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Not My Will
How Much Will Surrender Cost?
By Francena H. Arnold
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1974 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Alex and Jean Stewart stood by the playpen and, with arms about each other, watched the determined efforts of the tiny girl inside to reach the ball that had rolled away from her. She could not crawl, but she reached and wriggled and hunched herself toward it with a great effort. Inch by inch she struggled, panting with exertion until at last, when she had achieved her desire and held the treasure in her dimpled hand, she was too tired to play, but fell asleep instead with a smug little smile on her face.
The two watchers laughed at her efforts and cheered when she won. Then, as they looked at the little sleeper, Jean said, "Isn't she a persistent mite? She is that way about anything she wants. She worked all during her ride this morning to catch the Tinkertoy that I had hung on the hood of her carriage. But she finally got it."
Alex smiled proudly at his tiny daughter, then sobered at a sudden thought that came to him. "I hope she won't be like her aunt Ruth," he said with a note of pain in his voice.
His older sister Ruth had been a laughing, lovely girl, dear to the hearts of her parents and younger brother. She had a sunny disposition, and the old home echoed to the laughter of the brother and sister. During those years Alex Stewart was sure that whatever Ruth did was right. Now, looking back from the vantage point of later years, he realized how much she had imposed on his boyish affection and the strong love of her parents. When she had set her mind to a course of action she would willfully pursue it, "against wind, tide, or flood," her mother used to say. And the remonstrances of her parents, and the frequent punishments that came her way, were equally unavailing. At eighteen, against the pleadings of her whole family, she had married a man unworthy of her.
For fifteen years now Ruth had borne with a bitter, unbroken spirit the results of her willfulness. Her husband had been dead several years, but his influence on her life remained. She was still attractive and could have married again had she wished. She had money enough to have permitted her to live a life of varied interests and pleasures. But the bitterness of her spirit poisoned her entire outlook. The sins of one man had aroused her contempt for all men. The energies that should have been used for good were consumed in hatred and scorn, and the laugh that had once been so gay was now cynically sharp.
And so a tone of regret crept into Alex Stewart's voice as he admitted that baby Eleanor, even in such small matters as lost bottles and straying balls, seemed to partake of the determination of Ruth Stewart Edwards. He brushed back a soft golden ringlet from the baby brow and spoke again.
"A strong will is an asset if rightly used. Ruth could have become a beautiful woman—probably a happy wife and mother all these years—if she had used that will in a better way. I don't want to break Eleanor's will, but it's going to be a job to control it!"
Jean, the wife and mother, straightened the blanket over the little one and, as they turned away, said in a tone of quiet faith, "We must pray much for our lovely baby, that the heavenly Father will guide her and give us wisdom to train her."
Before the little playpen was exchanged for a walker, however, a short trip away from home ended in a tragic railroad accident, and baby Eleanor was robbed of both parents.
Aunt Ruth was the only relative left in the world to care for the mite. At first she was appalled at the task that confronted her of rearing the little orphan. But the heart that had thought itself closed forever to affection opened slowly but surely to the touch of baby hands, and soon Aunt Ruth was lavishing upon this delectable little morsel of humanity all the pent-up love of her intense nature. She began to plan and dream again—she who had thought her dreams were all past. She was glad now for the wealth that had only burdened her before, for with it she could give Eleanor every opportunity that she had once desired for herself. This baby was hers—all hers—and she would mold and shape the young life in the way she desired it to be, and no one would tell her no!
Then began the struggle that was to last more than twenty years. And yet, despite the clash of wills, there was strong mutual love between the little girl and her aunt. The sore and bitter heart of Ruth Edwards attached itself fervently to the orphaned child, and she poured out the accumulated affection of her childless life on Eleanor, who returned in full measure all her devotion. Ruth learned to play games with Eleanor; they worked together over difficult arithmetic problems; they laughed over amusing incidents at school or at play.
And they fought. Not with angry words or loud disputation but with strong determination on both sides. Of course, when Eleanor was tiny, Aunt Ruth usually had her way, and the clashes were rare, for so great was her love for this little girl that she crossed her only when necessary. And when Eleanor did set her heart on the nice, bright red penny candy in the store window, Auntie took away the sting of refusal by buying a whole box of delicious and expensive chocolates. However, there were several memorable clashes that left both participants really ill.
One never-to-be-forgotten struggle came when Eleanor was in the first grade and sat in front of a redheaded, toothless, and altogether fascinating little boy named Jackie Dennis. Jackie was entranced by Eleanor's bobbing brown curls and showed his devotion by small gifts of gum balls and pencils, and one day he presented her with a ring he got for a penny at the school store.
The little gilt ring precipitated a crisis, for when Eleanor arrived home from school that afternoon she proudly displayed it to Aunt Ruth and made the startling announcement that when she grew up she was going to marry Jackie Dennis. She was totally unprepared for the storm that descended upon her head.
"You must never think of that boy again. You must not walk to school with him anymore; you mustn't even speak to him," Aunt Ruth commanded.
"I will if I want to," replied the stubborn little girl.
"You must not."
"But I will."
This struggle lasted for weeks and was still going when school closed. But it was pushed into the background by the fun of leaving the big city for the cabin in the woods to which they retired each summer.
In September Aunt Ruth had a surprise for Eleanor. They were not going back to the big house on the boulevard. Aunt Ruth had bought a beautiful new brick bungalow in the suburbs. One of the very nicest things about it, Aunt Ruth told Eleanor, was that Mike and Mary, the couple who served as handyman and cook, would live by themselves in an apartment over the garage, thus leaving the two of them living alone together. "And that's what we've always wanted, isn't it, dear?"
To Eleanor the new home was almost as good as fairyland. The lawn was lovely and green and the garden full of flowers. There were big trees with many kinds of birds, and inside the house Eleanor had the prettiest little room all to herself.
Of course, Eleanor had to go to a new school. She had been living in the new home a whole month before she realized that Aunt Ruth had won and she wasn't seeing Jackie Dennis anymore. Then she was furious.
"I'll run away," she resolved. "I'll find my way back to the boulevard and find Jackie and go live with him forever and ever."
But before she had time to carry out her plan, Aunt Ruth gave her a bicycle, which she very much wanted, and in the fun of learning to ride, her anger faded. She met new playmates at school, too, and with so many new and engrossing interests to engage her attention, Jackie's red hair and gum balls were at last forgotten. But a bit of resentment lay in her heart.
Then, when Eleanor started high school, she met Dale Truman. The freshman class was planning a Halloween party in the gym, and Dale asked Eleanor to attend with him. In delight she came to Aunt Ruth.
"Aunt Ruth, our class is going to have a Halloween party in the gym, and the nicest boy, Dale Truman, asked if he could take me to it. May I go with him?"
Her heart sank as she read her aunt's face even before she spoke.
"No, Eleanor, I do not think it would be wise. If you would like to have some of your girlfriends in for a Halloween party at home, you may."
"Now, Eleanor, you mustn't try to argue. Auntie knows what is best for you," she said with a disarming smile.
"I don't care. I want to go. All the girls are going, and lots of them are going with boys. I think it's mean!"
"We won't discuss it any further," said Ruth Edwards, setting her lips in determination.
That night Eleanor sobbed out her disappointment into her pillow. Suddenly she remembered something she had not thought of in a long time: a little boy with his front teeth out, looking in vain for her at school. The long-buried resentment flamed up. She was naturally a straightforward child, and although very determined in her efforts to achieve her desires, she had always struggled openly and fought fairly. Lying in bed, with her cheeks wet with tears, she looked back over many incidents of her childhood and realized that most of the lovely toys and delightful trips had been bribes.
"Mike would say she drew red herrings across the trail," she whispered. "She's been cheating all these years, and the only way I'll ever get anything like other girls is to do some cheating myself! It won't do any good to coax. She won't change her mind. If she'd sell the house in town and move out here just to get rid of Jackie, she'd take me to Europe to keep me away from Dale! I'll just have to cheat too."
This sudden determination made her cheeks flush in the dark. But, although she knew it was wrong, she did not consider giving up. Lying in bed she made her plan and finally fell asleep with tears on her cheeks.
Several days passed, and the party was not mentioned. Then one morning at the breakfast table, Eleanor asked casually, "Auntie, may I stay all night tonight at Rose Martello's? She needs help with her English. Her folks don't speak English, and it's hard for her."
"Who is Rose Martello, dear?" the careful Aunt Ruth questioned.
"Don't you remember? She's the tiny girl with black curls who played the piano so beautifully when the girls were here yesterday."
"Oh, yes, I remember. But is she the kind of girl I would want you to associate with intimately? And does her mother want you? Rose seems all right, but I don't like your going there when I've never met her mother."
"She is a lovely girl, Auntie," Eleanor hurried on. "Mrs. Martello is nice too. We've been there twice after school. But they are Italians, you know, and her mother doesn't talk much English. She is bashful because of that, so even if you did call on her she would probably not want to see you. When Americans come there she stays in the kitchen and makes Rose talk to them. But she has been so nice to us girls, and I'd really like to help Rose."
And so Aunt Ruth consented, not knowing that Eleanor had selected Rose of all her friends as the most likely partner in deceit and had offered her a dollar for each night she might spend at the Martellos'. Good Mrs. Martello, who made friends of every casual acquaintance, would hardly have recognized herself in the descriptions Aunt Ruth received—descriptions of herself that kept that lady from calling on her—and would have been shocked to know of the money that Rose was spending on ice cream and candy.
And since Aunt Ruth, always proper, insisted on Eleanor's returning Rose's hospitality, this bargain was very profitable for Rose in all respects. Her marks at school, too, rose steadily, for Eleanor—to mollify her conscience—insisted that Rose really study on nights when she was paying dollars of self-denial out of her allowance for the privilege of attending this or that party with a boy from school.
At another time Aunt Ruth might not have been deceived by this clumsy subterfuge, but she was relieved to have the subject of Dale dropped so readily and was glad to have Eleanor transfer her interest to a girlfriend-even a foreign girl. She would hardly have believed it if she had been told that Eleanor's head was not bent over a book in the Martellos' parlor but was tossing gaily at Dale's quips at a party or basketball game.
Eleanor tired of Dale, of course, but then there were Gordon and John and Allan and others in succession. She was pretty, and she was popular—even despite a very strict code of behavior which she had imposed on herself to help salve her conscience. "When I'm out with the boys I'll act as if Aunt Ruth were along," she told herself, and with characteristic determination, she did it. And so the boys respected her and thought of her not only as a lot of fun but as the right kind of girl too.
All through high school Eleanor deceived and disobeyed, even though she loved Aunt Ruth and they had wonderful times together.
"Aunt Ruth is grand," Eleanor commented to one of her girlfriends, "but on this one subject she is just plain crazy. The easiest way to get along with her is not to tell her. Then her feelings aren't hurt, and we don't have any trouble."
Years later Eleanor was to look back to these high school episodes with heartsick regret, realizing that it was the foundation for the heartache and tragedy of later years. It might have led to disastrous results at the time, had it not been that in her senior year she found a new interest and discovered a new world—the world that lives and moves outside and beyond the sight of ordinary human life, the marvelous world seen through the lens of a microscope.
The new science teacher at the high school had a captivating personality. He loved his work and with fascinating skill opened to Eleanor's view marvelous works of nature. He recognized in her a real student and was delighted to give extra time and effort to her. Professor Thorne showed her how the wonders seen through the microscope could be caught and held by the camera, and from that time on, Rose and the boyfriends were forgotten. Aunt Ruth was delighted with this hobby and offered to Eleanor added inducements of money and equipment. One whole room in the attic was equipped for photography, and between this and the wonderful laboratory at school, Eleanor's days and evenings were divided. She and Aunt Ruth went on trips to secure specimens, and it was not long before Aunt Ruth was as enthusiastic over her new world of science as was Eleanor herself.
One day Eleanor confided her hopes for the future. "I am going to be a scientist, Auntie—a really good one, of course. I get sick of folks talking as if the boys would all have careers and the girls would only get married. I'll show them! I'm better now at this than any of the boys, and I'm going to be the best there is. No husband or babies for me!"
Ruth Edwards's bitter heart was gladdened by that remark. She determined to send Eleanor to the best colleges and universities in America. Then they would go abroad. There would be no limit to the opportunities Eleanor would be given to encourage her in the work she had chosen to do. At long last Ruth had real use for her accumulated wealth and was glad it had not been dissipated by extravagance. Eleanor—educated, talented, brilliant—would show the world the superiority of the intellect of woman over that of mere man. "No husband or babies for me!" Ruth still heard the words. If Eleanor had chosen science as her first and only love, then she should have every opportunity to worship at its shrine!
So she proposed. But God, as always, disposed. That fall, when Eleanor was ready for college, Ruth was not well. A visit to her doctor sent her home with troubled brow. Eleanor, not being able to extract much information from her, went to see the doctor herself and left with the knowledge that Ruth had an incurable disease. At least the doctor said it was incurable. But they would not believe that it was so. They consulted other doctors. So began a struggle of four long years against death. They visited hospital after hospital, clinic after clinic. As a last hope they took a trip of three thousand miles and returned with heavy hearts and saddened faces, not to the brick bungalow but to the cottage in the woods. There, with faithful Mary and Mike, they awaited the inevitable.
Excerpted from Not My Will by Francena H. Arnold. Copyright © 1974 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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