A Cure for Low Spirits
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
From some cause, real or imaginary, I felt low spirited. There was a cloud upon my feelings, and I could not smile as usual, nor speak in a tone of cheerfulness. As a natural result, the light of my countenance being gone, all things around me were in shadow. My husband was serious, and had little to say; the children would look strangely at me when I answered their questions, or spoke to them for any purpose, and my servants moved about in a quiet manner, and when they addressed me, did so in a tone more subdued than usual.
This reaction upon my state, only made darker the clouds that veiled my spirits. I was conscious of this, and was conscious that the original cause of my depression was entirely inadequate, in itself, to produce the result which had followed. Under this feeling, I made an effort to rally myself, but in vain; and sank lower from the very struggle to rise above the gloom that overshadowed me.
When my husband came home at dinner time, I tried to meet him with a smile; but I felt that the light upon my countenance was feeble, and of brief duration. He looked at me earnestly, and, in his kind and gentle way, inquired if I felt no better, affecting to believe that my ailment was one of the body instead of the mind. But I scarcely answered him, and I could see that he felt hurt. How much more wretched did I become at this. Could I have then retired to my chamber, and, alone, give my full heart vent in a passion of tears — I might have obtained relief to my feelings. But, I could not do this.
While I sat at the table, forcing a little food into my mouth for appearance sake, my husband said —
"You remember the fine lad who has been for some time in our store?"
I nodded my head, but the question did not awaken in my mind the slightest interest.
"He has not made his appearance for several days; and I learned this morning, on sending to the house of his mother, that he was very ill."
"Ah!" was my indifferent response. Had I spoken what was in my mind, I would have said — "I'm sorry, but I can't help it." I did not, at the moment, feel the smallest interest in the lad.
"Yes," added my husband, "and the person who called to let me know about it, expressed his fears that Edward would not get up again."
"What ails him?" I inquired.
"I did not clearly understand. But he has fever of some kind. You remember his mother very well?"
"Oh, yes. You know she has worked for me. Edward is her only child, I believe."
"Yes. And his loss to her will be almost everything."
"Is he so dangerous?" I inquired, a feeling of interest beginning to stir in my heart.
"He is not expected to live."
"Poor woman! How distressed she must be? I wonder what her circumstances are just at this time. She seemed very poor when she worked for me."
"And she is very poor still, I doubt not. She has herself been sick, and during the time it is more than probable, that Edward's wages were all her income. I am afraid she has suffered, and that she has not, now, the means of procuring for her sick boy things necessary for his comfort. Could you not go around there this afternoon, and see how they are?"
I shook my head instantly, at this proposition, for sympathy for others was not yet strong enough to expel my selfish despondency of mind.
"Then I must step around," replied my husband, "before I go back to the store, although we are very busy today, and I am much needed there. It would not be right to neglect the lad and his mother under present circumstances."
I felt rebuked at these words; and, with a forced effort, said —
"I will go."
"It will be much better for you to see them than for me," returned my husband, "for you can understand their needs better, and minister to them more effectually. If they need any comforts, I would like you to see them supplied."
It still cost me an effort to get ready; but as I had promised that I would do as my husband wished, the effort had to be made. By the time I was prepared to go out, I felt somewhat better. The exertion I was required to make, tended to disperse slightly the clouds which hung over me, and, as they began gradually to move, my thoughts turned, with an awakening interest, toward the object of my husband's solicitude.
All was silent within the humble abode to which my errand led me. I knocked lightly, and in a few moments the mother of Edward opened the door. She looked pale and anxious.
"How is your son, Mrs. Ellis?" I inquired, as I stepped in.
"He is very bad, ma'am," she replied.
"Not dangerous, I hope?"
"The fever has left him, but he is as weak as an infant. All his strength is gone."
"But proper nourishment will restore him, if the disease is broken."
"So the doctor says. But I'm afraid it is too late. He seems to be sinking every hour. Will you walk up and see him, ma'am?"
I followed Mrs. Ellis upstairs, and into the chamber where the sick boy lay. I was not surprised at the fear she had expressed, when I saw Edward's pale, sunken face, and hollow, almost expressionless eyes. He scarcely noticed my entrance.
"Poor boy!" sighed his mother. "He has had a very sick spell." My liveliest interest was at once awakened.
"He has been sick indeed!" I replied, as I laid my hand upon his white forehead. I found that his skin was cold and damp. The fever had nearly burned out the vital energies of his system. "Do you give him much nourishment?"
"He takes a little barley water."
"Has not the doctor ordered wine?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Mr. Ellis, but she spoke with an air of hesitation. "He says a spoonful of good wine, three or four times a day, would be very good for him."
"And you have not given him any?"
"We have some very pure wine, which we always keep for sickness. If you will step over to our house, and tell Alice to give you a bottle of it, I will stay with Edward until you return."
How brightly glowed that woman's face, as my words fell upon her ears!
"Oh, ma'am you are very kind!" said she. "But it will be asking too much of you to stay here!"
"You didn't ask it, Mrs. Ellis," I smilingly replied. "I have offered to stay; so do you go for the wine as quickly as you can, for Edward needs it very much."
I was not required to say more. In a few minutes I was alone with the sick boy, who lay almost as still as if death were resting upon his half closed eye-lids. To some extent, in the half hour I remained thus in that hushed chamber, did I realize the condition and feelings of the poor mother whose only son lay gasping at the very door of death, and all my sympathies were, in consequence, awakened.
As soon as Mrs. Ellis returned with the wine, about a tea spoonful of it was diluted, and the glass containing it placed to the sick lad's lips. The moment its flavor touched his palate, a thrill seemed to pass through his frame, and he swallowed eagerly.
"It does him good!" said I, speaking warmly, and from an impulse of pleasure that made my heart glow.
We sat, and looked with silent interest upon the boy's face, and we did not look in vain, for something like warmth came upon his wan cheeks, and when I placed my hand again upon his forehead, the coldness and dampness was gone. The wine had quickened his languid pulses. I stayed an hour longer, and then another spoonful of the generous wine was given. Its effect was as marked as at first. I then withdrew from the humble home of the widow and her only child, promising to see them again in the morning.
When I regained the street and my thoughts, for a moment, reverted to myself, how did I find all changed. The clouds had been dispersed — the heavy hand raised from my bosom, I walked with a freer step. Sympathy for others, and active efforts to do others good — had expelled the evil spirits from my heart; and now serene peace had there again her quiet habitation. There was light in every part of my dwelling when I re-entered it, and I sang cheerfully, as I prepared, with my own hands, a basket of provisions for the poor widow.
When my husband returned in the evening, he found me at work, cheerfully, in my family, and all bright and smiling again. The effort to do good to others — had driven away the darkness from my spirit, and the sunshine was again upon my countenance, and reflected from every member of my household.