T. S. Arthur
The Good Time Coming
LIFE is a mystery to all men, and the more profound the deeper the striving spirit is immersed in its own selfish instincts. How earnestly do we all fix our eyes upon the slowly-advancing future, impatiently waiting that good time coming which never comes! How fast the years glide by, beginning in hope and ending in disappointment! Strange that we gain so little of true wisdom amid the sharp disappointments that meet us at almost every turn! How keenly the writer has suffered with the rest, need not be told. It will be enough to say that he, too, has long been an anxious waiter for the "good time coming," which has not yet arrived.
But hope should not die because of our disappointments. There is a good time coming, and for each one of us, if we work and wait for it; but we must work patiently, and look in the right direction. Perhaps our meaning will be plainer after our book is read.
THERE was not a cloud in all the bright blue sky, nor a shadow upon the landscape that lay in beauty around the lovely home of Edward Markland; a home where Love had folded her wings, and Peace sought a perpetual abiding-place. The evening of a mild summer day came slowly on, with its soft, cool airs, that just dimpled the shining river, fluttered the elm and maple leaves, and gently swayed the aspiring heads of the old poplars, which, though failing at the root, still lifted, like virtuous manhood, their greenest branches to heaven.
In the broad porch, around every chaste column of which twined jessamine, rose, or honeysuckle, filling the air with a delicious fragrance beyond the perfumer's art to imitate, moved to and fro, with measured step and inverted thought, Edward Markland, the wealthy owner of all the fair landscape spreading for acres around the elegant mansion he had built as the home of his beloved ones.
"Edward." Love's sweetest music was in the voice that uttered his name, and love's purest touch in the hand that lay upon his arm.
A smile broke over the grave face of Markland, as he looked down tenderly into the blue eyes of his Agnes.
"I never tire of this," said the gentle-hearted wife, in whose spirit was a tuneful chord for every outward touch of beauty; "it looks as lovely now as yesterday; it was as lovely yesterday as the day my eyes first drank of its sweetness. Hush!"
A bird had just alighted on a slender spray a few yards distant, and while yet swinging on the elastic bough, poured forth a gush of melody.
"What a thrill of gladness was in that song, Edward! It was a spontaneous thank-offering to Him, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground; to Him who clothes the fields in greenness, beautifies the lily, and provides for every creature its food in season. And this reminds me;" she added in a changed and more sobered voice, "that our thank-offering for infinite mercies lies in deeds, not heart-impulses nor word-utterances. I had almost forgotten poor Mrs. Elder."
And as Mrs. Markland said this, she withdrew her hand from her husband's arm, and glided into the house, leaving his thoughts to flow back into the channel from which they had been turned.
In vain for him did Nature clothe herself, on that fair day, in garments of more than usual beauty. She wooed the owner of Woodbine Lodge with every enticement she could offer; but he saw not her charms; felt not the strong attractions with which she sought to win his admiration. Far away his thoughts were wandering, and in the dim distance Fancy was busy with half-defined shapes, which her plastic hand, with rapid touches, moulded into forms that seemed instinct with a purer life, and to glow with a more ravishing beauty than any thing yet seen in the actual he had made his own. And as these forms became more and more vividly pictured in his imagination, the pace of Edward Markland quickened; and all the changing aspects of the man showed him to be in the ardour of a newly-forming life-purpose.
It was just five years since he commenced building Woodbine Lodge and beautifying its surroundings. The fifteen preceding years were spent in the earnest pursuit of wealth, as the active partner in a large mercantile establishment. Often, during these busy fifteen years, had he sighed for ease and "elegant leisure;" for a rural home far away from the jar, and strife, and toil incessant by which he was surrounded. Beyond this he had no aspiration. That "lodge in the wilderness," as he sometimes vaguely called it, was the bright ideal of his fancy. There, he would often say to himself—
"How blest could I live, and how calm could I die!"
And daily, as the years were added, each bringing its increased burdens of care and business, would he look forward to the "good time coming," when he could shut behind him forever the doors of the warehouse and counting-room, and step forth a free man. Of the strife for gain and the sharp contests in business, where each seeks advantages over the other, his heart was weary, and he would often sigh in the ears of his loving home-companion, "Oh! for the wings of a dove, that I might fly away and be at rest!"
And at length this consummation of his hopes came. A year of unusual prosperity swelled his gains to the sum he had fixed as reaching his desires; and, with a sense of pleasure never before experienced, he turned all his affections and thoughts to the creation of an earthly paradise, where, with his heart and home treasures around him, he could, "the world forgetting, by the world forgot," live a truer, better, happier life, than was possible amid the city's din, or while breathing the ever-disturbed and stifling atmosphere of business.
And now his work of creation at Woodbine Lodge was complete. Everywhere the hand of taste was visible—everywhere. You could change nothing without marring the beauty of the whole. During all the years in which Mr. Markland devoted himself to the perfecting of Woodbine Lodge, there was in his mind just so much of dissatisfaction with the present, as made the looked-for period, when all should be finished according to the prescriptions of taste, one in which there would be for him almost a Sabbath-repose.
How was it with Mr. Markland? All that he had prescribed as needful to give perfect happiness was attained. Woodbine Lodge realized his own ideal; and every one who looked upon it, called it an Eden of beauty. His work was ended; and had he found rest and sweet peace? Peace! Gentle spirit! Already she had half-folded her wings; but, startled by some uncertain sound, she was poised again, and seemed about to sweep the yielding air with her snowy pinions.
The enjoyment of all he had provided as a means of enjoyment did not come in the measure anticipated. Soon mere beauty failed to charm the eye, and fragrance to captivate the senses; for mind immortal rests not long in the fruition of any achievement, but quickly gathers up its strength for newer efforts. And so, as we have seen, Edward Markland, amid all the winning blandishments that surrounded him on the day when introduced to the reader, neither saw, felt, nor appreciated what, as looked to from the past's dim distance, formed the Beulah of his hopes.
A FEW minutes after Mrs. Markland left her husband's side, she stepped from the house, carrying a small basket in one hand, and leading a child, some six or seven years old, with the other.
"Are you going over to see Mrs. Elder?" asked the child, as they moved down the smoothly-graded walk.
"Yes, dear," was answered.
"I don't like to go there," said the child.
"Why not, Aggy." The mother's voice was slightly serious.
"Every thing is so mean and poor."
"Can Mrs. Elder help that, Aggy?"
"I don't know."
"She's sick, my child, and not able even to sit up. The little girl who stays with her can't do much. I don't see how Mrs. Elder can help things looking mean and poor; do you?"
"No, ma'am," answered Aggy, a little bewildered by what her mother said.
"I think Mrs. Elder would be happier if things were more comfortable around her; don't you, Aggy?"
"Let us try, then, you and I, to make her happier."
"What can I do?" asked little Aggy, lifting a wondering look to her mother's face.
"Would you like to try, dear?"
"If I knew what to do."
"There is always a way when the heart is willing. Do you understand that, love?"
Aggy looked up again, and with an inquiring glance, to her mother.
"We will soon be at Mrs. Elder's. Are you not sorry that she is so sick? It is more than a week since she was able to sit up, and she has suffered a great deal of pain."
"Yes, I'm very sorry." And both look and tone confirmed the truth of her words. The child's heart was touched.
"When we get there, look around you, and see if there is nothing you can do to make her feel better. I'm sure you will find something."
"What, mother?" Aggy's interest was all alive now.
"If the room is in disorder, you might, very quietly, put things in their right places. Even that would make her feel better; for nobody can be quite comfortable in the midst of confusion."
"Oh! I can do all that, mother." And light beamed in the child's countenance. "It's nothing very hard."
"No; you can do all this with little effort; and yet, trifling as the act may seem, dear, it will do Mrs. Elder good: and you will have the pleasing remembrance of a kind deed. A child's hand is strong enough to lift a feather from an inflamed wound, even though it lack the surgeon's skill." The mother said these last words half herself.
And now they were at the door of Mrs. Elder's unattractive cottage, and the mother and child passed in. Aggy had not overdrawn the picture when she said that everything was poor and mean; and disorder added to the unattractive appearance of the room in which the sick woman lay.
"I'm sorry to find you no better," said Mrs. Markland, after making a few inquiries of the sick woman.
"I shall never be any better, I'm afraid," was the desponding answer.
"Never! Never is a long day, as the proverb says. Did you ever hear of a night that had no morning?" There was a cheerful tone and manner about Mrs Markland that had its effect; but, ere replying, Mrs. Elder's dim eyes suddenly brightened, as some movement in the room attracted her attention.
"Bless the child! Look at her!" And the sick woman glanced toward Aggy, who, bearing in mind her mother's words, was already busying herself in the work of bringing order out of disorder.
"Look at the dear creature!" added Mrs. Elder, a glow of pleasure flushing her countenance, a moment before so pale and sad.
Unconscious of observation, Aggy, with almost a woman's skill, had placed first the few old chairs that were in the room, against the wall, at regular distances from each other. Then she cleared the littered floor of chips, pieces of paper, and various articles that had been left about by the untidy girl who was Mrs. Elder's only attendant, and next straightened the cloth on the table, and arranged the mantel-piece so that its contents no longer presented an unsightly aspect.
"Where is the broom, Mrs. Elder?" inquired the busy little one, coming now to the bedside of the invalid.
"Never mind the broom, dear; Betsy will sweep up the floor when she comes in," said Mrs. Elder. "Thank you for a kind, good little girl. You've put a smile on every thing in the room. What a grand housekeeper you are going to make!"
Aggy's heart bounded with a new emotion. Her young cheeks glowed, and her blue eyes sparkled. If the pleasure she felt lacked any thing of pure delight, a single glance at her mother's face made all complete.
"When did you hear from your daughter?" asked Mrs. Markland.
There was a change of countenance and a sigh.
"Oh! ma'am, if Lotty were only here, I would be happy, even in sickness and suffering. It's very hard to be separated from my child."
"She is in Charleston?"
"Is her husband doing well?"
"I can't say that he is. He isn't a very thrifty man, though steady enough."
"Why did they go to Charleston?"
"He thought he would do better there than here; but they haven't done as well, and Lotty is very unhappy."
"Do they talk of returning?"
"Yes, ma'am; they're both sick enough of their new home. But then it costs a heap of money to move about with a family, and they haven't saved any thing. And, more than this, it isn't just certain that James could get work right away if he came back. Foolish fellow that he was, not to keep a good situation when he had it! But it's the way of the world, Mrs. Markland, this ever seeking, through change, for something better than Heaven awards in the present."
"Truly spoken, Mrs. Elder. How few of us possess contentment; how few extract from the present that good with which it is ever supplied! We read the fable of the dog and the shadow, and smile at the folly of the poor animal; while, though instructed by reason, we cast aside the substance of to-day in our efforts to grasp the shadowy future. We are always looking for the blessing to come; but when the time of arrival is at hand, what seemed so beautiful in the hazy distance is shorn of its chief attraction, or dwarfed into nothingness through contrast with some greater good looming grandly against the far horizon."
Mrs. Markland uttered the closing sentence half in reverie; for her thoughts were away from the sick woman and the humble apartment in which she was seated. There was an abstracted silence of a few moments, and she said:
"Speaking of your daughter and her husband, Mrs. Elder; they are poor, as I understand you?"
"Oh yes, ma'am; it is hand-to-mouth with them all the time. James is kind enough to Lotty, and industrious in his way; but his work never turns to very good account."
"What business does he follow?"
"He's a cooper by trade; but doesn't stick to any thing very long. I call him the rolling stone that gathers no moss."
"What is he doing in Charleston?"
"He went there as agent for a man in New York, who filled his head with large ideas. He was to have a share in the profits of a business just commenced, and expected to make a fortune in a year or two; but before six months closed, he found himself in a strange city, out of employment, and in debt. As you said, a little while ago, he dropped the present substance in grasping at a shadow in the future."
"The way of the world," said Mrs. Markland.
"Yes, yes; ever looking for the good time coming that never comes," sighed Mrs. Elder. "Ah, me," she added, "I only wish Lotty was with me again."
"How many children has she?"
"One a baby?"
"Yes, and but three months old."
"She has her hands full."
"You may well say that, ma'am; full enough."
"Her presence, would not, I fear, add much to your comfort, Mrs. Elder. With her own hands full, as you say, and, I doubt not, her heart full, also, she would not have it in her power to make much smoother the pillow on which your head is lying. Is she of a happy temper, naturally?"
"Well, no; I can't say that she is, ma'am. She is too much like her mother: ever looking for a brighter day in the future."
"And so unconscious of the few gleams of sunshine that play warmly about her feet—"
"Yes, yes; all very true; very true;" said Mrs. Elder, despondingly.
"The days that look so bright in the future, never come."
"They have never come to me." And the sick woman shook her head mournfully. "Long, long ago, I ceased to expect them." And yet, in almost the next breath, Mrs. Elder said:
"If Lotty were only here, I think I would be happy again."
"You must try and extract some grains of comfort even from the present," replied the kind-hearted visitor. "Consider me your friend, and look to me for whatever is needed. I have brought you over some tea and sugar, a loaf of bread, and some nice pieces of ham. Here are half a dozen fresh eggs besides, and a glass of jelly. In the morning I will send one of my girls to put everything in order for you, and clear your rooms up nicely. Let Betsy lay out all your soiled clothing, and I will have it washed and ironed. So, cheer up; if the day opened with clouds in the sky, there is light in the west at its close."
Mrs. Markland spoke in a buoyant tone; and something of the spirit she wished to transfer, animated the heart of Mrs. Elder.
As the mother and her gentle child went back, through the deepening twilight, to their home of luxury and taste, both were, for much of the way, silent; the former musing on what she had seen and heard, and, like the wise bee, seeking to gather whatever honey could be found: the latter, happy-hearted, from causes the reader has seen.