OR,BE NOT WISE IN YOUR OWN CONCEIT.
It was at that time of year when leaves begin to lose their green hue, and are first tinctured with a brown shade that increases rather than decreases their beauty, that Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer received a letter from a brother of Mrs. Mortimer’s, at Portsmouth, requiring such immediate attention that it was thought advisable that the answer should be given in person and not in writing, and without a day’s loss of time. So it was determined that Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer should leave their home, even as soon as the following morning, to visit their brother at Portsmouth, and that they then should settle the business for which they went as quickly as possible, that their absence from home need not be prolonged unnecessarily, nor indeed for any length of time. It did not take long to arrange this part of the affair, and what packing was requisite was also done quickly, but the point which required most attention and thought was, what was to become of Marten and his young brother Reuben while their papa and mamma were away. “I have never left them before,” said their mamma, “and I feel somewhat anxious about their being left now.”
“Anxious, dear mamma,” exclaimed Marten, who had overheard the remark. “Anxious,” he repeated, “why I am a great boy now, and I shall soon be a man, when I shall have to take care of myself altogether; and if I cannot take care of myself for a week, what is to become of me when I am grown up? Indeed, mamma, I think you forget how old I am. I was thirteen on the 21st of April.”
“Tirteen,” lisped little Reuben–“Marten tirteen–April–Oh, Marten very old mamma–very, very wise;” and Reuben opened his eyes quite wide and looked so very earnestly in his mother’s face, that one would have thought he was trying to read therein what she could mean about being anxious as to leaving Marten,–the Marten who appeared so very old and so very wise to him,–to take care of himself for a few days without his parents protection. “Thirteen,” repeated Mrs. Mortimer, “thirteen no doubt seems very, aye very old, to you Reuben, for you are not yet half that age; but I am more than three times that age,” she added, smiling, “and that you know must make me very, very much wiser than Marten, and now once again I say I am anxious about leaving you without your father or myself, and I should be more anxious than I am if I did not believe it is our duty to go at once to Portsmouth; and that it being right for us to go, I can leave you, my boys, in God’s care, who is the tenderest of fathers to his children.”
“But mamma,” asked Marten, “why do you fear for me? Am I not steady, mamma? Do not I like to do what you and papa tell me to do? Am I ever obstinate or rebellious to you? Indeed, mamma, I feel quite grieved; I think it is unjust to mistrust me, mamma, really I do.”
“If you feared for yourself, I should have less fear for you, Marten,” replied Mrs. Mortimer, “for I know well that the heart of man is by nature prone to sin, and that our thoughts and desires while we are on earth are like our natures, full of imperfections. Temptations are ever before us–they press upon us every minute, and it is not in our own strength we can resist or overcome even one of them, and while this life lasts we are not safe, unless we acknowledge their powerful influence and trust in the Divine Spirit alone to be able to withstand them.”
“I have not been thought a disobedient boy till now,” said Marten somewhat sulkily. “I think my usual conduct should plead for me.”
“Every child has temptations, Marten,” replied his mamma, “and every well behaved child, though not a pious one, resists them: and in truth these temptations are so numerous, that one scarcely thinks of them, unless we witness the conduct of a spoiled baby, as shame prevents grown up persons giving way to many things. But I want you to see that in this life we are in a state of constant trial, and as St. Paul says, if it were only for this life, a Christian is of all men most miserable; for added to these outward temptations, which assail all mankind daily and hourly, the Christian knows he must resist inward temptations, which perhaps are known to none but himself and his God. These temptations are more pressing than other temptations, on account of their peculiar nature: for the one, if indulged in, brings the displeasure or frowns of the world–the other, as I said before, is perhaps unknown to all human beings but oneself.”
“Well, but mamma,” said Marten impatiently, “I do know all this, for you have taught it me before. It is not like as if I had to learn the thing now for the first time. I think you are too severe, mamma, indeed I do; and when you come back, I believe you will say so. Trust me, mamma, and do not be anxious about me. I shall do very well, and I promise to take good care of Reuben. I will see to his lessons, and do my own, and he shall sleep with me while you are away, and I will attend carefully to him and never leave him, and when I am learning my Latin, he can be in the room with me, and we shall do very well together, I promise you. So trust me, mamma, without anxiety of any sort.”
“I will trust you,” replied Mrs. Mortimer smiling kindly, “but not with yourself Marten, for I see clearly you have a lesson to learn, my boy, and I hope you will learn it shortly, without much trouble to yourself. You think you are going to fulfil all your duties in your own strength, as they ought to be fulfilled. You will see that you cannot. Could human nature, unassisted by the Divine nature, have done so, then what need would there have been for the Son of God to have taken our form and purified our nature in himself? By grace alone are we saved, for there is none good–no, not one; but as God is holy, we must be holy, ere we can dwell with Him, and the work of the Divine Spirit is to make us pure; and while we are in the flesh, to uphold us in the right and straight road, till being made one with God our sanctification is accomplished. Now then is our hour of temptation. Marten–and believe me, my boy, if you attempt to withstand that temptation in your own strength, you are like one putting fire to tow, and expecting it will escape conflagration.”
Marten made no reply, for he was tired of the subject; but after Mrs. Mortimer had left the room, he said to Reuben–“Well, we shall see what we shall see, and mamma shall acknowledge I am right after all.” So the carriage came to the door next morning betimes, and Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer got into it, and Marten and Reuben stood in the coach drive to hold the gate open for the carriage to pass through; and the great dog Nero stood by them very much excited, not knowing whether to go with the carriage or to stay with the boys.
“Be sure you see Nero has a run every day, Marten,” said Mr. Mortimer, as the carriage passed through the gate–“that dog wants plenty of exercise.”
“Oh! don’t fear, papa, I shall not forget him,” replied Marten, running a step or two after the carriage; “and mamma, I will attend to your doves–you had forgotten to speak about them, had you not, mamma? I will remember them and Nero too, papa, and Reuben also. Yes, I will attend to all–I shall have plenty of time for all. Have you anything more you wish done, papa?” and Marten was obliged to stop speaking, as the carriage was now going on rapidly, and he found he could not talk and keep up with it at the same time.
“No, no, Marten,” replied Mr. Mortimer laughing–“No, no, my boy–you have got more on your hands now than will suffice you: so off with you home, and take care that when we return we do not find the doves flown, Nero lost, or Reuben with black eye or bruised leg, and yourself in some unlucky plight, my boy. Now go home, and God bless and watch over you, my sons. We hope it will not be long before we return,” and he waved his hand to bid good bye. Marten had run himself out of breath, so he was not able to answer his father, and he was not sorry to stand still an instant or two to watch the carriage out of sight, and give time for Reuben to overtake him, for the child could not keep up with his brother’s quick running. And even now Marten might have read this lesson, had he been wise enough so to do that already, he had been led away by temptation to forget his brother, and that though he had done so, Nero had been more faithful than himself; for Nero, though he could have outran Marten, yet would not forsake the child, but restrained his impatience that he might keep near the little one, who ever needed a protector by his side, for the child was young, and his mother had perhaps reared him too delicately.
Reuben had never before been separated from his mamma, and he was half inclined to cry, and perhaps fret at her absence; but Marten, who was a very kind brother, and really loved the child tenderly, contrived so to divert his attention that he soon forgot his troubles.
Marten was so bent upon behaving well during his mamma’s and papa’s absence and of fulfilling every duty, that though Reuben wished to stay out all morning and play, his brother would not allow it, but persuaded him to go in with him and say his lessons, as if his mamma had been at home. But Marten had taken upon himself much more than was required of him by his parents, and it was not without difficulty, even on the first day, determined as he was upon the point, that he could fulfil all his intentions, for Marten had not taken into consideration that if he thoroughly devoted himself to Reuben, he could not spend his time in learning his own lessons, which usually occupied the best hours of the morning. The doves could be fed whilst Reuben was by his side–indeed Reuben could be very useful in this matter, for he had been accustomed to visit the aviary daily with his mamma, and the pretty birds knew him and were not as afraid of him as they were of his big brother Marten. So Reuben fed the doves himself, and stroked their soft feathers, and washed out their little tin in which the water was put for them to drink; and he placed the food for them in its right corner, and he swept out the floor of the aviary, for he was small enough to stand upright within it, and he knew how to do it without frightening the birds. So far all was well, and all was well too whilst Reuben was saying his lessons; but when Marten wanted to study his Latin exercise, the child was so restless and troublesome, that it was only by speaking very decidedly to him–indeed almost crossly–that Marten could get a moment to himself.
But even then Marten had to shut up his book somewhat hastily, for Reuben began to cry for his mamma, who never spoke sharply to him, and was always ready to attend to the little one by a kind look or tender word.
Marten was, however, so satisfied with himself in having accomplished all his plans for the day, that he did not see how he had given way to temptation in being cross when provoked; and as he put Reuben to bed, for he chose to do it himself, he could not help saying aloud, “I wish mamma could have followed me unseen all day: how pleased she would have been with me, for I have done all I meant to do, even though I was tempted more than once to leave something undone.”
The next morning Marten arose, perhaps not quite so earnest in his intentions as the day before, but still there was only a slight disinclination to fulfil all his duties–so slight, indeed, that he would have been very angry if any one had spoken to him about it, and hinted at the truth. In this frame of mind, though most things were done, some few were slurred over, particularly the Latin Exercise and Grammar, for Marten’s papa had not set him any task, and had even said Marten might have a holiday during his absence; and at any other time the boy would have been glad of this indulgence, but now he fancied himself so good, that he believed he could do everything, and everything well.
“I will do an exercise to-morrow, Reuben,” said Marten. “Papa does not expect any done, and if I have one for every other day to shew him, he will be very much pleased, I know.”
Reuben, as may be supposed, could not make a suitable reply to this; for all he understood about it was, that Marten was going out with him instead of staying at home to do that troublesome Latin. So Reuben was pleased and Marten was thoughtless, and out together they went and enjoyed themselves not a little, in the pleasant autumn weather.
Thus hours passed on, and the third day brought a letter from Mrs. Mortimer, which was not quite satisfactory, for it said that the business which took her and her husband from home could not be easily settled, and they feared they would be detained a whole fortnight at Portsmouth. Mrs. Mortimer, however, was not uneasy about her boys, for she knew that the servants, with whom she had left them, were quiet steady persons, who would not allow them to do what was wrong without speaking to them; and then Reuben was such an universal favourite, that she felt sure no one would be wilfully unkind to him. But above all, Mrs. Mortimer trusted her children with Him who “knoweth our frame and remembereth we are but dust.” Psal. ciii. 14.
Mrs. Mortimer had been absent about a week, and Marten was still in ignorance of the weakness of human nature, at least as far as he was himself personally concerned, when one morning Reuben came running to him in great distress, to say that the doves were missing–his mamma’s own pretty birds that she loved so much; and Reuben, whose tears were somewhat too ready, began to cry, for he feared, poor child, the cat had eaten them, or some other misfortune equally distressing had befallen them.
“Was the door of the aviary open?” asked Marten. “Are you sure it was open, Reuben? or did you open it yourself?”
“It was open,” said Reuben, “wide, wide open–so wide, Marten;” and he made his brother understand that he had gone inside without stirring it the least little bit.
“It was open, you say,” replied the elder boy, “but how could that be? You or some one have been careless, very careless, Reuben; for it is certain the birds could not open it for themselves.” Reuben was about to cry again, but Marten soothed him, for all at once Marten remembered that the careless–very careless person was none other than himself; for on the day before, whilst Reuben was sweeping out the aviary, Marten had called him hurriedly, and though the child had once proposed to return, his brother had kept him by his side for some trifling purpose, and so they had both forgotten the aviary door was open. However, the doves were gone, and they must be reclaimed, if alive, but if dead–what a sad story would there be for Mrs. Mortimer. So the books were put by, and the two boys went out in search of the birds, and Reuben, who understood their ways, took the precaution to carry with him the box in which their food was usually placed. On this occasion there was a nice piece of cake put into the box, which was to be crumbled for the doves, and Reuben knew that they liked cake as well as he did himself, and more especially the kind of cake which cook had given him.
Have you ever heard of a person who it is said once looked for a needle in a pottle of hay? for if so, you may picture to yourself the feelings of Marten when he started to find the ringdoves. But perhaps you will say, anyhow, the needle would lie still, unless the man who was searching for it should shake the straw too roughly, and throw it out, therefore the space of its concealment, being a limited space, supposing the pottle the very largest ever made, there would be a chance in time of its discovery, but not so the case of the birds. They had wings to fly with, and miles of lovely blue sky to fly through, and green branches to rest on, and harvest fields to alight in, that is if they were in the land of the living; but, perhaps, after all, mistress pussy had destroyed them, and their pretty feathers, perhaps their only relics left, might be so scattered by the wind, that already they might be yards and yards separated from each other. With these sad forebodings clouding his brow, Marten set off with Reuben on his search, feeling that it was a hopeless one, and not one word did the boy utter to all Reuben’s lamentations as they crossed the meadow which was spread in front of their house towards a little wood, which was the home of many a bird of the pigeon or dove species, and therefore Marten thought would be the most likely place to go first to look after the strayed ones. Think, then, what must have been his joy as they entered the second meadow not far from the stile, absolutely to behold the ringdoves, his mamma’s own ringdoves walking upon the grass cooing and billing, and turning about their soft eyes in this direction and the other, as if half afraid of the freedom they had acquired for themselves. As to Reuben, he was so pleased, that the little foolish fellow clapped his hands and shouted for joy, which so alarmed the doves, that they took to their wings and soared high, but flutteringly in the air, as if in their fright they did not know what they ought to do for their own safety. Marten was very angry with Reuben for his folly–very angry indeed, and I hardly know what it was he said; only this I do know, that he took the box of cake from the child’s hand, and bade him stand at a particular spot–about twenty yards or so, in a direction farthest from the wood, and from the stile leading to their home; “and there,” he added, “remain till I tell you you may stir, if you are so stupid as not to know that clapping your hands and shouting loud will frighten any birds, particularly timid ones like doves–tame doves, especially, who have strayed from their home.”
Marten looked so cross, that Reuben did not even like to cry, for he felt he had been very silly; so the poor little fellow stood where his brother had bade him stand, half afraid to breathe, and quite afraid of moving–lest by any noise he should again drive away the doves, and Marten should again be angry. And there we will leave him to speak of how his brother set himself to work to reclaim his mother’s birds.
I have said before that he had some cake in a box in his hand, and having tossed off his hat–lest by any accident it should fall off when he was stooping forwards, he threw himself upon the grass his full length, and as he rested on his right hand; with his left he sprinkled some of the cake he had with him on the ground, to attract the doves near to him, in the hope he would catch one; and the second, he rightly guessed, would not then be long out of his power. Marten relied on the tame habits of the doves, who had been accustomed not only to eat out of his brother’s hands, but also from his mother’s, and occasionally of late from his own; but it is a different thing feeding birds in their own aviary, and when they have escaped half wild to their native haunts. And now, whilst the boy stretched upon the ground, was wholly occupied in the earnest desire of reclaiming the wanderers, Reuben’s attention after awhile was diverted by seeing that some one was approaching towards them from a hill, in a direction farthest from their home. This person was riding at no slow pace, and as I said before, as his road led him down hill, he seemed not to spare his horse; meeting the wind, as Reuben thought gloriously, and passing along at a pace, the child considered more glorious still. “When I am a man,” the little fellow said to himself, “I will ride so, I will have a horse, and I will ride very very fast,–yes,–that I will.”
Now it seemed that the rider from the elevated road could look over the meadows below, and probably having good eyes, for they certainly were young and sharp ones, he soon spied out Marten and Reuben, and as it came out afterwards that Marten was the person he sought after, he caused his pony to leap over a small ditch that was in his way, and then guiding it to a gate he dismounted and fastened the animal to the post by its bridle. In leaping the ditch his hat had fallen off, and making signs to a large Newfoundland dog that had accompanied him, the noble animal was by him directed to lie down near the horse and take charge of the hat, whilst his master stepped lightly along the grass in the direction where Marten lay extended, so occupied about the doves as to regard nothing that was passing round him. The new comer was a youth of about Marten’s own age, the only child of a gentleman who lived about four miles from Marten’s father, and the most constant companion that Marten possessed. His name was Edward Jameson, and he shall himself say the cause of his present visit. Reuben knew Edward well, and he recognized him before he had tied his pony to the gate post, but he had not seen the fine Newfoundland dog before, and Reuben was so fond of dogs. The little fellow remembered that Marten had forbidden him to leave the tree or to speak, but he could not keep his small feet from moving up and down restlessly, nor could he scarce command himself not to call out and tell his brother of Edward’s arrival. But Edward wanted to see what Marten was doing in the very odd attitude he had taken, so he crept noiselessly on, his head turned somewhat sideways to Reuben, and his hand held up threateningly to the child, for he saw he had been recognised, and he was afraid of some hasty word, which would cause Marten to start up, and then he feared he should not surprise his friend. Edward was able to get quite close to Marten, and even to touch him before Marten was aware of his presence; and he stepped up so quietly, that the doves were so little frightened, that they hardly stopped a moment from picking up the crumbs.
“Why Marten, old fellow, what are you doing here?” asked Edward. “Whose doves are those, I say? are they your mother’s? have you let them loose–Eh?” Edward spoke softly, but not so softly that he did not cause Marten to start at the unexpected sound of his voice; still, as the birds were at some little distance, and were accustomed to the human voice, they scarcely were alarmed, and hardly moved a step or two away from the crumbs scattered for them, and Marten recovering himself quickly, said–“Oh! Edward, do help me to catch these doves: they have escaped from their aviary, and my mother will be so vexed if they fly away.”
“To be sure I will,” replied Edward; “but my boy, who is in the habit of feeding them, for that person would best know how to catch them I should say.”
“My mother feeds them herself chiefly,” said Marten, “and Reuben sometimes attends to them when she is engaged.”
“Well, set Reuben to decoy them now, for I am in a hurry and have got something to say to you as quickly as possible, and it is very important. Anyhow, the child can watch them whilst you are attending to me.”
So Reuben was called from his station at the tree, and Marten gave him directions what he was to do; and the now little important one lay down on the grass, as Marten had done before him; and as might have been expected, the doves, accustomed to his baby voice and small figure, soon drew nearer and nearer to him, so that when the conference was over between the two elder boys, Reuben was able proudly to shew not one, but both doves, so wrapped up in his pinafore, that though they fluttered about a little, they were quite secure. “Come here a step or two from the child,” said Edward, “and don’t think of those troublesome birds just now, but tell me at once, can you come and pay me a visit for a couple of days? my cousins William Roscoe and Jane and Mary are expected at our house to night on their way to London. You know William Roscoe, Marten, and what a fine fellow he is and I have asked my father and mother, and they have allowed me to get as many young ones together as the short time would allow, and we are to have splendid fun. Won’t you come, Marten? I promise you a glorious time of it, if you will but come.”
Categories: English Literature