Blessing of a Good Deed
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
"I would like to do that, every day, for a year to come," said Mr. William Everett, rubbing his hands together quickly, in irrepressible pleasure.
Mr. Everett was a stock and money broker, and had just made an "operation," by which a clear gain of two thousand dollars was secured. He was alone in his office — or, so much alone as not to feel restrained by the presence of another. And yet, a pair of dark, sad eyes were fixed intently upon his self-satisfied countenance, with an expression, had he observed it, that would, at least, have excited a moment's wonder. The owner of this pair of eyes was a slender, rather poorly dressed lad, in his thirteenth year, whom Mr. Everett had engaged, a short time previously, to attend in his office and run upon errands. He was the son of a widowed mother, now in greatly distressed circumstances. His father had been an early friend of Mr. Everett. It was this fact which led to the boy's introduction into the broker's office.
"Two thousand dollars!" The broker had uttered aloud his satisfaction; but now he communed with himself silently. "Two thousand dollars! A nice little sum that for a single day's work. I wonder what Mr. Jenkins will say tomorrow morning, when he hears of such an advance in these securities?"
From some cause, this mental reference to Mr. Jenkins did not increase our friend's state of exhilaration. Most probably, there was something in the transaction by which he had gained so handsome a sum of money, that, in calmer moments, would not bear too close a scrutiny — something that Mr. Everett would hardly like to have blazoned forth to the world. Be this as it may, a more sober mood, in time, followed, and although the broker was richer by two thousand dollars than when he arose in the morning, he was certainly no happier.
An hour afterward, a business friend came into the office of Mr. Everett and said —
"Have you heard about Cassen?"
"No, what of him?"
"He's said to be off to California with twenty thousand dollars in his pockets more than justly belongs to him."
"Too true, I believe. His name is in the list of passengers who left New York in the steamer yesterday."
"The scoundrel!" exclaimed Mr. Everett, who, by this time, was very considerably excited.
"He owes you, does he?" said the friend.
"I lent him three hundred dollars only day before yesterday."
"A clear swindle."
"Yes, it is. Oh, if I could only get my hands on him!"
Mr. Everett's countenance, as he said this, did not wear a very amiable expression.
"Don't get excited about it," said the other. "I think he has let you off quite reasonably. Was that sum all he asked to borrow?"
"I know two at least, who are poorer by a couple of thousand by his absence."
But Mr. Everett was excited. For half an hour after the individual left who had communicated this unpleasant piece of news, the broker walked the floor of his office with compressed lips, a lowering brow, and most unhappy feelings. The two thousand dollars gain in no way balanced in his mind the three hundred lost. The pleasure created by the one had not penetrated deep enough to escape obliteration by the other.
Of all this, the boy with the dark eyes had taken quick cognizance. And he comprehended all. Scarcely a moment had his glance been removed from the countenance or form of Mr. Everett, while the latter walked with uneasy steps the floor of his office.
As the afternoon waned, the broker's mind grew calmer. The first excitement produced by the loss, passed away; but it left a sense of depression and disappointment that completely overshadowed his feelings.
Intent as had been the lad's observation of his employer during all this time, it is a little remarkable that Mr. Everett had not once been conscious of the fact that the boy's eyes were steadily upon him. In fact he had been, as was usually the case too much absorbed in things concerning himself to notice what was peculiar to another, unless the peculiarity were one readily used to his own advantage.
"John," said Mr. Everett, turning suddenly to the boy, and encountering his large, earnest eyes, "take this note around to Mr. Legrand."
John sprang to do his bidding; received the note and was off with unusual fleetness. But the door which closed upon his form did not shut out the expression of his sober face and humid glance from the vision of Mr. Everett. In fact, from some cause, tears had sprung to the eyes of the musing boy at the very moment he was called upon to render a service; and, quicker than usual though his motions were, he had failed to conceal them.
A new train of thought now entered the broker's mind. This child of his old friend had been taken into his office from a kind of charitable feeling — though of very low vitality. He paid him a couple of dollars a week, and thought little more about him or his widowed mother. He had too many important interests of his own at stake, to have his mind turned aside for a trifling matter like this. But now, as the image of that sad face — for it was unusually sad at the moment when Mr. Everett looked suddenly toward the boy — lingered in his mind, growing every moment more distinct, and more touchingly beautiful — many considerations of duty and humanity were excited. He remembered his old friend, and the pleasant hours they had spent together in years long since passed, before his generous feelings had hardened into ice, or given place to all-pervading selfishness. He remembered, too, the beautiful girl his friend had married, and how proudly that friend presented her to their little world as his bride. The lad had her large, dark, spiritual eyes — only the light of joy had faded therefrom, giving place to a strange sadness.
All this was now present to the mind of Mr. Everett, and though he tried once or twice during the boy's absence to obliterate these recollections, he was unable to do so.
"How is your mother, John?" kindly asked the broker, when the lad returned from his errand.
The question was so unexpected, that it confused him.
"She's well — thank you, sir. No — not very well, either — thank you, sir."
And the boy's face flushed, and his eyes suffused.
"Not very well, you say?" Mr. Everett spoke with kindness, and in a tone of interest. "Not sick, I hope?"
"No, sir; not very sick. But — "
"But what, John," said Mr. Everett, encouragingly.
"She's in trouble," half stammered the boy, while the color deepened on his face.
"Ah, indeed? I'm sorry for that. What is the trouble, John?"
The tears which John had been vainly striving to repress, now gushed over his face, and, with a boyish shame for the weakness, he turned away and struggled for a time with his overmastering feelings. Mr. Everett was no little moved by so unexpected an exhibition. He waited with a new-born consideration for the boy, not unmingled with respect, until a measure of calmness was restored.
"John," he then said, "if your mother is in trouble, it may be in my power to relieve her."
"O sir!" exclaimed the lad eagerly, coming up to Mr. Everett, and, in the forgetfulness of the moment, laying his small hand upon that of his employer, "if you will, you can."
Hard indeed would have been the heart that could have withstood the appealing eyes lifted by John Levering to the face of Mr. Everett. But Mr. Everett had not a hard heart. Love of self and the world had encrusted it with indifference toward others — but the crust was now broken through.
"Speak freely, my good lad," said he, kindly. "Tell me of your mother. What is her trouble?"
"We are very poor, sir." Tremulous and mournful was the boy's voice. "And mother isn't well. She does all she can; and my wages help a little. But there are three of us children; and I am the oldest. None of the rest can earn anything. Mother couldn't help getting behind with the rent, sir, because she hadn't the money to pay it with. This morning, the man who owns the house where we live came for some money, and when mother told him that she had none, he got, oh, so angry! and frightened us all. He said, if the rent wasn't paid by tomorrow, he'd turn us all into the street. Poor mother! She went to bed sick."
"How much does your mother owe the man?" asked Mr. Everett.
"Oh, it's a great deal, sir. I'm afraid she'll never be able to pay it; and I don't know what we'll do."
"Fourteen dollars, sir," answered the lad.
"Is that all?" And Mr. Everett thrust his hand into his pocket. "Here are twenty dollars. Run home to your mother, and give them to her with my compliments."
The boy grasped the money eagerly, and, as he did so, in an irrepressible burst of gratitude, kissed the hand from which he received it. He did not speak, for strong emotion choked all utterance; but Mr. Everett saw his heart in his large, wet eyes, and it was overflowing with thankfulness.
"Stay a moment," said the broker, as John Levering was about passing through the door. "Perhaps I had better write a note to your mother."
"I wish you would, sir," answered the boy, as he came slowly back.
A brief note was written, in which Mr. Everett not only offered present aid, but promised, for the sake of old recollections that now were crowding fast upon his mind, to be the widow's future friend.
For half an hour after the lad departed, the broker sat musing, with his eyes upon the floor. His thoughts were clear, and his feelings tranquil. He had made, on that day, the sum of two thousand dollars by a single transaction, but the thought of this large accession to his worldly goods did not give him a tenth of the pleasure he derived from the bestowal of twenty dollars. He thought, too, of the three hundred dollars he had lost by a misplaced confidence; yet, even as the shadow cast from that event began to fall upon his heart, the bright face of John Levering was conjured up by imagination, and all was sunny again.
Mr. Everett went home to his family on that evening, a cheerful-minded man. Why? Not because he was richer by nearly two thousand dollars. That circumstance would have possessed no power to lift him above the shadowed, fretful state which he loss of three hundred dollars had produced. Why? He had bestowed of his abundance, and thus made suffering hearts glad; and the consciousness of this pervaded his bosom with a warming sense of delight.
Thus it is, that true benevolence carries with it, ever a double blessing. Thus it is, that in giving — more is often gained than in eager accumulation or selfish withholding.