A Life Lesson
Albert Moore, at the age of twenty-five, took Alice Warren for his wife. He had been in the army—fought through from Bull’s Bluff to Richmond—had come out with a captain’s commission. He had come from the army with but little money; but he had a good trade, a stout pair of hands, and had borrowed no trouble for the future. Alice had saved up a few hundred dollars from her wages as a teacher, and when the twain had become husband and wife they found, upon careful inventory, that they had enough to furnish a small house comfortably. Albert proposed that they should hire a tenement in the city; but Alice thought they had better secure a pretty cottage in the suburbs—a cottage which they might, perhaps, in time, make their own.
Albert had no disposition to argue the question, so the cottage was found and secured. It was a pleasant rural location, and so connected with the city by rail, that Albert found no difficulty in going to and from his workshop.
During her five year’ experience in school-teaching Alice had learned many things, and having been an orphan from an early age, she had made the problems of real life one of her chief studies; and what she learned in this later department served her well in her new station. After marriage she found Albert to be just the man she had known to be in other years. He was kind to a fault; free-hearted and generous; ready to answer the call of friendship; and prone to pluck the flowers that bloom to-day, regardless of what may be nurtured to bloom tomorrow.
They had been married but a few months when Alice found he was cutting his garments according to his daily supply of cloth. Not a shred was he likely to save up from the cuttings for an extra garment for a rainy day to come.
“Albert,” she said to him one evening, “do you know we ought to be laying up a little something?”
Albert looked up from his paper and waited for his wife to explain.
“I think I heard you tell Mr. Greenough that you had no money—that you had paid out your last dollar this very afternoon?”
“Exactly, my dear; but you know to-morrow is pay-day.”
“And you have spent your last month’s earnings?”
A brief silence ensued, which Albert broke.
“Come, Alice, you’ve got something on your mind. Out with it—I’ll listen.”
And then Alice, in a smiling, pleasant way, went on to tell her husband that they ought to be laying up something.
Albert smiled in turn, and asked how such a thing could be done when it cost all he earned to live.
“You earn three dollars and a half a day,” said Alice.
“George Summers earns only three dollars a day.”
“You are right.”
“And yet he lives and does not run in debt.”
“But he is forced to deny himself many little comforts which we enjoy.”
“And one great comfort which we might enjoy we are throwing away.”
“The comfort of a little sum in the bank, which we should see growing toward the answering of future wants.”
Albert could not see how it was to be done; And Alice feared that a lesson of empty words might be wasted. She knew that his ambition needed a substantial prop. Never of his own accord, would he commence to save by littles. He did not estimate money in that way. Had some kind fairy dropped into his hand a five-twenty bond for five hundred dollars, he would have put it away gladly; and with a nest-egg in the start, he might have sought to add to the store. But he could see no hope in a dollar bill, and much less could he discover the nucleus of a grand saving in a fifty-cent piece.
With Alice it was different. From her meager earnings as school-teacher she had in less than five years, saved up to three hundred dollars; and the first saving she had put by was a silver dime. She knew what little by little could do, and she was determined to show it to her husband. She must be patient and persevering, and these qualities she possessed in an eminent degree. It was to be the grand undertaking of the first years of her married life, and to do it she would bend every available energy. She planned that if possible she would get hold of that fifty-cents every day; or if she could not do that she would do the best she could.
Generous frank, loyal and loving, Albert was an easy prey to the wiles of a wife loyal and loving as himself. He gave her money when she asked for it; and she asked for it when she thought he had any to give.
And here let me say that Alice knew her husband would not run in debt. That was an evil that they both arrayed themselves against in the outset. When Albert’s purse was empty he bought nothing; but when it was full he was apt to buy more than he needed. Alice knew all this and governed herself accordingly.
“I think,” said Alice, one evening, “that I must fix over my old brown cashmere for winter, I should like a new one, but I don’t suppose you can afford it.”
Albert looked grieved. The idea that he could not afford his wife a new dress!
But such a one as she wanted would cost twenty-five or thirty dollars.
“If you want it get it,” said Albert emphatically. “I will let you have twenty dollars from this month’s pay, and the balance you shall have next month.”
Alice got the thirty dollars, but she did not get the new dress. By the outlay of five dollars for new trimmings she contrive to fix over the brown cashmere so that it looked every bit as good as new.
And so Alice worked. Sometimes she asked her husband for ten cents, sometimes for fifty cents, sometimes for a dollar, and sometimes for more, and at the end of a year, upon carefully reckoning up, she found that she had managed to get hold of rather more than fifty-cents a day; but she had done it by denying herself of many things, some of which seemed really needful.
The results of the first year’s effort inspired Alice with new life and vigor. She had saved one hundred and fifty dollars, and had invested it in government funds.
It was only a little at a time—sometimes very little—but these littles multiplied by other littles, grew amazingly. The husbandman who would sit himself down by a hill of corn, and wait to see the tender blades put forth would be disheartened; but he knows if he plants the tiny seed, and cultivates it as he ought, the harvest of golden grain will come at length.
Albert and Alice were married in the spring of 1865. It was on an evening of August, 1870, that Albert came home. He had been notified that they must leave the cottage. They must give up the pleasant home, and lose the little garden they had cultivated with so much fondness and care.
“The owner wishes to sell,” he exclaimed; “and has an offer. He asks two thousand dollars, and must have five hundred down.”
Alice’s eyes gleamed with radiant delight.
She had been thinking for some time that she must let her husband into her secret. It had begun to wear upon her. And now the time had come as by providential interposition.
She got up and went to her cabinet, and when she came back she brought a little book in her hand.
“Albert!” said she, “lets you and I buy the cottage.”
Albert looked at her in amazement; and directly it flashed upon him that there was too much solemnity in her look and tone badinage. Something that he had noticed during the past few months came back to him, and he trembled with the weight of suspense that fell upon him.
Alice then showed her book—that she had more than eight hundred dollars in the bank. The ice was broken—she told her story in glowing words. She told how she had saved up little by little. And then she told how her Uncle in the banking-house had taken charge of her investment; and how, under his management, the interest had accrued into amazing volume.
But the grand result was not the chief thing. The chief thing was the beginning—was the very little which had been religiously saved until the second little could be added to it.
And now, as a result of his wife’s careful and tireless working, Albert found something upon which his ambition could take a fair start. He never could himself, from so small a commencement, have reared the pile; but with the structure started, and his proportions all blocked out, he could help on the work. He could see how it was done—not only that, but the demonstration was before him that the thing could be done.
One year has elapsed since Albert Moore received the lesson from his wife, and joining hands with her, and bending his energies in the same direction, he has accomplished during the twelve months what would have seemed to him a marvel in the earlier time. He has laid by more than fifty cents a day; and the cigars, and the beer, and the other condiments of life which he has surrendered to the work, are not missed—rather, he holds they are so many enemies conquered. And Albert can improve his home with cheerful heart, and he can set out new trees and vines in his garden with bright promises, because he sees, day by day the pretty cottage growing more and more his own. The end approaches a little at a time-little by little it approaches, but surely, nevertheless; and there is a great and satisfying joy even in the labor and in anticipation.
O deem not they are blest alone
Whose lives a peaceful tenor keep
For God, who pities man, hath shown
A blessing for the eyes that weep.
The light of smiles shall fill again
The lids that overflow with tears
And weary hours of woe and pain
And promises of happier years.
For God has marked each sorrowing day
And numbered every secret tear
And heave’s long age of bliss shall pay
For all His children suffer here.
William Cullen Bryant