[Moral Tales] “Thy Will Be Done,” by W. (from Youth’s Companion, November 22, 1849), pp. 117-118)
It was on a cold winter’s night, in the year 184—, that in a low tenement, situated in the upper part of the city of New York, and on a street but little frequented, were to be found a widow and her two daughters, both of whom were less than six years old. These three persons were all that were left of a once large family, who had lived under very different circumstances. Mrs. Neville, for so we will call her, had married at an early age, and was, for many years, the pride of a fond and affectionate husband, and surrounded with luxuries which made her the envy of the circle in which she walked. Her husband was engaged in a lucrative commercial business, and prosperity unparallelled, seemed to dawn upon all his undertakings. Thus, in the possession of means, which appeared to be rapidly accumulating upon his hands, his study was constantly to surpass his neighbors in the display which he made in the elegant mansion, in —— place, in which he and his famlly resided. His parlors resembled those of a palace, by the richness and costliness of the furniture which they contained, and which gained at once the admiration of all, while, at the same time, not a few were inwardly wishing to see him reduced, that they might tower above him in the pathway of worldly life. Friends—true friends he had not one. There were scores who thronged his expensive entertainments, but like him and his loved partner, they belonged to the fashionable sphere of existence, and were there, because of the gossip of which these were always the origin, and because to be absent, would be esteemed a deprivation of gayety, which could not be endured, except from uncontrollable causes. Religion in his house was unknown. He lived and his lived as if this world was their home,—and as if, when the life here is ended, the soul died with it—as if he was satisfied with the poor, unsatisfying pleasures which this world afforded, and cared not, even if there were another, to enter it and enjoy those which it possessed, forever. Three years rolled on, and but little did he foresee the great change in his condition which was to be encountered. Prosperity is so far removed from adversity, that the thought of the latter has no existence in the minds of those in the enjoyment of the former, for they feel that they are secure, wholly forgetting that “riches have wings,” and often take an everlasting flight from those who have had them in possession, for a period of many years. So it was with Mr. Neville. The great commercial crisis of ’37 was approaching, in which hundreds, who had for life, been in affluence, were suddenly reduced to poverty, and saw themselves without a dollar which they could call their own. Mr. Neville, anxious to add to his wealth, eagerly entered upon vast speculations, during the height of the speculating mania, but these terminated disastrously, and his anticipated gains became immense losses. More than ever desirous to retrieve the latter, he ceased not his uncertain game, but entered still deeper into wild plans for accumulating gold. All, however, ended alike, and a few short months witnessed him a ruined man, as respects fortune, saw his proud dwelling pass from his hands, and his family and himself the occupants of a small cottage, on the outskirts of the city. Great as was the change in his position, it was only equalled by that of conduct towards him by those whom he looked upon before as friends—those who had feasted at his luxurious entertainments, and who formed the circle of his affluent acquaintanceship.
Of these, as already said, there were some, who, in a sycophantic manner, shared his extravagance, while inwardly envying his position, and wishing to see it utterly overturned. They, viewing him now, were far from mingling longer in society like his—they did it before, because of the praise in the fashionable world, which it conferred upon themselves—shorn of this, there was nothing in it to make it longer desirable or even endurable to them. They deserted him wholly, and if ever remembered, it was in derision and scorn, though sometimes an expression of pity, far from real, however, at his misfortunes, would fall from their lips. The others felt that a disgrace would attach itself to them, by a mere entrance into the poor, small, ill-furnished house which he now occupied. For Mrs. A—, or Mrs. B—, or Mrs. C—, to visit at a dwelling of that kind, would call forth the indignation of their fashionable friends, and perhaps make the latter withdraw their companionship, the mere idea of which was sufficient to annihilate any feeling of duty or obligations uncancelled, which, at moments of reflection, might arise in their memory, from which, as yet, past connections with Mr. Neville’s family, had not been wholly blotted out. In this manner, Mr. A. and family found themselves utterly alone in the world, and those who had been their associates, if perchance they were met in the street, passed them coldly by, scarcely nodding a sign of recognition.
Thus is the world. It needs adversity to prove friendship. Mr. Neville had discovered the hollow-heartedness of the fashionable world in which had been his existence. With a determination to rise from his impoverished condition, he exerted all his energies to start anew in business, but with no capital, and bankrupt, the credit he needed he found it entirely impossible to procure, and the next few months dragged heavily along, in his new home, where to all was furnished merely a meagre subsistence, for the acquiring of which his efforts, directed in different ways, resulted in obtaining the means. But we must pass over the next four years. Suffice it to say, that, in that time, sadder changes yet, had occurred in that family. Mr. Neville, broken down in spirit, tormented with anxieties, pressed by creditors, had paseed away, and descended into “the narrow house appointed for all the
living,” whither had followed him one son and one daughter, leaving alone, in a cold and selfish world, but the three persons named at the commencement of this narrative, as the representatives of his once prosperous and seemingly happy family.
But adversity like this is not without its lesson. When the mind can behold no pleasure longer here, it directs itself to the unchangeable realities of another world. Religion then becomes the hope which stays the sickened heart and brings it peace, even amid desolation and gloom, which would otherwise sink it deep into the abyss of despair. Mrs. Neville no longer had her affections placed on earth. Morning and night, in the still smaller cot which, with her children she now occupied, the sound of prayer and praise ascended from her lips, to God on high, whom she had learned to love and to call Father, by the afflictions which had fallen to her lot. By the scanty sums, which, by her needle she obtained, she gained a subsistence for her and hers. When her almost uncontrollable grief had in part subsided, she was happy—perhaps happier in her poverty, with religion, than in her prosperity, without it. But yet another want, sad in its nature, was to be unfolded to her view. Her own health she felt was failing, and her accustomed daily work, which had only brought a maintenance, it was becoming constantly more difficult to perform. Well did she pray, “THY WILL BE DONE,” and make this the burden of her cry, in secret whispers to her Father, well nigh each moment of her waking hours. He who watched the sparrows in their flight, and cared for them, she felt would not desert her and her helpless ones, in the sore hour of trial which she feared was approaching, when the then scanty allowance might be still further reduced, and want might enter with its dismal hand into her poor dwelling. To God’s will, therefore, she was ready to submit. The past had told her that that alone was definite and fixed. Man’s will, it determined and overthrew, whenever that will was opposed to it, and by it, his designs were brought to naught, however to his vision firmly fastened and secured upon a sound foundation, which he conceived could not be broken or cast down.
But we must pass over a few weeks, and now we behold Mrs. Neville on the night of 184—, when she is introduced to the reader. Her own fears had been realized. Feeble in body, and on each day compelled to lie down and rest, that night, the last meal had been exhausted, and with it she saw every farthing which she had possessed, departed. Upon the fire a few embers yet lay, and these were the remnants of her stock of wood, and the night was cold—ay, freezing cold, and with the dawn of day, the cold would penetrate into her own apartment, and her babes might cry with pain. She had risen from her evening supplication, refreshed and strengthened in the day of her calamity. Then, oh how precious was her trust! That alone gave peace to her mind, and her bitter anxiety for the morrow it healed. Without it, what emotions must have filled her breast, for to whom could she look for safety, if she had now been a wanderer and an outcast from her Father, and a sharer of his displeasure. When earthly friends are gone—when the sun of human happiness has set—when hope for the future offers no consolation, opens no brightened prospect, displays no hidden glory, then are there darkness and despondency shut up within the heart, which toss it with fear, and make it a source of misery exceeding the bounds of finite calculation. But Mrs. N. knew nothing now of this. To say that she thought not of the gloomy condition in which she saw herself and loved ones placed, would be to deem her acting contrary to her own mortal nature. No one thus situated, could or would shut out thought. But the termination of her thoughts and plans for relief was a calm resolve to submit herself to the will of her Maker. “Thy will be done.” She had not for a moment, since she had been left alone in her poverty, ceased to exert herself to provide her daily bread, and if she saw this now scant or wholly gone, it was not from apathy or from neglect, but in consequence of the sickness which had latterly overtaken her, and which by its enfeebling results, had deprived her of the ability to gain sustenance. That God would on her not bestow his pity, and send to her relief, the faith which she had in him, seemed to tell her was impossible, and like the trusting animal, who from his masters’s hand receives his daily food and lives, she sank at last in that repose which wearied nature courts, and must have, however pressing be the cares by which it is surrounded.
She slept, and the still hours of night passed in unconsciousness by. Ere morning dawned, she again had risen, and the unfeigned prayer, from the depths of her heart, was once more ascending to her Father, as uttered by her supplicating voice. At that moment, the minister of God was passing by. He had been called an hour previous to see a dying member of his flock, and returning to his house had directed his steps that way. In the quietness of the spot, the sound from within, through the shattered and loosened casement of the windows was heard, and he stopped to listen. The prayer made him acquainted with the want which was threatened in that pious household. Could he go on without entering, inquiring further into the condition of the one who uttered it, and giving the assurance that that want should be prevented. Nay! the feeling of his soul would not allow it. Awaiting till all was still within, he gave a gentle tap at the door, and in a few moments stood beside Mrs. N. As the narrative of her past history was unfolded to him, tears stood in the eyes of both at times—they were tears of gratitude—of the former, that relief was at hand, without resort to beggary from which her soul shuddered; of the latter, because of the thankfulness he felt at discovering and being able to relieve the gloomy situation of one so downcast, and yet so good and so deserving.
That day Mrs. N. and her children were not without food or fire. Her wants were soon made known by him who had so unexpectedly heard them, and not a few were the visits which she received. How different too were they who made them, from those she was wont to know in preceding years! They were living for another world, and misfortune here but knit them faster in one another’s love. Though it were the meanest hovel, that could not keep them out, if a Christian resided within it for it was their souls which united in sympathy, and the dross of the world, what share had it with them! Christ was born in a manger, and he was their Master. Surely, if such were the birth-place of him, the lowliest hut should not be shunned, if it were the dwelling place of one of his disciples.
Mrs. Neville, however, did not live long to enjoy her better prospects and greater comforts. Her sickness was deep rooted, and in a few weeks, her Saviour took her soul from earth, and it now rests with him in heaven. Before she departed, she had the satisfaction of knowing that her children would be placed in the possession of a truer cause for happiness, than they might perhaps have known, if adversity had never crossed her path. She had the assurance that they would be adopted by a minister of God, and in his Christian family, that the good seed she had planted, should have full opportunity to grow by his teaching, constantly more and more in religious truth and knowledge. (The promise freely made, was fully performed.) Surely, Mrs. Neville had no cause to repent the strongness of her faith, and as she knew her children would be so well provided for, to exclaim as she did, “THY WILL BE DONE,” even in the last moment of her existence, and when her soul was just about to enter on its upward flight to God, to stay with him forever.
New York, Oct. 31, 1849.