I'll See About ItBy Timothy Shay Arthur
Mr. Easton sat alone in his counting-room one afternoon, in a most comfortable frame, both as regards mind and body. A profitable business speculation in the morning had brought the former into a state of great delight, and a good dinner had done all that was required for the repose of the latter. He was in that delicious, half-asleep, half-awake condition, which, occurring after dinner, is so very pleasant. The newspaper, whose pages at first possessed a charm for his eye, had fallen, with the hand that held it, upon his knee. His head was gently reclined backward against the top of a high, leather-cushioned chair; while his eyes, half-opened, saw all things around him but imperfectly.
Just at this time, the door was quietly opened, and a lad of some fifteen or sixteen years, with a pale, thin face, high forehead, and large dark eyes, entered. He approached the merchant with a hesitating step, and soon stood directly before him.
Mr. Easton felt disturbed at this intrusion, for so he felt it. He knew the lad to be the son of a poor widow, who had once seen better circumstances than those that now surrounded her. Her husband had, while living, been his intimate friend, and he had promised him at his dying hour to be the protector and adviser of his wife and children. He had meant to do all he promised, but not being very fond of trouble, except where stimulated to activity by the hope of gaining some good for himself, he had not been as thoughtful in regard to Mrs. Mayberry as he ought to have been.
She was a modest, shrinking, sensitive woman, and had, notwithstanding her need of a friend and adviser, never called upon Mr. Easton, or even sent to request him to act for her in anything, except once. Her husband had left her poor. She knew little of the world. She had three quite young children, and one, the oldest, about sixteen. Had Mr. Easton been true to his pledge, he might have thrown many a ray upon her dark path, and lightened her burdened heart of many a doubt and fear. But he had permitted more than a year to pass since the death of her husband, without having once called upon her. This neglect had not been intentional. His will was good, but never active at the present moment. "Tomorrow," or "next week," or "very soon," he would call upon Mrs. Mayberry; but tomorrow, or next week, or very soon, had never yet come.
As for the widow, soon after her husband's death, she found that poverty was to be added to affliction. A few hundred dollars made up the sum of all that she received after the settlement of his business, which had never been in a very prosperous condition. On this, under the exercise of extreme frugality, she had been enabled to live for nearly a year. Then the paucity of her little store made it apparent to her mind that individual exertion was required, directed toward procuring the means of support for her little family. Ignorant of the way in which this was to be done, and having no one to advise her, nearly two months more passed before she could determine what to do. By that time she had but a few dollars left, and was in a state of great mental distress and uncertainty. She then applied for work at some of the shops, and obtained common sewing, but at prices that could not yield her anything like a support.
Hiram, her oldest son, had been kept at school up to this period. But now she had to withdraw him. It was impossible any longer to pay his tuition fees. He was an intelligent lad — active in mind, and pure in his moral principles. But like his mother, sensitive, and inclined to avoid observation. Like her, too, he had a proud independence of feeling, that made him shrink from asking or accepting a favor, or putting himself under an obligation to anyone. He first became aware of his mother's true condition, when she took him from school, and explained the reason for so doing. At once his mind rose into the determination to do something to aid his mother. He felt a glowing confidence, arising from the consciousness of strength within. He felt that he had both the will and the power to act, and to act efficiently.
"Don't be disheartened mother," he said, with animation. "I can and will do something. I can help you. You have worked for me a great many years. Now I will work for you."
Where there is a will, there is a way. But it is often the case, that the will lacks the kind of intelligence that enables it to find the right way at once. So it proved in the case of Hiram Mayberry. He had a strong enough will, but did not know how to bring it into activity. Good, without its appropriate truth, is impotent. Of this the poor lad soon became conscious. To the question of his mother —
"What can you do, child?" an answer came not so readily.
"Oh, I can do a great many things," was easily said; but, even in saying so, a sense of inability followed the first thought of what he should do, that the declaration awakened.
The will impels, and then the understanding seeks for the means of effecting the purposes of the will. In the case of young Hiram, thought followed affection. He pondered for many days over the means by which he was to aid his mother. But the more he thought, the more conscious did he become, that in the world, he was a weak boy. That however strong might be his purpose, his means of action were limited. His mother could aid him but little. She had but one suggestion to make, and that was, that he should endeavor to get a situation in some store or counting-room.
This he attempted to do. Following her direction, he called upon Mr. Easton, who promised to see about looking him up a situation. It happened, the day after, that a neighbor spoke to him about a lad for his store — (Mr. Easton had already forgotten his promise) — Hiram was recommended, and the man called to see his mother.
"How much salary can you afford to give him?" asked Mrs. Mayberry, after learning all about the situation, and feeling satisfied that her son should accept of it.
"Salary, ma'am?" returned the storekeeper, in a tone of surprise. "We never give a boy any salary for the first year. The knowledge that is acquired of the business, is always considered a full compensation. After the first year, if he likes us, and we like him, we may give him seventy-five or a hundred dollars."
Poor Mrs. Mayberry's countenance fell immediately.
"I wouldn't think of his going out now, if it were not in the hope of his earning something," she said, in a disappointed voice.
"How much did you expect him to earn?" was asked by the storekeeper.
"I didn't know exactly what to expect. But I supposed that he might earn four or five dollars a week."
"Five dollars a week is all we pay our porter — an abled-bodied, industrious man," was returned. "If you wish your son to become acquainted with mercantile business, you must not expect him to earn much for three or four years. At a trade you may receive from him barely a sufficiency to board and clothe him, but nothing more."
This declaration so damped the feelings of the mother that she could not reply for some moments. At length she said —
"If you will take my boy with the understanding, that, in case I am not able to support him, or hear of a situation where a salary can be obtained, you will let him leave your employment without hard feelings — then he shall go into your store at once."
To this the man consented, and Hiram Mayberry went with him according to agreement. A few weeks passed, and the lad, liking both the business and his employer, his mother felt exceedingly anxious for him to remain. But she sadly feared that this could not be. Her little store was just about exhausted, and the most she had yet been able to earn by working for the shops, was a dollar and a half a week. This was not more than sufficient to buy the plainest food for her little flock. It would not pay rent, nor get clothing. To meet the former, recourse was had to the sale of her husband's small, select library. Careful mending kept the younger children tolerably decent, and by altering for him the clothes left by his father, she was able to keep Hiram in a suitable condition, to appear at the store of his employer.
Thus matters went on for several months. Mrs. Mayberry, working late and early. The natural result was, a gradual failure of strength. In the morning, when she awoke, she would feel so languid and heavy, that to rise required a strong effort, and even after she was up, and attempted to resume her labors, her trembling frame almost refused to obey the dictates of her will. At length, nature gave way. One morning she was so sick that she could not rise. Her head throbbed with a dizzy, blinding pain — her whole body ached, and her skin burned with fever. Hiram got something for the children to eat, and then taking the youngest, a little girl about two years old, into the house of a neighbor, who had showed them some good-will, asked her if she would take care of his sister until he returned home at dinner time. This the neighbor readily consented to do — promising, also, to call in frequently and see his mother.
At dinner-time, Hiram found his mother quite ill. She was no better at night. For three days the fever raged violently. Then, under the careful treatment of their old family physician, it was subdued. After that she gradually recovered, but very slowly. The physician said she must not attempt again to work as she had done. This injunction was scarcely necessary. She had not the strength to do so.
"I don't see what you will do, Mrs. Mayberry," a neighbor who had often aided her by kind advice, said, in reply to the widow's statement of her unhappy condition. "You cannot maintain these children, certainly. And I don't see how, in your present feeble state, you are going to maintain yourself. There is but one thing that I can advise, and that advice I give with reluctance. It is to endeavor to get two of your children into some orphan asylum. The youngest you may be able to keep with you. The oldest can support himself at something or other."
The pale cheek of Mrs. Mayberry grew paler at this proposition. She half-sobbed, caught her breath, and looked her adviser with a strange bewildered stare in the face.
"Oh, no! I cannot do that! I cannot be separated from my dear little children. Who will care for them like a mother?"
"It is hard, I know, Mrs. Mayberry. But necessity is a stern ruler. You cannot keep them with you — that is certain. You have not the strength to provide them with even the coarsest food. In an asylum, with a kind matron, they will be better off than under any other circumstances."
But Mrs. Mayberry shook her head.
"No — no — no," she replied — "I cannot think of such a thing. I cannot be separated from them. I shall soon be able to work again — better able than before."
The neighbor who felt deeply for her, did not urge the matter. When Hiram returned at dinner-time, his face had in it a more animated expression than usual.
"Mother," he said, as soon as he came in, "I heard today that a boy was needed at the Gazette office. The wages are to be four dollars a week."
"You did!" Mrs. Mayberry said, quickly, her weak frame trembling, although she struggled hard to be composed.
"Yes. And Mr. Easton is well acquainted with the publisher, and could get me the place, I am sure."
"Then go and see him at once, Hiram. If you can secure it, all will be well; if not, your little brothers and sisters will have to be separated, perhaps sent into an orphan asylum."
Mrs. Mayberry covered her face with her hands, and sobbed bitterly for some moments.
Hiram ate his frugal meal quickly, and returned to the store, where he had to remain until his employer went home and dined. On his return, he asked liberty to be absent for half an hour, which was granted. He then went direct to the counting-house of Mr. Easton, and disturbed him, as has been seen. Approaching with a timid step, and a flushed brow, he said in a confused and hurried manner —
"Mr. Easton, there is a lad needed at the Gazette Office."
"Well?" returned Mr. Easton, in no very cordial tone.
"Mother thought you would be kind enough to speak to Mr. Granger for me."
"Haven't you a place in a store?"
"Yes, sir. But I don't get any wages. And at the Gazette office they will pay four dollars a week."
"But the knowledge of business to be gained where you are, will be worth a great deal more than four dollars a week."
"I know that, sir. But mother is not able to board and clothe me. I must earn something."
"Oh, yes, that's it. Very well, I'll see about it for you."
"When shall I call, sir?" asked Hiram.
"When? Oh, almost any time. Say tomorrow or next day."
The lad departed, and Mr. Easton's head fell back upon the chair, the impression which had been made upon his mind passing away almost as quickly as writing upon water.
With anxious trembling hearts, did Mrs. Mayberry and her son wait for the afternoon of the following day. On the success of Mr. Easton's application, rested all their hopes. Neither she nor Hiram ate over a few mouthfuls at dinner-time. The latter hurried away, and returned to the store, there to wait with trembling eagerness, until his employer should return from dinner, and he again be free to go and see Mr. Easton.
To Mrs. Mayberry, the afternoon passed slowly.
She had forgotten to tell her son to return home immediately, if the application should be successful. He did not come back, and she had, consequently to remain in a state of anxious suspense, until dark. He came in at the usual hour. His dejected countenance told of disappointment.
"Did you see Mr. Easton?" Mrs. Mayberry asked, in a low, troubled voice.
"Yes. But he hadn't been to the Gazette office. He said he had been very busy. But that he would see about it soon."
Nothing more was said. The mother and son, after sitting silent and pensive during the evening, retired early to bed. On the next day, urged on by his anxious desire to get the situation of which he had heard, Hiram again called at the counting-room of Mr. Easton, his heart trembling with hope and fear. There were two or three men present. Mr. Easton cast upon him rather an impatient look as he entered. His appearance had evidently annoyed the merchant. Had he consulted his feelings, he would have retired at once. But there was too much at stake. Gliding to a corner of the room, he stood, with his hat in his hand, and a look of anxiety upon his face, until Mr. Easton was disengaged. At length, the gentleman with whom he was occupied, went away, and Mr. Easton turned toward the boy. Hiram looked up earnestly in his face.
"I have really been so much occupied, my lad," the merchant said, in a kind of apologetic tone, "as to have entirely forgotten my promise to you. But I will see about it. Come in again, tomorrow."
Hiram made no answer, but turned with a sigh toward the door. The keen disappointment expressed in the boy's, face, and the touching quietness of his manner, reached the feelings of Mr. Easton. He was not a hard-hearted man, but selfishly indifferent to others. He could feel deeply enough if he would permit himself to do so. But of this latter feeling he was not often guilty.
"Stop a minute," he said. And then stood in a musing attitude for a moment or two. "As you seem so anxious about this matter," he added "if will wait here a little while, I will step down to see Mr. Granger at once."
The boy's face brightened instantly. Mr. Easton saw the effect of what he said, and it made the task he was about entering upon reluctantly, an easy one. The boy waited for nearly a quarter of an hour, so eager to know the result, that he could not compose himself to sit down. The sound of Mr. Easton's step at the door, at length made his heart bound. The merchant entered. Hiram looked into his face. One glance was sufficient to dash every dearly-cherished hope to the ground.
"I am sorry," Mr. Easton said, "but the place was filled this morning. I was a little too late."
The boy was unable to control his feelings. The disappointment was too great. Tears gushed from his eyes, as he turned away, and left the counting-room without speaking.
"I'm afraid I've done wrong," said Mr. Easton to himself, as he stood, in a musing attitude, by his desk, about five minutes after Hiram had left. "If I had seen about the situation when he first called upon me, I could have secured it for him. But it's too late now."
After saying this, the merchant placed his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, and commenced walking the floor of his counting-room backward and forward. He could not get out of his mind, the image of the boy as he turned from him in tears, nor drive away thoughts of the friend's widow, whom he had neglected. This state of mind continued all the afternoon. Its natural effect was to cause him to cast about in his mind for some way of getting employment for Hiram, that would yield immediate returns. But nothing presented itself.
"I wonder if I couldn't make room for him here?" he at length said — "He looks like a bright boy. I know his present employer is highly pleased with him. He spoke of getting four dollars a week. That's a good deal to give to a mere lad. But I suppose I might make him worth that to me. And now I begin to think seriously about the matter, I believe I cannot keep a clear conscience, and any longer remain indifferent to the welfare of my old friend's widow and children. I must look after them a little more closely than I have heretofore done."
This resolution relieved the mind of Mr. Easton a good deal.
When Hiram left the counting-room of the merchant, his spirits were crushed to the very earth. He found his way back, how he hardly knew, to his place of business, and mechanically performed the tasks allotted to him, until evening. Then he returned home, reluctant to meet his mother, and yet anxious to relieve her state of suspense, even if in doing so, he should dash a last hope from her heart. When he came in, Mrs. Mayberry lifted her eyes to his, inquiringly; but dropped them instantly — she needed no words to tell her that he had suffered a bitter disappointment.
"You did not get the job?" she at length said, with forced composure.
"No — it was filled this morning. Mr. Easton promised to see about it. But he didn't do so. When he went this afternoon, it was too late."
Hiram said this with a trembling voice, and lips that quivered.
"May Your will be done!" murmured the widow, lifting her eyes upward. "If these tender ones are to be taken from their mother's fold, oh, do temper for them the piercing blast, and be their shelter amid the raging tempests."
A tap at the door brought back the thoughts of Mrs. Mayberry. A brief struggle with her feelings, enabled her to overcome them in time to receive a visitor with composure. It was the merchant.
"Mr. Easton!" she said, in surprise.
"Mrs. Mayberry, how do you do?" There was some restraint and embarrassment in his manner. He was conscious of having neglected the widow of his friend, before he came. The poor condition in which he found her, quickened that consciousness into a sting.
"I am sorry, madam," he said, after he had become seated, and made a few inquiries, "that I did not get the job for your son. In fact, I am to blame in the matter. But I have been thinking since, that he would suit me exactly, and if you have no objections, I will take him, and pay him a salary of two hundred dollars for the first year."
Mrs. Mayberry tried to reply, but her feelings were too much excited by this sudden and unlooked-for proposal, to allow her to speak for some moments. Even then, her assent was made with tears glistening on her cheeks.
Arrangements were quickly made for the transfer of Hiram from the store where he had been engaged, to the counting-room of Mr. Easton. The salary he received was just enough to enable Mrs. Mayberry, with what she herself earned, to keep her little ones together, until Hiram, who proved a valuable assistant in Mr. Easton's business, could command a larger salary, and render her more important aid.