Watch–Work–Wait Part 8

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Watch–Work–Wait is a Webnovel created by Sarah A. Myers.
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“Billy,” said he, “you are a good boy; I wish I was half as good, but I know I need not try. But I still am of the mind that if I had found that money I would have a right to spend it; but I won’t say any more, for I see you are very weak. Can I do anything for you before I go?”

“You can,” replied William; “ask Thomas–no, he is not at home–tell Mrs. Burton to send him in the morning.”

“I believe the old man is your spiritual adviser,” returned Jem; “but I will do as you wish, and come again in the morning; so good-night.”

Left to himself, the sick boy almost immediately fell asleep, or rather into the heavy stupor produced by exhaustion, and which does not shut out the sense of painful realities which surround. Feverish startings and tossings proved that the soul was not sharing the body’s rest, and dreams, which are said to be of real events the forms and shadows, disturbed him with dark and monstrous images, the fitful phases of which, as they changed, grew yet more fearful and torturing.

His mother, pale and anxious as she looked before her death,–purses, money, prisons, and judgment-halls,–all came up in disjointed medley together. Beads of sweat standing upon his brow showed how great was the suffering, which still increased until, with a start, he awoke.

Oh, what a relief it was to find all only a dream! The piece of candle left by Mrs. Walters had long since burned out; but the room was not dark, for the bright moon poured in her soft rays, and through the little window he saw the stars, looking calm, as though they were the eyes of angels keeping watch over the slumbering earth. He knew not the hour, but, dreading to fall asleep again, endeavoured to keep himself awake by recalling those events which his sickness had made him partially forget. The purse, the temptation to keep the money, the resolution to do right, and the dread of being obliged to yield to Jem Taylor’s persuasions, were the agitating subjects that occupied him.

The city clock chimed twelve, the watchman called out the last hour of the year 1830, and the interruption was grateful and salutary. With that mysterious quickness of which mind only is capable, he was dwelling on some long-closed pages of the past, painfully but profitably a.s.sociated with the close of the old year and beginning of the new. Their pleasant cottage at M—-; the sad event which, on the last New-Year spent there, had impressed his soul too vividly ever to be forgotten; all that his mother had told him of that pious father, of whom he would have remembered but little, but that his lifeless image was so strongly a.s.sociated with New-Year’s day; her impressive admonition on the last anniversary of his death, before her own, when she had entreated him to depart not from the G.o.d of his father, but to walk so as to be able to claim the promise vouchsafed to the children of the righteous,–now came up before him, and the memory brought both comfort and strength, admonishing, too, where help, in such weakness as he felt his to be, was only surely to be found.

Our little shoemaker well knew where to apply for such strength as he needed. He knew that the Saviour said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full;” and he prayed that he might be able to resist the power of the tempter; and, in the a.s.surance that the prayer would be heard, his soul grew calm, and he at length sunk into a quiet slumber, from which he did not awake until the morning was somewhat advanced.

It was with a feeling of terror that he beheld Jem Taylor standing by his bed. The temptation to retain the spoils of the purse for his own use was again urged; but, spiritually resolute, this time William did not waver. He was not only altogether determinate in declining to use the money for himself, or share it with Jem, in order to secure his silence, but refused to show him the purse, although he offered to advertise it. Finding him strong in his purpose, Jem left him; and as Thomas Burton came in in the course of the day, he gave the purse to him, to do as he thought best with it. Having done this, his heart felt much lightened.

CHAPTER XII.

RAYS OF HOPE.

From this time our poor hero began to recover; and, although hope is said to be the best physician in the world, and he had nothing now to hope for, it was surprising how rapidly he improved. The return from a sick-bed to the active duties of life, the change from the close and darkened chamber to the pure air of heaven and the glorious sunlight, has a wonderful effect in restoring health. He was soon able to make his appearance in the shop; and, to aid his entire recovery, he was permitted to be much at Thomas Burton’s, where he was really happy. It was not long before he was able to go to church and to Sabbath school.

Greater than ever seemed the privileges; none are truly valued until deprived of them. His heart was full of joyful praise on the day when he first was able to serve the Lord by worshipping in his holy temple.

More contented than he had been since leaving his home at M—-, he found himself at times almost happy. And why, dear reader, was it so?

His outward circ.u.mstances were the same; the sun, which shines in equal brightness upon the just and unjust, had received no additional l.u.s.tre since he had wandered, sad and desponding, unheeding its glory and uncheered by its beams. But now what made the difference? The sunshine within, the sure possession of a heart at peace with G.o.d, which warms and cheers with its own light, even when the creature’s way is rugged and dark. That made the poor boy’s spirit so peaceful.

And, now the poor child, whose path had indeed been through the deep waters, was soon to be lifted up above the lowly and distasteful station, so repugnant at first to his feelings and taste, with which it had been his trial to struggle, and his triumph to conquer; and “according to the days in which he had been afflicted was he now to be made glad.” Comparative prosperity was soon to be enjoyed; but would he endure the trial of its deceitful ray as well as he had that of the obscuring cloud? We shall see.

Months pa.s.sed away with little change. Mrs. Walters resumed her scolding and commanding, while Mr. Walters grumbled and found fault to his heart’s content. But Jem Taylor, kinder than ever to our hero, no longer a.s.sailed him with temptation to do wrong, for he felt that “Bill’s” integrity was not to be moved.

Thomas Burton had found, from a newspaper, the owner of the purse, who was a boy and the son of a distinguished artist living in the suburbs.

As he described the low-storeyed house, with its wealth of natural beauty without and tasteful embellishment within, William’s heart beat loudly; surely that boy was one of the happy children whom he had seen on the day he peeped into the school-room; and a feeling of disappointment stole over him that he had not been able to deliver the purse himself. This, however, soon subsided, when Thomas told him that the family were all from home, and that he had left it with an old gentleman, who was the only person he saw.

The gloomy days of winter had long pa.s.sed by, and spring, with its green gra.s.s and many-hued blossoms, had cheered the country with its beauty; but now its task was ended, and the glowing summer was at hand. The weary dwellers of the pent-up city were leaving in search of pure air and variety; the dust-covered marble steps in front of many a shut-up house proclaimed it deserted for the season, and business, much to Mr. Walters’ dissatisfaction, was very dull. Shoes, however, had to be worn, and as he still continued to furnish the needed article, he was often called upon, although not quite so frequently as in the winter.

One day he came in with a pair of prunella boots in his hand, which he told Bill to carry to the house of Mr. Stewart, a painter who lived in the outskirts of the city. “They are for Mrs. Stewart, to whom you took a pair of shoes last autumn,” said he. “Go straight to Number 200 —-Street, and then keep on to the end of the street. The family, it seems, have gone there for fresh air, as if they could not breathe that of the city as well as others.”

Never had he received a more welcome commission. He even felt as if he could have embraced his stern master for such an indulgence. The day was so fine, he had longed to get out into the sunshine, and now the prospect of a long walk to the beautiful cottage of Mr. Stewart filled him with the liveliest joy.

He was quite busy putting strings into a pair of boots for a lady, but joy lent him speed, and in a few moments his task was finished, and, stringing up the shoes and putting on his cap, he was soon on the road to —- Street.

His steps were light, and so was his heart. He wondered if he should again be able to look into the school-room and see those happy children; and so great was his haste to be at the end of his journey, that the gay pictures in the shop-windows had not power to tempt him to linger a moment. He pa.s.sed Number 200, where all was closed, and keeping on to the end of the street, soon came in sight of the cottage, which looked far more lovely now, robed in the rich garniture of summer, than when he last had seen it. The branches of the climbing plants, then bare and leafless from the breath of frost, were now hiding the walls with a more beautiful tapestry than that woven by the hand of man; twining their flexile vines together, they mounted even to the roof, or, covered with many-hued flowers, hung loosely down in long reaches, giving out sweet odours as they waved in the summer breeze. It was a fitting abode for one who was a lover of the beautiful, as all painters are supposed to be.

He opened the gate, walked up the gravelled path, and ascended the high steps. He did not, however, at once ring the bell; he thought he would first take a look at the school-room. The windows were closed, as if the room were unoccupied, and a feeling of disappointment crept over his heart, which was again exchanged for a more hopeful mood, when, continuing to survey the other parts of the building, he found the door of a room on the opposite side open, and filled with objects more attractive to his eye than even those he had seen in the school-room.

It was evidently a painter’s studio, for it was fitted up with everything requisite for the study of the glorious art. The walls were hung with pictures, several busts and statues were ranged round on brackets, detached models of portions of the human frame cast in plaster were on the table; but the easel, standing near the door with a picture more than half finished, interested him more than all the rest. Several tubes of colour lay on a chair, and a prepared pallet-board, with some brushes beside it, seeming to have been just now in use, gave reason to conjecture that the occupant of the room was not far off.

William, forgetting that he had not rung the bell, wondered why no one came to the door, and half attracted by the view of a painter’s room, and half urged by the wish to find some one to whom he could deliver his message, he cleared the steps at a bound, and stood before the open door. He looked within; no one was there; and as he stood he could plainly see the picture, which was a Scripture subject. Was it wrong that he ventured, the shoemaker’s boy with a painter’s heart, step by step quite within the precincts of that chamber? So lost in pleasant observation was he, so perfectly guileless, he never once thought that, however innocent, his motive for intruding might be mistaken. He stood rapt and immovable before the picture, forgetful of everything but his present enjoyment, so that he did not hear the opening of a door behind him, nor that a footstep was approaching.

It was Mr. Stewart himself, who, having left his studio but a few minutes before, was now returning to his work; and as his eyes fell upon this unexpected guest, he at first was disposed to believe him some young vagabond who had come in to pilfer. But the statue-like att.i.tude of the boy, the fixed look with which he surveyed the picture, and the gaiter boots which dangled by their connecting string from his arm, his whole appearance making him a fit subject for study, soon banished suspicion, and with all the sympathies of a most benevolent nature aroused, he stood silent for a moment, for he hesitated to disturb so visible an enjoyment.

But as there was no knowing how long the survey might last, he at length advanced, and touching our little shoemaker on the shoulder, said, in a playful tone, “Why, boy, you must love pictures as well as does a painter; have you not been dreaming long enough? Tell me, now, what brought you here?”

Fully aroused, William turned to answer and apologize; but when he looked into the face of the gentleman before him the words died on his lips. Mr. Stewart himself was not without astonishment, as, when William pulled off his cap, he recognised the features of the orphan boy in whose grief he had long ago sympathized so deeply, and he once more spoke.

“I believe we have seen each other before,” said he; “are you not the boy I met in the grave-yard at M—-?”

“Yes, sir,” answered William; “and I have got the little picture which you coloured for me still.”

“You are, then, really the same boy?” said Mr. Stewart; “but tell me, how did you get here? and what are you doing in this room?”

“Oh, sir,” he replied, as he blushed deeply, “please forgive me; my master sent me with the shoes, and when I saw the door open and the picture, I could not help it. Indeed I did not mean any harm.”

“I believe you,” rejoined Mr. Stewart; “and now tell me how you got to New York, and what you are doing.”

Our little shoemaker did so with his usual openness and candour; and, accustomed never to swerve from, the straightforward and direct line of truth, the stamp of that virtue was so apparent in all he said, that the kindly sympathies of Mr. Stewart were once more awakened in his behalf. He was, however, too prudent to excite any hope which he might afterward be obliged to crush; so telling our hero where to go in order to deliver his errand, he took up his pallet and began to paint.

“Stop one minute,” he called, as William was leaving the room. “Have you any friends in the city? and where do you live?”

William replied that he had no real friends but old Thomas Burton the watchman, and his wife. Mrs. Bradley, the market-woman, had been very kind to him too, but it was the old watchman who took him to church, and when he was troubled about the purse, had taken it to the right owner. The sounds of swift footsteps were now heard, and a bright-looking boy of fourteen came bustling in at the door. “Father,”

he said, “grandfather wants me to take a drive with him; can I go?”

“Stay a moment first, George,” answered Mr. Stewart. “I believe you lost your purse on Christmas eve, at least I heard you lamenting something of the kind. You recovered it, and you said you wished to reward the finder; did you ever do so?”

“No, father,” replied George, “I did not. An old watchman who brought it told grandfather that a shoemaker’s boy had found it, but was then so ill that it was most likely he would never recover, and so–“

“And so, George, you never inquired whether he lived or died,” said Mr. Stewart. “That is the true spirit of the world, to care only for self. George, I believe this is the boy who found it; thank him, at least, if you do not reward him.”

“I do not want any reward for giving to another that which was his own,” said the little shoemaker; “but if Master George chooses, he can give something to little Ned Graham, who needs it very much.”

“And who is little Ned Graham?” inquired Mr. Stewart, smiling.

Our hero explained in as few words as possible; at the close of which narration Mr. Stewart, making no remark, turned once more to his easel, and George conducted the little shoemaker to the room where he was to leave the shoes. The old lady was pleased, and William, having received the money for them, ran swiftly homeward, never once dreaming of the good that was in store for him.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE DAWN OF BETTER DAYS.

Mr. Stewart, kind and benevolent as he was, never suffered himself to be carried away by any impulse, however generous it might be. On the day which we have named as the second time of meeting with our hero, when he resumed his pallet-board and began to work on his picture, he did so with an attention which seemed to rest only on the creation before him, as if he were forgetful of all lower subjects, or that there was such a being as a shoemaker’s boy in the world.

But the beautiful images that rose from under his hand did not shut out the figure of the orphan boy as he had twice seen him,–once beside the grave of his parents, and again in his study. He was not so absorbed by the love of his art that there was no room in his mind for the reception of those higher subjects which relate to man’s ultimate destiny. He felt that every one is sent into the world for a great purpose,–that no man must live wholly for himself, but, partaking of the spirit of the Saviour, labour for the good of others. The counsel given long before to the shoemaker’s boy, when he met him in the church-yard at M—-, has already proved that he was one who had admitted the truth into his heart, and the root it had taken there had only been deepened by the pa.s.sage of time. And now, as he sat bringing form after form into beauty from the lifeless canvas, his mind was no less busy than his hand. How could he serve the interests of true religion by interesting himself in the fortunes of the orphan boy? And little Ned Graham,–he, too, was a desolate child. Would William always remain firm in his integrity, when, growing to manhood and left unrestrained, he should have full liberty to do as he pleased? He had acknowledged how easy it was to become used to sin; that, but for the influence exerted by the pious old watchman, he might at this time have been far advanced in the road to ruin. Thomas Burton was old; many things might occur to separate William from that Christian companionship, and then, could he continue pure in such an atmosphere as he should be exposed to? And little Ned, was he not rapidly learning the manners and habits of a street boy? Such were his thoughts; and with that charity which is expansive in its exercise, and never faileth in the heart in which it hath taken root, but always delights in doing good, he resolved to be the helper of these two orphan boys. But, with the prudence which ought ever to characterize every Christian effort, he began his task with caution, lest the endeavour to do good might only be productive of harm.

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