“A Friend in Need” written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is about friendship.
“Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.”—Proverbs 27:10.
There was not a happier mother in the village than Mrs. Peters, nor a better son than her Robin. She had trained up her child in the way he should go, and it was now his delight to walk in it; she had not shrunk from correcting his faults, and he loved her the better for the correction; she had taught him from the Bible his duty towards his God, and from the same pages he had learned his duty towards his mother. It was a pleasant sight on the Sabbath morning, to see them walking up the little path way which led to the church—the feeble parent leaning on the strong, healthy son, who carried her Bible and prayer-book for her. Mrs. Peters never had the slightest feeling of envy towards those who appeared above her in the world—she would not have changed places with any one. “They may have riches, fine houses, broad lands,” she would say; “but who has a son like mine?”
On the Sunday afternoon, however, Robin did not accompany his mother to church. Perhaps you may suppose that, after his hard work all the week, he thought that he needed a little rest or amusement; that you might have found him at “the idle corner” of the village, joining in the sports of younger companions; and that he considered, like too many, alas! that having given the Sabbath morning to religion, he might do what he pleased with the rest of the day. Let us follow Robin Peters in his Sunday pursuits, and see where, after partaking of dinner with his mother, he bends his willing steps.
Over the common, through the wood, up the steep hill-side! It matters not to him that the way is long; that in winter part of the road scarcely deserves the name of one at all, being almost impassable from slough and snow. Cheerfully he hastens along, with a light springing step; sometimes shortening the way with a hymn, or gazing around on the endless variety of nature, and lifting up his heart to nature’s God! There is surely something very pleasant that awaits Robin Peters at the end of his walk, that he always should take it in this one direction—should never give it up, fair weather or foul, and look so happy while pursuing his way!
He stops at last at the door of a poor little hovel, built partly of mud, and thatched with straw. The broken panes in the single window have been patched with paper by Robin’s hand, instead of being, as formerly, stuffed up with rags; but either way they speak of poverty and want. By the miserable little fire—which could scarcely be kept up at all, but for the sticks which Robin has supplied—sits a poor old man, almost bent double by time, the long hair falling on his wrinkled brow, his hand trembling, his eye dim with age. But there is a kindling pleasure even in that dim eye, as he hears a well-known rap at the door; and warm is the press of that thin, trembling hand, as it returns the kindly grasp of Robin!
First there are inquiries for the old man’s health, and these take some time to answer; for it is a relief to the suffering to pour out long complaints—it is a comfort to them if one kindly ear will listen with interest and patience. Then the contents of Robin’s pockets are emptied upon the broken deal box, which serves at once as chest of drawers and table to the old man, and a seat to the visitors, “few and far between,” who find their way to the hovel on the hill. The present brought by the youth varies from week to week. He has little to give, but he always brings something to eke out old Will Aylmer’s parish allowance: sometimes it is a little tea from his mother; perhaps a pair of warm socks, knitted by herself; or a part of his own dinner, if he has nothing else to bring to the poor and aged friend of his father.
After the depths of the pockets had been duly explored, Robin, seated on the box, very close to the old man—for Aylmer was extremely hard of hearing—repeated to him, in a loud tone of voice, as much of the morning’s sermon as he could remember. He whom age and infirmities kept from the house of God, thus, from the kindness of a youth, every week received some portion of spiritual food. But most did he enjoy when Robin opened the Bible—for, poor as Aylmer was, he was provided with that—and in the same loud, distinct voice read the blessed words which the dim eyes of his friend could no longer see.
After the Holy Book was closed, it was long before Robin found that he was able to depart, Aylmer liked so much to hear all about his friends and his neighbors—everything which passed in the village in which the old man had once lived. It was something for him to think over during the long, lonely week, to prevent his feeling himself quite shut out from the living world. And Robin had not only to speak, but to listen; and this, notwithstanding the deafness of old Aylmer, was perhaps the harder task of the two. Not only the poor man’s sight, but his memory also was failing; his mind was growing weak and childish with age; and his tedious and oft-repeated tales would have wearied out any patience that was not grounded on Christian love. And so the afternoon of the Sabbath passed with Robin Peters, and he returned weary but happy to his home, to enjoy a quiet holy evening with his mother. He had poured sweetness into a bitter cup; he had followed the footsteps of his compassionate Lord; and he had obeyed the precept given in the Scriptures, Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.
After what has been written, it is scarcely necessary to add that the life of Robin was a happy one. At peace with God, and at peace with man, earning his bread by honest industry, in debt to none, in enmity with none, blessed with friends, cheerful spirits, and excellent health, he was far happier than many who wear a crown. But though religion can support the Lord’s people under trials, it does not prevent their having to undergo them like others; and after several years had been spent in comfort and peace, a cloud was gathering over the home of Robin.
One Saturday evening he returned from his work complaining of headache and a pain in his throat. Mrs. Peters concluded that he had taken a chill, and, advising him to go early to rest, prepared for him some simple remedy, which she trusted would “set all to rights.” Robin took what she gave him with thanks, but he seemed strangely silent that evening, and sat with his brow resting upon his hand, as though oppressed by a weight in his head. The fond mother grew anxious;—who can help being so whose earthly happiness rests upon one? She felt her son’s hand feverish and hot; she was alarmed by the burning flush on his cheek, and proposed begging the doctor to call. At first Robin objected to this: he had hardly ever known sickness in his life. The medical man lived at some distance, and the night was closing in. In the maladies of the body— but oh! how much more in those of the soul!—how foolish and dangerous a thing is delay!
Another hour passed, and the fever and pain of the sufferer appeared to increase. Again the mother anxiously proposed to send for the doctor; and this time Robin made no opposition. “Perhaps it might be as well,” he faintly said. “I did not like making you uneasy by saying it before, but there has been a case of scarlet fever up at the farm.”
The words struck like a knife into the mother’s heart! There was not another moment of delay; she hastily ran out to the door of a neighbor, and easily found a friend—for it was often remarked that Mrs. Peters and her son never wanted friends— who would hasten off for the medical man.
Robin in the meantime retired to his bed, feeling unable to sit up longer. The symptoms of his disorder soon became more alarming—a scarlet glow spread over his frame, his pulse beat high, his temples throbbed; and his mother, in an agony of fear which she could only calm by prayer, sat watching for the arrival of the doctor.
Dr. Merton had just sat down to a very late dinner with two old school-fellows of his, whom he had not met for years; and they promised themselves a very pleasant evening together. “Nothing like old friendships, and old friends!” he said gaily, as the covers were removed from the steaming dishes, and they saw before them a comfortable repast, which the late hour and a twenty miles’ ride had given all a hearty appetite to enjoy. “Nothing like old friends, old stories, old recollections!—we shall seem to live our school-days over again, and feel ourselves boys once more.”
There was a ring at the door-bell, a very loud ring—there was impatience and haste in the sound of it. “I hope that’s nothing to disturb our sociable evening,” said Dr. Merton, who, having filled the plates of both his friends, was just placing a slice of roast beef on his own. He paused, with the carving knife and fork still in his hand, as his servant entered the room.
“Please, sir, here’s Tom Grange come in haste from Redburn, and he says that Robin Peters is taken very ill, and his mother begs to see you directly.”
The knife and fork were laid down, perhaps a little unwillingly, and the doctor arose from his chair.
“Why, Merton, you’re not going now!” cried one of his companions.
“Just wait till after dinner,” said the other.
“Excuse me; Mrs. Peters is not the woman to send me such a message without sufficient cause. I have known her, and her son too, for many a long year, and they shall not find me fail them in their trouble.”
So the doctor put on his greatcoat, took down his hat, begged his friends to do justice to the good cheer provided, and left them, if I must own it, with no small regret, to sally forth in that cold, wintry night, tired and hungry as he was. He walked fast, both to save time and to keep himself warm; but his pace would have been even more rapid had he known the agonizing anxiety, increasing every minute, with which his arrival was expected. The door, as he reached it, was opened by the widow, who looked upon him with the breathless earnestness of one who expects to hear a sentence of life or death.
A very short examination of the sufferer enabled the doctor to pronounce that his case was one of decided scarlet fever. Some one must sit up with him and watch him that night; a messenger should instantly be sent with the remedies required; the doctor would himself call the first thing the next morning.
“You do not think my boy—very ill, sir?” faltered the mother, folding her hands and fixing her eyes upon Dr. Merton with an expression of much grief, which touched the kind man to the heart.
“He is ill, I cannot deny that; but keep a good heart, he has youth and a fine constitution in his favor; and I need not remind you, my friend, to apply for help to Him in whose hands are the issues of life and of death.”
Oh, how often that night, that long, fearful night, did prayer arise from the widow’s low-roofed cottage! It seemed as though the darkness would never be past. At the end of every weary hour the night-breeze brought the sound of the church-clock to the watcher’s ear, while the stars still trembled in the sky. The wick of the candle burned long and low, the last spark in the grate had died out, and there lay the sufferer, so helpless, so still, that it seemed as though his soul were in like manner silently, surely passing from its dwelling of clay.
But with the return of morning’s light the fever rose, and the malady took its more terrible form. Robin knew nothing of what was passing around him,—even his much-loved mother he recognized no more; his mind became full of strange wild fancies, the delirious dreams of fever. His mother listened in anguish to his ravings; but a deeper grief was spared her—even when reason no longer guided his lips, those lips uttered not a word that could raise a blush on the cheek of his mother. Robin’s conversation had been pure in the days of his health—he had kept his mouth as with a bridle; and the habit of a life was seen even now when he lay at the gates of death! His mother heard his unconscious prayers—words from Scripture instinctively spoken; and while her hot tears gushed more freely forth, she was thankful from the depths of her soul. There was no death-bed repentance here for a life devoted to sin; Robin had not left the work of faith and love for the dregs of age or the languor of a sick-bed. She felt that if Heaven were pleased to take him from her now, he was safe, safe in the care of One who loved him better than even she did; though consciousness might never return to him, though he might never again breathe on earth one connected prayer, he was safe, in time and in eternity, through the merits of the Saviour whom he had loved.
“Oh, sir, I am so thankful to see you!” exclaimed Mrs. Peters, as, pale and worn with watching, she received the doctor at an early hour of the morning. “My poor boy is very feverish and restless indeed—he does not know me!”—the tears rolled down her cheek as she spoke; “I am scarcely able to make him keep in his bed.”
“You must have assistance,” said Dr. Merton, walking up to his patient. Words broke from Robin’s lips as he approached him—words rather gasped forth than spoken: “I must go—he expects me; indeed, I must go—my own friend and my father’s friend.” He made an effort to rise, but sank back exhausted on the pillow.
“There is something on his mind,” observed the doctor.
“It is that he is accustomed to visit a poor old friend, Will Aylmer, who lives in the hovel on the hill.”
“Will Aylmer!” repeated the doctor, as though the name were familiar to him. And well might it be so, for the feeble old man had in years long past served as gardener to his father; and many a time had the little Merton received flowers from his hand, or been carried in his arms, which then were sturdy and strong.
Dr. Merton now examined his patient, and the poor mother read from the doctor’s looks rather than from his words that he entertained little hope of her son’s recovery. As he quitted that home of sorrow, Dr. Merton sighed from mingling feelings.
“I fear that poor Robin is near his last home,” thought he; “and yet, why should I fear, since I believe that for him it will be but an earlier enjoyment of bliss? He has shamed me, that poor peasant boy! Even in his delirium he is thinking of another; he is struggling to rise from the bed of death to go on his wonted visit of kindness to his own and his father’s friend; and I, blessed with means so much larger than his, have for thirty long years neglected, nay, forgotten, the old faithful servant of my family! I shall look upon poor Will Aylmer as a legacy from Robin. He has done what he could for his friend during life; and by his dying words,—if it please God that he should die, —he shall have done yet more for the old man.”
For three days Robin continued in an alarming state, and his mother never closed an eye in sleep. Love and fear seemed to give her weak frame strength to support any amount of fatigue; or, as she said, it was the goodness of the Almighty that held her up through her bitter trial. On the fourth morning Robin sank into a deep sleep. She gazed on his features, pale and death-like as they were; for the red flush of fever had all passed away, and he lay motionless, silent, but with that peaceful look which often remains when the spirit has departed. A terrible doubt flashed upon the mother’s mind—a doubt whether all were not over! She approaches her son with a step noiseless as the dew, the light feather of a bird in her hand. She holds it near to his lips,—his breath has moved it!—no, that was but the trembling of her fingers! She lays it on the pillow, her heart throbbing fast;—is that the morning breeze that so lightly stirs the down? No; thank God, he still breathes!—he still lives!
Mrs. Peters sank upon her knees, buried her face in her hands, and once more implored Him who had compassion on the desolate widow of Nain to save her beloved son; “But, O Lord,” she added, with an almost bursting heart, “if it be Thy will to remove him to a happier world, give me grace not to murmur beneath the rod, but to say humbly, ‘Thy will be done.’”
As she rose from her knees she turned her eyes towards her son, and they met his, calmly, lovingly fixed upon her, with an expression, oh! how different from that which they had worn during the feverish excitement of delirium! “You were praying for me,” he said, very faintly; “and the Lord has answered your prayer.” The deep joy of that moment would have over powered the mother, had it not been tempered by a fear that this improvement might be but as the last flash of a dying lamp, and that the danger was not yet over.
But from that hour Robin’s recovery rapidly progressed, and the fever never returned. He was weak, indeed, for many a long day; his vigorous arm had lost all its powers; he had to be fed and supported like a child. But it was a delight to Mrs. Peters to do everything for him, and to watch his gradual improvement in strength. Nor, poor as she was, did she ever know want while her son was unable to work. All the neighborhood seemed pleased to do something for Robin—to help him who had been so ready to help others. The squire’s lady sent wine and meat from her own table; the clergyman’s wife brought him strong broth; the farmer, his master, supplied him with bacon and eggs; and many a neighbor who had little to give, yet joyfully gave of that little.
“How good every one is to me!” exclaimed Robin, as a parcel from the grocer’s was opened before him on the first day that he was able to quit his bed. “I only wish that I could send some of this to Will Aylmer; I am afraid that he has missed me while I was ill.”
“Oh, he has been looked after,” replied Mrs. Peters with a smile: her care-worn face was becoming quite bright again.
“Who has taken care of him?” inquired Robin.
“I must not tell you, my son; you are to hear all from the old man’s own lips.”
“I’m afraid that it will be very long before I am strong enough to visit him. How glad I shall be to see him again!”
Two or three days after this, a bright warm sun tempted the invalid to take advantage of the doctor’s permission, and try a little walk in the open air. Leaning on the arm of his thankful, happy mother, Robin again crossed that threshold which it once seemed so likely that he would only pass in his coffin. It was a sweet morning in the early spring, and, oh! how delightful to him who had been confined on the couch of fever was the sunshine that lighted up the face of nature, the sight of the woods with their light mantle of green, the blue sky dappled with fleecy clouds; even the crocus and the snowdrop in his mother’s little garden seemed to speak of joy and hope; and pleasant was the feeling of the balmy breeze that played upon his pale, sunken cheek.
“The common air, the earth, the skies,
To him were opening paradise!”
Robin lifted up his heart in silent thanks giving, and in prayer that the life which the Almighty had preserved might be always devoted to His service.
“Do you feel strong enough, my son, to walk as far as that cottage yonder?” inquired Mrs. Peters.
“I think that, with your arm, I might reach even the tree beyond.”
“Then suppose that we pay a visit to old Aylmer.”
Robin laughed aloud at the idea. “Why, my dear mother, neither you nor I have strength to go one quarter of the distance. I fear that I must delay that visit for some time to come.”
“There is nothing like trying,” replied Mrs. Peters gaily; and they proceeded a little way together.
“Is it not strange?—I am weary already,” said the youth.
“Then we will rest in this cottage for a little.”
“It was empty before my illness; if there is any one in it now, a patient just recovered from the scarlet fever might not be made very welcome.”
“Oh, you will be made welcome here, I can answer for that,” cried Mrs. Peters; and at that moment who should come tottering from the door, joy overspreading his aged face, his eyes glistening with tears of pleasure and affection, but Robin’s poor old friend. He grasped the youth’s hand in both his own, and blessed God fervently for letting him see the face of his “dear boy” once more.
“But how is this?” exclaimed Robin, with joyful surprise.
The deaf man rather read the question in Robin’s eyes than caught the sense of it from words which he scarcely could hear. “Dr. Merton—bless him!—has brought me here, and has promised to care for the poor old man: and he bade me tell you,”—Aylmer paused, and pressed his hand upon his wrinkled forehead, for his powers of memory were almost gone—“he bade me tell you that these comforts I owed to you. I can’t recollect all that he said, but I know very well that he ended with the words,—‘Thine own friend, and thy fathers friend, forsake not.’”