A Gleam of Sunshine on
the Path of a Money-lender
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
Mr. Edgar was a money-lender, and had no scruples in exacting the highest "street rates" of interest that could be obtained. If good paper were offered, and he could buy it from the needy seeker of cash at two or even three percent a month, he did not hesitate about the transaction on any scruples of justice between man and man. Below one percent a month, he rarely made loans. He had nothing to do with the question, as to whether the holder of bills could afford the sacrifice. The circle of his thoughts went not beyond gain to himself.
Few days closed with Mr. Edgar that he was not able to count up gains as high as from thirty to one hundred dollars: not acquired in trade — not coming back to him as the reward of productive industry — but the simple accumulation of large clippings from the anticipated reward of others' industry. Always with a good balance in bank, he had but to sign his name to a check, and the slight effort was repaid by a gain of from ten to fifty dollars, according to the size and time of the note he had agreed to discount. A shrewd man, and well acquainted with the business standing of all around him, Mr. Edgar rarely made mistakes in money transactions. There was always plenty of good paper offering, and he never touched anything regarded as doubtful.
Was Mr. Edgar a happy man? Ah! that is a home question. But we answer frankly, no. During his office hours, while his love of gain was active — while good customers were coming and going, and good operations being effected — his mind was in a pleasurable glow. But, at other times, he suffered greatly from a pressure on his feelings, the cause of which he did not clearly understand. Wealth he had always regarded, as the greatest good in life. And now he not only had wealth, but the income therefrom was a great deal more than he had any desire to spend. And yet he was not happy — no, not even in the thought of his large possessions. Only in the mental activity through which more was obtained, did he really find satisfaction; but this state was only of short duration.
Positive unhappiness, Mr. Edgar often experienced. Occasional losses, as careful and shrewd as he always was, were inevitable. These fretted him greatly. To lose a some sixty or seventy dollars, was a shower of cold water upon his ardent love of accumulation: and he shivered painfully under the infliction. The importunities of friends who needed money, and to whom it was unsafe to lend it, were also a source of no small annoyance.
And, moreover, there was little of the heart's warm sunshine at home. As Mr. Edgar had thought more of laying up wealth for his children, than giving them the true riches of intellect and heart — ill weeds had sprung up in their minds. He had not loved them with an unselfish love, and he received not a higher affection than he had bestowed. Their prominent thought, in regard to him, seemed ever to be the obtaining of some concession to their real or imaginary wants; and, if denied these, they reacted upon him in anger, sullenness, or complaint!
Oh, no! Mr. Edgar was not happy. Few gleams of sunshine lay across his path. Life to him, in his own bitter words, uttered after some keen disappointment, had "proved a failure." And yet he continued eager for gain. He would cut as deep, exact as much from those who had need of his money in their business, as ever. The measure of percentage gained was the measure of his satisfaction.
One day a gentleman said to him —
"Mr. Edgar, I advised a young mechanic who has been in business for a short time, and who has to take notes for his work, to call on you for the purpose of getting them cashed. He has no credit in bank, and is, therefore, compelled to go upon the street for money. Most of his work is taken by one of the safest houses in the city; his paper is, therefore, as good as any in market. Deal as moderately with him as you can. He knows little about these matters, or where to go for the accommodation he needs."
"Is he an industrious and prudent young man?" inquired Mr. Edgar, caution and covetousness at once excited.
"What's his name?"
"Oh, I know him. Very well; send him along, and if his paper is good, I'll discount it."
"You'll find it first-rate," said the gentleman.
"How much shall I charge him?" This was Mr. Edgar's first thought, so soon as he was alone. Even as he asked himself the question, the young mechanic entered.
"Do you take good paper, sometimes?" said the latter, in a hesitating manner.
The countenance of Mr. Edgar became, instantly, very grave.
"Sometimes I do," he answered, with assumed indifference.
"I have a note of Leyden & Co.'s that I wish discounted," said Blakewell.
"For how much?"
"Three hundred dollars — six months;" and he handed Mr. Edgar the note.
"I don't like over four months' notes," remarked the money-lender, coldly. Then he asked, "What rate of interest do you expect to pay?"
"Whatever is usual. Of course, I wish to get it done as low as possible. My profits are not large, and every dollar I pay in discounts, is so much taken from the growth of my business and the comfort of my family."
"You have a family?"
"Yes, sir. A wife and four children."
Mr. Edgar mused for a moment or two. An unselfish thought was struggling to get into his mind.
"What have you usually paid on this paper?" he asked.
"The last I had discounted cost me one and a half percent a month."
"Notes of this kind are rarely marketable below that rate," said Mr. Edgar. He had thought of exacting two percent. "If you will leave the note, and call round in half an hour, I will see what can be done."
"Very well," returned the mechanic. "Be as moderate with me as you can."
For the half hour that went by during the young man's absence, Mr. Edgar walked the floor of his counting-room, trying to come to some decision in regard to the note. Love of gain demanded two percent a month, while a feeble voice, scarcely heard so far away did it seem, pleaded for a generous regard to the young man's necessities. The conflict taking place in his mind was a new one for the money-lender. In no instance before had he experienced any hesitation on the score of a large discount. Love of gain continued clamorous for two percent on the note; yet, ever and anon, the low voice stole, in pleading accents, to his ears.
"I'll do it for one and a half," said Mr. Edgar, yielding slightly to the claim of humanity, urged by the voice, that seemed to be coming nearer.
Love of gain, after slight opposition, was satisfied.
But the low, penetrating voice asked for something better still.
"Weakness! Folly!" exclaimed Mr. Edgar. "I'd better make him a present of the money at once."
It availed nothing. The voice could not be hushed.
"One percent! He couldn't get it done as low as that in the city."
"He is a poor young man, and has a wife and four little children," said the voice. "Even the abstraction of legal interest from his hard earnings is defect enough; to lose twice that sum, will make a heavy draught on his profits, which, under the present competition in trade, are not large. He is honest and industrious, and by his useful labor is aiding the social well-being. Is it right for you to get his reward? — to take his profits, and add them to your already rich accumulations?"
Mr. Edgar did not like these heart questions, and tried to stop his ears, so that the voice could not find an entrance. But he tried in vain.
"Bank rates on this note," continued the inward voice, "would not much exceed nine dollars. Even this is a large sum for a poor man to lose. Double the rate of interest, and the loss becomes an injury to his business, or the cause of seriously abridging his home comforts. And how much will nine dollars contribute to your happiness? Not so much as a jot or a tittle! You are unable, now, to spend your income."
The young mechanic entered at this favorable moment. The money-lender pointed to a chair; then turned to his desk, and filled up, hurriedly, a check. Blakewell glanced at the amount thereof as it was handed to him, and an instant flush of surprise came into his face.
"Haven't you made a mistake, Mr. Edgar?" said he.
"In what respect?"
"The note was for three hundred dollars, six months; and you have given me a check for two hundred and ninety dollars, forty-three cents."
"I've charged you bank interest," said Mr. Edgar, with a feeling of pleasure at his heart so new, that it sent a glow along every nerve and fibre of his being.
"Bank interest! I did not expect this, sir," replied the young man, visibly moved. "For less than one and a half percent a month, I have not been able to obtain money. One per cent, I would have paid you cheerfully. Eighteen dollars saved! How much good that sum will do me! I could not have saved it — or, I might say, have received it — more opportunely. This is a kindness for which I shall ever remember you gratefully."
Grasping the money-lender's hand, he shook it warmly; then turned and hurried away.
Only one previous transaction had that day been made by Mr. Edgar. In that transaction, his gain was fifty dollars, and much pleasure had it given him. But the delight experienced was not to be compared with what he now felt. It was to him a new experience in life — a realization of that beautiful truth, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Once or twice during the day, as Mr. Edgar dwelt on the little circumstance, his natural love of gain caused regret for the loss of money involved in the transaction to enter his mind. How cold, moody, and uncomfortable he instantly became! Self-love was seeking to rob the money-lender of the just reward of a good deed. But the voice which had prompted the generous act was heard, clear and sweet, and again his heart beat to a gladder measure.
Evening was closing in on the day following. It was late in December, and winter had commenced in real earnest. Snow had fallen for some hours. Now, however, the sky was clear, but the air keen and frosty. The day, to Mr. Edgar, was one in which more than the usual number of "good transactions" had been made. On one perfectly safe note, he had been able to charge as high as three percent per month. Full of pleasurable excitement had his mind been while thus gathering in gain, but now, the excitement being over, he was oppressed. From whence the pressure came, he did not know. A cloud usually fell upon his spirits with the closing day; and there was not sunshine enough at home to chase it from his sky.
As Mr. Edgar walked along, with his eyes upon the pavement, his name was called. Looking up, he saw, standing at the open door of a small house, the mechanic he had befriended on the day before.
"Step in here just one moment," said the young man. The request was made in a way that left Mr. Edgar no alternative but compliance. So he entered the humble dwelling. He found himself in a small, unlighted room, adjoining one in which a lamp was burning, and in which was a young woman, plainly but neatly dressed, and four children, the youngest lying in a cradle. The woman held in her hand a warm shawl, which, after examining a few moments, with a pleased expression of countenance, she threw over her shoulders, and glanced at herself in a looking-glass. The oldest of the children, a boy, was trying on a new overcoat; and his sister, two years younger, had a white muff and a warm woollen shawl, in which her attention was completely absorbed. A smaller child had a new cap, and he was the most pleased of any.
"Oh, isn't father good to buy us all these? and we needed them so much," said the oldest of the children. "Yesterday morning, when I told him how cold I was going to school, he said he was sorry, but that I must try and do without a coat this winter, for he hadn't money enough to get us all we wanted. How did he get more money, mother?"
"To a kind gentleman, who helped your father, we are indebted for these needed comforts," replied the mother.
"He must be a good man," said the boy. "What's his name?"
"His name is Mr. Edgar."
"I will ask God to bless him tonight when I say my prayers," innocently spoke out the youngest of the three children.
"What does all this mean?" asked the money-lender, as he hastily retired from the room he had entered.
"If you had charged me one percent on my note, this scene would never have occurred," answered the mechanic. "With the sum you generously saved me, I was able to buy these comforts. My heart blesses you for the deed; and if the good wishes of my happy family can throw sunshine across your path, it will be full of brightness."
Too much affected to reply, Mr. Edgar returned the warm pressure of the hand which had grasped his, and glided away.
A gleam of sunshine had indeed fallen along the pathway of the money-lender. Home had a brighter look as he passed his own threshold. He felt kinder and more cheerful; and kindness and cheerfulness flowed back to him from all the inhabitants of his dwelling. He half wondered at the changed aspect worn by everything. His dreams that night were not of losses, fires, and the wreck of dearly-cherished hopes, but of the humble home made glad by his generous kindness. Again the happy mother, the pleased children, and the grateful father, were before him, and his own heart leaped with a new delight.
"It was a small act — a very light sacrifice on my part," said Mr. Edgar to himself, as he walked, in a musing mood, toward his office on the next morning. "And yet of how much real happiness has it been the occasion! So much that a portion thereof has flowed back upon my own heart."
"A good act is twice blessed." It seemed as if the words were spoken aloud, so distinctly and so suddenly were they presented to the mind of Mr. Edgar.
Ah, if he will only heed that suggestion, brought near to him by the stirring of good affections in his mind! In it, lies the secret of true happiness. Let him but act therefrom, and the sunshine will never be absent from his pathway!