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WHEN Mr. William Bancroft, after much reflection, determined upon matrimony, he was receiving, as a clerk, the moderate salary of four hundred dollars, and there was no immediate prospect of any increase. He had already waited over three years, in the hope that one or two hundred dollars per annum would be added to his light income. But, as this much-desired improvement in his condition did not take place, and both he and his lady-love grew impatient of delay, it was settled between them, that, by using strict economy in their expenses, they could get along very well on four hundred dollars a year.
"If there should be no increase of family," was the mental exception that forced itself upon Mr. Bancroft, but this he hardly felt at liberty to suggest; and as it was the only reason he could urge against the step that was so favorably spoken of by his bride to be, he could do no less than resolve, with a kind of pleasant desperation, to take it and let the worst come, if it must come. Single blessedness had become intolerable. Three years of patient waiting had made even patience, itself, no longer a virtue.
So the marriage took place. Two comfortable rooms in a very comfortable house, occupied by a very agreeable family, with the use of the kitchen, were rented for eighty dollars a year, and, in this modest style, housekeeping was commenced. Mrs. Bancroft did all her own work, with the exception of the washing. This was not a very serious labor--indeed, it was more a pleasure than a toil, for she was working for the comfort of one she loved.
"Would I not rather do this than live as I have lived for the past three years?" she would sometimes say to herself, from the very satisfaction of mind she felt. "Yes, a hundred times!"
A year passed away without any additional income. No! we forget there has been an income, and a very important one; it consists in the dearest little babe that ever a mother held tenderly to her loving breast, or ever a father bent over and looked upon with pride. Before the appearance of this little stranger, and while his coming was anxiously looked for, there was a due portion of anxiety felt by Mr. Bancroft, as to how the additional expense that must come, would be met. He did not see his way clear. After the babe was born, and he saw and felt what a treasure he had obtained, he was perfectly satisfied to make the best of what he had, and try to lop off some little self-indulgences, for the sake of meeting the new demands that were to be made upon his purse.
At first, as Mrs. Bancroft had now to have some assistance, and they had but two rooms, a parlor and chamber adjoining, it was thought best to look out for a small house; the objection to this was the additional rent to be paid. After debating the matter, and looking at it on all sides, for some time, they were relieved from their difficulty by the offer of the family from which they rented, to let their girl sleep in one of the garret-rooms, where their own domestic slept. This met the case exactly. The only increased expense for the present, on account of the babe, was a dollar a week to a stout girl of fourteen, and the cost of her boarding, no very serious matter, and more than met from little curtailments that were easily made. So the babe was stowed snugly into the little family, without any necessity for an enlargement of its border. It fit in so nicely that it seemed as if the place it occupied had just been made for it.
And now Mr. Bancroft felt the home-attraction increasing. His steps were more briskly taken when he left his desk and turned his back, in the quiet eventide, upon ledgers and account books.
At the end of another year, Mr. Bancroft found that his expenses and his salary had just balanced each other. There was no preponderance any way. Like the manna that fell in the wilderness from heaven, the supply was equal to the demand. This, however, did not satisfy him. He had a great desire to get a little ahead. In the three years preceding his marriage, he had saved enough to buy the furniture with which they were enabled to go to housekeeping, in a small way; but, since then, it took every dollar to meet their wants.
"In case of sickness and the running up of a large doctor's bill, what should I do?" he would sometimes ask himself, anxiously; "or, suppose I were thrown out of employment?"
These questions always made him feel serious. The prospect of a still further increase in his family caused him to be really troubled.
"It is just as much as I can now do to make both ends meet," he would say, despondingly, and sometimes give utterance to such expressions even in the presence of his wife. Mrs. Bancroft was not a woman very deeply read in the prevailing philosophies of the day; but she had a simple mode of reasoning, or rather of concluding, on most subjects that came up for her special consideration. On this matter, in particular, so perplexing to her husband, her very satisfactory solution to the difficulty, was this--
"He that sends mouths, will be sure to send something to fill them."
There was, in this trite and homely mode of settling the matter, something conclusive, for the time, even to Mr. Bancroft. But doubt, distrust and fear, were his besetting sins, and in a little while, would come back to disturb his mind, and throw a shadow even over the sweet delights of home.
"If there was to be no more increase of family, we could do very well," he would often say to himself; "but how we are to manage with another baby, is more than I am able to see."
But all this trouble upon interest availed not. The baby came, and was received with the delight such visits always produce, even where there is already a house full of children. A crib for little Flora, who was now two years old, and able to amuse herself, with occasional aid from her mother and Nancy, the stout girl, who had in two years, grown stouter and more useful, was all the change the coming of the little stranger, already as warmly welcomed as the oldest and dearest friend could be, produced in the household arrangements of Mr. Bancroft. But sundry expenses attendant upon the arrival and previous preparations therefor, drew rather heavier than usual upon his income, and made the supply fall something short of the demand. At this point in his affairs, a vacancy occurred in an insurance office, and Mr. Bancroft applied for and obtained the clerkship. The salary was seven hundred dollars a year. All was now bright again. In the course of a few months, it was thought best for them to rent the whole of a moderate-sized house, as they really needed more room, for health, than they now had; besides, it would be much pleasanter to live alone. For an annual rent of one hundred and fifty dollars, they suited themselves very well. They waited, until the additional salary gave them the means of increasing their furniture in those particulars required, and then made the change. The second comer was a boy, and they had him christened William. As year after year was added to his young life, he grew into a gentle, fair-haired, sweet-tempered child, whose place upon his father's knee was never yielded even to his sister, on any occasion. His ear was first to catch the sound of his father's approaching footsteps, and his voice the first to herald his coming. This out-going of affection toward him, caused Mr. Bancroft to feel for little "Willy," as he was called, a peculiar tenderness, and gave to his voice a tone of music more pleasant than sounds struck from the sweetest instruments.
Year after year came and went, in ever varying succession, adding, every now and then, another and another to the number of Mr. Bancroft's household treasures. For these, he was not always as thankful as he should have been; and more than once, in anticipation of blessings in this line, was known to say something, in a murmuring way, about being "blessed to death." And yet for Flora, and William, and Mary, and Kate, and even Harry, the last and least, he had a place in his heart, and all lay there without crowding or jostling each other. The great trouble was, what he was to do with them all. How are they to be supported and educated? True, his salary had been increased until it was a thousand dollars, which was as much as he could expect to receive. On this he was getting along very well, that is, making both ends meet at the expiration of each year. But the children were getting older all the time, and would soon be more expense to him; and then there was no telling how many more were still to come. They had been dropping in, one after another, ever since his marriage, without so much as saying "By your leave, sir!" and how long was this to continue, was a question much more easily asked than answered. Sometimes he made light of the subject, and jested with his wife about her "ten daughters;" but it was rather an unrelishable jest, and never was given with a heartiness that made it awaken more than a smile upon the gentle face of his excellent partner.
We will let five or six years more pass, and then bring our friend, Mr. Bancroft, again before the reader. Flora has grown into a tall girl of fifteen, who is still going to school. William, now a youth of thirteen, is a lad of great promise. His mind is rapidly opening, and is evidently one of great natural force. His father has procured for him the very best teachers, and is determined to give him all the advantages in his power to bestow. Mary and Kate are two sprightly girls, near the respective ages of eight and eleven; and Harry, a quiet, innocent-minded, loving child, is in his sixth year. There is another still, a little giddy, dancing elf, named Lizzy, whose voice, except during the brief periods of sleep, rings through the house all day. And yet another, who has just come, that the home of Mr. Bancroft may not be without earth's purest form of innocence--a newborn babe.
To feed, clothe, educate, and find house-room for several children, was more than the father could well do on a thousand dollars a year. But this was not required. During the five or six years that have elapsed, he has passed from the insurance office into a banking institution as book-keeper, at a salary of twelve hundred dollars, thence to the receiving teller's place, which he now holds at fifteen hundred dollars a year. As his means have gradually increased, his style of living has altered. From a house for which he paid the annual rent of one hundred and fifty dollars, he now resides in one much larger and more comfortable, for which three hundred dollars are paid.
This was the aspect of affairs when the seventh child came in its helpless innocence to ask his love.
One evening, after the mother was about again, Mr. Bancroft, as soon as the children were in bed, and he was entirely alone with his wife, gave way to a rather stronger expression than usual, of the doubt, fear and anxiety with which he was too often beset.
"I really don't see how we are ever to get through with the education of all these children, Mary," he remarked with a sigh, "I'm sure it can't be done with my salary. It takes every cent of it now, and in a little while it must cost us more than it does at present."
"We've always got along very well, William," replied the wife. "As our family has increased our means have increased, and I have no doubt will continue to increase, if the wants of our children require us to have a larger income than we enjoy at present."
"I don't know--I'm not sure of that. It was more by good fortune than any thing else that I succeeded in obtaining better employment than I had when we were married. Suppose my salary had continued to be only four hundred dollars, what would we have done?"
"But it didn't continue at four hundred dollars, William."
"It might though--think of that. It was by the merest good luck in the world that I got into the insurance office--there we're two or three dozen applicants, and the gaining of the place by me was mere chance work. If I hadn't been in the insurance office for so many years, and by that means become acquainted with most of the directors of the bank, I never would have attained my present comfortable place. It makes me sick when I think of the miserable plight we would now be in, if that piece of good fortune had not accidentally befallen me."
"Don't say accidentally," returned the wife, in a gentle tone, "say providentially. He who sent us children, sent with them the means for their support. It isn't luck, dear, it is Providence."
"It may be, but I can't understand it," returned Mr. Bancroft, doubtingly. "To me it is all luck."
After this remark, he was silent for some time. Then he said, with a tone made cheerful by the thought he expressed,
"How pleasantly we would be getting along if our family were no larger than it was when I had only four hundred dollars income. How easy it would be to lay up a thousand dollars every year. Let me see, we have been married over sixteen years. Just think what a handsome little property we would have by this time--sixteen thousand dollars. As it is, we haven't sixteen thousand cents, and no likelihood of ever getting a farthing ahead. It is right down discouraging."
The semi-cheerful tone in which Mr. Bancroft had commenced speaking, died away in the last brief sentence.
"Two or three children are enough for any body to have," he resumed, half fretfully; "and quite as many as can be well taken care of. With two or even three, we might be as happy and comfortable as we could desire. But with seven, and half as many more in prospect, O dear! It is enough to dishearten any one."
Mrs. Bancroft did not reply, but drew her arm tighter around the babe that lay asleep upon her breast. Her mind wandered over the seven jewels that were to her so precious, and she asked herself which of them she could part with; or if there was an earthly good more to be desired than the love of these dear children.
Mr. Bancroft had very little more to say that evening, but his state of mind did not improve. He was dissatisfied because his income, ten years before, when his expenses were less, was not as good as it was now, and looked ahead with, a troubled feeling at the prospect of a still increasing family, and still increasing expenses, to meet which he could see no possible way. In this unhappy mood he retired at an earlier hour than usual, but could not sleep for a long time--his thoughts were too unquiet. At last, however, he sunk into a deep slumber.
When again conscious, the sun was shining in at the window. His wife had already risen. He got up, dressed himself, and went down stairs. Breakfast was already on the table, and his happy little household assembling. But after all were seated, Mr. Bancroft noticed a vacant place.
"Where is Flora?" he asked.
A shade passed over the brow of his wife.
"Flora has been quite ill all night," she replied; "I was up with her for two or three hours."
"Indeed! what is the matter?"
Mr. Bancroft felt a sudden strange alarm take hold of his heart.
"I can't tell," returned the mother. "She has a high fever, and complains of sore throat."
"Scarlet fever?" ejaculated Mr. Bancroft, pushing aside his untasted cup of coffee and rising from the table. "I must have the doctor here immediately. It is raging all around us."
The father hurried from the room, and went in great haste for the family physician, who promised to make his first call that morning at his house.
When Mr. Bancroft came home from the bank in the afternoon, he found Flora extremely ill, with every indication of the dreadful disease he named in the morning. A couple of days reduced doubt to certainty. It was a case of scarlatina of the worst type. Speedily did it run its fatal course, and in less than a week from the time she was attacked, Flora was forever free from all mortal agonies.
This was a terrible blow to the father. It broke him completely down. The mother bore her sad bereavement with the calmness of a Christian, yet not without the keenest suffering.
But the visitation did not stop here. Death rarely lays his withering hand upon one household flower without touching another, and causing it to droop, wither, and fall to the ground. So it was in this case. William, the manly, intelligent, promising boy, upon whom the father had ever looked with love and pride so evenly balanced, that the preponderance of neither became apparent, was taken with the same fatal disease and survived his sister only two weeks.
The death of Flora bowed Mr. Bancroft to the ground: that of William completely prostrated him. He remembered, too distinctly, how often and how recently he had murmured at the good gift of children sent him by God, and now he trembled lest all were to be taken from him, as one unworthy of the high benefactions with which he had been blessed. How few seemed now the number of his little ones. There were but five left. The house seemed desolate; he missed Flora every where, and listened, in vain, for her light step and voice of music. William was never out of his thoughts.
For weeks and months his heart was full of fear. If Mary, or Kate, or little Harry looked dull, he was seized with instant alarm. A slight fever almost set him wild. Scarcely a week passed that the doctor was not summoned on some pretense or other, and medicine forced down the throats of the little ones.
This was the aspect of affairs, when, in a time of great fiscal derangement, the bank in which Mr. Bancroft was clerk suffered a severe run, which was continued so long that the institution was forced to close its doors. A commission was appointed to examine into its affairs. This examination brought to light many irregularities in the management of the bank, and resulted in a statement which made it clear that a total suspension and winding-up of the concern must ensue.
By this disaster, Mr. Bancroft was thrown out of employment. Fortunately, the clerk in his old situation in the insurance company gave up his place very shortly afterward, and Bancroft on application, was appointed in his stead. The salary was only a thousand dollars, but he was glad to get that.
So serious a reduction in his income made some reduction in existing expenses necessary. This was attained, in part, by removing into a house for which a rent of only two hundred dollars, instead of three, was paid.
Still the parents trembled for their children, and were filled with alarm if the slightest indisposition appeared. A few months passed and again the hand of sickness was laid upon the family of Mr. Bancroft. Mary and Kate and little Harry were all taken with the fatal disease that had stricken down Flora and William in the freshness of youth and beauty. The father, as he bent over his desk had felt all day an unusual depression of spirits. There was, upon his mind, a foreshadowing of evil. On leaving the office, rather earlier than usual, he hurried home with a heart full of anxiety and fear. His wife opened the door for him. She looked troubled, but was silent. She went up-stairs quickly--he followed. The chamber they entered was very still. As he approached the bed, he saw that Mary and Kate were lying there, and that Harry was in the crib beside them. Their faces were red, and when he placed his hands upon their foreheads, he found them hot with fever.
Hopelessly and silently the unhappy man turned from the bed, and seated himself in a distant corner of the room. The death-mark was upon his children--did he not recognize the fatal sign? He had remained thus for only a minute or two, it seemed, when he felt a hand upon his arm. He looked up; his wife stood beside him, and her eyes rested steadily in his own. She pointed to the bed and motioned him to return there. He obeyed with a shrinking heart. No words were spoken until they were again close to the children; then the mother said, in a calm, cold, stern voice--
"You murmured at the blessings God gave us, and he is withdrawing them one by one. When these are gone, it will not cost us over five hundred dollars to live, and then you can save five hundred a year. Five hundred dollars for three precious children! But it's the price you fixed upon them. Kate and Mary and Harry, dear, dear, dear ones! not for millions of dollars would I part with you!"
A wild cry broke from the lips of the agonized mother, and she fell forward upon the bed, with a frantic gesture.
The father felt like one freezing into ice. He could not speak nor move; how long this state remained he knew not. A long, troubled, dreary period seemed to pass, and then all was clear again. His wife had risen from the bed, and left the chamber. Little Harry had been removed from the crib, but Kate and Mary were still on the bed, with every indication of a violent attack of the same disease that had robbed them of their two oldest children. He was about leaving the room for the purpose of inquiring whether a physician had been sent for, when the door opened and the doctor came in with Mrs. Bancroft. The stern expression that but lately rested upon the face of the latter, had passed away. She looked kindly and tenderly into her husband's face, and even leaned her head against him while the physician proceeded to examine the children.
But little, if any encouragement was offered to the unhappy parents. The incipiency of the disease gave small room for hope, it was so like the usual precursor of the direful malady they feared.
Ten days of awful suspense and fear succeeded to this, and then the worst came. Two happy voices that had, for so many years, echoed through the familiar places of home, were hushed forever. Kate and Mary were no more. But, as if satisfied, death passed, and Harry was spared.
Three were now all that remained of the large and happy household; the babe, whose coming had awakened afresh the murmurings of the father, and clear little Harry, just snatched, as it were, from the jaws of death, and the gay, dancing Lizzy, whose voice had, lost much of its silvery sweetness. Mrs. Bancroft did not again, either by look or word, repeat or refer to her stunning rebuke. But her husband could not forget it. In fact, it had awakened his mind to a most distressing sense of the folly, not to say sin, of which he had been guilty.
In self upbraidings, in the bitterness of grief for which there came no alleviation, the time passed on, and Mr. Bancroft lived in the daily fear of receiving a still deeper punishment.
One day, most disastrous intelligence came to the office in which he was employed. There had been a fierce gale along the whole coast, and the shipping had suffered severely. The number of wrecks, with the sacrifice of life, was appalling. Among the vessels lost, were ten insured in the office. Nothing was saved from then. Five were large vessels, and the others light crafts. The loss was fifty thousand dollars. Following immediately upon this, was another loss of equal amount arising from the failure of a certain large moneyed institution, in the stock of which the company had invested largely.
In consequence of this serious diminution of the company's funds, the directors found themselves driven to make sacrifices of property, and to diminish all expenses.
"We shall have to reduce your salary Mr. Bancroft," said the president, to him, some weeks after the company had received the shock just mentioned. "The directors think that five hundred dollars is as large a salary as they now ought to pay. I am sorry that the necessity for reduction exists, but it is absolute. Of course we don't expect you to remain at the diminished compensation. But we will be obliged to you, if you will give us as much notice as possible."
With a heavy heart did Mr. Bancroft return to the home that seemed so desolate, when the duties of the day were done. He tried, at tea-time, to eat his food as usual, and to conceal from his wife the trouble that was oppressing him. But this was a vain effort. Her eyes seemed never a moment from his face.
"What is the matter, dear?" she asked, as soon as they had left the table. "Are you not well?"
"No; I am sick," he replied, sadly.
"Sick?" ejaculated the wife, in alarm.
"Yes, sick at heart."
Mrs. Bancroft sighed deeply.
"My cup is not yet full, Mary," he said, in a bitter tone. "There is yet more gall and wormwood to be added. We must go back to the two rooms, and live as we began some sixteen or seventeen years ago. My salary, from this day, is to be only five hundred dollars. It is useless to try for a better place--all is ill-luck now. We must go down, down, down!"
Mrs. Bancroft wept bitterly, but did not reply.
Back to the two rooms they went, but oh! how sad and weary-hearted they were. It was not with them as when with the first dear pledge of their love, they drew close together in the small bounds of a chamber and parlor, and were happy. Why could they not be happy now? They still had three children, and an income equal to their necessities, if dispensed with prudent care. They were relieved from a world of labor and anxiety. No--no--they could not be happy. Their hearts were larger now, for they had been expanding for years, as objects of love came one after the other in quick succession; but these objects of love, with two or three solitary exceptions, had been taken away from them, and there was silence, vacancy, and desolation in their bosoms.
"My cup is not yet full, Mary." No, it seemed that it was not yet full, for a few days only had elapsed, after the family had contracted itself to meet the diminished income, before little Harry began to droop about. Mr. Bancroft noticed this, but he was afraid to speak of it, lest the very expression of his fear should produce the evil dreaded. He came and went to and from his daily tasks with an oppressive weight ever at his heart. He looked for evil and only evil; but without the bravery to meet it and bear it like a man.
One night, after having, before retiring to bed, bent long in anxious solicitude over the child for whom all his fears was aroused, he was awakened by a cry of anguish from his wife. He started up in alarm, and sprung upon the floor, exclaiming:
"In Heaven's name, Mary! what is the matter?"
His wife made no answer. She was lying with her face pressed close to that of little Harry, and both were pale as ashes. The father placed his hand upon the cheek of his boy, and found it marble cold. Clasping his hands tightly against his forehead, he staggered backward and fell; but he did not strike the floor, but seemed falling, falling, falling from a fearful height. Suddenly he was conscious that he had been standing on a lofty tower--had missed his footing, and was now about being dashed to pieces to the earth. Before reaching the ground, horror overcame him, and he lost, for a moment, his sense of peril.
"Thank God!" was uttered, most fervently, in the next instant.
"For what, dear?" asked Mrs. Bancroft, rising up partly from her pillow, and looking at her husband with a half-serious, half-laughing face.
"That little Harry is not dead." And Mr. Bancroft bent over and fixed his eyes with loving earnestness upon the rosy-cheeked, sleeping child.
Just then there came from the adjoining room a wild burst of girlish laughter.
"What's that?" A strange surprise flashed over the face of Mr. Bancroft.
"Kate and Mary are in a gay humor this morning," said the mother. "But what have you been dreaming about, dear?"
As this question was asked, a strain of music was heard floating up from the parlor, and the voice of Flora came sweetly warbling a familiar air.
The father buried his face in the pillow, and wept for joy. He had awakened from a long, long dream of horror.
From that time Mr. Bancroft became a wiser man. He was no longer a murmurer, but a thankful recipient of the good gifts sent him by Providence. His wife bore him, in all, ten children, five of whom have already attained their majority. He never wanted a loaf of bread for them, nor anything needful for their comfort and happiness. True, he did not "get ahead" in the world, that is, did not lay up money; but One, wiser than he, saw that more than enough would not be good for him, and, therefore, no efforts that he could make would have given him more than what was needed for their "daily bread." There was always enough, but none to spare.
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