“Happy New Year, papa!” The sitting-room doors were thrown open, and a sweet little girl came bounding in. Her cheeks were all aglow. Smiles played around her cherry lips, and her eyes were dancing with sunny light.
“Happy New Year, my sweet one!” responded Mr. Edgar, as he clasped the child fondly to his heart. “May all your New Years be happy,” he added, in a low voice, and with a prayer in his heart.
Little Ellen laid her head in confiding love against her father’s breast, and he bent down his manly cheek until it rested on the soft masses of her golden hair. To her it was a Happy New Year’s morning, and the words that fell from her lips were heart-echoes. But it was not so with Mr. Edgar. The cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, had, like evil weeds, found a rank growth in his heart, while good seeds of truth, which in earlier life had sent forth their fresh, green blades, that lifted themselves in the bright invigorating sunshine, gave now but feeble promise for the harvest-time.
No; Mr. Edgar was not happy. There was a pressure on his feelings; an unsatisfied reaching out into the future; a vague consciousness of approaching evil. Very tenderly he loved his little one; and as she lay nestling against him, he could not help thinking of the time when he was a child, and when New Years were happy ones. Ellen loved no place so well as her father’s arms. When they were folded tightly around her, she had nothing more to desire; so she lay very still and silent, while the thoughts of her father wandered away from the loving child on his bosom to his own unsatisfied state of mind.
“For years,” he said within himself, “I have been in earnest pursuit of the means of happiness, yet happiness itself seems every year to be still farther in the distance. There is something wrong. I cannot be in the true path. My days are busy and restless, my nights burdened with schemes that rarely do more than cheat my glowing fancy. What is the meaning of this?”
And Mr. Edgar fell into a deep reverie, from which he was aroused by the voice of his wife, as she laid her hand upon his shoulder.
“A happy New year, and many joyful returns!” she said in loving tones, as she pressed her lips to his forehead.
He did not answer. The tenderly spoken good wishes of his wife fell gratefully, like refreshing dew, upon his heart; but he was distinctly conscious of not being happy.
So far as worldly condition was concerned, Mr. Edgar had no cause of mental depression. His business was prosperous under a careful management, and every year he saw himself better off by a few thousand dollars. Always, however, it must be told, the number fell short of his expectation.
“There is something wrong.” Mr. Edgar’s thoughts were all running in one direction. A startling truth seemed suddenly to be revealed to him, and he felt inclined to look at it in all possible aspects. “Why am I not happy?” That was urging the question home; but the answer was not given.
After breakfast, Mr. Edgar left home and went to his store. As he passed along the street, he saw at a window the face of a most lovely child. Her beauty, that had in it something of heavenly innocence, impressed him so deeply that he turned to-gain a second look, and in doing so his eyes saw on the door of the dwelling the name of Abraham James. There was no instant revulsion of feeling; and for the first time that morning Mr. Edgar remembered one of the causes of his uncomfortable state of mind. Abraham James was an unfortunate debtor who had failed to meet his obligations, among which were two notes of five hundred dollars each, given to Mr. Edgar. These had been placed by the latter in the hands of his lawyer, with directions to sue them out, and obtain the most that could be realized. Only the day before—the last day of the year—he had learned that there were two judgments that would take precedence of his, and sweep off a share of the debtor’s property. The fact had chafed him considerably, causing him to indulge in harsh language toward his debtor. The language was not just, as he knew in his heart. But the loss of his money fretted him, and filled him with unkind feelings toward the individual who had occasioned his loss.
No wonder Mr. Edgar was unhappy. As he continued on his way, the angry impulse that quickened the blood in his veins subsided, and through the mist that obscured his mental vision, he saw the bright face of a child, the child of his unfortunate debtor. His own precious one was no lovelier, no purer; nor had her lips uttered on that morning in sweeter tones, the words, “A happy new year, papa!”
How the thought thrilled him.
With his face bowed, and his eyes upon the ground, Mr. Edgar walked on. He could not sweep aside the image of that child at the window, nor keep back his thoughts from entering the dwelling where her presence might be the only sunbeam that gave light in its gloomy chambers.
When Mr. Edgar arrived at his store, his feelings toward Mr. James were very different from what they were on the day previous. All anger, all resentment, were gone, and kindness had taken their place. What if Mr. James did owe him a thousand dollars? What if he should lose the whole amount of this indebtedness? Was the condition of the former so much better than his own, that he would care to change places with him? The very idea caused a shudder to run along his nerves.
“Poor man!” he said to himself pityingly. “What a terrible thing to be thus involved in debt, thus crippled, thus driven to the wall. It would kill me! Men are very cruel to one another, and I am cruel with the rest. What are a thousand dollars to me, or a thousand dollars to my well-to-do neighbor, compared with the ruin of a helpless fellow-man? James asked time. In two years he was sure he could recover himself, and make all good. But, with a heartlessness that causes my cheek to burn as I think of it, I answered, ‘The first loss is always the best loss. I will get what I can, and let the balance go.’ The look he then gave me has troubled my conscience ever since. No wonder it has not been a happy New Year.”
Scarcely had Mr. Edgar passed the dwelling of his unfortunate debtor, when the latter, who had been walking the floor of his parlor in a troubled state of mind, came to the window and stood by his child, who was as dear to him as a child could be to the heart of a father. “Happy New Year papa!” It was the third time since morning dawned that he had received this greeting from the same sweet lips. Mr. James tried to give back the same glad greeting, but the words seemed to choke him, and failed in the utterance. As the two stood by the window, the wife and mother came up, and leaning against her husband, looked forth with a sad heart. Oh, no! it was not a happy New year’s morning to them. Long before the dawn of another year, they must go forth from their pleasant home; and both their hearts shrunk back in fear from the dark beyond.
“Good morning dear,” said Mr. James, soon afterward, as, with hat and coat and muffler on, he stood ready to go forth to meet the business trials of the day. His voice was depressed, and his countenance sad.
The business assigned to that day was a painful one for Mr. James. The only creditor who had commenced a suit was Mr. Edgar, he having declined entering into any arrangement with the other creditors, coldly saying that, in his opinion, “the first loss was always the best loss,” and that extensions were, in most cases, equivalent to the abandonment of a claim. He was willing to take what the law would give him. Pursuant to this view, a suit had been brought, and the debtor, to anticipate the result. Confessed judgment to two of his largest creditors, who honorably bound themselves to see that a pro rata division was made of all his effects.
The business of this New Year’s Day was to draw up as complete a statement as possible of his affairs, and Mr. James went about the work with a heavy heart. He had been engaged in this way for over an hour, when one of his clerks came to the desk where he was writing, and handed him a letter, which a lad had just brought in. He broke the seal with a nervous foreboding of trouble; for, of late, these letters by the hands of private messengers had been frequent, and rarely of an agreeable character. From the envelope, as he commenced withdrawing the letter, there dropped upon the desk a narrow piece of paper, folded like a bill. He took it up with almost reluctant fingers, and slowly pressed back the ends so as to read its face and comprehend its import. Twice his eyes went over the brief lines. Before he was clear as to their meaning. They were as follows:--
“Received, January 1, 18__, of Abraham James, One Thousand Dollars, in full of all demands.
Hurriedly, now, did Mr. James unfold the letter that accompanied this receipt. Its language moved him deeply.
“Abraham James, Esq.,
“DEAR SIR: I was not in the right state of mind when I gave directions to have a suit brought against you. I have seen clearer since, and wish to act from a better principle. My own affairs are prosperous. During the year which has just closed, my profits have been better than in any other year since I started business. Your affairs, on the contrary, are unprosperous. Heavy losses, instead of fair profits, are the result of a year’s tireless efforts, and you find yourself near the bottom of the wheel, while I am sweeping upward. As I think of this, and my unfeeling conduct toward you in your misfortunes, I am mortified as well as pained. There is an element in my character which ought not to be there. I am self-convicted of cruelty. Accept, my dear sir, in the enclosed receipt, the best reparation in my power to make. In giving up this claim, I do not abandon an item that goes to complete the sum of my happiness. Not a single comfort will be abridged. It will not shrink the dimensions of my house, nor withdraw from me or my family any portion of food or raiment. Accept then the New Year’s gift I offer, and believe that I have a purer delight in giving than you in receiving. My best wishes are with you for the future, and if, in anything, I can aid you in your arrangements with creditors, do not fail to command my service.
“Most truly yours,
For the space of nearly five minutes Mr. James sat very still, the letter from Mr. Edgar before him. Then he folded it up, with the receipt inside, and placed it in his pocket. Then he put away the inventories he had been examining, and tore up several pieces of paper, on which were sundry calculations. And then he put on his warm overcoat and buttoned it to the chin.
“Edward,” said Mr. James, as he walked down the store, “I shall not return this afternoon. It is New Year’s Day, and you can close up at two o’clock.”
It cost Mr. Edgar a struggle to write the receipt in full. A thousand dollars was large sum of money to give away by a single stroke of a pen. Love of gain and selfishness pleaded strongly for the last farthing; but the better reason and the better feelings of the man prevailed, and the good deed was done. How light his heart felt, how suddenly the clouds were lifted from the sky, and the strange pressure from his feelings! It was to him a new experience.
On the evening that closed the day, the first evening of the New Year, Mr. Edgar sat with his wife and children in his elegant home, happier by far than he was in the morning, and almost wondering at the change in his state of mind. Little Ellen was in his arms, and as he looked upon her cherub face, he thought of a face as beautiful, seen by him in the morning, at the window of his unfortunate debtor. The face of an angel it had proved to him; for it prompted the good deed from which had sprung a double blessing. While he sat thus, he heard the door-bell ring. In a few minutes the waiter handed in a letter, he broke the seal, and read:--
My Dear Sir: This morning my dear little Aggie, the light of our home, greeted me with a joyous ‘Happy New Year.’ I took her in my arms and kissed her, keeping my face close to hers, that she might not see the sadness of mine. Ah, sir! The day broke in gloom. The words of my child found no echo in my heart. I could have wept over her, if the strength of manhood had not risen above the weakness of nature. But all is changed now. A few minutes ago the ‘Happy New year’ was flowing to me from the sweet lips of my child, and the words went thrilling in gladness to my heart. May the day close as happy for you and yours, as it is closing for me and mine. God bless you!
Mr. Edgar read the letter twice, and then handed it, without a word, to his wife.
The story, to which she listened eagerly, was briefly told. When Mr. Edgar had finished, his wife arose, and with tears of love and sympathy in her eyes, crossed over to where he was sitting, and throwing her arms around his neck, said, “My good, my generous husband! I feel very proud of you this night. That was a noble deed; and I thank you for it in the name of our common humanity.”
Never had the words from the lips of his wife sounded so pleasant to the ears of Mr. Edgar. Never had he known so happy a New Year’s Day as the one which he had just closed. And though it saw him poorer than he believed himself in the morning, by nearly a thousand dollars, he was richer in feeling—richer in the heart’s unwasting possessions than he had ever been in his life.