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A short story by Harriet S. Caswell

The Rainy Afternoon

Title:     The Rainy Afternoon
Author: Harriet S. Caswell [More Titles by Caswell]

"It's too bad," exclaimed Harry Knights, as he turned from the window, where for the last ten minutes he had been silently watching the heavy drops of rain as they pattered against the glass. "It's too bad," repeated he, "we can have no out-of-door play this afternoon;" and as he spoke his face wore a most rueful expression. I was one among a number of Harry's schoolmates who had gone to spend the day at the farm of Mr. Knights, Harry's father. The eldest of our number was not more than fourteen; and for a long time we had looked forward to this day with many bright anticipations of fun and enjoyment. The important day at length arrived, and so early did we set out upon our excursion that we reached Harry's home before eight o'clock in the morning. We spent the forenoon in rambling over the farm, searching out every nook and corner which possessed any interest to our boyish minds. Accompanied by Harry we visited all his favorite haunts--which included a fine stream of water, where there was an abundance of fish; also a ledge of rocks which contained a curious sort of cave, formed by a wide aperture in the rocks; and, last though "not least," a pond of water which, owing to its extreme beauty of appearance, Harry had named the "Enchanted Pond." He had said so much to us regarding the uncommon beauty of the spot that some of the boys, myself among the number, had often been inclined to ridicule him; but when we came within view of it, I for one ceased to wonder at his admiration; for before nor since, I never looked upon so lovely a scene. The pond was situated upon the back portion of the farm, in a clearing which had been made by a settler who had occupied the land for some years before it was purchased by Mr. Knights. The form of the pond was entirely circular, and it was surrounded by a green field, in which had been left standing, here and there, some fine old trees to add to the effect. I remember when I first gained a view of the spot, it reminded me of a surface of polished silver, bordered with emeralds. As we drew nigh we could see that its smooth waters were thickly dotted with the pure blossoms of the pond-lily. I have never since visited the spot, but the view I obtained of it that day, now so long ago, is still vividly present to my mind. By the time we again reached the farm-house, the dinner-hour had arrived; and our long continued exercise in the open air had so much improved our appetites that we did ample justice to the good things set before us. Dinner being over, we observed, what had before escaped our notice, that the sky was becoming overcast with dark clouds, and soon a heavy rain began to fall, which put an end to all our plans of out-of-door enjoyment for the afternoon. As I mentioned at the beginning, Harry was very much disappointed, for outside sports were his especial delight; and for a time his face looked almost as dark and forbidding as the sky itself. We tried to cheer him up, saying we would have some quiet games in the large dining-room, and we did succeed in getting him to join us; but somehow or other our games afforded us no enjoyment, and the question, "what shall we do with ourselves?" began to pass from one to the other among the group of eager, restless boys. "Would you like me to tell you a story, boys?" enquired Harry's mother, after observing for a time our vain attempts at enjoyment. Mrs. Knights was a lady of high culture, and possessed the happy faculty of rendering herself an agreeable companion to either the young or old; and more than one pair of eyes grew bright with pleased anticipation when she proposed telling us a story; and, of course, we all eagerly assented to her proposal. Seating herself in our midst, she took up a piece of needlework, saying, "I can always talk best when my hands are employed," and began as follows:

"I suppose none of you, perhaps not even my own Harry, is aware that my home has not always been in Canada; but I will now inform you that the days of my childhood and youth were passed in a pretty town near the base of the Alleghany Mountains in the State of Virginia. I will not pause at present to give you any further particulars regarding my own early years, as the story I am about to relate is concerning one of my schoolmates who was a few years older than myself. The pastor of the Church in the small village where my parents resided had but one son; and, when quite a little girl, I remember him as one of the elder pupils in the school I attended. I was too young at that time to pay much attention to passing events, but I afterward learned that, even then his conduct was a source of much anxiety and sorrow to his parents; his ready talent, great vivacity, and love of amusement continually led him into mischief and caused him to be disliked by many of their neighbors. It was in vain that the villagers complained, in vain that his father admonished and his mother wept; still the orchards were robbed, the turkeys chased into the woods, and the logs of wood in the fireplaces often burst into fragments by concealed powder. Time passed on, till he reached the age of sixteen years, when spurning the restraints of home, the erring boy left his father's house and became a wanderer, no one knew whither; but it was rumored that reaching a seaport town he had entered a merchant vessel bound upon a whaling voyage for three years. During the last year of his stay at home his conduct had been very rebellious, and his father almost looked upon him as given over to a reprobate mind. After his departure, his father was seldom heard to mention his name, but his friends observed that his hair fast grew white, and upon his brow rested an expression of constant grief and anxiety. He was a man that seldom spoke of his own troubles to any one; but it was plain to be seen that his erring boy was never absent from his thoughts, and there was a feeling and pathos in his voice when he addressed his congregation, especially the younger portion of it, which had never been noticed before. It was his custom upon the first Sabbath evening in each month to deliver an address to the youth of his flock, and it was noticed that his appeals had never been so earnest before, as after the departure of his son; but he seldom, if ever, mentioned his name, not even to his grief-stricken wife. Our pastor was not what could properly be styled an old man, but it was thought that his grief, like a canker-worm, sapped at the fountains of life; his bodily health became impaired, his vigor of mind departed, and, ere he had seen sixty years, death removed him from earth, to a home of happiness in Heaven. The widow was now bereft of both husband and child. She was comforted concerning her departed husband, knowing that it was well with him; but she sorrowed continually for her absent boy; and often, during the lonely hours of night, as the moaning of the winds fell upon her ear, she would start from her sleepless pillow and utter a prayer for her poor boy who might even then be tossing on the restless ocean, or perhaps wrecked upon a dangerous coast. She was a woman of good education, and much power of thought, and she at length found a partial relief from her sorrow by writing small works for publication. But how is it all this time with the wandering 'Prodigal?' Nine years have passed away since he left his home, when an agent for the sale of books for a large publishing house was spending a few days in one of the large cities of the West. During his stay in the place, his business as agent often led him into public places; and on several occasions he noticed a young man that attracted his attention. There was nothing prepossessing in his appearance; on the contrary, he bore the marks of dissipation in his countenance; his clothing was old and soiled, and once or twice he saw him when partially intoxicated. The agent was a middle-aged man, and was a close observer of those with whom he came in contact, and somehow or other he felt a strange interest in this young man for which he could not account; and meeting him so frequently, he determined to speak to him. As a pretext for accosting him he offered to sell him some books, although he had no hopes of success. The young man regarded him with visible surprise, when he enquired if he would not like to purchase a book. 'I have no money to spend for books,' replied the man, yet as if unable to resist the impulse, he leaned over the table, on which the agent had placed several books, and began looking them over; and finally selected one, inquired the price, and paid for it. They soon after parted, and the agent thought they should probably meet no more, as he expected soon to leave the city. He returned to the hotel where he boarded, and after tea seated himself on the piazza, to enjoy the cool evening air; when the same young man suddenly approached him, and grasping his hand said, in a voice choked with emotion: 'Tell me, sir, where, O! where did you get that book?' This young man was the erring but still loved son of the Virginian widow, who for these long dreary years had roamed over the earth, unfriended and unaided, vainly imagining his own arm sufficient to ward off the ills of life. He had wandered here from the coasts of the Pacific, where he had been wrecked; his money was nearly gone, and his health had become impaired by hardship and exposure as well as his dissipated course of life. As he afterwards said, he had no intention of reading the book when he purchased it merely out of civility to the stranger who accosted him so kindly; but after the agent left him he opened the book, and a cold dew broke out upon his forehead, for on the title-page he read the name of his mother as the author. Her thoughts were continually upon her lost son, and in her mind's eye she often traced his downward career. She imagined him worn and weary, his days spent in unsatisfying folly, and his moments of reflection embittered by remorse; unconsciously, in writing this little book she had drawn from her own feelings and addressed one in this situation. She pointed to him the falseness of the world, and bade him judge of the fidelity of the picture by his own experience; and she taught him the way of return to the paths of peace. And thus it was that the little book which the wretched young man had selected--some would say so accidentally, others, so providentially--proved the means of his return from the paths of sin and folly to those of sobriety and usefulness. He soon told his story to his attentive listener, and informed him of the relationship he bore to the author of the book he had purchased. As he concluded, he said, 'Oh, my mother, why did I leave you to become the hopeless being I am?' 'Not hopeless,' replied his companion in gentle tones. 'You have youth on your side, and may yet be a useful and happy man. I now understand the unaccountable interest which I felt in you when meeting you on several occasions before I spoke to you, and I feel that Providence directed me in the matter.' The agent stayed two days longer in the city, and then departed, the young man with him, for with the promptitude of his nature, to resolve was to act. He directed his course toward Virginia, the star of hope leading him on, and finally approached his native village. No words are adequate to describe the meeting between the lonely widow and her long lost, but now returning and penitent son. When informed that his father had been for some years dead, the shock to him was great, overpowering, but he uttered no repining word. 'I could not,' said he, 'expect the happiness of meeting both my parents again after causing them so much sorrow, and let me be humbly thankful that it is allowed me to cheer the declining years of my aged mother.' I well remember," said Mrs. Knights, "the return of the young man to his home, it was but a short time before I left Virginia; but I have been informed by friends still residing there that he was for several years the staff and support of his mother, of whom it might be said, 'her last days were her best days.' After the death of his mother, as he had no living tie to bind him to the spot, he removed to another section of country, where he married and is now a useful and respected member of society. And now boys," said Mrs. Knights, "allow me in conclusion to say to you all as one, as you value your own well-being in time and eternity, be sure that you honor and obey your parents; think of what the end of this young man might have been, and shun his example. But I see that the hour for tea is near at hand; and for a time I will leave you to amuse yourselves, while I assist in preparing your tea; and if you have been interested in my story, I may tell you another when you next pass a rainy afternoon at our house." We all thanked the kind lady for the interesting story, and I fear one very much hoped that the next day we chanced to pass at Mrs. Knights' farm would prove to be rainy in the afternoon.

[The end]
Harriet S. Caswell's short story: Rainy Afternoon