outward appearance. His observation must be limited to those words and actions which can be perceived by the senses. But the scrutiny of Omniscience extends further, penetrating the evil which hides our inner selves from the view of others; it explores the most private recesses of the spirit, and perfectly understands that portion of our character which others cannot scan. Man can only call us good or evil, as our words and actions authorize. But He whose glance enters the heart and surveys the emotions which are there cherished, condemns, as wicked, every unhallowed thought; and will as surely take these into the account in determining our final retribution as he will consider in that reckoning our outward acts, "Guard well your thoughts." "Your thoughts are heard in heaven," says a distinguished poet. Never was there a more scriptural sentiment.
But perhaps there may be those to whom this may look like a harsh procedure. If it were true, as some suppose, that we could not control our thoughts—that they rushed uninvited upon our attention, that they detained that attention for a time, longer or shorter, just as they pleased, and that they departed as unceremoniously as they entered our mind—then I grant that it would be hard to make us responsible for such visitors. If we had no power over our own mental operations, it would seem as unjust to punish us for our delinquencies in these particulars as to censure us for the depravity of a resident of Asia or Africa. But can you defend such a position as this? Have you no power to determine what themes shall and what shall not employ your meditations? Are you the mere slave for your thoughts, compelled to follow as they, by some caprice, may direct? No intelligent mind in which the will is ruler is prepared to admit that it has been subjected to such vassalage.
The truth is, and I appeal to your own consciences in support of the declaration, that you are endowed with the power of thinking upon just such subjects as you may prefer. You can, at pleasure, direct your attention to any topic, agreeable or disagreeable, lawful or unlawful, connected with the past, present, or future; you can revolve it in your mind for a longer or shorter period, and then you can dismiss it entirely from your consideration. If this were not true; if your thoughts were not under the control of the will, you would be incompetent to manage your business; you would be disqualified for every pursuit of life involving the exercise of reason. You would in truth be insane.
Now it is because God has given us the power over our own thinking that it assumes a moral complexion in his sight. The man who resigns himself to unholy reveries, or who entertains in his own heart purposes which, if acted out, would render him liable to the censure of his fellow men, and to condemnation from God, is as certainly guilty, though it may not be to the same extent, as though he had been openly corrupt and abandoned. "Out of the heart," says the Saviour, "proceed evil thoughts." Here observe that our Lord plainly teaches that our thoughts may be evil or sinful, and therefore may expose him who harbors them to punishment. And lest any one should be disposed to look upon evil thoughts as an offense too trivial to awaken any concern, mark the company in which this sin is found. Learn from those offenses with which it is classed something of the enormity to which it may rise. "Out of the heart proceedeth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies."
One of the most important counsels in the entire volume of Revelation, is the direction of the wise man: "Keep thy heart with all diligence." This is the fountain whence issue the streams which are to fertilize and gladden, or to pollute and destroy. No one was ever wicked in speech or action who was not first wicked in heart. The deeds of atrocity which shock us in execution were first performed in heart—in thought. Had this been "kept," had the early idea been restrained, the result so fearful in development might have been averted. Young men, look to the springs of action, as you would avoid acts which involve you in ruin and disgrace. Keep the heart as you would secure a conduit, which, with God's blessing, will make you honorable, lawful, and happy now, and all that you desire hereafter. Look to your thoughts.
"Build a little fence of trust around to-day; Fill the space with loving thought, and therein stay; Look not from its sheltering bars upon to-morrow, God will help thee bear what comes, of joy or sorrow."