There are two classes in the world: one acts from impulse, and the other from reason; one consults the heart, and the other the head. Persons belonging to the former class are very much liked by the majority of those who come in contact with them: while those of the latter class make many enemies in their course through life. Still, the world owes as much to the latter as to the former–perhaps a great deal more.
Mr. Archibald May belonged to the former class; he was known as a good-hearted man. He uttered the word “no” with great difficulty; and was never known to have deliberately said that to another which he knew would hurt his feelings. If any one about him acted wrong, he could not find it in his heart to wound him by calling his attention to the fact. On one occasion, a clerk was detected in purloining money; but it was all hushed up, and when Mr. May dismissed him, he gave him a certificate of good character.
“How could you do so?” asked a neighbor, to whom he mentioned the fact.
“How could I help doing it? The young man had a chance of getting a good place. It would have been cruel in me to have refused to aid him. A character was required, and I could do no less than give it. Poor, silly fellow! I am sure I wish him well. I always liked him.”
“Suppose he robs his present employer?”
“He won’t do that, I’m certain. He is too much ashamed of his conduct while in my store. It is a lesson to him. And, at any rate, I do not think a man should be hunted down for a single fault.”
“No: of course not. But, when you endorse a man’s character, you lead others to place confidence in him; a confidence that may be betrayed under very aggravated circumstances.”
“Better that many suffer, than that one innocent man should be condemned and cast off.”
“But there is no question about guilt or innocence. It was fully proved that this young man robbed you.”
“Suppose it was. No doubt the temptation was very strong. I don’t believe he will ever be guilty of such a thing again.”
“You have the best evidence in the world that he will, in the fact that he has taken your money.”
“O no, not at all. It doesn’t follow, by any means, that a fault like this will be repeated. He was terribly mortified about it. That has cured him, I am certain.”
“I wouldn’t trust to it.”
“You are too uncharitable,” replied Mr. May. “For my part, I always look upon the best side of a man’s character. There is good in every one. Some have their weaknesses–some are even led astray at times; but none are altogether bad. If a man falls, help him up, and start him once more fair in the world–who can say that he will again trip? Not I. The fact is, we are too hard with each other. If you brand your fellow with infamy for one little act of indiscretion, or, say crime, what hope is there for him.”
“You go rather too far, Mr. May,” the neighbor said, “in your condemnation of the world. No doubt there are many who are really uncharitable in their denunciations of their fellow man for a single fault. But, on the other side, I am inclined to think, that there are just as many who are equally uncharitable, in loosely passing by, out of spurious kindness, what should mark a man with just suspicion, and cause a withholding of confidence. Look at the case now before us. You feel unwilling to keep a young man about you, because he has betrayed your trust, and yet, out of kind feelings, you give him a good character, and enable him to get a situation where he may seriously wrong an unsuspecting man.”
“But I am sure he will not do so.”
“But what is your guarantee?”
“The impression that my act has evidently made upon him. If I had, besides hushing up the whole matter, kept him still in my store, he might again have been tempted. But the comparatively light punishment of dismissing him with a good character, will prove a salutary check upon him.”
“Don’t you believe it.”
“I will believe it, until I see evidence to the contrary. You are too suspicious–too uncharitable, my good friend. I am always inclined to think the best of every one. Give the poor fellow another chance for his life, say I.”
“I hope it may all turn out right.”
“I am sure it will,” returned Mr. May. “Many and many a young man is driven to ruin by having all confidence withdrawn from him, after his first error. Depend upon it, such a course is not right.”
“I perfectly agree with you, Mr. May, that we should not utterly condemn and cast off a man for a single fault. But, it is one thing to bear with a fault, and encourage a failing brother man to better courses, and another to give an individual whom we know to be dishonest, a certificate of good character.”
“Yes, but I am not so sure the young man we are speaking about is dishonest.”
“Didn’t he rob you?”
“Don’t say rob. That is too hard a word. He did take a little from me; but it wasn’t much, and there were peculiar circumstances.”
“Are you sure that under other peculiar circumstances, he would not have taken much more from you?”
“I don’t believe he would.”
“I wouldn’t trust him.”
“You are too suspicious–too uncharitable, as I have already said. I can’t be so. I always try to think the best of every one.”
Finding that it was no use to talk, the neighbor said but little more on the subject.
About a year afterwards the young man’s new employer, who, on the faith of Mr. May’s recommendation, had placed great confidence in him, discovered that he had been robbed of several thousand dollars. The robbery was clearly traced to this clerk, who was arrested, tried, and sentenced to three years imprisonment in the Penitentiary.
“It seems that all your charity was lost on that young scoundrel, Blake,” said the individual whose conversation with Mr. May has just been given.
“Poor fellow!” was the pitying reply. “I am most grievously disappointed in him. I never believed that he would turn out so badly.”
“You might have known it after he had swindled you. A man who will steal a sheep, needs only to be assured of impunity, to rob the mail. The principle is the same. A rogue is a rogue, whether it be for a pin or a pound.”
“Well, well–people differ in these matters. I never look at the worst side only. How could Dayton find it in his heart to send that poor fellow to the State Prison! I wouldn’t have done it, if he had taken all I possess. It was downright vindictiveness in him.”
“It was simple justice. He could not have done otherwise. Blake had not only wronged him, but he had violated the laws and to the laws he was bound to give him up.”
“Give up a poor, erring young man, to the stern, unbending, unfeeling laws! No one is bound to do that. It is cruel, and no one is under the necessity of being cruel.”
“It is simply just, Mr. May, as I view it. And, further, really more just to give up the culprit to the law he has knowingly and wilfully violated, than to let him escape its penalties.”
Mr. May shook his head.
“I certainly cannot see the charity of locking up a young man for three or four years in prison, and utterly and forever disgracing him.”
“It is great evil to steal?” said the neighbor.
“O, certainly–a great sin.”
“And the law made for its punishment is just?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Do you think that it really injuries a thief to lock him up in prison, and prevent him from trespassing on the property of his neighbors?”
“That I suppose depends upon circumstances. If—-“
“No, but my friend, we must fix the principle yea or nay. The law that punishes theft is a good law–you admit that–very well. If the law is good. it must be because its effect is good. A thief, will, under such law, he really more benefitted by feeling its force than in escaping the penalty annexed to its infringement. No distinction can or ought to be made. The man who, in, a sane mind, deliberately takes the property of another, should be punished by the law which forbids stealing. It will have at least one good effect, if none others and that will be to make him less willing to run similar risk, and thus leave to his neighbor the peaceable possession of his goods.”
“Punishment, if ever administered, should look to the good of the offender. But, what good disgracing and imprisoning a young man who has all along borne a fair character, is going to have, is more than I can tell. Blake won’t be able to hold up his head among respectable people when his term has expired.”
“And will, in consequence, lose his power of injuring the honest and unsuspecting. He will be viewed in his own true light, and be cast off as unworthy by a community whose confidence he has most shamefully abused.”
“And so you will give an erring brother no chance for his life?”
“O yes. Every chance. But it would not be kindness to wink at his errors and leave him free to continue in the practice of them, to his own and others’ injury. Having forfeited his right to the confidence of this community by trespassing upon it, let him pay the penalty of that trespass. It will be to him, doubtless, a salutary lesson. A few years of confinement in a prison will give him time for reflection and repentance; whereas, impunity in an evil course could only have strengthened his evil purposes. When he has paid the just penalty of his crime, let him go into another part of the country, and among strangers live a virtuous life, the sure reward of which is peace.”
Mr. May shook his head negatively, at these remarks.
“No one errs on the side of kindness,” he said, “while too many, by an opposite course, drive to ruin those whom leniency might have saved.”
A short time after the occurrence of this little interview, Mr. May, on returning home one evening, found his wife in much apparent trouble.
“Has anything gone wrong, Ella?” he asked.
“Would you have believed it?” was Mrs. May’s quick and excited answer. “I caught Jane in my drawer to-day, with a ten dollar bill in her hand which she had just taken out of my pocket book, that was still open.”
“It is too true! I charged it at once upon her, and she burst into tears, and owned that she was going to take the money and keep it.”
“That accounts, then, for the frequency with which you have missed small sums of money for several months past.”
“Yes. That is all plain enough now. But what shall we do? I cannot think of keeping Jane any longer.”
“Perhaps she will never attempt such a thing again, now that she has been discovered.”
“I cannot trust her. I should never feel safe a moment. To have a thief about the house! Oh, no, That would never answer. She will have to go.”
“Well, Ella, you will have to do what you think best; but you mustn’t be too hard on the poor creature. You mustn’t think of exposing her, and thus blasting her character. It might drive her to ruin.”
“But, is it right for me, knowing what she is, to let her go quietly into another family? It is a serious matter, husband.”
“I don’t know that you have anything to do with that. The safest thing, in my opinion, is for you to talk seriously to Jane, and warn her of the consequences of acts such as she has been guilty of. And then let her go, trusting that she will reform”
“But there is another fault that I have discovered within a week or two past. A fault that I suspected, but was not sure about. It is a very bad one.”
“What is that, Ella?”
“I do not think she is kind to the baby.”
“I have good reason for believing that she is not kind to our dear little babe. I partly suspected this for some time. More than once I have came suddenly upon her, and found our sweet pet sobbing as if his heart would break. The expression in Jane’s face I could not exactly understand. Light has gradually broken in upon me, and now I am satisfied that she has abused him shamefully.”
“It is too true. Since my suspicions were fully aroused, I have asked Hannah about it, and she, unwillingly, has confirmed my own impressions.”
“Unwillingly! It was her duty to have let you know this voluntarily. Treat my little angel Charley unkindly! The wretch! She doesn’t remain in this house a day longer.”
“So I have fully determined. I am afraid that Jane has a wretched disposition. It is bad enough to steal, but to ill-treat a helpless, innocent babe, is fiend-like.”
Jane was accordingly dismissed.
“Poor creature!” said Mrs. May, after Jane had left the house; “I feel sorry for her. She is, after all, the worst enemy to herself. I don’t know what will become of her.”
“She’ll get a place somewhere.”
“Yes, I suppose so. But, I hope she won’t refer to me for her character. I don’t know what I should say, if she did.”
“If I couldn’t say any good, I wouldn’t say any harm, Ella. It’s rather a serious matter to break down the character of a poor girl.”
“I know it is; for that is all they have to depend upon. I shall have to smooth it over some how, I suppose.”
“Yes: put the best face you can upon it. I have no doubt but she will do better in another place.”
On the next day, sure enough, a lady called to ask about the character of Jane.
“How long has she been with you?” was one of the first questions asked.
“About six months,” replied Mrs. May.
“In the capacity of nurse, I think she told me?”
“Yes. She was my nurse.”
“Was she faithful?”
This was a trying question. But it had to be answered promptly, and it was so answered.
“Yes, I think I may call her quite a faithful nurse. She never refused to carry my little boy out; and always kept him very clean.”
“She kept him nice, did she? Well, that is a recommendation. And I want somebody who will not be above taking my baby into the street. But how is her temper?”
“A little warm sometimes. But then, you know, perfection is not to be attained any where.”
“No, that is very true. You think her a very good nurse?”
“Yes, quite equal to the general run.”
“I thank you very kindly,” said the lady rising. “I hope I shall find, in Jane, a nurse to my liking.”
“I certainly hope so,” replied Mrs. May, as she attended her to the door.
“What do you think?” said Mrs. May to her husband, when he returned in the evening.–“That Jane had the assurance to send a lady here to inquire about her character.”
“She is a pretty cool piece of goods, I should say. But, I suppose she trusted to your known kind feelings, not to expose her.”
“No doubt that was the reason. But, I can tell her that I was strongly tempted to speak out the plain truth. Indeed, I could hardly contain myself when the lady told me that she wanted her to nurse a little infant. I thought of dear Charley, and how she had neglected and abused him–the wretched creature! But I restrained myself, and gave her as good a character as I could.”
“That was right. We should not let our indignant feelings govern us in matters of this kind. We can never err on the side of kindness.”
“No, I am sure we cannot.”
Mrs. Campbell, the lady who had called upon Mrs. May, felt quite certain that, in obtaining Jane for a nurse, she had been fortunate. She gave, confidently, to her care, a babe seven months old. At first, from a mother’s natural instinct, she kept her eye upon Jane; but every thing going on right, she soon ceased to observe her closely. This was noted by the nurse, who began to breathe with more freedom. Up to this time, the child placed in her charge had received the kindest attentions. Now, however, her natural indifference led her to neglect him in various little ways, unnoticed by the mother, but felt by the infant. Temptations were also thrown in her way by the thoughtless exposure of money and jewelry. Mrs. Campbell supposed, of course, that she was honest, or she would have been notified of the fact by Mrs. May, of whom she had inquired Jane’s character; and, therefore, never thought of being on her guard in this respect. Occasionally he could not help thinking that there ought to be more money in her purse than there was. But she did not suffer this thought to rise into a suspicion of unfair dealing against any one. The loss of a costly breast pin, the gift of a mother long since passed into the invisible world, next worried her mind; but, even this did not cause her to suspect that any thing was wrong with her nurse.
This the time passed on, many little losses of money and valued articles disturbing and troubling the mind of Mrs. Campbell, until it became necessary to wean her babe. This duty was assigned to Jane, who took the infant to sleep with her. On the first night, it cried for several hours–in fact, did not permit Jane to get more than a few minutes sleep at a time all night. Her patience was tried severely. Sometimes she would hold the distressed child with angry violence to her bosom, while it screamed with renewed energy; and then, finding that it still continued to cry, toss it from her upon the bed, and let it lie, still screaming, until fear lest its mother should be tempted to come to her distressed babe, would cause her again to take it to her arms. A hard time had that poor child of it on that first night of its most painful experience in the world. It was scolded, shaken, and even whipped by the unfeeling nurse, until, at last, worn out nature yielded, and sleep threw its protecting mantle over the wearied babe.
“How did you get along with Henry?” was the mother’s eager question, as she entered Jane’s room soon after daylight.
“O very well, ma’am,” returned Jane.
“I heard him cry dreadfully in the night. Several times I thought I would come in and take him.”
“Yes, ma’am, he did scream once or twice very hard; but he soon gave up, and has long slept as soundly as you now see him.”
“Dear little fellow!” murmured the mother in a trembling voice. She stooped down and kissed him tenderly–tears were in her eyes.
On the next night, Henry screamed again for several hours. Jane, had she felt an affection for the child, and, from that affection been led to soothe it with tenderness, might easily have lulled it into quiet; but her ill-nature disturbed the child. After worrying with it a long time, she threw it from her with violence, exclaiming as she did so–
“I’ll fix you to-morrow night! There’ll be no more of this. They needn’t think I’m going to worry out my life for their cross-grained brat.”
She stopped. For the babe had suddenly ceased crying. Lifting it up, quickly, she perceived, by the light of the lamp, that its face was very white, and its lips blue. In alarm, she picked it up and sprang from the bed. A little water thrown into its face, soon revived it. But the child did not cry again, and soon fell away into sleep. For a long time Jane sat partly up in bed, leaning over on her arm, and looking into little Henry’s face. He breathed freely, and seemed to be as well as ever. She did not wake until morning. When she did, she found the mother bending over her, and gazing earnestly down into the face of her sleeping babe. The incident that had occurred in the night glanced through her mind, and caused her to rise up and look anxiously at the child. Its sweet, placid face, at once reassured her.
“He slept better last night,” remarked Mrs. Campbell.
“O, yes. He didn’t cry any at all, hardly.”
“Heaven bless him!” murmured the mother, bending over and kissing him softly.
On the next morning, when she awoke, Mrs. Campbell felt a strange uneasiness about her child. Without waiting to dress herself, she went softly over to the room where Jane slept. It was only a little after day-light. She found both the child and nurse asleep. There was something in the atmosphere of the room that oppressed her lungs, and something peculiar in its odor. Without disturbing Jane, she stood for several minutes looking into the face of Henry. Something about it troubled her. It was not so calm as usual, nor had his skin that white transparency so peculiar to a babe.
“Jane,” she at length said, laying her hand upon the nurse.
Jane roused up.
“How did Henry get along last night, Jane?”
“Very well, indeed, ma’am; he did not cry at all.”
“Do you think he looks well?”
Jane turned her eyes to the face of the child, and regarded it for some time.
“O, yes, ma’am, he looks very well; he has been sleeping sound all night.”
Thus assured, Mrs. Campbell regarded Henry for a few minutes longer, and then left the room. But her heart was not at ease. There was a weight upon it, and it labored in its office heavily.
“Still asleep,” she said, about an hour after, coming into Jane’s room. “It is not usual for him to sleep so long in the morning.”
Jane turned away from the penetrating glance of the mother, and remarked, indifferently:
“He has been worried out for the last two nights. That is the reason, I suppose.”
Mrs. Campbell said no more, but lifted the child in her arms, and carried it to her own chamber. There she endeavored to awaken it, but, to her alarm, she found that it still slept heavily in spite of all her efforts.
Running down into the parlor with it, where her husband sat reading the morning papers, she exclaimed:
“Oh, Henry! I’m afraid that Jane has been giving this child something to make him sleep. See! I cannot awake him. Something is wrong, depend upon it!”
Mr. Campbell took the babe and endeavored to arouse him, but without effect.
“Call her down here,” he then said, in a quick, resolute voice.
Jane was called down.
“What have you given this child?” asked Mr. Campbell, peremptorily.
“Nothing,” was the positive answer. “What could I have given him?”
“Call the waiter.”
Jane left the room, and in a moment after the waiter entered.
“Go for Doctor B—- as fast as you can, and say to him I must see him immediately.”
The waiter left the house in great haste. In about twenty minutes Dr. B—- arrived.
“Is there any thing wrong about this child?” Mr. Campbell asked, placing little Henry in the doctor’s arms.
“There is,” was replied, after the lapse of about half a minute. “What have you been giving it.”
“Nothing. But we are afraid the nurse has.”
“Somebody has been giving it a powerful anodyne, that is certain. This is no natural sleep. Where is the nurse? let me see her.”
Jane was sent for, but word was soon brought that she was not to be found. She had, in fact, bundled up her clothes, and hastily and quietly left the house. This confirmed the worst fears of both parents and physician. But, if any doubt remained, a vial of laudanum and a spoon, found in the washstand drawer in Jane’s room, dispelled it.
Then most prompt and active treatment was resorted to by Doctor B—- in the hope of saving the child. But his anxious efforts were in vain. The deadly narcotic had taken entire possession of the whole system; had, in fact, usurped the seat of life, and was poisoning its very fountain. At day dawn on the next morning the flickering lamp went out, and the sad parents looked their last look upon their living child.
“I have heard most dreadful news,” Mrs. May said to her husband, on his return home that day.
“You have! What is it?”
“Jane has poisoned Mrs. Campbell’s child!”
“Ella!” and Mr. May started from his chair.
“It is true. She had it to wean, and gave it such a dose of laudanum, that it died.”
“Dreadful! What have they done with her?”
“She can’t be found, I am told.”
“You recommended her to Mrs. Campbell.”
“Yes. But I didn’t believe she was wicked enough for that.”
“Though it is true she ill-treated little Charley, and we knew it. I don’t see how you can ever forgive yourself. I am sure that I don’t feel like ever again looking Mr. Campbell in the face.”
“But, Mr. May, you know very well that you didn’t want me to say any thing against Jane to hurt her character.”
“True. And it is hard to injure a poor fellow creature by blazoning her faults about. But I had no idea that Jane was such a wretch!”
“We knew that she would steal, and that she was unkind to children; and yet, we agreed to recommend her to Mrs. Campbell.”
“But it was purely out of kind feelings for the girl, Ella.”
“Yes. But is that genuine kindness? Is it real charity? I fear not.”
Mr. May was silent. The questions probed him to the quick. Let every one who is good-hearted in the sense that Mr. May was, ask seriously the same questions.