Timothy Shay Arthur, 1861
"Brass, copper, iron — but never gold. Life, like the ages, returns not to golden innocence. It would have been better, I think, sometimes, that we had never been born!"
"I have never thought so."
She who answered thus was a pale, thin woman, who sat by a table sewing. Forty summers and winters had not passed without leaving the marks of scorching sun and traces of frost. But neither summer heats nor winter frosts — not any storm that swept down upon her life — had really marred the beauty of her face. You saw signs of their having touched her; but every sign was in the process of obliteration. Like tempest and drought marks upon the earth — the dews of peace, the gently falling rains, the mild sunshine, were covering them with verdure.
The dress and air of the visitor, who had just spoken, showed her to be a woman in easy circumstances. The two had been close friends in early life; but it so happened that their ways in the world had been along diverging paths.
Mrs. Wilton had married a "rising man," who soon lifted her into a sphere of fashionable elegance, where, for a long period, she held a kind of queenly sway.
Mrs. Grover had been less fortunate in the world's eye. Her husband lacked those qualities by which men rise into high places. But, apart from this, he was a true man in all the better meanings of the phrase; and so far as happiness was concerned, his wife had a larger share of happiness, than fell to the lot of her friend, Mrs. Wilton. Ease, idleness, luxury — was the lot of one; care, labor, and self-denial as to many external things — was the lot of the other.
After twenty years of divergence, their ways had touched again. The old regard had been quickened into life. Mrs. Wilton found more real satisfaction in an hour's talk with the friend of her youth, than in days of fellowship with her fashionable acquaintances, and so came often to the humble residence of Mrs. Grover, now a widow.
On this occasion she had referred, gloomily, to the progression of her life; and spoke with bitterness of her disappointment. Her husband was so absorbed in his business, now grown to a magnitude which taxed every power of his mind, that she said of him — "I have no husband." Children, neglected in earlier years, by the pleasure-loving mother and the business-loving father, had grown up without that moral culture so essential in the formation of character. Nay, worse — they had been left to the care of coarse, and often impure-minded servants, for so large a part of their time — that perversions and corruptions had occurred of such a nature, visibly affecting their whole after lives. Now, the disappointed mother had little pleasure in them; now, when turning athirst from the broken cisterns of the world — to cisterns where love should have gathered its precious waters, she found them broken into fragments.
"Brass, copper, iron — but never gold. Life, like the ages, returns not to golden innocence."
Thus, in the bitterness of her disappointment, had she spoken.
"Both the ages, and the life may return," answered Mrs. Grover, a light breaking through her pale, translucent face. The age will return. Iron, copper, brass, silver, gold. The reverse action was, long ago, commenced. History has marked its progress for eighteen hundred years. If our lives return not, the fault is our own. As for me, I am looking forward to golden days. Already the sky is lifting in the east, and I see faint gleams along the dim horizon."
How strongly were these two women contrasted! The one in plain, poor garments, with the wasting marks of a long over-tasked physical life everywhere to be seen about her person; the other dressed in costly clothing, with hands as delicate as an infant's, and no evidence of bodily exhaustion visible. Still stronger was the mental contrast, as it stood written in their faces. Years of disappointment had with one been making their silent, almost imperceptible record; while years of patient love and duty, of Christain faith and hope, had left their signs upon the other.
For a little while Mrs. Wilton looked at her old friend with a surprise she did not attempt to conceal. That she was in earnest, the tender thrill in her low voice and the sweet peace that pervaded her countenance, were testimonials.
"Golden days in your future? Forgive me, Helen, that I express surprise," said Mrs. Wilton, "but what can one in your situation look forward to in the time to come?"
"As to worldly good?"
"I have children."
A cloud fell over Mrs. Wilton's face.
"Children! She leans on a broken reed — who leans on them. I have never had pleasure in my children. It has been disappointment from the beginning."
"It has been different with me," replied Mrs. Grover. "I have always had pleasure in my children. The sweetest days of my life, were those spent with my babies in my arms. I had care, and work, and self-denial; but the compensation was above all. Home was my lovely garden, and these children were my choice flowers. With what untiring solicitude did I watch over them. Every weed which pushed its leaves above the soil — I plucked out by the roots. Every vile worm, or destructive insect, which fastened on leaf or stem — I removed. I kept the ground loose, so that dew, sunshine and air might go down to the roots and give them an ever increasing vitality; and I trained the branches into such beauty of form, as my skill and their peculiarities would admit. There was little time for ease, for pleasure, for self-indulgence. I could not eat the bread of idleness. I often got weary over my never-ending task. But this assurance was in my heart: 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.' My faith was unquestioning. I had peace and hope here, my friend."
And Mrs. Grover laid her hand upon her bosom.
"And what of your children now?" asked Mrs. Wilton.
"Two are with their godly father in heaven — safe and happy. My youngest, whom you have seen — a dear, loving, thoughtful little girl — is at school. And here is a letter from my oldest son, now in a Western city, where he went, two years ago, at the solicitation of a merchant who had taken a fancy to him."
Mrs. Grover took from a drawer in her worktable a letter and read:
"Dearest Mother: Everything is going right with me. Mr. Larson is one of the best of men, and I am doing all in my power to give him satisfaction. I could not deny myself the pleasure of reading to him a few sentences from your last letter, where you speak so beautifully on the subject of doing right under all circumstances, for the sake of right — and not for the sake of pleasing or gaining worldly gain. He did not say anything, but I could see by the expression of his face, that he was pleased. On the day after he said to me, 'Frank, has your mother an income?" I could only tell him the truth. He looked serious for a little while. Then he asked how much of my salary I remitted you; and when I answered that I sent all except one hundred dollars on which I clothed myself, he took my hand and said: 'Frank, that is the best thing I have heard of you. You are a good boy, and will never be the loser by anything done for your mother.'
"Well, on the next day Mr. Larson said to me: 'Frank, has your mother any particular reason for remaining at the East?" And when I answered, 'None that I know of,' he said, 'Write to her, and convey my earnest solicitation to move to this place. Tell her that I have two or three pleasant little houses, of which she can make her choice; and that, on the day she arrives, I will double your salary, so that there can remain no question as to the ways and means of living in comfort.' Wasn't that good? Wasn't that noble? Don't you wonder how I could keep this good news back from the first sentence in my letter? It was hard work. But I wanted to lead you on, dear mother, and not make the surprise too sudden.
"Of course you will come! There is nothing to keep you in Putnam. When shall I expect you and dear little Fanny? I shall hardly know her — you say she has grown so much. Oh, won't we be all so happy together? You shall live an easier life here than you have ever lived. With my salary doubled, there will be no more hard work for you. The golden days are coming, mother! Write immediately. I shall be all impatience until I get your letter.
Your loving son, Frank."
Mrs. Grover's voice had faltered several times as she read this letter, and as she lifted her eyes on closing it to the face of her friend, they were full of tears — glad tears, in which love's sunshine made rainbows.
"So you see that my golden days are coming," she said.
Mrs. Wilton dropped her gaze to the floor, and sighed heavily. For her, no golden days like these were coming. While idle, neglectful and asleep — an enemy had sowed tares in her field, and now she was in the harvest time of bitter regrets and disappointments. In the pure mirror of her friend's life — she saw reflected the errors, the criminal neglect, the poor self-seeking and vanity of her own — and she went away in sadness and self-condemnation. But the truth which had come to her, came too late. The evil had been done. For her, as she had well said, there were no golden days in store, to make beautiful the last period of her life on earth. As she had sown — so she must reap. To each comes his own harvest.