The Rev. Dr. B was a good minister of the gospel, in Scotland. One cold day in winter, he had a pile of wood sawed, and split, in his wood shed. Late that night, as he was sitting in his study, he thought he heard a rattling sound near the wood, in that pile. He went softly to the window, and peeping through the curtains, he saw a woman filling her apron with the wood, which she took hastily away. He sat down again, and went on with his study. Very soon he heard the same noise. He looked again, and there was the same woman filling her apron again, as full as it would hold. He sighed, as he went back to his study, thinking to himself, “Well, I suppose it is some poor creature whose fire has gone out, and whose children are perhaps crying on account of the cold. But I wish she had come and asked for the wood, instead of yielding to the temptation of Satan by stealing it.” Still he felt more of pity than of anger towards the poor woman.
He had not been studying long before he was startled by a heavy crash of falling wood. He hastened to the window, and there he saw the same poor woman. She had brought back one of the loads of wood she had taken away, and had thrown it down on the pile where it belonged. He now felt more pity for the woman than ever, and a greater interest in her. He thought what a conflict must have been going on in that woman’s mind, and he was glad to see that it was likely to end in the right way. He waited a while at the window, to see if she would come back again, or whether she was going to divide the matter with Satan, and make it a sort of drawn battle, in which neither side would be wholly beaten, and neither get a decided victory. But very soon, back she came again, with the other load of wood. She threw it down on the pile. Then she shook her apron vigorously, as much as to say, “There, go. Anything stolen brings a curse, I know; and I don’t want even the dust of that curse to cling to me.”
Then the doctor slipped quietly downstairs, and followed the poor woman at a distance, that he might know where she went, and who she was. He watched her till he saw the cottage she went into. Then he knew all about her. It was Mrs. W, who belonged to his church.
She was a poor widow, a good woman, but struggling in great poverty to bring up a large family of children. And he was delighted to think that, though at first Satan had got the advantage over her, yet she had rallied so nobly to the fight, and had driven him clear off the field. She had gained a splendid victory over him.
The first thing after breakfast, the next morning, the doctor went to Mr. C , who owned a wood yard, and ordered him to send a load of his best wood, sawed and split, to Mrs. W but not, on any account, to let her know where it came from. Of course the doctor said not a word about what had taken place the night before.
Mr. C promised to keep the secret about the load of wood. But Mr. C’s carter happened to be within hearing when this conversation took place. He had not promised to keep the secret, and did not feel bound to do so. He took the load of wood to Mrs. W ‘s cottage, and threw it down before her door. He told her it was all paid for by a friend. She wanted to know who had sent it. The carter told her that Mr. C, his employer, had directed him to say that he had strict orders not to tell where it came from. But when he found how anxious she was to know who sent the wood, he said to her, “I’ll tell you about it, Mrs. W.
You see, I happened to be near the office this morning, when the order was left for this wood, and I heard all that was said about it; but, as I didn’t promise not to tell, I feel at liberty to do so. It was Dr. B , the minister, who sent the wood.”
Poor Mrs. W! How badly she felt when she heard this! She was sure that her minister had seen her stealing his wood the night before. She resolved to go and see him, to confess the wrong she had done, and ask his forgiveness, as well as to thank him for his great kindness in sending her the wood. She went at once. She expressed her gratitude for his kind present. With many tears she told him how Satan had taken advantage of her poverty and want to tempt her to take the wood; and how at first she had yielded to the temptation, and had broken the eighth commandment.
“But,” she added, “though my house was dark and cold, and my heart was full of sorrow at the sight of my poor shivering little ones, I could not keep the wood, when I had taken it. My conscience would not let me. O sir! Will you forgive me?”
The doctor could not keep the tears back from his own eyes, as he pressed her hand, and said, “Please don’t say any more about it, my good friend. I saw you struggling with Satan last night, and you beat him in two fair stand-up fights. May God bless you, and give you the victory in every temptation!”