The Bitter Cup!
By Timothy Shay Arthur
"This cup is too bitter," said the lady — "Too, too bitter! I cannot drink of it." And a shudder ran through her frame. Her face was wan and troubled; her eyes red from a night of weeping.
"But at last, it shall be sweet to the taste."
"You mock me!" the lady exclaimed, with a sudden throb of almost indignant rejection in her voice.
"Not so, my dear Mrs. Lea," was calmly, almost tenderly answered. "We are in God's hand, and all his ways are in mercy. If he permits sorrow or trouble, misfortune or bereavement, to darken our homes — it is that he may open the way for brighter sunbeams to enter. In the bitterest cup placed to our lips, will be found sweetness at the bottom!"
"There can be no sweetness in my cup. I shall find the cup grow bitterer and bitterer, even to the dregs."
"And yet I say, dear friend! it was dipped from a sweet fountain."
The face of the lady who thus answered was serene; and yet, no one could look into it without seeing the old marks of pain, of care, of endurance and long suffering. The lines were not now sharply cut; but rounded and softened by the verdure which heavenly sunshine and refreshing dew had awakened into life.
"It was dipped from a sweet fountain," she repeated, "and the water is sweet."
"Sweet! Why will you mock me?" And Mrs. Lea, with a half offended air, shut her eyes, and leaned back among the cushions amid which she languidly reposed. Her face was very, very sad.
"The bitterness lies in your taste. But, when that is refined and made perceptive in a higher degree — then this cup of offence, as it now seems, will be found to contain heavenly nectar. I am not speaking with a vague idealism — no, no — but from life-experience. What we have lived, we comprehend. Time was, when the cup God placed to my lips was as gall and wormwood. Often since, have I drank from the same cup, and found it honey to my taste. Have you been very happy in the time past, my friend?"
Mrs. Lea did not answer this abruptly-put question, and a period of silence followed. As her friend looked into her troubled countenance — the eyes were still shut — she saw thought beginning to obliterate many of the lines that expressed only rebellion and suffering.
"In the time past," she resumed, "the abundance of this world has been gathered to your door. You have enjoyed wealth and position. But, has your soul, in dwelling with these, found unalloyed pleasure? Did they bring satisfactions, delights, tranquilities? Was there no reaching of the soul beyond? No yearnings for a higher life? Have you not grown weary, and restless, often, under a sense of inadequacy in all around you to minister to crying needs? Like a caged bird, have you not fluttered as in a prison, panting for a wider range and purer atmosphere? Yes, my friend; it has been even so. You need not answer. We have stood, in past years, very near together, and I have seen it all. You have not been happy!"
"My own fault," answered Mrs. Lea, with slight impatience of manner. "I had everything to make me happy. Now, I lose everything on which my soul can rest."
"So far from that," said the friend, "you will lose nothing on which true happiness is based. Riches and honors have no power, in themselves, to give blessing and true happiness. That is a state of the soul, and comes from right activities. The will acts in useful ends, and gives delight according to its quality of love to God and man, without reference to external conditions. So the way to happiness is set before the humblest and the poorest, even as it is set before the rich and great. If the rich will not, in their riches, find the way that leads to true enjoyment, and it is possible to lead them to right paths through the valley of poverty — then God, who is infinite in his love, will, from love, take them down into this valley, and in it show them the paths of peace, leading up to the mountains of delight. He will put a cup to their lips which may prove exceedingly bitter to the taste; but, in the end, they will find that its waters came from a sweet fountain. In these sad financial times, God is leading many thousands down into dark and difficult ways, and they shrink, and tremble, and shudder as they descend. But, He knows what is in them, and will see that no good is lost, and no true source of happiness destroyed. If they will be patient, submissive, and self-denying — he will surely make their sun to shine in an unclouded sky, and their peace to flow as a river.
"Not, it may be, through any restoration of former things; but in a new life, to which shall be given, for nourishment, celestial food. The difference of this life from the former life, will be as that between the chrysalis and the butterfly. O my friend, seek for this life! As you go down in the ways of misfortune which must be trodden, do it with a brave heart and with trust in God. He is very near to all; but especially and intimately near to those who, in suffering and sorrow, turn to him in tearful hope, and prayerful confidence. He will make what looks so rough in the distance — smooth and soft as grassy meadows. Down amid those gloomy shadows which appal your soul, rays of divine light will come. Angel hands shall lead you, and angel voices speak words of consolation and hope."
And it came, in time, to be even so. There was good in Mrs. Lea. Potent in her heart, were all the elements of a true woman, and these found life and development in a lower plane of social activity — from the one in which she had moved in a spirit of proud self-seeking, or idle indulgence.
Her financial fall, like that of many others, was rapid. In the concussion, she was stunned and bewildered; and for a brief time lay as one in whom all useful life was extinguished. But, Mrs. Lea was a wife and mother. Her husband was dear to her, and so were her children. Yet, had she not filled out the measure of her obligations as wife and mother, for all the love in her heart. Wealth had placed her in a false relation to common duties; and brought her within the sphere of false ideas. Because she was rich, and could, for hire, command the services of others — she had permitted herself to accept the hurtful fallacy, that in useful employments there was something degrading. And so accepting the ease and idleness which were offered, she had delegated her most sacred obligations, and left even her tender babes to the exclusive care of those who worked for hire.
But so sweeping was the financial disaster which fell upon her husband, that every vestige of fortune disappeared, and, at the age of forty, he found himself just on the level from which he started nearly twenty years before.
Six months after the period of wreck, let us look in upon Mrs. Lea. The cup of misfortune has been, for all this time, at her lips; let us see whether she has found any sweetness in the draught. The home in which we find her, is very humble compared with the one out of which she passed, not long before, with copious tears. She is sitting with two children by her side, one a girl of seven years, and the other a boy of nine. The boy has his arm around her neck, and is looking upon a book that she is holding. The little girl stands in front, with her large eyes, full of light and happiness, fixed intently on her mother's face. Mrs. Lea is reading aloud. There is no sadness in her voice; but, on the contrary, a firm cheerfulness. Every now and then she pauses, and talks to the children about what she is reading. They listen with the deepest interest. Now, in one of these pauses, and just as the mother raises the book to resume her reading, the boy says —
"I like this home best, don't you, Florence?"
"Yes, indeed I do;" the little girl answers, with a quiver of delight in her voice.
"Why is that? This home is not so large, nor so handsome, and we are poor." Mrs. Lea gazes curiously, and not without manifest surprise at her children.
There is a deepening of color on the boy's face, and a slight hesitation of manner. He looks up at his mother with eyes so full of love, that it is brimming them with tears.
"Why, my son? Why do you like this home the best?"
"Because — " The flush on his face is warmer.
"Say it, dear." And Mrs. Lea draws the answer.
"Because you are always with us now!" The tears will not hold back. There comes a half hindered sob, and the boy's face goes down upon his mother's bosom.
Was any joy in all that mother's experience so deep and pure, as the joy which now rewards her whole being, giving delight even to the very bodily sensations; and there is no power in misfortune to cast a shadow over it.
"You love to have mother with you?"
"Yes, don't we, Florence?" The boy lifts his head, not ashamed of the tears, that shine like dew-beads on his cheeks, and smiles upon his sister.
"Indeed we do!" answers bright eyes, with a fuller meaning in her tones than she can express in words; "and I hope we'll always be poor, and never be shut up with a cross, ugly nanny!"
A world of new thoughts come pressing in upon the mind of Mrs. Lea. Scales drop from her eyes. She sees how the true woman in her had been overlaid by fashionable observances. How the mere possession of wealth, had deceived her into the false idea that a mother could transfer to a hireling, the most sacred of all duties.
"Is the cup so very bitter?" Mrs. Lea is talking with herself, as she sits sewing upon a garment for one of her children. They have left her side, and are at play with themselves. "My friend was right; there is a sweet taste in the water it contains. The bitterness was in me!"
A few hours later, coming in from the small chamber, where she has, after hearing their prayers, given her children to the arms of sleep, Mrs. Lea stands by her husband, and lays her hand upon him. He looks up into her face. His own face had worn a shadow when he came in, not long before; but it is not shadowed now.
"We have not lost all," he says.
"No, not all. Much is left — much that is priceless in value."
"Love is left — and duty — and God's kingdom, into which we may enter by love and duty." The voice of Mr. Lea trembles a little with its burden of feeling, in this new utterance for him.
He has been listening to the clear, yet reverent voices of his children, going up in their evening prayer, and from the chamber in which they kneeled by their mother, he has gone back through nearly forty years to another chamber and another mother. The treasure-house of good affections and pious thoughts, stored in infancy and childhood — is unlocked now. He has gone in among its precious things, and comprehending their value, he says, "Love is left — and duty — and God's kingdom, into which we may enter by love and duty." It was by misfortune that the key came into his hands. And so in the loss of worldly treasure — he has found the way to a storehouse of celestial riches.
"When this bitter cup touched my lips." — It is still later in the evening, and there has been long and earnest communion with the past, the present, and the future. "When this bitter cup touched my lips" — Mrs. Lea is speaking — "its bitterness made me shudder; yet, now I can see that it brought me water from a sweet fountain. I am happier tonight, than I was one year ago, when no dread of the storm that has swept over us sent a chill to my heart. There is a foundation, dear husband, on which we may build and rest secure, though the floods beat, and the tempests rage."
"Let us build thereon," is answered in low, earnest tones, "a building which shall endure forever!"