Duty and Kindness
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858
There was an angry frown on the countenance of Deacon Jonah Browning. There were tears on the sad face of his wife.
"He shall be sent to sea!" said Deacon Browning, sternly.
There was a pleading look in the eyes of Mrs. Browning, as she lifted them to the iron face of her husband. But no words passed her lips.
"He shall be sent to sea! It is my last hope."
"Philip is very young, Jonah," said Mrs. Browning.
"Not too young for evil, and, therefore, not too young for the discipline needed to eradicate evil. He shall go to sea! Captain Ellis sails in the Fanny Williams on next Monday. I will call upon him this very day."
"Isn't the Fanny Williams a whaler?" The lips of Mrs. Browning quivered, and her voice had a choking sound.
"Yes," was firmly answered.
"I wouldn't send him away in a whaler, Jonah. Remember — he is very young, not thirteen until next April."
"Young or old, Mary, he's got to go," said the stern deacon, who was a believer in the gospel of law. Implicit obedience was the statute for home, and all deviations therefrom, met the never withheld penalty.
Mrs. Browning entered into no argument with her husband, for she knew that would be useless. She had never succeeded in changing his purpose by argument in her life. And so she bent her eyes meekly to the floor again, while the tears crept over her face, and fell in large bright drops upon the carpet. Deacon Browning saw the tears, but they did not move him. He was tear-proof.
Philip, the offending member of the Browning family, was a bright, active, restless boy, who, from the start, had been a rebel against unreasonable authority, and, as a matter of course, not infrequently against authority both just and reasonable. Punishment had only hardened him; increasing, instead of diminishing, his power of endurance. The particular offence for which he was now in disgrace, was, it must be owned, rather a serious one. He had, in company with three other boys of his age, known as the greatest reprobates in the village, rifled a choice plum tree, belonging to a neighbor, of all the fruit it contained, and then killed a favorite dog, which, happening to discover them at their wicked work, attempted to drive them from the garden. The neighbor had complained to Deacon Browning, accompanying his complaint with a threat to have Philip arrested for stealing.
"If you don't do something with that boy of yours," he added with considerable feeling, "he'll end his days in the State Prison, or on the gallows!"
Hard words were these for the ears of Deacon Browning, the rigidly righteous! Hard words, and with a prophetic conviction in them. He had not a very creative imagination, but in this instance, the prediction of his angry neighbor conjured up in his mind the image of a prison and a gallows, causing a shudder to pass along his nerves, and the cold perspiration to start upon his forehead. From that moment, the resolution of Deacon Browning was taken.
The boy was on the brink of ruin, and must be saved at all hazards. As to the means of doing this, it never entered into the heart of Deacon Browning to conceive of any other than such as involved harsh discipline. The Canaanite was in the land — and must be driven out with fire and sword. With him the word duty had a stern significance. He had always tried to do his duty, moving steadily onward in the path of life, and crushing down all vanities and evils which sprang up by the way, under a heel shod with iron.
"He shall be sent to sea!" That was the last desperate remedy. In his mind, as in the minds of many like him, some years ago, a ship was the great school of reform; and when a boy was deemed incorrigible, he was sent off to sea, usually to have his evil inclinations hardened into permanent qualities.
When Deacon Browning met his son Philip, after receiving intelligence of his great offence, it was with a stern, angry repulsion. He did not see the look of appeal, the sign of repentance, the plea for mercy — which was in his tearful eyes. A single word of kindness would have broken up the great deep of the boy's heart, and impelled by the warmer impulses inherited from his mother, he would have flung himself, weeping, into his father's arms. But Deacon Browning had separated duty from kindness. The one, was a stern corrector of evil — the other, a smiling approver of good.
From his home to the wharf, where the Fanny Williams lay, all equipped for sea, Deacon Browning bent his steps. Captain Ellis, a rough, hard man, was on board. After listening to the father's story and request, he said, bluntly —
"If you put your boy on board the Fanny Williams, he'll have to bend or break, that's certain. Take my advice, and give the matter a second thought. He'll have a dog's life of it in a whaler. It's my opinion that your lad hasn't stuff enough in him for this experiment."
"I'll risk it," replied the Deacon. "He's got too much stuff in him to stay at home, that's the trouble. The bend or break system is the only one in which I have any faith."
"As you like, Deacon. I need another boy, and yours will answer, I guess."
"When do you sail?" was inquired.
"Very well. I'll bring the boy down tomorrow."
The thing was settled; the Deacon did not feel altogether comfortable in mind. Philip was young for such an experiment, as the mother had urged. And now very opportunely, a leaf in the book of his memory was turned, on which was written the story of a poor boy's wrongs and sufferings at sea. Many years before, his heart had grown sick over the record. He tried to look away from the page, but could not. It seemed to hold his eye by a kind of fascination.
Still he did not relent. Duty required him to go steadily forward and execute his purpose. There was no other hope for the boy.
"Philip!" It was thus, that he announced his determination. "I am going to send you to sea with Captain Ellis. It's my last hope. Steadily bent, as you are, on evil, I can no longer allow you to remain at home. The boy who begins with robbing his neighbor's garden, is in great danger of ending his career upon the gallows. To save you, if possible, from a fate like this, I now send you to sea."
Very sternly, very harshly, almost angrily, was this said. Not the smallest impression did it seem to make upon the boy, who stood with his eyes cast down, an image of stubborn self-will and persistent rebellion.
With still sharper denunciation did the father speak, striving in this way to shock the feelings of his child, and extort signs of penitence. But it was the hammer and the anvil — blow and rebound.
Very different were the mother's efforts with the child. Tearfully she pleaded with him — earnestly she besought him to ask his father's forgiveness for the evil he had done. But Philip said —
"No, mother. I would rather go to sea. Father doesn't love me — he doesn't care for me. He hates me, I believe."
"Philip! Philip! Don't speak in that way of your father. He does love you; and it is only for your good, that he is going to send you to sea. Oh, how could you do so wicked a thing?"
Tears were in the mother's eyes. But the boy had something of the father's stern spirit in him, and showed no weakness.
"It isn't any worse than he did when he was a boy," was his answer.
"Well, it isn't; for I heard Mr. Wright tell Mr. Freeman that father and he robbed orchards and hens' nests; and did worse than that, when they were boys!"
Poor Mrs. Browning was silent. "Well did she remember how wild a boy Jonah Browning was; and how, when she was a little girl, she had heard all manner of evil laid to his charge.
Very unexpectedly — at least to Mr. Browning — the minister called in on the evening of that troubled day. After some general conversation with the family, he asked to have a few words with the deacon alone.
"Is it true, Mr. Browning," he said, after they had retired to an adjoining room, "that you are going to send Philip to sea?"
"Too true," replied the father, soberly. "It is my last hope. From the beginning, that boy has been a rebel against just authority; and though I have never relaxed discipline, through the weakness of natural feelings, yet resistance has grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength, until duty requires me to use a desperate remedy for a desperate disease. It is a painful trial; but the path of duty — is the only path of safety. What we see to be right, we must execute with unflinching courage. I cannot look back and accuse myself of any neglect of duty towards this boy, through weakness of the flesh. From the beginning, I have made obedience the law of my household, and allowed no deviation therefrom, to go unpunished."
"Duty," said the minister, "has a twin sister."
He spoke in a changed voice, and with a manner that arrested the attention of Deacon Browning, who looked at him with a glance of inquiry.
"She is as lovely and gentle — as he is hard and unyielding."
The deacon still looked curious.
"When the twin sister of duty is away from his side — he loses more than half of his influence; but, in her beautiful presence — he gains a dignity and power that make his precepts laws of life to all who hear them. The stubborn heart melts, the iron will is subdued; the spirit of evil shrinks away from the human soul."
There was a pause.
"The name of that twin sister is Kindness."
The eyes of Deacon Browning fell away from the minister's countenance, and drooped until they rested upon the floor. Conviction flashed upon his heart. He had always been stern in executing the law — but never kind!
"Has that beautiful twin sister always stood by the side of your Duty — has Love been in your law, Deacon Browning?"
Side by side with the minister, stood Duty and Kindness — the firm, unshrinking brother — and the mild, loving sister; and so his word had power to reach the deacon's heart, without giving offence to pride.
"Kindness is weak, yielding, and indulgent, and forgives when punishment is the only hope of salvation," said Deacon Browning, a little recovering himself from the first emotions of self-condemnation.
"Only when she strays from the side of Duty," replied the minister. Duty and Kindness must always act together."
Much more, and to the same purpose, was urged by the minister, who made only a brief visit, and then withdrew, that his admonitions might work the effect desired.
When Deacon Browning came in from the front door of his house, after parting with the minister, he drew a chair up to the table in the family sitting-room, and, almost involuntarily, opened the large family Bible. His feelings were much softened towards his boy, who, with his head bowed upon his bosom, sat a little apart from his mother. The attitude was not so much indicative of stubborn self-will, as suffering. Deacon Browning thought he would read a chapter aloud, and so drew the holy book closer, and bent his face down over it. Mrs. Browning, observing the movement, waited for him to begin. The deacon cleared his throat twice. But his voice did not take up the words that were in his eyes and in his heart. How could they?
"As a father pities his children."
Had there been divine pity in the heart of Deacon Browning for his rebellious and unhappy boy? No — had there not been wrath, instead?
"As a father pities his children."
From a hundred places in the mind of Deacon Browning, there seemed to come an echo of these words, and they had a meaning in them never perceived before. He closed the book, and remained in deep thought for many minutes; and not only in deep thought, but in a stern conflict with himself. Kindness was striving to gain her place by the side of Duty; and cold, hard, imperious Duty, who had so long ruled without a rival in the mind of Deacon Browning — kept all the while averting his countenance from that of his twin sister, who had been so long an exiled wanderer. At last she was successful. The stern brother yielded, and clasped to his bosom, the sister who sought his love.
From that instant, new thoughts, new views, new purposes ruled in the mind of Deacon Browning. The discipline of a whaler was too hard and cruel for his boy, young in years, and by no means as hardened in iniquity as he had permitted himself to imagine. A cold shiver ran along his nerves at the bare thought of doing what, a few hours before, he had so resolutely intended. Kindness began whispering in the ears of Duty, and crowding them with a world of new suggestions. The heart of the stern man was softened, and there flowed into it something of a mother's yearning tenderness. Rising up, at length, Deacon Browning said, in a low voice, so new in its tones to the ears of Philip, that it made his heart leap —
"My son, I wish to see you alone."
The deacon went into the next room, and Philip followed him. The deacon sat down, and Philip stood before him.
"Philip, my son" — Deacon Browning took the boy's hand in one of his, and looked him full in the face. The look was returned — not a defiant look, but one of yielding wonder.
"Philip, I am not going to send you to sea with Captain Ellis. I intended doing so; but, on reflection, I think the life will be too hard for you."
Very firmly, yet kindly, the deacon tried to speak, as Kindness was playing with his heart-strings, and their tone of pity was echoed from his voice, which faltered when he strove to give it firmness.
The eyes of Philip remained fixed upon the countenance of his father.
"My son," — Deacon Browning thought he had gained sufficient self-control to utter calmly certain mild forms of admonition; but he was in error; his voice was still less under his control, and so fully betrayed the new-born pity and tenderness in his heart, that Philip, melting into penitence, exclaimed, as tears gushed from his eyes —
"Oh, father! I've been very wicked, and very sorry!"
Involuntarily, at this unexpected confession, the arms of Deacon Browning were stretched out towards his repentant boy, and Philip rushed, sobbing, into them.
The boy was saved. From that hour his father had him under the most perfect subordination. But Kindness, the twin sister of Duty, walked ever by his side.