THE ORPHAN'S VICTORY.
by SARAH A. MYERS.
"Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.... They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing."—PSALM xxxiv.
T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row; Edinburgh; and New York.
This little volume contains a simple record of the trials and temptations which a poor orphan boy passed through a few years since. It teaches that best of lessons,—the need of Divine help in the battle of life. It shows that a child may attain a beautiful character amid great trials and great evils.
The author assures us that the incidents in this delightful story are real occurrences. Some of them are "stranger than fiction;" yet they are not fancies, but facts.
WILLIAM'S FIRST GRIEF.
In one of the many beautiful spots which the traveller sees in making a voyage up the Hudson, stands the village of M——. It attracts the notice of all tourists, for it seems to occupy the very place in which a painter or a lover of the picturesque would have chosen to place it. Its inhabitants love to boast of its antiquity, for it was founded by the original Dutch settlers, and its present settlers are mostly their descendants.
At the time of which we write, no city fashions had found their way to that remote spot. Its inhabitants were simple-hearted, pious, and contented to live as their forefathers had done; and the place seemed like a quiet little world within itself. None of the gross vices always to be found in large communities were practised there. On the Sabbath-day, when its only bell sent its voice distinctly over the valley, the humble dwellers met in the single church, not only bound together by the tie of human brotherhood, but by the sweeter ties of Christian charity, to hear the word of God and perform the work of prayer and praise.
Just at the end of the long street in this quiet village stood a cottage, which, although very rudely built, attracted the attention of the passers-by from the extreme neatness and order, those sure attendants of the pious poor, which reigned around it. In winter it looked snug beneath its coating of snow; in summer very beautiful, glistening, as it then did, in all its fragrant adornment of jessamine, honeysuckle, and sweet-brier.
But if its exterior was attractive, the family life within was much more so. True piety and grace were found beneath that modest roof, most truly illustrating the truth, that the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, who dwelleth in the high and holy place, dwelleth with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.
For many years this cottage had been occupied by a watchmaker, a German, who left his own country in early manhood, and came to the United States to find the wealth which foreigners used to believe could be gained here at once. This he never acquired, but he found something better; for although in an out-of-the-way place he could not expect to grow rich by his trade, he found a great treasure in his pious wife, and enjoyed more of pure and real happiness than often falls to the lot of man. His mind was originally one of strength, and he had turned his meditations and prayers heavenward, and the promised peace was vouchsafed.
He did not love his trade as well as he might have done; for having a very remarkable talent for painting and sketching, which the beautiful surroundings were well calculated to foster, he often found his business of watchmaking irksome. Although frugal, industrious, and possessing much skill as a seal engraver, in which art he received employment from New York, he never was able to lay up anything, although he could and did provide comfortably for his household.
His neighbours entertained for him a deep respect. He was of an independent spirit, somewhat taciturn; and, from his retiring, contemplative spirit, by some was considered stern. But his life was so entirely blameless, regulated as it was by the purifying and elevating influence of Christianity, that many reverenced him as an "Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile."
But Christians are by no means exempt from trials; indeed, the children of God are called to pass through the sorest ordeals, and the Raymonds had experienced many strokes of the chastening rod. When their children were taken one after another, until only the last born remained, they bowed submissively to this adverse visitation; and although for a little while stunned in spirit, as was natural, they murmured not, but were soon able to say with resignation, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." But turning toward the one left, it may easily be supposed that for him they entertained a most anxious love. Nevertheless, no undue indulgences were granted because he was the only one and the last. They knew their duty as Christian parents too well for that, and spared no pains, both by precept and example, to instruct him in the lore that putteth to shame all worldly wisdom, and which only could fit him for the trials of earth or the joys of heaven. Well was it for the poor child that he had been thus taught, for the time was at hand when he would require all the Christian's armour to fit him for the great battle in which every one that lives is called to contend. To some the strife is more severe than to others; but to all, if they would win the goal successfully, a better strength than their own is necessary, and to teach their child to rely upon the all-sustaining arm, was the constant endeavour of these faithful parents.
A few years passed by, and their earthly comforts were not diminished; they still occupied the cottage their own hands had beautified, and having won the affectionate esteem of their landlord, a good old baker, he assured them that he would never raise their rent or suffer them to leave it. Their son William had reached his eighth year, and was what might be called a good boy; for, having no bad example, and being naturally of a docile disposition, and for the most part obedient and gentle, there was little occasion for fault-finding. To the anxious father the thought had often occurred, "What is to be his future lot—in what line of business is he to be brought up?" and he mostly concluded he could never bear a separation from this boy, who was as the very apple of his eye; he would teach him his own trade, which, although by no means a profitable, was at least a respectable one, and would furnish a livelihood. There were times when, looking into the intelligent blue eyes that would be lifted up so lovingly to meet his gaze, he would wish that he might be able to educate his boy; but almost at once he would conquer the longing, and say to himself: "It is God who appoints to every man his station, and I must not murmur because my child's lot is destined to be a lowly one. There is danger in high places, and I ought rather to rejoice that our poverty removes him far from the temptation he would meet with in a more exalted station."
One evening, it was a dull and cloudy one near the close of December, George Raymond came home seeming more than ordinarily cheerful, greatly to the delight of his good Margaret, who did not like to see him too thoughtful. "Times seem to grow better, wife," he said, after he finished his supper; "I have had plenty of work at seal engraving this last fortnight; it seems my work has been approved in the city."
"We have always had enough for the supply of our daily wants," answered Margaret; "and we are told not to be too anxious about the goods of this world."
"I am not very anxious," said Raymond; "at least not on my own account; but sometimes I think if I should be called away, what would become of you, Gretta, and little Will?"
"The Lord would provide for us, George, as he has ever done," was the wife's reply; "he is ever faithful to his promise, and he has declared that those who wait on him shall not want for any good thing."
"That is very true, Margaret; but we must use lawful means to provide bread for our families," said Raymond; "but where is Will? I have not seen him since I came in; neither did he come to meet me as usual."
"I am here, father," said a sweet childish voice; and creeping from a dark corner between the cupboard and the wall, a little boy came forth and stood at his father's knee, and, without speaking, looked up into his face with an expression of more than ordinary meaning. Slight and delicately made, he was easily raised to his usual seat on his father's knee, when, kissing him affectionately, he inquired, "What have you been doing all day, Will? I believe you have had no school."
"Wait, father, and I will show you," replied the boy, as he slid down from his father's knee; and running to the corner from whence he had come at Raymond's call, he returned almost immediately with two or three half-sheets of paper in his hand. "I have been drawing," said the little boy, as his father took the sketches and examined them with a grave look. "Please do not be angry, for I did not take your pencils."
"And how did you draw without pencils?" asked his father. "Let me see what you have here;—a table, a chair, ah yes, and a house with trees! Very good, William; but I would rather you did not draw any more."
The boy would have asked why, but taught that the parental wish was to be regarded as a law, he tried to conquer the emotion which would arise in spite of all efforts to restrain it. It seemed hard to be so disappointed: he expected praise, and now, if he had not received censure, certainly not the slightest approval was accorded. Accustomed, however, not to question, but submit, the little fellow threw his arms embracingly round his father's neck and bade him good night, and having done the same with his mother, retired to bed rather to shed his tears unseen than to sleep.
And he did weep! Poor little fellow, his grief was very great; and although our readers may smile because he regarded the matter in such a serious light, they must remember that this was almost, if not altogether, his first sorrow; and we are far from believing the sorrow of a child the trivial thing it is generally considered, and perhaps but the beginning of other and severer trials.
But if the sorrow of childhood is severe, what a blessing it is that its violence is soon over! anger seldom rests in the heart of a good child, and as soon as the tears are dried, all is bright as before. William's tears were very bitter, but accustomed always to ask the divine blessing before retiring, he knelt down beside his little bed, and prayed that if he had done wrong in drawing without asking his father's leave, he might be forgiven. His childish petition, uttered in the full confidence that it would be heard, brought comfort, as the act of sincere prayer always does, and once more soothed and happy, in a few minutes the child sunk into so deep a slumber, that he was altogether unconscious of his mother's kiss, and the audibly uttered blessing invoked upon him by his pious father.
There were two other hearts as sorrowful as his own, although tears did not attest the depth of their emotion. Margaret was distressed in her child's distress, and could not understand why her husband did not praise what she considered the very creditable effort of her boy; but she was too judicious to utter a word in his presence, much as she sympathized with William. Raymond, however, was the most distressed of all, and that, too, because he felt that a father's pride must be sacrificed at the shrine of what he regarded as a father's duty; and he experienced a severe pang, as, on surveying the child's sketches, he dared not say one word in praise of them, although his very heart bounded, lover of the fine arts as he was, at the promise of superior talent they exhibited. After William had left the room he sat leaning his head on his hand, quite unrepentant, however, for his seeming harshness, but at the same time troubled that his views of duty made it imperative for him to appear so. Margaret was the first to break silence.
"George," said she, "why did you hurt poor William by not praising his drawings? the child was so sure you would be delighted; and although he knew where your pencils are kept, he never once asked for them, but took the charcoal from the hearth. I cannot understand why you did so."
"My dear Margaret," he replied, "I am far more grieved to be obliged to look frowningly on that which, in other than our present circumstances, would have given to me greater delight than to you or my good child himself. William's sketches, rude as they are, evince very extraordinary talent, but I should sin were I to encourage him to pursue such a work. I know too well how absorbing it is; how hard it is, when one's mind is filled with pictures of the grand and beautiful, to work at a trade one does not like. The boy, most likely, has genius; but even so, how is that genius to be fostered? I know, too, how toilsome and difficult is the early path toward the art, and how few, comparatively, ever gain distinction and reward."
"That is true," said Margaret; "I now understand and see that you are right."
"Yes, Margaret," washer husband's reply, "I think I am right; remember that it is the Unerring who has allotted our condition, and I have no higher ambition than to see my only child grow up an honest man, diligent in his calling, whatever it may be. My first wish is, that my boy may be a Christian: it will never trouble me that he must work hard and be obscure; for if he is pious, honest, and happy in his own mind, he will be a greater man than those who fill high stations without the qualifications I have named."
"He is such a good child," said Margaret, "I cannot bear to give him unnecessary pain."
"The proper discipline does no harm," said Raymond; "and the Scripture tells us that 'no chastening for the present is joyous, but grievous, but afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby;' and as we are in the same place commanded to 'make straight paths for our feet,' so in this instance I have preferred giving my child present pain in order that he may escape future and greater trials. Ah! Margaret, he may think I am harsh in this case, as he cannot fathom my motive; and how often do we judge hardly of the dealings of our kind heavenly Father when he thwarts us in some favourite wish, or smiles not on our undertaking. Be assured that only those who commit their way unto the Lord are safe; and as I bear my boy daily upon my heart to the throne of grace, and offer up the prayer of faith in the name of Him who hath promised to hear, so truly am I assured that all that befalls us will be right, and that although I may be removed from the earthly guardianship of my darling child, I know that he will never want for any good thing. Wife, we must teach him that his lot is to be a lowly one; but we must also teach him that any station can be ennobled by the upright and conscientious discharge of the duties belonging to it. But now, let us have our usual worship, and then we will look in on William, and see if his trouble is not all forgotten in sleep."
TOILS AND TRIALS.
When William arose the next morning, he met his parents with as smiling a face as if his father had presented him with a case of pencils, instead of discouraging his attempts at drawing. Nothing was said on the subject, and the weeks rolled on quietly and peacefully as before, until William passed his ninth birthday, and the Christmas-time drew near. This is a festive time with most; and it seems right that it should be so, for can man ever be sufficiently thankful for the great gift of a Saviour, whose birth was heralded by the songs of angels on that day? All nations observe their peculiar ceremonies, but perhaps none are more faithfully observant of them than the Germans in the little community of M——, most of whose inhabitants at the time of which we write were descendants of the original Dutch settlers. Many ceremonies and customs, relics of a ruder age, and now nearly forgotten, were still practised. The Raymonds, although pious, and more intelligent than most of their neighbours, kept up many of the usages of Fatherland on the Christmas occasion, perhaps more as wafting them back in remembrance of early enjoyment in the home circle, than from any present love of the festivity common at this period.
The joyful season drew nigh merrily, and in the watchmaker's family, as in all others—for the very poorest look forward hopingly to it—there was nothing but bright anticipations, which were for the present realized. The Christmas cake was prepared in the most approved old fashion; the dark-hued pine was duly ornamented, and occupied a conspicuous place in the family room, and little William was made most happy in the receipt of many gifts, although toy paints and pencils were not among the number.
But what says the Scripture? "Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth;" and the holy man who admonishes to "rejoice with trembling," well knew the slender foundation on which all earthly bliss is based.
The day broke bright and cheerful; the morning prayers, never forgotten in this truly Christian household, were over, and the gifts and greetings exchanged; the village bell rang out clear on the frosty air, and sounded rejoicingly as it called the humble community to give thanks in the little old-fashioned church, as the custom was on Christmas-day. In the Raymond cottage the good dinner was eaten, and when the sun had gone down behind the mountains, the Christmas-tree was once more lighted up; and although not quite as well laden or as brilliant as on the evening before, it nevertheless illumined the cottage, and continued very attractive. It had been a happy day, and as they sat beside their evening fire, thinking over the many enjoyments and blessings that had marked its course, New Year's-day was the next point of expectation, and many were the pleasures to be enjoyed on that day, as well as many new prospects planned to be executed within the year. Ah! they saw not how the dark wing of the angel of Death was sweeping over them, nor could they forebode that from this night their path was to be a stern and rugged one.
In the evening of the day after Christmas, when Raymond returned from his work, he complained of feeling unwell, and his sickness increasing hourly, his earthly course was terminated in a few days; and instead of the promised pleasure on New Year's-day, his corpse occupied the lowly room. It was a mournful New Year's-day in the home of the widow and the fatherless. Margaret, passive in her affliction, for she was stunned by its suddenness, sat gazing with tearless eyes upon the corner where the dim outline of a human form was seen under its white covering; and little William, turning his eyes alternately from his pale mother to the corpse of his father, was too much awe-stricken by the presence of the dread destroyer to utter a word.
It was not until after the remains of poor Raymond had been laid in the grave, and the widow had returned to her desolate cottage, that she experienced the full weight of her heavy burden. Even when death comes slowly, when sickness, pain, and long suspense have made the issue certain, it is hard for the bereaved to realize the dread event; but when the scythe of the destroyer has passed so quickly over, when the home is made so speedily desolate, and the place vacant, is it wonderful that to the stricken mourner all seems dark, discerning no light behind the overshadowing cloud? But none, dear reader, are afflicted more than they can bear; the words of worldly wisdom would fall upon the ear unheard, but the sacred balm poured out upon the bruised heart by the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter promised by our Saviour, soothes the soul into submission, and whispers, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will not forsake the widow, nor shall the orphan be forgotten."
It was not long until the pious Margaret recognised the hand by which she had been smitten; and the first stunning effect of her grief being past, with the same patient, humble, and calm spirit that had always characterized her in her prosperous days, she prepared to make arrangements for a more frugal course of life than that they had hitherto maintained, although the housekeeping had always been of the most simple order. She could not afford to keep the cottage in which they had lived so happily; the vines her husband's hand had trained, the flowers she had planted, the little garden which they both had delighted to keep in order, must pass into the hands of strangers; and the thought of leaving a place so dear by association gave an additional pang to the grief already so great. She looked upon her child, her last, her only treasure, and blessing God that this comfort was still spared, she resolved to exert every energy in the endeavour to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Great was her adversity, but He who watches over the sparrow and feeds the raven had raised up friends for her time of need.
The cottage in the suburbs was speedily let to another tenant; but their landlord, Nicholas Herman, the baker, found a room, an attic indeed, but comfortable, in a house adjoining his own; and from the time in which she took possession both himself and his good wife showed her every kindness within their power. But still she found herself very poor; for after her husband's affairs were settled, and the rent and funeral expenses paid, there was nothing left, and she had to use such industry as she was able to pursue to maintain her little household. Very simple indeed was their manner of living now; but she knew no want, for having gained the respect and confidence of the community in her prosperous days, she was supplied with work almost constantly.
The winter was long and severe, and dark and dreary were many of its hours to the widow. As the season advanced toward the spring, her heart was illuminated by occasional gleams of light sent forth, not only by hope's smiling in the distance, but from the sustaining influence lent her by the hopeful spirit, ready obedience, and untiring industry of her boy.
It is astonishing what a sudden change such a blow of misfortune often produces in a child. We know not the mysterious workings of a child's mind, or by what process such a rapid change is accomplished; but we know from experience that the journey of a very few years in the path of life can make even the very young sensible that this world is not one of unmixed happiness, and that there is often but a step from careless childhood to a painful maturity,—painful because unnatural.
Such was the case with poor Will Raymond; and new comfort dawned on the widow's heart as she remarked his untiring efforts, not only to cheer her, but to aid, by such labour as he was able to perform, in their mutual maintenance. With a maturity of judgment hardly to be expected in one of his age, he entered not only into all her plans, but, during the spring and summer succeeding his father's death, went regularly to some kind of work, by which he gained wages, small indeed, but which, added to the general stock, would help to provide against the severities of the coming winter. There are always some kind hearts to be found in every community, who are willing to comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, and encourage all virtuous effort, although the service rendered be but trifling. A kind-hearted farmer, hearing of the little boy's exertions to aid his mother, employed him to wait on his reapers during harvest; and as the time of fruit-gathering and hop-picking in the autumn furnished plenty of such work as he was able to do, all his time was, as one might say, filled up. And when he brought home the hard-earned money, the fruit of his toils, and marked the lighting of his mother's eye as he poured his little treasures into her lap, child as he was, he felt there was a sweetness in the gains of labour which no gifts can bestow; and William and his mother were not the only ones to remark that bread earned by honest toil is sweeter than any other.
There was another, besides the farmer, whose heart turned warmly toward the fatherless boy. Old Nicholas Herman, the baker, was too truly benevolent to forget his late tenant, and although not a rich man, he had often something to send to the widow. He had learned the beautiful precept: "Give bread to the hungry, and from the needy turn not away;" and was a true believer in Him who said, "Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me."
Kept busy and from home throughout the day, the mother waited anxiously for the twilight hour, for then William would return, and great was the joy of her heart when, with bounding step and cheerful face, he entered the house. The night might be dark and stormy, but his presence always made her sun-light; and the tempest might beat upon her lowly dwelling, threatening its destruction, yet she heeded it not, for her earthly treasure was beside her. Although much enfeebled by grief, she spent no idle moments, but sewed, knit, or spun. William, child as he was, did not fail to note the faded look, and exerted himself not only to assist her in her household duties, but learned to knit; for he thought no occupation, however feminine, disparaging to his boyhood, if by it he could only lessen her labours.
These hours were spent with double profit, for she taught him while she worked, and light from her window was seen to glimmer long after most of the dwellers in her neighbourhood had gone to rest. She taught him the ordinary branches of school learning, which she well understood; but she was much more careful to impress upon his mind the more important precepts of the gospel, that only true chart by which, man can steer through life safely, and which wisdom, she told him, was of more value than gold. She grieved not that his face was imbrowned, or his hands hardened by labour: toil is man's natural inheritance, and he is bid to rejoice in his "labour, for it is the gift of God;" but she rejoiced in the maturing of his heart, and saw that the good seed she was sowing was taking root.
She had, however, one trouble concerning him, and not being able to discern clearly what was her duty, it gave her more anxiety than even her poverty. His love for sketching could not be repressed. She saw that he shared his father's talent largely, but remembering what her husband's views in reference to the cultivation of the noble art of painting had been, the struggle between maternal pride and the natural yearnings of a mother's heart to gratify a darling and worthy child, in opposition to what seeming duty demanded, can scarcely be imagined. Her late husband's opinions, tempered as they always were by judgment and prudence, had acquired a character of sacredness in her view; but when William, in showing her his sums, showed also the rude but spirited sketches he had drawn on the border of his slate, she saw that the gift was from God, and she could not condemn, although she dared not praise. She was afraid of entailing misery on him by fostering a taste beyond what his means would permit him to gratify. He had no present prospect but that of earning his bread by the sorest labour. Even if his talent were an extraordinary one, it would take a long time to cultivate it to a profitable point; and in the meantime, how was he to be supported?
She told all this to her son; but when he begged her, as his only recreation (for he never played with any boys except George Herman, as good a boy as himself), to let him look over his father's portfolio of sketches, could she deny the favour? or was she wrong? Nor could she forbid some pen-and-ink sketches, in which she recognised familiar objects, although she warned him against giving offence by caricaturing; and while she described to him the wonders of this glorious earth, with its embosomed treasures of mines and minerals, and made him read in his Bible how God had created all and called it good, she also showed him that man was the crowning work;—beloved of God, notwithstanding his rebellion; made only a little lower than the angels, crowned with dignity and honour; and so loved by the Saviour, that he came to save those who otherwise would have been lost; and still bearing much of the original impress in which he was created. She explained to him how wrong it is to make game of the peculiarities of any human being, ridicule his infirmities, or win a reputation by exhibiting his defects; bidding him always, at the close of her lecture, to read the sermon delivered on the mount, and to walk by its rule, and he would not fail to do right.
There were times, however, when the mother's heart would almost overcome this resolve. In her lonely hours fancy would portray her son's future; and when does maternal hope discover aught but a glorious one? She thought of what he might be, could he go abroad to study the works of the old masters; how, with his genius (for she knew not that taste was often mistaken for genius) and persevering industry, her boy might yet win a high place in the world, as many others as poor as he had done. But she was too sensible to let her thoughts dwell long on this flattering subject, and resolved to do what she considered right as present duty, committing the issue to God, in whom she so implicitly trusted.
Christmas-day came round again, and it was a mournful one in the home of the widow and fatherless. Margaret had changed much during the year: her face was deathly pale, silver lines showed themselves among her dark hair, and her usually placid and subdued expression was exchanged for a look of pain. A harassing cough troubled her by day and prevented her resting at night; an accompanying weakness created some little anxiety as to what its issue might be; but, with the hoping spirit which is ever attendant on that insidious disease called consumption, she believed that the coming spring would restore her.
It came with its wealth of sunshine, and renovated the earth to promise of fruitfulness and beauty,—beautiful type of the resurrection, when man shall rise to glorious immortality. All nature rejoiced in its presence; the flowers came forth and filled the air with healthful odours; the birds warbled as they built their nests; the merry children rejoiced as they played on the green, and exulted in the liberty the vernal season bestowed. But to the widow spring brought no renewal of health; and now, finding herself unable to wash, she consulted a physician, who told her it was too late; the disease had made large progress, and she could not live through the year!
Such an announcement would startle most persons. Death is so repugnant to man's nature, that there are but few who do not shrink from the dread encounter. Poor Margaret had more to fear than this. She dreaded not only the misery and poverty her tedious illness would entail upon them, but she wept the bitterest tears when she thought of her orphan child, poor, alone, and uncared for, when she should be taken away. She was, however, too sincere a believer to remain long within the shadow of the cloud. The God in whom she had ever trusted was ever faithful to his own word. Had he not promised, "Leave thy fatherless children to me, I will preserve them alive?" and is not his favour better than life! And when she prayed, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me," like Him whose true servant she was, she also added, "nevertheless, not my will be done, but thine." When does the Christian fail to receive comfort, when the child-like submission inculcated in the gospel is exercised? Is not the chastening rod in the hand of a Father who wounds but to heal? and he, who sees the end from the beginning, nevertheless afflicts his children. Margaret Raymond was therefore able to give up all into the unerring hand, knowing that He who feeds the raven and clothes the lily would not forsake her orphan child, but lead him, it might be by a narrow and rugged path—but such is the way that leads to the strait gate, and all who find eternal life must tread it.
AN ORPHAN INDEED.
The spring advanced into summer, and on one of its calm and bright evenings, Margaret, exerting her little strength, took William to the grave-yard, and both seated themselves on the little green hillock beneath which George Raymond awaited in peace the resurrection from the dust. No costly monuments nor storied urns were in that simple grave-yard. Some plain marble tablets marked the resting-places of the dead; but there were memorials of deeper meaning and more lovely. Trees waved their branches protectingly over the little mounds; kind hands had planted them with flowers and kept them sacred. Thus it was a pleasant spot, and full of hallowed remembrances. Margaret had never spoken of her coming death to her son; but now, seated on the spot of earth which must ere long be opened to afford a resting-place for herself, she told him that soon, in a few weeks most likely, he would be an orphan indeed, alone in the world, and with no friend but God.
How can the sorrow and astonishment of the poor boy be described? Motherless and fatherless! what a deep and painful impression did the words of that truly pious mother make upon him! He had dearly loved his father, but the exertion he had at once made to help to support his mother had prevented his viewing that great loss in all its magnitude; but now, to lose her on whom, since his father's death, he had hung his whole heart, was an idea so terrible that he could scarcely comprehend it.
"Mother," he exclaimed, as he threw his arms around her and sobbed wildly, "you will not die! surely you will not! I cannot live without you; I shall have no home,—nobody to love when you are gone."
Poor Margaret, controlling her own emotion, tried to comfort her weeping child, and at last succeeded; for strength from above was given to her heart, and words to her tongue. She spoke so convincingly of God's wisdom, and goodness, and righteous dealing in all things, that the boy's grief abated, his eye once more lighted up, and peace returned to his heart. The assurance that God, the Father of all, who never forsakes the creature he has made, would be to him more than parents could, came plainly upon his soul, and filled it with trust.
"You will not be alone, my poor child," said Margaret; "God will be with you. He has work yet for you to perform. See that you do all that he has commanded, and in a proper spirit, and you cannot fail to be blessed—not, perhaps, with earthly prosperity, but with that better portion, peace of mind, a good conscience, and the hope which maketh not ashamed, whose end is eternal life. Never neglect your Bible or the duty of prayer; avoid all bad company; keep your heart pure; and God will be with you, to bless and protect you."
As if endued with strength to utter a last solemn admonition, she told him of the evil nature and power of sin, how it separated man from his Maker; of the temptations to be met with in the world, from the deceitfulness and weakness of the human heart, and the example of the ungodly, with whom she begged him to have no communion. She spoke of the necessity there was for constant watchfulness and prayer; told him to avoid all exhibition of self-will or disobedience; but above all to shun falsehood, that most ruinous of all vices, since it is the first step on the way which leads to eternal death. She bade him remember how the Scriptures teach, "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life;" and that it is ever open to the scrutiny of the All-Seeing Eye.
William listened attentively to her teaching, and it took deep root in his soul. Was he to endure the trial of temptation? or would it perish, like the seed sown by the wayside?
There were no near relatives of the family, to whose care Margaret could think of consigning her child. A distant cousin or uncle by marriage, who kept a shoe store in New York, and who had visited them sometimes, was said to be rich, and she thought that if he would undertake the guardianship of the boy, and keep him in his family for some years, he might at last be promoted to the rank of clerk. She therefore wrote to him, and as a satisfactory answer was soon returned, the arrangement was settled, the good baker promising either to take the boy to New York himself or send him with an acquaintance.
And now she felt more at ease. She had made this plan, as she judged, for the best; the rest she left to the never-failing Wisdom to order, as was right.
A few days after her walk to the church-yard she was confined to her bed, from which she never arose. The pastor visited her daily, and as William never left her for a moment, he was always present at their spiritual conversations. Oh, how powerful was the impression he received; how it operated, not only on his present, but future life; and how often afterward did he thank his heavenly Father that he had been thus early and spiritually taught!
William was very young; but we know that children at a very early period are able to comprehend the most important truths of God's word; and the sanctifying blessing accompanying, they are, like Timothy, made wise unto salvation. It was not until after his mother's funeral that William knew he was to go to New York, to be a shoemaker's apprentice, and he was greatly troubled at the prospect. He would have preferred remaining in the village. There was, however, no employment for him there, and he was hardly strong enough for steady farm work. His friend the baker had taken him home on the day of the funeral, and he was happy with that kind family, for George Herman was his friend, and they loved each other so well that they could not hear the thought of parting. The good baker would not hear of his going for a month or two, or at least until the first violence of his sorrow was past; and thinking it better he should he with companions of his own age, he sent him to school with his friend George.
The rudiments of a kind of drawing were taught there, and although nothing but circles, squares, triangles, and ovals were practised, the teacher saw, by the borders of William's slate, which way his talent led; and pitying the boy who would be obliged to make shoes for a living, while gifted so far above the ordinary standard, he would gladly have taught him for nothing had his friend the baker permitted. But Mr. Herman knew the opinion of his parents on that subject, and he felt that it would be wrong for him to encourage that which they did not. William, however, although he took no lessons, learned a great deal of the, to him, forbidden art, and went on contentedly, knowing nothing of the teacher's proposal or his protector's objection.
WILLIAM AT HIS MOTHER'S GRAVE.
As the time appointed for his departure drew near, William's heart became very sad. The prospect of being separated from his friend George gave him no little pain. He shrunk, too, from the idea of living with perfect strangers.
Time, however, waits for no one. The day but one before that on which he was to set out arrived; and having gone around to say farewell to his acquaintances, he made his last visit to the church-yard where his parents lay buried. His mother had been peculiarly fond of flowers, and when obliged to give up her garden, had beautified and planted her husband's grave with some of the choicest of her treasures. Her only recreation was this labour of love; for she took a mournful pleasure in thus decorating the little hillock, and she spared no pains to keep it in order. It is a well-known custom of the Germans to adorn graves with flowers; and inheriting this feature of her country's usages to the fullest extent, she had ornamented the little space allotted for their burial-place with taste and beauty.
Now she was herself sleeping among the flowers she had planted and tended, but no want of care was yet visible about the spot; kind hands had made up the grave, and William had removed the roses she nourished in pots, sinking them in the earth; and now, in the full bloom of summer beauty, they were shedding their fragrance and leaves over the little mounds.
The orphan boy came for the last time to visit the spot where his dearest earthly treasure was buried. He knelt down beside the graves, and wept as he prayed that God would go forth with and protect him in the new station which he must now fill.
When calmness was again restored, he seated himself on a grave at a little distance, and taking a piece of paper and a pencil from his pocket, he drew a sketch of the little square where his loved ones slept. There were no stones to mark the spot, but there was no need of any; the adornment of the place would have told the traveller that no memorial of that kind was necessary, for true affection was keeping the record. The little drawing was finished, and once more he broke into a violent fit of weeping, from which he was suddenly disturbed by the sound of a footstep near him. He turned, and saw a stranger standing behind him, whose countenance was not only most prepossessing, but now wore an expression of sympathy that operated at once upon the heart of the desolate boy.
William rose, and would have left the spot, but the gentleman laid his hand on his shoulder, and inquired, "Who are buried in these graves so beautifully adorned?"
"My father and mother," answered the boy, the tears again flowing from his eyes.
"Father and mother!" repeated the stranger; "poor orphan, what a treasure of love belonging to thee may be buried here! Have you brothers and sisters?"
"No, sir. I have no near relations; I am now alone in the world."
"Who, then, is to take care of you now?" asked the stranger.
"My guardian, sir," replied William, "from whom I am to learn a trade."
"That is well, my poor boy," rejoined the stranger. "God grant that he may prove worthy of his trust, and be a parent to you. But a great deal lies in your own powers. Be obedient and industrious, and thus endeavour to win his confidence and satisfaction."
"I intend to do so, sir," replied William; "my parents always told me obedience was right."
"Were your parents pious?" again inquired the stranger.
"Ah yes, sir, indeed they were," answered the boy. "I promised my mother time and again that I would love God and keep his commandments."
The stranger continued to gaze on the boy with much emotion. It was evident, from the expression of his whole face, that his heart had been subject to the transforming operation of divine grace; and he possessed the true Christian spirit, which leads to the practice of that Christian charity which "never faileth." He laid his hand upon the boy's head, and said, in a solemn tone, "May God bless and care for thee, poor orphan; may it be with thee as with the good seed sown in good ground; where it taketh root, by the blessing of God it groweth and bringeth forth fruit, even to a hundred-fold."
William looked up into the stranger's face in grateful astonishment; just so had his mother often laid her hand upon his head and blessed him; and now the stranger's caress did him good, although he did not comprehend the meaning of his words.
"You do not understand me," said he; "I will explain. When you plant a seed or little twig in the earth, It forms a root: you water it when it is dry; the sunshine, the dew, and the rain, all refresh and promote it's growth; so that at length it becomes a large and beautiful tree. So when any one receives the word of God Into his heart in faith, it will strike deep root, spring up, grow and ripen with a rich increase, bringing forth abundantly those good fruits of the Spirit 'which are through Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God.' But as, without proper attention, your tree would wither or grow into wildness, so also is it necessary to nourish the good seed sown in our hearts; and this can only be done by constant and fervent prayer."
The stranger went on to explain, in such terms as a child could understand, the operations of the Spirit of grace and the exercise of faith. He told him of One who was mighty to save, who had said, "Suffer little children to come unto me," and was ever near to those Who trust in him; who would hear their prayer in distress, and aid them In the hour of temptation. "But remember," he added, "there is no true happiness except in the service of God; and to do this acceptably it is necessary to 'watch and pray.' Watch that you may pray, and pray that you may be safe."
William listened to the words of the stranger with an emotion altogether new to him; he had heard such words before, but now they were invested with a new meaning. Was it not the quickening influence of the Spirit of grace that was now operating upon his saddened heart, like the silent but refreshing dew on the arid earth? Our tale must show whether the seed thus down by the way-side was to spring up, perish, or bring forth fruit a hundred-fold.
The stranger saw the impression he had made. He would not interrupt the workings of the child's soul by further words, and turning away toward another part of the graveyard, he left the boy to his self-communion.
After a while he returned, and found him still sitting on the grave where all his treasure of love was buried; but he had ceased weeping, and his countenance no longer wore the expression of despairing sorrow; trust in God and faith in the promise of heavenly protection, had strengthened his soul, and instead of the heart-breaking sense of loneliness that had rested on him since the loss of his mother, he felt the blessedness of assured protection from Him who has promised to be the orphan's Father. He was holding the little rude sketch he had made, to be treasured as a memorial of the spot so sacred, when far away, and was gazing on it attentively when the stranger returned.
"Are you going to colour your sketch?" he asked in a kindly tone; "it would make it more lively and natural."
"I have no colours, sir," replied William; "and do not know how to paint. My father could paint, but he never wished me to learn; but when I look on this little drawing, I can think of the bright roses and the green grass here, and that will do."
"Give me your picture, my child; I will colour it for you," said the stranger. "I am a painter, and have been staying for some days in the village; come this evening to my room, No. 24, at the hotel, and I will return your picture, and then you can tell me more of yourself and your parents."
And now they parted, each one taking opposite paths, for their present homes lay quite apart from each other. It was late before William found time to go to the hotel, but when he asked the landlord to show him to the painter's room, No. 24, instead of ushering him into the presence of his unknown friend, the old man handed him a small packet, telling him, at the same time, that the stranger had received intelligence which had demanded his sudden departure, but that he had left the packet to be delivered by his own hand.
These tidings fell like a weight of lead on the boy's heart; he would gladly have seen that benevolent face again; but, unable to utter a word or repress the tears that would force themselves into his eyes, he took the folded package and went home.
The stranger had taken a hasty departure, but he had not forgotten or neglected his promise; for, on opening the letter, there was his picture coloured,—and on the back of it was written, "Watch, that you may pray; and pray, that you may be safe." The boy's heart was touched with even deeper emotion than before, and as he knelt down that night, the last he was to spend in his native village, he prayed that God would help him to nourish the good seed sown in his heart, and be his Father and Guide in the new life on which he was entering.
WILLIAM'S NEW HOME.
Great was the change our poor boy experienced between living in the country and in the city. Instead of the brightly flashing river, with its sail-boats and schooners, the pleasant village environed by verdant meadows and flower-filled gardens, there was nothing but long rows of tall, stately houses, looking coldly grand, or narrow streets and dark lanes, where mud and filth mixed together were suggestive of cheerlessness and poverty. His heart sunk within him as he walked along the busy streets, where many people were passing to and fro, bent on their various errands of duty or pleasure, and felt that in that hurrying crowd there was not one to care for him, and among that wilderness of houses he had no home.
The shoemaker to whom he was apprenticed had once been a different man from what he was at present. During Raymond's life, and while on terms of intimacy with him, he had borne the reputation of a pious, and certainly was an industrious and thrifty man; but failure and the loss of an excellent wife had wrought a sad change in his character and temper; and having married a second wife, who turned out a virago and a shrew, there was little hope of his improving. He was still industrious, and owing to his former reputation for honesty and doing good work, he still retained many of his old customers. He had a small shop in a public part of the city, where he took the measures for shoes or sold those on hand; but he lived in a low-roofed, comfortless-looking house, far down the city, where he had also a shop, in which he kept a journeyman or two to do the mending, which was all sent there.
There were no children to gladden this sullen household by their mirth, and there was no piety to send its gleams of sunlight to lessen the gloom that dwelt within its precincts; there was no one there who loved God and honoured his laws, neither did the words of prayer or praise ever ascend from the family altar. They were contented to live for this world alone, caring nothing for that heavenly inheritance promised to those who love God and keep his commandments. Poor William! this was a dreadful place for him to be, with every inducement, from bad example, to stray from the true path in which he had until now been trained to walk; how great was the danger that he would now follow the leading of those to whose guardianship he had been thus mistakenly committed. A letter which he wrote to his friend, George Herman, will, perhaps, explain something of his condition and feelings:—
I should have written to you long ago, as I promised; but I am kept all the time so busy, and now I am afraid Mr. Walters will scold me for wasting time. I call him Mr. Walters (the others call him master), and not uncle, for he is not my uncle, although his first wife was my aunt. I do not like this big city of New York, everything is so different from my own home when my dear mother was alive. You never saw anything so grand as the houses here; but I would rather be back, living in the smallest house there, than have to stay in this great city, where there are so many rich people, and, yes, George, a great many more poor folks than I thought were in the whole world. I have cried so much since I have been here; Mr. Walters is almost always in a bad humour, and I cannot bear to mend shoes; I would almost rather do without wearing them. There is always a great pile of torn boots and shoes lying in the corner, and I have to help to mend them. Oh, how much pleasanter it was to work for the farmers round M—— all the week, and then go to church on Sunday! They have the grandest churches here, and I have heard beautiful music from the organ when I passed or stood at the door; but I have never been inside of a church since I left M——, for none of our people ever go, nor do we have any family prayer.
There is one thing, however, in New York that I do like; you ought to see the beautiful picture-shops in Broadway. I cannot help drawing a little, although I resolve every time shall be the last. I did a very wrong thing two days ago, which I must tell you of. I do not love Mrs. Walters, for she is always scolding me, and she has a very sharp nose and chin. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and I drew her likeness on the end of the work-bench. Jem Taylor, our journeyman, laughed so, that Mr. Walters would know what amused him so. When he saw it, he beat me with a last, and hurt me greatly. I cried, not for the beating, but because I felt I had done wrong. I remembered what my dear mother said about caricaturing, and I was so sorry I had done it. I begged Mrs. Walters' pardon, and told her I never would do it again; and, indeed, I never will. I am afraid I shall become a bad boy here. Jem Taylor swears dreadfully, and tells so many falsehoods. He is the only one here who is kind to me; but when I hear his oaths, and know that he is saying what is not true, I cannot like him. My mother always warned me so against saying the least thing that was not true. Ah, if she had known what kind of people these were, she would never have placed me with them. But I will try to please them, and try to be content; and I do pray every day that I may not be tempted to lie and swear like those with whom I am obliged to live. There is a good old man, a tailor, who lives next door to us. He is going to M——, and will give you this letter; so good-bye, dear George, and do not forget your friend,
He sealed the letter and sent it by the tailor, and he felt somewhat happier, for he had some faint hope that his kind friend, the baker, would interfere in his behalf. He had not, however, magnified the misery of his condition; for not only did he feel keenly the want of such comforts as he had enjoyed in his humble home, but his life was rendered miserable by the injustice and severity with which he was treated. His master was a man of violent temper, who, finding he possessed little aptitude for shoemaking, tried to make him love it, first by flogging, and afterwards by half-starvation; following in the last-named measure the advice of his miserly help-mate, who believed it the best way of developing genius. In vain did William try by gentleness and zeal to soften their harshness; he had no one to interfere in his behalf, and he was made boy of all work, and scolded and blamed from morning till night. None loved him, and while he pined for the loss of the affection he once enjoyed, he found no one to love. No one treated him kindly, and gladness became a stranger to his heart.
In the midst of Sabbath privileges, he was in danger of becoming a heathen. He could not go to church or Sabbath school, because he was wanted to assist in the regular Sunday cooking; he heard no word of prayer or psalm of praise, and he might well have exclaimed with the Psalmist, "I looked on my right hand, but there was no man that would know me; refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul."
Still, he could not at once forget the teachings of his early childhood. He prayed that he might be kept from the power of the wicked, and the great and mighty Hearer of prayer was indeed his guard. His eye fell kindly on the desolate boy, and was only preparing him by present trials for future good. Still our young hero was not without faults. There was a little spice of pride in his composition, and, as we have learned from his letter, he hated the humble trade to which he was apprenticed. This was wrong: there is no occupation, however lowly, which cannot be made respectable by the proper discharge of the duties belonging to it; and if our young readers will remember that all their needs and changes are known unto Him who bountifully supplieth all, they will also recognise how possible it is to honour Him, whose servants they are, by an upright walk and conscientious advance in the allotted path.
But there were some pleasures for the poor boy even here, although deprived of home comforts. How kindly has God appointed that the elastic spirit of childhood cannot be crushed! and to one of the fanciful and enthusiastic temperament of our hero it was indeed a great blessing. The objects met with in a great and populous city are always striking; and our little shoemaker, as he walked through the streets, felt himself elevated, not lowered, by the grandeur around him. It showed him what man was enabled to do by energy and industry, and he determined that, although obliged to cobble at old boots and shoes for the present, it should not be so for ever. As he was made errand boy, he was obliged to be often in the streets; and then the pleasure he enjoyed in standing before the windows of the picture-shops, made him forget the tears which he so often shed under his master's caning, his mistress's continual fault-finding, and his meagre fare. Sometimes, while gazing on the works of art, so entrancing to a child with the soul of a painter, he also forgot how the time passed, and, having far exceeded that demanded by his errand, was on his return accused of playing the idler, and received an idler's reward.
Even this could not cure him of his love of pictures. Like one who had found a treasure in a desert, he was not to be deterred by the difficulties in the way to its enjoyment. He did not persist in the course which would have provoked Mr. Walters' anger, but started off on a full run from the time he left the house, not stopping until he had delivered his freight of boots and shoes; and feeling that the remainder of the time was conscientiously his own, he spent it, without compunction, in the contemplation of the art he so much loved.
A TIME OF TRIAL.
A time of trial was approaching, a trial that was to decide whether the good seed sown by the pious parents had taken root in good soil, and was able to endure the ordeal of strong temptation.
Jem Taylor, the only one who ever showed poor Will any kindness, knowing of his great love for painting,—for to him only had he shown his little charcoal sketches—had no regard for truth, and, on account of his naturally kind and liberal disposition, was only the more dangerous as a companion for our hitherto differently trained hero. Seeing him one day returning exhausted and out of breath, his hands trembling so that he could scarcely hold his work, he began to administer the palatable poison which every human heart is only too ready to receive. "I tell you, Bill," said he, "you are the biggest blockhead I ever saw. If you like to look at the pictures, stand at the windows as long as you please, and do not run yourself to death. Just look at the other shoemakers' boys; they hang their string of boots and shoes over their shoulders, and go whistling and singing along the streets quite at their ease, playing marbles at the corners for pennies with the newspaper boys;—they know how to lie it out so as to escape beating, and have always some coppers in their pockets. When old Walters rates you for staying, cannot you say that Mr. So-and-So made you wait so long before he would give you the money; or that Mrs. Somebody was not at home, and the cook told you to stay, for she would be back in a minute, and you could not be paid until they were tried on?"
Will was startled. He let the shoe he was mending fall from his hands, and gazed with terror and astonishment on his reckless companion.
"Why, that would be—lying!" said he slowly and in a low voice, as if he dreaded to utter the hateful word.
"To be sure it is lying, and nothing else," answered Jem, laughing; "everybody lies, cannot you do so too?"
The blood mounted to the temples of the indignant boy, spreading its glow over his fair forehead, and causing his usually gentle eyes to flush with righteous anger.
"I a liar! I tell a lie?" he cried. "No! not to escape a beating every day will I tell a falsehood!"
"And why not, you silly jackanapes?" asked his ungodly comrade, in a tone of derision.
"Because my parents taught me it was sinful, and God has forbidden it," said William. "My mother always told me that lying was the first step in the road to ruin; and I read in my Bible that no one 'that loveth and maketh a lie' can enter into that Holy City of which God himself is the glory and the light."
Dear young reader, how glorious is the majesty of truth! The dissipated and sin-loving journeyman, long since made familiar with vice, could not listen unmoved as the boy uttered the scriptural denunciation in the solemn and reverential manner he had been taught was proper, it was long since Jem Taylor had heard any word from that holy book, and now, awed by the dignity of the truth, that great principle of Christian life and conduct, he made no answer, but continued to work in silence. Perhaps he might have resumed the subject; but Mr. Walters came in and commenced the usual fault-finding, and Jem answering reproach with reproach, there was nothing more said.
One day soon after, William was directed to go to the upper shop for a pair of white satin shoes, which he was to carry to a wealthy lady who lived during the summer months in a handsome cottage in the suburbs. How happy he was at thought of seeing something like the country once more! and he started off at full speed, his elastic spirit happy and hopeful as if it had never known a sorrow. The sunshine was so cheering, and rested so brightly on the spires as it bathed them in its golden radiance, that his whole mood partook of the genial glow. He had reached the upper part of the city, and was quite in the neighbourhood of the house where the shoes were to be left, when a large dog coming round the corner at a speed as rapid as his own, ran directly in his way, and threw him over. There had been a heavy shower in the early part of the afternoon, the gutters were still full of water, and although he was not hurt by his fall, yet in the shock the shoes were dashed from his hand, and fell into the muddy bath.
With feelings of terror not to be described, our poor hero saw the black fluid streaming over the beautiful shoes; and after having stood for a moment as if paralyzed, he plunged his hand into the filthy pool and drew them out.
He might have served as a study for a painter as he stood surveying the consequences of the mishap; his countenance expressed almost every emotion of the human mind, as he held up the shoes and tried to wipe away the black mud which dyed them, until at length, finding all his efforts ineffectual, he burst into a fit of passionate weeping.
Do not think his tears were puerile; his spirit was naturally strong, but he was only a child, and his bodily frame weak from want of nourishing food.
Bitter was his grief; and altogether at a loss how to proceed, for a moment he was tempted to resolve never again to face his unkind guardian, and seek another home, no matter where; he believed he could not be worse off. But those early teachings drawn from the Scripture rules, which had been so prayerfully impressed upon his plastic mind in the little cottage at M——, now came back upon his heart; the remembrance of his parents came vividly before him, and he determined to act as they would have advised—namely, openly and according to the truth; he would be upright, let the consequences be to himself what they might.
Providence, however, that so kindly watches over all who put their trust in him, and suffers none to be tempted beyond what they can bear, had raised up a friend to help in this hour of need.
Attracted by the beauty of the sunset, an old gentleman of most reverential aspect was looking from the window of one of the handsomest houses in the square, but was not so lost in contemplation of the clouds that he had not observed poor William and pitied his misfortune.
"Did your father send you with these shoes, boy?" said he; "why do you cry so bitterly about the misfortune which cannot be helped?"
"Dear sir," replied William, as he raised up the ruined shoes, from which the muddy water was still dripping, "I have no father nor mother now; my master will be very angry and beat me. I am sure I could not help it;" and a fresh flood of tears proved his grief for the disaster.
"How much did he tell you to ask for the shoes?" inquired the old gentleman.
The boy named the amount, at the same time wiping the shoes with the corner of his blue blouse.
"Here, boy, give this to your master to pay him for the shoes," said the gentleman, throwing him some money from the window; "and here is a shilling for yourself; I think you are an honest boy, so keep that to indemnify you for your fright."
William was amazed, but before he had time to thank the kind stranger, he had turned away, and the vacated place was filled by a different-looking object. A little, mirthful-looking, fair-haired girl, about seven years old, carrying a doll nearly as large as herself in her arms, looked from the window, and seeing our poor hero, burst into a loud fit of laughter, for which he could not account. Although anxious to know the cause, he was too bashful to ask the reason, and as she retreated almost immediately, he, after waiting a few minutes in hopes the gentleman would re-appear, was compelled to retrace the way which led to his cheerless home.
"What have you been doing, you idle scamp?" exclaimed Mr. Walters, as he entered; "have you been fighting with street-boys, or wrestling with chimney-sweeps? Look at yourself, what a figure you make with all the mud of the street on your face!" and pushing him before a small looking-glass that hung in the shop, bade him account for the "condition of this beautiful visage."
The poor boy had dried his tears with the same corner of his blouse with which he had wiped the gutter-soiled shoes, and had thus transferred the black mud to his face; and as he surveyed his changed countenance in the glass, he recollected, and was at no loss to account for the little maiden's burst of laughter. Forgetting that his stern master stood beside him, and the bitter tears he had so lately shed, with that buoyancy of spirit which is the peculiar property of childhood, and surmounts all rules, he laughed aloud until recalled to his usual gravity by some blows on his shoulders from his master's heavy hand. "How dare you laugh so impertinently in my presence?" he asked, while administering the remedy of the strap, which he considered a specific for all misdemeanours; and now not only stopped the poor boy's laughing, but caused him to tremble under the undeserved punishment.
"Where is the money for the shoes?" he thundered forth, when he found time to speak.
William handed it to him, and detailed the whole circumstance, not concealing that the gentleman had given him a shilling for himself.
"Give it here," said Mr. Walters; "boys like you, who have everything found them, have no need of money; it only serves to lead them into mischief;" and taking up his hat, and bidding his wife have supper in half an hour, he left the shop.
"Bill Raymond, you are one of the grandest of donkey-headed fools I ever saw in my life," said Jem Taylor, as soon as they were alone, after examining that the door leading to the kitchen was shut. "Why did you give him the shilling, which was your own? The price of the shoes, too, you might have kept, for your honesty did not save you from a beating. Why did you say anything about it'! I would have taken the beating and kept the money."
We have mentioned how Will met and triumphed over the first temptation; and when Taylor had repeatedly afterward assailed him with like arguments, he had never wavered; and the only consequence of his advice had been to create dislike and mistrust of one who could advocate a practice so entirely at variance with the law of God. But now he listened to the tempter, and without reproof of the sin which he could not fail to recognise.
"After all," said he to himself, "Jem Taylor is right; I get beaten whether I am honest or not, and that money would have bought me many nice things. Yes, and I am so often hungry; and when I see the street boys spending pennies at the cake stalls and I have nothing, it makes me so angry; and I cannot bear this old Walters. I know I will not be so foolish another time; but I will keep at least the money which is given to myself, and take good care he shall know nothing about it."
And why was his frame of mind so changed? Why did he view the deception as less repulsive than at first? The reason is easily told: he had relaxed his watchfulness in adhering to the path of duty, and although careful still to say the prayer taught him by those whose memory was as vividly dear as ever, it was more the form of words than the heart-prompted petition. Alas! the poisonous influence around him was beginning to tell, and he would soon throw off the only armour that could shield him from the temptations of the wicked, or guard against the more insidious attacks of his own deceiving and deceitful heart. He was not more happy, although in liking Jem Taylor better he had become more, reckless, and listened to his advice more patiently than at first; and although he still prayed, "Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil," he did not take in its spiritual meaning, and forgot the Saviour's injunction to "watch" as well as "pray."
But God, who knows all man's weakness, and whose mercy exceeds even man's sin, raised up at this time a friend for the desolate boy—it seemed as though to preserve him from the peril with which he was menaced. There were but one or two of the neighbours who ever visited the Walters, for the master was too surly and the mistress too penurious to exchange hospitality with any one. The tailor, next door, could come but seldom, as he was always busy; but the watchman of that district, who lived but a few doors distant, and whose wife sold Mrs. Walters milk, came more frequently than the tailor, and as he was a conversable man and understood politics, Walters was rather glad of his coming than otherwise. Will was generally sent for the milk, and his pale face and dejected look awakened the sympathies of this honest and God-fearing couple. They soon learned that he was an orphan, and Thomas Burton, the good watchman, having noticed the harsh treatment he received, and not at all ignorant of Jem Taylor's character, and the danger he was in of being led astray, determined to watch over him, and, if possible, prevent his being ruined. He therefore encouraged him in every way he could, and the gleams of sunlight his kindness and sympathy shed on the dark path of the orphan boy, showed that he was no stranger to that "charity" which, taught by the gospel, "never faileth," and is "kind."
After the first temptation to falsehood, William had avoided Jem Taylor as much as possible; but now, in consequence of his "consenting to be enticed to sin," he rather shunned the good Burtons, and took more pleasure in listening to the slang of the shop than in his own thoughts. He suffered his mind to dwell on the advice given him in relation to the price of the shoes and the shilling, and grieved over the loss of both, until he no longer considered that keeping the price of the shoes would have been a dishonest act. He began to be of Jem's opinion, that he had shown himself a blockhead, and resolved to act differently in future. "But, indeed, I would have liked to thank that good old gentleman," said he to himself; "although I was none the better for the money. It is a pity he does not know that Mr. Walters took it all; but I will try not to think any more about it. I know now what I will do," he cried, as a sudden thought struck him; "that little girl with the large doll must be his daughter, so I will make a pair of little shoes for the waxen lady."
William carried his purpose into execution. In the evening, when the working hours were over, he gathered up some scraps of red morocco which had been thrown aside as useless, and carried them up to the attic where he slept, so that as soon as daylight appeared he might begin his work. This he did, and had cut out and nearly half made a pair of doll's boots before the usual time of going to work. He could not, however, find any red ribbon with which to bind and tie them; some bits of blue were lying about, and as he had not a penny to purchase that which was suitable, he was obliged to use it. The next morning saw them finished, and wrapping them up in a small packet, he put it in his pocket, and went to his work quite happy that he had been able to accomplish his task without the knowledge of his master.
The new satin shoes, made in place of those which had fallen into the gutter, were finished and brought in by evening, and although it was almost sundown, and the walk a long one, William was only too happy to be charged with their delivery. He set forth cheerily, and as he approached the house from whence the money had been thrown him, his heart beat joyfully—yes, that was the very window where the kind old gentleman stood; and, a better sight than that, the outer door stood open. It was but the work of a moment to seat himself on the broad marble steps and write on his packet, with a bit of lead pencil, "The shoemaker's boy returns thanks for the kindness of the other day," and placed it in a corner of the vestibule, where it could not fail to be noticed.
This done, he set off at his usual rate of speed, and without once looking round to see if he had been observed, he hurried on to the dwelling of the lady for whom the shoes were made. She was much pleased with them, paid the price, sent a new order to Mr. Walters, and gave him a sixpence for himself. William, altogether rejoiced at receiving the gift, trifling as it was, resolved in this case to do as Jem Taylor advised; he would not give it to Mr. Walters; and if he asked anything about it, he would say he had received nothing. "No, I will spend it before I get home," he said half aloud, and took the direction which led to a baker's shop, where he would buy and feast upon rolls.
But something more attractive in the shape of a picture shop came before him; rolls and gingerbread were forgotten in the delight he experienced in feasting his eyes on some paintings in the window. "I really will try to draw that old man and his dog," said he to himself; "but then I have no paper; ah yes, the sixpence the lady gave me!" and with the welcome recollection he turned away from the tempting sight, purchased some paper and ran home, which he reached in good time.
THE TEMPTER TRIUMPHS.
"Did the lady give you nothing more?" inquired Mr. Walters, as William handed him the money for the shoes and mentioned the new order. He had been pleased with the boy's ingenuous honesty shown a day or two before, and was now in a more sunny humour than usual. The old watchman, too, had come in for a half-hour's chat, and was sitting in the back shop, from whence Mr. Walters had come. "What did she give you?" he repeated, as he saw the boy hesitate.
William blushed, stammered something inaudible, and looked at Jem Taylor, who, as master's back was turned so that he could not see him, made signs to our hero to conceal the truth. "I am sure she gave you something," cried the master, now growing angry; "tell me the truth this moment."
The poor boy now recollected that he had spent part of it, and was more embarrassed than at first; the nods, winks, and smiles of the vicious journeyman were aiding in the struggle to conquer the boy's virtue, and at last triumphed. The anger of Mr. Walters was now fully aroused. He seized his young apprentice by the shoulder, and in a voice of thunder repeated the question; to which, pale and trembling, more from the terrible conflict within than dread of the uplifted arm of his cruel master, he answered, "I did not get any money!"
Dear young reader, the first step on the downward road is the only one that costs, the rest are easy; and our poor hero, the child of Christian parents, the subject of many prayers, had listened to the voice of the charmer, and now he stood on the verge of the dangerous boundary line. Was he to fall, or would God, whom he had been taught to love and honour, shield him in his perilous situation? Ah yes; for is there not One who, loving the wretched and suffering children of the earth—One who, touched with the feeling of man's infirmities, took on himself the likeness of sinful flesh, and dwelt among them, administering mercy to all? Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For being in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin, he himself having suffered, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
And there were purposes of mercy in store for the orphan boy, when the chastisements with which God sees good to inflict on the children of his love should have passed away. This trial of his power to resist temptation was permitted, in order to show him that a better strength than his own was necessary, and that it is only through the divine Helper that any can be delivered from the power of the great enemy "who goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."
Mr. Walters at once recognised the falsehood our poor hero was tempted to tell; and although he was in the habit of beating him for almost every offence, the chastisement on this occasion exceeded any that had gone before. Severe indeed were the blows rained down on his back and shoulders; less, indeed, intended as a punishment for the falsehood, than a pouring out of his own wrathful spirit on the child, who for the first time had manifested a spirit of opposition to his will.
Poor boy, every bone in his body ached; but what was that in comparison with the anguish of soul he endured? Conscience, that sure monitor, proclaimed with its still small voice, "Thou hast sinned against God;" and he longed for the hour when he could be alone, and, like erring Peter, "weep bitterly."
It was Saturday evening, and work was left off at an earlier hour than usual. And well was it for our hero that Jem Taylor was too much bent on the pursuance of his own low pleasures to remain a moment after the signal was given to cease work. Perhaps more poison would have been instilled into the soul which had been found vulnerable; perhaps such a line of proceeding prompted as would have proved, if not ultimately successful, at least productive of much suffering; for the blessed Scriptures tell us that "transgression shall be visited with the rod, and iniquity with stripes."
He was sitting alone in a corner of the shop when the shrill voice of Mrs. Walters was heard calling him to "go to Burton's for milk." He obeyed, and wiping his streaming eyes, with an attempt to look cheerful, he entered the neat little room, where he found his friend Thomas, who had left the scene of strife unobserved.
"Sit down, Will," said he, in a kindly tone, that, going straight to the boy's heart, once more unlocked the fountain of his tears; "the old woman is taking her bread out of the oven, but she will be here in a moment."
"I dare not stay," replied the boy; "I must go home and come back rather than wait. Mrs. Walters always scolds if I stay."
"I will go with you and carry your excuse," rejoined Thomas; "but there is one thing about which I have long wanted to ask you. I never see you dressed clean on Sunday, or going to church. Have you never been accustomed to hear the word of God preached on the Sabbath, or attended a Sunday school? It is no wonder that falsehood dwells in the hearts of those who do not honour the ordinances of God; or that lies are spoken by such as do not know that 'He who is the Truth abhors the lying lips.'"
The tears of the orphan boy now flowed freely, and a deep blush mounted to his temples. "O Mr. Burton," he sobbed, "how gladly would I go to church and Sabbath school, as I did when my parents were living; but I fear I am growing wicked, for at times I have bad feelings, and to-day I told"—he could not bring himself to say a lie—"what was not true."
"I know you did," said Thomas; "I was in the back shop and saw you punished. God grant you may never need another chastisement for the same cause. But here is the old woman, and although I would like to talk to you a little, I must not suffer you to do wrong by staying a moment longer than necessary. How would you like to go to church with me to-morrow afternoon?"
"If I only could," replied William, "I would be glad; but I have a great deal to do on Sunday, and I am afraid Mrs. Walters will not like to spare me."
"I will ask her, and I am sure I shall not be refused," said Thomas; "but here is your milk—come, I am going with you."
Mrs. Walters, either being in a better humour than usual, or wishing to appear amiable to her respectable neighbour, not only took no notice of William's rather long stay, but consented he should spend Sunday evening with the watchman.
Great lightness of heart would have been his in consequence of this consent, had not his spirit been weighed down with the burden of his sin. He felt how blunt are all the arrows of adversity in comparison with those of guilt; and how insignificant are all the trials imposed by cruel men, contrasted with the pain of soul caused by the sense of having displeased God.
Twilight came on, and with it he sought the quiet of his comfortless attic. Its rude walls and squalid furniture were, however, not now noticed; its privacy and seclusion were all that his soul desired. He threw himself on the pallet which served him for a bed, and wept bitterly as he thought of his parents, who had taken so much pains to teach him to abhor a lie, and recalled the words of his mother, who constantly admonished him how much better it was to suffer wrongfully than do wrong; and bitter was his self-reproach, that for the sake of a paltry sixpence he had told a lie, and in doing so sinned against the God of truth, whose word declares that "lying lips are an abomination to the Lord."
Oh, how guilty he felt! how humbled in his own estimation! and with deep and bitter repentance he bewailed his error, and entreated pardon from Him who for Christ's sake will always hear the penitent when they pray, and help them in their time of trial. "My heavenly Father," was the language of his anguished heart, "I have sinned, and am most unhappy; save me from temptation, or give me strength to resist when it comes."
It was long before the violence of his grief passed away, and when it did, feeling no inclination to sleep, he went to his trunk for his Bible, which latterly he had somewhat neglected. As he turned over the articles which lay within it, most of which he had brought from home, and which served most vividly to recall the happiness of his earlier years, his eyes rested upon the portfolio of his father's drawings, which lay on the bottom, and on which he had not lately looked. As he opened it a folded paper fell from between the leaves. He took it up and opened it—it was the little drawing which he had made in the church-yard; and as he gazed on it he recollected the stranger who had coloured it, and with remembrance of him came that also of his spiritual conversation. He read the words written on the back: "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation;" "Watch that you may pray, and pray that you may be safe;" and the tide of tears once more burst forth.
"I was not watchful," he said; "I did not pray as I ought; but I will try never to forget my duty again."
His tears could not soon be restrained; but as he read such passages from his Bible as his mother had taught him to understand, tranquillity gradually stole over his heart, and although he still wept, his tears were not so bitter as at first. Oh, blessed religion of Christ! that can bring a balm for every human grief; that tells the weary and heavy laden where to go for rest and solace; that tells the desolate of a home and inheritance in a land where there is no sorrow; and bids the sin-sick not despair, for there is mercy in Christ for all, and God hath no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but would rather that the wicked turn from the evil of his way and live: it tells of a love which does not willingly afflict, but when, in mysterious but unquestionable mercy, it lays the cross upon our shoulder, it also gives the support of its divine strength, "making the rough places plain to our feet, and the darkness to be light about our path." He who bore a cross, "the heaviest cross," can also lighten the burden of all our trials; and although he may not see good to remove them, he can remove their oppressive weight by the bestowment of the spirit of patience, which teaches implicit obedience to our heavenly Father's will. And now, as the refreshing dew falls silently and unseen upon the sun-scorched earth, and all nature revives to renovated life, so did the gentle but powerful influence of the gospel precepts shed peace and hope upon the heart of this desolate boy. Trusting in the orphan's God, who has declared "he will never leave nor forsake those who call upon him," he grew calm as he recalled the abundant promises of God, and, comforted by the holy assurance they afforded, his agitation subsided into calmness, and at last he sunk into a calm and quiet sleep.
The Sabbath morning rose bright and beautiful, and the sacred silence, evident even in the crowded city—for the usual sounds of labour and of sport are hushed—was soothing to the sin-wounded spirit of the poor orphan boy. His first thought on awaking was the remembrance of his sin; his first work, to ask forgiveness and seek strength for present duty and future trial; and in the stillness of heavenly communion he found the peace promised to all who trust in the Lord. Pale and serious, but with a happiness to which he had long been a stranger, the influence of the Holy Spirit was operating upon his heart. He felt that he had been in danger of straying from the fold of the Good Shepherd, and that he had in mercy been saved by the trial which showed him that he dared not trust to his own strength. Nothing occurred to mar the quiet of the day. Mr. Walters was quiet, though somewhat moody; his wife did not scold as usual; and when, in the afternoon, Thomas Burton came in for our poor hero, there was no objection made to his going, but permission given for him to stay with the Burtons until bed-time.