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The Change by T. S. Arthur

 

Six months have elapsed since Mr Carroll accepted the call to Y—. He has preached faithfully and labored diligently. That was his part. And he has received, quarterly, on the day it became due, his salary. That was according to the contract on the other side. His conscience is clear on the score of duty; and his parishioners are quite as well satisfied that they have done all that is required of them. They offered him three hundred a year and the parsonage. He accepted the offer; and, by that act, declared the living to be adequate to his wants. If he was satisfied they were.

"I don't know how he gets along on three hundred dollars," some one, more thoughtful about such matters, would occasionally say. "It costs me double that sum, and my family is no larger than his."

"They get a great many presents," would, in all probability, be replied to this. "Mr. A—, I know, sent them a load of wood some time ago; a Mr. B—told me that he had sent them a quarter of lamb and a bushel of apples. And I have, two or three times, furnished one little matter and another. I'm sure what is given to them will amount to half as much as Mr. Carroll's salary."

"This makes a difference, of course," is the satisfied answer. And yet, all told, the presents received by the whole family, in useful articles, has not reached the value of twenty-five dollars during six months. And this has been more than abstracted from them by the kind ladies of the parish, who must needs visit and take tea with the minister as often as convenient.

Six months had passed since the Rev. Mr. Carroll removed to Y—. It was mid-winter; and a stormy day closed in with as stormy a night. The rays which came through the minister's little study-window grew faint in the pervading shadows, and he could no longer see with sufficient clearness to continue writing. So he went down stairs to the room in which were his wife and children. The oldest child was a daughter, six years of age, named Edith from her mother. Edward, between three and four years old, and Aggy the baby, made up the number of Mr. Carroll's household treasures. They were all just of an age to require their mother's attention in every thing. As her husband entered the room, Mrs. Carroll said—

"I'm glad you've come down, dear. I can't get Aggy out of my arms a minute. It's nearly supper time, and I havn't been able even to put the kettle on the fire. She's very fretful."

Mr. Carroll took the baby. His wife threw a shawl over her head, and taking an empty bucket from the dresser, was passing to the door, when her husband said—

"Stop, stop, Edith! You musn't go for water in this storm. Here, take the baby."

"I can go well enough," replied Mrs. Carroll, and before her husband could prevent her, she was out in the blustering air, with the snowflakes driving in her face.

"Oh, Edith! Edith! Why will you do so?" said her husband, as soon as she came back.

"It's as easy for me to go as for you," she replied.

"No it isn't, Edith. I am strong to what you are. If you expose yourself in this way, it will be the death of you."

Mrs. Carroll shook the snow from her shawl and dress, and brushed it from her shoes, saying as she did so—

"Oh no! a little matter like this won't hurt me."

She then filled the tea-kettle and placed it over the fire. After which she set out the table, and busied herself in getting ready their evening meal. Meanwhile, Mr. Carroll walked the floor with Aggy in his arms, both looking and feeling serious; while the two older children amused themselves with a picture book.

As the reader has probably anticipated, the "living" (?) at Y—proved altogether inadequate to the wants of Mr. Carroll's family; and faith, confidence, and an abstract trust in Providence by no means sufficed for its increase.

At first, Mrs. Carroll had a servant girl to help her in her household duties, as usual. But she soon found that this would not do. A dollar and a quarter a week, and the cost of boarding the girl, took just about one-third of their entire income. So, after the first three months, "help" was dispensed with. The washing had to be put out; which cost half a dollar, weekly. To get some one in the house to iron, would cost as much more. So Mrs. Carroll took upon herself the task of ironing all the clothes, in addition to the entire work of the house and care of her three children.

For three months this hard labor was performed; but not without a visible effect. The face of Mrs. Carroll grew thinner; her step lost its lightness; and her voice its cheerful tone. All this her husband saw, and saw with intense pain. But, there was no remedy. His income was but three hundred dollars a year; and out of that small sum it was impossible to pay one hundred for the wages and board of a girl, and have enough left for the plainest food and clothing. There was, therefore, no alternative. All that it was in his power to do, was done by Mr. Carroll to lighten the heavy burdens under which his wife was sinking; but it was only a little, in reality, that he could do; and he was doomed to see her daily wasting away, and her strength departing from her.

At the time we have introduced them, Mrs. Carroll had begun to show some symptoms of failing health, that alarmed her husband seriously. She had taken cold, which was followed by a dry, fatiguing cough, and a more than usual prostration of strength. On coming in with her bucket of water from the well, as just mentioned, she did not take off her shoes, and brush away the snow that had been pressed in around the tops against her stockings, but suffered it to lie there and melt, thus wetting her feet. It was nearly an hour from the time Mr. Carroll came down from his room, before supper was ready. Aggy was, by this time, asleep; so that the mother could pour out the tea without having, as was usually the case, to hold the baby in her arms.

"Ain't you going to eat anything?" asked Mr. Carroll, seeing that his wife, whose face looked flushed, only sipped a little tea.

"I don't feel any appetite," replied Mrs. Carroll.

"But you'd better try to eat something, dear."

Just then there was a knock at the door. On opening it, Mr. Carroll found a messenger with a request for him to go and see a parishioner who was ill.

"You can't go away there in this storm," said his wife, as soon as the messenger had retired.

"It's full a mile off."

"I must go, Edith," replied the minister. "If the distance were many miles instead of one, it would be all the same. Duty calls."

And out into the driving storm the minister went, and toiled on his lonely way through the deep snow to reach the bedside of a suffering fellow man, who sought spiritual consolation in the hour of sickness, from one whose temporal wants he had, while in health, shown but little inclination to supply. That consolation offered, he turned his face homeward again, and again breasted the unabated storm. He found his wife in bed—something unusual for her at ten o'clock—and, on laying his hand upon her face, discovered that she was in a high fever. In alarm, he went for the doctor, who declined going out, but sent medicine, and promised to come over in the morning.

In the morning Mrs. Carroll was much worse, and unable to rise. To dress the children and get breakfast, Mr. Carroll found to be tasks of no very easy performance for him; and as soon as they were completed, he called in a neighbor to stay with his wife while he went in search of some one to come and take her place in the family until she was able to go about again as usual.

That time, however, did not soon come. Weeks passed before she could even sit up, and then she was so susceptible of cold, that even the slightest draft of air into the room affected her; and so weak, that, in attempting to mend a garment for one of her children, the exertion caused her to faint away.

When Mrs. Carroll was taken sick, they had only fifteen dollars of their quarter's salary left. It was but two weeks since they had received it, yet nearly all was gone, for twenty-five dollars, borrowed to meet expenses during the last month of the quarter, had to be paid according to promise: shoes for nearly every member of the family had to be purchased, besides warmer clothing for themselves and children; and several little bills unavoidably contracted, had to be settled. The extra expense of sickness, added to the regular demand, soon melted away the trifling balance, and Mr. Carroll found himself, with his wife still unable to leave her room—in fact, scarcely able to sit up—penniless and almost hopeless.—His faith had grown weak—his confidence was gone—his spirits were broken. Daily he prayed for strength to bear up; for a higher trust in Providence; for light upon his dark pathway.—But no strength came, no confidence was created, no light shone upon his way. And for this we need not wonder. It was no day of miracles, as his wife had forewarned him. He had, as too many do, hoped for sustenance in a field of labor where reason could find no well-grounded hope. He knew that he could not live on three hundred a year; yet he had accepted the offer, in the vain hope that all would come out well!

The last shilling left the hand of the unhappy minister, and at least six weeks remained before another quarter's salary became due. He could not let his family starve; so, after much thought, he finally determined to call the vestry together, frankly state his case, and tell his brethren that it was impossible for him to live on the small sum they allowed.

A graver meeting of the vestry of Y—parish had not for a long time taken place. As for an increase of salary, that was declared to be out of the question entirely. They had never paid any one over three hundred dollars, which, with the parsonage, had always been considered a very liberal compensation. They were very sorry for Mr. Carroll, and would advance him a quarter's salary. But all increase was out of the question. They knew the people would not hear to it. The meeting then broke up, and the official members of the church walked gravely away, while Mr. Carroll went home, feeling so sad and dispirited, that he almost wished that he could die.

The Parish of Y—was not rich; though six hundred dollars could have been paid to a minister with as little inconvenience to the members as three hundred. But the latter sum was considered ample; and much surprise was manifested when it was found that the new minister asked for an increase, even before the first year of his engagement had expired.

The face of his wife had never looked so pale, her cheeks so thin, nor her eyes so sunken, to the minister, as when he came home from this mortifying and disheartening meeting of the vestry. One of those present was the very person he had gone a mile to visit on the night of the snow-storm; and he had more to say that hurt him than any of the rest.

"Edith," said Mr. Carroll, taking the thin hand of his wife, as he sat down by her and looked sadly into her face, "we must leave here."

"Must we? Why?" she asked, without evincing very marked surprise.

"We cannot live on three hundred a year."

"Where will we go?"

"Heaven only knows! But we cannot remain here!"

And as the minister said this, he bowed his head until his face rested upon the arm of his wife. He tried to hide his emotion, but Edith knew that tears were upon the cheeks of her husband.

 
 
 

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