The Iron Will

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
 

"Fanny, I've but one word more to say on the subject. If you marry that fellow, I'll have nothing to do with you. I've said it and you may be assured that I'll adhere to my determination."

Thus spoke, with a frowning brow and a stern voice, the father of Fanny Crawford, while the maiden sat with eyes bent upon the floor.

"He's a worthless, good-for-nothing fellow," resumed the father; "and if you marry him you wed a life of misery. Don't come back to me for I will disown you the day you take his name. I've said it, and my decision is unalterable!"

Still Fanny made no answer, but sat like a statute.

"Lay to heart what I have said, and make your choice, girl." And with these words, Mr. Crawford retired from the presence of his daughter.

On that evening, Fanny Crawford left her father's house, and was secretly married to a young man named Logan, whom, in spite of all his faults, she tenderly loved.

When this fact became known to Mr. Crawford, he angrily repeated his threat of utterly disowning his child; and he meant what he said for he was a man of stern purpose and unbending will. When, trusting to the love she believed him to bear for her, Fanny ventured home, she was rudely repulsed, and told that she no longer had a father. These cruel words fell upon her heart, and ever after rested there, as an oppressive weight.

Logan was a young mechanic, with a good trade and the ability to earn a comfortable living. But Mr. Crawford's objection to him was well-founded, and it would have been much better for Fanny if she had permitted it to influence her; for the young man was idle in his habits, and Mr. Crawford too clearly saw that idleness would lead to dissipation. The father had hoped that his threat to disown his child would have deterred her from taking the step he so strongly disapproved. He had, in fact, made this threat as a last effort to save her from a union that would, inevitably, lead to unhappiness; but having made it, his stubborn and offended pride caused him to adhere with stern inflexibility to his word.

When Fanny went from under her father's roof, the old man was left alone; the mother of his only child had been many years dead. For her father's sake, as well as for her own, did Fanny wish to return. She loved her father with a most earnest affection, and thought of him as sitting gloomy and companionless in that home, so long made light and cheerful by her voice and smile. Hours and hours would she lie awake at night, thinking of her father, and weeping for the estrangement of his heart from her. Still there was in her bosom an ever-living hope that he would relent; and to this she clung, though he passed her in the street without looking at her, and steadily denied her admission, when, in the hope of some change in his stern purpose, she would go to his house and seek to gain an entrance.

As the father had predicted, Logan added, in the course of a year or two, dissipation to idle habits, and neglect of his wife to both. They had gone to housekeeping in a small way, when first married, and had lived comfortably enough for some time; but Logan did not like work, and made every excuse he could find to take a holiday or be absent from the shop. The effect of this was an insufficient income. Debt came, with its mortifying and harassing accompaniments, and furniture had to be sold to pay those who were not disposed to wait. With two little children, Fanny and her husband moved into a cheap boarding-house, after their things were taken and sold.

The company into which she was here thrown, was far from being agreeable; but this would have been no source of unhappiness in itself. Cheerfully would she have breathed the uncongenial atmosphere, if there had been nothing in the conduct of her husband to awaken feelings of anxiety. But, alas! there was much to create unhappiness here; idle days were more frequent, and the consequences of idle days more and more serious. From his work, he would come home sober and cheerful; but after spending a day in idle company, or in the woods hunting, a sport of which he was fond he would meet his wife with a sullen, dissatisfied aspect, and, too often, in a state little above intoxication.

"I'm afraid your son-in-law is not doing very well, friend Crawford," said a plain-spoken Quaker to the father of Mrs. Logan, after the young man's habits began to show themselves too plainly in his appearance.

Mr. Crawford knit his brows, and drew his lips closely together.

"Has you seen young Logan lately?"

"I don't know the young man," replied Mr. Crawford, with an impatient motion of his head.

"Don't know your own son-in-law the husband of your daughter?"

"I have no son-in-law no daughter!" said Crawford, with stern emphasis.

"Frances was the daughter of your wedded wife, friend Crawford."

"But I have disowned her. I forewarned her of the consequences, if she married that young man. I told her that I would cast her off forever, and I have done it!"

"But, friend Crawford, you has done wrong."

"I've said it and I'll stick to it!"

"But you have done wrong, friend Crawford," repeated the Quaker.

"Right or wrong, it is done, and I will not recall the act. I gave her fair warning; but she took her own course, and now she must pay the consequences. When I say a thing I mean it. I never eat my words."

"Friend Crawford," said the Quaker, in a steady voice, and with his calm eyes fixed upon the face of the man he addressed, "you were wrong to say what you did; you had no right to cast off your child. I saw her today, passing slowly along the street; her dress was thin and faded, but not so thin and faded as her pale young face. Ah! if you could have seen the sadness of that countenance. Friend Crawford, she is your child still; you cannot disown her."

"I never change!" replied the resolute father.

"She is the child of your beloved wife, now in Heaven, friend Crawford."

"Good-day!" And Crawford turned and walked away.

"Rash words are bad enough," said the Quaker to himself; "but how much worse is it to abide by rash words, after there has been time for reflection and repentance."

Crawford was troubled by what the Quaker said, but more troubled when he saw his daughter's husband a few minutes afterwards, as he walked along the street, supported by two others, so much intoxicated that he could not stand alone. And in this state, he was going home to his wife to Fanny.

The father clenched his hands, set his teeth firmly together, muttered an imprecation upon the head of Logan, and quickened his pace homeward. Try as he would, he could not shut out from his mind the pale, faded countenance of his child, as described by the Quaker, nor help feeling an inward shudder at the thought of what she must suffer on meeting her husband in such a state.

"She has only herself to blame," he said, as he struggled with his feelings. "I forewarned her; I made her understand clearly what she had to expect; my word is passed. I have said it, and that ends the matter; I am no childish trifler. What I say I mean."

Logan had been from home all day, and, what was worse, had not been, as his wife was well aware, at the shop for a week. The woman with whom they were boarding came into her room during the afternoon, and, after some hesitation and embarrassment, said

"I am sorry to tell you, Mrs. Logan, that I shall need you to give up your room after this week. You know I have had no money from you for nearly a month, and, from the way your husband goes on, I see little prospect of being paid anything more. If I was able, for your sake, I would not say a word; but I am not, Mrs. Logan, and therefore must, in justice to myself and family, require you to get another boarding-house."

Mrs. Logan answered only with tears. The woman tried to soften what she had said, and then went away.

Not long after this, Logan came stumbling up the stairs, and, opening the door of his room, staggered in and threw himself heavily upon the bed. Fanny looked at him a few moments, and then crouching down, and, covering her face with her hands, wept long and bitterly. She felt crushed and powerless. Cast off by her father, wronged by her husband, destitute and about to be thrust from the poor home into which she had shrunk, faint and weary it seemed as if hope were gone forever. While she suffered thus, Logan lay in a drunken sleep. Arousing herself at last, she removed his boots and coat, drew a pillow under his head, and threw a cover over him. She then sat down and wept again. The tea-bell rang, but she did not go to the table. Half an hour afterwards, the landlady came to the door and kindly inquired if she would not have some food sent up to her room.

"Only a little bread and milk for Henry," was replied.

"Let me send you a cup of tea," urged the woman.

"No, thank you. I don't wish anything tonight."

The woman went away, feeling troubled. From her heart, she pitied the suffering young creature, and it had cost her a painful struggle to do what she had done; but the pressing nature of her own circumstances required her to be rigidly just. Notwithstanding Mrs. Logan had declined having anything, she sent her a cup of tea and something to eat; but they remained untasted.

On the next morning, Logan was sober, and his wife informed him of the notice which their landlady had given. He was angry, and used harsh language towards the woman. Fanny defended her, and had the harsh language transferred to her own head.

The young man appeared as usual at the breakfast table, but Fanny had no appetite for food, and did not go down. After breakfast, Logan went to the shop, intending to go to work, but found his place supplied by another journeyman, and himself thrown out of employment, with but a single dollar in his pocket, a month's boarding due, and his family in need of almost every necessity. From the shop he went to a tavern, took a glass of liquor, and sat down to look over the newspapers and think what he should do. There he met an idle journeyman, who, like himself, had lost his job. A fellow feeling made them communicative and confidential.

"If I was only a single man," said Logan, "I wouldn't care. I could easily shift for myself."

"Wife and children! Yes, there's the rub," returned the companion. "A journeyman mechanic is a fool to get married."

"Then you and I are both fools," said Logan.

"No doubt of it. I came to that conclusion, in regard to myself, long and long ago. Sick wife, hungry children, and four or five backs to cover; no wonder a poor man's nose is ever on the grindstone. For my part, I am sick of it. When I was a single man, I could go where I pleased, and do what I pleased; and I always had money in my pocket. Now I am tied down to one place, and grumbled at eternally; and if you were to shake me from here to the Navy Yard, you wouldn't get a sixpence out of me. The fact is, I'm sick of it!"

"So am I; but what is to be done? I don't believe I can get work in town."

"I know you can't; but there is plenty of work and good wages to be had in Charleston or New Orleans."

Logan did not reply, but looked intently into his companion's face.

"I'm sure my wife would be a great deal better off if I were to clear out and leave her. She has plenty of friends, and they'll not see her want."

Logan still looked at his fellow journeyman.

"And your wife would be taken back under her father's roof, where there is enough and to spare. Of course she would be happier than she is now."

"No doubt of that. The old rascal has treated her shabbily enough. But, I am well satisfied that, if I were out of the way he would gladly receive her back again."

"Of this there can be no question. So, it is clear that, with our insufficient incomes, our presence is a curse rather than a blessing to our families."

Logan really admitted this to be true. His companion then drew a newspaper towards him, and after running his eyes over it for a few moments, read:

"This day, at twelve o'clock, the copper-fastened brig Emily, leaves for Charleston. For freight or passage, apply on board."

"There's a chance for us," he said, as he finished reading the advertisement. "Suppose we go down and see if they won't let us work our passage fee out."

Logan sat thoughtful a moment, and then said, as he arose to his feet

"Agreed. It'll be the best thing for us as well as for our families."

When the Emily sailed, at twelve o'clock, the two men were on board.

Days came and passed, until the heart of Mrs. Logan grew sick with anxiety, fear, and suspense. No word was received from her absent husband. She went to his old employer, and learned that he had been discharged; but she could find no one who had heard of him since that time. Left thus alone, with two little children, and no apparent means of support Mrs. Logan, when she became at length clearly satisfied that he for whom she had given up everything had heartlessly abandoned her, felt as if there was no hope for her in the world.

"Go to your father, by all means," urged the woman with whom she was still boarding. "Now that your husband has gone, he will receive you."

"I cannot," was Fanny's reply.

"But what will you do?" asked the woman.

"Work for my children," she replied, arousing herself, and speaking with some resolution. "I have hands to work, and I am willing to work."

"Much better go home to your father," said the woman.

"That is impossible. He has disowned me has ceased to love me or care for me. I cannot go to him again; for I could not bear, as I am now, another harsh repulse. No no I will work with my own hands. God will help me to provide for my children."

In this spirit, the almost heart-broken young woman, for whom the boarding-house keeper felt more than a common interest an interest which would not let her thrust her out from the only place she could call her home sought for work, and was fortunate enough to obtain sewing from two or three families, and was thus enabled to pay a light board for herself and children. But incessant toil with her needle, continued late at night and resumed early in the morning, gradually undermined her health, which had become delicate, and weariness and pain were the constant companions of her labor.

Sometimes, in carrying her work home, the forsaken wife would have to pass the old home of her girlhood, and twice she saw her father at the window. But, either she was so changed that he did not know his child, or he would not bend from his stern resolution to disown her. On these two occasions she was unable, on returning, to resume her work. Her fingers could not hold nor guide the needle; nor could she, from the blinding tears that filled her eyes, have seen to sew, even if her hands had lost the tremor that ran through every nerve of her body.

A year had rolled wearily by since Logan went off, and still no word had come from the absent husband. Labor beyond her bodily strength, and trouble and grief that were too severe for her spirit to bear, had done sad work upon the forsaken wife and disowned child. She was but a shadow of her former self.

Mr. Crawford had been very shy of the old Quaker who had spoken so plainly to him; but his words made some impression, though no one would have supposed so, as there was no change in his conduct towards his daughter. He had forewarned her of the consequences if she acted in opposition to his wishes. He had told her that he would disown her forever. She had taken her own way, and as painful as it was to him, he had to keep his word his word that had ever been inviolate. He might forgive her; he might pity her; but she must remain a stranger. Such a direct and flagrant act of disobedience to his wishes was not to be forgotten nor forgiven. Thus, in stubborn pride, did his hard heart confirm itself in its cold and cruel estrangement. Was he happy? No! Did he forget his child? No! He thought of her and dreamed of her, day after day, and night after night. But he had said it, and he would stick to it! His pride was unbending as iron.

Of the fact that the husband of Fanny had gone off and left her with two children to provide for with the labor of her hands, he had been made fully aware, but it did not bend him from his stern purpose.

"She is nothing to me," was his impatient reply to the one who informed him of the fact. This was all that could be seen. But his heart trembled at the news. Nevertheless, he stood coldly aloof, month after month, and even repulsed, angrily, the kind landlady with whom Fanny boarded, who had attempted, all unknown to the daughter, to awaken sympathy for her in her father's heart.

One day, the old Quaker, whose plain words had not pleased Mr. Crawford, met that gentleman near his own door. The Quaker was leading a little boy by the hand. Mr. Crawford bowed, and evidently wished to pass on; but the Quaker paused, and said

"I would like to have a few words with you, friend Crawford."

"Well, say on."

"You is known as a benevolent man, friend Crawford. You never refuse, it is said, to do a deed of charity."

"I always give something when I am sure the object is deserving."

"So I am aware. Do you see this little boy?"

Mr. Crawford glanced down at the child the Quaker held by the hand. As he did so, the child lifted to him a gentle face, with mild, earnest, loving eyes.

"It is a sweet little fellow," said Mr. Crawford, reaching his hand to the child. He spoke with some feeling, for there was a look about the boy that went to his heart.

"He is, indeed, a sweet child and the image of his poor, sick, almost heart-broken mother, for whom I am trying to awaken an interest and take a collection. She has two children, and this one is the oldest. Her husband is dead, or what may be as bad, perhaps worse, as far as she is concerned, dead to her; and she does not seem to have a relative in the world; at least, none who thinks about or cares for her. In trying to provide for her children, she has over-tasked her delicate frame, and made herself sick. Unless something is done for her, a worse thing must follow. She must go to the almshouse, and be separated from her children. Look into the sweet, innocent face of this dear child, and let your heart say whether he ought to be taken from his mother. If she has a woman's feelings, must she not love this child tenderly; and can anyone supply his mother's place to him?"

"I will do something for her, certainly," said Mr. Crawford.

"I wish you would go with me to see her."

"There is no use in that. My seeing her can do no good. Collect all you can for her, and then come to me. I will help in the good work cheerfully," replied Mr. Crawford.

"That is your dwelling, I believe," said the Quaker, looking round at a house adjoining the one before which they stood.

"Yes, that is my house," returned Mr. Crawford.

"Will you take this little boy in with you and keep him for a few minutes, while I go to see a friend some squares off?"

"Oh, certainly. Come with me, dear." And Mr. Crawford held out his hand to the child, who took it without hesitation.

"I will see you in a little while," said the Quaker, as he turned away.

The boy, who was plainly, but very neatly dressed, was about four years old. He had a more than usually attractive face; and an earnest look out of his mild eyes, that made everyone who saw him, his friend.

"What is your name, my dear?" asked Mr. Crawford, as he sat down in his parlor, and took the little fellow upon his knee.

"Henry," replied the child. He spoke with distinctness; and, as he spoke, there was a sweet expression of the lips and eyes, that was particularly winning.

"It is Henry, is it?"

"Yes, sir."

"What else besides Henry?"

The boy did not reply, for he had fixed his eyes upon a picture that hung over the mantle, and was looking at it intently. The eyes of Mr. Crawford followed those of the child, which rested, he found, on the portrait of his daughter.

"What else, besides Henry?" he repeated.

"Henry Logan," replied the child, looking for a moment into the face of Mr. Crawford, and then turning to gaze at the picture on the wall. Every nerve quivered in the frame of that man of iron will. The falling of a bolt of lightening from a sunny sky could not have startled and surprised him more. He saw in the face of the child, the moment he looked at him, something strangely familiar and attractive. What it was, he did not, until this instant, comprehend. But it was no longer a mystery.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked, in a subdued voice, after he had recovered, to some extent, his feelings.

The child looked again into his face, but longer and more earnestly. Then, without answering, he turned and looked at the portrait on the wall.

"Do you know who I am, dear?" repeated Mr. Crawford.

"No, sir," replied the child; and then again turned to gaze upon the picture.

"Who is that?" and Mr. Crawford pointed to the object that so fixed the little boy's attention.

"My mother." And as he said these words, he laid his head down upon the bosom of his unknown relative, and shrank close to him, as if half afraid because of the mystery that, in his infantile mind, hung around the picture on the wall.

Moved by an impulse that he could not restrain, Mr. Crawford drew his arms around the child and hugged him to his bosom. Pride gave way; the iron will was bent; the sternly uttered vow was forgotten. There is power for good in the presence of a little child. Its sphere of innocence subdues and renders impotent, the evil spirits that rule in the hearts of selfish men. It was so in this case. Mr. Crawford might have withstood the moving appeal of even his daughter's presence changed by grief, labor, and suffering as she was. But his anger, upon which he had allowed the sun to go down fled before her artless, confiding, innocent child. He thought not of Fanny as the willful woman, acting from the dictate of her own passions or feelings; but as a little child, lying upon his bosom as a little child, singing and dancing around him as a little child, with, to him, the face of a cherub, and the sainted mother of that innocent one by her side.

When the Quaker came for the little boy, Mr. Crawford said to him, in a low voice made low to hide his emotion

"I will keep the child."

"From it's mother?"

"No. Bring the mother, and the other child. I have room for them all."

A sunny smile passed over the benevolent countenance of the Quaker, as he hastily left the room.

Mrs. Logan, worn down by exhausting labor, had at last been forced to give up. When she did give up, every long-strained nerve of mind and body instantly relaxed; and she became almost as weak and helpless as an infant. While in this state, she was accidentally discovered by the kind-hearted old Quaker, who, without her being aware of what he was going to do, made his successful attack upon her father's feelings. He trusted to nature and a good cause, and did not trust in vain.

"Come, Mrs. Logan," said the kind woman, with whom Fanny was still boarding, an hour or so after little Harry had been dressed up to take a walk where, the mother did not know or think, "the good Quaker who was here this morning, says you must ride out. He has brought a carriage for you. It will do you good, I know. He is very kind. Come, get yourself ready."

Mrs. Logan was lying upon her bed.

"I do not feel able to get up," she replied. "I do not wish to ride out."

"Oh, yes, you must go. The pure, fresh air and the change will do you more good than medicine. Come, Mrs. Logan. I will dress little Julia for you. She needs the change as much you do."

"Where is Henry?" asked the mother.

"He has not returned yet. But come! The carriage is waiting at the door."

"Won't you go with me?"

"I would with pleasure but I cannot leave home. I have so much to do."

After a good deal of persuasion, Fanny at length made the effort to get herself ready to go out. She was so weak, that she tottered about the floor like one intoxicated. But the woman with whom she lived, assisted and encouraged her, until she was at length ready to go. Then the Quaker came up to her room, and, with the tenderness and care of a father, supported her down stairs, and when she had taken her place in the vehicle, entered with her youngest child in his arms, and sat by her side, speaking to her, as he did so, kind and encouraging words.

The carriage was driven slowly, for a few squares, and then stopped. Scarcely had the motion ceased, when the door was suddenly opened, and Mr. Crawford stood before his daughter.

"My poor child!" he said, in a tender, broken voice, as Fanny, overcome by his unexpected appearance, sank forward into his arms.

When the suffering young creature opened her eyes again, she was upon her own bed, in her own room, in her old home. Her father sat by her side, and held one of her hands tightly. There were tears in his eyes, and he tried to speak; but, though his lips moved, there came from them no articulate sound.

"Do you forgive me, father? Do you love me, father?" said Fanny, in a tremulous whisper, half rising from her pillow, and looking eagerly, almost agonizingly, into her father's face.

"I have nothing to forgive," murmured the father, as he drew his daughter towards him, so that her head could lie against his bosom.

"But do you love me, father? Do you love me as of old?" said the daughter.

He bent down and kissed her; and now the tears fell from his eyes and lay warm and glistening upon her face.

"As of old," he murmured, laying his cheek down upon that of his child, and clasping her more tightly in his arms. The long pent-up waters of affection were rushing over his soul and obliterating the marks of pride, anger, and the iron will that sustained them in their cruel dominion. He was no longer a strong man, stern and rigid in his purpose; but a child, with a loving and tender heart.

There was light again in his dwelling; not the bright light of other times; for now the rays were mellowed. But it was light. And there was music again; not so joyful; but it was music, and its spell over his heart was deeper, and its influence more elevating.

The man with the iron will and stern purpose was subdued, and the power that subdued him was the presence of a little child.