Three New Years Eves
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
The First New Years Eve
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews had been married only a few months, and this was their first New Year's Eve. Theirs was truly a marriage of affection, and congenial tastes drew closer the bonds by which they were united. Familiarity with the best authors had developed the mind of Mr. Andrews intellectually; while a thorough business education gave him a confidence in his own ability to make his way in the world, and left him undisturbed about the future. Mrs. Andrews had been carefully reared by a widowed mother, now removed from her by death, and had experienced just enough of the trials of self-dependence to feel the real comforts of her new position.
The home in which they found themselves on this, the first New Year's Eve of their married life, suited, in all respects, their unambitious tastes. It was not large, nor elegantly furnished, in the modern acceptation of that term; but light from their happy hearts was reflected on every object, making all beautiful in their eyes.
The intellectual tastes of Mr. Andrews had led him, in the arrangement of his new home, to set apart one small room as a library, and here most of the evenings of the young couple were spent. And it was here they had shut themselves in from the world on their first New Year's Eve — the husband reading aloud from a favorite book, and the happy young wife listening to his manly voice, and treasuring in her memory the sentiments that fell from his lips, while her fingers busied themselves with some elegant needlework.
This home was their Paradise, into which the tempter had not yet found an entrance. This was their world, beyond which thought had not yet strayed, nor imagination pictured a scene more desirable. Without was the desolation of winter; but within, the sunshine of love made all bright as an Arcadian summer. Thus it was on their first New Year's Eve.
The Second New Years Eve
They are in the warm library, as they were on the last New Year's Eve. The husband is sitting with a book before him, but not reading, though thought seems busied in its pages. Yet, thought is far away from that quiet place, busying itself with some scheme of worldly gain. Since last year, he has become more absorbed in trade, and more ambitious to rise in the world; and, as a consequence, less interested in things purely intellectual. Many times since that first happy New Year's Eve, has his wife gone up to her chamber, after parting with him for the day, and wept as if her heart would break. And why? He had forgotten the parting kiss, or laid his lips to hers so coldly, that the touch chilled, instead of warming her heart. Oh! how many times had a doubt of his love come over her, filling her soul with anguish!
The pleasant library has another inhabitant — a babe sleeping in its warm cradle. And above this angel visitant, the mother bends and feasts her eyes upon its beauty. A new spring of joy has gushed forth in her spirit — new capacities for enjoyment have been created therein.
In some things, this eve is happier than the last; yet over the brightness of the scene, a flitting shadow passes — for the world has come with its tempting bribes, and the heart of Mr. Andrews is not armored against them.
What we love, comes to the lips in speech. Mr. Andrews's desire to achieve large success in business, often led him to speak of what came first in his thoughts. Many times he had talked with his wife about his future, and gradually inspired her mind with something of the ambition that filled his own. And this evening, while the babe slumbered, they talked of the coming year, and the large gains that were expected by the husband. More than once it was on his lips to speak of a better house, and more elegant home-surroundings; but a recollection of the happy hours they had spent in the pleasant room they occupied, caused him to repress the words.
The Next New Years Eve
Three more years have passed with their joys and sorrows.
"We are on the last hours of the year," said Mrs. Andrews, with a shadow of sadness in her voice, as she took up some needlework, and drew near the light, where her husband sat with a newspaper in his hands, apparently reading. She had just returned from the chambers above, after seeing their three children safely in bed.
"Yes," repeated Mr. Andrews, gloomily; "on the last hours of the year."
"It has not been as happy a year as were the previous ones," said Mrs. Andrews. "You have had more trouble in business, and, somehow, things have been going wrong at home all the time. I don't know what's come over me, but little matters, that once had no power to disturb, now ruffle my feelings sadly. And, then, there's no concealing the fact, that the children grow more ungovernable every day; and what is worse, quarrel dreadfully among themselves."
Mr. Andrews made no reply, for the words of his wife brought up from the past images of home-scenes, singularly in contrast with the real things of the year just sighing out the last hours of its existence. No; home had not been as happy as during the previous years.
And why was this? There had been trouble in business, and the husband had not always thrown the weight of cares at day's decline, and brought a cheerful heart and sunny countenance home with him. Yet he might have done this; for the trouble was such as ever comes with increasing business, and should have found a compensation in increasing gains. Had he wisely left the day's cares and perplexities at his place of business when the doors were shut at night, and let home-affections, and a loving interest in the treasured ones of his household, find their true activity — his presence would have been like warm sunshine, dispelling clouds and shadows. But, he was setting his heart upon the world, more and more, every day; and as worldly interests increased, care and anxiety increased also, for this is one of the penalties nearly all men pay for prosperity.
He had met with some unexpected losses, and more than one carefully planned operation had entirely failed. This was the trouble in business to which his wife referred; and of which she had felt the disturbing influence at home.
On her part, the trouble had also been experienced. She, too, was setting her heart on external things, and hoping to find therein rest and peace. The home in which, during the earlier years of her married life, she had enjoyed so much of real happiness — had grown poor and mean in her eyes, under the stronger light of opening prosperity — must needs be changed for one larger and more elegant.
Richer clothing, new and costly furniture, and many things for external show followed — all absorbing her thoughts, and all bringing more or less disturbing influences.
In the choice of a new house, there had been a difference of opinion between Mrs. Andrews and her husband, resulting in much unhappiness on both sides. He preferred one part of the city, and she another; he a roomy, but not very costly house; she one of rather imposing appearance, more ornamental than comfortable. Her will was strongest, and her wishes prevailed. But, in the conquest, if it might so be called, she lost more than she gained; for she lost a portion of her husband's affection. And her heart's quick instincts were not long in discovering the fact.
The new house, new furniture, and new friends that suddenly sprang up, absorbed a large portion of Mrs. Andrews's time, as well as thoughts — to the neglect of her children, and loss of real comfort in the household. But neglected children are not passive subjects; nor neglect in matters of domestic comfort a thing of indifference. They will exist as painful realities; and this Mrs. Andrews soon proved, to her sorrow.
This, in brief, is a history of the year, in the waning light of which the husband and wife sat sighing over their disappointed hopes.
"Do you remember our first New Year's Eve?" said Mrs. Andrews, in a voice that some vivid recollection of the past had made tremulous with feeling. This was after a long silence.
For a few moments, her husband looked at her before replying. Her question had thrown his thoughts back, and now the memory of a happier time was present.
"There have been none like it since, Anna." The words were spoken earnestly, but sadly. "And yet," he added, after a thoughtful silence, "this ought not to be. The years should grow brighter with sunshine; not darker with clouds. Something is wrong. Why, as the time goes on, should the pressure of care grow heavier; and our spirits, that desire rest and peace, find the ocean of life more vexed with storms, as the ship advances? Yes, Anna, I do remember that first New Year's Eve. Alas! how unlike the present!"
"We were poorer in this world's goods, but richer in love," said Mrs. Andrews. "That dear little library! There was a charm about it, never found in any of our richer apartments. The heart's warm sunshine fell all around it, and made every object beautiful."
"Something is wrong." Mr. Andrews repeated the words more earnestly. "If, since that first pleasant New Year's Eve, the sky above us has grown colder, the path rougher, and our hearts sadder — we cannot be on the road to happiness. If, with every advancing step, the sunshine continues to fade, we must be on the road to darkness, and not light."
"The light has grown dimmer, and yet we have been looking for the morning to break in brilliant sunshine!"
"Our external condition is improved," said Mr. Andrews. "We have a better home, and my business has greatly enlarged; yet, neither of these changes has brought the anticipated pleasure. You are not as happy amid all these elegant surroundings, and I am less satisfied with large gains in business, than I was when my income reached scarcely a third of its present amount. Yes, yes, something is wrong — and it behooves us to look well to our ways. If these are the penalties we pay for an improved worldly condition — then wealth must be a curse, instead of a blessing."
"If we set our hearts upon it," replied Mrs. Andrews, "it will prove a curse. And, dear husband, may not our error lie just here?"
Mr. Andrews did not reply for some minutes, during which time thought was very busy. He then said,
"It does lie just where you say, Anna. I am building too much on the mere accumulation of wealth, as a means of happiness, and you are permitting your eyes to be dazzled by the surface-glitter of the world around you. We are placing our highest good in mere external things, to the almost total neglect of what is internal, and therefore more real. What are wealth and elegance? what are honor and reputation? what are fine houses and grand villas — if the heart is dissatisfied? If each returning New Year's Eve find us sadder than before — are we not living in vain?"
"Dear husband!" said Mrs. Andrews, "let us begin the New Year in a wiser and better life. Come home to me, as of old, leaving the world and its cares behind you; and I will strive, with an earnest spirit, to disperse all clouds, so that the sunshine may come in, as of old. Let us find, in every passing day, the treasure it brings to our door, and not lose the blessings we have, in a vain longing after some mere ideal worldly good."
As they talked, the weight of sadness was lifted from their spirits. Even in truer thoughts and better purposes, there comes a measure of peace to the troubled heart; how much more, if thought and purpose give birth to action!
The evening closed more brightly than it began. Peace fluttered again above their hearts, seeking therein a nestling-place.
"We will not forget the world within us — for the world without," said Mr. Andrews, closing the pages of a book, in which he read aloud to his wife, as on their first New Year's Eve. "We must not exchange the internal — for the external; the riches of mind and heart — for the wealth that perishes in the using. Our feet have gone astray; but we are not such distant wanderers from the right path, that we may not find it again!"
Have you wandered, like them, reader, from the pleasant ways of life! Have you made the external of more importance than the internal? If so, pause, as the year wanes, and resolve to begin the next year in a wiser subordination of things natural and worldly, to things moral, intellectual, and spiritual. Doing so, you will find that, while you have seemed to see dimly, in the far distance, the beautiful garments of peace — the fair goddess was knocking at the door of your heart, and vainly seeking an entrance.
"For godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs!" 1 Timothy 6:6-10.