The Thankless Office
by Timothy Shay Arthur
"An object of real charity," said Andrew Lyon to his wife, as a poor woman withdrew from the room in which they were seated.
"If ever there was a worthy object, she is one," returned Mrs. Lyon. "A widow, with health so feeble that even ordinary exertion is too much for her; yet obliged to support, with the labor of her own hands, not only herself, but three young children. I do not wonder that she is behind with her rent."
"Nor I," said Mr. Lyon in a voice of sympathy. "How much did she say was due to her landlord?"
"She will not be able to pay it."
"I fear not. How can she? I give her all my extra sewing, and have obtained work for her from several ladies; but, with her best efforts, she can barely obtain food and decent clothing for herself and babes."
"Does it not seem hard," remarked Mr. Lyon, "that one like Mrs. Arnold, who is so earnest in her efforts to take care of herself and family, should not receive a helping hand from some one of the many who could help her without feeling the effort? If I didn't find it so hard to make both ends meet, I would pay off her arrears of rent for her, and feel happy in so doing."
"Ah!" exclaimed the kind-hearted wife, "how much I wish that we were able to do this. But we are not."
"I'll tell you what we can do," said Mr. Lyon, in a cheerful voice — "or, rather what I can do. It will be a very light matter for, say ten people, to give a dollar a-piece, in order to relieve Mrs. Arnold from her present trouble. There are plenty who would cheerfully contribute for this good purpose; all that is needed is someone to take upon himself the business of making the collections. That task shall be mine."
"How glad, James, to hear you say so," smilingly replied Mrs. Lyon. "Oh! what a relief it will be to poor Mrs. Arnold. It will make her heart as light as a feather. That rent has troubled her sadly. Old Links, her landlord, has been worrying her about it a good deal, and, only a week ago, threatened to put her things in the street if she didn't pay up."
"I should have thought of this before," remarked Andrew Lyon. "There are hundreds of people who are willing enough to give — if they were only certain in regard to the object. Here is one worthy enough in every way. Be it my business, to present her claims to benevolent consideration. Let me see. To whom shall I go? There are Jones, and Green, and Tompkins. I can get a dollar from each of them. That will be three dollars — and one from myself, will make four. Who else is there? Oh! Malcolm! I'm sure of a dollar from him; and, also, from Smith, Todd, and Perry."
Confident in the success of his benevolent scheme, Mr. Lyon started forth, early on the very next day, for the purpose of obtaining, by donation, the poor widow's rent. The first person he called on was Malcolm.
"Ah, friend Lyon," said Malcolm, smiling blandly. "Good morning! What can I do for you today?"
"Nothing for me, but something for a poor widow, who is behind with her rent," replied Andrew Lyon. "I want just one dollar from you, and as much more from some eight or nine as benevolent as yourself."
At the words "poor widow," the countenance of Malcolm fell, and when his visitor ceased, he replied in a changed and husky voice, clearing his throat two or three times as he spoke,
"Are you sure she is deserving, Mr. Lyon?" The man's manner had become exceedingly grave.
"None more so," was the prompt answer. "She is in poor health, and has three children to support with the product of her needle. If anyone needs assistance, it is Mrs. Arnold."
"Oh! ah! The widow of Jacob Arnold."
"The same," replied Andrew Lyon.
Malcolm's face did not brighten with a feeling of heart-warm benevolence. But, he turned slowly away, and opening his money-drawer, very slowly, toyed with his fingers amid its contents. At length he took therefrom a dollar bill, and said, as he presented it to Lyon — sighing involuntarily as he did so —
"I suppose I must do my part. But, we are called upon so often."
The ardor of Andrew Lyon's benevolent feelings, suddenly cooled at this unexpected reception. He had entered upon his work under the glow of a pure enthusiasm; anticipating a hearty response the moment his errand was made known.
"I thank you in the widow's name," said he, as he took the dollar. When he turned from Mr. Malcolm's store, it was with a pressure on his feelings, as if he had asked the coldly-given favor for himself.
It was not without an effort that Lyon compelled himself to call upon Mr. Green, considered the "next best man" on his list. But he entered his place of business with far less confidence than he had felt when calling upon Malcolm. His story told, Green without a word or smile, drew two half dollars from his pocket, and presented them.
"Thank you," said Lyon.
"You're welcome," returned Green.
Oppressed with a feeling of embarrassment, Lyon stood for a few moments. Then bowing, he said —
"Good day," was coldly and formally responded.
And thus the alms-seeker and alms-giver parted.
"Better be at his shop, attending to his work," muttered Green to himself, as his visitor retired. "Men aren't very apt to get along too well in the world, who spend their time in begging for every object of charity that happens to turn up. And there are plenty of such. He's got a dollar out of me; may it do him, or the poor widow he talked so glibly about, much good."
Cold water had been poured upon the feelings of Andrew Lyon. He had raised two dollars for the poor widow, but, at what a sacrifice for one so sensitive as himself. Instead of keeping on in his work of benevolence, he went to his shop, and entered upon the day's employment. How disappointed he felt — and this disappointment was mingled with a certain sense of humiliation, as if he had been asking alms for himself.
"Catch me at this work again!" he said, half aloud, as his thoughts dwelt upon what had so recently occurred. "But this is not right," he added, quickly. "It is a weakness in me to feel so. Poor Mrs. Arnold must be relieved; and it is my duty to see that she gets relief. I had no thought of a reception like this. People can talk of benevolence; but putting the hand in the pocket is another affair altogether. I never dreamed that such men as Malcolm and Green, could be so insensible to an appeal like the one I made."
"I've got two dollars towards paying Mrs. Arnold's rent," he said to himself, in a more cheerful tone, sometime afterwards; "and it will go hard if I don't raise the whole amount for her. All are not like Green and Malcolm. Jones is a kind-hearted man, and will instantly respond to the call of humanity. I'll go and see him."
So, off Andrew Lyon started to see this individual.
"I've come begging, Mr. Jones," said he, on meeting him. And he spoke in a frank, pleasant manner.
"Then you've come to the wrong shop; that's all I have to say," was the blunt answer.
"Don't say that, Mr. Jones. Hear my story, first."
"I do say it, and I'm in earnest," returned Jones. "I feel as poor as Job's turkey, today."
"I only want a dollar to help a poor widow pay her rent," said Lyon.
"Oh, hang all the poor widows! If that's your game, you'll get nothing here. I've got my hands full to pay my own rent. A nice time I'd have in handing out a dollar to every poor widow in town to help pay her rent! No, no, my friend, you can't get anything here."
"Just as you feel about it," said Andrew Lyon. "There's no compulsion in the matter."
"No, I presume not," was rather coldly replied.
Lyon returned to his shop, still more disheartened than before. He had undertaken a thankless office.
Nearly two hours elapsed before his resolution to persevere in the good work he had begun, came back with sufficient force to prompt to another effort. Then he dropped in upon his neighbor Tompkins, to whom he made known his errand.
"Why, yes, I suppose I must do something in a case like this," said Tompkins, with the tone and air of a man who was cornered. "But, there are so many calls for charity, that we are naturally enough led to hold on pretty tightly to our purse strings. Poor woman! I feel sorry for her. How much do you want?"
"I am trying to get ten people, including myself, to give a dollar each."
"Well, here's my dollar." And Tompkins forced a smile to his face as he handed over his contribution — but the smile did not conceal an expression which said very plainly —
"I hope you will not trouble me again in this way."
"You may be sure I will not," muttered Lyon, as he went away. He fully understood the meaning of the expression.
Only one more application, did the kind-hearted man make. It was successful; but, there was something in the manner of the individual who gave his dollar, that Lyon felt as a rebuke.
"And so poor Mrs. Arnold did not get the whole of her arrears of rent paid off," said someone who has felt an interest in her favor.
Oh, yes she did. Mr. Lyon begged five dollars, and added five more from his own slender purse. But, he cannot be induced again to undertake the thankless office of seeking relief from the benevolent, for a fellow creature in need. He has learned that a great many who refuse alms on the plea that the object presented is not worthy, are but little more inclined to charitable deeds, when on this point there is no question.
How many who read this, can sympathize with Andrew Lyon. Few men who have hearts to feel for others but have been impelled, at some time in their lives, to seek aid for a fellow-creature in need. That their office was a thankless one, they have too soon become aware. Even those who responded to their call most liberally, in too many instances, gave in a way which left an unpleasant impression behind. How quickly has the first glow of generous feeling, which sought to extend itself to others, that they might share the pleasure of humanity, been chilled; and, instead of finding the task an easy one, it has proved to be hard, and, too often, humiliating! Alas, that this should be! That men should shut their hearts so instinctively, at the voice of charity.
We have not written this to discourage active efforts in the benevolent; but to hold up a mirror in which another class may see themselves. At best, the office of him who seeks aid from his fellow-men for the suffering and indigent, is an unpleasant one. It is all sacrifice on his part, and the least that can be done is to honor his unselfish regard for others in distress, and treat him with delicacy and consideration.