An Evening at Home
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Not going to the ball!" said Mrs. Lindley, with a look and tone of surprise. "What has come over the girl?"
"I don't know, but she says she's not going."
"Doesn't her ball-dress fit?"
"What is the matter, then?"
"Indeed, mother, I cannot tell. You had better go up and see her. She has the strangest notion in the world."
Mrs. Lindley went upstairs, and entering her daughter's room, found her sitting on the side of the bed, with a beautiful dress in her hand.
"It isn't possible, Helen, that you are not going to this ball?" she said.
Helen looked up with a half-serious, half-smiling expression on her face.
"I've been trying, for the last half hour," she replied, "to decide whether I ought to go or stay at home. I think, perhaps, I ought to remain at home."
"But what earthly reason can you have for doing so? Don't you like your dress?"
"O yes! very much. I think it beautiful."
"Doesn't it fit you?"
"As well as any dress I ever had."
"Are you not well?"
"Then why not go to the ball? It will be the largest and most fashionable of the season. You know that your father and myself are both going. We shall want to see you there, of course. Your father will require some very good reason for your absence."
Helen looked perplexed at her mother's last remark.
"Do you think father will be displeased if I remain at home?" she asked.
"I think he will, unless you can satisfy him that your reason for doing so is a very good one. Nor shall I feel that you are doing right. I wish all my children to act under the government of a sound judgment. Impulse, or reasons not to be spoken of freely to their parents, should in no case influence their actions."
Helen sat thoughtful for more than a minute, and then said, her eyes growing dim as she spoke, "I wish to stay at home for Edward's sake."
"And why for his sake, my dear?"
"He doesn't go to the ball, you know."
"Because he is too young, and too unsocial. You couldn't hire him to go there. But that is no reason why you should remain at home. You would never partake of any social amusement, were this always to influence you. Let him spend the evening in reading. He must not expect his sisters to deny themselves all recreation in which he cannot or will not participate."
"He does not. I know he would not hear to such a thing as my staying at home on his account."
"Then why stay?"
"Because I feel that I ought to do so. This is the way I have felt all day whenever I have thought of going. If I were to go, I know that I would not have a moment's enjoyment. He need not know why I remain at home. To tell him that I did not wish to go, will satisfy his mind."
"I shall not urge the matter, Helen," Mrs. Lindley said, after a silence of some moments. "You are old enough to judge in a matter of this kind for yourself. But, I must say, I think you rather foolish. You will not find Edward disposed to sacrifice so much for you."
"Of that I do not think, mother. Of that I ought not to think."
"Perhaps not. Well, you may do as you like. But I don't know what your father will say."
Mrs. Lindley then left the room.
Edward Lindley was at the critical age of eighteen; that period when many young men, especially those who have been blessed with sisters, would have highly enjoyed a ball. But Edward was shy, timid, and bashful in company, and could hardly ever be induced to go out to parties with his sisters. Still, he was intelligent for his years, and companionable. His many good qualities endeared him to his family, and drew forth from his sisters towards him a very tender regard.
Among his male friends were several about his own age, members of families with whom his own was on friendly terms. With these he associated frequently, and, with two or three others, quite intimately. For a month or two Helen noticed that one or another of these young friends called every now and then for Edward, in the evening, and that he went out with them and stayed until bedtime. But, unless his sisters were from home, he never went of his own accord. The fact of his being out with these young men, had, from the first, troubled Helen; though, the reason of her feeling troubled, she could not tell. Edward had good principles, and she could not bring herself to entertain fears of any clearly defined evil. Still a sensation of uneasiness was always produced when he was from home in the evening.
Her knowing that Edward would go out, after they had all left, was the reason why Helen did not wish to attend the ball. The first thought of this had produced an unpleasant sensation in her mind, which increased the longer she debated the question of going away or remaining at home. Finally, she decided that she would not go. This decision took place after the interview with her mother, which was only half an hour from the time of starting.
Edward knew nothing of the intention of his sister. He was in his own room, dressing to go out, and supposed, when he heard the carriage drive from the door, that Helen had gone with the other members of the family. On descending to the parlor, he was surprised to find her sitting by the center-table, with a book in her hand.
"Helen! Is that you? I thought you had gone to the ball! Are you not well?" he said quickly and with surprise, coming up to her side.
"I am very well, brother," she replied, looking into his face with a smile of sisterly regard. "But I have concluded to stay at home this evening. I'm going to keep you company."
"Are you, indeed! Right glad am I of it! though I am sorry you have deprived yourself of the pleasure of this ball, which, I believe, is to be a very brilliant one. I was just going out, because it is so dull at home when you are all away."
"I am not particularly desirous of going to the ball. So little so, that the thought of your being left here all alone had sufficient influence over me to keep me away."
"Indeed! Well, I must say you are kind," Edward returned, with feeling. The self-sacrificing act of his sister had touched him sensibly.
Both Helen and her brother played music well. She upon the harp and piano, and he upon the flute and violin. Both were fond of music, and practiced and played frequently together. Part of the evening was spent in this way, much to the satisfaction of each. Then an hour passed in reading and conversation, after which, music was again resorted to. Thus lapsed the time pleasantly until the hour for retiring came, when they separated, both with an internal feeling of pleasure more delightful than they had experienced for a long time. It was nearly three in the morning before Mr. and Mrs. Lindley, and the daughter who had accompanied them to the ball, came home. Hours before, the senses of both Edward and Helen had been locked in forgetfulness.
Time passed on. Edward Lindley grew up and became a man of sound principles — a blessing to his family and society. He saw his sisters well married; and he himself, finally, led to the altar a lovely maiden. She made him a truly happy husband. On the night of his wedding, as he sat beside Helen, he paused for some time, in the midst of a pleasant conversation, thoughtfully. At last he said,
"Do you remember, sister, the night you stayed home from the ball to keep me company?"
"That was many years ago. Yes, I remember it very well, now that you have recalled it to my mind."
"I have often since thought, Helen," he said, with a serious air, "that by the simple act of thus remaining at home for my sake, you were the means of saving me from destruction."
"How so?" asked the sister.
"I was just then beginning to form an intimate association with young men of my own age, nearly all of whom have since turned out badly. I did not care a great deal about their company; still, I liked to have friends, and used to be with them frequently — especially when you and Mary went out in the evening. On the night of the ball to which you were going, these young men had a supper, and I was to have been with them. I did not wish particularly to join them, but preferred doing so, to remaining at home alone. To find you, as I did, so unexpectedly in the parlor, was an agreeable surprise indeed. I stayed at home with a new pleasure, which was heightened by the thought, that it was your love for me which had made you deny yourself for my gratification. We read together on that evening, we played music together, we talked of many things. In your mind, I had never before seen so much to inspire my own with high and pure thoughts.
"I remembered the conversation of the young men with whom I had been associating, and in which I had taken pleasure, with something like disgust. It was base, sensual, and too much of it vile and demoralizing. Never, from that hour, did I join them. Their way, even in the early stage of life's journey, I saw to be downward — and downward it has ever since been tending. How often since, have I thought of that point in time, so full-fraught with good and evil influences!
"Those few hours spent with you seemed to take scales from my eyes. I saw with a new vision. I thought and felt differently. Had you gone to the ball, and I to meet those young men, no one can tell what might not have been the consequences. Sensual indulgences, carried to excess, amid songs and sentiments calculated to awaken evil instead of good feelings — might have stamped upon my young and delicate mind a bias to base affections which never would have been eradicated. That was the great turning-point in life — the period when I was coming into a state of rationality and freedom. The good prevailed over the evil, and by the agency of my sister, as an angel sent by the Author of all good, to save me."
Like Helen Lindley, let every elder sister be thoughtful of her brothers at that critical period in life, when the boy is about passing up to the stage of manhood, and she may save them from many a snare set for their unwary feet by the evil one.
In closing this little sketch, we can say nothing better than has already been said by an accomplished American authoress, Mrs. Ferrar.
"So many temptations," she says, "beset young men, of which young women know nothing, that it is of the utmost importance that your brothers' evenings should be happily passed at home, that their friends should be your friends, that their engagements should be the same as yours, and that various innocent amusements should be provided for them in the family circle. Music is an accomplishment chiefly valuable as a home enjoyment, as rallying around the piano the various members of a family, and harmonizing their hearts as well as voices, particularly in devotional strains. I know no more agreeable and interesting spectacle than that of brothers and sisters playing and singing together, those elevated compositions in music and poetry which gratify the taste and purify the heart, while their fond parents sit delighted by.
"I have seen and heard an elder sister thus leading the family choir, who was the soul of harmony to the whole household, and whose life was a perfect example of those virtues which I am here endeavoring to inculcate. Let no one say, in reading this chapter, that too much is here required of sisters, that no one can be expected to lead such a self-sacrificing life; for the sainted one to whom I refer was all I would ask any sister to be — and a happier person never lived. To do good and to make others happy — was her rule of life, and in this she found the art of making herself so.
"Sisters should always be willing to walk, ride, visit with their brothers, and esteem it a privilege to be their companions. It is worth while to learn innocent games for the sake of furnishing brothers with amusements, and making home the most agreeable place to them.
"I have been told by some who have passed unharmed through the temptations of youth, that they owed their escape from many dangers, to the intimate companionship of affectionate and pure-minded sisters. They have been saved from a hazardous meeting with wicked company — by some home engagement, of which their sisters were the charm. They have refrained from mixing with the impure — because they would not bring home thoughts and feelings which they could not share with those trusting, loving friends. They have put aside the wine-cup, and abstained from stronger liquors — because they would not profane with their fumes, the holy kiss, with which they were accustomed to bid their sisters goodnight."