Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Playing with Sunbeams by Elizabeth Prentiss - 1879

The following is a very sweet, short story written by Mrs. Elizabeth Prentiss, 1879.

Please note:
    It has been very gently organized and edited (though the words have not been changed), by me (Mrs. White).

Playing with Sunbeams (image) from Elizabeth Prentiss story, 1879.

"Playing with Sunbeams"

By Mrs. Elizabeth Prentiss

There is a story told of a little child sitting on its nursery floor, playing with a sunbeam that lay athwart the carpet. Now he would try to catch it in his fingers, and laugh merrily at each failure ; now he would bathe his little hands in its warmth and brightness, and then clasp them for joy.

Now we meet, sometimes, though not often, with charming grown-up children, who can be happy in the enjoyment of the intangible, when the tangible is wanting. They are the opposites of those characters of whom it has been said, that it takes more than everything to make them happy, less than nothing to make them miserable.

Mary Arnold had grown up in an unusually happy home ; she never remembered hearing an unkindly word there.

From this home she passed, when quite young, into one of her own, which promised her all the luxuries to which she had been accustomed. But her husband met with heavy losses just as he had won his bride, and she was obliged to live in a humble style hitherto unknown to her.

He thought he knew what a sweet spirit she possessed, when the day of prosperity shone for her without a cloud. But he was astonished and cheered when adversity revealed her true character.

" It is going to be very hard for you, my poor child," he said to her, " to descend with me into all sorts of petty economies, to which you have never been used. This is the trying part of these financial difficulties ; I do not care so much for myself."

" We shall see," she returned, with a smile.

" It is easy to smile in advance," he said, in reply to the smile. " But you do not know what it is going to be to you."

It is true, she did not know. She had now to do with her own hands what she had had other hands to do for her ; must make a very little money go a great way ; must do without luxuries ; in short, must have that grim and unpleasing master, Economy, sit with her at her table, reign in her kitchen, preside over her wardrobe, and become general Master of Ceremonies. But her friends found her unchanged by circumstances. When they condoled with her, she would reply —

" But think what a kind husband I have ! " And she played with this sunbeam, and made herself glad with it, and was so genuinely happy, that it was a refreshment to meet her.

"But it will not last," said the ravens. "By and by, when she has children, and must clothe and feed and educate them, we shall have a new tune."

Well, the children came, and she had not a moment of leisure. She had to be nurse and seamstress, never got " her afternoon out," never had her work all done and out of the way ; she was industrious, and arranged her time wisely ; but she could not work miracles. She felt, a great deal of the time, like a straw borne hither and thither by the wind ; she could not choose what she would do at such a time, but was forced to tasks, with no room for her own volition.

" Now, then," quoth the ravens, " we shall hear you complain. You have to work like a day- labourer, and see what miserable wages you get ! "

" Miserable wages ! " she cried, " why, I don't know anybody so rich as I am. With such a husband, and such children, and such friends, I am as happy as the day is long ! "

" You have a great deal of leisure for your friends, to be sure."

" Well, I should like to see more of them, it is true. And, by and by, when the children are older, I shall."

" By that time you will be so old yourself, that your heart will have grown cold."

" Oh no ; it is too busy to grow cold."

So she made sunbeams out of her daily, home- spun tasks, and went on her way, rejoicing.

The ravens were puzzled.

" It must be her perfect health," they whispered to each other.

Time passed ; the children grew up, and just as the long-needed prosperity began to flow into the house, the young people began to pass out of it into homes of their own, till father and mother sat at their table alone.

" Now you have spent nearly a lifetime in toiling for your children, and what is the good of it all ? As soon as they get old enough to be a comfort to you, they every one of them go off and leave you."

So said the ravens.

" Just what I did at their age ! " she replied cheerily. "Why shouldn't they get married, as well as I ? And instead of losing, I have gained children. Whereas I had only six, I have now twelve. And I have plenty of time now to see my friends, to read, to take journeys, and to enjoy my husband."

But now long, long days of ill-health came and laid leaden hands upon her. She had twelve children, but they were scattered far and wide, and could only come occasionally, to make her brief visits.

" Very hard ! " said the ravens.

" Oh no ! It is such a delight to me that they all got away before this illness overtook me. It would have cast such a gloom upon them to be at home and miss ' mother ' from the table."

" But the time is so long ! What a sad pity that you are not allowed to use your eyes ! "

" Oh, do you think so ? I was just thanking God that in my days of youth and health, I learned so many passages in the Bible, and so many hymns. I lie here repeating them over, and they are like honey to my taste."

" At all events, it would be a good thing if you could see your friends more."

" I do see them, in imagination. I call in now this one, now that ; and make him or her repeat the pleasant, affectionate words they used to speak. I am never lonely. And I have other delightful things to think of; books I have read, sermons I have heard, little kindnesses shown me by some who are in heaven now. Sometimes I wonder why, when others are so afflicted, I am passed by."

"Have you forgotten that you have wept over little graves ? "

" No ; I have not forgotten. I lie and think of all the winsome ways my little ones had, and how tenderly the Good Shepherd took them away in His arms. They might have lived to suffer, or what is far, far worse, to sin. I can't help rejoicing that three of my children are safe and happy. So many parents have ungrateful, wild sons and foolish, worldly daughters."

" Is it no trial to lie here, bound as it were, hand and foot, and often racked with pain ? "

" It would be a great trial if I had not such a devoted husband, and if he were not able to get for me everything that can alleviate my condition. But you see I have not a wish ungratified. Think what a delightful room this is ! In the summer-time, when the windows are open, I can hear the birds sing, and the voices of little children at their play. In the winter the sun shines in ; that cheers me."

" The sun doesn't shine every day."

" No ; and that is a mercy, because it is so welcome after absence. On cloudy days I think over the sunny ones, and remind myself that clouds never last for ever.' It is said that ' the saddest birds find time to sing ' and it's true. Nobody is sad all the time, or suffering all the time."

" You are in the prime of life ; others of your age are at work in the Master's vineyard. Doesn't it pain you that you are doing nothing for Him ? "

" It did, at one time.   I said, all I'm good for is to make trouble for other people, and use up my husband's money. But it was made plain to me that 'they also serve who only stand and wait.'  It might be nothing but a cold, flat stone in a sidewalk made to be trodden on, and fit for nothing else. But if the Master's hand put me there, I ought not to complain that He did not let me form a part of a palace instead. We can't all be servants ; some of us have got to be served ; and I am one of them."

" Do you expect to get well ? "

" My physicians do not tell me what to expect.  I know that I may live many years; but I also know that I may be called away at any moment."

" How dreadful ! Such a life of suspense ! "

" I am quite used to it now. At first, I did not know how to act when I found I might die at any moment.   But afterwards I reflected that this is true of every human being. I do not expect to do anything it would not be fitting to do, just when the summons came. And it is very sweet, to think that I may get my invitation and go, without the grief and commotion my death would have occasioned when my children were all young and needed me."

" But your husband — could you bear to go and leave him alone ? "

'' My husband is older than I, and I hope he may go first. God has always been so good to us, that I think He will."

" But you could not do without him.  You would be left entirely alone."

" Yes. But whenever my heart ached, I could remind myself that it was my heart, not his, and rejoice that he was spared this suffering. You see, everything has its good side."

By this time the ravens were exhausted, and flew away.

And now let us see whether this faithful sufferer was doing no work in the great vineyard.

Here are six homes where she is quoted every day, almost every hour. Her children have all learned her song as she used to sing it to them in their nest, and they are teaching it to theirs. Cheerful endurance lights up and beautifies every life. And the influences going forth from these lives are beyond computation.

And here are friends who love her only less than her husband and children do; who have watched her all her life long, and have borne the burden and heat of the day, in humble imitation of the patience with which she bore hers. They have never heard a murmuring word fall from her lips. They have always heard her wonder what made God so good to her ; wonder that, full of discipline as her life was, she had so few troubles.   And they have gone away rebuked, with lessons impressed on their memories that should bear fruit she might never see, but should be refreshing in every weary day.

And those who were with her when death stole away three cherubs from her heart, knew that it was not stoicism that made her refuse to complain, but thank God that she had had them, for a season, enjoyed them while they were hers, and could feel that they were safer, happier with Him than they were with her. Yes, when she wept over the little graves, she caught sunbeams even then, and said, ' Though He slay me, yet will I Trust in Him ! "

The truth is, our own hands have more to do with shaping our lives than we fancy. We cannot control Providences, nor ought we to wish to do so.  But we can be willing to see the silver lining to the cloud, to " nurse the caged sorrow till the captive sings," to count up our mercies through those dark days when the rain falls and is never weary, knowing that it never rains always.

And now let us go back to the sick-room, which, to its patient occupant, has so long been a prison.

She has grown old, and her strength has greatly declined. She cannot talk much now, and no longer hears earthly voices. But she knows what our eyes say to her when our tongues are silent.

" Yes, I knew you would come to me as soon as you heard of it; so kind of you. Everybody is kind. I wish I had strength to tell you all about it. We had lived together fifty years. He died on our golden wedding-day. He had been unusually well, and we had laughed together over our young married life. The children were all here with their children ; the house was like a beehive, every bee humming. He said it renewed our youth to see them ; I'm sure it did mine.

Well, they all assembled here in this room, and the children gave us their presents. Their father told them about our wedding-day so long ago, and every time he stopped talking, to rest a little, I said, ' Every milestone on our journey marks a mercy ; there's a new one. And it will be so to the end.' Father smiled ; for you know I couldn't hear a word he said, but I always did say I had mercies when other people had miseries. At last he had said all he had to say, and Robert — you know my Robert is a minister? — Robert knelt down, with his brothers and sisters and the children about him, to pray. Father knelt just here by my side, with my hand in his.

It was a solemn time. I was with them in spirit, though I could not hear. But when they rose from their knees, father kept on his. We waited a little while, and then Robert and Edgar went and lifted him up. Well, I thought it would be thus ! God was always so good to us; he'd slipped away so gently that nobody heard him go.

" Don't grieve for me. The parting will not be for long. My old feet will soon go tottering after.

God is keeping me here a little longer to give me time to tell my friends all about this crowning mercy, and then I shall go. It has been a great shaking ; but I think I could hardly have borne to go and leave him alone."

As she falters forth these words, slowly and at intervals, her children and a few dear friends standing about her watching the smile that mingles with her tears ; a sunbeam darted suddenly into the room and lay, a line of golden light, across the bed. She laid her cold hands in it, in the tender way in which she would clasp that of a friend, and said —

" I've had nothing but mercies all the days of my life."

And so she passed painlessly away, " playing with sunbeams" to the last.

- The End -


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