In the snug, cozy barroom of the “Farmer’s Inn,” at Madisonville, sat six young men. It was a cold, bleak evening in December; and the wind that howled and drove without, drifting the snow and rattling the shutters, gave to the blazing fire and steaming kettle additional charms and comforts. There was Peter Hobbs, a youth of five and twenty, who seemed to be the leader, par excellence, of the party. He was a good natured, intelligent, frank-looking man, and was really a noble-hearted citizen. Then there was John Fulton, a youth of the same age, who worked with Hobbs, both being journeyman carpenters. Samuel Green was a machinist; Walter Mason, a tin worker; Lyman Drake, a cabinet maker; and William Robinson, a clerk. They ranged, in age, from twenty-three to twenty-eight, and were really industrious youths, receiving good wages, and maintaining good characters for honesty, sobriety, and general good behavior. Yet they were looked upon by some as ungodly youths, and given over to perdition. True they belonged to no church; and, amid the various conflicting creeds by which they were surrounded, they had not yet settled down upon any one in particular, believing that there was good in all of them, and evil among the members of each.
On the present occasion, they were all of them smoking and the empty mugs which stood upon the table near them showed conclusively that they had been drinking something besides water. The subject of the cold winter had been disposed of; the quality of the warm ale and cigars had been thoroughly discussed, and at length the conversation turned upon the missionary meeting, which had been held in the town on the previous Sabbath.
“I don’t know that this missionary business is alright,” said Sam Green, knocking the ashes from his cigar with his little finger, “but at the same time, I don’t believe in it. Them Hindoos and South Sea Islanders may be savage and ignorant, by our scale of measuring folks; but that is no reason why we folks should send all our money off there, while our own folks are starving at home.”
“Did you put anything in the box?” asked Lyman Drake.
“No I didn’t. When they shoved it into my face, I told ‘em I’d left all my money at home—and so I had.”
“You’re about right Sam,” said Bill Robinson. “But I did more than you did. When the box was handed to me, I spoke right out, so that everybody around me heard. I told the old deacon if he’d take up a subscription to help the poor in our town, I’d put in something.”
“What did he say to that?”
“Why –he said,” ‘Souls are more consequence than bodies.’ So I just said back to him that I guessed he’d find it hard work to save a soul out of a starving body. But – you see that isn’t the thing. They won’t try to save the soul, or the bodies either, of their own towns folks. Now when Squire Truman came here to settle, they tried quick enough to save his soul. Ye see his body was already salted down with ten thousand dollars, so his soul was worth something to ‘em. Why don’t they try to save poor old Israel Trask’s soul, and his wife’s too?”
“Wasn’t there a committee of the church that visited old Israel last month?” queried Drake.
“Yes--there was,” answered Sam, giving his cigar an indignant shake; “and what did they do? They went there—four on ‘em—and found the old folks suffering for want of food and clothing. They tried to make the old man believe their religion was the only true one in the world, but he would not. So they gave him three tracts and a little cheap book, and then went away. That’s what they did. Afore I’d give a cent to such chaps to send off to feed their missionaries in Baugwang and Slapflam Island, I’d throw it into the fire.”
“But these missionaries are honest people, and do some good,” remarked Peter Hobbs, who had not before spoken on the subject.
“Of course they do,” responded Sam. “But wouldn’t it look better of ‘em to begin some of their charities at home? I judge of a man’s order by the way his own shop looks, and not by the way he may fuss around on another man’s premises. And just so with those philanthropists. I’d rather see how much their religion does toward keeping the Gentiles of their own town, than to go way of to the other end of the earth to look for the fruits of their Christianity. Them’s my sentiments.”
“And mine too,” uttered Walter Mason, who had just thrown away the stump of one cigar, and was about lighting another. “Just think; they collected, last Sunday, to send off to the Hindoos, over two hundred dollars. Now, that would have made half the poor families in this town—and I don’t know but all—comfortable for the winter. There was Mr. Netherly—worth forty thousand dollars—he put in a ten-dollar bill. It was a great, new bill, and he opened it, and held it up, and even turned it round, so’t everybody could see it before he let it drop. Then at the end, when the box was carried up into the pulpit, the deacon whispered to the minister; and the minister got up, and, said, taking hold of the rich man’s bill: “Here is ten dollars from one brother. Let that brother be assured that his deed is remembered of him in heaven.” Yes, that’s what was said; and Mr. Netherly held up his head, bowed very low, and then looked around at the rest of the congregation, as much as to say, ‘that’s me.’ Now I know of another thing that I guess’ll be remembered in heaven, along side of this one. Last week poor old Trask—Uncle Israel—called at Netherly’s with some baskets. You know the old man gets out stuff in the summer, and then in the winter makes it up. Well, he went there, and asked Netherly if he would buy a basket. No; he didn’t want one. Then the old man told him how he and his poor old wife were suffering, and he asked him if he couldn’t help him in some way; and what do you think Netherly said?—Why, he said he had to pay taxes to help support a poor-house, and told Uncle Israel that He’d find help there, if he’d only apply to the selectmen! Now what d’ye think of that, eh?”
“Why ,” returned Sam, “I think if he’s got an account in heaven, he’ll find a balance against him, when he comes to settle up.”
“So he will,” responded three or four of the others.
For some moments after this, the party smoked in silence. Peter Hobbs had been pondering very deeply upon something, and at length he spoke:
“Now look here, boys,” he said, throwing his half-smoked cigar into the fire, “There’s a good deal of truth in what’s been said—in fact, it’s all true; but, before we blame others, we ought to do something ourselves. Now I’m ready to form a regular benevolent society. Let us six go at the work, and see what we can do toward alleviating some of the distress about us. What say you?”
The other five looked on in wonder.
“But,” said Sam, how are we to do it? We aren’t among the favored ones. We weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths.”
“I should like to do it,” added Drake, “but what’s the use? We couldn’t do much any way—not enough to amount to anything.”
And so the others expressed their opinions in like manner. They all “would like,” but where was the money to come from?”
“Listen,” said Peter; and they all turned toward him with real deference, for they knew he never wore a cloak over his heart, and that when he spoke in earnest, his meaning had depth to it. “Now I have formed a plan. There is old uncle Israel and his wife; then there is the widow Manley, with four little children, suffering for want and actual necessities of life; and then there is Mrs. Williams—she is very poor. Her son Philip, who is her mainstay, was sick all summer and fall, and is sick now; so the woman got nothing from her little patch of land, and is now absolutely reduced to beggary, with her sick son to support. Now let us take these three cases in hand, and support them.”
“But how?” asked three or four voices, anxiously, for they really and fully sympathized with the noble plan.
“I’ll tell you,” resumed Peter. “Here, Tim,” He called to the bar-keeper, “what’s our bill?”
“Let’s see,” responded the worthy, coming up. There’s two cigars a piece, three cents each—that’s thirty-six. Then the ale—three pints—eighteen cents; and wine--three gills—that’s eighteen more—makes just thirty-six more; and twice thirty six is—is—seventy two—seventy-two cents in all.”
“Come, boys.” Said Peter, “let’s pay an equal share tonight. Let’s give him ninepence a piece.”
So the “boys” paid up, and after Tim had gone, Peter resumed:
“Now see what we’ve spent tonight for nothing. I’ll begin with you, Sam. How much do you suppose you spend each day for cigars and ale? Now reckon fairly.”
“Let’s see,” was Sam’s response after gazing into the face of his interlocutor until he had fairly got hold of the idea. I certainly average four—no, five cigars a day, and I suppose they average three cents apiece. Then comes my ale—but I could not tell how much that amounts to, for I don’t drink it regularly, but perhaps six cents a day.”
“That’s just twenty-one cent a day, utterly wasted,” said Peter; and I own up to wasting twenty-five cents a day. How is it with you John?”
“I’ll say twenty-five.”
“And you, Walter?”
“Just about the same.”
“Now look at it. Here we are, a little worse than wasting about a dollar and a half a day. But let us put our loss at a shilling each—“
“No, no,” cried Sam, who saw through the whole plan. Let’s give honest measure. I’ll own up to the twenty-five. Let’s go the whole if any.”
“Very well,” returned peter; “then let us commence and pledge ourselves not to smoke, or drink ale, for one month from this date. Every night we will lay away a quarter of a dollar, and at the end of the week we’ll put our savings all together, and then go on our mission. What say you?”
With one voice the other five joined in the plan. The novelty of the thing may have pleased them; but the real incentives lay deeper down in the natural goodness of their hearts. There was no written pledge, but they took a more speedy method. Peter laid his hand upon the table and said:
“Here’s my hand, pledged to the work.”
“And mine too,” cried Sam, laying his broad palm atop of Peter’s.
“And mine,” “and mine,” “and Mine,” chimed the rest, placing their hands atop of the other until the six right hands lay upon the table in a pyramid.
This is Tuesday resumed Peter. “Will we meet next Saturday?”
“Yes, answered Sam, and call it a week. Let’s throw in two days.”
And so the work was begun.
On the next day, as Sam Green sat atop of his bench after dinner, he felt rather lost without his cigar, and for a while he argued the question with himself, whether it wouldn’t be just as well to put an extra quarter into his box and have his cigar as usual. But he remembered his pledge. He looked forward to Saturday, when he should find himself and ambassador of mercy to the sick and needy—and his resolution grew strong again. That was his last real hesitation, though it must be confessed he had some trials and hankerings.
And so with the rest, they had some moments of doubt and mental warfare with appetite and habit, but conquered, and were true.
Saturday came, and the six youths left their work at noon, having done more than enough overwork to make up for the loss of the half-day.
“Must have a time once in awhile, eh?” said Sam’s boss, as the young man pointed to the work he had done, and informed him that he should not work the rest of the day.
“Some sort of a time,” replied Sam.
“Very well, but you’re too good a fellow to go very deep into dissipation.”
“I’ll be up bright in the morning, sir;” and with this he left.
The new Benevolent Society met at Walter Mason’s tin-shop. Each took out his money and they had in all nine dollars, it being in thirty-six silver quarters.
“Now,” says Peter, “let’s visit the three families we have taken under our charge. We’ll go together, and expend the money as we see it is most needed. Let us go to Uncle Israel’s first.”
So off they went to Uncle Israel Trask’s. The old couple lived in a small hut at the edge of the village, which was reached by a narrow lane, and here the six philanthropists found the old lady, who was now in her eightieth year, suffering with sever attack of the rheumatism, while the old man sat crouched over the fire, shivering with cold.
“Good day, good day, Uncle Israel.”
“Aha, good day, boys, good day,” cried the old man, trying to smile. “Can you find seats? Sit down somewhere and make yourself at home. But ye see it’s a poor home that poor Israel can offer ye to-day.”
“But how are you getting long?” asked Peter, after the party had found seats.
“Ah, God a’mercy, I won’t complain, for he is taking meself and Molly home fast. Only cold and hunger are not kind helpmates, Mr. Hobbs, ye ken that, eh?”
“Right well, Uncle Israel. And we have come to help you. Do you want any medicine?”
“Nay, nay, the old ‘ooman’s got a’ the medicine laid up we want. It’s only the food and heat we need. I can’t wade through the drifting snow as I could once.”
“Suppose we send you a dollar’s worth of other thing, such as butter, flour, and the like—could you live a week on it?”
“Ah, yes, yes, boys, meself and Molly’d live a long, long while on that. But ye’ll not do it for us.”
“Yes, we will.”
“Ah, it’s too much.”
“No, no,” cried Sam, “we’ve got to do it, Uncle Israel, for we six have sworn to help you through the winter. So spunk up.”
“D’ye mean that?” uttered the old man, clasping the thin tremulous hands.
“We do,” they all answered, and then Sam added, “and while one of us lives, you shall not suffer the want of what one of us can give.”
A moment the old man bowed his snow-white head, and then while the big tears streamed down his face, he raised his eyes and murmured:--
“Oh! God’s blessin’ be on ye, ye noble boys. If me heart was gold, an’ I could take it out an’ give it ye—for it’s yours all, all your own!”
In a little while the six went away, promising to send or come back soon, and even after they had reached the yard they could hear the voices of Israel and his wife, both raised to God in blessings upon their heads.
“I say, Sam,” said Peter, “this is better than cigars and ale.”
“Don’t say a word now,” replied Sam, “for my heart’s full, I can’t bear any more.”
Next, they drove through the biting wind and snow to the humble cot of widow Manley. They found her in the only habitable room of her dwelling, sitting by a fire of chips and fagots, with a babe asleep in her lap, and engaged in sewing a course frock. Three other children were crouched by the fire, the eldest not yet eight years old.
Mr. Manley had been one of the many unfortunates who are swept off by rum, and in the prime of early manhood he had gone, leaving a young wife with four children in absolute penury.
“Ah, good day, Mrs. Manley.”
The woman would had arisen, but Sam Green placed his hand upon her shoulders to keep her down.
“We have come,” said Peter, seeing that she was anxious and fearful, to see how you get along, and see if we can help you.”
“Help me, sir?” uttered the widow with amazement.
“Yes; now tell us plainly how you are situated.”
The woman was silent for a few moments, but at length she seemed to regain her self-control, and replied:--
“Ah, gentlemen, it is all comprised in three short words: Hunger, cold, and nakedness!"
And if we supply you with food and fuel for a week, can you manage to get along until that time without more clothing?”
“Oh—h—yes—sirs. But what is it? Who can help us? Who can care for the—“
“We can, we will, cried the energetic Sam, not so good to plan as Peter, but good at execution. “We six have pledged ourselves to see you safe through the winter. So cheer up and take hope, for you nor your children shall suffer while we can help it.”
The widow’s hands were clasped and her eyes wandered vacantly from one to another of her strange visitors. She saw tears of goodness in their eyes, and her own soul’s flood burst forth.
“O God bless you—bless you always.”
“And we shall have something good to eat, mamma, and something to make us warm?” asked the eldest girl, clasping her mother’s knees.
"Yes, yes, you shall,” exclaimed Drake, catching the child and kissing her clean, pale face. “You shall have it before supper time, too.”
The widow gradually realized the whole object of her visitors, and she tried to express her gratitude in words, but they failed her, and streaming tears had to tell the tale of thanks.
After this our society went to widow Williams. Her’s was a neat cot, but they found suffering painful enough inside. Philip, a youth of about their own age, sat in a large stuffed chair, looking pale and thin, and wasted away almost to a skeleton, and his great blue eyes peered at them wondering as they entered. The mother, too, looked careworn and sick, and the dry, hacking cough that sounded in her throat told how much she needed proper food and care.
The youths made their business known as before, and with about the same result. The widow and her son could hardly realize that such a blessing had dawned upon them, but when they did realize it their joy and gratitude knew no bounds.
“Look here,” said Sam Green, as soon as they had reached the road, “it strikes me that we are just about a week behind hand. We ought to have commenced this work just one week earlier than we did, for our nine dollars won’t quite bring matters all up square to the present time. But if they were square now, they’d keep so with our weekly allowance.”
“You’re right, Sam,” said Fulton, gleefully.
“Then let’s commence back two weeks, eh?”
“I think so,” said Peter.
And all the rest said so, too. So they had eighteen dollars instead of nine.
First, our party went and bought three half cords of wood, which they sent at once to their respective destinations, and they agreed that when the other matters were attended to they would go and work it up. Then they went to the stores and purchased such articles of provisions and comfort as they could agree were best adapted to meet the wants of their charges, and, having done this, they separated into three parties of two each, so as to have each family provided for with as little delay as possible. Besides carrying provisions enough to last a week, they left with each about a dollar in change.
When the poor people saw the promised blessing—when they thus met the fruition of their newly raised hopes, their joy was almost painful. The noble youths were blessed over and over again.
The wood was sawed and split, and put under cover, and then the society returned to the village, as happy as could be. On the next day, they went to the church and heard how many heathen had been converted to the peculiar isms of the preachers; and on the day following that, they commenced another week of their newly found Christianity.
“Sam,” said the owner of the machine-shop,” “what were you and the rest of your party doing last Saturday afternoon?”
“Converting the heathen,” answered Sam.
His employer was a church member, and in for foreign missions, and moreover had often tried to induce Sam into the mysteries.
It was some time before Sam would tell the secret, but his boss became so earnest that he at length told the whole story. For a while the employer gazed upon his journeyman with wonder, but gradually, as the sense of the fact came over him, he hung his head.
“Sam,” he said at length, earnestly, and with a tear in his eye, "let me join your society.”
“But how’ll you raise the money?” inquired Sam.
“Money?” echoed the boss. “Look at my hand-book.”
“Ah, but that won’t answer. You must save the money by depriving yourself of some superfluity, or luxury you now enjoy.”
“Is that the rule?”
“It is most rigidly. Our cigars and ale furnish us.”
“And won’t you smoke again?”
“Never, while within reach of my influence there’s a human being in want!”
“Then I’ll throw away my tobacco and beer; may I join at that?”
“I'll propose you.”
And the master machinist was proposed and admitted.
Another week passed away, and the new Christians went again on their mission, and there were more tears of joy, more prayers and more blessings. Mr. Boothby, the machinist, had gained a new ray of light on the subject of Christian missions.
At length it became known that the poor families of Madisonville had found friends. People were wonder-struck when they discovered how happy and joyous these once miserable wretches had become; and more still when, one Sunday they saw Uncle Israel and his wife, and Mrs. Manley and her two elder children, enter the church.
Of course the truth leaked out, and we can imagine where the public eye of sympathy and appreciation was turned. Before a month was out, more than fifty people had engaged indirectly in the work, by placing money, food, and clothing in the hands of the original six, for them to distribute as they deemed proper.
But there was one rule to which the “society” adhered. They would not receive a cent in money which was not the result of a cutting off of some superfluity, and thus they showed to the people how simple and easy in its work is true charity, and also how many professed Christians not only lose sight of duty, but really lose the greatest joy of Christian life.
It was a glorious day for Madisonville when those six young mechanics met in the village barroom and concocted the plan for their society. And the good has worked in two ways. The members find themselves happier, healthier and stronger, for having given up their pipes and cups; and the poor unfortunate ones of the town are once again basking in the sunlight of peace, content and plenty.
How many professed Christian churches there are in our land which would be benefited by following the example of the six noble youths who still stand at the head of the Madisonville Benevolent Society.
LIFE THAT LASTS
They err who measure life by years
With false or thoughtless tongue
But some hearts grow old before their time
Others are always young.
‘Tis not the number of the lines
On life’s fast-filling page
‘Tis not the pulse’s added throbs
Which constitute their age.
Some souls are serfs among the free
While others nobly thrive
They stand just where their father stood
Dead, even while they live
Others, all spirit, heart, and sense
Theirs the mysterious power
To live in thrills of joy or woe
A twelve-month in an hour.
He liveth long who liveth well!
All other life is short and vain
He liveth longest who can tell
Of living most for heavenly gain
He liveth long who liveth well
All else is being flung away
He liveth longest who can tell
Of true things truly done each day.