The Merchant's Son
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
A young man of fine appearance was pacing slowly and thoughtfully up and down the parlors of his father's house. The clear, softened light of the full moon streamed in upon the furniture, and revealed occasionally the expression of his countenance, which was serious. Once in a while a smile broke over his features, as he appeared briefly to yield to the play of imagination.
"So I am indeed twenty-one!" he said, musingly; "this is the day I have looked forward to, from boyhood, as the period when I should be as free as the wind. What are my objects of pursuit? What have they been? Oh, Literary Fame! I could die if your silver trumpet would ring out her loudest blast for me. I will be no mediocre poet; I will either play a conspicuous part on the world's great stage — or I will sink into nothingness.
"I have been an obedient son to a father who means well, but judges wrongfully of me. He has kept me cooped up in a counting-room, lest, as he says, I should become a simpleton or a poet. I have borne it silently, although it galled me to the quick. God forbid that I should have pained his heart, before I had a man's right to act in freedom — to cut out my own path in the world! And yet — and yet" — the young man's lip curved bitterly, as he paused a moment, "he has drawn the reins almost too tight. I have not been allowed the choice of doing what I like. Money — money — money, when will the time come that it will not be worshiped? I hate it. I hate that grasping after gold. How can an immortal soul so far forget its high destiny, as to make the clutching of golden coins the great aim of existence? But there are thousands who seem fit for nothing else!"
Arthur Griswold seated himself on the sofa, passed his hand through his hair repeatedly, sighed profoundly, muttered something about the generality of people being such idiots — then he leaned his head back against the wall in silence.
"But money is a fine thing after all!" he said, half smiling, as after a long pause he resumed his train of thought. "It is well I can clutch a little myself just now; I fear father, when he learns my resolution, will request me to keep my distance from his coffers. Let it be so! I think I can get along. Yes, my life of close study shall soon commence; and then — what shall my glorious future be? Great as a poet's dream! There is a power within me; but alas! it is a smouldering spark which may never burst forth into a flame, and light up clearly the 'chambers of my imagery.' Such thoughts shall not be indulged! I will! Those two little words shall be the beacon stars, to lead me forward to the accomplishment of my purposes. Difficulties shall vanish before the might of a strong will. To resolve and to accomplish — shall be one thing with me!"
"Why, Arthur, are you all alone?" said the soft, musical voice of Lucy Griswold, as she entered the room. She seated herself on the sofa next to her brother, and rested her lovely head confidingly upon his shoulder.
"I was all alone, dear," he replied.
"Indulging in beautiful imaginations, I suppose?" suggested Lucy.
"Not remarkably beautiful."
"Well, then, come stand by the window, and look out upon this poetic sky. If imagination does not wave her wand for you, just banish earthly thoughts, and rove anywhere and everywhere, as I do, at such a lovely hour."
"I will, to oblige you," answered Arthur, leading her to the window, and kissing her pure brow with a kind brother's deep affection. That fair young girl was the only one to whom he poured forth the yearning aspirations of his soul. Her sweet influence breathed over his spirit like a balmy air, and hushed it into quietness. She was almost an idol to him; she understood, appreciated, and sympathized with him; while all her actions seemed to be a living prayer that he would become pure and good.
And yet she was rather a wayward, mischievous being, when she took it into her head to be so. The spirit of mirth peeped out of her laughing eyes somewhat too often, as her grave grandmother assured her. But she was silent now, as well as Arthur. It was, indeed, the hour for imagination to give reins to her darling reveries — for the bewitchery of romance to steal into the heart. You could, under its power, have rolled back the tide of time, and have planted your footsteps in great Rome — you could have gazed up at her softly-brilliant sky, revealing her thousand splendors. You could have reveled in the once sunlit streets of ancient Pompeii, or have trod the classic ground of Greece. The past might have been before you, or the sunny future, with its rainbow hopes, its glorious dreams, its flowers of love and gladness flung at your feet. Hope, delicious hope, the mirthful intruder, the wild deluder — she would have stolen on the wings of the softly-dreaming air — she would have poured her laughing light upon your bosom, as the zephyr plays over the unfolding petals of the sun-kissed rose.
All this might have happened if you were young, dear reader; for people strangely forget these romping imagination-flights, if care but presses her good-for-nothing fingers upon the bounding heart. Youth! how blessed you are, with your fresh, glad thoughts, your bewitching dreams, breathing their spell over the untrammelled heart! How do you roam over every sunny spot, and make all things bright with the touch of your own fairy wand! All things happy will be possible to you — all things wished for will surely press into your service, begging to entwine around your brow the garland of a proud, bright destiny! How do you laugh, when the aged lip of experience would foretell you a tale of your own blighted hopes! Clouds and sunlight you have known; but the April smile ever forced back the impetuous tear, and bade you see how the shining drops freshened the beauty of earth and sky. Your heart is free; and, if ever the mist comes, it looks upward and around, and smiles to see the sunshine breaking, and bringing back to you all your clustering joys.
Why may not the heart be always young, though wrinkles drive away the smoothness from the brow, and take from the lip its rosy hue — though silver threads the shining locks, and beauty departs from the wasting features? May not the undying soul retain its youth, as long as we are blessed with our faculties? May it not grow stronger and greater, as it nears its everlasting goal? May not its capabilities for happiness increase by a proper use of the gifts which God has bestowed, by careful culture, by refreshing from the dews of Heaven? Surely, surely, it may be so!
We drive from us our youth of soul. Storms come, but to clear away the darkness, and to show us depths within, that Heaven may fill with joy. Then let our course be onward. Still be our dreams bright and joyous; still let hope cast her halo around us, still let her be a mirthful intruder, but chasten her gently if she is the wild deluder of earlier days. Bid her not tell you of selfish visions. Ask her to breathe a fond spell over all you love, over every breaking heart, over the whole broad earth, which bears not a soul that you love not. Tell her the whole world is yours, that all God's people are your brethren and sisters. Whisper her to raise her throne in every downcast bosom, though she should forsake yours.
Will she forsake you? Oh, no! Your heart shall be more light than when your naive childhood was most full of innocent joy; more happy shall you be, than when earlier youth was thrilling you with its gushing gladness.
After long indulging in revery, Arthur roused himself, and related all his plans and projects to his sister. He was to break off all connection with his father's business, and enter college immediately.
"But, Arthur, what will father say? This thing is very sudden to him; he is not prepared for it."
"That I cannot help, Lucy. If I had spoken of it before, it would only have taken from his enjoyment."
"Well, I don't know what to say about it; I think you ought to be a student; and, if you feel that you are doing right, don't be checked by anything or anybody. I will do my prettiest to soften father's displeasure."
"I know that, Lucy."
The next morning, with a firm but slow step, young Arthur entered his father's counting-room.
"Well, Arthur," exclaimed the merchant, "you are twenty-one now. You have not as much ambition in regard to business as I wish you had. You don't seem to care whether you become one of the firm or not; but you have always performed your part promptly."
"I have no wish to become a partner, father."
"Why not?" questioned Mr. Griswold, in a disappointed tone.
"I am of age now, father," said Arthur, speaking with an effort. "I never intend to be a merchant."
"I am sorry to disappoint your wishes, sir, by the course I have decided upon; but you are aware that the idea of being a merchant was always repugnant to me."
"I thought you had overcome that boyish notion."
"I must say, Arthur Griswold, that you have acted very ungenerously; very little as I ever thought a son of mine would act." There were a few moments of stern silence; Mr. Griswold's lip was firmly compressed, and the severity of deep anger was in the steady gaze which he riveted upon his son's countenance. "I should at least have thought you could have been frank enough to have prepared me for this."
"It was from no lack of frankness, sir, that I did not speak of it. I knew that your views and mine differed on many points. My future course was firmly decided upon — and I was fully aware that you would not approve of it; I had failed too many times in trying to change your opinion. My only reason for not telling my plans, was to avoid opposition, and any uneasiness on your part, until the time actually arrived."
"I am deeply obliged for your tender care," said Mr. Griswold, bowing, with a curving lip. "I suppose a longer conference is not necessary."
"Not if it is unpleasant to you, father." Arthur possessed a true poet's soul in one respect, at least; his heart was warm with strong affections — he was as sensitive as a woman in feeling. After one long, eager look at his father's face, he slightly inclined his head, and left the counting-room.
"Don't look so melancholy, Arthur!" exclaimed Lucy, running out in the hall to meet him on his return. She had been watching for him, to hear how her father received the unexpected and unpleasing news of his decision.
"Even worse than I expected — worse than I expected," said Arthur, entering the parlor, and throwing himself into a chair. He remained some moments lost in deep thought, his face bent forward, and resting on his hands. Lucy eyed him, and bethought herself that it would never do for him to yield to discouraged feelings. Dropping on her knees before him, with playful grace she drew away his hands, and, looking up in his eyes, with a smile at once inquisitive and tender, said, "Eve's curiosity — brother of mine. Tell me all that he said, and all that you said."
Arthur related every word of the brief conversation that had passed; then, with some bitterness, he said, "I knew that father would be both disappointed and displeased, but I certainly had no idea that he would think my conduct unworthy."
A slight, quick flush of indignation passed over Lucy's face, but she replied gently, "He doesn't understand you, Arthur."
"And never will."
"He shall understand you in one respect," said Lucy, with an expression of proud determination, as she rose from her kneeling position. "He shall understand that your heart is as worthy and generous a one" — she paused, for she was not in the habit of telling people their good qualities, when she thought they already possessed as much knowledge on the subject as would answer their purposes. She resumed cheerfully, "Constant dropping will wear away a stone, so I will drop a good word for you in father's ear at the most propitious moments; and never fear but what his displeasure will be displaced by deeper affection than ever. You will be thought of more leniently in your absence. So don't let gloomy thoughts disturb you an instant. When shall you leave us?"
"In about a week."
"So soon?" and the young girl immediately descended from her elevated position as comforter. She burst into tears, and then it was her brother's turn to cheer and console. It was on the tip of her tongue to say, "Don't go!" but she held back the words.
The evening before young Arthur's departure had arrived, the brother and sister were again alone in the parlor, sitting by the window. It was a calm starlight evening, and there was a sad quiet in the hearts of both. The merchant had not spoken one word of harsh reproach to his son, since the disclosure of his determination, but there was a measured politeness in his manner which fell chillingly upon the warm heart of Arthur. The hearty joke and cheerful approving laugh, had been banished from the family circle during the past week. The sweet glad eyes of Lucy had not wandered around with a glance of merry meaning. Mrs. Griswold was an affectionate mother, but she was not remarkably tenacious of any views of her own; she thought just as her husband did, and, therefore, sighed profoundly over Arthur's strange whim.
"Lucy," said Arthur, in a low tone, "have there never been times with you, when you felt as if there was an immensity hanging upon a present moment — felt as if there was coming a change, a turning of your destiny?"
"I have felt so," replied the young girl; "and changes have come, but perhaps no outward changes. External changes are nothing, compared to the turning of the soul's destiny. Arthur, dear Arthur!" and she clasped his hand with fervent feeling, "you are going from home now — you will have no mother and sister to bless you, and awaken your gentlest sympathies. Would to Heaven that my prayers could change you!"
"Change me!" said Arthur, almost starting; "how, Lucy?"
"You are entering life as millions do, full of ambitious dreams, eager to bind the wreath of fame around your brow. It seems a glorious thing to you, to be called great. But your aims are far below the dignity of an immortal soul. Be great, Arthur, whether anyone knows it or not. Rule your own spirit with the stern, steady rod of truth. Shrink from no ordeal which may develop and try the strength within you. Turn every incident of your life, to some good purpose. Believe and trust that God's Providence will guide you better than you can lead yourself. Let your fellow-creatures have cause to bless you, whether their praises meet your ear or not."
"God grant I may become all you ask, my own Lucy!" Arthur answered solemnly. "If I do not realize your hopes, it will be no fault of yours. You have been a protecting angel to me; you have been always ready to bear with and comfort me, when others blamed. You have been the only human being who ever sympathized with me fully and frankly."
"And what have you been to me, Arthur?" asked his sister affectionately. "You have always been a lion in my cause. I have often thought you took my part, when I deserved a scolding."
"Then we arrive at the very evident fact, that we are two wonderfully excellent beings!" said Arthur, laughing.
"Exactly so!" was the smiling reply.
Hour after hour glided by unnoticed, for Arthur and Lucy were too deeply engaged in serious conversation to heed the flight of time. They dwelt upon their childish days, and then turned to the deeper and stronger impulses which had been developed, as each succeeding year rolled on. A half-regretful tenderness was in their hearts, as they realized that they were indeed entering life — though its cares and strong responsibilities would sink heavily upon their spirits — there could be no shrinking back to their childhood. For every wrong action committed, they themselves were responsible; they could not with light-hearted carelessness throw the blame upon older people, or pass it idly by. Though the brother and sister were both naturally mirthful, and perhaps a little wild — still there was a vein of deep thoughtfulness in the character of each, which often called upon them to pause and reflect.
The right influence of that loving sister was felt; it was with holier emotions awakened in his bosom — with pure and high resolves — that the young votary at the shrine of Fame parted from his sister that night.
"Farewell, Lucy," said Arthur, turning to his sister the next morning, after he had bidden his parents adieu. He clasped her hand tightly in his own, and spoke in a choked voice. She cast herself in his arms, and the sobs which she had tried hard to repress under the stern eye of her father, burst forth unchecked. "Weep for me when you are alone, darling, if you will, and pray for me," whispered Arthur. "I will yet become all you desire. Father shall yet know that I do not act from the idle whim of a weak boy. Lucy, dear Lucy! tell me once more that you bless me before I go forth into the world." The young man had commanded himself by a strong effort; but now he bowed his head upon his sister's shoulder, and wept like a child. An expression radiant with affection flitted briefly over Lucy's fair young face, as she replied, in a low tone of tremulous sweetness, "I do bless you, Arthur. I shall always. Oh, may our Father above smile upon you!"
It was with a strong heart and a determined will, that Arthur Griswold engaged in his studies. But the ways of Providence are not like our ways. Often our most arduous efforts bring but little to pass; yet we should not repine, for, if we have done all we can do — that little is just as much as it should be. Not so felt the young student. Five years had passed over his head since he had begun to walk in the path marked out by himself. Where were his dreams of ambition — his visions of grandeur? Where were the thoughts he had sent out into the world, hoping to make deep echoes in a thousand hearts? They had gone forth indeed, the cherished idols of his imagination — but where was the sympathy he was to meet with? He found it not; and not until he saw how heedlessly his poems were passed by, did he realize the value he had placed, almost unknowingly to himself, upon the smiles of a thoughtless multitude.
He had entered into no profession; and, as each slow year had traveled on, the young poet had hoped with all the ardor of an enthusiastic spirit, that fickle fortune would yet reward his literary efforts. His habits had greatly changed since he had left the counting-room for the study; his time was not methodically employed; he was often sad and depressed. And yet he raised his heart upward, and endeavored to do well. Apparently he had not improved, but in reality he had been learning good but painful lessons. Bitter trial had taught him to look upon the world, upon men and things, as they are — not as they seem. Lucy was still the same fond sister; his mother's smile was kind but tremulous, for she thought her poor Arthur was sadly changed. His father never reproached him; he was sometimes pleasant and cheerful with him, but it was not the frank cheerfulness of other days. The warm, hearty grasp of the hand, the cheering words from a father's lips, "Well done, my boy!" were no longer his own.
Since the day he left home for college, his father's house had never been his permanent residence. One soft evening at twilight, Arthur sat alone in his chamber, watching the faint stars as they came out in the pale blue sky. A light, caressing breeze lifted the hair from his white forehead, as he leaned back against the window-frame, in deep musing. His thoughts were somewhat sad, and yet there was more strength in his heart than he had known in a long time. He had that afternoon been in the society of his sister, and the influence of her gentle soul was still upon him. She had married, but old affections were as dear to her as ever. She had strongly urged upon him the necessity of an active and useful life — and he was glad to hear her speak thus, for his own views had been changing fast, of late.
It was five long years before the dazzling bubble of worldly fame had lost to him its hues of radiant light. With something like a smile playing over his lip, he mused, half aloud, "I have indeed been pursuing a bubble — even if I had obtained it, it would have burst in my grasp." He leaned his head upon his hand, and over his thoughtful features a deeper shade fell. He cast a retrospective eye upon the past — it seemed almost a waste; with a sigh, he murmured, "I fear I have been self-deceived — I have not looked my motives in the face. I have endeavored to delude myself with the idea that I was trying to benefit others by the outpourings of my brain, when at the bottom I most deeply yearned for applause — it was that which my selfish soul craved. Such dreams shall no longer be mine;" and, bowing his head, the young poet struggled in silence with the feelings within.
About an hour after, he arose from his seat by the window, and lighting a lamp, he placed himself at his writing-table and opened his long-neglected journal. Before writing, he breathed forth a deep and silent prayer. His eyes were upraised, full of light, and the rich glow of beautiful thought upon his countenance was tempered by the quiet repose on his closed lips. Taking a pen, he wrote as follows:
"June 20th. What satisfaction in a dying hour, can be as substantial as the remembrance of a well-spent life? We must combat with ourselves, and gently aid others. What is life's lesson? To learn what we are — and then to conquer. Oh, God! give me a stern spirit to go forth unflinchingly, developing the life you have given me. Aid me to trample on the clinging reveries which entwine around my heart; they come almost imperceptibly, and, like links in a chain, they will not be broken and parted. Banish from my soul the enervating weight of idle, brooding feeling. Grant that I may be frank with my own heart! May it at last grow pure beneath your searching eyes. Is not your good providence over me now, guiding every minute action and thought? may I realize it — may I trust in You! Guard me from wandering from your fold. Give me an earnest love of usefulness, a willingness to labor in anything which duty bids. Fill me with humility and heavenly charity — may I exert a pure influence on this world! Oh that my spirit was as strong as a martyr's, and as meek as a babe's!"
After thus briefly noting down his thoughts, Arthur sought the repose he needed after the excitement of deep and strong emotion. He was strengthened by what he had written; for to bring out good thoughts in a tangible form, both soothes and strengthens.
Ten years more rolled by, and our poet had become a lawyer of eminence. He had entered the profession and he had labored faithfully; he was, what is rarely seen — a lawyer at once successful, upright, and useful.
One cheerful day in autumn, a multitude was hastening to the court-house in our city, to listen to a case which had excited much interest. Justice was on one side — wealth on the other. Griswold had given his services, where he could hope for but little reward, to the weaker party. With generous uprightness, he had turned aside from the tempting offers by which the rich man had sought to gain his efforts in a bad cause. His reply was, "I am governed in my actions by truth, not money, sir."
But if there was not a spirit of truthfulness on the side opposed to Griswold, there was talent and eloquence, and over the multitude, they had their sway. The deep hum of applause that arose as Arthur's opponent seated himself with a somewhat triumphant air, caused a shadow to fall upon his noble heart. He slowly arose, with a dignified manner, and a calm strength expressed in his countenance. At first his words were somewhat measured, but as he proceeded he gathered might and force; his large, dark eye kindled brilliantly, and his usually pale cheek glowed, as he poured forth with burning eloquence, the words of truth and justice. There was a living power in all he uttered, which caused that breathless assembly to lean forward, and listen with a thrill. Truth is always powerful; if eloquently supported, it is irresistible with those who have one spark of honesty in their nature to be appealed to; and, thank Heaven! there is much honesty in this wicked world of ours.
The fascinating spell of the former speaker was broken; the plain, cutting words of sober truth had torn away the veil arranged with such skillful art. Suffice it to say, that Griswold gained the case. He retired almost exhausted, and, amid many enthusiastic congratulations, he hurried on to leave the crowded court-room.
"Arthur!" exclaimed a familiar voice, when he had nearly reached the door. He turned, and a white-haired old man grasped his hand and wrung it, while big tears of joy rolled down his furrowed cheeks. "My noble boy! God bless you!" were the choking words which burst from his father's lips.
"Father!" and the heart of the son swelled with more blessed feelings at those few words, than he had known in years. Placing his father's arm upon his own, they left the court-house; and they both felt that their cup of joy was full. Lucy and her husband met them upon the pavement. Arthur sprang forward, and clasping the extended hand of his sister, he looked upon her uplifted countenance with a smile; and yet it was mingled with a strange emotion. She glanced a moment upon her father's happy face, then raising her eyes again to Arthur's, she burst into tears of joy.
"Dear Arthur!" was all she could say.
The happy party bent their steps towards old Mr. Griswold's family mansion, and there Arthur met a joyful mother's smile.
"Well, my boy!" exclaimed Mr. Griswold, giving his son a hearty slap upon his shoulder, "I have learned one lesson today, and that is, that you were never cut out to be a merchant!"