“Boys,” he said, “I have been trying every day of my life for the last two years to straighten out furrows, and I cannot do it.”
One boy turned his head in surprise toward the captain’s neatly kept place.
“O, I do not mean that kind, lad! I do not mean land furrows,” continued the captain, so soberly that the attention of the boys became breathless as he went on: “When I was a lad about the age of you boys, I was what they call a ‘hard case,’ not exactly bad or vicious, but wayward and wild. Well, my dear old mother used to coax, pray, and punish. My father was dead, making it all the harder for her, but she never got impatient. How in the world she bore all my stubborn, vexing ways so patiently will always be to me one of the mysteries of life. I knew it was troubling her, knew it was changing her pretty face, making it look anxious and old. After a while, tired of all restraint, I ran away, went off to sea; and a rough time I had of it at first. Still I liked the water, and I liked journeying around from place to place.
“Then I settled down to business in a foreign land, and soon became prosperous. Now I began sending her something besides empty letters. And such beautiful letters as she always wrote me during those years of absence. At length I noticed how long they grew, longing for the son who used to try her so, and it awoke a corresponding longing in my heart to go back to the clear waiting soul. So when I could stand it no longer, I came back, and such a welcome, and such a surprise!
“My mother is not a very old lady, boys, but the first thing I noticed was the whiteness of her hair and the deep furrows on her brow; and I knew I had helped to blanch that hair to its snowy whiteness and had drawn those lines in that smooth forehead. And those are the furrows I have been trying to straighten out.
“But last night, while mother was asleep in her armchair, I was thinking it all over, and looked to see what progress I had made. Her face was very peaceful, and the expression as contented as possible, but the furrows are still there. I have not succeeded in straightening them out—and—I—never—shall,—never.
“When they lay my mother, my fair old sweetheart, in her casket, there will be furrows on her brow; and I think it a wholesome lesson to teach you, that the neglect you offer your parents’ counsel now, and the trouble you cause them, will abide, my lads, it will abide!”
“But,” broke in Freddie Hollis, with great, troubled eyes, “I should think if you are so kind and good now, it need not matter so much!”
“Ah, Freddie,” said the quavery voice of the strong man, “you cannot undo the past. You may do much to atone for it, do much to make the rough path smooth, but you cannot straighten out the old furrows; remember that.”
“Guess I’ll go and chop some wood mother spoke of. I had most forgotten,” said lively Jimmy Hollis, in a strangely quiet tone for him.
“Yes, and I have some errands to do,” suddenly remembered Billy Bowles.
“Touched and taken!” said the kindly captain to himself, as the boys tramped off, keeping step in a soldier-like way.
Mrs. Bowles declared a fortnight afterward that Billy was “really getting to be a comfort!” And Mrs. Hollis, meeting the captain about that time, remarked that Jimmy always meant to be a good boy, but now he was actually being one.
“Guess your stories they like so much have good morals in them now and then,” added the gratified mother, with a smile.
As Mrs. Hollis passed, Captain Sam, with folded arms and head bent down, said softly to himself, “Well, I shall be thankful if a word of mine will help the dear boys to keep furrows from their mothers’ brows; for, once there, it is a difficult task to straighten them out.”
* * * * *
“If you were busy being good,
And doing just the best you could,
You’d not have time to blame some man
Who’s doing just the best he can.
“If you were busy being true
To what you know you ought to do,
You’d be so busy you’d forget
The blunders of the folks you’ve met.
“If you were busy being right,
You’d find yourself too busy quite
To criticize your neighbor long
Because he’s busy being wrong.”