Wheat or Tares?
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858
"Wheat or tares — which are you sowing, Fanny, dear, in the mind of this sweet little fellow?" said Uncle Lincoln to his niece, Mrs. Howard, as he lifted a child not yet beyond his fourth summer upon his knee, and laid one of his hands amid the golden curls which fell about his neck, and clustered above his snowy temples.
"Wheat, I trust, Uncle Lincoln," replied Mrs. Howard, smiling, yet serious. "It is the enemy who sows tares — and I am his mother."
There was a glow of proud feeling in the countenance of Mrs. Howard, as she said, "I am his mother."
It was Mr. Lincoln's first visit to his niece since her marriage and removal to the city, some hundreds of miles away from her old home.
"Even a mother's hand may sow tares," said the old gentleman. "I have seen it done many times. Not of design, but in thoughtless inattention to the quality of the seed she holds in her hand. The enemy mixes tares with the wheat, quite as often as he scatters evil seed. The gardener must not only watch his fields by night and by day, but also the repositories of his grain, lest the enemy cause him to sow tares as well as wheat upon his own fruitful ground."
"Willie," said Mrs. Howard, speaking to her little boy about ten minutes afterwards, "don't upset my work-basket. Stop! Stop, you little rascal!"
Seeing that the wayward child did not mean to heed her words, the mother started forwards, but not in time to prevent the spools of cotton, scissors, needles, emery-cushion, etc., from being scattered about the floor.
Willie laughed in great glee at his exploit, while Mrs. Howard gathered up the contents of the work-basket, which she now placed on a shelf above the reach of her mischievous boy. Then she shook her finger at him in mock resentment, saying —
"You little rascal! If you do that again, I'll send you off with the milkman."
"Wheat or tares, Fanny?" Uncle Lincoln looked soberly at his niece.
"Neither," replied Mrs. Howard, smiling gayly.
"Tares," said Uncle Lincoln, emphatically.
"The tares of disobedience, Fanny. You have planted the seed — and it has already taken root. Nothing will choke out the wheat sooner. The tares of falsehood, you also threw in upon the newly-broken soil. "What are you thinking, young lady?"
"The tares of falsehood, Uncle Lincoln! What are you thinking, Uncle?" said Mrs. Howard, in real surprise.
"Did you not say that you would send him off with the milkman if he did so again? I wonder if he believed you?"
"Of course he did not."
"Then," said Uncle Lincoln, "he has already discovered that his mother makes but light account of truth. Will his mother be surprised, if he should grow to set small value upon his word?"
"You treat the matter too seriously, uncle. He knows that I am only playing with him."
"He knows that you are telling him what is not true," replied Mr. Lincoln.
"It was only in sport," said Fanny, persistently.
"But in sport with sharp-edged instruments — playing with deadly poisons." The old gentleman looked and spoke with the seriousness which oppressed his feelings. "Fanny! Fanny! Truth and obedience are good seeds; falsehood and disobedience are tares from the Evil One. Whatever you plant in the garden of your child's mind will grow — and the harvest will be wheat or tares, just as you have sown."
Mrs. Howard did not reply, but her countenance took on a sober cast.
"Willie," said she, a few minutes afterwards, "go down to Jane and tell her to bring me a glass of water."
Willie, who was amusing himself with some pictures, looked up on hearing his name. But as he did not feel like going off to the kitchen, he made no response, and let his eyes return to the pictures, in which he had become interested.
"Willie!" (Mrs. Howard spoke with decision), "did you hear me?"
"I don't want to go," answered Willie.
"Go this minute!"
"Go, I say!"
"Afraid of what?" inquired the mother.
"Afraid of the cat."
"No, you are not. The cat never hurt you, nor anybody else."
"I'm afraid of the milkman. You said he would carry me off."
"The milkman is not downstairs," said Mrs. Howard, her face beginning to crimson; "he only comes in the morning."
"Yes, he is. I heard his wagon a little while ago, and he's talking with Jane now. Don't you hear him?" The little fellow put on, with remarkable skill, all the semblances of truth in his tone and expression.
Mrs. Howard did not look towards her uncle; she was afraid to do that.
"Willie," (the mother spoke very seriously), "you know the milkman is not downstairs; and you know that you are not afraid of the cat. What you have said, therefore, is not true; and it is wicked to utter a lie."
"Ho! ho!" laughed out the bright-eyed little fellow, evidently amused at his own sharpness, "then you're wicked, for you tell what is not true every day."
"The milkman hasn't carried me off yet!"
There was a world of meaning in Willie's countenance and voice.
You haven't whipped me for throwing my cap out of the window."
"Willie!" ejaculated the astonished mother.
"Did you see that?" and the young rebel drew a fine mosaic breast-pin from his pocket, which he had positively been forbidden to touch, and held it up with a look of mingled triumph and defiance.
"You little wretch!" exclaimed Mrs. Howard; "this is going too far!" and springing towards her boy, she grappled him in her arms, and fled with him, struggling from the room.
It was a quarter of an hour before she returned, alone, to the apartment where she had left her uncle. Her face was sober, and her eyes betrayed recent tears.
"Wheat or tares, Fanny?" said the old gentleman, in kind but earnest tones, as his niece came back.
"Tares," was the half-mournful response.
"Wheat is better, Fanny."
"I see it, uncle."
"And in the future, you will look well to the seed in your hand, before you scatter it upon the heart of your child."
"God helping me, I will, dear uncle."
"Remember, Fanny," said Mr. Lincoln, "that truth and obedience are good seed. Plant them, and the harvest-time will come in blessing. As a Christian mother, this is one of your highest and most sacred duties. God has given you a child that you may raise him for Heaven; and he has furnished you with an abundant supply of the precious seeds of love, truth, tenderness, and mercy to sow in his mind. Oh, scatter them broadcast over the rich soil prepared to receive them, and they will take root, spring up, and bear an abundance of good fruit in the harvest-time of his life."