Waiting for the Grist by Unknown

It is impossible to measure the influence which may be exerted by a single act, a word, or even a look. It was the simple act of an entire stranger that changed the course of my whole life.

When I was a boy, my father moved to the Far West—Ohio. It was before the days of steam, and no great mills thundered on her river banks, but occasionally there was a little gristmill by the side of some small stream.

To these little mills, the surrounding neighborhood flocked with their sacks of corn. Sometimes we had to wait two or three days for our turn. I was generally the one sent from our house, for, while I was too small to be of much account on the farm, I was as good as a man to carry a grist to mill. So I was not at all surprised one morning when my father said, "Henry, you must take the horse and go to mill to-day."

But I found so many of the neighboring farmers there ahead of me, that I knew there was no hope of getting home that day; but I was not at all sorry, for my basket was well filled with provisions, and Mr. Saunders always opened his big barn for us to sleep in.

That day there was an addition to the number who had been in the habit of gathering, from time to time, in the old Saunders barn,—a young fellow about my own age. His name was Charley Allen, and his father had bought a farm over on the Brush Creek road. He was sociable and friendly, but somehow I felt that he had "more manners" than the rest of us.

The evening was spent, as usual, in relating coarse jokes and playing cards. Although I was not accustomed to such things at home, I had become so used to it at the mill, that it had long since ceased to shock me, and, indeed, I was getting to enjoy watching the games of the others.

When bedtime came, we were all so busy with our own affairs that we did not notice Charley Allen, until a rude, profane fellow exclaimed:—

"Heyday! we've got a parson here!" sure enough. Charley was kneeling by the oatbin praying. But the jest met with no response. The silence was broken only by the drowsy cattle below, and the twittering swallows overhead. More than one rough man wiped a tear from his eyes as he went silently to his bed on the hay.

I had always been in the habit of praying at home, but I never thought of such a thing at Saunder's Mill.

As I laid awake that night in the old barn, thinking of Charley Allen's courage, and what an effect it had upon the men, I firmly resolved that in the future I would do right. I little thought how soon my courage would be tested.

[Illustration: "<i>Did you go through this gate yesterday</i>?"]

Just after dinner I got my grist, and started for home. When I arrived at Squire Albright's gate, where I turned off to go home, I found the old squire waiting for me. I saw in a moment that something had gone wrong. I had always stood in the greatest awe of the old gentlemen, because he was the rich man of the neighborhood, and, now I felt my heart beginning to beat very fast. As soon as I came near he said:—

"Did you go through this gate yesterday?"

I could easily have denied it, as it was before daylight when I went through, and I quite as often went the other way. But the picture of Charley Allen kneeling in the barn, came to my mind like a flash, and before I had time to listen to the tempter I replied:—

"Yes, sir; I did."

"Are you sure you shut and pinned the gate?" he asked.

This question staggered me. I remembered distinctly that I did not. I could pull the pin out without getting off my horse, but I could not put it in again; so I carelessly rode away, and left it open.

"I—I—I—"

"Out with it; tell just what you did!"

"I left it open," I said abruptly.

"Well, you let the cattle in and they have destroyed all my early potatoes,—a terrible piece of business!"

"I'm very sorry, I'd—"

"Talking won't help matters now; but remember, boy, remember that sorrow doesn't make potatoes,—sorrow doesn't make potatoes."

I felt very bad about the matter, for I was really sorry that the old gentleman had lost his potatoes, and then I expected to be severely reproved at home. But I soon found that they knew nothing of the matter, and after several days had passed, I began to rest quite easy.

Alas for human hopes! one rainy afternoon I saw the squire riding down the lane. I ran off to the barn, ashamed to face him, and afraid to meet my father. They sat on the porch and talked for a long time.

At last my curiosity overcame my fear, and I stole back to the house, and went into mother's room to see if I could hear what they were talking about.

"Why, the boy could be spared well enough, but he doesn't know anything about the business," said my father.

"There is one thing he does know," said the squire, "he knows how to tell the truth." He then related the circumstance which I so much dreaded to have my father hear.

After he had gone, my father called me to him, and told me that the squire was going to start a store in the village, and wanted a boy to help, and that I could go if I wished. I went, and remained in the village store until it became a city store. People say that I got my start in life when I entered Albright's store, but I will always declare that I got it while I was waiting for the grist.