Words Fitly Spoken
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1861
"Have you called to see Mr. Parsons?" asked Mrs. Fuller, addressing her husband.
"Not yet. The fact is, I feel rather timid about going to see him. If I could help him; if I had any suggestions to make, or anything to offer him — it would be different. But his trouble is beyond my ability to reach. Some men are peculiarly sensitive when things go wrong with them. I know how it is with myself. He might consider my visit an intrusion."
Mrs. Fuller thought differently. She did not see the case from her husband's point of view.
"Most people," she replied, "are grateful for any manifested interest in time of grief or trouble, if it is sincere. They easily discriminate between curious intrusion and genuine sympathy."
"Very true," answered Mr. Fuller. "But a man in Mr. Parsons' s condition needs something more than sympathy. He needs help!"
"Perhaps you can help him," said Mrs. Fuller.
"Mel" The surprise of Mr. Fuller was sincere.
"Help comes by many ways. You may be able to suggest the very thing he needs."
"To a man who has been living for the last ten years at an expense three or four times greater than my whole income! O, no! I can't help him. If I had ten thousand dollars to spare, there would be some sense in my calling upon him."
But Mrs. Fuller did not see it in this light.
"Self-help is the surest help," she returned. "A quick, suggestive mind, may get more of the true material of prosperity from a timely hint, than from thousands of dollars."
"Not from any hint of mine. It's of no use for you to argue with me in that direction," said the husband. "Parsons can teach me twenty things — where I can teach him one."
"And your one may be of more use to him — than his twenty to you," said Mrs. Fuller.
The woman saw that she was right, and did not yield. Correctness is very persevering. After tea — for it was in the evening — Mrs. Fuller drifted upon the subject of their unfortunate neighbor again, and insisted that it was her husband's duty to make him a call.
"If I could see any use in it," answered Mr. Fuller. "If I had any suggestions to make that would be of value to him."
"It will be of use for him to know that you have not forgotten an old friend and neighbor," replied Mrs. Fuller. "There will be many people who will stand afar off — look on him coldly, or pass him by as of but small account to the world, seeing that he no longer has his old monetary value."
In the end, Mrs. Fuller prevailed. Her husband, after concluding to make the visit, thought he would defer it until the next evening; but she urged that the present hour for a kind act, was the best hour.
It was after eight o'clock when Fuller stood at Mr. Parsons's door. He felt sure that his visit would be considered an intrusion, if not an impertinence — that Mr. Parsons would see in it a rude intimation that they were now on the same social level. His hand grasped the bell, but he hesitated to ring. If the thought of his wife, and what she would say if he went home without accomplishing the errand that took him out, had not crossed his mind — he would have turned away from the door. But that thought stimulated his wavering purpose, and the bell was rung.
A servant showed him into the library, where he found Mr. Parsons alone. He had anticipated a cold and formal reception — he was prepared for it; but not for the light of pleasure that beamed in Mr. Parsons' s countenance, nor for the cordial hand-clasp with which he was received.
The two men sat down by the library table, on which were packages of letters, accounts, legal papers, and other evidences going to show that Mr. Parsons had business on hand when his visitor called.
"I fear this may be an interruption," said Mr. Fuller glancing at the table.
"No, your coming is welcome and timely. I was just wishing for a cool, clear-seeing, conscientious friend with whom to take counsel; and I believe you are the man. You know that I am in financial trouble?"
"The failure of Lawrence & James involves everything I have. I am on their paper, for more than I am worth."
"But they will have assets. The loss will not be complete."
"In the mean time, being under protest on their paper, my credit is gone. The banks throw me out, and I can only get money on the street at ruinously high rates. To struggle longer, would be folly. Today my own bills went into the Notary's hand."
"So I have heard."
"Such news flies through business circles with electric swiftness. Well, the agony is over; the dread trial is past. My name is dishonored — I am a broken merchant."
His voice expressed bitterness of feeling.
"Commercial dishonor is one thing — personal dishonor is another," said Mr. Fuller.
Mr. Parsons looked away from the face of his visitor. He moved with a slight gesture of uneasiness — a shadow went over his countenance.
"Men who go down into the valley of misfortune," added Mr. Fuller, "tread on slippery ground. They must look well to their feet."
There was no response to this.
"On safer ground," continued Mr. Fuller, "we may recover a false step; but here it is very difficult; sometimes impossible. We are no longer masters of the situation. It will not do to risk anything."
Still Mr. Parsons remained silent with his face turned partly away.
"All doubtful expedients should be avoided," Mr. Fuller went on, following out the train of thought which had been suggested to his mind. "They are never safe, under the most favorable circumstances; but when misfortune limits and cripples a man, they almost always fail, and leave him more unhappily situated than before."
"Unquestionably you are right," said Mr. Parsons, taking a deep breath. He spoke partly to himself. From his tone, it was plain that he was thinking intently. "When a man gets into trouble," he added, "it is of the first importance to him to show a clear record. As the case now stands, I think mine is clear. I will be misjudged, no doubt. All men are, who fail in business. The first impression is against them. How ready is the tongue of the slanderer to whisper, 'There's something wrong!' It is difficult for certain men, when they lose their money, to believe in anything but roguery."
"Being rogues at heart themselves," said Mr. Fuller.
"No; that does not always follow. I have known some very honest men to be severe on their debtors, and quick to judge them harshly."
"Did you ever see these 'honest' men tried in the crucible of misfortune? Did you ever see them amidst their falling fortunes — bewildered, half blind, grappling this way and that for help, like drowning men?"'
"I cannot now recall an instance," said Mr. Parsons.
"I can," replied his visitor — "many instances; and the clear record of which you speak, did not always appear when the struggle was over."
Mr. Parsons sighed heavily. "These are difficult waters to navigate," he remarked, in a tone of sadness, not unmingled with doubt and perplexity. "The man is in danger of losing his integrity."
"But with honor at the helm, and rectitude for pilot, the passage is safe."
"And faith in God!" said Mr. Parsons, speaking as from a sudden impulse. His countenance lighted up; his eyes grew calm and steady.
"Yes, faith in God always," replied Mr. Fuller. "He is very near to us, especially in trouble; and if we decide to do right, he will show us what is right. We must not hesitate to put our trust in him. No matter how dark it may be; no matter how many lions are in the path of duty — our safest way is right onward. If we turn aside, our souls are in peril."
After sitting with Mr. Parsons for an hour, Mr. Fuller went home. Their conversation had been of the general character we have seen, concerning mainly on those principles which lie at the basis of all right actions.
"It was kind in you to call," said the former, as his visitor retired. "I think you have helped me to see some things in a strong light, which were obscure before. It is often very dark with men so hard pressed as I am — with men who grope amid the ruins of a falling fortune. Friendly counsel is good for them. Come and see me again!"
It was, perhaps, a month later that Mr. Fuller, urged once more by his wife, called upon Mr. Parsons. He was one of your diffident, retiring men, who are always afraid of intruding themselves. His wife, who knew his worth as a man, and understood his true value among men, was always disposed to push him outside of himself, and farther into the social circle than he was inclined, of his own accord, to go.
"Ah, Mr. Fuller! I am glad to see you! Why have you not called before?" was the warm greeting he received. Mr. Parsons still had a care-worn look, but his manner was more cheerful and confident.
"I have had it on my thought many times; but I did not wish to intrude myself."
"Your calls can never be regarded as intrusions, Mr. Fuller," was replied, with much earnestness of manner. "No, never," was added. "I think your visit, one month ago, at a time when I was in great darkness and bewilderment, was a direct interposition of Divine Providence. When you called, I was deeply revolving a scheme that promised extrication. It was not a very safe scheme; it was hardly just — nay, it was not just, for, if it had failed, it would have involved in loss, people in no way concerned in my affairs at the time. That it must have failed, is now clear to me, and I would not only have hurt myself, but given fair cause for a harsh judgment. But today, Mr. Fuller, I bear a clear conscience. I am right with myself, and can look every man I meet fairly in the face. I have thanked you, a hundred times, for your fitly spoken words. They were as apples of gold in pictures of silver."
"And yet I came with great reluctance, fearing to intrude," said Mr. Fuller.
"If we mean kindly — we shall rarely intrude," was answered. "When we get it trouble, our friends and neighbors are too apt to recede from us; not from lack of interest or sympathy, I am sure — but from a false impression that we are sullen, morose, or full of sensitive pride, and will repel advances. But it is not so. Misfortune sweeps off a great deal of pride, and mellows the heart. There are few men in trouble, who will consider the call of an old friend or acquaintance, as untimely.
Thousands, I am persuaded, might be saved from false steps, if their friends would come close about them and help them to find the right path for their straying and stumbling feet. In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom. I speak feelingly, for I know how it has been with myself. My feet were just about turning aside, when you showed me the right way — and I thank God that he gave me the courage to walk therein. I shall ever hold you in grateful remembrance as one of my best friends!