At Home

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858


A man's walk and life at home always give the surest test of his profession. At home, few are disguises. The real quality manifests itself without disguise. If a man's wife, children, and servants, show no respect for his religious character you may be pretty sure that he is self-deceived, or a hypocrite. In other words, that he is trying to get to Heaven by a mere external observance of pious forms, instead of through a denial of self-love, and the cultivation of heavenly affections.

Mortimer Grand had a very pious way with him. He was much inclined to conversation on religious subjects; fond of doctrinal discussions, and much concerned about his neighbors' fidelity in spiritual things. Most people thought him a good man some a very good man; but the few who came in closer contact, and felt the quality of his business life held rather a different opinion. They saw that he was, for the most part, eagerly bent on securing personal advantage; and this even to the injury of others.

But it is in his home life that we design testing the religious quality of Mr. Grand. At home, shut out from the world's observation, he could lay off the assumed external, and act in all things just as he felt. If a tyrant in heart he would act the tyrant. If impatient at light annoyances he would be impatient. If inclined to selfish appropriation there was none to prevent his doing as he pleased. He could enjoy the luxury of being himself, from inmost affection, to uttermost act.

The day had closed, and in no very good humor for all things had not shaped themselves as natural affections desired Mr. Grand bent his steps homewards. On the way he met a friend. They stopped and exchanged salutations. Mr. Grand's face became almost radiant with smiles as he responded to the remark

"The good work goes bravely on."

"Bravely and gloriously!" was his reply. "It is, indeed, a time of refreshing from the hand of the Lord. The signs of His presence are everywhere."

Then they shook hands with ardor, and parted. For a little way, the glow of enthusiasm remained with Mr. Grand; then, as home drew near, the warmth of his feelings subsided; and by the time his feet were crossing his own threshold, his state was entirely changed.

"No light in the passage, as usual!" he murmured, fretfully, as he closed the street door behind him.

Even as he spoke, the faint, yellow gleam of a match broke suddenly out of the darkness, and in the next moment the strong glare of a gas lamp blazed around him. It was the work of his wife.

"Humph! it's always so!" growled Mr. Mortimer Grand.

"Yes, it is always so," replied Mrs. Grand, her tone of voice in no way more amiable than that of her husband.

"What's always so?" was demanded.

"Your temper when you come home."

This was severe; and Mr. Grand was irritated, rather than rebuked. So he went stalking upstairs to the sitting-room, and entered among the children like a cloud, instead of a sunbeam. There was a sudden hushing of voices, and a shrinking away at his approach. In the large cushioned rocking-chair, sat little Frances, whose loving heart was always going out in search of love. She lifted her blue eyes to her father's face, as he approached her, with a half-timid, half-hopeful expression. But he merely swept her from the chair with his hand, and sat down without a gentle word or glance of affection.

Dear little tender thing! The roughness and the disappointment were too great for her. Tears came; sobs convulsed her tiny frame; and then passionate grief broke in cries upon the air.

"Take that child from the room!" said Mr. Grand, sternly, as his wife entered.

"What's the matter with her?" inquired the mother.

"It's more than I can tell. She's always crying about something. But, I won't have this noisy din about my ears. It's intolerable."

Mrs. Grand took the child up in her arms, and pressed her head down against her bosom, tenderly.

"What ails you, dear? Stop crying, and tell me." Mrs. Grand pressed her lips to the ear of her child.

"Papa." It was all the little mouth could say.

"Papa, what?" Whispered the mother.

"Papa hurt me," was answered, amid quivering sobs.

And that was just the truth; and just as the child felt it. She did not mean to convey to her mother any impression beyond the truth. Her little heart was hurt.

"That is not so!" And Mr. Grand started to his feet. "How dare you tell a lie!" And he moved rapidly across the room. The frightened child shrank closer to her mother, and hushed her crying. Mr. Grand took hold of her slender arm with the tight grip of passion, and attempted to remove her; but Mrs. Grand would not permit this. She was not going to trust her precious little one to the tender mercies of an angry man, whose hard spirit had bruised hers from the beginning. The result of former contests with his wife, warned Mr. Grand not to persist now; and so, after scowling upon her for some moments, he turned away and went back to his seat in the large rocking-chair, muttering something in an undertone.

For ten minutes Mr. Grand sat without speaking; his chin drawn down upon his bosom, and his countenance wearing a most repulsive aspect. Then he ordered one of the children to be still, in a tone of harsh rebuke. Ten minutes more of moody silence followed.

"If supper isn't ready soon, I shall go off without it!" Mr. Grand spoke suddenly.

"You didn't say you were going out." Mrs. Grand arose and moved towards the door of the room. "If you had, I would have hurried tea."

"Supper ought to have been ready half an hour ago. I've said, a hundred times, that I wished my meals always ready by stroke of the clock."

Mrs. Grand went downstairs, leading Frances, who kept close to her side. Nearly ten minutes more elapsed, before everything was on the table. Before half that time had expired, Mr. Grand had commenced walking the floor of the sitting-room with impatient footsteps.

"Father!" A voice and hand arrested his attention.

"Well, what's wanted?" Mr. Grand stopped and looked down with closer contracting brows.

"Lend me your knife, father, to sharpen this stick?"

"I shall do no such thing. You broke the last knife I had." And Mr. Grand pushed his little son away, who, made angry by the rebuff, crossed the room to where his older brother was writing out an exercise, and from sheer meanness, born of bad feelings, pushed his elbow and caused him to spoil half an hour's work. This outrage could not be borne; the brother turned and struck him in the face. A loud cry followed, when the father, catching up the boy who had dealt the blow, punished him with great severity, and then sent him off, supperless to bed. He made no inquiry stopped for no investigation; but meted out summary punishment, because that was in closest agreement with his angry feelings.

"When the tea bell rang, at last, he went stalking downstairs, the children following, in a wild scramble.

"Silence!" He demanded in a tone of stern authority, as he sat down to the table. A prayer was then said, when, helping himself, Mr. Grand left his wife to help the children. The toast was a little burnt, and he scolded her; his tea wasn't sweet enough, and he called for more sugar, with a frown; the butter didn't suit his taste, and he spoke so sharply about it to his wife, that tears came into her eyes. After eating, with a good appetite, Mr. Grand left the table, saying, as he did so, that he was going out and wouldn't be home until after ten o'clock.

"Henry!" Mrs. Grand arose from the table, and followed her husband into the passage.

"Well, what do you want?"

"I wish you could stay home this evening. I was going to ask you, particularly."

"Stay at home! What for?" Mr. Grand knit his very flexible brows, as he always did when not pleased.

"Edward is not getting on right at school. He hasn't had his lessons for a week or more, and says he can't learn them. I have tried my best to help him, but the lessons puzzle me. Now, Henry, if you would only give him a little time this evening you might save him from discouragement and disgrace at school. He says the teacher keeps him in every day, and threatens severer punishment if he is deficient tomorrow. I promised him that I would speak to you about it."

"I've punished him, and sent him to bed, for striking his brother," said Mr. Grand. "I don't wonder that he isn't getting on right at school if he behaves as badly there as he does at home. The fault, I apprehend, goes deeper than his lessons. I don't believe his teacher is so unreasonable as he makes out."

"But hadn't you better look into the matter? I think Edward is doing his best. He must have been very much provoked, if he struck his brother. He is not troublesome among the children. I wish you would stay at home tonight and look into this matter of his lessons. If there is any injustice towards him, who but his father is competent to protect him?"

"Oh, as to the injustice, I will take all the risk," replied Mr. Grand, indifferently.

"Then you won't stay at home?"

"I can't. I'm going to a missionary meeting."

"Missionary meetings may all be well enough," answered the wife, coldly; "but my opinion is, that your duty tonight is to look after the neglected heathen of your own home."

"Mary, I will not tolerate this!" Mr. Grand spoke sternly. "I know my duty, and am alone responsible for its performance. I wish you would do yours as well. We would then have a better regulated household."

And he went out, shutting the door with a heavy jar. Mrs. Grand sighed, as she walked back, with weary steps, to the dining-room, and took up, with a sad heart, the burden of her duties. Mr. Grand went to the meeting, in which he took a prominent part, and came away at its close with pleasant compliments in his ears, and a feeling of self-satisfaction in his heart in having been an active co-worker in a great scheme of Christian benevolence.

Of this man's title to the name of Christian, let the reader judge.
 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
 

We have another and sunnier picture to exhibit, and so pass from the contemplation of one which can only excite unpleasant feelings.

True religion always shows itself best at home; for here disguises are put aside, and the man is seen as he really is.

 

"You will be at the prayer-meeting tonight, Marston?" said a man to his friend. They had stopped at the corner of a street, and were about to separate.

"Oh, yes. I wouldn't miss one of these Wednesday-night meetings on any account. I enjoy them very much; and gain strength for duty. You will be there?"

"Of course; nothing could keep me away."

"Good evening."

"Good evening. Come early, Marston."

And the two men separated. Both had recently joined the Church, and both were ardent in their new life, almost to enthusiasm.

On his arrival at home, Marston found that preparations for tea were not in a very encouraging state of advancement; so he said, in a cheerful way to his wife, who was going about with a baby in her arms

"You must hurry up things a little, Anna. This is Wednesday night, you know, and I wouldn't fail being at the meeting on any account. Give Maggy to me. There; now your hands are free. I ought to have come home a little earlier."

The pale, weary-looking wife, smiled on her husband, as she handed him the baby, and said, pleasantly

"You shall not be late, dear. I will soon have all ready. My head has ached badly all the afternoon, and this has kept me behindhand.

"I'm sorry for that, Anna. Does it ache still?" The husband's voice was full of kind interest.

"Yes; and I feel unusually weak. The first warm weather of the season always tries me, you know."

A shadow of concern came over the face of Mr. Marston, as his eyes followed the retiring form of his wife. He was an industrious young man, with only a small salary; and his wife was trying to get along without a servant. They had two children a little boy four years old, and Maggy, the baby, who had not yet completed her first year.

In a shorter time than the husband had expected, his wife's pleasant voice called him to supper. He gave her the baby as he entered their little dining-room, and she sat down with it in her arms to pour out the tea.

"Does your head ache still?" inquired Marston.

"Badly; but I think a cup of tea will do me good."

"I hope so, indeed. Give baby back to me. I can hold her." And the husband reached out his hands for little Maggy, who, pleased to return, almost leaped into his arms.

"You must take her back, mother," said Marston, rising from the table, in about ten minutes, and reaching the baby to his wife. "It is late, and I must be away, or the prayer-meeting will open before I get there."

"But Maggy, who was very fond of her father, did not wish to leave him; and so struggled, after her mother had received her, and cried to be taken back.

"Papa must go, darling." Marston bent down and tried to soothe the grieving little one. As he did so, Maggy got her arms around his neck, and held on tightly. It took quite an effort to remove them.

As Marston shut the door of his dwelling behind him, and commenced walking rapidly away in the direction of the church, at which the prayer meeting was to be held, he was conscious of an unpleasant pressure upon his feelings. What did this mean? He began at once searching about in his mind for the cause. At first, he could see nothing clearly; but gradually thought went back to the home he had just left, and to his pale, weary-looking wife and children, grieving because he had left them.

"Is this right?" The question came suddenly upon him, and almost arrested his steps.

"I am sorry to leave them alone tonight," he said within himself; "and wouldn't, except for the prayer-meeting. I gain so much strength and comfort in this means of grace, that I feel as if it would be wrong to neglect it."

And so he walked on, but with slower steps, his thoughts still returning to his home, and imagination giving more and more vivid pictures of his wife and children in grief for his absence. At last he stood still.

"I need the blessing I had hoped to receive this evening. The strength, the comfort, the peace," he said, still talking with himself. "But, poor Anna! It is hard for her to be left alone. And she isn't at all well."

"I will go back." He spoke out resolutely, at last; and commenced retracing his steps. "I must not consider myself alone. Perhaps God will give the strength and comfort I need, even if I do not meet tonight with his people."

"Oh, James, is it you?" Mrs. Marston startled at the unexpected appearance of her husband, who saw, as she looked up, that her eyes were wet. "Have you forgotten anything?"

"Yes," he replied, as he stood gazing with unusual tenderness upon her.

"What is it? Can I get it for you?"

"I forgot to stay at home with my wife and children," said the young man.

"Oh, James!" Tears gushed over his wife's face. "And I've come back to remain with them."

Mrs. Marston leaned her aching head upon her husband's shoulder, and sobbed. This unexpected circumstance quite broke down the little self-composure that remained.

"Did you feel lonely?"

"Lonely, sad, and discouraged," she answered. "But you are good and kind; and I am weak and foolish. Go back, James, to the prayer-meeting I shall feel better now."

"No, darling," said Marston. "I will stay at home to help and comfort my lonely, sad, and discouraged wife; and I think I shall be serving God in this, with a truer spirit of worship than I could possibly feel in any prayer-meeting that I went to, at the sacrifice of a clear home duty."

"How does your head feel now, Anna?" was asked half an hour later, as they sat together, Mrs. Marston with her needle in her hand, and her husband holding both of the happy children in his arms.

"It is free from pain, and I feel so much better. I think your unexpected return has cured me. Aren't I a weak, foolish woman, James? But, after you have been absent all day long, I can't bear to have you go out in the evening. I love so to hear you read to me; and you don't know how much good it always does me!"

Mr. Marston smiled back upon his wife a loving smile. New thoughts were awakened in his mind.

"There are other souls to be cared, for as well as my own," he said, a little while after, as he sat musing on the occurrences of the evening. "The souls of my wife and children. How can I help them on the way to Heaven? By going out to religious meetings or by staying at home with them? Ah! My duty is clear. I must do right before I can be right. If I endeavor to water the souls of others God will water my own soul. He has placed these precious ones in my care, and I must be faithful to the high mission."

To think right is the first step towards doing right. While his wife sat at her work, Mr. Marston put his little boy to bed; first talking to him about Heaven, and its pure inhabitants, and then hearing him say his prayers.

"God bless you, my son!" he said in his heart, as he laid on his pure lips, the good-night kiss.

Another new thing in the household of Mr. Marston occurred that evening. As his wife sewed, he read to her, first from religious books, and then from the Bible. When bed-time drew near, he said, in a serious, but gentle voice

"There are home prayer-meetings, as well as church prayer-meetings; and God has said, 'Where even two or three are gathered together in His name there He will be in the midst of them.' Shall we not open a prayer-meeting in our house, Anna a home prayer-meeting? There are two of us here, and God has declared that even with two, He will be present."

"I am not strong enough for duty, Henry. Every day I feel that my strength is but weakness. Pray with, and pray for me, that divine strength will be given."

Mrs. Marston spoke with glistening eyes.

Then they knelt down together, and opened a prayer-meeting in their home; and Marston gathered in the act, more strength and comfort than could possibly have been found at the public meeting, had he gone there in violation of his home duties, and sang and prayed ever so fervently. For right actions, from religious principles, alone bear us heavenwards.