The Shadows We Cast
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858
A child was playing with some building blocks; and, as the mimic castle rose before his eyes in graceful proportions, a new pleasure swelled in his heart. He felt himself to be the creator of a "thing of beauty," and was conscious of a newborn power. Arch, wall, buttress, gateway, drawbridge, lofty tower, and battlement — were all the work of his hands. He was in wonder at his own skill in thus creating, from an unseemly pile of blocks, a structure of such rare design.
Silently he stood and gazed upon his castle, with something like the pride of an architect who sees, after months or years of skillfully applied labor, some grand conception in his art, embodied in imperishable stone. Then he moved around, viewing it on every side. It did not seem to him a toy, reaching only a few inches in height, and covering but a square foot of ground, but a real castle, lifting itself hundreds of feet upwards towards the blue sky, and spreading wide upon the earth its ample foundations.
As the idea grew more and more perfect, his strange pleasure increased. Now he stood, with folded arms, wrapped in the overmastering illusion — now walked slowly around, viewing the structure on all sides, and noting every minute particular — and now sat down, and bent over it with the fondness of a mother bending over her child. Again he arose, purposing to obtain another and more distant view of his work. But his foot struck against one of the buttresses, and instantly, with a crash — wall, tower, and battlement fell in hopeless ruin!
In the room, with the boy sat his father, reading. The crash disturbed him; and he uttered a sharp, angry rebuke, glancing, for a moment, towards the startled child, and then returning his eyes to the attractive page before him, unconscious of the shadow he had cast upon the heart of his child. Tears came into those fair blue orbs, dancing in light a moment before. From the frowning face of his father, to which his glance was suddenly turned, the child looked back to the shapeless ruins of his castle. Is it any wonder that he bowed his face in silence upon them, and wet them with his tears.
For more than five minutes, he sat as still as if sleeping; then, in a mournful kind of way, yet almost noiselessly, he commenced restoring to the box, from which he had taken them, the many shaped pieces that, fitly joined together, had grown into a noble building. After the box was filled, he replaced the cover, and laid it carefully upon a shelf in the closet.
Poor child! That shadow was a deep one, and long in passing away. His mother found him, half an hour afterwards, asleep on the floor, with cheeks flushed to an unusual brightness. She knew nothing of that troubled passage in his young life; and the father had forgotten, in the attractions of his book, the momentary annoyance, expressed in words and tones with a power in them to shadow the heart of his child.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A young wife had busied herself for many days in preparing a pleasant surprise for her husband. The work was finished at last; and now she awaited his return, with a heart full of warm emotions. A dressing-gown, and pair of elegantly embroidered slippers, wrought by her own skillful fingers — were the gifts with which she meant to delight him. What a troop of pleasant imaginations was in her heart! How, almost impatiently, did she wait for the coming twilight, which was to be dawn, not approaching darkness, to her!
A last, she heard the step of her husband in the passage, and her pulse leaped with fluttering delight. Like a bird upon the wing, she almost flew down to meet him, impatient for the kiss which awaited her.
To men in the world of business, few days pass without their disappointments and perplexities. It is man's business to bear this in a manly spirit. They form but a portion of life's discipline, and should make them stronger, braver, and more enduring. Unwisely, and we may say unjustly, too many men fail to leave their business cares and troubles in their stores, workshops, or counting-rooms, at the day's decline. They wrap them in bundles, and carry them home to shadow their households.
It was so with the young husband on this particular occasion. The stream of business had taken an eddying whirl, and thrown his vessel backwards, instead of onwards, for a brief space; and, though it was still in the current, and gliding safely onwards again, the jar and disappointment had fretted his mind severely. There was no heart-warmth in the kiss he gave his wife, not because love had failed in any degree, but because he had let care overshadow love. He drew his arm around her; but she was conscious of a diminished pressure in that embracing arm.
"Are you not well?"
With what tender concern was the question asked!
He might be in body, but not in mind; that was plain; for his voice was far from being cheerful.
She played and sang his favorite pieces, hoping to restore, by the charm of music, brightness to his spirit. But she was conscious of only partial success. There was still a gravity in his manner never perceived before. At tea-time, she smiled upon him so sweetly across the table, and talked to him on such attractive themes, that the right expression returned to his countenance; and he looked as happy as she could desire.
From the tea-table, they returned to their pleasant parlor. And now the time had come for offering her gift, and receiving the coveted reward of glad surprise, followed by sweet kisses and loving words. Was she selfish? Did she think more of her reward than of the pleasure she would bestow? But that is questioning too closely.
"I will be back in a moment," she said; and, passing from the room, she went lightly up the stairs. Both tone and manner betrayed her secret, or rather the possession of a secret with which her husband was to be surprised. Scarcely had her loving face faded from before his eyes, when thought returned, with a single bound, to an unpleasant event of the day; and the waters of his spirit were again troubled. He had actually arisen, and crossed the floor once or twice, moved by a restless concern, when his wife came back with the dressing-gown and slippers. She was trying to force her countenance into a grave expression, to hold back the smiles that were continually striving to break in truant circles around her lips, when a single glance at her husband's face told her that the dark spirit, driven away by the exorcism of her love — had returned again to his bosom. He looked at her soberly, as she came forward.
"What are these?" he asked, almost coldly, repressing surprise, and affecting an ignorance, in regard to the beautiful present she held in her hands — which he did not feel.
"They are for you, dear. I made them."
"For me? Nonsense! What do I want with such jim-crackery? This is woman's wear. Do you think I would disfigure my feet with embroidered slippers, or dress up in a calico gown? Put them away, dear! Your husband is too much of a man to robe himself in mirthful colors, like a clown!" And he waved his hand with an air of contempt. There was a cold, sneering manner about him, partly affected and partly real — the real born of his uncomfortable state of mind. Yet he loved his sweet wife, and would not, of set purpose, have wounded her for the world.
This unexpected repulse — this cruel reception of her present, over which she had wrought, patiently, in golden hope for many days — this dashing to the earth, her brimful cup of joy, just as it touched her lips, was more than the fond young wife could bear. To hide the tears which came rushing to her eyes, she turned away from her husband; and, to conceal the sobs she had no power to repress, she went almost hurriedly from the room; and, going back to the chamber from whence she had brought the present, she laid it away out of sight in a closet. Then covering her face with her hands, she sat down, and strove with herself to be calm. But the shadow was too deep — the heartache too heavy.
In a little while her husband followed her, and discovering, something to his surprise, that she was weeping, said, in a slightly reproving voice: "Why, not in tears! What a silly little puss you are! Why didn't you tell me you thought of making a dressing-gown and pair of slippers, and I would have vetoed the matter at once? You couldn't hire me to wear such flaunting things. Come back to the parlor" — he took hold of her arm, and lifted her from the chair — "and sing and play for me. 'The Dream Waltz,' or 'The Tremolo,' or 'Dearest May,' or 'The Still Night' are worth more to me than forty dressing-gowns, or a cargo of embroidered slippers."
Almost by force, he led her back to the parlor, and placed her on the music-stool. He selected a favorite piece, and laid it before her. But tears were in her eyes; and she could not see a note. Over the keys her fingers passed in skillful touches; but, when she tried to take up the song, utterance failed; and sobs broke forth instead of words.
"How foolish!" said the husband, in a vexed tone. "I'm surprised at you!" And he turned from the piano, and walked across the room.
A little while, the sad young wife remained where she was left thus alone, and in partial anger. Then, rising, she went slowly from the room — her husband not seeking to restrain her — and, going to her chamber, sat down in darkness.
The shadow which had been cast upon her spirit was very deep; and, though the hidden sun came out again right early, it was a long time before his beams had power to scatter the clouds that floated in love's horizon.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The shadows we cast! Father, husband, wife, sister, brother, son, neighbor — are we not all casting shadows daily, on some hearts that are pining for the sunlight of our faces?
We have given you two pictures of life, true pictures, not as in a mirror, but in a kaleidoscope. In all their infinitely varied relations, men and women, selfishly, or thoughtlessly — from design, weakness, or ignorance — are casting their shadows upon hearts which are pining for sunlight. A word, a look, a tone, an act — will cast a shadow, and sadden a spirit for hours and days.
Speak kindly, act kindly, be forgetters of self, and regardful of others — and you will cast but few shadows along the paths of life. The Christian should always be tender of the feelings of others — always watchful, lest he wounds unintentionally. He should be always thinking, when with others, of their pleasure instead of his own. Be genuine Christians — and manifest all Christian graces and virtues; for then you will cast fewest shadows of all.