The Last Penny and Other Stories by T.S. Arthur
The April Fool.
Nothing is so much enjoyed, by some men, as a practical joke; and the greater the annoyance they can occasion, the greater their delight. Of this class was Mr. Thomas Bunting, who resided in a village a few miles out of New York. Bunting kept a store for the sale of almost every article known in domestic and agricultural life, from a number ten needle up to a hoe-handle; and from a mintstick up to a bag of coffee. Consequently, he was pretty well acquainted with all the town'speople, who were, likewise, pretty well acquainted with him.
As Bunting was constantly playing off his pranks upon one and another, he only kept himself free from enemies by his good temper and ability to soothe the parties he sometimes irritated beyond the point of endurance.
The First of April was never permitted to come and go without being well improved by the joke-loving Thomas. If a customer sent for a pint of brandy on that day, he would be very apt to get four gills of vinegar; or, if for a pound of sugar, half a pound of New Orleans mixed with an equal weight of silver sand. That was a smart child who could come into his store on the occasion, and leave it without being the victim of some trick. So, from morning till night of the First day of April, the face of Mr. Thomas Bunting was one broad grin. Full of invention as to the ways and means of playing off tricks upon others, our merry friend was wide awake to any attempt at retaliation; and it generally happened that most of those who sought to catch him, got the laugh turned upon themselves.
Two years ago, as the First of April approached, Bunting began to think of the sport awaiting him, and to cast his eyes over the town to see who was the most fitting subject for a good jest.
"I must make a fool of somebody," said he to himself; "a first-rate fool. I am tired of mere child's play in this business. Who shall it be? There's Doctor Grimes. Suppose I send him to see the young widow Gray? He'd like to make her a visit exceedingly, I know. But the widow knows me of old, and will be sure to suspect my agency. I guess that won't do. Grimes is a good subject; and I've got a sort of spite against him. I must use him, somehow. The widow Gray would be first-rate; but I'm a little afraid to bring her in. The doctor's as poor as Job's turkey, and would be off to visit her on the run. Let me see? What shall I do? I've got it! I'll send him to York on a fool's errand!"
And Bunting snapped his finger and thumb in childish delight.
Doctor Grimes, to whom our joker referred, had been in the village only about a year, and, in that time, had succeeded in making but a small practice. Not that he was wanting in ability; but he lacked address. In person, he was rather awkward; and, in manners, far from prepossessing. Moreover, he was poor, and not able, in consequence, to make a very good appearance.
We would not like to say that, in selecting Doctor Grimes as the subject of his best joke for the First of April, Bunting acted on the principle of a certain worthy, who said of another--
"Kick him; he has no friends!"
But we rather incline to the opinion that some such feeling was in the heart of the joker.
The First of April came. Doctor Grimes, after eating his breakfast, sat down in his office to await expected morning calls for consultation, or to request his attendance on some suffering invalid. But no such calls were made. The doctor sighed, under the pressure of disappointment, as he glanced at the timepiece on the mantel, the hands of which pointed to the figure ten.
"A poor prospect here," he murmured despondingly. "Ah, if there were none in the world to care for but myself, I would be content on bread and water while making my way into the confidence of the people. But others are suffering while I wait for practice. What hinders my progress? I understand my profession. In not a single instance yet have I failed to give relief, when called to the bed of sickness. Ah me! I feel wretched."
Just then, the letter-carrier of the village came in and handed him two letters. The first one he opened was from a dearly loved, widowed sister, who wrote to know if he could possibly help her in her poverty and distress.
"I would not trouble you, my dear, kind brother," she wrote, "knowing as I do how poor your own prospects are, and how patiently you are trying to wait for practice, did not want press on me and my babes so closely. If you can spare me a little--ever so little--brother, it will come as a blessing; for my extremity is great. Forgive me for thus troubling you. Necessity often prompts to acts, from the thought of which, in brighter moments, we turn with a feeling of pain."
For many minutes after reading this letter, Doctor Grimes sat with his eyes upon the floor.
"My poor Mary!" he said at length, "how much you have suffered; and yet more drops of bitterness are given to your cup! Oh that it was in my power to relieve you! But my hands are stricken down with paralysis. What can I do? Thus far, I have gone in debt instead of clearing my expenses."
He took out his pocket-book and searched it over.
"Nothing--nothing," he murmured as he refolded it. "Ah, what curse is there like the curse of poverty?"
He then referred to the other letter, the receipt of which he had almost forgotten. Breaking the seal, he read, with surprise, its contents, which were as follows:--
"What can this mean?" exclaimed the doctor, as he hurriedly perused the letter again. "Can it be possible that a relative of my father, in England, has died, and left us property? Yes; it must be so. Several members of his family there are in good circumstances. Oh, if it should be thus, how timely has relief come! For your sake, my dear sister, more than for my own, will I be thankful! But how am I to go to New York? I have not a dollar in my pocket, and will receive nothing for a week or two."
The only resource was in borrowing; and to this the doctor resorted with considerable reluctance. From a gentleman who had always shown an interest in him, he obtained five dollars. Within an hour after the receipt of the letter, he was on his way to the city. The more he pondered the matter, the more likely did it seem to him that his first conclusion was the true one. There was an uncle of his father's, a miser, reputed to be very rich, from whom, some years before, the family had received letters; and it seemed not at all improbable that his death had occurred, and that he and his sister had been remembered in the will. This idea so fully possessed his mind by the time he arrived in the city, that he was already beginning to make, in imagination, sundry dispositions of the property soon to come into his hands.
"Can I see one of the gentlemen belonging to the firm?" asked the doctor, on entering the store of Messrs. L---- & P----.
"Here is Mr. L----," said the individual he had addressed, referring him to a middle-aged, thoughtful-looking man, with something prepossessing in his face.
The doctor bowed to Mr. L----, and then said--
"My name is Dr. Grimes."
Mr. L---- bowed in return, remarking, as he did so--
"Will you walk in?"
The doctor was rather disappointed at the manner of his reception, and experienced a slight depression of spirits as he followed the merchant back into one of the counting-rooms attached to the store.
"Will you take a chair, sir?" said the merchant.
Both the gentlemen sat down. About L---- there was an air of expectancy, which the doctor did not fail to remark.
"My name is Doctor Grimes," said he, repeating his first introduction.
"I am happy to see you, doctor," returned L----, bowing again.
"I received a letter from your house, this morning," said the victim, for such he really was, "desiring me to call, as you had some communication to make that would be to my advantage."
"There's some mistake," replied the merchant. "No letter of the kind has emanated from us."
"Are you certain?" asked the disappointed man, in a voice greatly changed; and he drew forth the letter he had received.
L---- looked at the communication, and shook his head.
"There is no truth in this, sir. I regret to say that you have, most probably, been made the victim of an idle and reprehensible jest. To-day, you are aware, is the First of April."
"Can it be possible!" exclaimed the doctor, clasping his hands together, while his face became pale and overcast with disappointment. "Who could have been so unkind, so cruel!"
"And is the disappointment very great?" said the merchant, touched with the manner of his visitor, which showed more pain than mortification at the cheat practised upon him.
With an effort at self-command, Doctor Grimes regained, to some extent, his lost composure, and rising, remarked, as he partly turned himself away--
"Forgive this intrusion, sir. I ought to have been more on my guard."
But an interest having been awakened in the mind of Mr. L----, he would not suffer his visitor to retire until he held some conversation with him. In this conversation he learned, through delicately asked questions, even more of his real condition in life than the latter meant to communicate; and he still further learned that the mother of Doctor Grimes had been one of his early friends.
"Will you be willing to take the place of Resident Physician at the ---- Hospital?" finally asked Mr. L.
"To one like me," replied Dr. Grimes, "that place would be exceedingly desirable. But I do not suppose I could get it."
"I am a stranger here."
"Can you bring testimonials as to professional ability?" asked Mr. L----.
"I can. Testimonials of the very highest character."
"Bring them to me, doctor, at the earliest possible moment. I do not, in the least, doubt that my influence will secure you the place. I believe you have no family?"
"That may be an objection. A furnished dwelling is provided for the physician; and, I believe, one with a family is preferred."
"I have a widowed sister, who would be glad to join me; and whom I would be glad to place in so comfortable a position."
"That will do just as well, doctor. Bring over your testimonials as soon as possible. Not so much of an April fool, after all, I begin to think. Unless I am very greatly mistaken, you have heard something to your advantage."
All came out to the satisfaction of both Doctor Grimes and the kind-hearted Mr. L----. In less than a month, the former was in comfortable quarters at ---- Hospital, and in the receipt of twelve hundred dollars per annum. This was exclusive of rent for his sister's family--now his own--and table expenses. Moreover, for certain duties required of her in the hospital, his sister received three hundred dollars additional.
So it turned out that Dr. Grimes, so far from being made an April fool, was benefited by the wonderfully "smart" trick of Mr. Bunting. But of the particular result of his extra work, the village-jester remained ignorant. Being on the lookout, he was "tickled to death" when he saw the doctor start off post haste for New York; and he looked out for his return, anticipating rare pleasure at seeing his "face as long as his arm." But this particular pleasure was not obtained, for he didn't see the doctor afterward.
"What's become of Dr. Grimes?" he asked of one and another, after a few days had passed, and he did not see that individual on the street as before.
But none of whom he made inquiry happened to know any thing of the doctor's movements. It was plain to Bunting that, he had driven the said doctor out of the village; and this circumstance quite flattered his vanity, and made him feel of more consequence than before. In a little while, he told his secret to one and another, and it was pretty generally believed that Doctor Grimes had gone away under a sense of mortification at the storekeeper's practical joke.
"Look out for next year," said one and another. "If Doctor Grimes isn't even with you then, it'll be a wonder."
"It will take a brighter genius than he is to fool me," Bunting would usually reply to these words of caution.
The First of April came round again. Thomas Bunting was wide awake. He expected to hear from the doctor, who, he was certain, would never forgive him. Sure enough, with the day, came a letter from New York.
"You don't fool me!" said Bunting, as he glanced at the postmark. He had heard that the doctor was in, or somewhere near, the city.
"Ha! ha!" he laughed, as he read--
"If Mr. Thomas Bunting will call on Messrs. Wilde & Lyon, Pearl Street, New York, he may hear of something to his advantage."
"Ha! ha! That's capital! The doctor is a wag. Ha! ha!"
Of course, Bunting was too wide awake for this trap. Catch him trudging to New York on a fool's errand!
"Does he think I haven't cut my eye-teeth?" he said to himself exultingly, as he read over the letter. "Doctor Grimes don't know this child--he don't."
And yet, the idea that something might be lost by not heeding the letter, came stealing in upon him, and checking in a small degree the delight he felt at being too smart for the doctor. But this thought was instantly pushed aside. Of course, Bunting was not so "green," to use one of his favourite words, as to go on a fool's errand to New York.
Five or six months afterward, Bunting, while in the city on business, happened to meet Doctor Grimes.
"How are you, doctor?" said he, grasping the hand of the physician, and smiling with one of the smiles peculiar to his face when he felt that he had played off a capital joke on somebody.
"I'm well, Mr. Bunting. And how are you?" replied the doctor.
"First-rate--first-rate!" and Bunting rubbed his hands. Then he added, with almost irrepressible glee--
"You wasn't sharp enough, last April, doctor."
"Why so?" inquired Doctor Grimes.
"You didn't succeed in getting me to the city on a fool's errand."
"I don't understand you, Mr. Bunting," said the doctor seriously.
"Wilde & Lyon, Pearl Street--something to my advantage. Ha?"
The doctor looked puzzled.
"You needn't play the innocent, doctor. Its no use. I sent you on a fool's errand to New York; and it was but natural that you should seek to pay me back in my own coin. But I was too wide awake for you entirely. It takes a sharp man to catch me."
"You're certainly too wide awake for me now," said Doctor Grimes. "Will you please be serious and explain yourself."
"Last April a year, you received a letter from New York, to the effect that if you would call at a certain place in Wall Street, you would hear something to your advantage?"
"I did," replied the doctor.
"I called, accordingly, and received information which has proved greatly to my advantage."
"What?" Bunting looked surprised.
"The gentleman upon whom I called was a leading director in ---- Hospital, and in search of a Resident Physician for that establishment. I now fill that post."
"Is it possible?" Bunting could not conceal his surprise, in which something like disappointment was blended. "And you did not write a similar letter to me last April?" he added.
"I am above such trifling," replied the doctor, in a tone that marked his real feelings on that subject. "A man who could thus wantonly injure and insult another for mere sport, must have something bad about him. I should not like to trust such a one."
"Good morning, doctor," said Bunting. The two gentlemen bowed formally and parted.
If the doctor did not send the letter, from whom could it have come? This was the question that Bunting asked himself immediately. But no satisfactory answer came. He was puzzled and uncomfortable. Moreover, the result of the doctor's errand to New York--which had proved any thing but a fool's errand--was something that he could not understand.
"I wonder if I hadn't better call on Wilde & Lyon?" said he to himself, at length. "Perhaps the letter was no trick, after all."
Bunting held a long argument, mentally, on the subject, in which all the pros and cons were fully discussed. Finally, he decided to call at the place referred to in his letter, and did so immediately on reaching this decision. Still, fearing that the letter might have been a hoax, he made some few purchases of articles for his store, and then gave his name.
"Thomas Bunting!" said the person with whom he was dealing. "Do you reside in the city?"
Bunting mentioned his place of residence.
"Did you never receive a letter from this house, desiring to see you?"
"I did," replied Bunting; "but as it was dated on the first of April, I took it for the jest of some merry friend."
"Very far from it, I can assure you," answered the man. "An old gentleman arrived here from England about that time, who said that a brother and sister had come to this country many years ago, and that he was in search of them or their children. His name was Bunting. At his request, we made several advertisements for his relatives. Some one mentioned that a gentleman named Thomas Bunting resided in the town where you live; and we immediately dropped him a note. But, as no answer came, it was presumed the information was incorrect."
"Where is he now?" asked Bunting.
"He is dead."
"Yes. A letter came, some weeks after we wrote to you, from St. Louis, which proved to be from his sister, and to that place he immediately proceeded. Soon after arriving there, he died. He left, in money, about ten thousand dollars, all of which passed, by a will executed before he left this city--for in his mind there was a presentiment of death--to his new-found relative."
"He was my uncle!" said Bunting.
"Then, by not attending to our letter, you are the loser of at least one-half of the property he left."
Bunting went home in a very sober mood of mind. His aunt and himself were not on good terms. In fact, she was a widow and poor, and he had not treated her with the kindness she had a right to expect. There was no likelihood, therefore, of her making him a partner in her good fortune.
Bunting was the real April Fool, after all, sharp-witted and wide awake as he had thought himself. His chagrin and disappointment were great; so great, that it took all the spirit out of him for a long time; and it is not presumed that he will attempt an "April Fool" trick in the present year, of even the smallest pretensions.
A WAY TO BE HAPPY.
I have fire-proof perennial enjoyments, called employments.
"Always busy and always singing at your work; you are the happiest man I know." This was said by the customer of an industrious hatter named Parker, as he entered his shop.
"I should not call the world a very happy one, were I the happiest man it contains," replied the hatter, pausing in his work and turning his contented-looking face toward the individual who had addressed him. "I think I should gain something by an exchange with you."
"Why do you think so?"
"You have enough to live upon, and are not compelled to work early and late, as I am."
"I am not so very sure that you would be the gainer. One thing is certain, I never sing at my work."
"Your work? What work have you to do?"
"Oh, I'm always busy."
"Nothing; and I believe it is much harder work than making hats."
"I would be very willing to try my hand at that kind of work, if I could afford it. There would be no danger of my getting tired or complaining that I had too much to do."
"You may think so; but a few weeks' experience would be enough to drive you back to your shop, glad to find something for your hands to do and your mind to rest upon."
"If you have such a high opinion of labour, Mr. Steele, why don't you go to work?"
"I have no motive for doing so."
"Is not the desire for happiness a motive of sufficient power? You think working will make any one happy."
"I am not so sure that it will make any one happy, but I believe that all who are engaged in regular employments are much more contented than are those who have nothing to do. But no one can be regularly employed who has not some motive for exertion. A mere desire for happiness is not the right motive; for, notwithstanding a man, when reasoning on the subject, may be able to see that, unless he is employed in doing something useful to his fellows, he cannot be even contented, yet when he follows out the impulses of his nature, if not compelled to work, he will seek for relief from the uneasiness he feels in almost any thing else: especially is he inclined to run into excitements, instead of turning to the quiet and more satisfying pursuits of ordinary life."
"If I believed as you do, I would go into business at once," said the hatter. "You have the means, and might conduct any business you chose to commence, with ease and comfort."
"I have often thought of doing so; but I have lived an idle life so long that I am afraid I should soon get tired of business."
"No doubt you would, and if you will take my advice, you will let well enough alone. Enjoy your good fortune and be thankful for it. As for me, I hope to see the day when I can retire from business and live easy the remainder of my life."
This was, in fact, the hatter's highest wish, and he was working industriously with that end in view. He had already saved enough money to buy a couple of very good houses, the rent from which was five hundred dollars per annum. As soon as he could accumulate sufficient to give him a clear income of two thousand dollars, his intention was to quit business and live like a "gentleman" all the rest of his days. He was in a very fair way of accomplishing all he desired in a few years, and he did accomplish it.
Up to the time of his retiring from business, which he did at the age of forty-three, Parker has passed through his share of trial and affliction. One of his children did not do well, and one, his favourite boy, had died. These events weighed down his spirit for a time, but no very long period elapsed before he was again singing at his work--not, it is true, quite so gayly as before, but still with an expression of contentment. He had, likewise, his share of those minor crosses in life which fret the spirit, but the impression they made was soon effaced.
In the final act of giving up, he felt a much greater reluctance than he had supposed would be the case, and very unexpectedly began to ask himself what he should do all the day, after he had no longer a shop in which to employ himself. The feeling was but momentary, however. It was forced back by the idea of living at his ease; of being able to come and go just as it suited his fancy; to have no care of business, nor any of its perplexities and anxieties. This thought was delightful.
"If I were you, I would go into the country and employ myself on a little farm," said a friend to the hatter. "You will find it dull work in town, with nothing on your hands to do."
The hatter shook his head. "No, no," said he, "I have no taste for farming; it is too much trouble. I am tired of work, and want a little rest during the remainder of my life."
Freedom from labour was the golden idea in his mind, and nothing else could find an entrance. For a few days after he had fully and finally got clear from all business, and was, to use his own words, a free man, he drank of liberty almost to intoxication. Sometimes he would sit at his window, looking out upon the hurrying crowd, and marking with pity the care written upon each face; and sometimes he would walk forth to breathe the free air and see every thing to be seen that could delight the eye.
Much as the hatter gloried in this freedom and boasted of his enjoyments, after the first day or two he began to grow weary long before evening closed in, and then he could not sit and quietly enjoy the newspaper, as before, for he had already gone over them two or three times, even to the advertising pages. Sometimes, for relief, he would walk out again, after tea, and sometimes lounge awhile on the sofa, and then go to bed an hour earlier than he had been in the habit of doing. In the morning he had no motive for rising with the sun; no effort was therefore made to overcome the heaviness felt on awaking; and he did not rise until the ringing of the breakfast-bell.
The "laziness" of her husband, as Mrs. Parker did not hesitate so call it, annoyed his good wife. She did not find things any easier--she could not retire from business. In fact, the new order of things made her a great deal more trouble. One-half of her time, as she alleged, Mr. Parker was under her feet and making her just double work. He had grown vastly particular, too, about his clothes, and very often grumbled about the way his food come on the table, what she had never before known him to do. The hatter's good lady was not very choice of her words, and, when she chose to speak out, generally did so with remarkable plainness of speech. The scheme of retiring from business in the very prime of life she never approved, but as her good man had set his heart on it for years, she did not say much in opposition. Her remark to a neighbour showed her passive state of mind: "He has earned his money honestly, and if he thinks he can enjoy it better in this way, I suppose it is nobody's business."
This was just the ground she stood upon. It was a kind of neutral ground, but she was not the woman to suffer its invasion. Just so long as her husband came and went without complaint or interference with her, all would be suffered to go on smoothly enough; but if he trespassed upon her old established rights and privileges, he would hear it.
"I never saw a meal cooked so badly as this," said Mr. Parker, knitting his brow one rainy day, at the dinner-table.
He had been confined to the house since morning, and had tried in vain to find some means of passing his time pleasantly.
The colour flew instantly to his wife's face. "Perhaps, if you had a better appetite, you would see no fault in the cooking," she said rather tartly.
"Perhaps not," he replied. "A good appetite helps bad cooking wonderfully."
There was nothing in this to soothe his wife's temper. She retorted instantly--
"And honest employment alone will give a good appetite. I wonder how you could expect to relish your food after lounging about doing nothing all the morning! I'll be bound that if you had been in your shop ironing hats or waiting on your customers since breakfast-time, there would have been no complaint about the dinner."
Mr. Parker was taken all aback. This was speaking out plainly "with a vengeance." Since his retirement from business, his self-estimation had arisen very high, compared with what it had previously been; he was, of course, more easily offended. To leave the dinner-table was the first impulse of offended dignity.
So broad a rupture as this had not occurred between the husband and wife since the day of their marriage--not that causes equally potent had not existed, for Mrs. Parker, when any thing excited her, was not over-choice of her words, and had frequently said more cutting things; but then her husband was not so easily disturbed--he had not so high an opinion of himself.
It was still raining heavily, but rain could no longer keep the latter at home. He went forth and walked aimlessly the streets for an hour, thinking bitter things against his wife all the while. But this was very unhappy work, and he was glad to seek relief from it by calling in upon a brother craftsman, whose shop happened to be in his way. The hatter was singing at his work as he had used to sing--he never sang at his work now.
"This is a very dull day," was the natural remark of Mr. Parker, after first salutations were over.
"Why, yes, it is a little dull," replied the tradesman, speaking in a tone that said, "But it didn't occur to me before."
"How is business now?" asked Mr. Parker.
"Very brisk; I am so busy that, rain or shine, it never seems dull to me."
"You haven't as many customers in."
"No; but then I get a little ahead in my work, and that is something gained. Rain or shine, friend Parker, it's all the same to me."
"That is, certainly, a very comfortable state of mind to be in. I find a rainy day hard to get through."
"I don't think I would, if I were in your place," said the old acquaintance. "If I could do no better, I would lie down and sleep away the time."
"And remain awake half the night in return for it. No; that won't do. To lie half-asleep and half-awake for three or four hours makes one feel miserable."
The hatter thought this a very strange admission. He did not believe that, if he could afford to live without work, he would find even rainy days hang heavy upon his hands.
"Why don't you read?"
"I do read all the newspapers--that is, two or three that I take," replied Parker; "but there is not enough in them for a whole day."
"There are plenty of books."
"Books! I never read books; I can't get interested in them. They are too long; it would take me a week to get through even a moderate-sized book. I would rather go back to the shop again. I understand making a hat, but as to books, I never did fancy them much."
Parker lounged for a couple of hours in the shop of his friend, and then turned his face homeward, feeling very uncomfortable.
The dark day was sinking into darker night when he entered his house. There was no light in the passage nor any in the parlour. As he groped his way in, he struck against a chair that was out of place, and hurt himself. The momentary pain caused the fretfulness he felt, on finding all dark within, to rise into anger. He went back to the kitchen, grumbling sadly, and there gave the cook a sound rating for not having lit the lamps earlier. Mrs. Parker heard all, but said nothing. The cook brought a lamp into the parlour and placed it upon the table with an indignant air; she then flirted off up-stairs, and complained to Mrs. Parker that she had never been treated so badly in her life by any person, and notified her that she should leave the moment her week was up; that, anyhow, she had nothing to do with the lamps--lighting them was the chambermaid's work.
It so happened that Mrs. Parker had sent the chambermaid out, and this the cook knew very well; but cook was in a bad humour about something, and didn't choose to do any thing not in the original contract. She was a good domestic, and had lived with Mrs. Parker for some years. She had her humours, as every one has, but these had always been borne with by her mistress. Too many fretting incidents had just occurred, however, and Mrs. Parker's mind was not so evenly balanced as usual. Nancy's words and manner provoked her too far, and she replied, "Very well; go in welcome."
Here was a state of affairs tending in no degree to increase the happiness of the retired tradesman. His wife met him at the supper-table with knit brows and tightly compressed lips. Not a word passed during the meal.
After supper, Mr. Parker looked around him for some means of passing the time. The newspapers were read through; it still rained heavily without; he could not ask his wife to play a game at backgammon.
"Oh dear!" he sighed, reclining back upon the sofa, and there he lay for half an hour, feeling as he had never felt in his life. At nine o'clock he went to bed, and remained awake for half the night.
Much to his satisfaction, when he opened his eyes on the next morning, the sun was shining into his window brightly. He would not be confined to the house so closely for another day.
A few weeks sufficed to exhaust all of Mr. Parker's time-killing resources. The newspapers, he complained, did not contain any thing of interest now. Having retired on his money, and set up for something of a gentleman, he, after a little while, gave up visiting at the shops of his old fellow-tradesmen. He did not like to be seen on terms of intimacy with working people! Street-walking did very well at first, but he tired of that; it was going over and over the same ground. He would have ridden out and seen the country, but he had never been twice on horseback in his life, and felt rather afraid of his neck. In fact, nothing was left to him, but to lounge about the house the greater portion of his time, and grumble at every thing; this only made matters worse, for Mrs. Parker would not submit to grumbling without a few words back that cut like razors.
From a contented man, Mr. Parker became, at the end of six months, a burden to himself. Little things that did not in the least disturb him before, now fretted him beyond measure. He had lost the quiet, even temper of mind that made life so pleasant.
A year after he had given up business he met Mr. Steele for the first time since his retirement from the shop.
"Well, my old friend," said that gentleman to him familiarly, "how is it with you now? I understand you have retired from business."
"Oh yes; a year since."
"So long? I only heard of it a few weeks ago. I have been absent from the city. Well, do you find doing nothing any easier than manufacturing good hats and serving the community like an honest man, as you did for years? What is your experience worth?"
"I don't know that it is worth any thing, except to myself; and it is doubtful whether it isn't too late for even me to profit by it."
"How so, my friend? Isn't living on your money so pleasant a way of getting through the world as you had supposed it to be?"
"I presume there cannot be a pleasanter way; but we are so constituted that we are never happy in any position."
"Perhaps not positively happy, but we may be content."
"I doubt it."
"You were once contented."
"I beg you pardon; if I had been, I would have remained in business."
"And been a much more contented man than you are now."
"I am not sure of that."
"I am, then. Why, Parker, when I met you last you had a cheerful air about you. Whenever I came into your shop, I found you singing as cheerfully as a bird. But now you do not even smile; your brows have fallen half an inch lower than they were then. In fact, the whole expression of your face has changed. I will lay a wager that you have grown captious, fretful, and disposed to take trouble on interest. Every thing about you declares this. A year has changed you for the worse, and me for the better."
"How you for the better, Mr. Steele!"
"I have gone into business."
"I hope no misfortune has overtaken you?"
"I have lost more than half my property, but I trust this will not prove in the end a misfortune."
"Really, Mr. Steele, I am pained to hear that reverses have driven you to the necessity of going into business."
"While I am more than half inclined to say that I am glad of it. I led for years a useless life, most of the time a burden to myself. I was a drone in the social hive; I added nothing to the common stock; I was of no use to any one. But now my labours not only benefit myself, but the community at large. My mind is interested all the day; I no longer feel listlessness; the time never hangs heavy upon my hands. I have, as a German writer has said, 'fire-proof perennial enjoyments, called employments.'"
"You speak warmly, Mr. Steele."
"It is because I feel warmly on this subject. Long before a large failure in the city deprived me of at least half of my fortune, I saw clearly enough that there was but one way to find happiness in this life, and that was to engage diligently in some useful employment, from right ends. I shut my eyes to this conviction over and over again, and acted in accordance with it only when necessity compelled me to do so. I should have found much more pleasure in the pursuit of business, had I acted from the higher motive of use to my fellows, which was presented so clearly to my mind, than I do now, having entered its walks from something like compulsion."
"And you really think yourself happier than you were before, Mr. Steele?"
"I know it, friend Parker."
"And you think I would be happier than I am now, if I were to open my shop again?"
"I do--much happier. Don't you think the same?"
"I hardly know what to think. The way I live now is not very satisfactory. I cannot find enough to keep my mind employed."
"And never will, except in some useful business, depend upon it. So take my advice, and re-open your shop before you are compelled to do it."
"Why do you think I will be compelled to do it?"
"Because, it is very strongly impressed upon my mind that the laws of Divine Providence are so arranged that every man's ability to serve the general good is brought into activity in some way or other, no matter how selfish he may be, nor how much he may seek to withdraw himself from the common uses of society. Misfortunes are some of the means by which many persons are compelled to become usefully employed. Poverty is another means."
"Then you think if I do not go into business again, I am in danger of losing my property?"
"I should think you were; but I may be mistaken. Man can never foresee what will be the operations of Providence. If you should ever recommence business, however, it ought not to be from this fear. You should act from a higher and better motive. You should reflect that it is every man's duty to engage in some business or calling by which the whole community will be benefited, and, for this reason, and this alone, resolve that while you have the ability, you will be a working bee, and not a drone in the hive. It is not only wrong, but a disgrace for any man to be idle when there is so much to do."
Mr. Parker was surprised to hear his old customer talk in this way: but surprise was not his only feeling--he was deeply impressed with the truth of what he had said.
"I believe, after all, that you are right, and I am wrong. Certainly, there is no disguising the fact that my life has become a real burden to me, and that business would be far preferable to a state of idleness."
This admission seemed made with some reluctance. It was the first time he had confessed, even to himself, that he had committed an error in giving up his shop. The effect of what Mr. Steele had said was a resolution, after debating the pros and cons for nearly a month, to recommence business; but before this could take place, the kind of business must be determined. Since Mr. Parker had ceased to be a hatter and set up for a gentleman of fortune, his ideas of his own importance had considerably increased. To come back into his old position, therefore, could not be thought of. His wife argued for the shop, but he would not listen to her arguments. His final determination was to become a grocer, and a grocer he became. No doubt he thought it more worthy of his dignity to sell rice, sugar, soap, candles, etc., than hats. Why one should be more honourable or dignified than the other we do not understand. Perhaps there is a difference, but we must leave others to define it--we cannot.
A grocer Mr. Parker became instead of a hatter. Of the former business he was entirely ignorant; of the latter he was perfect master. But he would be a grocer--a merchant. He commenced in the retail line, with the determination, after he got pretty well acquainted with the business, to become a wholesale dealer. That idea pleased his fancy. For two years he kept a retail grocery-store, and then sold out, glad to get rid of it. The loss was about one-third of all he was worth. To make things worse, there was a great depression in trade, and real estate fell almost one-half in value. In consequence of this, Mr. Parker's income from rents, after being forced to sacrifice a very handsome piece of property to make up the deficit that was called for in winding up his grocery business, did not give him sufficient to meet his current family expenses.
There was now no alternative left. The retired hatter was glad to open a shop once more, and look out for some of his old customers. Mr. Steele saw his announcement, that he had resumed business at his old stand and asked for a share of public patronage. About two weeks after the shop was re-opened, that gentleman called in and ordered a hat. As he came to the door and was about reaching his hand out to open it, he heard the hatter's voice singing an old familiar air. A smile was on the face of Mr. Steele as he entered.
"All right again," he said, coming up to the counter and offering his hand. "Singing at your work, as of old! This is better than playing the gentleman, or even keeping a grocery-store."
"Oh, yes, a thousand times better," the hatter replied warmly. "I am now in my right place."
"Performing your true use to the community, and happier in doing so."
"I shall be happier, I am sure. I am happier already. My hat-blocks and irons, and indeed, every thing around me, look like familiar friends, and give me a smiling welcome. When health fails or age prevents my working any longer, I will give up my shop, but not a day sooner. I am cured of retiring from business."