I am fond of reading, and spend several hours each day with my books. Helen laughs at my library, and says she does not understand how I can like such old-fashioned books as I have; perhaps the very reason that they suit me is that they are old-fashioned. At all events, there is sound, good sense in the volumes. There is Franklin, for instance: what a mine of valuable thoughts in his works! I was reading in my Franklin only this morning, and I paused over this passage: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” Shortly after, as I sat with my sewing, the second Miss Black called.
She cried out: “Always busy, Miss Sophronia! Here is your work-basket full, and I see your book is open on the table. What in the world do you find to do? I never find anything.”
“Then, my dear,” I replied, “you must be living with your eyes shut, for I never yet saw any one to whom the world did not offer plenty to do. When God created Adam, he created also a business for Adam; he did not make him a gentleman of leisure, with the first years of Creation hanging heavily upon his hands; and so, ever since, when God sends a reasonable soul into the world, he sends with it its especial work and round of duties, which belong to no other soul: believe me, God investigates our doings here, and will make inquiry whether or not we performed this work which he intends for our doing.”
“You look so seriously at things, Miss Sophronia; but do tell me what you find to do. You have your nice house, your good servant, your income: you might sit with folded hands.”
“So I might, but I should hear a voice in my ears: ‘What doest thou here?’ And by-and-by God would call upon me: ‘Give an account of thy stewardship;’ and being compelled to speak the truth, suppose that I must say: ‘O, I was in easy circumstances, and I sat with my hands folded.’ But you ask what I do. I have my housekeeping to look to, my friends to make comfortable when they visit me, and my sewing to do. Next I have my social duties: I am at leisure, and the experience of several tens of years is in my keeping; therefore I feel an especial call to visit the sick. When a family is down with measles, or scarlet fever, or some other epidemic, why should they be neglected, or the mother be over-taxed, when I am at leisure to help? So, in accidents, I am often sent for: thus my work among the sick fills up a good many hours.
"Then there are aged people who cannot go abroad, and chronic invalids who get very lonely in their rooms, and feel as if they were forgotten: I visit them. The poor are Christ’s legacy to all those of his people who are able to help them, and I have my rounds among the poor, helping them with gifts, securing work for them, advising them, getting them into church and Sunday-school. I have also my church work: having leisure, good health and a few dollars to spare, I ought to help in the benevolent schemes of my church, and I do that. But, while helping others, I must not forget my own; and my nieces have young families. I can be a great help to them by taking home part of their sewing and mending, taking a child home here for a week if the mother is sick, knitting the little mittens and stockings: these are trifles, but they lighten domestic cares for busy mothers. Then once a year Christmas comes, and I want to make presents to my nieces and their servants, to my servants and poor friends.
"So, my dear Miss Black, I find work for all my time, and I have given you this sketch of it, because you asked me, and because, as you say you have nothing to do, I hoped it might be useful to you in suggesting lines of work. But, as one of a large family, I should suppose you would find work in abundance.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Miss Black. “Mother keeps the house, and then there are the servants to do the work.”
“Did you never see your mother over-worked? Is she not toiling sometimes until greatly fatigued, or when she has a headache? Pardon me: does not your mother look too old for her years? Could not her daughters have saved her some of that extra work which wears her out?”
“Why don’t she ask help, then? She never does,” cried Miss Black.
“Some mothers have a false idea of increasing their children’s happiness by not asking them to work; and then, help freely offered is better than help demanded, or asked for half a dozen times, or argued over. I have seen girls scowl at being asked to help for an hour a mother who had been toiling exhaustingly for eight hours. I have seen other girls who, with quick eye, sought out every place where they could help, and when finally bidden by the busy mother to go dress, walk, read or visit, begged to be allowed some other share of work until they might both be done together. But, Miss Black, as we are on this subject, and you have introduced it, do you never see your servants over-worked? the kitchen-servant ready to drop with fatigue, when you might cheer and relieve her by making a cake, a few pies, a pan of biscuits or setting a table? Could you not find a time when the other maid, who does up-stairs’ work and sewing, would be saved from really too severe driving, if you swept and dusted a room or two, or lent the aid of your needle in the sewing-room?”
“Dear me, it never entered my head,” replied the young lady. “I do as much as my sisters, and we all do nothing. I fix up little trimmings, fancy collars and cuffs, or such things, now and then, as I need them. I put the flowers in the parlor, and help my sister make our bed. I read a book now and then if it is interesting, and I practice some, and get ready my dress, if I am going to a party, and I sit and look out of the window, or I take an afternoon nap: we sit up so late, having evening callers; and I go shopping, and I walk around the streets, or make a few calls, and — there, that is all I do.”
“But, my dear girl, what of all this is useful to yourself or to others? With what of all this is God pleased? What of all this is the work which he sent into the world for your doing?”
“I’m sure I don’t know! You quite frighten me asking that.”
“Consider it is a question that must meet you some day, as it is appointed unto all men once to die, and after that comes the judgment. Reason would say, have an answer ready.”