SUFFERING FOR THE FAULTS OF OTHERS

In silence weep.
And thy convulsive sorrows inward keep.
--Prior.

Edwin's head was still aching when he awoke in the morning, but he arose, dressed hurriedly, and hastened to the kitchen to see if his services were needed by his mother. There was little that he could do, but with brush and pan he gathered the dust and lint from under the various articles of furniture. It was such a comfort and satisfaction to Edwin to know the names of those articles, and their uses.

After the meal was over, he carried the scraps to the dog; but as the supply was short, he did not help himself to a part as he did when there was plenty, for the golden rule was too much a part of his nature. When his morning duties were done, his mother told him to go and take care of the baby; but when he went out into the yard, he could find no one but Perry the dog.

For the moment Edwin forgot what his mother had told him to do. The eyes of his noble friend seemed beckoning him to the spot where he was lying, and Edwin obeyed. Sitting down by Perry's side, he buried his little face in the furry neck of the graceful animal, and all about him seemed to say: "Good morning, my boy. Cheer up, cheer up! Our meals you shall share and our songs you shall hear." The fact that there was no regret within his heart because of the lack of human friendship made it easy for him to accept the comfort and encouragement that was sent him through other channels by his loving, tender heavenly Father.

The small hand was stroking the sleek side of the huge animal, and the little bird-song in the tree close by added much to his enjoyment, and, sitting erect, he chirped in reply a sweet little song that he had learned at the poorhouse from the birds. This peaceful condition, however, was too good to last. In a very short time he heard the voice of his mother asking him where his cousins had gone.

"I haven't seen them yet," he said simply.

"And didn't you know that I meant for you to hunt them up?" she exclaimed in a tone that was much more harsh and severe than that in which her other words had been spoken. Then adding, "I'll teach you to pay attention to what I say!" she picked up a board that was lying near and began to beat him as she had done the day before. Hoping to escape some of the blows, the child drew closer to his mother, but the following instant he found himself tumbling head foremost toward a stone wall and heard the woman say, "Get away from me, you blockhead, or I'll dash out your brains on that stone wall. You are dumber than the dumb and not fit to live, and I wish you had never been born."

When the awful treatment was ended, Edwin was lying in the grass in almost a helpless condition, but he was left there piteously moaning while his mother went to find the other children. The baby was in the house in his crib and was still asleep, and the other two children, who had been on the opposite side of the house at play, were standing in full view of the scene. Without a word of comfort for her suffering child, she told Elmer and Jennie to go quickly to her room, as she intended to take them to the country, and the three disappeared to prepare for the trip.

It was some time before Edwin could arise, but at last, bruised and bleeding, he got upon his feet and hobbled to a place that was not quite so conspicuous. There he was sitting when his mother came from the house. The baby, then awake and dressed, was sitting in its carriage, and the other children were by her side. Before leaving the yard, she called loudly for Edwin, asking where he was hiding, and as the child came limping toward her, she threw him a package, saying as she did so: "Here's some dinner for you and Perry. We'll not be back before night, but you see to it that you stay right here in the yard. If it rains, you can crawl in with the dog." Without any other information as to what she intended to do or where she was going, and without a word of sympathy, the little group passed through the gate and were soon out of sight.

To be thus left alone at so tender an age with no other companions than nature and the dog, to some might seem cruel, but to Edwin life was already too full of varied experiences for this fact to make any material difference in his feelings. He did think, however, that it was very kind of his mother to leave Perry and the birds as his companions, and no better company could he have desired.

The small package that Edwin had received from his mother was of great interest to the half-fed child. Knowing that it was intended for the dog as well as for him, he called for Perry to come, and together they went to the place beneath the little nest where the scene of cruelty had occurred the day before.

Opening the package, he found that the dinner consisted of a small piece of boiled pork, all fat, and a little dry bread, in all scarcely enough for one, and yet two, one of which was a hungry dog, were to dine upon it. After Edwin had considered all this, feelings arose in his heart, but they were not of ingratitude or displeasure. He was anxious to know just how to divide the food so that each would receive his just portion. He concluded that since Perry and he were the parties concerned, Perry must help him to decide.

"Perry," he said, "you are the biggest, and you eat much more than I do, but, Perry, you get all you want very often, and I never do. Now, this morning your plate wasn't quite as full as it is sometimes, so I didn't take any bites. I gave it all to you, Perry, and I was so hungry. Don't you think that it would be all right now if we divided this dinner in halves? It would be all right with me if it would with you."

The dog had been an attentive listener, and as his little master waited for an answer. Perry, who had been taught to "speak" in his dog language, answered, "You, you," and Edwin understood it as being his perfect consent. Still fearing that he might not have been perfectly understood, Edwin began again, "Now, Perry, are you really willing to have it that way, and can you trust me to divide both the meat and the bread?" Again the dog's "You, you" meant "Yes" to Edwin; so, taking the bread in his fingers, he proceeded to divide it as evenly as he could. Then he did the same with the meat, and their dinner was all ready.

The next thing that puzzled them was the time of day and when to eat. This was also decided by Perry, and at last the two faithful friends began their scanty meal. There being no dishes, table manners, or napkins to bother with, the dinner was soon eaten, and after a little romp (for Edwin had quite forgotten his bruises) the two lay down together beneath the apple-tree. Here they were soon lulled to sleep by the murmuring of the wind among the leaves, the chirping of the birds in the branches, and the singing of various insects in the grass; and their dreams were sweet.

When Edwin awoke the sun was high and its rays were streaming down directly into his eyes. Again he wondered where he could be, but Perry's cold nose against his cheek reminded him of what had happened before he fell asleep, and, sitting up, he looked around to see if he was right. Everything in the yard was just as he had seen it before his nap, and the empty newspaper by his side brought to his mind the humble lunch that had been given him by his mother.

Next he gazed around at the landscape before him. His mother's home being in the very edge of the village, Edwin could look for a long distance in one direction. But it was not the gardens nor the corn-fields that attracted his attention; he was considering the sky, which was to him as a high blue arch, and he wished that he could know what was above it.

Presently he began playing with Perry, throwing a stick as he had watched his cousin do the day before. He found it great sport. Once when near the picket fence that surrounded the garden, he noticed some chickens near the gate scratching in the soft earth. After watching them for a little while, he saw something smooth and round lying where he could easily reach it, and he found that it was a pretty white stone with pink stripes in it To Edwin it was a valuable treasure, and by searching carefully he soon discovered two other stones that were equally pretty. A number of playthings belonging to his cousins were scattered about the yard, but thinking that they might be displeased if he touched them, he let them alone.

When he returned to the place beneath the apple-tree, he carefully examined each little stone in its turn, and he considered them very pretty indeed. The one with the pink stripes was so nearly round that it might have been mistaken for a marble; the next was oval in shape and was of a pearly whiteness; the third, although not quite so round as the first, was brown and was a very handsome little stone.

While he was still admiring his treasures, he heard voices and, looking up, saw his mother and the children returning from their visit. A sudden fear that Elmer might want the stones made him thrust them out of sight, but he was not swift enough to escape the eyes of that young lad. Elmer saw the act and, thinking that Edwin might have discovered something valuable, said authoritatively: "Ed, what was that that you put in your pocket just now? Let me see it."

Edwin hesitated, for he did not want to part with what seemed to him his only earthly possessions; bui when he saw his mother's threatening look and heard her say, "Out with whatever you've got, Ed, or I'll see why! You needn't try to show any of your authority around here!" he said, "I haven't anything except these little stones that I found in the yard over there." Then taking the stones from his pocket, he handed them to his mother for inspection.

Finding that the stones were of no value, Mrs. Fischer returned them to her son, and with the two younger children she passed on into the house. Elmer, however, did not go with the rest, but sat down on the grass near Edwin, and watched him closely as he returned the little stones to his pocket. Edwin, although so young and seemingly ignorant along some lines, knew what it was to be robbed of similar treasures; and, noticing the same evil light in his cousin's eye that he had noted many times before at the poorhouse among the children there, young as he was, he felt sure that, if given an opportunity, Elmer would steal. He hoped that his cousin would forget about the stones; so he decided not to refer to them any more and to play with them only when he was alone.

During the evening nothing unusual happened, and when it was time to retire for the night, Edwin was told that the bed that he had occupied the night before was to be his permanent sleeping-quarters. The moon was shining bright and clear, and beneath its silver rays the two boys crept into bed. Both were very still; in fact, they were so very quiet that in a short time each thought the other asleep. It was therefore a surprize to Edwin when he felt his cousin creeping stealthily from the bed and out upon the floor where the rays of the moon were the brightest.

As Edwin had inherited from his mother a natural love for neatness, he had already formed the habit of hanging his clothing upon the bedpost, and, turning softly in the bed, he could see from where he was lying, a sight that made him tremble with excitement. Elmer's hand was already in the pocket containing the treasured stones, and Edwin could not help exclaiming:

"What are you doing there, Elmer? Don't take those stones! They are mine!"

Elmer quickly withdrew his hand when he heard his cousin speak, for he did not expect to be caught; but in an irritated tone a voice from the bed opposite the boys said:

"Ed, what's the matter with you? Can't you let that boy alone? Shut your mouth I say and let him have those stones if he wants them, for what are they worth, anyway?"

Thus rebuked. Edwin said no more; and Elmer, glad to have his own way, yielded to his selfish desire and, again thrusting his hand into the trousers-pocket, became a thief indeed.

How sad! Edwin had early chosen the path of right because it was right, but Elmer was already on the road that leads to destruction and death! Why? Because he had decided in his heart to do evil. Even the kind old lady at the almshouse had not entered his life. Was it Elmer's fault? Not altogether. Temptation comes to all, but with the temptation there is a way of escape (1 Cor. 10: 13). Elmer could have chosen to do right and leave the stones where they belonged; but when he was caught in the act of stealing, Mrs. Fischer, who was responsible for his training, should have carefully taught him the dangers connected with stealing. A little seed of dishonesty sown in the heart needs only cultivation to help it to grow.

The following morning when Edwin's tasks in the house were completed, he was told to go outside to look after the baby, and here it was that he recalled Elmer's act. After making sure that the stones were not in his pocket, Edwin went over to that part of the yard in which his cousin was playing, and as their eyes met he said:

"Elmer, why did you steal my stones last night? I want them back."

"I haven't got anything that belongs to you, and I didn't steal your stones," Elmer almost shouted; and, running to Mrs. Fischer, he said excitedly, "Ed called me a thief and said I stole those stones out of his pocket last night."

"I'll teach him to call you a thief!" the woman exclaimed in an exasperated tone and ran toward her son with a club and began using it freely upon him, saying as she did so: "Ed, you wretched child! Is that all you've learned at the poorhouse? What are those little old stones good for, anyway? And to think you'd dare to accuse Elmer of stealing them!"

The beating that Edwin received was far worse than the one given him the day before, and in the evening when he laid his little tired and aching body upon the bed beside his cousin, he wondered why he was forced to suffer and bear the punishment that rightfully belonged to some one else, but he did not complain or feel unkindly toward those who justly deserved the blame.

When at last he fell asleep, God sent angels to minister to the needs of the little forlorn child, and they cared for him tenderly while he slept.

"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up" (Psa. 27: 10).

"But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer" (1 Pet. 4: 15).