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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Good Time Coming By T. S. Arthur Characters: 19106

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


THE memory of what passed between Mr. and Mrs. Markland remained distinct enough in both their minds, on the next morning, to produce thoughtfulness and reserve. The night to each had been restless and wakeful; and in the snatches of sleep which came at weary intervals were dreams that brought no tranquillizing influence.

The mother's daily duty, entered into from love to her children, soon lifted her mind into a sunnier region, and calmed her pulse to an even stroke. But the spirit of Markland was more disturbed, more restless, more dissatisfied with himself and every thing around him, than when first introduced to the reader's acquaintance. He eat sparingly at the breakfast-table, and with only a slight relish. A little forced conversation took place between him and his wife; but the thoughts of both were remote from the subject introduced. After breakfast, Mr. Markland strolled over his handsome grounds, and endeavoured to awaken in his mind a new interest in what possessed so much of real beauty. But the effort was fruitless; his thoughts were away from the scenes in which he was actually present. Like a dreamy enthusiast on the sea-shore, he saw, afar off, enchanted Islands faintly pictured on the misty horizon, and could not withdraw his gaze from their ideal loveliness.

A little way from the house was a grove, in the midst of which a fountain threw upward its refreshing waters, that fell plashing into a marble basin, and then went gurgling musically along over shining pebbles. How often, with his gentle partner by his side, had Markland lingered here, drinking in delight from every fair object by which they were surrounded! Now he wandered amid its cool recesses, or sat by the fountain, without having even a faint picture of the scene mirrored in his thoughts. It was true, as he had said, "Beauty had faded from the landscape; the air was no longer balmy with odours; the birds sang for his ears no more; he heard not, as of old, the wind-spirits whispering to each other in the tree-tops;" and he sighed deeply as a half-consciousness of the change disturbed his reverie. A footfall reached his ears, and, looking up, he saw a neighbour approaching: a man somewhat past the prime of life, who came toward him with a familiar smile, and, as he offered his hand, said pleasantly-

"Good morning, Friend Markland."

"Ah! good morning, Mr. Allison," was returned with a forced cheerfulness; "I am happy to meet you."

"And happy always, I may be permitted to hope," said Mr. Allison, as his mild yet intelligent eyes rested on the face of his neighbour.

"I doubt," answered Mr. Markland, in a voice slightly depressed from the tone in which he had first spoken, "whether that state ever comes in this life."

"Happiness?" inquired the other.

"Perpetual happiness; nay, even momentary happiness."

"If the former comes not to any," said Mr. Allison, "the latter, I doubt not, is daily enjoyed by thousands."

Mr. Markland shook his head, as he replied-

"Take my case, for instance; I speak of myself, because my thought has been turning to myself; there are few elements of happiness that I do not possess, and yet I cannot look back to the time when I was happy."

"I hardly expected this from you, Mr. Markland," said the neighbour; "to my observation, you always seemed one of the most cheerful of men."

"I never was a misanthrope; I never was positively unhappy. No, I have been too earnest a worker. But there is no disguising from myself the fact, now I reflect upon it, that I have known but little true enjoyment as I moved along my way through life."

"I must be permitted to believe," replied Mr. Allison, "that you are not reading aright your past history. I have been something of an observer of men and things, and my experience leads me to this conclusion."

"He who has felt the pain, Mr. Allison, bears ever after the memory of its existence."

"And the marks, too, if the pain has been as prolonged and severe as your words indicate."

"But such marks, in your case, are not visible. That you have not always found the pleasure anticipated-that you have looked restlessly away from the present, longing for some other good than that laid by the hand of a benignant Providence at your feet, I can well believe; for this is my own history, as well as yours: it is the history of all mankind."

"Now you strike the true chord, Mr. Allison. Now you state the problem I have not skill to solve. Why is this?"

"Ah! if the world had skill to solve that problem," said the neighbour, "it would be a wiser and happier world; but only to a few is this given."

"What is the solution? Can you declare it?"

"I fear you would not believe the answer a true one. There is nothing in it flattering to human nature; nothing that seems to give the weary, selfish heart a pillow to rest upon. In most cases it has a mocking sound."

"You have taught me more than one life-lesson, Mr. Allison. Speak freely now. I will listen patiently, earnestly, looking for instruction. Why are we so restless and dissatisfied in the present, even though all of earthly good surrounds us, and ever looking far away into the uncertain future for the good that never comes, or that loses its brightest charms in possession?"

"Because," said the old man, speaking slowly, and with emphasis, "we are mere self-seekers."

Mr. Markland had bent toward him, eager for the answer; but the words fell coldly, and with scarce a ray of intelligence in them, on his ears. He sighed faintly and leaned back in his seat, while a look of disappointment shadowed his countenance.

"Can you understand," said Mr. Allison, "the proposition that man, aggregated, as well as in the individual, is in the human form?"

Markland gazed inquiringly into the questioner's face. "In the human form as to uses?" said Mr. Allison. "How as to uses?"

"Aggregate men into larger or smaller bodies, and, in the attainment of ends proposed, you will find some directing, as the head, and some executing, as the hands."

"True."

"Society, then, is only a man in a larger form. Now, there are voluntary, as well as involuntary associations; the voluntary, such as, from certain ends, individuals form one with another; the involuntary, that of the common society in which we live. Let us look for a moment at the voluntary association, and consider it as man in a larger form. You see how all thought conspires to a single end and how judgment speaks in a single voice. The very first act of organization is to choose a head for direction, and hands to execute the will of this larger man. And now mark well this fact: Efficient action by this aggregated man depends wholly upon the unselfish exercise by each part of its function for the good of the whole. Defect and disorder arise the moment the head seeks power or aggrandizement for itself, the hands work for their good alone, or the feet strive to bear the body alone the paths they only wish to tread. Disease follows, if the evil is not remedied; disease, the sure precursor of dissolution. How disturbed and unhappy each member of such an aggregated man must be, you can at once perceive.

"If it is so in the voluntary man of larger form, how can it be different in the involuntary man, or the man of common society?"

"Of this great body you are a member. In it you are sustained, and live by virtue of its wonderful organization. From the blood circulating in its veins you obtain nutrition, and as its feet move forward, you are borne onward in the general progression. From all its active senses you receive pleasure or intelligence; and yet this larger man of society is diseased-all see, all feel, all lament this-fearfully diseased. It contains not a single member that does not suffer pain. You are not exempt, favourable as is your position. If you enjoy the good attained by the whole, you have yet to bear a portion of the evil suffered by the whole. Let me add, that if you find the cause of unhappiness in this larger man, you will find it in yourself. Think! Where does it lie?"

"You have given me the clue," replied Mr. Markland, "in your picture of the voluntarily aggregated man. In this involuntary man of common society, to which, as you have said, we all bear relation as members, each seeks his own good, regardless of the good of the whole; and there is, therefore, a constant war among the members."

"And if not war, suffering," said Mr. Allison. "This man is sustained by a community of uses among the members. In the degree that each member performs his part well, is the whole body served; and in the degree that each member neglects his work, does the whole body suffer."

"If each worked for himself, all would be served," answered Mr. Markland. "It is because so many will not work for themselves, that so many are in want and suffering."

"In the very converse of this lies the true philosophy; and until the world has learned the truth, disorder and unhappiness will prevail. The eye does not see for itself, nor the ear hearken; the feet do not walk, nor the hands labour for themselves; but each freely, and from an affection for the use in which it is engaged, serves the whole body, while every organ or member of the body conspires to sustain it. See how beautifully the eyes direct the hands, guiding them in every minute particular, while the heart sends blood to sustain them in their labours, and the feet bear them to the appointed place; and the hands work not for themselves, but that

the whole body may be nourished and clothed. Where each regards the general good, each is best served. Can you not see this, Mr. Markland?"

"I can, to a certain extent. The theory is beautiful, as applied to your man of common society. But, unfortunately, it will not work in practice. We must wait for the millennium."

"The millennium?"

"Yes, that good time coming, toward which the Christian world looks with such a pleasing interest."

"A time to be ushered in by proclamation, I suppose?"

"How, and when, and where it is to begin, I am not advised," said' Mr. Markham, smiling. "All Christians expect it; and many have set the beginning thereof near about this time."

"What if it have begun already?"

"Already! Where is the sign, pray? It has certainly escaped my observation. If the Lord had actually come to reign a thousand years, surely the world would know it. In what favoured region has he made his second advent?"

"Is it not possible that the Christian world may be in error as to the manner of this second coming, that is to usher in the millennium?"

"Yes, very. I don't see, that in all prophecy, there is any thing definite on the subject."

"Nothing more definite than there was in regard to the first coming?"

"No."

"And yet, while in their very midst, even though miracles were wrought for them; the Jews did not know the promised Messiah."

"True."

"They expected a king in regal state, and an assumption of visible power. They looked for marked political changes. And when the Lord said to them, 'My kingdom is not of this world,' they denied and rejected him. Now, is it not a possible case, that the present generation, on this subject, may be no wiser than the Jews?"

"Not a very flattering conclusion," said Markland. "The age is certainly more enlightened, and the world wiser and better than it was two thousand years ago."

"And therefore," answered Mr. Allison, "the better prepared to understand this higher truth, which it was impossible for the Jews to comprehend, that the kingdom of God is within us."

"Within us!-within us!" Markland repeated the words two or three times, as if there were in them gleams of light which had never before dawned upon his mind.

"Of one thing you may be assured," said Mr. Allison, speaking with some earnestness; "the millennium will commence only when men begin to observe the Golden Rule. If there are any now living who in all sincerity strive to repress their selfish inclinations, and seek the good of others from genuine neighbourly love, then the millennium has begun; and it will never be fully ushered in, until that law of unselfish, reciprocal uses that rules in our physical man becomes the law of common society."

"Are there any such?"

"Who seek the good of others from a genuine neighbourly love?"

"Yes."

"I believe so."

"Then you think the millennium has commenced?"

"I do."

"The beginning must be very small. The light hid under a bushel. Now I have been led to expect that this light, whenever it came, would be placed on a candlestick, to give light unto all in the house."

"May it not be shining? Nay, may there not be light in all the seven golden candlesticks, without your eyes being attracted thereby?"

"I will not question your inference. It may all be possible. But your words awaken in my mind but vague conceptions."

"The history of the world, as well as your own observation, will tell you that all advances toward perfection are made with slow steps. And further, that all changes in the character of a whole people simply indicate the changes that have taken place in the individuals who compose that people. The national character is but its aggregated personal character. If the world is better now than it was fifty years ago, it is because individual men and women are becoming better-that is, less selfish, for in self-love lies the germ of all evil. The Millennium must, therefore, begin with the individual. And so, as it comes not by observation-or with a 'lo! here, and lo! there'-men are not conscious of its presence. Yet be assured, my friend, that the time is at hand; and that every one who represses, through the higher power given to all who ask for it, the promptings of self-love, and strives to act from a purified love of the neighbour, is doing his part, in the only way he can do it, toward hastening the time when the 'wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.'"

"Have we not wandered," said Mr. Markland, after a few moments of thoughtful silence, "from the subject at first proposed?"

"I have said more than I intended," was answered, "but not, I think, irrelevantly. If you are not happy, it is because, like an inflamed organ in the human body, you are receiving more blood than is applied to nutrition. As a part of the larger social man, you are not using the skill you possess for the good of the whole. You are looking for the millennium, but not doing your part toward hastening its general advent. And now, Mr. Markland, if what I have said be true, can you wonder at being the restless, dissatisfied man you represent yourself to be?"

"If your premises be sound, your conclusions are true enough," answered Markland, with some coldness and abstraction of manner. The doctrine was neither flattering to his reason, nor agreeable to his feelings. He was too confirmed a lover of himself to receive willingly teaching like this. A type of the mass around him, he was content to look down the dim future for signs of the approaching millennium, instead of into his own heart. He could give hundreds of dollars in aid of missions to convert the heathen, and to bring in the islands of the sea, as means of hastening the expected time; but was not ready, as a surer means to this end, to repress a single selfish impulse of his nature.

The conversation was still further prolonged, with but slight change in the subject. At parting with his neighbour, Markland found himself more disturbed than before. A sun ray had streamed suddenly into the darkened chambers of his mind, disturbing the night birds there, and dimly revealing an inner world of disorder, from which his eyes vainly sought to turn themselves. If the mental disease from which he was suffering had its origin in the causes indicated by Mr. Allison, there seemed little hope of a cure in his case. How was he, who all his life long had regarded himself, and those who were of his own flesh and blood, as only to be thought of and cared for, to forget himself, and seek, as the higher end of his existence, the good of others? The thought created no quicker heart-beat-threw no warmer tint on the ideal future toward which his eyes of late had so fondly turned themselves. To live for others and not for himself-this was to extinguish his very life. What were others to him? All of his world was centred in his little home-circle. Alas! that its power to fill the measure of his desires was gone-its brightness dimmed-its attraction a binding-spell no longer!

And so Markland strove to shut out from his mind the light shining in through the little window opened by Mr. Allison; but the effort was in vain. Steadily the light came in, disturbing the owls and bats, and revealing dust, cankering mould, and spider-web obstructions. All on the outside was fair to the world; and as fair, he had believed, within. To be suddenly shown his error, smote him with a painful sense of humiliation.

"What is the highest and noblest attribute of manhood?" Mr. Allison had asked of him during their conversation.

Markland did not answer the question.

"The highest excellence-the greatest glory-the truest honour must be in God," said the old man.

"All will admit that," returned Markland.

"Those, then, who are most like him, are most excellent-most honourable."

"Yes."

"Love," continued Mr. Allison, "is the very essential nature of God-not love of self, but love of creating and blessing others, out of himself. Love of self is a monster; but love of others the essential spirit of true manhood, and therefore its noblest attribute."

Markland bowed his head, convicted in his own heart of having, all his life long, been a self-worshipper; of having turned his eyes away from the true type of all that was noble and excellent, and striven to create something of his own that was excellent and beautiful. But, alas! there was no life in the image; and already its decaying elements were an offence in his nostrils.

"In the human body," said Mr. Allison, "as in the human soul when it came pure from the hands of God, there is a likeness of the Creator. Every organ and member, from the largest to the most hidden and minute, bears this likeness, in its unselfish regard for the good of the whole body. For, as we have seen, each, in its activity, has no respect primarily to its own life. And it is because the human soul has lost this likeness of its loving Creator, that it is so weak, depraved, and unhappy. There must be the restored image, and likeness, before there be the restored Eden."

The noblest type of manhood! Never in all his after life was Edward Markland able to shut out this light of truth from his understanding. It streamed through the little window, shining very dimly at times; but always strong enough to show him that unselfish love was man's highest attribute, and self-love a human monster.

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