A New Pleasure
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
The whole purpose of Mr. Bolton's life had been the accumulation of property, with an end to his own gratification. To part with a dollar was therefore ever felt as the giving up of a prospective good; and it acted as the abridgment of present happiness. Appeals to Mr. Bolton's benevolence had never been very successful; and, in giving, he had not experienced the blessing which belongs of right to good deeds. The absolute selfishness of his feelings wronged him of what was justly his due.
Thus passed the life of Mr. Bolton. Dollar was added to dollar, house to house, and field to field. Yet he was never satisfied with gaining; for what he had, looked so small compared with the wealth of the world, after the whole of which his heart really panted, as to appear at times actually insignificant. Thus, as he grew older, he set a value upon what he had, as the means of gaining more; and in his parting with money, did so at the expense of a daily increasing reluctance.
In the beginning of life, Mr. Bolton possessed a few generous feelings, the remains of early and innocent states stored up in childhood. His mother, a true woman, perceiving the strong selfish and accumulative bent of his character, had sought in every possible way to implant in his mind feelings of benevolence and regard for others. One mode of doing this had been to introduce him into scenes that appealed to his sympathies. She often took him with her to see poor or sick people, and so interested him in them as to create a desire in his mind to afford relief. So soon as she perceived this desire awakened, she devised some mode of bringing it into activity, so that he might feel the delights which spring from a consciousness of having done good to another.
But so strong was the lad's hereditary love of self, that she ever found difficulty in inducing him to sacrifice what he already considered his own, in the effort to procure blessings for others, no matter how greatly they stood in need. If urged to spend a sixpence of his own for such a purpose, he would generally reply:
"But you've got a great many more sixpences than I have, mother — why don't you spend them?"
To this, Mrs. Bolton would answer as appropriately as possible; but she found but poor success in her efforts, which were never relaxed.
In early manhood, as Mr. Bolton began to come in actual contact with the world, the remains of early states of innocence and sympathy with others came back, as we have intimated, upon him, and he acted, in many instances, with a generous disregard of self. But as he bent his mind more and more earnestly to the accumulation of money, these feelings had less and less influence over him. And as dollar after dollar was added to his storehouse — his interest in the welfare of others grew less and less active. Early friendships were gradually forgotten, and the first natural desire to see early friends prosperous like himself, gradually died out. "Every man for himself!" became the leading principle of his life; and he acted upon it on all occasions.
In taking a pew in church and regularly attending worship every Sabbath, he was governed by the idea that it was respectable to do so, and gave a man a standing in society, that reacted favorably upon his worldly interests. In putting his name to a subscription paper, a thing not always to be avoided, even by him — a business view of the matter was invariably taken; and the satisfaction of mind experienced on the occasion arose from the reflection that the act would benefit him in the long run. As to the minor charities, in the doing of which the left hand has no acquaintance with the deeds of the right hand, Mr. Bolton never indulged in them. If his left hand had known the doings of his right hand in matters of this kind, said hand would not have been much wiser for the knowledge.
Thus life went on, and Mr. Bolton was ever busy in gathering in his golden harvest; so busy, that he had no time for anything else, not even to enjoy what he possessed. At last, he was sixty years old, and his wealth extended to many hundreds of thousands of dollars. But he was farther from being satisfied than ever, and less happy than at any former period in his life.
One cause of unhappiness arose from the fact that, as a rich man, he was constantly annoyed with applications to do a rich man's part in the charities of the day. And to these applications, it was impossible always to turn a deaf ear. Give he must sometimes, and giving always left a pain behind — because the gift came not from a spirit of benevolence. There were other and various causes of unhappiness, all of which combining, made Mr. Bolton, as old age came stealing upon him, about as miserable as a man could well be. Money, in his eyes the greatest good — had not brought the peace of mind to which he had looked forward, and the days came and went without a smile. His children had grown up and passed into the world, and were, as he had been at their ages, so all-absorbed by the love of gain, as to have little love to spare for anything else.
About this time, Mr. Bolton, having made one or two losing operations, determined to retire from business, invest all his money in real estate and other securities, and let the management of these investments constitute his future employment. In this new occupation, he found so little to do in comparison with his former busy life, that the change proved adverse, so far as his repose of mind was concerned.
It happened, about this time, that Mr. Bolton had occasion to go some twenty miles into the country. On returning home, and when within a few miles of the city, his carriage was overset, and he had the misfortune to fracture a limb. This occurred near a pleasant little farm-house which stood a few hundred yards from the road; the owner of which, seeing the accident, ran to the overturned carriage and assisted to extricate the injured man. Seeing how badly he was hurt, he had him removed to his house, and then, taking a horse, rode off two miles for a physician. In the mean time, the driver of Mr. Bolton's carriage was despatched to the city for some of his family and his own physician.
The country doctor and the one from the city arrived about the same time. On making a careful examination as to the nature of Mr. Bolton's injuries, it was found that his right leg, above the knee, was broken, and that one of his ankles was dislocated. He was suffering great pain, and was much exhausted. As quickly as it could be done, the bone was set, and the dislocation reduced. By this time it was nightfall, and too late to think seriously of returning home before morning. The moment Mr. Gray, the farmer, saw the thoughts of the injured man and his friends directed towards the city, he promptly invited them to remain in his house all night, and as much longer as the nature of Mr. Bolton's injuries might require. This invitation was thankfully accepted.
During the night, Mr. Bolton suffered a great deal of pain, and in the morning, when the physicians arrived, it was found that his injured limb was much inflamed. Of course, a removal to the city was out of the question. The doctors declared that the attempt would be made at the risk of his life. Farmer Gray said that such a thing must not be thought of, until the patient was fully able to bear the journey; and the farmer's wife as earnestly remonstrated against any attempt at having the injured man disturbed until it could be perfectly safe to do so. Both offered the hospitalities of their humble home with so much sincerity, that Mr. Bolton felt that he could accept of them with perfect freedom.
It was a whole month before the old gentleman was in a condition to bear the journey to town; and not once in the whole of that time had Mr. and Mrs. Gray seemed weary of his presence, nor once relaxed in their efforts to make him comfortable. As Mr. Bolton was about leaving, he offered the farmer, with many expressions of gratitude for the kindness he had received, a hundred-dollar bill, as some small compensation for the trouble and expense he had occasioned him and his family. But Mr. Gray declined the offer, saying, as he did so:
"I have only done what common humanity required, Mr. Bolton; and were I to receive money, all the pleasure I now experience would be gone."
It was in vain that Mr. Bolton urged the farmer's acceptance of some remuneration. Mr. Gray was firm in declining to the last. All that could be done was to send Mrs. Gray a handsome present from the city; but this did not entirely relieve the mind of Mr. Bolton from the sense of obligation under which the unselfish kindness of the farmer had laid him; and thoughts of this tended to soften his feelings, and to awaken, in a small measure, the human sympathies which had so long slumbered in his bosom.
Several months passed before Mr. Bolton was able to go out, and then he resumed his old employment of looking after his rents, and seeking for new and safe investments which promised some better returns than he was yet receiving.
One day, a broker, who was in the habit of doing business for Mr. Bolton, said to him:
"If you want to buy a small, well-cultivated farm, at about half what it is worth, I think I know where you can get one."
"Yes. Three years ago it was bought for three thousand dollars, and seven hundred paid down in cash. Only eight hundred dollars have since been paid on it; and as the time for which the mortgage was to remain has now expired, a foreclosure is about to take place. By a little management, I am satisfied that I can get you the farm for the balance due on the mortgage."
"That is, for fifteen hundred dollars?"
"Is the farm worth that? Will it be a good investment?"
"It is in the highest state of cultivation. The owner has spent too much money upon it. This, with the loss of his entire crop of wheat, rye, corn, oats, and hay, last year, has crippled him, and made it impossible to pay off the mortgage."
"How did he come to meet with this loss?"
"His barn was struck by lightning."
"That was unfortunate."
"The farm will command, at the lowest, two hundred and fifty dollars rent per year; and by forcing a sale just at this time, it can be had for fifteen hundred or two thousand dollars — half its real value."
"It would be a good investment at that."
"First-rate! I would advise you to secure it."
After making some brief inquiries as to its location, the quality of the land, the improvements, etc., Mr. Bolton told the broker, in whom he had great confidence, that he might buy the property for him, if he could obtain it for anything below two thousand dollars. This the broker said he could easily do, as the business of foreclosure was in his own hands.
In due time, Mr. Bolton was informed by his agent in the matter, that a sale under the mortgage had taken place, and that, by means of the little management proposed, he had succeeded in keeping away all competition in bidding. The land, stock, farming implements, and all, had been knocked down at a price that just covered the debt on the estate, and were the property of Mr. Bolton, at half their real value.
"That was a good speculation," said the gray-headed money-lover, when his agent informed him of what he had been doing.
"First-rate!" replied the broker. "The farm is worth every cent of three thousand dollars. Poor Gray! I can't help feeling sorry for him. But it's his luck. He valued his farm at three thousand five hundred dollars. A week ago he counted himself worth two thousand dollars, clean. Now he isn't worth a penny. Fifteen hundred dollars and three or four years of labor thrown away into the bargain. But it's his bad luck! So the world goes. He must try again."
"Gray? Is that the man's name?" inquired Mr. Bolton. His voice was changed.
"Yes. I thought I had mentioned his name."
"I didn't remark it, if you did. It's the farm adjoining Harvey's, on the north?"
"I have had it in my mind, all along, that it was the one on the south."
"When did you see Mr. Gray?"
"He was here about half an hour ago."
"How does he feel about the matter?"
"He takes it hard, of course. Any man would. But it's his luck, and he must submit. It's no use crying over disappointments and losses, in this world."
Mr. Bolton mused for a long time.
"I'll see you again tomorrow," he said, at length. "Let everything remain as it is until then."
The man who had been for so many years sold, as it were, to selfishness, found himself checked at last by the thought of another. While just in the act of grasping a money advantage, the interest of another arose up, and made him pause.
"If it had been anyone else," said he to himself, as he walked slowly homeward, "all would have been plain sailing. But — but — "
The sentence was not finished.
"It won't do to turn HIM away," was at length uttered. "He shall have the farm at a very moderate rent."
Still, these concessions of selfishness did not relieve the mind of Mr. Bolton, nor make him feel more willing to meet the man who had done him so great a kindness, and in such a unselfish spirit.
All that day, and for a portion of the night that followed, Mr. Bolton continued to think over the difficulty in which he found himself placed; and the more he thought — the less willing did he feel to take the great advantage of the poor farmer at first contemplated. After falling asleep, his mind continued occupied with the same subject, and in the dreams that came to him, he lived over a portion of the past.
He was again a helpless invalid, and the kind farmer and his excellent wife were ministering, as before, to his comfort. His heart was full of grateful feelings. Then a change came suddenly. He stood the spectator of a widely-spread ruin which had fallen upon the excellent Mr. Gray and his family. A fierce tempest was sweeping over his fields, and leveling all houses, trees, and grain — in ruin to the earth. A word spoken by him would have saved all; he felt this — but he did not speak the word. The look of reproach suddenly cast upon him by the farmer so stung him, that he awoke; and from that time until the day dawned, he lay pondering on the course of conduct he had best pursue.
The advantage of the purchase he had made was so great, that Mr. Bolton thought of relinquishing it with great reluctance. On the other hand, his obligation to the farmer was of such a nature, that he must, in clinging to his bargain, forfeit his self-respect, and must suffer a keen sense of mortification, if not dishonor, at any time that he happened to meet Mr. Gray face to face. Finally, after a long struggle, continued through several days, he resolved to forego the good he had attempted to grasp.
How many years had passed since this man had done a generous action! since he had relinquished a selfish and sordid purpose out of regard to another's well-being! And now it had cost him a desperate struggle; but after the trial was past, his mind became tranquil, and he could think of what he was about to do with an emotion of pleasure that was new in his experience. Immediately on this resolution being formed, Mr. Bolton called upon his agent. His first inquiry was:
"When did you see Gray?"
"The previous owner of your farm?"
"Not since the sale. You told me to let everything remain as it was."
"Hasn't he called?"
"The loss of his farm must be felt as a great misfortune."
"No doubt of that. Every man feels his losses as misfortunes. But we all have to take the good and the bad in life together. It's his bad luck, and he must put up with it."
"I wonder if he hasn't other property?"
"Are you certain?"
"Oh, yes. I know exactly what he was worth. He had been overseer for Elbertson for several years, and while there, managed to save seven hundred dollars, with which he paid down the cash required in purchasing his farm. Since then, he has been paying off the mortgage that remained on the property, and but for the burning of his barn, might have prevented a result that has been so disastrous to himself. But it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. In every loss — somebody gains; and the turn of the dice, has been in your favor this time."
Mr. Bolton did not appear to feel as much satisfaction at this view of the case as the broker anticipated; and seeing this, he changed the subject, by asking some question about the consummation of the sale under the mortgage.
"I'll see you about that tomorrow," said Mr. Bolton.
"Very well," was replied.
After some more conversation, Mr. Bolton left the office of his agent.
For years, farmer Gray had been toiling late and early, to become the full owner of his beautiful farm. Its value had much increased since it had come into his possession, and he looked forward with pleasure to the time when it would be his own, beyond all doubt. But the loss of an entire year's crop, through the burning of his barn, deeply tried and dispirited him. From this grievous disappointment, his spirits were beginning to rise — when the sudden foreclosure of the mortgage and hurried sale of his farm crushed all his hopes to the earth.
Who the real purchaser of his farm was, Mr. Gray did not know, for the broker had bought in his own name. So bewildered was the farmer by the suddenly-occurring disaster, that, for several days following the sale, he remained almost totally paralyzed in mind. No plans were laid for the future, nor even those ordinary steps for the present taken, which common prudence would suggest; he wandered about the farm, or sat at home, dreamily musing upon what seemed the utter ruin of all his best hopes in life. While in this state, he was surprised by a visit from Mr. Bolton. The old gentleman, in taking him by the hand, said, "What's the matter, my friend? You appear in trouble."
"I am in trouble," was unhesitatingly answered.
"Not so deep but that you may get out of it again, I hope?"
Mr. Gray shook his head in a desponding way.
"What is the trouble?" Mr. Bolton inquired.
"I have lost my farm."
"It is too true; it has been sold for a mortgage of fifteen hundred dollars. Though I have already paid more than that sum on account of the purchase, it only brought enough to pay the debts, and I am ruined."
The farmer was deeply disturbed, and Mr. Bolton's feelings were much interested.
"Don't be so troubled, my good friend," said the old gentleman. "You rendered me a service in the time of need — and it is now in my power to return it. The farm is still yours. I hold the mortgage, and you need not fear another foreclosure."
Some moments passed after this announcement before Mr. Gray's mind became clear, and his entire self-possession returned; then grasping the hand of Mr. Bolton, he thanked him with all the eloquence a grateful heart inspires. It was the happiest moment the old merchant had seen for years. The mere possession of a thousand or two of dollars seemed as nothing — compared to the pleasure he felt at having performed a good action; or, rather, at having refrained from doing an evil one.
As he rode back to the city, reflecting upon what he had done, and recalling the delight shown by Mr. Gray and his kind wife, who had attended him so carefully while he lay as a sufferer beneath their roof, his heart swelled in his bosom with a new and happy emotion.
Having once permitted himself to regard another with an unselfish interest — that interest continued; it seemed as if he could not do enough for the farmer in the way of aiding him to develop the resources of his little property. In this he did not merely stop at suggestions, but offered something more substantial and available. Nor did the feelings awakened in his mind run all in this direction; occasions enough offered for him to be generous to others — and to refrain from oppression for the sake of gain. Many of these were embraced, and Mr. Bolton, in realizing the fact that it is sometimes more blessed to give than to receive, found in the latter years of his life a NEW PLEASURE — the pleasure of doing good!