The Thankless Office by T. S. Arthur
"AN object of real charity," said Andrew Lyon to his wife, as a
poor woman withdrew from the room in which they were seated.
"If ever there was a worthy object, she is one," returned Mrs.
Lyon. "A widow, with health so feeble that even ordinary exertion is
too much for her; yet obliged to support, with the labor of her own
hands, not only herself, but three young children. I do not wonder
that she is behind with her rent."
"Nor I," said Mr. Lyon in a voice of sympathy. "How much did she
say was due to her landlord?"
"She will not be able to pay it."
"I fear not. How can she? I give her all my extra sewing, and have
obtained work for her from several ladies; but, with her best efforts
she can barely obtain food and decent clothing for herself and babes."
"Does it not seem hard," remarked Mr. Lyon, "that one like Mrs.
Arnold, who is so earnest in her efforts to take care of herself and
family, should not receive a helping hand from some one of the many
who could help her without feeling the effort? If I didn't find it so
hard to make both ends meet, I would pay off her arrears of rent for
her, and feel happy in so doing."
"Ah!" exclaimed the kind-hearted wife, "how much I wish that we
were able to do this. But we are not."
"I'll tell you what we can do," said Mr. Lyon, in a cheerful
voice—"or, rather what I can do. It will be a very light matter for,
say ten persons, to give a dollar a-piece, in order to relieve Mrs.
Arnold from her present trouble. There are plenty who would cheerfully
contribute for this good purpose; all that is wanted is some one to
take upon himself the business of making the collections. That task
shall be mine."
"How glad, James, to hear you say so," smilingly replied Mrs. Lyon.
"Oh! what a relief it will be to poor Mrs. Arnold. It will make her
heart as light as a feather. That rent has troubled her sadly. Old
Links, her landlord, has been worrying her about it a good deal, and,
only a week ago, threatened to put her things in the street if she
didn't pay up."
"I should have thought of this before," remarked Andrew Lyon.
"There are hundreds of people who are willing enough to give if they
were only certain in regard to the object. Here is one worthy enough
in every way. Be it my business to present her claims to benevolent
consideration. Let me see. To whom shall I go? There are Jones, and
Green, and Tompkins. I can get a dollar from each of them. That will
be three dollars—and one from myself, will make four. Who else is
there? Oh! Malcolm! I'm sure of a dollar from him; and, also, from
Smith, Todd, and Perry."
Confident in the success of his benevolent scheme, Mr. Lyon started
forth, early on the very next day, for the purpose of obtaining, by
subscription, the poor widow's rent. The first person he called on
"Ah, friend Lyon," said Malcolm, smiling blandly. "Good morning!
What can I do for you to-day?"
"Nothing for me, but something for a poor widow, who is behind with
her rent," replied Andrew Lyon. "I want just one dollar from you, and
as much more from some eight or nine as benevolent as yourself."
At the words "poor widow," the countenance of Malcolm fell, and
when his visiter ceased, he replied in a changed and husky voice,
clearing his throat two or three times as he spoke,
"Are you sure she is deserving, Mr. Lyon?" The man's manner had
become exceedingly grave.
"None more so," was the prompt answer. "She is in poor health, and
has three children to support with the product of her needle. If any
one needs assistance it is Mrs. Arnold."
"Oh! ah! The widow of Jacob Arnold."
"The same," replied Andrew Lyon.
Malcolm's face did not brighten with a feeling of heart-warm
benevolence. But, he turned slowly away, and opening his
money-drawer, _very slowly_, toyed with his fingers amid its
contents. At length he took therefrom a dollar bill, and said, as he
presented it to Lyon,—sighing involuntarily as he did so—
"I suppose I must do my part. But, we are called upon so often."
The ardor of Andrew Lyon's benevolent feelings suddenly cooled at
this unexpected reception. He had entered upon his work under the
glow of a pure enthusiasm; anticipating a hearty response the moment
his errand was made known.
"I thank you in the widow's name," said he, as he took the dollar.
When he turned from Mr. Malcolm's store, it was with a pressure on
his feelings, as if he had asked the coldly-given favor for himself.
It was not without an effort that Lyon compelled himself to call
upon Mr. Green, considered the "next best man" on his list. But he
entered his place of business with far less confidence than he had
felt when calling upon Malcolm. His story told, Green without a word
or smile, drew two half dollars from his pocket, and presented them.
"Thank you," said Lyon.
"Welcome," returned Green.
Oppressed with a feeling of embarrassment, Lyon stood for a few
moments. Then bowing, he said—
"Good morning," was coldly and formally responded.
And thus the alms-seeker and alms-giver parted.
"Better be at his shop, attending to his work," muttered Green to
himself, as his visitor retired. "Men ain't very apt to get along too
well in the world who spend their time in begging for every object of
charity that happens to turn up. And there are plenty of such, dear
knows. He's got a dollar out of me; may it do him, or the poor widow
he talked so glibly about, much good."
Cold water had been poured upon the feelings of Andrew Lyon. He had
raised two dollars for the poor widow, but, at what a sacrifice for
one so sensitive as himself. Instead of keeping on in his work of
benevolence, he went to his shop, and entered upon the day's
employment. How disappointed he felt;—and this disappointment was
mingled with a certain sense of humiliation, as if he had been asking
alms for himself.
"Catch me at this work again!" he said, half aloud, as his thoughts
dwelt upon what had so recently occurred. "But this is not right," he
added, quickly. "It is a weakness in me to feel so. Poor Mrs. Arnold
must be relieved; and it is my duty to see that she gets relief. I had
no thought of a reception like this. People can talk of benevolence;
but putting the hand in the pocket is another affair altogether. I
never dreamed that such men as Malcolm and Green could be insensible
to an appeal like the one I made."
"I've got two dollars towards paying Mrs. Arnold's rent," he said
to himself, in a more cheerful tone, sometime afterwards; "and it will
go hard if I don't raise the whole amount for her. All are not like
Green and Malcolm. Jones is a kind-hearted man, and will instantly
respond to the call of humanity. I'll go and see him."
So, off Andrew Lyon started to see this individual.
"I've come begging, Mr. Jones," said he, on meeting him. And he
spoke in a frank, pleasant manner.
"Then you've come to the wrong shop; that's all I have to say," was
the blunt answer.
"Don't say that, Mr. Jones. Hear my story, first."
"I do say it, and I'm in earnest," returned Jones. "I feel as poor
as Job's turkey, to-day."
"I only want a dollar to help a poor widow pay her rent," said
"Oh, hang all the poor widows! If that's your game, you'll get
nothing here. I've got my hands full to pay my own rent. A nice time
I'd have in handing out a dollar to every poor widow in town to help
pay her rent! No, no, my friend, you can't get anything here."
"Just as you feel about it," said Andrew Lyon. "There's no
compulsion in the matter."
"No, I presume not," was rather coldly replied.
Lyon returned to his shop, still more disheartened than before. He
had undertaken a thankless office.
Nearly two hours elapsed before his resolution to persevere in the
good work he had begun came back with sufficient force to prompt to
another effort. Then he dropped in upon his neighbor Tompkins, to
whom he made known his errand.
"Why, yes, I suppose I must do something in a case like this," said
Tompkins, with the tone and air of a man who was cornered. "But,
there are so many calls for charity, that we are naturally enough led
to hold on pretty tightly to our purse strings. Poor woman! I feel
sorry for her. How much do you want?"
"I am trying to get ten persons, including myself, to give a dollar
"Well, here's my dollar." And Tompkins forced a smile to his face
as he handed over his contribution—but the smile did not conceal an
expression which said very plainly—
"I hope you will not trouble me again in this way."
"You may be sure I will not," muttered Lyon, as he went away. He
fully understood the meaning of the expression.
Only one more application did the kind-hearted man make. It was
successful; but, there was something in the manner of the individual
who gave his dollar, that Lyon felt as a rebuke.
"And so poor Mrs. Arnold did not get the whole of her arrears of
rent paid off," says some one who has felt an interest in her favor.
Oh, yes she did. Mr. Lyon begged five dollars, and added five more
from his own slender purse. But, he cannot be induced again to
undertake the thankless office of seeking relief from the benevolent
for a fellow creature in need. He has learned that a great many who
refuse alms on the plea that the object presented is not worthy, are
but little more inclined to charitable deeds, when on this point
there is no question.
How many who read this can sympathise with Andrew Lyon. Few men who
have hearts to feel for others but have been impelled, at some time
in their lives, to seek aid for a fellow-creature in need. That their
office was a thankless one, they have too soon become aware. Even
those who responded to their call most liberally, in too many
instances gave in a way that left an unpleasant impression behind.
How quickly has the first glow of generous feeling, that sought to
extend itself to others, that they might share the pleasure of
humanity, been chilled; and, instead of finding the task an easy one,
it has proved to be hard, and, too often, humiliating! Alas, that this
should be! That men should shut their hearts so instinctively at the
voice of charity.
We have not written this to discourage active efforts in the
benevolent; but to hold up a mirror in which another class may see
themselves. At best, the office of him who seeks of his fellow-men
aid for the suffering and indigent, is an unpleasant one. It is all
sacrifice on his part, and the least that can be done is to honor his
disinterested regard for others in distress, and treat him with
delicacy and consideration.