Arthur Sinclair

by H. S. Caswell

 For several hours we had endured the jolting of the lumbering stage-coach over a rough hilly road which led through a portion of the State of New Hampshire; and, as the darkness of night gathered around us, I, as well as my fellow-travellers, began to manifest impatience to arrive at our stopping-place for the night; and we felt strongly inclined to find fault with the slow motion of the tired horses, which drew the heavily-loaded vehicle. Thinking it as well to know the worst at once, I asked the driver "what time we might expect to reach our destination for the night?" "It will be midnight at the least, perhaps later," replied he. This news was not very cheering to the weary travellers who filled the coach; and I almost regretted having asked the question. The roughness of the roads, together with the crowded state of the vehicle, made it impossible for any one to sleep, and it became an important question how we should pass away the tedious hours. A proposition was at length made, that some one of the passengers should relate a story for the entertainment of the others. This proposal met with the hearty approval of all, as a means of making our toilsome journey seem shorter; and the question of who should relate the story was very soon agitated. There was among the passengers one old gentleman of a very pleasant and venerable appearance, and judging from his countenance that he possessed intelligence, as well as experience, we respectfully invited him to relate a story for our entertainment. "I am not at all skilled in story-telling," replied the old gentleman, "but, as a means of passing away the tedious hours of the uncomfortable ride, I will relate some circumstances which took place many years since, and which also have connection with my present journey, although the narrative may not possess much interest for uninterested strangers." We all placed ourselves in a listening attitude, and the old man began as follows: "I was born in the town of Littleton in this State, and when a boy, I had one school-mate, whom I could have loved no better had he been a brother. His name was Arthur Sinclair. And the affectionate intimacy which existed between us for many years is yet to me a green spot in the waste of memory. I was about twelve years of age when Arthur's parents came to reside in Littleton. That now large and thriving village then contained but a few houses, and when the Sinclairs became our neighbours, we soon formed a very pleasing acquaintance. I was an only child, and had never been much given to making companions of the neighbouring boys of my own age; but from the first I felt strongly attracted toward Arthur Sinclair. He was two years younger than myself. At the time when I first met him he was the most perfect specimen of childish beauty I ever saw, and added to this he possessed a most winning and affectionate disposition, and in a short time we became almost inseparable companions. My nature was distant and reserved, but if once I made a friend, my affection for him was deep and abiding. We occupied the same desk in the village school, and often conned our daily lessons from the same book, and out of school hours, shared the same sports; and I remember once hearing our teacher laughingly remark to my parents, that he believed, should he find it necessary to correct one of us, the other would beg to share the punishment. Notwithstanding the strong friendship between us, our dispositions were very unlike. From a child I was prone to fits of depression, while Arthur on the other hand possessed such a never-failing flow of animal spirits, as rendered him at all times a very agreeable companion; and it may be that the dissimilarity of our natures attracted us all the more strongly to each other; be that as it may the same close intimacy subsisted between us till we reached the years of early manhood. The only fault I could ever see in Arthur was that of being too easily persuaded by others, without pausing to think for himself; and being the elder of the two, and of a reflective cast of mind, as we grew up, I often had misgivings for him when he should go forth from his home, and mingle with the world at large. The intimacy between us allowed me to speak freely to him, and I often reminded him of the necessity of watchfulness and consideration, when he should go forth alone to make his way in a selfish and unfeeling world.

"He used to make light of what he termed my "croaking" and say I need have no fears of him; and I believe he spoke from the sincerity of his good intentions; he thought all others as sincere and open-hearted as himself, and happy had it been for him if he had found them so. Arthur received a very good business education, and, when he reached the age of twenty-one, obtained the situation of book-keeper in an extensive mercantile house in the city of Boston. There was a young girl in our village to whom Arthur had been fondly attached since the days of his boyhood, and I need scarcely say the attachment was reciprocal, and that before he left home he placed the engagement ring on her finger, naming no very distant period when he hoped to replace it by the wedding ring. Belinda Merril was worthy in every way of his affection, and loved him with all the sincerity of a pure and guileless heart. I almost wonder that the shadows which were even then gathering in what to them had ever been a summer sky, did not cast a chill over her heart. In due time Arthur went to the city. I could not help my fears, lest his pleasing manners and love of company should attract to him those who would lead him into evil; but I strove to banish them, and hope for the best. Our pastor, an old man, who had known Arthur from his childhood, called upon him, previous to his departure from home, and, without wearying him with a long list of rules and regulations regarding his future conduct, spoke to him as friend speaks to friend, and in a judicious manner administered some very good advice to the youth who was almost as dear to him as his own son. The young man listened attentively to the words of his faithful friend and sincerely thanked him for the advice which he well knew was prompted by affection. During the first year of his residence in the city, we wrote very frequently to each other, and the tone of his letters indicated the same pure principles which had ever governed his actions. Time passed on, and by-and-bye, I could not fail to notice the change in the style of his letters. He spoke much of the many agreeable acquaintances he had formed, and of the amusements of the city, and was warm in his commendations of the Theatre. My heart often misgave me as I perused his letters, and I mentally wondered where all this was to end? After a two-years' absence, he returned to spend a few weeks at home in Littleton, but he seemed so unlike my former friend, that I could hardly feel at ease in his society. He never once alluded to any incidents of our school days, as he used formerly so frequently to do, and objects of former interest possessed none for him now. He called Littleton a "terribly stupid place," and seemed anxiously to look forward to his return to Boston. "Surely," said I to him one evening as we were engaged in conversation, "Littleton must still contain one attraction for you yet." He appeared not to comprehend my meaning, but I well knew his ignorance was only feigned. But when he saw that I was not to be put off in that way, he said with a tone of assumed indifference, "O! if it is Belinda Merril you are talking about, I have to say that she is no longer an object of interest to me." "Is it possible, Arthur," said I, "that you mean what you say; surely an absence of two years has not caused you to forget the love you have borne Miss Merril from childhood. I am very much surprised to hear you speak in this manner." A flush of anger, at my plain reply, rose to his cheek, and he answered in a tone of displeasure: "I may as well tell you first as last, my ideas have undergone a change. I did once think I loved Belinda Merril, but that was before I had seen the world, and now the idea to me is absurd of introducing this awkward country girl as my wife among my acquaintances in the city of Boston. I once had a sort of liking for the girl, but I care no longer for her, and the sooner I break with her the better, and I guess she won't break her heart about me." "I hope not indeed," I replied, "but I must be allowed to say that I consider your conduct unmanly and dishonourable, and I would advise you, before proceeding further, to pause and reflect whether it is really your heart which dictates your actions, or only a foolish fancy." Knowing how deeply Miss Merril was attached to Arthur, I hoped he would reconsider the matter, and I said as much to him; but all I could say was of no avail, and that very evening he called and, requesting an interview with his betrothed, informed her that, as his sentiments toward her had changed, he presumed she would be willing to release him from their former engagement. Instantly Miss Merril drew from her finger the ring he had placed there two years before, and said, as she placed it in his hand, "I have long been sensible of the change in your sentiments, and am truly glad that you have at last spoken plainly. From this hour you may consider yourself entirely free, and you have my best wishes for your future happiness and prosperity," and, bidding him a kind good-evening, the young lady left the apartment. Her spirit was deeply wounded, but she possessed too much good sense to be utterly cast down for the wrong-doing of another. Whatever were Arthur's feelings after he had taken this step, he spoke of them to no one. I never again mentioned the subject to him, but, knowing him as I did, I could see that he was far from being satisfied with his own conduct, and he departed for the city some weeks sooner than he had at first intended. Owing to the friendly feeling I had ever cherished for him, I could not help a feeling of anxiety after his departure, for I feared that all was not right with him. He did not entirely cease from writing to me; but his letters were not frequent, and they were very brief and formal—very unlike the former brotherly communications which used to pass between us. A year passed away. I obtained a situation nearly a hundred miles from home. I had heard nothing from Arthur for a long time, and, amid my own cares, he recurred to my mind with less frequency than formerly; yet often after the business of the day was over, and my mind was at leisure, memory would recall Arthur Sinclair to my mind with a pained sort of interest. About six months after I left home I was surprised by receiving from Mr. Sinclair a hastily written letter, requesting me, if possible, to lose no time in hastening to Littleton, stating also that he was obliged to take a journey to Boston on business which vitally concerned Arthur, and he wished me to accompany him. He closed by requesting me to mention the letter I had received from him to no one, saying that he knew me and my regard for Arthur sufficiently well to trust me in the matter. My fears were instantly alive for Arthur, and I feared that some misfortune to him was hidden behind this veil of secrecy: and I soon found that my fears were well founded. I set out at once for Littleton, and upon arriving there I proceeded directly to the residence of Mr. Sinclair. When he met me at the door I was struck by the change in his countenance; he appeared as if ten years had been added to his age since I last saw him, six months ago. He waited not for me to make any inquiries, but, motioning me into a private apartment, he closed the door, and seating himself by my side, said in a hoarse voice: "I may as well tell you the worst at once: my son, and also your once dear friend, Arthur, is a thief, and, but for the lenity and consideration of his employer, before this time would have been lodged within the walls of a prison." I made no reply, but gazed upon him in silent astonishment and horror. When he became more composed, he informed me that he had lately received a letter from Mr. Worthing (Arthur's employer) informing him that he had detected Arthur in the crime of stealing money from the safe, to quite a large amount. In giving the particulars of the unfortunate circumstance, he further stated, for some time past he had missed different sums of money, but was unable to attach suspicion to any one; "and, although," said he, "I have been for some time fearful that your son was associating with evil companions, I never once dreamed that he would be guilty of the crime of stealing, till I lately missed bank-notes from the safe, to quite a large amount, having upon them some peculiar marks which rendered them easy to be identified. For some time the disappearance of those notes was a mystery, and I was beginning to despair of detecting the guilty one, when I obtained proof positive that your unfortunate son parted with those identical notes in a noted gambling saloon in the city; and, as I have also learned that he has spent money freely of late, I have no longer any doubt that it is he who has stolen the other sums I have lost. Out of regard to you and your family I have kept the matter perfectly quiet; indeed, I never informed the parties who told me his losing the notes at the gaming-table that there was anything wrong about it. I have not mentioned the matter to your son, and shall not do so till I see or hear from you. I presume you will be willing to make good to me the money I have lost. Of course I cannot much longer retain your son in my employ, but he must not be utterly ruined by this affair being made public. I would advise you to come at once to Boston, and we will arrange matters in the best possible manner, and no one but ourselves need know anything of the sad affair; let him return with you for a time to his home, and I trust the lesson will not be lost upon him. When he first came to the city, I am positive that he was an honourable and pure-minded young man, but evil companions have led him astray, and we must try and save him from ruin."

I had never seen Mr. Worthing, but I at once felt much respect for him, for the lenity and discretion he had shown in the matter. To no one but his own family and myself did Mr. Sinclair reveal the contents of that letter; but the very evening after my arrival in Littleton we set out on our journey to Boston, and, upon arriving there, we proceeded at once to the residence of Mr. Worthing, where we learned all the particulars of Arthur's guilt. Mr. Worthing stated that he had ever entertained a very high opinion of Arthur, and, when he missed various sums of money in a most unaccountable manner, he never thought of fixing suspicion upon him, till circumstances came to his knowledge which left no room for doubt; but, owing to the high regard he entertained for his parents, with whom he had (years since) been intimately acquainted, he said nothing to the young man of the proofs of his dishonesty which had come to his knowledge, and still retained him in his employ till he could communicate with his father, that they together might devise some means of preventing the affair from becoming public. After Mr. Sinclair had listened to the plain statement of the affair by Mr. Worthing, he requested him as nearly as possible to give him an estimate of the amount of money he had lost. He did so, and Mr. Sinclair immediately placed an equivalent sum in his hands, saying: "I am glad to be able so far to undo the wrong of which my son has been guilty." All this time Arthur knew nothing of our arrival in the city; but when his father dispatched a message, requesting him to meet him at the house of his employer, he was very soon in our presence. I hope I may never again witness another meeting like that one, between the father and son. When charged with the crime, Arthur at first made a feeble attempt at denial, till finding the strong proofs against him, he owned all with shame and humiliation of countenance. The stern grief of Mr. Sinclair was something fearful to witness. "How could you" said he, addressing Arthur, "commit so base a deed? Tell me, my son, in what duty I have failed in your early training? I endeavored to instil into your mind principles of honor and integrity, and to enforce the same by setting before you a good example. If I have failed in any duty to you, it was through ignorance, and may God forgive me if I have been guilty of any neglect in your education."

Trembling with suppressed emotion Arthur replied: "You are blameless, my father; on me alone must rest my sin, for had I obeyed your kind counsels, and those of my dearest friend, (pointing to me) I should never have been the guilty wretch I am to-day." Turning to me, he said: "Many a time within the last few months have I called to mind the lightness with which I laughed away your fears for my safety, when I left home for the city. O! that I had listened to your friendly warning, and followed the path which you pointed out for me. When I first came to the great city, I was charmed with the novelty of its never-ceasing scenes of amusement and pleasure. I began by mingling with company, and participating in amusements, which, to say the least of them, were questionable; and I soon found my salary inadequate to meet my fast increasing wants for money; and, as many an unfortunate youth has done before, I began the vice of gambling with the hope of being one of the lucky ones. My tempters, no doubt, understood their business, and at first allowed me to win from them considerable sums of money; till, elated with my success, I began playing for higher stakes, and when I lost them, I grew desperate, and it was then that I began adding the sin of theft to the no less heinous one of gambling. But it is no use now to talk of the past; my character is blasted, and all I wish is to die and hide my guild in the grave, and yet I am ill-prepared to die." He became so much excited, that we endeavored to soothe him by kind and encouraging words. His father bade him amend his conduct for the future, and he would freely forgive and forget the past. In my piety for my early friend, I almost forgot the wrong he had done, and thought only of the loved companion of my boyhood and youth. I cannot describe my feelings, as I gazed upon the shame-stricken young man, whom I had so often caressed in the days of our boyish affection and confidence. Little did I then think I should ever behold him thus. The utmost secrecy was observed by all parties; and it was decided that we would remain for the night with Mr. Worthing, and, accompanied by Arthur, set out early the next morning on our homeward journey. But it was ordered otherwise. The next morning Arthur was raving in delirium of brain fever, brought, on doubtless, by the mental torture he had endured. Mr. Sinclair dispatched a message, informing his wife of Arthur's illness, and three days later she stood by the bed-side of her son. For several days the fever raged. We allowed no stranger to watch by him, for in his delirium his mind dwelt continually upon the past, and no one but ourselves must listen to his words. Mr. Worthing was very kind, and shared the care of the poor young man with his parents and myself. At length came the crisis of his disorder. "Now," said the physician, "for a few hours, his life will hang, as it were, upon a thread. If the powers of life of are not too far exhausted by the disease he may rally but I have many fears, for he is brought very low. All the encouragement I dare offer that is, while there is life there is hope."

He sunk into a deep slumber, and I took my place to watch by him during the night. Mr. Worthing persuaded his parents to seek a few hours rest, as they were worn out with fatigue and anxiety; and exacting from me a promise that I would summon them if the least change for the worse should take place, they retired, and I was left to watch alone by my friend. All I could do was to watch and wait, as the hours passed wearily on. A little before midnight the physician softly entered, and stood with me at his bed-side; soon after he languidly opened his eyes, and in a whisper he pronounced my name. As I leaned over him, and eagerly scanned his countenance, I perceived that the delirium of fever was gone. The physician, fearing the effect upon him of the least excitement, made a motion to me enjoining silence, and mixing a quieting cordial, held to his lips. He eagerly quaffed the cooling draught, and again fell into a quiet slumber. "Now," said the physician, "I have a faint hope that he may recover, but he is so weak that any excitement would prove fatal; all depends upon keeping him perfectly quiet for the next few hours." The doctor departed, and again I was left alone to watch over his slumber. Before morning, anxiety brought Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair to the room, to learn if there had been any change. In a whisper I informed them of the favorable symptoms he had evinced upon waking, and persuaded them to retire from the apartment. When Arthur again awoke, the favorable symptoms still continued, and the physician entertained strong hopes of his recovery. By degrees he was allowed to converse for a few moments at a time. It seemed to him, he said, as though he had awakened from a frightful dream; and he begged to know how long he had been ill, and what had happened during the time. We were all very cautious to say nothing to excite him; and by degrees as his mind grew stronger, everything came back clearly to his mind, his father's visit, and the circumstances which had brought him to the city. It is needless for me to dwell upon the long period, while he lay helpless as an infant, watched over by his fond mother, who felt that he had almost been given back from the dead. But he continued slowly to recover, and being unable to remain longer, I left his parents with him, and returned to my home in Littleton, and soon after went back to my employer. Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair remained with Arthur till he was able to bear the journey to Littleton, and it was to them a happy day, when they arrived safely at their home, accompanied by their son, who seemed to them almost as one restored from the dead. The unfortunate circumstances connected with Arthur's illness were a secret locked up in the bosoms of the few faithful friends to whom it was known. Arthur arose from that bed of sickness a changed man, and it was ever after to him a matter of wonder how he could have been so far led astray, and he felt the most unbounded gratitude to Mr. Worthing for the kindness and consideration he had shown him. His father did quite an extensive business as a merchant in Littleton, and as Arthur became stronger he assisted in the store; and after a time his father gave him a partnership in the business, which rendered his again leaving home unnecessary. A correspondence, varied occasionally by friendly visits, was kept up between the Sinclairs and the family of Mr. Worthing; for Arthur never could forget the debt of gratitude he owed his former employer. I have little more to tell, and I will bring my long and, I fear somewhat tedious, story to a close, by relating one more event in the life of my friend. I resided at a quite a long distance from Littleton, and some two years after Arthur's return home, I was surprised by receiving an invitation from him to act as groomsman at his wedding, and the bride was to be Miss Merrill. I know not exactly how the reconciliation took place. But I understood that Arthur first sought an interview with the young lady, and humbly acknowledged the wrong of which he had been guilty, saying, what was indeed true, that he had ever loved her, and he knew not what infatuation influenced him in his former conduct. Many censured Miss Merrill for her want of spirit, as they termed it, in again receiving his addresses, but I was too well pleased by his happy termination of the affair to censure any one connected with it. The wedding day was a happy one to those most deeply concerned, and such being the case, the opinion of others was of little consequence; and the clouds which had for a time darkened their sky, left no shadow upon the sunshine of their wedded life. Arthur and his father were prospered in their business, and for many years they all lived happily together. In process of time his parents died, and Arthur soon after sold out his share in the business to a younger brother, as he had received a tempting offer to remove to Boston, and enter into partnership with Mr. Worthing's son, as the old gentleman had some time before resigned any active share in the business. When Arthur learned their wishes he was very anxious to return to them; "For," said he, "it is to Mr. Worthing I owe my salvation from disgrace and ruin." For many years he has carried on a lucrative business with the son of his former employer and friend. An interesting family of sons and daughters have grown up around him, and I may with truth call them a happy family. Old Mr. Worthing has been for some years dead; and his earthly remains quietly repose amid the peaceful shades of Mount Auburn. My own life has been a busy one, and twenty years have passed away since I met with Arthur Sinclair; but the object of this journey is to visit my early friend, who, as well as myself, is now an old man." As the old gentleman finished the story, to which we had all listened with much interest, we arrived at our stopping place for the night, and, fatigued with the day's journey, we were soon conducted to our several apartments. The next morning we parted with the kind old man, as his onward route lay in another direction, but I could not help following him in thought, and picturing the joyous meeting between himself and his early friend, Arthur Sinclair.