I do not believe two more worthy, excellent people could be found than Gideon Randal and his wife. To lift the fallen, and minister to the destitute was their constant habit and delight, so that often they shortened their own comforts for the good of others. Mr. Randal’s friends urged him to reduce his charities, as such generous giving might mar his fortune and bring him to want; but his unfailing reply was:--
“I think there is enough to carry Martha and me through life, and some over. What we give to the poor, we lend to the Lord, and if a dark day comes, He will provide.”
A dark day did come, but it was not till after he had reached threescore and ten years. As old age advanced, his little farm had become less productive, and debts accumulated. Being forced to raise money, he had borrowed a thousand dollars of Eugene Harrington, giving him a mortgage on his house for security. The interest was regularly paid, and with this Eugene Harrington was well satisfied; but he died suddenly, and his son, a merciless, grasping man, wrote to Mr. Randal, demanding payment of the mortgage. The old man asked for an extension of the time, but he pressed the demand, and threatened if it was not settled within a given time, to deprive him of his home. Mr. Randal was greatly distressed.
“Martha,” he said to his wife, “young Harrington is a hard man. He has me in his power now, and I fear he will not scruple to ruin me. I think I had better go and talk to him, and tell him how little I have. It may be he’ll pity two old people, and allow us better terms.”
“But husband, You are not use to traveling, and Harrowtown is a hundred miles away, and you are old and feeble, too.”
“True, wife, but I can say to him a great deal more than I can write, and besides, Luke Conway lives there. I took an interest in him when he was a poor boy. Perhaps he’ll advise and help me, now that I’m in trouble.”
At last, seeing he felt he must go, Martha reluctantly consented, and fitted him out with wifely care.
The next morning was warm and sunny for November, and Mr. Randal started for Harrowtown.
“Gideon,” called Mrs. Randal, as he walked slowly down the road, “be sure to take tight hold of the railing when you get in and out of the cars.”
“I’ll be careful. You take good care of yourself, Martha!” and, with a parting look, the old man hastened on to take the stage, which was to convey him to the railroad station. But misfortune met him at the very outset of his journey. The stage was heavily loaded, and on the way, one of the wheels broke down, which caused such a detention that Mr. Randal missed the morning train, and the next did not come for several hours.
It was afternoon when he finally started. He was anxious and weary from long waiting; and after three stations were passed, he began to ask questions.
“How long before we get to Harrowtown?” he inquired, stopping the busy conductor.
“We get there at half past eight.”
Another question was upon Mr. Randal’s lips, but the conductor had hurried on. He looked around as if to appeal to someone else, but turned back, talking to himself. “Not get there till into the evening,” he said, “and pitch dark, for there’s no moon now. I shan’t know where to go.” The poor old man was sorely troubled.
Presently the conductor came back, and as he passed his seat, he stopped him again.
“Mr. Conductor, how shall I know when to get out? I’ve never been to Harrowtown, and I don’t want to get out at the wrong place.”
“Give yourself no concern,” was the polite reply. “I’ll tell you when we come to Harrowtown. I won’t forget you.”
Soothed by his assurance, Mr. Randal’s mind grew tranquil, and he finally went to sleep.
In the seat behind him sat a tall, handsome boy. His name was Albert Gregory. He was bright and intelligent, but his well-featured face was spoiled by a wicked-looking eye and a hard, cruel mouth.
He saw the aged passenger fall asleep and nudged his seat-fellow.
“Look there, John. By and by, I’ll play a joke on that old country greeny, and you’ll see fun.”
On rushed the swift express; mile after mile passed; daylight faded and the lamps were lit in the cars, and still the aged man slept, watched by his purposed tormentor, and the boy who waited to “see fun.”
At length the speed of the train began to slacken, coming near a stopping-place. Albert sprang up and shook Mr. Randal violently.
“Wake up! Wake up!” he called, sharply, putting his mouth close to his ear. “This is Harrowtown. You must get off here.”
The old man, thus roughly roused, started from his seat and gazed around him, bewildered, the change from day to night, the unaccustomed awaking on a moving train, the glare of the lights, added tenfold to his confusion.
“Wh—what did you say boy?” he asked helplessly.
“This is Harrowtown. The place where you want to stop. You must get off. Be quick or you’ll be carried by.”
The noise of the brakes, and the distracted attention of the passengers on reaching a new station, possibly ignorance of the real locality on the part of those near enough to have heard him, prevented any correction of the boy’s cruel falsehood. Mr. Randal knew it was not the conductor who had aroused him; but, supposing Albert to be some employee of the road, he hurried to the car door with tottering steps. The name of the station was called at the other end, as unlike as possible to the name of Harrowtown,” but his dull ears did not notice it. He got off upon the platform, and before he could recover himself or knew his error, the train was in motion again.
Albert was in ecstasies over the success of his “joke,” and shook all over with laughter, in which, of course, his companion joined. “Oh dear! That’s too good for anything!” he cried, “aint it, John?”
John assented that it was very funny indeed.
Neither of the boys noticed that the seat lately occupied by poor, deceived Mr. Randal had just been taken by a fine-looking middle-aged man, wrapped in a heavy cloak, who appeared to be absorbed in his own thoughts, but really heard every word they said.
They kept up a brisk conversation, Albert speaking in quite a loud tone, for he was feeling very merry. “Ha, ha, ha,!—but I did think the old fool would hear the brakeman call the station, though. I didn’t suppose I could get him any further than the door. To think of his clambering clear out on the platform, and getting left! He believed every word I told him. What a delicious old simpleton!”
And having exhausted that edifying subject for the moment, he presently began to brag of his plans and prospects.
“I don’t believe you stand much of a chance there; they say Luke Conway is awful particular,” the middle-aged stranger heard John remark.
“Pooh! Shut up!” cried Albert. “Particular! That’s just it, and makes my chance all the better. I’ve brought the kind of recommendation that a particular man wants, you see.”
“But there’ll be lots of other fellows trying for the place.”
“Don’t care if there’s fifty,” said Albert, “I’d come in ahead of ‘em all. I’ve got testimonials of character and qualifications from Professor Howe, Rev. Joseph Lee, Dr. Henshaw, and Esquire Jenks, the great railroad contractor. His name alone is enough to secure me the situation.”
At this junction, the strange gentleman turned around and gave Albert a quick, searching glance. But the conceited boy was too much occupied with himself to notice the movement, and kept on talking. Now and then the thought of the victim whom he had fooled seemed to come back and tickle him amazingly. Wonder where the old man is now. Ha, ha,! Do you suppose he has found out where Harrowtown is? Oh, but wasn’t it rich to see how scared he was when I waked him up? And how he jumped and scrambled out of the car! “Pon my word, I never saw anything so comical.”
Here the stranger turned and shot another quick glance, this time from indignant eyes, and his lips parted as if about to utter a stern reproof. But he did not speak. Some hidden motive withheld him.
We will leave Albert, and his fellow travelers, and follow good Gideon Randal.
It was quite dark when he stepped from the cars, and he inquired of a man at the station, “Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Aaron Harrington?”
“There’s no such man living here, to my knowledge,” was the reply.
“What, isn’t this Harrowtown?” asked Mr. Randal in great consternation.
“No, it is Whipple Village.”
“Then I got out at the wrong station. What shall I do?” in a voice of deep distress.
“Go right to the hotel and stay till the train goes in the morning,” said the man, pleasantly.
There was no alternative, Mr. Randal passed a restless night at the hotel, and at an early hour he was again at the station, waiting for the train. His face was pale, and his eyes wild and anxious. The stage broke down, and I missed the first train,” thought he, “and then that boy told me to get out here. I’ve made a bad beginning, and I’m afraid this trip will have a bad ending.”
There were other passengers walking to and fro on the platform, waiting for the cars to come.
One was a plain-featured, honest-looking boy, who had been accompanied to the station by his mother. Just before his mother bade him good by, she said, Lyman, look at that pale, sad, old man. I don’t believe he is used to traveling. Perhaps you can help him along.”
Soon a loud, prolonged whistle was heard. The cars were coming.
“Allow me to assist you, sir,” said Lyman Dean to Mr. Randal, as the train stopped; and he took hold of his arm, and guided him into a car to a seat.
“Thank you, my boy. I’m getting old and clumsy, and a little help from a young hand comes timely. Where are you going, if I may ask?”
“To Harrowtown, sir. I saw an advertisement for a boy in a store, and I’m going to try to get the situation. My name is Lyman Dean.”
“Ah? I’m sure I wish you success, Lyman, for I believe you are a good boy. You are going to the same place I am. I want to find Aaron Harrington, but I’ve had two mishaps. I don’t know what’s coming next.”
I’ll show you right where his office is. I’ve been in Harrowtown a good many times.”
Half an hour later, the brakeman shouted the name of the station where they must stop. Lyman assisted Mr. Randal off the train, and walked with him to the principle street. “Here’s Mr. Harrington’s office,” said he.
“Oh, yes, thank you kindly. And now could you tell me where Mr. Luke Conway’s place of business is?”
“Why, that’s the very gentleman I’m going to see,” said Lyman. “His place is just round the corner, only two blocks off.”
Mr. Randal looked deeply interested. He turned and shook the boys’ hand warmly. “Lyman,” he said, “Mr. Conway knows me. I am coming to see him by and by. I am really obliged to you for you politeness, and wish I could do something for you. I hope Mr. Conway will give you the situation, for you deserve it. If you apply before I get there, tell him Gideon Randal is your friend. Good by.”
Fifteen minutes later found Lyman waiting in the counting-room of Luke Conway’s store. Albert Gregory had just preceded him. The merchant was writing, and he had requested the boys to be seated a short time, till he was at leisure. Before he finished his work, a slow, feeble step was heard approaching, and an old man stood in the doorway.
“Luke, don’t you remember me?” The merchant looked up at the sound of the voice. Then he sprang up from his chair and grasped the old man’s hand in both his own. Mr. Randal! Welcome, a thousand time welcome, my benefactor!” he exclaimed. And seating his guest on the office lounge beside him, Mr. Conway inquired after his health and comfort, and talked with him as a loving son. It was evident to the quick perception of the merchant that the good old man’s circumstances had changed and he soon made it easy for him to unburden his mind.
“Yes, Luke, I am in trouble. Aaron Harrington owns a mortgage on my farm, and I can’t pay him, and he threatens to take my home,” said Mr. Randal with a quivering lip. “I went to his office, but didn’t find him, and I thought maybe you’d advise me what to do.”
“Mr. Randal,” answered the merchant, laying his hand on the old man’s shoulder, “almost thirty years ago when I was cold, and hungry, and friendless, you took me in and fed me. Your good wife—God bless her!—made me a suit of clothes with her own hands. You found me work, and you gave me money when I begun the world alone. Much if not all that I am in life I owe to your sympathy and help, my kind old friend. Now I am rich, and you must let me cancel my debt. I shall pay your mortgage today. You shall have your home free again.”
“Mr. Randal wipe great hot tears from his cheeks, and said in a husky voice, “It is just as I told Martha. I knew if we lent our money to the Lord, when a dark day came, He would provide.”
The reader can imagine the different feelings of the two boys, as they sat witnesses of the scene. The look of derision, that change to an expression of sickly dismay on Albert’s face, when the old man came in and was so warmly greeted by the merchant, was curiously suggestive. But his usual assurance returned. He thought it unlikely that Mr. Randal would recognize him in the daylight, and he determined to put on a bold front.
For a minute the two men continued in conversation. Mr. Conway called up pleasant reminiscences of “Aunt Martha,” his boy-life on the farm, and the peace and stillness of the country town. He thought a railroad ride of a hundred miles must be a hardship for a quiet old man. “It was a long way for you,” he said, “Did you have a comfortable journey?”
“Well, I can’t quite say that. First the stage broke down and delayed me. Then I slept in the cars, and a boy played a trick on me, and waked me up, and made me get out at the wrong station, so I had to stay over night in Whipple Village. To tell the truth I had a great deal of worriment with one thing and another, getting here; but it’s all bright now,” he added with a radiant face.
“You shall go with me to my house and rest, as soon as I have dismissed these boys.” Said Mr. Conway, earnestly; and turning to Albert and Lyman, who anxiously waited. He spoke to them about their errand.
“I suppose you came because you saw my advertisement?”
“Yes, sir,” replied both, simultaneously.
“Very well, I believe you came in first. What is your name?”
“I am Albert Gregory, sir. I think I can suit you. I’ve brought testimonials of ability and character from some of the first men—Esquire Jenkins, Rev. Joseph Lee, Dr. Henshaw, and others. Here are my letters of recommendation,” holding them out for Mr. Conway to take.
“I don’t want to see them,” returned the merchant, coldly. “I have seen you before, I understand your character well enough for the present.”
He then addressed a few words to Lyman Dean.
“I should be very glad to work,” said Lyman. My mother is poor, and I want to earn my living, but I haven’t any testimonials.”
“Yes, you have,” said old Mr. Randal, who was waiting for an opportunity to say that very thing. And then he told the merchant how polite and helpful Lyman had been to him.
Mr. Conway fixed his eyes severely upon the other boy. The contrast between him and young Dean was certainly a lesson.
“Albert Gregory,” said the merchant, “I occupied the seat in the car in front of you last evening. I heard you exulting and wickedly boasting how you had deceived a distressed old man. Mr. Randal, is this the boy who lied to you, and caused you to get out at the wrong station?”
Mr. Randal looked earnestly at Albert. “I declare! Now I remember him. It is! I’m sure it is.”
It was useless for Albert to attempt any vindication of himself. His stammered excuses stuck in his throat, and he was glad to hide his mortification by an early escape. Crestfallen, he slunk away, taking all his “testimonials” with him.
“Lyman,” said Conway, kindly, “I shall be very glad to employ you in my store. You shall have good pay if you do well, and I am sure you will. You may begin work at once."
Lyman’s eyes dance with joy as he left the counting-room to receive his instructions from the head clerk.
Mr. Conway paid to Mr. Harrington the money owned him by M. Randal, and a heavy load was lifted from the good old farmer’s heart. He remained a visitor two or three days in Mr. Conway’s house, where he was treated with utmost deference and attention. Mr. Conway also purchase for him a suit of warm clothes, and an overcoat, and sent his confidential clerk with him on his return journey to see him safely home. Nor was good Mrs. Randal forgotten. She received a handsome present in money from Mr. Conway, and a message full of grateful affection. Nothing ever after occurred to disturb the lives of the aged and worthy pair.
Albert Gregory obtained an excellent situation in New York, but his false character, and his wanton disregard of other’s feelings and rights, made him as hateful to his employers as to all his associates, and he soon found it desirable to seek another place.
He has changed places many times since, and his career has been an unhappy one—another example of the penalty of frivolous habits and a heartless nature.
Lyman Dean is now a successful merchant, a partner to Mr. Conway, and occupies a high position in society, as an honorable, enterprising man.
What is it that gives to the plainest face
The charm of the noblest beauty?
Not the thought of the duty of happiness
But the happiness of duty.