John Lyman was what his neighbor’s called a “hard-fisted” man; and he had earned the name by dint of persevering stinginess from boyhood up. He and his good wife Phoebe had accumulated a snug little property, besides the many-acred farm which was to be his when grandmother” should relinquish her claim to all earthly possessions. So he was really able to live in comfort; but, instead of that, the old red farmhouse, which was his father’s before him, was a model of angularity, unadorned and unattractive, both inside and out, only preserving a decent aspect through Phoebe’s thrift and neatness.
Six little ones made music in the house, save when their father was there. His presence always seemed to send a chill to their little warm hearts; for he made them feel that they were “bills of expense,” and whenever they clamored for pretty things he told them that they “cost money,” and sent them away with a reproof for their desires.
And yet John Lyman claimed that he was just. “Don’t I pay the minister two dollars every single year?” he would say when the puzzle collectors came to him, bankbook in hand. Of course he did; and, if the reverend gentleman was a smart preacher he added a peck of beans to his annual subscription, although this came a little hard when the harvest was poor. Not being a church member, he didn’t feel called to give to the “heathen.” As he was wont to style all benevolent objects of whatever character; and it was generally understood that the two dollars were given on grandmother’s account.
Dear Grandmother Lyman! Known and loved by everybody in Peltonville, she was peacemaker, advisor, and, in fact, condensed sunshine in John’s household from January to December. She was a Christian, too; and John was glad of that, for he believed that she and the Bible were good in case of sickness or death; and, to tell the truth, he had a vague idea that she would see that he had a place in heaven sometime, after he had grown old and tired of this world. But Grandmother Lyman knew better than this; and morning, noon, and night, her prayers ascended for him, her only remaining child, and his family.
One would suppose that such a mother would have every want supplied, even by a penurious son. But Oh! the love of gain had so eaten into John’s best affections that it sometimes seemed as if he had forgotten all claims upon him! So it was very trying to ask a favor of him, and his mother denied herself many a necessity before doing it.
Something more than usually important troubled her mind, however, on one bright spring morning as she sat by the kitchen fire. All the funny little wrinkles in her dear old face, which were generally only telegraph lines for smiles to run over, were sobered by some weighty consideration. Her knitting work lay idle in her lap; and she did not even notice that little Tillie had pulled two of the needles out, nor that the mischievous Nick was sawing away on the back of her chair with his antiquated pocket-knife. Whatever the problem was, it troubled her all the forenoon; but after dinner she followed John to the door, and, said she, “I‘ve been thinking, John, couldn’t I have a little room somewhere all to myself? I’m going on seventy-eight now, you know, and the children get pretty noisy sometimes; and I thought, maybe, if it would be too much trouble—“” “Hem! Well, really, grandma’m,” taking off his hat and scratching his head dubiously, “the children do make a precious hubbub, that’s a fact. But I declare! Well, I’ll see” And John went to the field.
As result of the “seeing,” on the next rainy day there was heard the noise of hammer and saw in a chamber over the kitchen. This chamber had never been finished or used save as a place in which to store old rubbish of all kinds, and was a gloomy, out-of-the way room at best. Grandmother Lyman looked rather sober over the prospect; and Phoebe wanted to interfere, as that was against the rules of the house, John worked on in his own way, until at the end of two days, and after phoebe had made several journeys up and down the back-stairs, grandmother was told that her room was ready. The dear old lady dragged herself up to the little chamber, while two little tots came scrambling after, bearing her Bible and hymn-book, Wesley’s Sermons, and knitting-work. But it was no “palace of beauty” which she found awaiting her. The room was low slanting on one side, unpapered, uncarpeted, and only lighted by two little dormer windows, which did their best to admit pure daylight in spite of the dark gingham curtains so trimly hung before them. A bed stood in one corner, before which was a braided rug, while a stove with two good legs occupied the center of the room. Grandmother looked out at the windows, but the view was not pleasant; two barns, the watering trough, and the fashionable resort of the ducks and geese, that was all. She was not one to complain; but she sadly missed the grand sweep of mountain and valley which had greet her eyes from the “for-door” ever since she was brought there a happy bride. Turning to arrange her books on the little table, she sang in her wavering way,
“Thus far the Lord hath led me on!”
and before the verse was finished, her heart was at peace again. “Doin' to stay up here all ’lone g’amma?” said wee little Tillie in pitying accents. “O no! I guess you and Nick will come up real often, won’t you?” “I dess so; but ‘taint very pitty,” said the little one, as she trotted down-stairs again.
Meanwhile, John, as he followed the plow, was thinking of the five dollars expended in repairing the room, and trying to persuade himself that he was indeed a worthy son. “Five dollars! It aint every one that would do as much for his mother as I do for mine,” he soliloquized. “Too old to go up-stairs! Oh well, when she once gets up she is more out of the way; and she wants quiet, you know.”
Be it known that sometimes John found it necessary to reason with himself in order to assure his conscience that everything was as it should be in her domain; and sometimes, as on this occasion, she asked so many question that he was obliged to talk the livelong afternoon.
He retired that night thinking, “Five dollars for grandma’m’s room and the mare lame in both forefeet!” But while these dismal thoughts filled his mind, his body seemed to be very suddenly transported to the kitchen below. He was not alone, however, for a woman was there before him, walking the floor with a child in her arms. Back and forth she paced, carefully holding the pale-faced boy in the same position while he slept.
“Ruth,” said a voice from the adjoining room, that little chap will wear you all out. Can’t I take him a little while?” “O no,” was the reply. “He likes to have me carry him so, poor little fellow.” “Ah,” said John to himself, “that’s the way mother carried me six nights, when I got scalded so terribly.” The scene changed, and he saw himself again. A crushed foot this time, demanding his mother’s untiring care. Again and again incidents of his life were re-enacted before him, but always with his mother there, comforting, working, watching and praying. Whether sick in body or in mind, he saw how, all through his life, a mother’s tender love had surrounded him. And then he stood once more beside his father’s death-bed, and heard again the solemn charge. “Be kind to your mother, John, and make her old age pleasant. She is all you’ve got now.” With these words ringing in his ears John Lyman awoke to find the perspiration standing on his forehead, and a strange, weird sensation resting on him like a spell, which he tried in vain to throw aside. He tried to compose his mind, and again to sleep; but though nothing peculiarly frightful had troubled his slumber, he trembled from head to foot. In fact, Conscience so long soothed and stifled had with a terrible effort freed herself, and determined to make one more effort for John’s soul. She lashed him unmercifully. She showed him how his soul was growing smaller and meaner every day-how he was just a plague-spot on God’s fair earth. He saw himself in a mirror that reflected the inmost recesses of his heart, and he was horrified at the foulness so long concealed.
As the hours wore slowly on toward the day, John grew to hate himself more and more, until, almost stifled in-doors, he rose and went out. Everything wore that unreal look that the first faint twilight gives. Mysterious and still the mists lay along the foot of the mountains, while the stars twinkled in the sky that seemed very, very far away.
From force of habit John Lyman strode into the yard where the cattle were; but they only stared at him sleepily as they lay tranquilly chewing the cud; so he wandered out and down the path that led into the little maple grove, which had been a playground for three generations. As he passed slowly along under the solemn trees, his boyhood days came back to him so fresh that the two score years of hard, grinding toil, flew away as by magic. Oh, that happy, careless boyhood! How had its golden promises been fulfilled! A blush of shame rose to the man’s cheek as he thought how hard and cold his heart had grown. Hundreds of times he had stood beside the little stream which he had now reached, without noticing a trace of beauty; but now, as the sun lighted the distant mountain-top with a glow that crept over it sides, a gladdening, awakening glow, seen only in the spring, it seemed as though he had never looked upon the scene before. So new, so beautiful! And a wonderful sense of God’s nearness stole over him, such as he had not felt before for years, and, at the same time, a new love for his mother, who had so long been the only Bible he read, filled his heart like a fresh revelation from the Father. The lowing of the cattle recalled him to himself, and he turned homeward, passed by the lane, into the barn, and was soon throwing hay into the mangers below. Suddenly he stopped, thrust his pitchfork deep into the hay, and said: “My mother shall have a better room than that if it costs five hundred dollars! Now that’s so! Hurrah!” Good once more had triumphed over evil, as the experience of the morning culminated in this worthy resolution.
Soon the patter of childish feet was heard, and Tillie cried, “Pa, pa, mother want to know where you be, ‘cause she’s been worrin’ about you, fear you’s sick and breakses is all getting cold this minute. Boiled eggs, too, aint it, Ruth?”
“I’ll be in directly,” came the answer from the high mow; so happy, chattering, Tillie and quiet Ruth climbed down the high steps and started toward the house. Their father overtook them as they stopped to look at the ducks taking their morning bath, and catching Tillie up, he put her on his shoulder, then drew down the little face, and kissed the fresh sweet lips. “How natural!” one may say, no, not natural for John Lyman, whose children feared far more than they loved him.
Tillie was astonished and half frightened, and as she began to wriggle uneasily, her father set her gently down. In a trice she was beside Ruth, and pulling her head down she whispered in her ear, “Pa just kissed me all his own self, Ruth.” “Did he?” said Ruth, opening her eyes very wide. Then she hurried on and walked close by her father’s side, while at her little heart fluttered the hope that she might too receive a kiss. But she was not noticed; and very much grieved she shrank away wondering if he loved Tillie best.
“I dreamed of your father last night, John,” said grandmother while they were at breakfast, “and you can’t think how good and natural he looked.” John didn’t say anything. During the forenoon John had a long conference with his wife which seemed to be satisfactory, for as he left her he said, “Well, then, you take the things out this afternoon, and Johnson shall come over and do the painting tomorrow.” Before night the cheerful little spare room which adjoined the parlor was empty, and the old-fashioned paper, with its ever-recurring pictures of a shepherdess, a hunter and Rebecca at the well, stripped from the walls.
Silence was imposed upon the children, for Grandma’m mustn’t know,” and the little things went round fairly aching with the importance of their secret, and holding on to themselves for fear they might tell. Mysterious trips were taken in the old market-wagon, and a suspicious smell of new things filled the air; but when grandmother inquired what was going on down-stairs, Ruth clapped both hands over her mouth, and Tillie screamed, “O nuffin, grandma, on’y—O Ruthie, come down, quick!”
One bright May afternoon, however, the work was finished, and John, jealous of the privilege, donned his Sunday coat and stumbled up to his mother’s room in the most awkward manner to break the news. “Mother, can you come down below a few minutes now?” said he, trying to appear unconcerned.
“Why, la me!” smoothing her “front” and refolding her neckerchief, “has the minister come? I aint fixed up one bit.”
“No, no, mother there’s no occasion for fixin’ up. It aint much of anything, only me—that is,--well, perhaps you’d better come now.”
“John,” said the old lady solemnly, laying her hand on his arm, "if it’s bad news, just tell me right away. The Lord will give me strength to bear it, just as he has the dispensations all along.”
Poor John ! how to acquaint the old lady with this "dispensation” he didn’t know; but Tillie came to the rescue.
“O g’anma,” said she, seizing one of the wrinkled hands, “we can’t wait another minute. It’s all splendid; and Nick, and Ruth, and baby, and I have all got our clean aprons on, and Wesley, he’s in, so come straight down,” and timing her impatient hops to the tottering footsteps she guided, Tillie soon had grandmother in the midst of a smiling group, while the relieved father brought up the rear.
“Now, g’anma,” said Ruth, seizing her free hand, shut up your eyes tight till we say open ‘em,” and then the delighted children, followed by the rest of the family, drew her into the old spare room. “Now, now, g’anma, open, open! And what do you see?” they cried, dancing and clapping their hands. Grandmother looked around her in perfect amazement. Truly a wondrous change had been wrought! Beautiful light paper covered the walls, and a bright, soft carpet the floor, while pretty shades hung before the four great windows, whose tassels swung back and forth in the sweet May air like bells, dumb for joy.
“John, John, what does this mean?”
“It’s your room, g’anma,” shouted a chorus of voices.
“Why this is good enough for a queen! You can’t mean it for a poor old creature like me,” and the darling old lady’s eyes began to run over with happy tears, while John tried in vain to find voice to answer, and dear, patient Phoebe sobbed outright.
“Why, g’anma,” shouted little Nick at the top of his voice. “I shouldn’t think you’d cry, ‘cause this is the cutest room in the house; and when me and Wes comes in, we’ve got to take off our boots and talk real soft. And oh, just look at this table-cloth and this rug! It feels like velvet! And this stool—do you see?—it’s got a cats foot on every one of its legs. That’s to put your foot on, you know, and, O say, can’t we play puss in the corner sometimes if we're easy?” “G’anma, I can almost smell the roses,” said Ruth patting the paper.
So with the help of the children the room was christened, everything examined and praised, and at last the noisy little troop withdrew. Then Grandmother Lyman, with a sense of exquisite comfort, sank into the nice, new arm-chair close to the window.
“Like it pretty well, do you?” queried John, as he took another chair near her.
“Like it? It seems too good to be real. I’ve thought sometimes that perhaps in my mansion—heavenly, you know—I should find everything soft, and bright, and cozy like; but to have a room like this here on earth, why, John, I can’t tell you how thankful I feel. ‘T was lonesome up garret there, and yesterday I dragged in the old cradle and the little wheel to make it seem more social like; but the cradle was empty and broken, and the old wheel brought back the old days when I used to sit and spin, while your father husked corn; so they didn’t cheer me up much. But I never mistrusted what you was doing down here for me. John, I believe nothing but the Spirit of God could have coaxed you into this. Don’t you think I’ll see you a Christian yet before I die?” and the anxious mother laid her trembling hand on her son’s big brown one.
“Well, mother, I don’t know;” then came a long pause, for the farmer, almost as silent habitually as the fields he tilled, could find no words to express his feelings.
“I’ve been feelin’ kind of queer lately, and seems and seems as if everything has changed wonderfully. ‘T was a shabby trick, my putting you up in that old room, and it troubled me considerably one night, and then other things kept coming up, till—well—I believe I’m the worst man on earth. Speaking of being a Christian, I guess likely I might fly about as easy. I wish I was an out-and-out one; but I tell you what, mother, there aint a man in town but that would think I pretended it all so’s to make a dollar out of somebody;” and John drew his hand across his eyes, as though there were tears starting somewhere which must be warned to keep away from the windows.
Grandmother didn’t care if the tears did come in her eyes, for they were joyful ones.
“Well, the Lord would know better,” said she comfortingly, “and by and by others would. It’ll be your works, as well as your words, that will tell if you are in earnest.”
“That’s so, mother, that’s so; the minister said that very thing last Sabbath. He’s been preaching right at me this two months, and it made me mad at first. I thought I wouldn’t give him a cent this year, but I guess he told the truth.”
“Yes, of course he did. That’s what he’s made for. But now, John, you wont’ give up seeking until you get the blessing, will you? Promise me this and one thing more. Don’t let the love of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, tempt you to give way to Satan for one minute.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can do, but it looks like a great task before me.” And John really felt as though he was preparing for a stern conflict. He went out to his work again, while Grandmother Lyman knelt down on the soft bright carpet, the sunset light falling around her, and sent a prayer up to the Father’s throne so full of thanksgiving and love that the answer was not delayed, but came, bringing peace and joy to her trusting heart.
Pretty soon Phoebe came stealing in with a look of apprehension resting upon her countenance.
“Mother.” Said she, sinking into the first chair she reached, “I’m afraid John’s going to die.”
“My child, what do you mean?” queried the old lady, puling her spectacles to the top of her head.
Because he’s changed so lately. Fixing up this room, you know, and being so gentle like—what can it mean unless he’s going to die?”
“Don’t worry, Phoebe, John’s just getting ready to live. I tell you, daughter, he’s experiencing religion.”
A fresh joy lighted up Phoebe’s worn face as she spoke.
“Do you think so, mother? Oh, if it only could be true!”
A cry from the kitchen called her thither again, but her heart was light, and old hymns sprang unbidden to her lips, all tuned to the upgushing happiness within. The little ones caught the infection, and capered her up and down the old kitchen, until wearied out they dropped off to sleep and to bed.
That day saw the beginning of true happiness in the old red farmhouse. Not but that John passed through many fierce struggles, for the world acquires a strong hold in forty-five years, but with God’s help he gained the victory; and humble and happy, one week later he called his little family together, and told them of his new hopes and purposes. We cannot describe the scene. But surely the angels saw and rejoiced over it. Then once more, before his friends and neighbors in prayer-meeting, with trembling voice he related his experience. Tears and “amens” greeted it, all testifying to the spirit of true brotherly love. Some, to be sure, there were who said, “Can the leopard change his spots?” But when, Sabbath after Sabbath, they saw that the head of the Lyman pew” neither pretended to be asleep, not to have forgotten his wallet when the much-abused green contribution bag swung along, but instead deposited therein the freshest scrip, they said, “truly this is the Lord’s doings, and is marvelous in our eyes,”
Perhaps the story of the change at home is about as Tillie whispered it in the ear of a confidential friend. “You see pa asks a blessin’ now ‘fore we eats; and then we read the Bible; and he prays the Lord to keep us good all day long; and so we grow gooder and gooder. Pa bought mother a new black silk dress the other day, and Oh, he’s so much lovinger than he ever was before!” Yes, he was “lovinger,” as Tillie called him, for truly he had passed from death unto life.
The old homestead, too, soon began to change visibly. The shades of ugliness that had so long hung over it vanished away. Its very angles seemed to grow less acute, and never, in its palmist days, had it rejoiced in such bright coats of paint. But, with all the brightening up without and within, there was one most cozy place of all where the family was wont to assemble each Sabbath evening. “Seems though its always full of rainbows,” Nick said; but that must have been owing to the blessed influence of her who sat there, for this dearest of all nooks was Grandmother’s room.”
God has not promised skies ever blue
Flower-strewn pathways always to you
God has not promised sun without rain
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain
But God hath promised strength from above
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.