Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
THE PERFECT WORK OF PATIENCE.
A slender little treble was singing it over and over again in childish sort, with so little appreciation of the meaning of the words that the oddity of the ditty was the first thing to attract my attention to it.
"You'd better bide a wee, wee, wee! Oh, you'd better bide a wee. La, la, la, la, la, la, You'd better bide a wee."
The elf was singing her dolly to sleep, swinging back and forth in her little rocking-chair, the waxen face pressed against the warm pink cushion of her own cheek, the yellow silk of curls palpitating with the owner's vitality mingling with the lifeless floss of her darling's wig. The picture was none the less charming because so common, but it was not in admiring contemplation of it that I arrested my pen in the middle of a word, holding it thus an inch or two above the paper in position to resume the rapid rush along the sheet it had kept up for ten minutes and more. I mused a moment. Then, with the involuntary shake one gives his cranium when he has a ringing in his ears, I finished the sentence:--"sideration, I cannot but think that patience has had her perfect work."
"You'd better bide a wee!"
lisped the baby's song.
I smiled slightly and sourly at what I called mentally "the pat incongruity" of the admonition with mood and written words. A swift review of the situation confirmed the belief that I did well to be angry with the correspondent whose open letter lay upon the table beside the unfinished reply. The letter head was familiar. Of late the frequent sight of it had bred annoyance waxing into irritation. The brisk interchange of epistles grew out of a business-matter in which, as I maintained, I had been first ungenerously, then unfairly, finally dishonestly dealt with. There was no doubt in my mind of the intention to mislead, if not to defraud me, and the communication now under advisement was in tone cavalier almost to the point of insult. Aroused out of the enforced calm I had hitherto managed to preserve, I had seated myself and set my pen about the work of letting him who had now assumed the position of "that man," know how his conduct appeared in the light of reason and common sense. I had not even withheld an illusion to honesty and commercial morality. I had never done a better piece of literary work than that letter. Warming to the task in recounting the several steps of the transaction, I had not scrupled to set off my moderation by a Rembrandtish wash of shadow furnished by my correspondent's double-dealing, and to cast my civility into relief by adroit quotations from his impertinent pages. When I said that patience had had her perfect work, it was my intention to unfold in short, stinging sentences my plans as to future dealings with the delinquent.
The singing on the other side of the room meant no more than the chirping of a grasshopper upon a mullein-stalk. I did not delude myself with the notion of providential use of the tongue that tripped at the consonants and lingered in liquid dalliance with favorite vowels. Yet, after ten motionless minutes of severe thinking, the letter was deliberately torn into strips and these into dice, and all of these went into the waste-paper basket at my elbow. I had concluded to "abide a wee." If the sun went down that once upon my anger, he arose upon cold brands and gray ashes. I had not changed my intellectual belief as to my correspondent's behavior, but the impropriety of complicating an awkward business by placing myself in the wrong to the extent of losing my temper was so obvious that I blushed in recalling the bombastic periods of the torn composition.
Since that lesson, I have never sent off an angry or splenetic letter, although the temptation to "have it out" upon paper has sometimes got the better of my more sensible self. If the excitement is particularly great, and the epistle more than usually eloquent of the fact that, as the old-time exhorters used to say, I had "great liberty of speech," I have always left it to cool over night. The "sunset dews" our mothers sang of took the starch out of the bristling pages, and the "cool, soft evening-hours," and nightly utterance of--"As we forgive them that trespass against us,"--drew out the fire.
"You'd better bide a wee!"
I have sometimes thought of writing it down, as poor Jo of "Bleak House" begged to have his last message to Esther Summerson transcribed--"werry large,"--and pasting it upon the mirror that, day by day, reflects a soberer face than I like to see in its sincere depths--as one hot and hasty soul placarded upon her looking-glass the single word "PATIENCE." To people whose tempers are quick and whose actions too often match their tempers, one of the most difficult of daily duties is to reserve judgment upon that which appears ambiguous in the conduct of their associates. The dreary list of slain friendships that makes retrospect painful to those of mature years; the disappointments that to the young have the bitterness of death; the tale of trusts betrayed and promises broken--how would the story be shortened and brightened if conscientious and impartial trial of the accused preceded sentence and punishment!--if, in short, we would only "bide a wee" before assuming that our friend is false, or our love unworthily given.
In a court of justice previous character counts for much. The number and respectability of the witnesses to a prisoner's excellent reputation and good behavior have almost as much weight with the jury as direct testimony in support of the claim that he did not commit the crime. To prove that he could not, without change of disposition and habit, violate the laws of his country, is the next best thing to an established alibi. I should be almost ashamed to set down a thing which everybody knows so well were it not that each one of us, when his best friend's fidelity to him is questioned, flies shamelessly in the face of reason and precedent by ignoring the record of years. He may have given ten thousand proofs of attachment to him whom he is now accused of wronging; have showed himself in a thousand ways to be absolutely incapable of deception or dishonorable behavior of any sort. A single equivocal circumstance, a word half-heard, a gesture misunderstood; the report to his prejudice of a tale-bearer who is his inferior in every respect,--any one of these outbalances the plea of memory, the appeal of reason, the consciousness of the right of the arraigned to be heard. Were not the story one of to-day and of every day, the moral turpitude it displays would arouse the hearer to generous indignation.
Taking at random one of the multitude of illustrations crowding upon my mind, let me sketch a vexatious incident of personal history. Some years ago--no matter how many, nor how long was my sojourn in the town which was the scene of the story--I accepted the invitation of an acquaintance to take a seat in her carriage while on my way to call upon a woman well known to us both. The owner of the equipage, Mrs. D----, overtook me while I was trudging up the long street leading to the suburb in which our common acquaintance lived. The day was bleak and windy, and I was glad to be spared the walk. Mrs. C----, to whom the visit was paid, came down to receive us with her hat and cloak on. She was going down town presently, she said, and would not keep us waiting while she laid aside her wraps. No! she would not have us shorten our call on her account; she could go half an hour later as well as now. A good deal was said of the disagreeable weather, and the bad sidewalks in that new section of the city--as I recollected afterward. At the time, I was more interested in her mention that her favorite brother, an editor of note from another town and State, was visiting her. She asked permission to bring him to call, and I consented with alacrity, thinking, as I spoke, that I would, after meeting him, arrange a little dinner-party of choice spirits in his honor.
When we were ready to go, Mrs. D----, to my surprise and embarrassment, did not propose that our hostess should drive down-town with us, although we were going directly back, and a cold "Scotch mist" was beginning to fall. To this day, I do not know to what to attribute what I then felt--what I still consider--was gross incivility. The most charitable supposition is that it never occurred to her that it would be neighborly and humane to offer a luxurious seat in her swiftly rolling chariot to the woman who must otherwise walk a mile in the chill and wet. She had the reputation of absent-mindedness. Let us hope that her wits were off upon an excursion when we got into the carriage and drove away, leaving Mrs. C---- at the gate.
Glancing back, uneasily, I saw her raise an umbrella and set out upon her cheerless promenade directly in our wake, and I made a desperate essay at redressing the wrong.
"It is a pity Mrs. C---- must go out this afternoon," I said, shiveringly. "She will have a damp walk."
"Yes," assented my companion, readily. "That is the worst of being in this vicinity. There is no street railway within half a mile."
She went no further. I could go no further. The carriage was hers--not mine.
Mrs. C---- 's brother did not call on me, nor did she ever again. The latter circumstance might not have excited surprise, had she not treated me with marked coldness when I met her casually at the house of a friend. In the busy whirl of an active life, I should have forgotten this circumstance, or set it down to my own imagination, had not her brother's paper contained, a month or so later, an attack upon myself that amazed me by what I thought was causeless acrimony. Even when I found myself described as rich, haughty and heartless, "consorting with people who could pay visits to me in coaches with monograms upon the doors, and turning the cold shoulder to those who came on foot,"--I did not associate the diatribe with my visit to the writer's relative. Five years afterward, the truth was made known to me by accident. Mrs. C---- had judged from something said during our interview that the equipage belonged to me, and that I had brought Mrs. D---- to see her instead of being the invited party. I was now a resident of another city. The story came to me by a circuitous route. Explanation was impracticable. Yet it is not six months since there fell under my eye a paragraph penned by the offended brother testifying that his opinion of my insignificant self remains unaltered.
Had he or his sister suspended judgment until the evidence against my ladyhood and humanity could be investigated, I should have had to look elsewhere for an incident with which to point the moral of my Talk.
Rising above the pettiness of spiteful grudge-bearing against a fellow-mortal, let me say a word of the unholy restiveness with which we meet the disappointments which are the Father's discipline of His own. "All these things are against me!" is a cry that has struck upon His loving heart until Godlike patience is needed to bear with the fretful wail.
Nothing that He lets fall upon us can be "against" us! In His hottest fires we have but to "hold still" and bide His good time in order to see that all His purposes in us are mercy, as well as truth to His promises. In the Hereafter deeded to us as a sure heritage, we shall see that each was a part of His design for our best and eternal good.