Mrs. Mulford was a woman who doted on ruins. Nothing in the present was as beautiful as she had enjoyed in the past; and it seemed utterly impossible for her to imagine that there was anything in the future that could compensate her for the trials she had endured.
In her girlhood, Mrs. Mulford had been surrounded with the luxuries of life; and after her marriage her surroundings were but a trifle less magnificent. In such an air of luxury and ease, her children, were being reared when suddenly a great change came.
Mr. Mulford was a rash speculator, and on that memorable “Black Friday,” the idol he had worshiped, the god of gold, proved itself to be nothing but clay, and was as dust in his hands. He could not rally from the shock; pride, ambition, courage, were all annihilated, and Mrs. Mulford, to whom beggary seemed worse than death, could only mingle her tears with his in speechless agony.
The next morning Mrs. Mulford was a widow, and her children fatherless. A trifle the creditors allowed her was all she had to depend upon, the money she had inherited from her father having been swept away by the financial tornado.
She had taken a little place in the country, and with Arthur’s help, and Bridget’s, had really succeeded in making things look quite cozy and attractive.
“Sure ma’am,” says Bridget, in her homely attempts to comfort her mistress, who dragged herself about, “if you’d only smile once in a while ye’d be surprised at the comfort ye’d get!”
“Ah Bridget,” Mrs. Mulford replies, with a long-drawn sigh, “my smiling days are over. I try to be patient, but I cannot be cheerful.”
“Ah, but it’s the cheerful patience that brings the sunshine; and ye really shouldn’t grieve the children so.”
“Do they mind it, Bridget?”
“Sure, an’ they do! Master Arthur, bless the boy! says it’s just like a tomb where ye are; and Miss Minnie and Miss Maud have their little hearts nearly torn out of them.”
But Mrs. Mulford could not be easily beguiled from her sorrow, especially as she was obliged to rely on her needle to eke out the limited allowance, and every stitch she took was but an additional reminder of the depth to which she was reduced.
She had managed to exist through the Thanksgiving season, and Bridget had done her best to make it an occasion worthy to be remembered, by the children at least; and if it hadn’t been for that kitchen queen, I don’t see how the house could have held together.
She had always some amusing story to tell the children, something to excite their wonder or admiration, and every few days would surprise them with some fresh molasses delights.
Minnie and Maud rather enjoyed their poverty, as it allowed them more freedom and exemption from little rules that society enjoined. It was such fun to roll in the snow, and draw each other on the sled, without any caution in regard to the ruffles and frills that used to be such a torment and restraint to them.
Christmas was drawing near, and its approach filled Mrs. Mulford with uncontrollable despondency. It had been a happy season in her young days. Now it was all so changed! Even a moderate expenditure was not to be thought of, when it was so difficult to procure even the necessities of life, and she really wished the day was over, for she dreaded its arrival.
In the kitchen, all was animation and excitement. Minnie and Maud were down in a corner very busy over some mystery, in which Bridget was as much interested as they were themselves. Arthur bustled about from one room to another, always the active, cheery, hopeful boy, who kept everybody informed of what was going on in the outside world, and he, too, evidently had some weighty secret pressing against the buttons of his jacket.
Christmas Eve came. Mrs. Mulford was in the midst of a troubled dream, when shouts of “Merry Christmas!” rang through the house and awakened her to the reality of the day she so long had dreaded.
The children’s cloth bags were fairly bulging with little treasures they had created with their own hands. “Come Mother,” said Arthur, “you first; Bridget can hardly wait.”
“Oh no,” said the mother. “Maud should have the first chance,” and the child eagerly availed herself of the privilege.
It was astonishing what an amount of goodies rolled out of that bag. There was a nice pair of warm gloves to use in drawing the sled, or making snowballs, a new doll, and a book full of pictures. Minnie’s bag was quite as bountifully stocked. Arthur had filled his own bag with all sorts of odds and ends to increase the excitement. Bridget unloaded her collection of treasures, pulling out a potato labeled, “The last of the Murphys! May they always be first in the field!”
When Mrs. Mulford was finally induced to examine the contents of her bag, the children gathered around anxiously watching the proceedings. There was a pair of nice brackets for hanging outside, which Arthur had cut out with a pen knife, and as she took up each article that had been wrought by loving little fingers, the worsted pulse-warmers, the pretty mats and tidies, she felt that it was indeed possible for love to build upon the old ruins a beautiful palace for the heart to dwell in.
“Forgive me my dear children,” she exclaimed, embracing them each in turn. “We will begin the world anew. I have been a weak woman.”
“It’s been a heavy cross ye had, but we’re all going to help carry it.”
“And Mother,” broke in Arthur, “I’ve gotten a job in a grocery store! It isn’t much, but I’ll learn the business, and then I can take care of you.”
What a Christmas breakfast they had! Bridget had made delicious waffles, and everything was super excellent, but it was the guest that sat at the board with them that made it a feast to be remembered. While they were at the table, there was a sudden, sharp knock at the door that startled all the inhabitants.
Arthur admitted the gentleman, so swathed in an immense scarf about the neck and chin as to leave one in doubt as to whether he was friend or foe.
“Well, well,” said the stranger, divesting himself of his wraps. “Where’s Carrie? Where’s Carrie Wharton, my niece? She was Carrie Wharton, married Ned Mulford, and a long tramp I’ve had to find her.” Saying which, he entered the room where Mrs. Mulford and her children were sitting.
“Carrie!” said the stranger in eager tones, advancing toward Mrs. Mulford, who having a bewildered moment, then a flash of recognition.
“Yes, dear child! Would I could have got to you sooner. I felt I was growing old and had a hankering after a home to die in, and always the face of my little niece, Carrie, seemed to give me the heartiest welcome. Why, I had hard work finding out anything about Ned Mulford, or Ned Mulford’s widow.”
“It’s because of our poverty,” sighed the widow.
“Money don’t make a home, I know that well enough, for I’ve seen it tried. It’s the way of the world. But no matter, we’ll begin anew. Arthur, what are your plans?”
“I was going into Mr. Chase’s grocery the first of January.”
“Do you want to?”
“No, sir,” replied Arthur, “but I’d like to help Mother.”
“You’ve done your duty. But my opinion is you’d rather go to college than into a grocery.”
“Oh sir!” hoping the flush on his face was not to be misunderstood.
“College it is, then. Carrie, you are to be my housekeeper; these are my little girls,” clasping the children in a hearty embrace.
The Christmas dinner was a marvel of cookery, and Uncle Nathan enlivened the meal with accounts of his adventures.
“And this was the Christmas I had dreaded,” said Mrs. Mulford, as she retired to her room. Her pride was truly humbled by this manifestation of God’s goodness, and long and earnestly she prayed that henceforth, whatever trials might come upon her, she might bear the burden with cheerful patience, trusting in God to lead her through the shadows into the sunshine of a more perfect day. And in years after, no memory was more precious to her than that of a Christmas morning when the children taught her a lesson of unselfishness and duty.
Sabbath Readings for the Home Circle, Vol. 1, ©1877, 358–372.