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An essay by T. S. Arthur

Charity.--Its Objects

Title:     Charity.--Its Objects
Author: T. S. Arthur [More Titles by Arthur]

THE great Teacher, on being asked "Who is my neighbour?" replied "A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho," and the parable which followed is the most beautiful which language has ever recorded. Story-telling, though often abused, is the medium by which truth can be most irresistibly conveyed to the majority of minds, and in the present instance we have a desire to portray in some slight degree the importance of Charity in every-day life.

A great deal has been said and written on the subject of indiscriminate giving, and many who have little sympathy with the needy or distressed, make the supposed unworthiness of the object an excuse for withholding their alms; while others, who really possess a large proportion of the milk of human kindness, in awaiting great opportunities to do good, overlook all in their immediate pathway, as beneath their notice. And yet it was the "widow's mite" which, amid the many rich gifts cast into the treasury, won the approval of the Searcher of Hearts; and we have His assurance that a cup of cold water given in a proper spirit shall not lose its reward.

Our design in the present sketch is to call the attention of the softer sex to a subject which has in too many instances escaped their attention; for our ideas of Charity embrace a wide field, and we hold that it should at all times be united with justice, when those less favoured than themselves are concerned.

"I do not intend hereafter to have washing done more than once in two weeks," said the rich Mrs. Percy, in reply to an observation of her husband, who was standing at the window, looking at a woman who was up to her knees in the snow, hanging clothes on a line in the yard. "I declare it is too bad, to be paying that poking old thing a half-a-dollar a week for our wash, and only six in the family. There she has been at it since seven o'clock this morning, and now it is almost four. It will require but two or three hours longer if I get her once a fortnight, and I shall save twenty-five cents a week by it."

"When your own sex are concerned, you women are the closest beings," said Mr. P., laughing. "Do just as you please, however," he continued, as he observed a brown gather on the brow of his wife; "for my part I should be glad if washing-days were blotted entirely from the calendar."

At this moment the washerwoman passed the window with her stiffened skirts and almost frozen hands and arms. Some emotions of pity stirring in his breast at the sight, he again asked, "Do you think it will be exactly right, my dear, to make old Phoebe do the same amount of labour for half the wages?"

"Of course it will," replied Mrs. Percy, decidedly; "we are bound to do the best we can for ourselves. If she objects, she can say so. There are plenty of poor I can get who will be glad to come, and by this arrangement I shall save thirteen dollars a year."

"So much," returned Mr. P., carelessly; "how these things do run up!" Here the matter ended as far as they were concerned. Not so with "old Phoebe," as she was called. In reality, however, Phoebe was not yet forty; it was care and hardship which had seamed her once blooming face, and brought on prematurely the appearance of age. On going to Mrs. Percy in the evening after she had finished her wash, for the meagre sum she had earned, that lady had spoken somewhat harshly about her being so slow, and mentioned the new arrangement she intended to carry into effect, leaving it optional with the poor woman to accept or decline. After a moment's hesitation, Phoebe, whose necessities allowed her no choice, agreed to her proposal, and the lady, who had been fumbling in her purse, remarked:--

"I have no change, nothing less than this three-dollar bill. Suppose I pay you by the month hereafter; it will save me a great deal of trouble, and I will try to give you your dollar a month regularly."

Phoebe's pale cheek waxed still more ghastly as Mrs. Percy spoke, but it was not within that lady's province to notice the colour of a washerwoman's face. She did, however, observe her lingering, weary steps as she proceeded through the yard, and conscience whispered some reproaches, which were so unpleasant and unwelcome, that she endeavoured to dispel them by turning to the luxurious supper which was spread before her. And here I would pause to observe, that whatever method may be adopted to reconcile the conscience to withholding money so justly due, so hardly earned, she disobeyed the positive injunction of that God who has not left the time of payment optional with ourselves, but who has said--"The wages of him that is hired, shall not abide with thee all night until the morning."--Lev. 19 chap. 13th verse.

The husband of Phoebe was a day labourer; when not intoxicated he was kind; but this was of rare occurrence, for most of his earnings went for ardent spirits, and the labour of the poor wife and mother was the main support of herself and four children--the eldest nine years, the youngest only eighteen months old. As she neared the wretched hovel she had left early in the morning, she saw the faces of her four little ones pressed close against the window.

"Mother's coming, mother's coming!" they shouted, as they watched her approaching through the gloom, and as she unlocked the door, which she had been obliged to fasten to keep them from straying away, they all sprang to her arms at once.

"God bless you, my babes!" she exclaimed, gathering them to her heart, "you have not been a minute absent from my mind this day. And what have you suffered," she added, clasping the youngest, a sickly, attenuated-looking object, to her breast. "Oh! it is hard, my little Mary, to leave you to the tender mercies of children hardly able to take care of themselves." And as the baby nestled its head closer to her side, and lifted its pale, imploring face, the anguished mother's fortitude gave way, and she burst into an agony of tears and sobbings. By-the-by, do some mothers, as they sit by the softly-lined cradles of their own beloved babes, ever think upon the sufferings of those hapless little ones, many times left with a scanty supply of food, and no fire, on a cold winter day, while the parent is earning the pittance which is to preserve them from starvation? And lest some may suppose that we are drawing largely upon our imagination, we will mention, in this place, that we knew of a child left under such circumstances, and half-perishing with cold, who was nearly burned to death by some hops (for there was no fuel to be found), which it scraped together in its ragged apron, and set on fire with a coal found in the ashes.

Phoebe did not indulge long in grief, however she forgot her weary limbs, and bustling about, soon made up a fire, and boiled some potatoes, which constituted their supper--after which she nursed the children, two at a time, for a while, and then put them tenderly to bed. Her husband had not come home, and as he was nearly always intoxicated, and sometimes ill-treated her sadly, she felt his absence a relief. Sitting over a handful of coals, she attempted to dry her wet feet; every bone in her body ached, for she was not naturally strong, and leaning her head on her hand, she allowed the big tears to course slowly down her cheeks, without making any attempt to wipe them away, while she murmured:

"Thirteen dollars a year gone! What is to become of us? I cannot get help from those authorized by law to assist the poor, unless I agree to put out my children, and I cannot live and see them abused and over-worked at their tender age. And people think their father might support us; but how can I help it that he spends all his earnings in drink? And rich as Mrs. Percy is, she did not pay me my wages to-night, and now I cannot get the yarn for my baby's stockings, and her little limbs must remain cold awhile longer; and I must do without the flour, too, that I was going to make into bread, and the potatoes are almost gone."

Here Phoebe's emotions overcame her, and she ceased speaking. After a while, she continued--

"Mrs. Percy also blamed me for being so slow; she did not know that I was up half the night, and that my head has ached ready to split all day. Oh! dear, oh! dear, oh! dear, if it were not for my babes, I should yearn for the quiet of the grave!"

And with a long, quivering sigh, such as one might heave at the rending of soul and body, Phoebe was silent.

Daughters of luxury! did it ever occur to you that we are all the children of one common Parent? Oh, look hereafter with pity on those faces where the records of suffering are deeply graven, and remember "Be ye warmed and filled," will not suffice, unless the hand executes the promptings of the heart. After awhile, as the fire died out, Phoebe crept to her miserable pallet, crushed with the prospect of the days of toil which were still before her, and haunted by the idea of sickness and death, brought on by over-taxation of her bodily powers, while in case of such an event, she was tortured by the reflection--"what is to become of my children?"

Ah, this anxiety is the true bitterness of death, to the friendless and poverty-stricken parent. In this way she passed the night, to renew, with the dawn, the toils and cares which were fast closing their work on her. We will not say what Phoebe, under other circumstances, might have been. She possessed every noble attribute common to woman, without education, or training, but she was not prepossessing in her appearance; and Mrs. Percy, who never studied character, or sympathized with menials, or strangers, would have laughed at the idea of dwelling with compassion on the lot of her washerwoman with a drunken husband. Yet her feelings sometimes became interested for the poor she heard of abroad, the poor she read of, and she would now and then descant largely on the few cases of actual distress which had chanced to come under her notice, and the little opportunity she enjoyed of bestowing alms. Superficial in her mode of thinking and observation, her ideas of charity were limited, forgetful that to be true it must be a pervading principle of life, and can be exercised even in the bestowal of a gracious word or smile, which, under peculiar circumstances, may raise a brother from the dust--and thus win the approval of Him, who, although the Lord of angels, was pleased to say of her who brought but the "box of spikenard"--with tears of love--"She hath done what she could."

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T. S. Arthur's essay: Charity.--Its Objects