The New Zealand Evangelist
The Man That Killed His Neighbours
The Man That Killed His Neighbours.
Founded on Fact.
Reuben Black was a torment in the neighbourhood where he resided. The very sight of him produced effects which may be likened to those said to follow a Hindoo magical tune, called Rang, which is supposed to bring on clouds, storms, and earthquakes. His wife had a sharp and uncomfortable look. His boys seemed to be in perpetual fear. The cows became startled as soon as he opened the barnyard gates. The dog dropped his tail between his legs, and eyed him askance, as if to see what humour he was in. The cat looked wild, and had been known to rush straight up the page 117 chimney when he moved towards her. The description of a certain stage-horse was well suited to Reuben's nag—“His hide resembled an old hair trunk.” Continual whipping and kicking had made him so insensible that no amount of blows could quicken his pace, no cheering could change the dejected drooping of his head. All his natural language said, as plain as a horse could say it, that he was a most unhappy beast. Even the trees on Reuben's premises had a neglected and desolate appearance. His fields were red with sorrel, or overrun with weeds. Everything about him seemed hard and arid as his own countenance. Every day he cursed the town and the neighbourhood, because the people poisoned his dogs, and stoned his hens, and shot his cats. Continual lawsuits involved him in so much trouble and expense that he had neither time nor money to spend on the improvement of his farm.
Against Joe Smith, a poor labourer in the neighbourhood, he had brought three suits in succession. Joe said he had returned a spade he had borrowed, and Reuben swore he had not. He sued Joe and recovered damages, for which he ordered the officer to seize his pig. Joe, in his wrath called him an old swindler, and a curse to the neighbourhood. These remarks were soon repeated to Reuben. He brought an action for slander, and recovered very small damages. Provoked at the laugh this occasioned, he watched for Joe to pass by, and set his dog upon him, crying out furiously, “Call me an old swindler again, will you?” An evil spirit is more contagious than the plague. Joe went home and scolded his wife, boxed little Joe's cars, and kicked the cat; and not one of them knew what it was all for. A fortnight after, Reuben's dog was found dead from poison. Whereupon he brought another action against Joe Smith, and not being able to prove him guilty of the charge of dog-killing, he took his revenge by poisoning a pet lamb belonging to Mrs. Smith. Thus feelings of ill-will were followed by misery and loss. Joe's temper grew more and more vindictive, and the love of talking over his troubles at the gin-shop increased upon him. Poor Mrs. Smith cried, and said it was all owing to Reuben Black, for a better-hearted man never lived than her Joe, when she first married him.
Such was the state of things when Simeon Green purchased the farm adjoining Reuben's. This had been much neglected, and had caught thistles and other weeds from the neighbouring field. But Simeon was a diligent man, and one who commanded well his own temper, for he had learned of Him who is “meek and lowly in heart.” He had been taught by the Holy Spirit the evil of his own heart, and been led to a humble but sure trust in Christ for pardon and salvation; and, having this hope in him, he sought, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to purify himself even as God is pure, and to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith he was called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing in love, Eph. iv. 1, 2.
His steady perseverance and industry soon changed the aspect of things on the farm. River mud, autumn leaves, old bones, were page 118 all put in use to assist in producing fertility and beauty. The trees, hitherto overrun with moss and insects, soon looked clean and vigorous. Fields of grain waved where weeds had only grown before. Roses covered half the house with their abundant clusters. Even the rough rock, which formed the door step, was edged with golden moss. The sleek horse, feeding in clover, tossed his mane and neighed when his master came near; as much as to say, “The world is all the pleasanter for having you in it, Simeon Green!” The old cow fondling her calf under the great walnut tree, walked up to him with a serious friendly face, asking for a slice of beet-root which he was wont to give her. Chanticleer strutting about, with his troop of plump hens, and their downy little chickens, took no trouble to keep out of his way, but flapped his glossy wings, and crowed a welcome in his very face. When Simeon turned his steps homeward the boys threw their caps, and ran shouting, “Father's coming!” and little Mary went toddling up to him, with a flower ready to place in his button hole. His wife was a woman of few words, but she sometimes said to her neighbours with a quiet kind of satisfaction, “Every body loves my husband that knows him. They cannot help it.”
Simeon Green's acquaintance knew that he was never engaged in a lawsuit in his life, but they predicted that he would find it impossible to avoid it now. They told him his next neighbour was determined to quarrel with people whether they would or not; that he was like John Lilburne, of whom it was happily said, “If the world were emptied of every person but himself, Lilburne would still quarrel with John, and John with Lilburne.”
“Is that his character?” said Simeon. “If he exercises it upon me, I will soon kill him.”
In every neighbourhood there are individuals who like to foment disputes, not from any definite intention of malice or mischief, but merely because it makes a little ripple of excitement in the dull stream of life. Such people were not slow in repeating Simeon Green's remark about his wrangling neighbour. “Kill me, will he?” exclaimed Reuben. He said no more; but his tightly compressed mouth had such a significant expression that his dog slunk from him in alarm. That very night Reuben turned his horse into the highway, in hopes he would do some depredation on neighbour Green's premises. But Joe Smith seeing the animal at large, let down the bars of Reuben's own corn-field, and the beast went in, and feasted as he had not done for many a year. It would have been a great satisfaction to Reuben if he could have brought a suit against his own horse; but as it was, he was obliged to content himself with beating him. His next exploit was to shoot Mary Green's handsome cock, because he stood on the stone wall and crowed, in the ignorant joy of his heart, a few inches beyond the frontier line that bounded the contiguous farms. Simeon said he was sorry for the poor bird, and sorry because his wife and children liked the pretty creature; but otherwise it was no great matter. He had been intending to build a poultry yard page 119 with a good high fence, that his hens might not annoy his neighbours; and now he was admonished to make haste and do it. He would build them a snug warm house to roost in; they should have plenty of gravel and oats, and room to walk back and forth, and crow and cackle to their heart's content; there they could enjoy themselves, and be out of harm's way.
But Reuben Black had a degree of ingenuity and perseverance which might have produced great results for mankind, had those qualities been devoted to some more noble purpose than provoking quarrels. A pear tree in his garden very improperly stretched an arm a little over Simeon Green's premises. It happened that the overhanging bough bore more abundant fruit, and glowed with a richer hue than the other boughs. One day little George Green, as he went whistling along, picked up a pear that had fallen into his father's garden. The instant he touched it he felt something on the back of his neck, like the sting of a wasp. It was Reuben Black's whip, followed by such a storm of angry words that the poor child rushed into the house in an agony of terror. But this experiment failed also. The boy was soothed by his mother, and told not to go near the pear tree again; and there the matter ended.
This imperturbable good nature vexed Reuben more than all the tricks and taunts he met with from others. Evil efforts he could understand, and repay with compound interest, but he did not know what to make of this perpetual forbearance. It seemed to him there must be something contemptuous in it. He disliked Simeon more than all the rest of the people together, because he made him feel so uncomfortably in the wrong, and did not afford him the slightest pretext for complaint. It was annoying to see everything in his neighbour's domains looking so happy, and presenting such a bright contrast to the forlornness of his own. When their wagons passed each other on the road, it seemed as if Simeon's horse tossed his head higher and flung out his mane, as if he knew he was going by Reuben Black's old nag. He often said he supposed Green covered his house with roses and honeysuckles on purpose to shame his bare walls. But he did not care—not he! He was not going to be fool enough to rot his boards with such stuff. But no one resented his disparaging remarks, or sought to provoke him in any way. The rose smiled, the horse neighed, and the calf capered; but none of them had the least idea that they were scorned by Reuben Black. Even the dog had no malice in his heart, though he did one night chase home his geese, and bark at them thro’ the bars. Reuben told his master the next day, and said he would bring an action against him if he did not keep that dog at home. Simeon answered very quietly that he would try to take better care of him. For several days a strict watch was kept, in hopes Towzer would worry the geese again : but they paced home undisturbed, and not a solitary bow-wow furnished excuse for a lawsuit.
The new neighbours not only declined quarrelling, but they occasionally made positive advances toward a friendly relation. Simeon's wife sent Mrs. Black a large basket full of very fine plums.page 120
Pleased with the unexpected attention she cordially replied, “Tell your mother it was very kind of her, and I am very much obliged to her.” Reuben, who sat smoking in the chimney corner, listened to this message for once without any impatience, except whiffing the smoke through his pipe a little faster and fiercer than usual. But when the boy was going out of the door, and the friendly words were repeated, he exclaimed, “Don't make a fool of yourself, Peg. They want to give us a hint to send a basket of our pears, that's the upshot of the business. You may send them a basket, when they are ripe; for I scorn to be under obligation, especially to your smooth-tongued folks.” Poor Peggy, whose heart had been for the moment refreshed by a little act of kindness, admitted distrust into her bosom, and all the pleasure she had felt on receiving her neighbour's present departed.
Not long after this advance toward good neighbourhood, some labourers employed by Simeon Green, passing over a bit of marshy ground, with a heavy team, stuck fast in a bog occasioned by long continued rain. The poor oxen were unable to extricate themselves, and Simeon ventured to ask assistance from his waspish neighbour, who was working at a short distance. Reuben replied gruffly, “I've got enough to do to attend my own business.” The civil request that he might be allowed to use his oxen and chains for a few minutes being answered in this surly tone, Simeon silently walked off, in search of a more obliging neighbour.
The men who had been left waiting with the patient and suffering oxen scolded about Reuben's ill nature when Simeon came back to them, and said they hoped Reuben would get stuck in the same bog himself. Their employer rejoined, “If he should, we will do our duty and help him out.” “There is such a thing as being too good-natured,” said they. “If Reuben Black takes the notion that people are afraid of him, it makes him trample on them worse than ever'”
“Oh wait a while,” replied Green, smiling, “I will kill him before long. Wait and see if I do not kill him.”
It chanced soon after, that Reuben's team did stick fast in the same bog, as the workmen had wished. Simeon noticed it from a neighbouring field, and gave directions that the oxen and chains should be immediately conveyed to his assistance. The men laughed, shook their heads, and talked about the old hornet. They, however, cheerfully proceeded to do as their employer had requested. “You are in a bad situation neighbour,” said Simeon, as he came alongside the foundered team; “but my men are coming with two yoke of oxen, and I think we shall soon manage to help you out.” “You may take your oxen back again,” replied Reuben quickly; “I want none of your help.” In a very friendly tone Simeon answered, “I cannot consent to do that; for evening is coming on, and you have very little time to lose. It is a bad job at any time, but it will be still worse in the dark.” “Light or dark, I do not ask your help,” replied Reuben emphatically, “I would not help you out of the bog the other day when you page 121 asked me.” “The trouble I had in relieving my poor oxen teaches me to feel for others in the same situation. Do not let us waste words about it, neighbour. It is impossible for me to go home and leave you here in the bog, and night coming on.”
The team was soon drawn out, and Simeon and his men went away, without waiting for thanks. When Reuben went home that night, he was unusually thoughtful. After smoking awhile in deep contemplation, he gently knocked the ashes from his pipe, and said, with a sigh, “Peg, Simeon Green has killed me!” “What do you mean?” said his wife, dropping her knitting with a look of surprise. “You know when he first came into this neighbourhood, he said he would kill me,” replied Reuben; “and he has done it. The other day he asked me to help his team out of the bog, and I told him I had enough to do to attend to my own business. To-day my team stuck fast in the same bog, and he came with two yoke of oxen to draw it out. I felt ashamed to have him lend me a hand; so I told him I wanted none of his help; but he answered just as pleasant as if nothing had happened, that night was coming on, and he was not willing to leave me in the mud.” “He is a pleasant spoken man,” said Mrs. Black, “and always has a pretty word to say to the boys. His wife seems to be a nice neighbourly body, too.” Reuben made no answer; but after meditating awhile, he remarked, “Peg, you know that big ripe melon down at the bottom of the garden? you may as well carry it over there in the morning.” His wife said she would, without asking him to explain where “over there” was.
But when the morning came, Reuben walked backwards and forwards, and round and round, with that sort of aimless activity often manifested by fowls, and fashionable idlers, who feel restless, and do not know what to run after. At length the cause of his uncertain movements was explained. “I may as well carry the melon myself, and thank him for his oxen. In my flurry down there in the marsh, I forgot to say I was obliged to him.”
He marched off toward the garden, and his wife stood at the door, with one hand on her hip, and the other shading the sun from her eyes, to see if he would carry the melon into Simeon Green's house. It was the most remarkable incident that had ever happened since her marriage. She sould hardly believe her own eyes. He walked quickly, as if afraid he should not be able to carry the unusual impulse into action if he stopped to re-consider the question. When he found himself in Mr. Green's house, he felt extremely awkward, and hastened to say, “Mrs. Green, here is a melon my wife sent to you, and we think it is a ripe one.” Without manifesting any surprise at such unexpected courtesy, the friendly matron thanked him, and invited him to sit down. But he stood playing with the latch of the door, and without raising his eyes said, “May be Mr. Green is not in this morning?”
“He is at the pump, and will be in directly, “she replied; and before her words were spoken, the honest man walked in, with a face as fresh and bright as a June morning. He stepped right up page 122 to Reuben, shook his hand cordially, and said, “I am glad to see you neighbour. Take a chair—take a chair.”
“Thank you, I cannot stop,” replied Reuben. He pushed his hat on one side, rubbed his head, looked out of the window, and then said suddenly, as if by a desperate effort,—“The fact is, Mr. Green, I did not behave right about the oxen.”
“Never mind—never mind,” replied Mr. Green. “Perhaps I shall get into the bog again, one of these rainy days. If I do, I shall know whom to call upon.”
“Why you see,” said Reuben, still very much confused, and avoiding Simeon's mild clear eye—“you see the neighbours here are very ugly. If I had always lived by such neighbours as you are, I should not he just as I am.”
“Ah, well, we must try to be to others what we want them to be to us,” rejoined Simeon. “You know the good Book says so. I have learned by experience, that if we speak kind words, we hear kind echoes. If we try to make others happy, it fills them with a wish to make us happy. Perhaps you and I can bring the neighbours round in time to this way of thinking and acting. Who knows?—let us try, Mr. Black, let us try. And come and look at my orchard. I want to show you a tree which I have grafted with very choice apples. If you like, I will procure you some cuttings from the same stock.
They went into the orchard together, and friendly chat soon put Reuben at his ease. When he returned home, he made no remarks about his visit; for he could not, as yet, summon sufficient greatness of soul to tell his wife that he had confessed himself in the wrong. A gun stood behind the kitchen door, in readiness to shoot Mr. Green's dog for having barked at his horse. He now fired the contents into the air, and put the gun away into the barn. From that day henceforth, he never sought for any pretext to quarrel with the dog or his master. A short time after, Joe Smith, to his utter astonishment, saw him pat Towzer on the head, and heard him say, “Good fellow!”
Simeon Green was too magnanimous to repeat to any one that his quarrelsome neighbour had confessed himself to blame. He merely smiled as he said to his wife, “I thought we should kill him after a while.”
Joe Smith did not believe in such doctrines. When he heard of the adventures in the marsh, he said, “Sim Green is a fool. When he first came here, he talked very big about killing folks, if they did not mind their P's and Q's. But he does not appear to have as much spirit as a worm; for a worm will turn when it is trod upon.
Poor Joe had grown more intemperate and quarrelsome, till at last nobody would employ him. About a year after the memorable incident of the water-melon, some one stole several valuable hides from Mr. Green. He did not mention the circumstance to any one but his wife; and they both had reason for suspecting that Joe was page 123 the thief. The next week, the following anonymous advertisement appeared in the newspaper of the county.
“Whoever stole a lot of hides on Friday night, the 5th of the present month, is hereby informed that the owner has a sincere wish to be his friend. If poverty tempted him to this false step, the owner will keep the whole transaction a secret, and will gladly put him in the way of obtaining money by means* more likely to bring him peace of mind.”
This singular advertisement, of course, excited a good deal of remark. There was much debate whether or not the thief would avail himself of the friendly offer. Some said he would be a green - horn if he did; for it was manifestly a trap to catch him. But he who had committed the dishonest deed alone knew whence that benevolent offer came, and he knew that Simeon Green was not a man to set traps for his fellow-creatures.
A few nights afterwards, a timid knock was heard at Simeon's door, just as the family were retiring to rest. When the door was opened, Joe Smith was seen on the steps, with a load of hides on his shoulders. Without raising his eyes, he said in a low humble tone, “I have brought them back, Mr. Green. Where shall I put them?”
“Wait a moment till I can light a lantern, and I will go to the barn with you,” he replied. “Then you will come in, and tell me how it happened. — We will see what can be done for you.”
Mrs. Green knew that Joe often went hungry, and had become accustomed to the stimulus of gin. She therefore hastened to make hot coffee, and brought from the closet some cold meat-pie.
When they returned from the barn she said, “I thought you might feel better for a little warm supper, neighbour Smith.” Joe turned his back towards her, and did not speak. He leaned his head against the chimney, and after a moment's silence, he said in a choked voice, “It was the first time I ever stole anything, and I have felt very bad about it. I do not know how it is. I did not think once I should ever come to he what I am. But I took to quarrelling, and then to drinking. Since I began to go down hill, every body gives me a kick. You are the first man that has offered me a helping hand. My wife is feeble, and my children starving. You have sent them many a meal, God bless you! and yet I stole the hides from you meaning to sell them the first chance I could get. But I tell you, Mr. Green, it is the first time I ever deserved the name of thief.”
“Let it be the last, my friend,” said Simeon, pressing his hand kindly. “The secret shall remain between ourselves. You are young and can make up lost time. Come now, give me a promise that you will not drink one drop of intoxicating liquor for a year, and I will employ you, to-morrow, at good wages. Mary will see to your family early in the morning, and perhaps we may find some employment for them also. The little boy can at least pick up stones. But eat a bit now, and drink some hot coffee. It will keep you from wanting anything stronger to-night. You will find it hard to page 124 abstain at first, Joseph; but keep up a brave heart, for the sake of your wife and children, and it will soon become easy. When you feel the need of coffee, tell my Mary, and she will always give it you.”
Joe tried to eat and drink, but the food seemed to choke him. He was nervous and excited. After an ineffectual effort to compose himself, he laid his head on the table and wept like a child.
After a while, Simeon persuaded him to bathe his head in cold water, and he ate and drank with good appetite. When he went away, the kind-hearted host said, “Try to do well, Joseph, and you shall always find a friend in me.”
The poor fellow pressed his hand, and replied, “I understand now how it is you kill bad neighbours.”
He entered into Mr. Green's service next day, and remained in it many years, an honest and faithful man.