This month’s Free Read is a short story from 1893 that illustrates the Bible verse:
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Everyone who knows Miss Carrie Benham thinks she is a bright and sweet-natured, but in her heart, Carrie’s spirit may not be as giving as people think.
So her older brother Ford devises a plan that forces Carrie to choose between bringing pleasure to herself or pleasure to others. Which will Carrie choose?
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IT was New Year’s morning, and there was company coming to dinner, and Carrie Benham had a dozen or more little duties waiting for her. Nevertheless she paused, duster in hand, and considered for the hundredth time the question which must be settled this morning. She was a pretty girl, with great brown thoughtful eyes, and a fair sweet face framed in soft brown hair, which could take a glint of gold when the sun shone on it. Even in her loose morning blouse, with an old silk handkerchief knotted about her neck, ready to protect the brown hair from dust when she should begin to sweep, almost anyone would have called her pretty.
“There is so much character in Carrie’s face,” her friends said. And strangers looking at her were apt to remark that it was an unusual face for one so young. People who knew her real well knew that it was the sweetness of the soul within which shone out and attracted, rather than the brownness of her eyes, or the clearness of her skin.
Still, I really do not want you to think her remarkable in any way. I am glad to believe that there are hundreds, even thousands, of just such girls as Carrie in this great wide world. Bright, energetic, whole-hearted, sweet-natured girls, who as a rule, are unselfish and thoughtful of the comfort of others.
It was just this matter of unselfishness which was troubling Carrie this holiday morning. She had a curious question to decide, a question to which she had given some puzzled thought several times during the year. Just a year ago this morning she and her brother Ford had had a talk about the Bible verse which Carrie had recited at family worship, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
“I suppose that must be true,” Carrie had said, “because it is in the Bible; but I never could realize it. I do so like to receive gifts, and I cannot imagine myself feeling perfectly happy if I had received nothing from my friends this morning, even though I had been able to give to ever so many. I think people must have to wait until they get old and wise before they appreciate that verse.”
Quite an argument had followed, Ford trying to produce an illustration of the verse’s meaning which would satisfy her, and Carrie declaring laughingly, yet with an undertone of earnestness, that she must be more selfish than other people, because she knew if she had it to decide whether to go without herself, or let others go without, she would be sure to choose for herself.
“Suppose it were a choice between mother and yourself?” Ford asked.
“Oh! Mothers?” said Carrie, with a bright look over at the fair-faced woman who sat by the window. “Of course mothers and fathers are to have the best of everything, and any girl of common sense would be glad to give up for their sakes. But I mean among girls, for instance, equals and friends. It seems to me that the rule does not apply there, unless, of course, it is something one ought to do for the sake of a person in need; but just a mere present! I’m sure I should choose myself every time.”
Out of this talk had grown the scheme which was puzzling Carrie. Two hours afterward Ford brought her two sealed notes.
“Here are two letters,” he said, “which I would like you to keep until a year from today unopened. Next New Year’s morning you may consider which you will open first. The one you choose to accept and give first attention annuls the other; it will be of no use whatever to anybody. You will note that one is addressed to Miss Caroline Benham, and on the other is written, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ I do not mind telling you that both are New Year’s presents, from myself. I do not want you to come to any decision now, of course; but next year I would like you to choose between them. Not from a conscientious standpoint, because you do not know, and cannot know until after your decision is made, who may or may not be blessed by it. What I want you to do in a year from now is to decide on the whole, for the one which you believe will give you the greater pleasure, and see what will come of it. It is not a fair test, of course, of the verse about which we were talking, because the Lord does not generally ask us to work in the dark; but I choose to watch the outcome of this little plan of mine and see what will result.”
Carrie had exclaimed and demurred and coaxed to have just a hint of possibilities, and declared that she could never keep a letter from Ford a whole year without opening it, and declared that she knew perfectly well which she should choose; she did not mean to go without his present for the sake of anybody, unless, indeed — “Ford, it isn’t anything about father or mother, is it? Because if it is, I can decide now.”
No, Ford said, they were counted out.
It had ended by Carrie’s locking the letters up in her treasure box and forgetting them for weeks together, until some sudden overturning of the box in search of treasures would bring them to the surface; then she would study over the problem with a half-amused wonder as to which she would choose. It did not trouble her much while it was months in the future; but behold, here was the very holiday morning on which the decision must be made.
“Who would have thought it could have come so soon?” said Carrie, pausing, broom in hand, to ask herself which she should take. She had been very impressively reminded of her contract in the early morning, when family gifts were exchanged. There had been none for her from Ford; he had simply looked over at her and smiled significantly.
“Oh, dear!” she said, half-vexed over the situation, “I think it is almost too bad in Ford to give me such a problem. I want to give other people pleasure, I am sure I do. I can think of a dozen nice things that he may have given me a chance to do for the girls, and if I was sure it was one of them I believe I would go without my present; only it seems so queer not to have a present from Ford, and me going away so soon.”
You see, it had been settled at last that Carrie should enter at Hampton Institute for the spring term, in order to get well started in the routine of school before the actual hard work of the next fall. For two years Carrie had been looking forward to Hampton Institute as the place of all others where she wanted to go; but now that it was settled, and the time of going was near, she began to have a lonesome, half-home-sick feeling about it, and to wonder what it would be like to be suddenly set down among several hundred people whom she had never seen before.
“If I only knew what my present was,” she said wistfully. “It may be a lovely tinted picture of Ford, such as I have been wanting for so long; and then I almost could not give it up for anybody. Ford is so queer! Why can’t he do things like other people? I believe if I should decide for the other I would almost rather not know what was in mine; but he said I was to look at both as soon as I had decided, and make up my mind honestly about the blessedness; only I cannot change my decision after that. Oh, dear! It is certain to be something nice for one of his girls; something that I would have pleasure in giving them; but then it is a good deal to give up, I am sure.”
That phrase “one of his girls” perhaps needs explanation. You must know that Carrie’s brother Ford was the pastor of the church to which Carrie belonged, and of course all the girls in the large congregation were “his” in the sense that she meant, though there was a choice little company of her very special friends whom she felt sure he would choose from.
“It is almost certain to be Clara,” she said. “Ford knows it would be more blessed for me to give to Clara than any of the others; and she doesn’t have many gifts, and she is heart-broken now at the thought of my going away. If I were only sure it was Clara I believe I could decide. But then, it might be Helen Peck; Ford thinks a great deal of her. Well, so do I, but then—Oh, dear! Was ever a girl in such perplexity?”
Broom and dust-brush did good service for a few minutes, while Carrie knitted her brows and thought. “If there were only an ‘ought’ in it,” she said aloud presently, “it would be so easy.” And from that sentence you catch a hint of the manner of girl she was; for there are some to whom things are not easy, even when there is an “ought” in them. However, Ford had assured her that she was honestly to decide for that which she felt would give her the most pleasure.
“It isn’t really fair, as Ford said,” she told herself at last, “because I am so utterly in the dark, and because I do like gifts from Ford to keep as love tokens. But then I have ever so many, and I do like to give presents, and Ford may have planned a lovely pleasure for me. And besides, there is the verse, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ It doesn’t say ‘sometimes,’ or qualify it in any way. I just believe I will choose it.”
The duster was dropped presently, and Carrie’s brown head went down for a moment on the window-seat near which she stood. When she raised it there was a softened light in the brown eyes, and a glad ring in her voice, as she said:
“I have decided! I have so many lovely things of my own, I just long to give somebody else a pleasure. Now I am going to look; or no, wait until this room is in perfect order.”
The decision once made, it was hard to wait; but Carrie was trying to learn self-control, and held herself steadily to the task of dusting every little nook and corner, and placing every chair and book where they belonged. Then, at last, she drew from her pocket the two letters which had waited so long, laid the one addressed to herself on the window-seat with a loving little good-by pat, and broke the seal of the other.
Could she believe her eyes? It contained a check for a larger amount of money than she had supposed her brother could afford, and on the paper in which it was folded was written, in Ford’s clear hand, that it was to cover the expenses of Miss Clara Foster at the Hampton Institute for one year and one term, in order that she might have the pleasure of entering this spring with her dear friend, Carrie Benham, who delighted in giving her this New Year offering.
Carrie Benham, as she read, felt a curious sensation in her throat. She wanted to scream, to laugh, to cry. She did not know what she wanted. What, oh, what if she had chosen the other letter? Now Clara, her darling Clara, the dearest, best friend a girl ever had, could be with her every minute; and could have what she never had hoped to have—a chance for an education.
The pastor, in his study getting ready to make a five-minutes’ speech at the festival in the evening, was presently almost smothered with kisses.
“Have you opened the other letter?” he asked, when he could get breath to speak.
“No, Ford, I haven’t; I forgot all about it; there isn’t the least need for opening it. I know it is something perfectly lovely, of course, but it doesn’t matter in the least. Nothing in all the world could be so blessed as this. I was never so happy in my life.”
“Still it was in the bargain that the other should be opened and the two compared,” he said, with a fond smile for the happy-faced girl. “I must hold you to the terms. Where is the letter?”
Together they went in search of it; and Carrie opened with trembling fingers, to find another check, much smaller than the first, but yet of generous size, to be used in buying her the best bicycle that could be found in the market.
What shouts of laughter there were over this gift. A bicycle had been among Carrie’s supposed unattainable wants for two years; and behold, but two months before, on her birthday, a rich uncle who rarely thought of her had been moved—no one knew how or why—to send her by express a magnificent Victor bicycle, with all the modern improvements.
“Did you know he was going to give me one?” Carrie asked, almost breathlessly, as the thought struck her that Ford had planned with foreknowledge. But he shook his head promptly.
“Not a word about it until it came. No, this was all in good faith, and you would be without your bicycle still, according to your choice, if Uncle Ford had not mixed himself up in the matter. But I suspect, Carrie dear, that your Father in Heaven knew all about it.”
“Oh,” said Carrie, “doesn’t it seem wonderful? And oh, Ford! What if I had chosen for myself? Wouldn’t it have been dreadful?”
What do you think of Ford’s method for testing Carrie?
Which envelope do you think you would have chosen?