“Bread Upon the Water,” by T. S. Arthur (from The Youth’s Companion, 30 November 1848; pp. 121-122)
A lad was toiling up a hill, near the city, under the weight of a heavy basket, on the afternoon of a sultry day in August. He had been sent home with some goods to a customer, who lived a short distance in the country. The boy was lightly built, and his burden seemed almost beyond his strength. Many times he sat down to rest himself on his way up the hill. But it seemed as if he would never reach the summit. Each time he lifted the basket, it seemed heavier than before.
The boy was about half way up the hill with his basket, when a gentleman overtook and passed him. He had not gone on many paces when he stopped, and turning round to the lad, looked at him for a moment or two, and then said kindly—
“That’s a heavy load you have. Come, let me help you.”
And he took the basket and carried it to the top of the hill.
“There. Do you think you can get along now?” said he, with a smile, as he set the basket down. “Or shall I carry it a little further?”
“Oh no, thank you, sir,” returned the boy, with a glow of gratitude on his young face, “I can carry it now very well; and am very much obliged to you.”
“You are right welcome, my little man,” said the gentleman, and passed on.
Twenty years from that time a care worn man, well advanced in life, sat motionless in an old arm chair, with his eyes fixed intently on the glowing grate. He was alone and appeared to be in a state of great abstraction. In a little while, however, the door of the room opened, and the light form of a young and lovely girl glided in.
“Papa,” said a low sweet voice, and a hand was very gently laid on the old man’s arm.
“Is it you, dear?” he returned with a sigh.
“Yes, papa,” and the young girl leaned against him, and parted with her delicate fingers, the thin, gray locks that lay in disorder about his forehead.
“I would like to be alone this evening, Florence,” said the old man. “I have a good deal to think about, and expect a person on business.”
And he kissed her tenderly; yet sighed as he pressed his lips to hers.
The girl passed from the room as noiselessly as she had entered. The old man had been calm before her coming in, but the moment she retired, he became agitated, and aroused, and walked the floor uneasily. He continued to pace to and fro, for nearly half an hour, when he stopped suddenly and listened. The street door bell had run. In a little while a man entered the room.
“Mr. Mason,” he said, in a slightly perceptible embarrassment.
“Mr. Page,” returned the old man, with a feeble, quickly fading smile. “Good morning,” and he offered his hand.
The visitor grasped the old man’s hand and shook it warmly. But there was no pressure in return.
“Sit down, Mr. Page.”
The man took a chair, and Mr. Mason sat down near him.
“You promised an answer to my proposal to-night,” said the former after a pause.
“I did,” returned the old man; “but I am as little prepared to give it as I was yesterday. In fact, I have not found an opportunity to say anything to Florence on the subject.”
The countenance of the visitor fell and something like a frown darkened upon his brow.
There was an embarrassing silence of some minutes. After which the man called Page, said—
“Mr. Mason, I have made an honorable proposal for your daughter’s hand. For weeks you have evaded and do still an answer. This seems so much like trifling, that I begin to feel as if just cause for offence existed.”
“None is intended I do assure you,” replied Mr. Mason, with something deprecating in his tone. “But you must remember, Mr. Page, that you never sought to win the girl’s affections, and that, as a consequence, the offer of marriage which you wish to make her, will be receiv-
ed with surprise, and it may be disapproval. I wish to approach her on the subject with proper discretion. To be too precipitate, may startle her into instant repugnance against your wishes.”
“She loves you, does she now?” inquired Page, with a marked significance of manner.
“A child never loved a parent more tenderly,” replied Mr. Mason.
“Give her, then, an undisguised history of your embarrassment. Show her how your fortunes are trembling on the brink of ruin, and that you have but one hope of relief and safety left. The day she becomes my wife you are relieved from all danger. Will you do this.”
The old man did not reply. He was lost in a deep reverie. It is doubted whether he had heard all that the man had said.
“Will you do this?” inquired Page, and with some impatience in his tone.
Mason aroused himself as from a dream, and answered with great firmness and dignity.
“Mr. Page, the struggle in my mind is over. I am prepared for the worst, I have no idea that Florence will favor your suit, and I will not use a single argument to influence her. In that matter she must remain perfectly free. Approach her as a man, and win her if you have the power to do so. It is your only hope.”
As if stung by a serpent, Page started from his chair.
“You will repent this, sir,” he angrily retorted, “and repent it bitterly. I came to you with honorable proposals for your daughter’s hand, you listened to them, gave me encouragement, and promised me an answer to-night. Now you meet me with insult!—Sir! You will repent this.”
Mr. Mason ventured no reply, but merely bowed in token of his willingness to meet and bear all consequences that might come.
For a long time after this angry visitor had retired, did Mr. Mason cross the floor with measured steps. At last he rang the bell, and directed the servant who came, to say to Florence he wished to see her.
When Florence came, she was surprised to see that her father was strongly agitated.
“Sit down dear,” he said in a trembling voice. “I have something to say to you that must not be long concealed.”
Florence looked wonderfully into her father’s face, while her heart began to sink.
Just then a servant opened the door and ushered in a stranger. He was a tall, fine looking young man, just in the prime of life. Florence quickly retired, but not before the stranger fixed his eyes upon her face, and marked its sweet expressin.,
“Pardon the intrusion, sir,” he said, as soon as the young girl had left the room, “but facts that I have learned this evening have prompted me to call upon you without a moment’s delay. My name is Greer, of the firm of Greer, Miller & Co.”
Mr. Mason bowed, and said—
“I know your house very well, and now remember to have seen you more than once in business transactions.”
“Yes, you have bought one or two bills of us,” replied the visitor. Then after a moment’s pause, he said in a changed tone—
“Mr. Mason, I learned to-night, from a source which leaves no room to doubt the truth of the statement, that your affairs have become seriously embarrassed. That you are, in fact, on the very verge of bankruptcy. Tell me frankly, whether this is indeed so; I ask from no idle curiosity, nor from a concealed and sinister motive, but to the end that I may prevent the threatened disaster, if it is in my power to do so.[”]
Mr. Mason was dumb with surprise at so unexpected a declaration. He made two or three efforts to speak, but his lips uttered no sound.
“Confide in me, sir,” said the visitor. “Trust me as you would trust your own brother, and lean upon me if your strength be indeed failing. Tell me, then, is it as I have said?”
“It is,” was all the merchant could utter.
“How much will save you? Mention the sum, and if within the compass of my ability to raise, you shall have it in hand to-morrow. Will twenty thousand dollars relieve you from your present embarrassment?”
[“]Then let your anxiety subside, Mr. Mason. That sum you shall have. To-morrow morning I will see you. Good evening.” And the visitor arose and was gone before his bewildered auditor had sufficiently recovered his senses to know what to think or say.
In the morning, true to his promise, Mr. G. called upon Mr. Mason, and tendered him a check of ten thousand dollars, with his note of hand for thirty days for ten thousand more, which was almost the same as money.
While the check and note lay before him upon the desk and ere he had touched them, Mr. Mason looked earnestly at the man who had suddenly taken the character of a disinterested, self-sacrificing friend, and said—
“My dear sir, I cannot understand this. Are you laboring under some error?”
[“]Oh no. You once did me a service that I am now only seeking to repay. It is my first opportunity, and I embrace it eagerly.”
“Did you a service! When?”
“Twenty years ago,” replied the man. “I was a poor boy, and you were a man of wealth. One hot day I was sent a long distance with a heavy basket. While toiling up a hill, with the hot sun upon me, and almost overcome with heat and fatigue, you came along, and not only spoke to me kindly, but took my basket and carried it to the top of the hill. Ah, sir, you did not know how deeply that act of kindness sunk into my heart, and I longed for the opportunity to show you by some act of kindness how grateful I felt. But none came. Often afterwards I met you on the street, and looked into your face with pleasure. But you did not remember me. Ever since I have regarded you with different feelings from those I have entertained for others; and there has been no time I would not have put myself out to serve you. Last night I heard of your embarrassments, and immediately called upon you. The rest you know.”
Mr. Mason was astonished at so strange a declaration.
“Do you remember the act to which I refer?” asked Mr. greer.
“It had faded from my memory entirely; but your words have brought back dim recollection of the fact. But it was a little matter, and not entitled to the importance you have given it.”
“To me it was not a little matter, sir,” returned Mr. Greer. “I was a weak boy, just sinking under a burthen that was too heavy, when you put forth your hand and carried it for me. I could not forget it. And now let me return at the first opportunity, the favor, by carrying your burden for you, which has become too heavy, until the hill is ascended, and you are able to bear it onward again in your own strength.”
Mr. Mason was deeply moved. Words failed him in his efforts to express his true feelings. The bread cast upon the water had returned to him after many days, and he gathered it with words of thankfulness.
The merchant was saved from ruin. Nor was this all. The glimpse which Mr. Greer had received of the lovely daughter of Mr. Mason, revealed a character of beauty that impressed him deeply, and he embraced the first opportunity to make her acquaintance. A year afterwards he led her to the altar.
A kind act is never lost, even though done to a child.