Elsie's New Relations by Martha Finley
"By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."--Matt. 12:37.
As they drew near the house Max came to meet them.
"I've been to the post-office since the mail came in, papa," he said, "and there is no government letter for you yet. I'm so glad! I hope they're going to let us keep you a good deal longer."
"I'm not sorry to prolong my stay with wife and children," the captain responded, "but cannot hope to be permitted to do so very much longer."
"Grandpa Dinsmore has come back from taking Harold and Herbert to college," pursued Max, "and we're all to take tea in there, Mamma Vi says; because grandpa wants us all about him this first evening."
"That is kind," said the captain, opening the gate and looking smilingly at Violet, who, with little Grace, was waiting for him on the veranda. He stopped there to speak with them, while Lulu hurried on into the house and up to her own room, Max following.
"Where's my book, Lu?" he asked.
"O Max, I couldn't help it--but papa caught me reading it and took it away from me. And he told me when you asked me for it I should send you to him."
Max's face expressed both vexation and alarm. "I sha'n't do that," he said, "if I never get it. But was he very angry, Lu?"
"No; and you needn't be afraid to go to him, for he won't punish you; I asked him not to, and he said he wouldn't. But he threw the book into the sea, and said neither you nor I should ever read such poisonous stuff with his knowledge or consent."
"Then, where would be the use of my going to him for it? I'll not say a word about it."
He went out, closed the door and stood irresolutely in the hall, debating with himself whether to go up-stairs or down. Up-stairs in his room was another dime novel which he had been reading that afternoon; he had not quite finished it, and was eager to do so; he wanted very much to know how the story ended, and had meant to read the few remaining pages now before the call to tea. But his father's words, reported to him by Lulu, made it disobedience.
"It's a very little sin," whispered the tempter; "as having read so much, you might as well read the rest."
"But it will be disobeying wilfully the kind father who forgave a heedless act of disobedience not very long ago," said conscience; "the dear father who must soon leave you to be gone no one knows how long, perhaps never to come back."
Just then the captain came quickly up the stairs. "Ah, Max, are you there?" he said, in a cheery tone, then laying his hand affectionately on the boy's shoulder. "Come in here with me, my son, I want to have a little talk with you while I make my toilet."
"Yes, sir," said Max, following him into the dressing-room.
"What have you been reading to-day?" asked the captain, throwing off his coat, pouring water into the basin from the pitcher, and beginning his ablutions.
Max hung his head in silence till the question was repeated, then stammered out the title of the book, the perusal of which he was so desirous to finish.
"Where did you get it?" asked his father.
"I bought it at a news-stand, papa."
"You must not buy anything more of that kind, Max; you must not read any such trash."
"I will not again, papa; I should not this time if you had ever forbidden me before."
"No, I don't believe you would be guilty of wilful disobedience to any positive command of your father," the captain said in a grave but kindly tone; "and yet I think you suspected I would not approve, else why were you so unwilling to tell me what you had been reading?"
He was standing before the bureau now, hairbrush in hand, and as he spoke he paused in his work, and gazed searchingly at his son.
Max's face flushed hotly, and his eyes drooped for a moment, then looking up into his father's face he said frankly, "Yes, papa, I believe I was afraid you would take the book from me if you saw it. I deserve that you should be angry with me for that and for lending one to Lu."
"I am displeased with you on both accounts," the captain replied, "but I shall overlook it this time, my son, hoping there will be no repetition of either offence. Now go to your room, gather up all the doubtful reading matter you have, and bring it here to me. I shall not go with you, but trust to your honor to keep nothing back."
"Oh, thank you, papa, for trusting me!" cried Max, his countenance brightening wonderfully, and he hastened away to do his father's bidding.
"Just the dearest, kindest father that ever was!" he said to himself, as he bounded up the stairs. "I'll never do anything again to vex him, if I can help it."
He was down again in a moment with two dime novels and a story-paper of the same stamp.
The captain had finished his toilet. Seating himself he took what Max had brought, and glancing hastily over it, "How much of this trash have you read, Max?" he asked.
"The paper and most of one book, papa. I'll not read any more such, since you've forbidden me; but they're very interesting, papa."
"I dare say, to a boy of your age. But you don't think I would want to deprive you of any innocent pleasure, Max?"
"No, sir; oh, no! But may I know why you won't let me read such stories?"
"Yes; it is because they give false views of life, and thus lead to wrong and foolish actions. Why, Max, some boys have been made burglars and highwaymen by such stories. I want you to be a reader, but of good and wholesome literature; books that will give you useful information and good moral teachings; above all things, my son, I would have you a student of the Bible, 'the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ.' Do you read it often, Max?"
"Not very, papa. But you know I hear you read it every morning and evening."
"Yes; but I have sometimes been grieved to see that you paid very little attention."
Max colored at that. "Papa, I will try to do better," he said.
"I hope you will," said his father. "You will enjoy the same religious advantages at Ion, and, my boy, try to profit by them, remembering that we shall have to render an account at last of the use or abuse of all our privileges. I want you to promise me that you will read a few verses of the Bible every day, and commit at least one to memory."
"I will, papa. And what else shall I read? You will let me have some story-books, won't you?" Max said, entreatingly.
"Yes," said his father, "I have no objection to stories of the right sort. There are some very beautiful stories in the Bible; there are entertaining stories in history; and there are fictitious stories that will do you good and not harm. I shall take care in future that you have plenty of wholesome mental food, so that you will have no excuse for craving such stuff as this," he added, with a glance of disgust at what he held in his hand. "It may go into the kitchen fire."
"Mrs. Scrimp never burns the least little bit of paper, papa," said Max.
"Indeed! Why not?" asked his father, with an amused smile.
"She says it is wicked waste, because it is better than rags for the paper-makers."
"Ah! well, then, we will tear these into bits and let them go to the paper-makers."
Max was standing by his father's side. "Papa," he said, with a roguish look into his father's face, "don't you think you would enjoy reading them first?"
The captain laughed. "No, my son," he said; "I have not the slightest inclination to read them. Bring me that waste basket and you may help me tear them up."
They began the work of destruction, Max taking the paper, the captain the book his son had been reading. Presently something in it attracted his attention; he paused and glanced over several pages one after the other, till Max began to think he had become interested in the story. But no; at that instant he turned from it to him, and Max was half frightened at the sternness of his look.
"My son," he said, "I am astonished and deeply grieved that you could read and enjoy anything like this, for it is full of profanity; and reading or hearing such expressions is very likely to lead to the use of them. Max, do you ever say such words?"
Max trembled and grew red and pale by turns, but did not speak.
"Answer me," was his father's stern command.
"Not often, papa."
The captain barely caught the low breathed words. "Not often? sometimes, then?" he groaned, covering his face with his hand.
"O papa, don't be so grieved! I'll never do it again," Max said in a broken voice.
The captain sighed deeply. "Max," he said, "dearly as I love my only son, I would sooner lay him under the sod, knowing that his soul was in heaven, than have him live to be a profane swearer. Bring me that Bible from the table yonder."
The boy obeyed.
"Now turn to the twenty-fourth chapter of Leviticus, and read the sixteenth verse."
Max read in a trembling voice, "'And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.'"
"Now the twenty-third," said his father.
"'And Moses spake to the children of Israel, that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones; and the children of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses.'"
Max had some difficulty in finishing the verse, and at the end quite broke down.
"Papa," he sobbed, "I didn't know that was in the Bible. I never thought about its being so dreadfully wicked to say bad words."
"What do you now think a boy deserves who has done it again and again? say as often as Max Raymond has?" asked his father.
"I suppose to be stoned to death like that man. But nobody is ever put to death for swearing nowadays?" the boy said, half inquiringly, not daring to look at his father as he spoke.
"No, Max, fortunately for you and many others. But suppose you were my father and I a boy of your age, and that I had been swearing, what would you think you ought to do about it?"
"Give you a sound flogging," he answered, in a low, reluctant tone.
"Well, Max, that is just what I shall have to do, if I ever know you to use a profane word again," said his father, in a grave, sad tone. "I should do it now, but for the hope that you are sorry enough for the past to carefully avoid that sin in the future."
"Indeed I will, papa," he said, very humbly.
"And, Max," resumed his father, "you are never to make a companion of, or go at all with anybody who uses such language, and never to read a book or story that has in it anything of that kind. And you are not to say by George or by anything. Our Saviour says, 'Let your communication be Yea, yea, Nay, nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.' My son, have you asked God to forgive you for taking His holy name in vain?"
"Then go at once to your room and do it."
"I did, papa," Max said, when he came down again to find his father waiting for him.
"I trust the petition came from your heart, my son," was the grave but kind rejoinder. "I must have a little more talk with you on this subject, but not now, for it is time we followed the others into the next house, if we would not keep Grandma Rose's tea waiting."