In a large and elegant mansion dwelt a wealthy man who had three lovely daughters. The house was built on an eminence upon the banks of a river which wound like a thread of silver through the valleys for many miles. Afar from the mansion were a large number of cottages, in which dwelt carpenters, shipbuilders, gardeners, and some of every trade. Most of them were good and honest people, though tinged with the love of earthly gains, and many of them, too, often crushed many of the soul’s finer and better emotions in the greedy love of material things. The owner of the mansion sorrowed over this failing of theirs, and, to rid them of it, devised a plan by which to give those who wished an opportunity to be led by their better nature, and forget, for the time, self and gain.
Accordingly, he told his daughters to deck themselves in their richest apparel and ornaments, which were rare and choice, and then to throw over the whole large and unsightly cloaks, so that the disguise might be perfect, and conceal all the splendor beneath. To each he gave a purse filled with gold to bestow upon the one who should welcome and give them shelter.
At evening he went forth with them to the narrow street, and bade them knock at the doors of the cottages, while he waited outside, and see who would admit and give food and shelter to travelers in need. They obeyed him, and first approached a dimly-lighted cottage. Making known their presence by a gentle rap, the door was opened by a woman of large and coarse features, whose eyes had no welcome in their rude stare. She scarcely waited for the words of the travelers to be spoken, ere she gruffly answered, “No: we have neither room nor food for beggars,” and closed the door abruptly.
They applied next upon the opposite side, saying to the man who opened the door, “Can you feed and give shelter to three weary travelers?”
“We have no food to waste, and our home is scarcely large enough for ourselves,” he replied, and quickly shut the door upon them.
The same answer came from all, and they turned to their parent, saying, “Shall we try any more?”
“There are but two more: try all; see if one at least can be found not wholly selfish; and, as you are not truly in need of their bounties, you can well afford to importune and be denied.” He then guided his children to the end of the street.
“This one looks quite gay compared with the others,” said the eldest of the daughters, as they all looked on the well-lit rooms, and beheld forms flitting to and fro within.
“We shall certainly be admitted here,” said the others.
But the parent kept his council, and was invisible while they rapped at the door, which was opened by a bright and rather stylish-looking girl, who gazed wonderingly on the group.
“Can you give us shelter for a night, and a little food?” asked the eldest.
“Not we, indeed: we have just spent all our money for a merry-making for our brother Jack, who has just come home from sea. Not we: we have not one bit of room to spare; for all our friends are here.”
“But we are weary, and ask rest and food,” pleaded one of the three; and her eyes wandered to the well-filled tables.
“Yes: but what we have is for our company and ourselves—not for beggars,” said the girl, and she closed the door upon them.
“Shall we try again, father?” they said to their parent.
“Just this one, which is the last,” he answered, leading them to the door of a cot where dwelt a poor and lonely widow.
They paused at the threshold, for a voice was heard within, low and sweet; yet they heard the words of the kneeling form, in deep petition, saying, “Give me, O Father, my daily bread; forgive me my trespasses, and lead me not into temptation. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and forever. Amen.”
She arose at that instant. A gentle knock was heard. Without delay she opened it, and smiled upon the strangers, who asked for more than she could give.
“I have shelter, but no food; yet enter and be welcome,” she said, and opened wide the door.
They passed in, and left their parent, whom they knew would soon follow, outside.
“I grieve that I have no food to offer thee,” said the woman, “but come to my fireside; for the evening air is chilly, and you must need rest.”
She placed for them her only chairs beside the fire, saying, “I am glad you come to-night; for this is my last fuel, and to-morrow eve it will be all dark and chill within my dwelling.”
The eldest bowed to the woman gracefully, and threw aside her cloak; and at once the others followed her example.
Great was the surprise of the widow. She thought her senses had departed, and, for an instant, had no voice, no words, naught but wonder beaming from her eyes, so sudden and great was the surprise. Another gentle rap at that instant seemed to help her to find herself, and she was hastening to open it, when the eldest one said, “It is our father, come to thank you for admitting angels in disguise; for, though not angels in form, we hope to prove such by our administration to your needs.” And they laid upon her only table the purses of gold.
“He will ever give daily bread to those who forget not to entertain strangers,” said their father to the widow, as they took their leave of one who had not refused to receive strangers.
The next morning there was great commotion in the neighborhood; for the widow had been seen to exchange gold for bread at one of the shops; but greater still was their surprise when she told them, as they flocked around her dwelling, that it was given by three strangers who had asked for bread and shelter the night before.
“Three strangers!” exclaimed they all. “They must be the same that called at our dwellings. What fools we were that we did not let them in!”
“Nay: it but shows how dead you were in sympathy for human need,” spoke a voice among them, which, as they turned, they found to be that of the owner of the mansion.
Shame and confusion came over their faces; for he had long been their benefactor, both in words of counsel and deeds of kindness. Their eyes fell to the ground, as he in gentle tones chided them for their lack of kindness and want of faith in the Father’s love. “He who giveth not in another’s need shall receive none in his own,” he continued; “and let the lesson taught you by the experience you have just had, and the example of the poor widow, last you through all the years of your life; for she refused not the strangers whom you turned from your doors the shelter which they apparently needed.”
“But they were not cold and hungry,” said one of the group.
“The demand upon your sympathies was just the same; for you knew not to the contrary,” he answered, and they could not but feel the truth of his words.
The lesson was not lost; for in after years they grew less mercenary, more kindly of heart, and never again closed their doors to strangers asking aid.
Strangers by J S Adams in Allegories of Life
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