A Mother's Influence
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1854
"There come the children from school," said Aunt Mary, looking from the window. "Just see that Clarence! he'll have Henry in the gutter. I never saw just such a boy; why can't he come quietly along like other children? There! now he must stop to throw stones at the pigs. That boy'll give you the heart-ache yet, Anna."
Mrs. Hartley made no reply, but laid aside her work quietly and left the room to see that their dinner was ready. In a few minutes the street-door was thrown open, and the children came bounding in full of life, and as noisy as they could be.
"Where is your coat, Clarence?" she asked, in a pleasant tone, looking her oldest boy in the face.
"Oh, I forgot!" he replied, cheerfully; and turning quickly, he ran downstairs, and lifting his coat from where, in his thoughtlessness, he had thrown it upon the floor, hung it up in its proper place, and then sprang up the stairs.
"Isn't dinner ready yet?" he said, with fretful impatience, his whole manner changing suddenly. "I'm hungry!"
"It will be ready in a few minutes, Clarence."
"I want it now. I'm hungry."
"Did you ever hear of the man," said Mrs. Hartley, in a voice that showed no disturbance of mind, "who wanted the sun to rise an hour before its time?"
"No, mother. Tell me about it, won't you?"
All impatience had vanished from the boy's face.
"There was a man who had to go upon a journey; the stage-coach was to call for him at sun-rise. More than an hour before it was time for the sun to be up, the man was all ready to go, and for the whole of that hour, he walked the floor impatiently, grumbling at the sun because he did not rise. 'I'm all ready, and I lack to be going,' he said. 'It's time the sun was up, long ago.' Don't you think he was a very foolish man?"
Clarence laughed, and said he thought the man was very foolish indeed.
"Do you think he was more foolish than you were just now, for grumbling because dinner wasn't ready?"
Clarence laughed again, and said he did not know. Just then Hannah, the cook, brought in the platter with the children's dinner upon it. Clarence sprang for a chair, and drew it hastily and noisily to the table.
"Try and see if you can't do that more orderly, my dear," his mother said, in a quiet voice, looking at him, as she spoke, with a steady eye.
The boy removed his chair, and then replaced it gently.
"That is much better, my son."
And thus, she corrected his disorderly habits, quieted his impatient temper, and checked his rudeness — without showing any disturbance. This she had to do daily. At almost every meal, she found it necessary to repress his rude impatience. It was line upon line, and precept upon precept. But she never tired, and rarely permitted herself to show that she was disturbed — no matter how deeply grieved she was at times over the wild and reckless spirit of her boy.
On the next day she was not very well; her head ached badly all the morning. Hearing the children in the passage when they came in from school at noon, she was, rising from the bed where she had lain down, to attend to them and give them their dinners, when Aunt Mary said — "Don't get up, Anna, I will see to the children."
It was rarely that Mrs. Hartley let anyone do for them what she could do herself, for no one else could manage the reckless behavior of Clarence; but so violent was the pain in her head, that she let Aunt Mary go, and sank back upon the pillow from which she had arisen. A good deal of noise and confusion continued to reach her ears, from the moment the children came in. At length a loud cry and passionate words from Clarence caused her to rise up quickly and go over to the dining-room. All was confusion there, and Aunt Mary out of humor and scolding prodigiously. Clarence was standing up at the table, looking defiance at her, on account of some interference with his strong self-will. The moment the boy saw his mother, his countenance changed, and a look of confusion took the place of anger.
"Come over to my room, Clarence," she said, in a low voice; there was sadness in its tones, that made him feel sorry that he had given vent so freely to his ill-temper.
"What was the matter, my son?" Mrs. Hartley asked, as soon as they were alone, taking Clarence by the hand and looking steadily at him.
"Aunt Mary wouldn't help me when I asked her."
"She would help Henry first."
"No doubt she had a reason for it. Do you know her reason?"
"She said he was youngest." Clarence pouted out his lips, and spoke in a very disagreeable tone.
"Don't you think that was a very good reason?"
"I've as good a right to be helped first, as he has."
"Let us see if that is so. You and Marien and Henry came in from school, all hungry and anxious for your dinners. Marien is oldest — she, one would suppose, from the fact that she is oldest, would be better able to feel for her brothers, and be willing to see their needs supplied before her own. You are older than Henry, and should feel for him in the same way. No doubt this was Aunt Mary's reason for helping Henry first. Had she helped Marien?"
"Did Marien complain?"
"No one complained but my unhappy Clarence. Do you know why you complained? I can tell you, as I have often told you before; it is because you indulge in very selfish feelings. All who do so, make themselves miserable. If, instead of wanting Aunt Mary to help you first, you had, from a love of your little brother, been willing to see him first attended to, you would have enjoyed a real pleasure. If you had said — 'Aunt Mary, help Harry first,' I am sure Henry would have said instantly — ' No, Aunt Mary, help brother Clarence first.' How pleasant this would have been! how happy would all of us have felt at thus seeing two little brothers generously preferring one another!"
There was an unusual degree of tenderness, even sadness in the voice of his mother, that affected Clarence; but he struggled with his feelings. When, however, she resumed, and said — "I have felt quite sick all the morning; my head has ached badly — so badly that I have had to lie down. I always give you your dinners when you come home, and try to make you comfortable. Today I let Aunt Mary do it, because I felt so sick; but I am sorry that I did not get up, as sick as I was, and do it myself; then I might have prevented this unhappy outbreak of my boy's unruly temper, that has made not only my head ache ten times as badly as it did, but my heart ache also" —
Clarence burst into tears, and throwing his arms ground his mother's neck, wept bitterly.
"I will try and be good, dear mother," he said. "I do try sometimes, but it seems that I can't."
"You must always try, my dear son. Now dry up your tears, and go out and get your dinner. Or, if you would rather I should go with you, I will do so."
"No, dear mother," replied the boy, affectionately, "you are sick; you must not go. I will be good."
Clarence kissed his mother again, and then returned quietly to the dining-room.
"Naughty boy!" said Aunt Mary, as he entered, looking sternly at him.
A bitter retort came instantly to the tongue of Clarence, but he checked himself with a strong effort, and took his place at the table. Instead of soothing the quick-tempered boy, Aunt Mary chafed him by her words and manner during the whole meal, and it was only the image of his mother's tearful face, and the remembrance that she was sick, that restrained an outbreak of his passionate temper.
When Clarence left the table, he returned to his mother's room, and laid his head upon the pillow where her's was resting.
"I love you, mother," he said, affectionately, "you are good. But I hate Aunt Mary."
"Oh, no, Clarence; you must not say that you hate Aunt Mary, for Aunt Mary is very kind to you. You mustn't hate anybody."
"She isn't kind to me, mother. She calls me a bad boy, and says everything to make me angry, when I want to be good."
"Think, my son, if there is not some reason for Aunt Mary calling you a bad boy. You know yourself, that you act very naughtily sometimes, and provoke Aunt Mary a great deal."
"But she said I was a naughty boy when I went out just now, and I was sorry for what I had done, and wanted to be good."
"Aunt Mary didn't know that you were sorry, I am sure. When she called you 'naughty boy,' what did you say?"
"I was going to say 'You're a fool!' but I didn't. I tried hard not to let my tongue say the bad words, though it wanted to."
"Why did you try not to say them?"
"Because it would have been wrong, and would have made you feel sorry; and I love you." Again the repentant boy kissed her. His eyes were full of tears, and so were the eyes of his mother.
While talking over this incident with her husband, Mrs. Hartley said — "Were not all these impressions so light, I would feel encouraged. The boy has warm and tender feelings, but I fear that his passionate temper and selfishness will, like evil weeds, completely check their growth."
"The case is bad enough, Anna, but not so bad, I hope, as you fear. These good affections are never active in vain. They impress the mind with an indelible impression. In after years the remembrance of them will revive the states they produced, and give strength to good desires and intentions. Amid all his irregularities and wanderings from good, in after-life, the thoughts of his mother will restore the feelings he had today, and draw him back from evil with cords of love that cannot be broken. The good now implanted will remain, and, like ten just men, save the city.
In most instances where men abandon themselves finally to evil courses, it will be found that the impressions made in childhood were not of the right kind; that the mother's influence was not what it should have been. For myself, I am sure that a different mother would have made me a different man. When a boy, I was too much like Clarence; but the tenderness with which my mother always treated me, and the unimpassioned but earnest manner in which she reproved and corrected my faults, subdued my unruly temper. When I became restless or impatient, she always had a book to read to me, or a story to tell, or had some device to save me from myself.
My father was neither harsh nor indulgent towards me; I cherish his memory with respect and love; but I have different feelings when I think of my mother. I often feel, even now, as if she were near me — as if her cheek were laid to mine. My father would place his hand upon my head caressingly, but my mother would lay her cheek against mine. I did not expect my father to do more — I do not know that I would have loved him had he done more; for him it was a natural expression of affection; but no act is too tender for a mother. Her kiss upon my cheek, her warm embrace, are all felt now; and the older I grow, the more holy seem the influences that surrounded me in childhood."