“Oh! Jacob, now you see how all your hopes are gone. Here we are worn out with age—all our children removed from us by the hand of death, and ere long we must be the inmates of the poorhouse. Where now is all the bread you have cast upon the waters?”
The old, white-haired man looked up at his wife. He was, indeed, bent down with years, and age sat tremblingly upon him. Jacob Manfred had been a comparatively wealthy man, and while fortune had smiled upon him he had ever been among the first to lend a listening ear and a helping hand to the call of distress. But now misfortune was his. Of his four boys not one was left. Sickness and failing strength found him with but little, and had left him penniless. An oppressive embargo upon the shipping business had been the first weight upon his head, and other misfortunes came in painful succession. Jacob and his wife were all alone, and gaunt poverty looked them coldly in the face.
“Don’t repine, Susan,” said the old man. “True we are poor, but we are not yet forsaken.”
“Not forsaken, Jacob? Who is there to help us now?”
Jacob Manfred raised his trembling finger toward heaven.
“Ah! Jacob, I know God is our friend, but we should have friends here. Look back and see how many you have befriended in days long past. You cast your bread upon the waters with a free hand, but it has not returned to you.”
“Hush, Susan, you forget what you say. To be sure I may have hoped that some kind hand of earth would lift me from the cold depths of utter want; but I do not expect it as a reward for anything I may have done. If I have helped the unfortunate in days gone by, I have had my full reward in knowing that I have done my duty to my fellows. I would not for gold have one of them blotted from my memory. Ah! My fond wife, ‘tis the memory of the good done in life that makes old age happy. Even now, I can hear again the warm thanks of those whom I have befriended, and again I can see their smiles.”
“Yes, Jacob,” returned the wife, in a lower tone, “I know you have been good, and in your memory you can be happy; but, alas! There is a present upon which we must look—there is a reality upon which we must dwell. We must beg for food or starve!”
The old man started, and a deep mark of pain was drawn across his features.
“Beg!” he replied, with a quick shudder. “No, Susan, we are—”
He hesitated, and a big tear rolled down his furrowed cheek.
“We are what, Jacob?”
“We are going to the poorhouse!”
“O No, I thought so!” fell from the poor wife’s lips, as she covered her face with her hands. “I have thought so, and I have tried to school myself to the thought; but? My poor heart will not bear it!”
“Do not give up,” softly urged the old man, laying his hand upon her arm. “It makes but little difference to us now. We have not long to remain on earth, and let us not wear out our last days in useless repinings. Come, Come.”
“But when—when—shall we go?”
“Then God have mercy on us!”
“He will,” murmured Jacob.
That old couple sat for a while in silence. When they were aroused from their painful thoughts it was by the stopping of a wagon in front of the door. A man entered the room where they sat. He was the keeper of the poorhouse.
“Come, Mr. Manfred,” he said, “the selectmen have managed to crowd you into the poorhouse. The wagon is at the door, and you can get ready as soon as possible.”
Jacob Manfred had not calculated the strength he should need for this ordeal. There was a coldness in the very tone and manner of the man who had come for him that went like an ice-bolt to his heart, and with a deep groan he sank back in his seat.
“Come, be in a hurry,” impatiently urged the keeper.
At that moment a heavy covered carriage drove up to the door.
“Is this the house of Jacob Manfred?”
This question was asked by a man who entered from the carriage. He was a kind-looking man, about forty years of age.
“That is my name,” said Jacob.
“Then they told me truly,” uttered the newcomer. “Are you from the almshouse?” he continued, turning toward the keeper.
“Then you may return. Jacob Manfred goes to no poorhouse while I live.”
The keeper gazed inquisitively into the face of the stranger, and left the house.
“Don’t you remember me?” exclaimed the newcomer, grasping the old man by the hand.
“I cannot call you to my memory now.”
“Do you remember Lucius Williams?”
“Williams?” repeated Jacob, starting up and gazing earnestly into the stranger’s face. “Yes, Jacob Manfred—Lucius Williams, that little boy whom, thirty years ago, you saved from the house of correction; that poor boy whom you kindly took from the bonds of the law, and placed on board your own vessels.”
“And are you—”
“Yes—yes. I am the man you made. You found me a rough stone from the hand of poverty and bad example. It was you who brushed off the evil, and who first led me to the sweet waters of moral life and happiness. I have profited by the lesson you gave me in early youth, and the warm spark which your kindness lighted up in my bosom has grown brighter and brighter ever since. With an affluence for life I have settled down, to enjoy the remainder of my days in peace and quietness. I heard of your losses and bereavements. Come, I have a home and a heart, and your presence will make them both warmer, brighter, and happier. Come, my more than father—and you my mother, come. You made my youth all bright, and I will not see your old age doomed to darkness.”
Jacob Manfred tottered forward and sank upon the bosom of his preserver. He could not speak his thanks, for they were too heavy for words. When he looked up again he sought his wife.
“Susan,” he said, in a choking, trembling tone, “my bread has come back to me!”
“Forgive me, Jacob.”
“No, no, Susan. It is not I who must forgive—God holds us in His hand.” “Ah!” murmured the wife, as she raised her streaming eyes to heaven, “I will never doubt Him again.”
Storytime Treasury, Compiled by P. G. Temple, (Harvestime Books, Altamont, Tennessee 37301).