'Perhaps it would not be safe to talk so to all his boys, for I presume the most of them would at present be more benefited by what he says.
Children seldom love study too well. Even our little book-worm, Effie, would never become too much engaged in anything but a story.'
'Father, Thomas Marvin says that he can't get to school for a while, and he can't spend the time in exercise; as he says fun takes his mind off his books, and makes him lose a great deal. He is intending to teach a school when he goes away from here, but I don't believe he will, for he looks sickly now. But he thinks it is very foolish to spend time in jumping about, and all that, when there are things so much more important to be done.'
'The body, which God has so wonderfully made, and which He watches over with such tender care, is very far from being beneath our notice, Harry; and while we should give the greater care to the immortal part, we should not neglect the other. I have been visiting a scholar to-day, who I doubt not was once of young Marvin's opinion in these things, and, poor fellow! he does not even see his folly now.'
'Please tell us about him, father,' said Effie, with interest, 'did he study so much to make him selfish and wicked?'
'I will tell you the story, and then you must be the judge,' returned Mr Maurice. 'I believe, however, that in this case selfishness was more out of the question than usual; he had too much zeal, "a zeal not according to knowledge." Lewis Varden was the son of a poor widow, who contrived to support a large family in comfort and to give them a good education. He was the youngest son, and perhaps from the circumstance of being too tenderly nurtured, and perhaps from some constitutional defect, was never so strong and muscular as his brothers, and so his mother determined that he should study a profession.
'Lewis was particularly pleased with the arrangement, as he had a natural fondness for sedentary employments, and at sixteen had become so extensive a reader, as to be a kind of family encyclopedia. The question, however, remained to be decided whether he should study law or medicine, the only professions which among us are at all lucrative.
'While he was yet wavering between the two, he lost his mother, and suddenly the whole object of his life, even his own character, became changed. Mrs Varden was what is usually called a good woman, that is, with a sharp eye upon her worldly interests, she maintained her standing in the church, and bore a fair reputation; but she was a worldly-minded Christian, and as such had not sufficiently encouraged in her children any peculiar love for holiness. She was, however, a devoted, self-sacrificing mother, as far as their worldly interests were concerned: and never was a lost parent more sincerely mourned.
'From that time forth, Lewis seemed to lose all connection with the business part of the world, and he devoted himself more closely than ever to his books.
'Yet among these books, the Bible now found a place, and occupied a large share of his attention. From reading it, because it suited his now serious thoughts, he began to love its contents, and finally he made them the guide of his life. He became a member of the church in the little village where he resided, and was soon regarded as a very promising young man.
'His new friends were exceedingly anxious that he should study for the ministry, and he entered with alacrity upon his new duties. But not content with what he considered the circuitous way to usefulness usually taken, he determined by industry to cut it short, and so the noonday sun and midnight lamp found him at the same task. When worn out by his incessant mental labours, he would throw himself down and sleep for a little time; but his dreams were only a continuation of his waking thoughts, so that even in sleep he was studying still.
'When his fellow-students expostulated, he laughed at the idea of his health being injured by incessant application, and seemed to be afraid that variety of employment would distract his attention. So he went on from week to week, and month to month, preparing his mind for usefulness, but his body for the grave. His pale brow grew yet paler, his cheek hollow, and his hand thin and colourless, but still he declared himself to be in perfect health, and no one knew his danger.
'Finally, he was attacked by a cold, a very slight one, he at first thought, but it clung to him, and could not be shaken off. The poor fellow is now wasting away by consumption, but I cannot convince him of his danger, and to-day when I called on him at the house of his brother, I found him surrounded by books and papers, his large dark eye absolutely glowing with enthusiasm, and a deep red spot burning on either cheek.'
'Oh, father, what did you say to him?' inquired Harry, earnestly.
'A short time ago I recommended quiet and relaxation, telling him plainly that his disease was beyond the reach of medicine, so he understood my look of painful surprise at once.
'He only shook his head, laughingly, and said, "Ah, Doctor, this life is too short to throw away, and so I have gone to work. But you must not blame me," he said, observing that I was about to speak, "I am only planning a few sermons I intend to preach next summer."
'And then he went on to talk about his intentions, and inquired my opinion of some particular sentiments that he had been writing down, until he became so much excited that I was obliged to order the removal of all his papers. Poor fellow! he will never preach a sermon. In his impatience to become useful, he has destroyed his power to do good.'
'I don't think,' said Effie, 'that poor Mr Varden makes knowledge his _God_ exactly, because he does it all for good; but it would be very wicked for Harry or me to do so, because we know how wrong it is. I wish everybody that praised people for studying too hard could know it is wicked.'
'But remember,' said Mr Maurice, 'that where one person's cheek is paled by hard study, fifty make themselves utterly useless by neglecting the bodily exercise which _moderate_ mental effort demands. It is aversion to active employment, and not the love of knowledge, that has slain its hundreds and crippled its thousands.'
It was a bright and sunshiny day, and so warm as to make the snow moist and yielding beneath the foot--such a day as children love and choose for their happiest sports; but to at least two children it was anything but a day of pleasure. Poor Mrs Gilman's little James had lingered on beyond all expectation, and finally died, calmly and quietly, as if he had been composing himself for sleep. And so it was--a long sleep.
This was the day on which the little one was to be buried, and Harry and Effie were sincere mourners. Not like the poor mother--oh no, no one could feel like her--but they wept as one child of adversity weeps for another, all through life, from the cradle to the grave.
Children are sad when they see those of their own age falling like the spring flowers around them; and when the little infant grows cold and lifeless in its cradle, beneath a loving mother's eye, and is borne away to the silent, lonely graveyard, they insensibly grow thoughtful, and if they have been deprived of previous instructions, death becomes their teacher, and for a little time they grow wise beneath the influence of his lessons.
But Harry and Effie had not been thus deprived, and as hand in hand they followed the little coffin to the grave, through their tears of sadness and sympathy there gleamed out a bright and elevated expression, almost a happy one, which shewed that they looked beyond these sorrow-claiming objects, and saw the suffering child they had loved and pitied a redeemed spirit of light. They could see that the little flower, which had drooped and faded in the atmosphere of this world, grew bright and beautiful in the sunshine of immortal love. They knew that the kingdom of God was made up of just such little children--those who had died before they knew anything of the sin and wickedness of this world; or having known it, having grown old and gray beneath its heavy burden, had laid all at the feet of Jesus, and in spirit gone back to helpless, guileless infancy again.
They knew that their little friend now dwelt with that dear Saviour, who, when on earth, blessed little children, who gathers the lambs in His arms, and carries them in His bosom. Yet it was a sad day for them, for they mourned the dead, as mortals always mourn when mortals die, although they did not wish him back, and they pitied the living. More tears were indeed shed for Mrs Gilman, than for the child.
The contents of Rosa Lynmore's purse had been reserved by Mr Maurice for this sad occasion, he having supplied all previous wants; and it had been sufficient to give a decent burial to the little boy, who slept quietly at his father's side--to be awakened only when you and I, my dear reader, shall be aroused from the same slumber.
Mr Maurice was right when he said if Mrs Gilman was stricken, it would be in mercy; for her heart being weaned from the world, at last found a refuge from its loneliness in the consolations of religion, and left the broken reed of earthly love, on which it had leaned too confidently, for the Rock, Christ Jesus, the friend that never fails.
She entered Mr Maurice's family as a domestic, and has grown gray in its service.
Harry Maurice, it was for a long time thought, would become a preacher of the Gospel; but when he became old enough to judge, he decided in favour of his father's profession, declaring that he who fails to do good in one situation in life, would most decidedly fail in another.
Sweet little Effie! Her struggle with her heart on the occasion of the book was not the last; it was difficult for her to learn its deceitfulness, and she required repeated lessons.
As she grew older, however, she was always complaining of her own sinfulness, while every one else thought her the meekest, the gentlest, and most self-sacrificing being that ever lived. She had, indeed, become remarkably sharp-sighted to her own faults, and, in proportion, forgiving to those of others.
But at last a trial came. She was called on to leave all she loved on earth, and carry the Gospel to a far off benighted land.
She wept at parting with her parents, but even then she whispered in her mother's ear thanks for the early lessons she had received, and added, 'But for these I might never have learned true self-denial, and might have preferred my dear home to the service of my Master.'
Effie loved her home sincerely, but she loved her Saviour who gave it to her better, and she will have her reward.
And now, my little readers, I have not told you this story simply to amuse you, although I should like to see you interested in its perusal, but I had a better object.
It is not enough that you should see your own faults, and try to mend them yourself; neither is it enough that you should pray, 'lead us not into temptation;' but you must '_watch and pray_' also, always remembering that however pleasant and beautiful this world is, there is a brighter and a better, where little children and old men may equally sit down together in happiness, having one God and one Father.