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A short story by Harriet S. Caswell

Looking On The Dark Side

Title:     Looking On The Dark Side
Author: Harriet S. Caswell [More Titles by Caswell]

It is an old but true saying, that "troubles come soon enough without meeting them half way." But I think my friend Mrs. Talbot had never chanced to hear this saying, old as it is; for she was extremely prone at all times to look only upon the dark side, and this habit was a source of much trouble to herself as well as her family. Mr. Talbot might properly have been called a well-to-do farmer. They were surrounded by an intelligent and interesting family; and a stranger, in taking a passing view of their home and its surroundings, would have been strongly inclined to think that happiness and contentment might be found beneath their roof; but a short sojourn in the dwelling alluded to, would certainly have dispelled the illusion. This Mrs. Talbot was possessed of a most unhappy disposition. She seemed to entertain the idea that the whole world was in league to render her miserable. It has often struck me with surprise, that a person surrounded with so much to render life happy should indulge in so discontented and repining a temper as did Mrs. Talbot. She was famous for dwelling at length upon her trials, as often as she could obtain a listener; and when I first became acquainted with her I really regarded her with a feeling of pity; but after a time I mentally decided that the greater part of her grievances existed only in her own imagination. She spent a large portion of her time in deploring the sins of the whole world in general, and of her own family and immediate neighbors in particular; while she looked upon herself as having almost, if not quite, attained to perfection.

I recollect calling one day upon Mr. Talbot; he was of a very social disposition, and we engaged for a short time in a lively conversation. Mrs. Talbot was present, and, strange to tell, once actually laughed at some amusing remark made by her husband. He soon after left the room, and her countenance resumed its usual doleful expression as she addressed me, saying, "I wish I could have any hopes of Mr. Talbot; but I am afraid the last state of that man will be worse than the first." I questioned her as to her meaning; and she went on to tell me that her husband had once made a profession of religion; but she feared he was then in a "backslidden state," as she termed it. I know not how this matter might have been; but during my acquaintance with Mr. Talbot I never observed any thing in his conduct which to me seemed inconsistent with a profession of religion. He certainly excelled his wife in one thing, and that was christian charity; for he was seldom if ever heard to speak of the short-comings of others. It is quite possible that he thought his wife said enough upon the subject to suffice for both. Mrs. Talbot made a point of visiting her neighbors, if she chanced to hear of their meeting with any trouble or misfortune. The reason she gave for so doing was that she might sympathize with them; and if sickness invaded a household Mrs. Talbot was sure to be there; but I used often to think that her friends must look upon her as one of "Job's comforters," for no sickness was so severe, no misfortune so great, that she did not prophesy something worse still. According to her own ideas she was often favored with warnings of sickness and misfortune both to her own family and others. She was also a famous believer in dreams; and often entertained her friends at the breakfast table by relating her dreams of the previous night. I remember meeting with her upon one occasion, when it struck me that her countenance wore a look of unusual solemnity, even for her, so much so, that I enquired the cause. "Ah!" said she, "we are to have sickness, perhaps death, in our family very soon; for only last night I dreamed I saw a white horse coming toward the house upon the full galop; and to dream of a white horse is a sure sign of sickness, and the faster the horse seems in our dream to be approaching us the sooner the sickness will come." Her husband often remonstrated with her upon the folly of indulging in these idle fancies. I remember a reply he once made to some of her gloomy forebodings: "I think the best way is for each one to discharge their duty in the different relations of life; and leave the future in the hands of an All-wise Providence." "That is always the way with you," was her reply, "You have grown heedless and careless with your love of the world; but you will perhaps think of my warnings when too late." Before meeting with Mrs. Talbot I had often heard the remark that none were so cheerful as the true christian; but I soon saw that her views must be widely different. A hearty laugh she seemed to regard as almost a crime. A cheerful laugh upon any occasion would cause her to shake her head in a rueful manner, and denounce it as untimely mirth. Upon one occasion she went to hear a preacher that had lately arrived in the neighboring village. This same preacher was remarkable for drawing dismal pictures, and was very severe in his denunciations, while he quite forgot to offer a word of encouragement to the humble seeker after good. Upon the Sabbath in question Mrs. Talbot returned from church, and seated herself at the dinner table with a countenance of most woeful solemnity. Her husband at length enquired, how she had enjoyed the sermon. "Oh!" replied she, "he is a preacher after my own heart, and his sermon explained all my views clearly." "Indeed," replied Mr. Talbot, "he must have a wonderful flow of language to have handled so extensive a subject, in the usual time allotted to a sermon." His answer displeased her very much. Among her other gloomy forebodings she always seemed sure of the fact that Mr. Talbot would survive her; and she replied: "That is always the way. You make light of every thing I say; and I only hope you wont have all these things to repent of when I shall be no more." Mr. Talbot seemed sorry he had wounded her feelings, and replied: "We shall both live our appointed time, and it is not for us to decide which of us will be first removed." The last time I saw Mrs. Talbot she was indulging in her anticipation of some coming calamity. I have learned from various sources, that since I last saw her she has met with real afflictions of a very trying nature, even to the most hopeful; and it may be that the presence of real troubles, has put to flight many which were only imaginary; and she may by this time have learned to be thankful for whatever of blessings may yet be left her in her path through life.

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Harriet S. Caswell's short story: Looking On The Dark Side