E-text prepared by Al Haines
The Works of Eugene Field
The Writings in Prose and Verse of Eugene Field
SECOND BOOK OF TALES
[Frontispiece: Eugene Field. Etched by W. H. W. Bicknell.]
Charles Scribner's Sons New York 1911
Copyright, 1896, by Julia Sutherland Field.
The tales down to and including "The Werewolf" in this volume have been selected from those which remained unpublished in book form at the time of Mr. Field's death. It was also thought desirable to take from "Culture's Garland," and to incorporate in this volume, such sketches as seemed most likely to prove of permanent value and of interest as illustrating Mr. Field's earlier manner; and these, eight in number, form the latter part of the book.
Of all American poets Field, it seems to me, best understood the heart of a child. Other sweet singers have given us the homely life of the Western cabin, the unexpected tenderness of the mountaineer, the loyalty and quaint devotion of the negro servant, but to Field alone, and in preeminent degree, was given that keen insight into child nature, that compassion for its faults, that sympathy with its sorrows and that delight in its joyous innocence which will endear him to his race as long as our language is read.
His poems too always kindle afresh that spark of child-life which still lies smouldering in the hearts of us all, no matter how poor and sorrowful our beginnings. As we read, how the old memories come back to us! Old hopes, rosy with the expectation of the indefinite and unknowable. Old misgivings and fears; old rompings and holidays and precious idle hours. We know them all, and we know how true they are. We remember in our own case the very hour and day, and how it all happened and why, and what came of it,—joys and sorrows as real as our keenest experiences since.
This is a heritage plentiful and noble,—and this heritage is Field's.
In the last paragraphs of that tender prose poem of "Bill—the Lokil Editor"—one of the Profitable Tales—Bill—"alluz fond uv children 'nd birds 'nd flowers"—Bill, who was like the old sycamore that the lightning had struck,—with the vines spread all around and over it, covering its scars and splintered branches—occurs this passage:
"——That's Bill perhaps as he stands up f'r jedgment—a miserable, tremblin', 'nd unworthy thing, perhaps, but twined about, all over, with singin' and pleadin' little children—and that is pleasin' in God's sight, I know."
If Field had nothing else to bring he could say truthfully as he faced his Master:
"I followed in your footsteps. I loved the children and the children loved me."
F. HOPKINSON SMITH.
The Tales in this Book
HUMIN NATUR' ON THE HAN'BUL 'ND ST. JO.
THE MOTHER IN PARADISE
MR. AND MRS. BLOSSOM
DEATH AND THE SOLDIER
THE 'JININ' FARMS
THE ANGEL AND THE FLOWERS
THE CHILD'S LETTER
THE SINGER MOTHER
THE TWO WIVES
THE WOOING OF MISS WOPPIT
SWEET-ONE-DARLING AND THE DREAM-FAIRIES
SWEET-ONE-DARLING AND THE MOON-GARDEN
SAMUEL COWLES AND HIS HORSE ROYAL
A MARVELLOUS INVENTION
THE STORY OF XANTHIPPE
BAKED BEANS AND CULTURE
MLLE. PRUD'HOMME'S BOOK
THE DEMAND FOR CONDENSED MUSIC
LEARNING AND LITERATURE
"DIE WALKUeRE" UND DER BOOMERANGELUNGEN
THE WORKS OF SAPPHO
HUMIN NATUR' ON THE HAN'BUL 'ND ST. JO
Durin' war times the gorillas hed torn up most uv the cypress ties an' used 'em for kindlin' an' stove wood, an' the result wuz that when the war wuz over there wuz n't anythink left uv the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo but the rollin' stock 'nd the two streaks uv rails from one end uv the road to the other. In the spring uv '67 I hed to go out into Kansas; and takin' the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo at Palmyry Junction, I wuz n't long in findin' out that the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo railroad wuz jist about the wust cast of rollin' prairer I ever struck.
There wuz one bunk left when I boarded the sleepin'-car, and I hed presence uv mind 'nuff to ketch on to it. It wuz then just about dusk, an' the nigger that sort uv run things in the car sez to me: "Boss," sez he, "I 'll have to get you to please not to snore to-night, but to be uncommon quiet."
"What for?" sez I. "Hain't I paid my two dollars, an' hain't I entitled to all the luxuries uv the outfit?"
Then the nigger leant over an' told me that Colonel Elijah Gates, one uv the directors uv the road, an' the richest man in Marion County, wuz aboard, an' it wuz one uv the rules uv the company not to do anythink to bother him or get him to sell his stock.
The nigger pointed out Colonel Gates, 'nd I took a look at him as he sot readin' the "Palmyry Spectator." He wuz one of our kind uv people—long, raw-boned, 'nd husky. He looked to be about sixty—may be not quite on to sixty. He wuz n't bothered with much hair onto his head, 'nd his beard was shaved, all except two rims or fringes uv it that ran down the sides uv his face 'nd met underneath his chin. This fringe filled up his neck so thet he did n't hev to wear no collar, 'nd he had n't no jewelry about him excep' a big carnelian bosom pin that hed the picture uv a woman's head on it in white. His specs sot well down on his nose, 'nd I could see his blue eyes over 'em—small eyes, but kind ur good-natured. Between his readin' uv his paper 'nd his eatin' plug terbacker he kep' toler'ble busy till come bedtime. The rest on us kep' as quiet as we could, for we knew it wuz an honor to ride in the same sleepin'-car with the richest man in Marion County 'nd a director uv the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo to boot.
Along 'bout eight o'clock the colonel reckoned he 'd tumble into bed. When he 'd drawed his boots 'nd hung up his coat 'nd laid in a fresh hunk uv nat'ral leaf, he crawled into the best bunk, 'nd presently we heerd him sleepin'. There wuz nuthin' else for the rest uv us to do but to foller suit, 'nd we did.
It must have been about an hour later—say along about Prairer City—that a woman come aboard with a baby. There war n't no bunk for her, but the nigger allowed that she might set back near the stove, for the baby 'peared to be kind ov sick-like, 'nd the woman looked like she had been cryin'. Whether it wuz the jouncin' uv the car, or whether the young one wuz hungry or hed a colic into it, I did n't know, but anyhow the train had n't pulled out uv Prairer City afore the baby began to take on. The nigger run back as fast as he could, 'nd told the young woman that she 'd have to keep that baby quiet because Colonel 'Lijy Gates, one uv the directors uv the road, wuz in the car 'nd wunt be disturbed. The young woman caught up the baby scart-like, 'nd talked soothin' to it, 'nd covered its little face with her shawl, 'nd done all them things thet women do to make babies go to sleep.
But the baby would cry, and, in spite of all the young woman 'nd the nigger could do, Colonel Elijah Gates heard the baby cryin', and so he waked up. First his two blue yarn socks come through the curtains, 'nd then his long legs 'nd long body 'nd long face hove into sight. He come down the car to the young woman, 'nd looked at her over his specs. Did n't seem to be the least bit mad; jest solemn 'nd bizness like.
"My dear madam," sez he to the young woman, "you must do sumpin' to keep that child quiet. These people have all paid for their bunks, 'nd they are entitled to a good night's sleep. Of course I know how 't is with young children—will cry sometimes—have raised 'leven uv 'em myself, 'nd know, all about 'em. But as a director uv the Han'-bul 'nd St. Jo I 've got to pertect the rights of these other folks. So jist keep the baby quiet as you kin."
Now, there war n't nothin' cross in the colonel's tone; the colonel wuz as kind 'nd consid'rit as could be expected uv a man who hed so much responsibility a-restin' onto him. But the young woman was kind uv nervous, 'nd after the colonel went back 'nd got into his bunk the young woman sniffled and worrited and seemed like she had lost her wits, 'nd the baby kep' cryin' jist as hard as ever.
Waal, there wuz n't much sleepin' to be done in that car, for what with the baby cryin', 'nd the young woman a-sayin', "Oh, dear!" 'nd "Oh, my!" and the nigger a-prancin' round like the widder bewitched—with all this goin' on, sleep wuz out uv the question. Folks began to wake up 'nd put their heads outern their bunks to see what wuz the doggone matter. This made things pleasanter for the young woman. The colonel stood it as long as he could, and then he got up a second time 'nd come down the car 'nd looked at the young woman over his specs.
"Now, as I wuz tellin' you afore," sez he, "I hain't makin' no complaint uv myself, for I 've raised a family of 'leven children, 'nd I know all about 'em. But these other folks here in the car have paid for a good night's sleep, 'nd it 's my duty as a director uv the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo to see that they get it. Seems to me like you ought to be able to keep that child quiet—you can't make me believe that there's any use for a child to be carryin' on so. Sumpin 's hurtin' it—I know sumpin 's hurtin' it by the way it cries. Now, you look 'nd see if there ain't a pin stickin' into it somewhere; I 've raised 'leven children, 'nd that 's jist the way they used to cry when there wuz a pin stickin' em."
He reckoned he 'd find things all right this time, 'nd he went back to his bunk feelin' toler'ble satisfied with himself. But the young woman could n't find no pin stickin' the baby, 'nd, no matter how much she stewed and worrited, the baby kep' right on cryin', jest the same. Holy smoke! but how that baby did cry.
Now, I reckoned that the colonel would be gettin' almighty mad if this thing kep' up much longer. A man may raise 'leven children as easy as rollin' off 'n a log, 'nd yet the twelfth one, that is n't his at all, may break him. There is ginerally a last straw, even when it comes to the matter uv children.
So when the colonel riz feet foremost for the third time outern his bunk that night—or, I should say, mornin', for it was mighty near mornin' now—we looked for hail Columby.
"Look a-here, my good woman," sez he to the young woman with the baby, "as I wuz tellin' you afore, you must do sumpin to keep that child quiet. It 'll never do to keep all these folks awake like this. They 've paid for a good night's sleep, 'nd it 's my duty as a director uv the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo to pertest ag'in' this disturbance. I 've raised a family uv 'leven children, 'nd I know, as well as I know anythink, that that child is hungry. No child ever cries like that when it is n't hungry, so I insist on your nursin' it 'nd givin' us peace 'nd quiet."
Then the young woman began to sniffle.
"Law me, sir," sez the young woman, "I ain't the baby's mother—I 'm only just tendin' it."
The colonel got pretty mad then; his face got red 'nd his voice kind uv trembled—he wuz so mad.
"Where is its mother?" sez the colonel. "Why is n't she here takin' care uv this hungry 'nd cryin' child like she ought to be?"
"She 's in the front car, sir," sez the young woman, chokin' up. "She 's in the front car—in a box, dead; we 're takin' the body 'nd the baby back home."
Now what would you or me have done—what would any man have done then 'nd there? Jest what the colonel done.
The colonel did n't wait for no second thought; he jest reached out his big bony hands 'nd he sez, "Young woman, gi' me that baby"—sez it so quiet 'nd so gentle like that seemed like it wuz the baby's mother that wuz a-speakin'.
The colonel took the baby, and—now, may be you won't believe me—the colonel held that baby 'nd rocked it in his arms 'nd talked to it like it had been his own child. And the baby seemed to know that it lay ag'in' a lovin' heart, for, when it heerd the ol' man's kind voice 'nd saw his smilin' face 'nd felt the soothin' rockin' uv his arms, the baby stopped its grievin' 'nd cryin', 'nd cuddled up close to the colonel's breast, 'nd begun to coo 'nd laff.
The colonel called the nigger. "Jim," sez he, "you go ahead 'nd tell the conductor to stop the train at the first farm-house. We 've got to have some milk for this child—some warm milk with sugar into it; I hain't raised a family uv 'leven children for nothin'."
The baby did n't cry no more that night; leastwise we did n't hear it if it did cry. And what if we had heerd it? Blessed if I don't think every last one of us would have got up to help tend that lonesome little thing.
That wuz more 'n twenty years ago, but I kin remember the last words I heerd the colonel say: "No matter if it does cry," sez he. "It don't make no more noise than a cricket, nohow; 'nd I reckon that being a director uv the road I kin stop the train 'nd let off anybody that don't like the way the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo does business."
Twenty years ago! Colonel Elijah Gates is sleepin' in the Palmyry buryin'-ground; likely as not the baby has growed up—leastwise the Han'bul 'nd St. Jo has; everythink is different now—everythink has changed—everythink except humin natur', 'nd that is the same, it allus has been, and it allus will be, I reckon.
THE MOTHER IN PARADISE
A mother came to the gateway of Heaven. She was aged and weary. Her body was bowed and her face was wrinkled and withered, for her burden had been the burden of care and trouble and sorrow. So she was glad to be done with life and to seek at the gateway of Heaven the fulfilment of the Promise that had been her solace through all the hard, bitter years.
An angel met the Mother at the gateway, and put her arms about the drooping figure, and spoke gracious, tender words.
"Whom seekest thou?" asked the angel.
"I seek my dear ones who came hither before me," answered the Mother. "They are very many—my father, my mother, my husband, my children—they all are here together, and for many and weary years I have lived in my loneliness, with no other thing to cheer me but the thought that I should follow them in good time."
"Yes, they are here and they await thee," said the angel. "Lean upon me, dear Mother, and I will lead thee to them."
Then the angel led the way through the garden of Paradise, and the angel and the Mother talked as they walked together.
"I am not weary now," said the Mother, "and my heart is not troubled."
"It is the grace of Heaven that restoreth thee, dear Mother," quoth the angel. "Presently thou shalt be filled with the new life, and thou shalt be young again; and thou shalt sing with rapture, and thy soul shall know the endless ecstasy of Heaven."
"Alas, I care not to be young again," saith the Mother. "I care only to find and to be forever with my beloved ones."
As they journeyed in their way a company came to meet them. Then the Mother saw and knew her dear ones—even though the heavenly life had glorified their countenances, the Mother knew them, and she ran to greet them, and there was great joy to her and to them. Meanwhile the angel kept steadfastly at her side.
Now the Mother, when she had embraced her dear ones, looked at each of them separately once more, and then she said: "Ye are indeed my beloved—my mother, my father, my husband, and my children! But there is one who should be of your company whom I do not see—my babe, my little helpless babe that came hither alone so many, many years ago. My heart fainteth, my breast yearneth for that dear little lamb of mine! Come, let us go together and search for her; or await me here under these pleasant trees while I search and call in this fair garden for my dear, lost little babe!"
The others answered never a word, but the angel said: "I will go with thee, Mother, and together we shall find thy child."
As they went on their way the angel said: "Shall I tell thee of myself? For I was a little helpless babe when I came hither to this fair garden and into this heavenly life."
"Perchance thou knowest her, my precious lambkin!" cried the Mother.
"I was a babe when I came hither," said the angel. "See how I am grown and what happiness hath been mine! The compassion of divinity hath protected and fostered me, and hath led me all these years in the peace that passeth all human understanding. God hath instructed me in wisdom, and He shall instruct thee, too; for all who come hither are as children in His sight, and they shall grow in wisdom and in grace eternally."
"But my babe—my own lost little one whom I have not held in these arms for so many weary years—shall she not still be my little babe, and shall I not cradle her in my bosom?" asked the Mother.
"Thy child shall be restored to thee," said the angel; "for she yearneth for thee even as thou yearnest for her. Only with this difference, dear Mother: Thy child hath known, in the grace of heavenly wisdom, that at the last thy earthly sorrow should surely be rewarded with the joys of the endless reunion in Paradise!"
"Then she hath thought of me and longed for me to come!" cried the Mother. "And my lost babe shall be restored and shall know her mother again!"
"Ay, she loveth thee fondly," said the angel, "and she hath awaited thy coming, lo, these many years. Presently thine eyes shall be opened and thou shalt see her standing before thee in her heavenly raiment whiter than snow, and around her neck thou shalt see her wearing most precious pearls—the tears which thou hast shed, oh lonely Mother! and which are the pearls the little ones in Heaven gather up and cherish as an adornment most pleasing unto God and them."
Then the Mother felt that her eyes were opened, and she turned and looked upon the angel. And the Mother saw that the angel was her lost beloved child whom she was seeking: not the helpless babe that she had thought to find, but a maiden of such heavenly beauty and gentleness as only the dwellers in Paradise behold and know. And the Mother spread her arms, and gave a great cry of joy, and folded her very dear one to her bosom.
Then presently they returned together to the others. And there was rapturous acclaim in Paradise, and it was to God's sweet pleasance that it was so. For a Mother and her beloved communed in the holy companionship of love everlasting.
MR. AND MRS. BLOSSOM
The name we meant to call her was Annette, for that was a name I always liked. 'Way back, before I got married, I made up my mind that if I ever had a daughter I should call her Annette. My intention was good enough, but circumstances of a peculiar nature led me to abandon the idea which in anticipation afforded me really a lot of pleasure. My circumstances have always been humble. I say this in no spirit of complaint. We have very much to be thankful for, and we are particularly grateful for the blessing which heaven has bestowed upon us in the person of our dear child—our daughter who comes from school to-night to spend Thanksgiving with us and with our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Blossom. I must tell you how we became acquainted with the Blossoms.
When our baby was two years old I used to sit of mornings, before going to my work, on the front steps, watching the baby playing on the sidewalk. This pleasantest half-hour of the day I divided between the little one and my pipe. One morning, as I sat there smoking and as the little one was toddling to and fro on the sidewalk, a portly, nice-looking old gentleman came down the street, and, as luck would have it, the baby got right in his path, and before I could get to her she tangled herself all up with the old gentleman's legs and cane. The old gentleman seemed very much embarrassed, but, bless your soul! the baby liked it!
"A pretty child—a beautiful child!" said the old gentleman, and then he inquired: "Boy or girl?"
"Girl," says I, and I added: "Two years old and weighs thirty pounds."
"That must be a great deal for a little girl to weigh," said the old gentleman, and I saw that his eyes lingered lovingly and yearningly upon the child. I am sure he wanted to say more, but all at once, as if he suddenly recollected himself, he glanced furtively up the street, and then, turning as suddenly the other way, he resumed his course downtown. I thought to myself that he was a kindly old gentleman, a trifle queer, perhaps, but of a gentle nature.
Three or four times within a week after that a similar experience with this old gentleman befell me and the baby. He would greet her cheerily; sometimes he would pat her head, and I saw that his heart warmed toward her. But all the time he talked with us he seemed to act as if he feared he was being watched, and he left us abruptly—sometimes breaking away in the middle of a sentence as if he was afraid he might say something he ought not to say. At last, however, I learned that his name was Blossom, and that Mrs. Blossom and he lived alone in a fine house up yonder in a more fashionable part of our street. In an outburst of confidence one morning he told me that he was very fond of children, and that he felt that much was gone out of his life because no little one had ever come to Mary and himself.
"But," he added with an air of assumed cheerfulness, "as Mary does not like children at all, it is perhaps for the best that none has ever come to us."
I now understood why Mr. Blossom was so cautious in his attentions to our baby; he was fearful of being observed by his wife; he felt that it was his duty to humor her in her disinclination to children. I pitied the dear old gentleman, and for the same reason conceived a violent dislike for Mrs. Blossom.
But my wife Cordelia told me something one day that set my heart to aching for both the two old people.
"A sweet-looking old lady passed the house this afternoon," said Cordelia, "and took notice of baby asleep in my arms on the porch. She stopped and asked me all about her and presently she kissed her, and then I saw that she was crying softly to herself. I asked her if she had ever lost a little girl, and she said no. 'I have always been childless,' said the sweet old lady. 'In all the years of my wifehood I have besought but one blessing of heaven—the joy of maternity. My prayers are unanswered, and it is perhaps better so.' She told me then that her husband did not care for children; she could hardly reconcile his professed antipathy to them with his warm, gentle, and loyal nature; but it was well, if he did not want children, that none had come."
"What was the old lady's name?" I asked.
"Mrs. Blossom," said my wife Cordelia.
I whistled softly to myself. Then I told Cordelia of my experience with Mr. Blossom, and we wondered where and when and how this pathetic comedy of cross-purposes would end. We talked the matter over many a time after that, and we agreed that it would be hard to find an instance of deception more touching than that which we had met with in the daily life of Mr. and Mrs. Blossom. Meanwhile the two old people became more and more attached to our precious baby. Every morning brought Mr. Blossom down the street with a smile and a caress and a tender word for the little one, that toddled to meet him and overwhelm him with her innocent prattle. Every afternoon found the sweet-looking old lady in front of our house, fondling our child, and feeding her starving maternal instinct upon the little one's caresses. Each one—the old gentleman and the old lady—each one confessed by action and by word to an overwhelming love for children, yet between them stood that pitiless lie, conceived of the tenderest consideration for each other, but resulting in lifelong misery.
I tell you, it was mighty hard sometimes for Cordelia and me not to break out with the truth!
It occurred to us both that there would eventually come a time when the friendship of Mr. and Mrs. Blossom would be precious indeed to our daughter. We had great hopes of that child, and all our day-dreams involved her. She must go to school, she must be educated, she must want nothing; there was no conceivable sacrifice which Cordelia and I would not make gladly for our little girl. Would we be willing to share her love with these two childless old people, who yearned for that love and were ready to repay it with every benefit which riches can supply? We asked ourselves that question a thousand times. God helped us to answer it.
The winter set in early and suddenly. We were awakened one night by that hoarse, terrifying sound which chills the parent heart with anxiety. Our little one was flushed with fever, and there was a rattling in her throat when she breathed. When the doctor came he told us not to be frightened; this was a mild form of croup, he said. His medicines seemed to give relief, for presently the child breathed easier and slept. Next morning an old gentleman on his way downtown wondered why the baby was not out to greet him with a hilarious shout; he felt that here—all about his heart—which told him that two dimpled hands had taken hold and held him fast. An old lady came to the door that day and asked questions hurriedly and in whispers, and went away crying to herself under her veil.
When it came night again the baby was as good as well. I was rocking her and telling her a story, when the door-bell rang. A moment later—I could hardly believe my senses, but Mr. Blossom stood before me.
"I heard she was sick," said he, coming up to the cradle and taking the baby's hand awkwardly, but tenderly, in his. "You can never know how I have suffered all day, for this little one has grown very dear to me, and I dare not think what I should do if evil were to befall her. To-night I told my wife a lie. I said that I had a business engagement that called me downtown; I told her that in order to hasten here without letting her know the truth. She does not like children; I would not for the world have her know how tenderly I love this little one."
He was still talking to me in this wise when I heard a step upon the stairway. I went to the door and opened it. Mrs. Blossom stood there.
"I have worried all day about the baby," she said, excitedly. "Fortunately, Mr. Blossom was called downtown this evening, and I have run in to ask how our precious baby is. I must go away at once, for he does not care for children, you know, and I would not have him know how dear this babe has grown to me!"
Mrs. Blossom stood on the threshold as she said these words. And then she saw the familiar form of the dear old gentleman bending over the cradle, holding the baby's hands in his. Mr. Blossom had recognized his wife's voice and heard her words.
"Mary!" he cried, and he turned and faced her. She said, "Oh, John!"—that was all, and her head drooped upon her breast. So there they stood before each other, confronted by the revelation which they had thought buried in long and many years.
She was the first to speak, for women are braver and stronger than men. She accused herself and took all the blame. But he would not listen to her self-reproaches. And they spoke to each other—I know not what things, only that they were tender and sweet and of consolation. I remember that at the last he put his arm about her as if he had not been an aged man and she were not white-haired and bowed, but as if they two were walking in the springtime of their love.
"It is God's will," he said, "and let us not rebel against it. The journey to the end is but a little longer now; we have come so far together, and surely we can go on alone."
"No, not alone," I said, for the inspiration came to me then. "Our little child yonder—God has lent this lambkin to our keeping—share her love with us. There is so much, so very much you can do for her which we cannot do, for we are poor, and you are rich. Help us to care for her and share her love with us, and she shall be your child and ours."
That was the compact between us fifteen years ago, and they have been happy, very happy years. Blossom—we call her Blossom, after the dear old friends who have been so good to her and to us—she comes from school to-night, and to-morrow we shall sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with our daughter. We always speak of her as "our daughter," for, you know, she belongs now no more to Cordelia and me than to Mr. and Mrs. Blossom.
DEATH AND THE SOLDIER
A soldier, who had won imperishable fame on the battlefields of his country, was confronted by a gaunt stranger, clad all in black and wearing an impenetrable mask.
"Who are you that you dare to block my way?" demanded the soldier.
Then the stranger drew aside his mask, and the soldier knew that he was Death.
"Have you come for me?" asked the soldier. "If so, I will not go with you; so go your way alone."
But Death held out his bony hand and beckoned to the soldier.
"No," cried the soldier, resolutely; "my time is not come. See, here are the histories I am writing—no hand but mine can finish them—I will not go till they are done!"
"I have ridden by your side day and night," said Death; "I have hovered about you on a hundred battlefields, but no sight of me could chill your heart till now, and now I hold you in my power. Come!"
And with these words Death seized upon the soldier and strove to bear him hence, but the soldier struggled so desperately that he prevailed against Death, and the strange phantom departed alone. Then when he had gone the soldier found upon his throat the imprint of Death's cruel fingers—so fierce had been the struggle. And nothing could wash away the marks—nay, not all the skill in the world could wash them away, for they were disease, lingering, agonizing, fatal disease. But with quiet valor the soldier returned to his histories, and for many days thereafter he toiled upon them as the last and best work of his noble life.
"How pale and thin the soldier is getting," said the people. "His hair is whitening and his eyes are weary. He should not have undertaken the histories—the labor is killing him."
They did not know of his struggle with Death, nor had they seen the marks upon the soldier's throat. But the physicians who came to him, and saw the marks of Death's cruel fingers, shook their heads and said the soldier could not live to complete the work upon which his whole heart was set. And the soldier knew it, too, and many a time he paused in his writing and laid his pen aside and bowed his head upon his hands and strove for consolation in the thought of the great fame he had already won. But there was no consolation in all this. So when Death came a second time he found the soldier weak and trembling and emaciated.
"It would be vain of you to struggle with me now," said Death. "My poison is in your veins, and, see, my dew is on your brow. But you are a brave man, and I will not bear you with me till you have asked one favor, which I will grant."
"Give me an hour to ask the favor," said the soldier. "There are so many things—my histories and all—give me an hour that I may decide what I shall ask."
And as Death tarried, the soldier communed with himself. Before he closed his eyes forever, what boon should he ask of Death? And the soldier's thoughts sped back over the years, and his whole life came to him like a lightning flash—the companionship and smiles of kings, the glories of government and political power, the honors of peace, the joys of conquest, the din of battle, the sweets of a quiet home life upon a western prairie, the gentle devotion of a wife, the clamor of noisy boys, and the face of a little girl—ah, there his thoughts lingered and clung.
"Time to complete our work—our books—our histories," counselled Ambition. "Ask Death for time to do this last and crowning act of our great life."
But the soldier's ears were deaf to the cries of Ambition; they heard another voice—the voice of the soldier's heart—and the voice whispered: "Nellie—Nellie—Nellie." That was all—no other words but those, and the soldier struggled to his feet and stretched forth his hands and called to Death; and, hearing him calling, Death came and stood before him.
"I have made my choice," said the soldier.
"The books?" asked Death, with a scornful smile.
"No, not them," said the soldier, "but my little girl—my Nellie! Give me a lease of life till I have held her in these arms, and then come for me and I will go!"
Then Death's hideous aspect was changed; his stern features relaxed and a look of pity came upon them. And Death said, "It shall be so," and saying this he went his way.
Now the soldier's child was far away—many, many leagues from where the soldier lived, beyond a broad, tempestuous ocean. She was not, as you might suppose, a little child, although the soldier spoke of her as such. She was a wife and a mother; yet even in her womanhood she was to the soldier's heart the same little girl the soldier had held upon his knee many and many a time while his rough hands weaved prairie flowers in her soft, fair curls. And the soldier called her Nellie now, just as he did then, when she sat on his knee and prattled of her dolls. This is the way of the human heart.
It having been noised about that the soldier was dying and that Nellie had been sent for across the sea, all the people vied with each other in soothing the last moments of the famous man, for he was beloved by all and all were bound to him by bonds of patriotic gratitude, since he had been so brave a soldier upon the battlefields of his country. But the soldier did not heed their words of sympathy; the voice of fame, which, in the past, had stirred a fever in his blood and fallen most pleasantly upon his ears, awakened no emotion in his bosom now. The soldier thought only of Nellie, and he awaited her coming.
An old comrade came and pressed his hand, and talked of the times when they went to the wars together; and the old comrade told of this battle and of that, and how such a victory was won and such a city taken. But the soldier's ears heard no sound of battle now, and his eyes could see no flash of sabre nor smoke of war.
So the people came and spoke words of veneration and love and hope, and so with quiet fortitude, but with a hungry heart, the soldier waited for Nellie, his little girl.
She came across the broad, tempestuous ocean. The gulls flew far out from land and told the winds, and the winds flew further still and said to the ship: "Speed on, O ship! speed on in thy swift, straight course, for you are bearing a treasure to a father's heart!"
Then the ship leapt forward in her pathway, and the waves were very still, and the winds kept whispering "Speed on, O ship," till at last the ship was come to port and the little girl was clasped in the soldier's arms.
Then for a season the soldier seemed quite himself again, and people said "He will live," and they prayed that he might. But their hopes and prayers were vain. Death's seal was on the soldier, and there was no release.
The last days of the soldier's life were the most beautiful of all—but what a mockery of ambition and fame and all the grand, pretentious things of life they were! They were the triumph of a human heart, and what is better or purer or sweeter than that?
No thought of the hundred battlefields upon which his valor had shown conspicuous came to the soldier now—nor the echo of his eternal fame—nor even yet the murmurs of a sorrowing people. Nellie was by his side, and his hungry, fainting heart fed on her dear love and his soul went back with her to the years long agone.
Away beyond the western horizon upon the prairie stands a little home over which the vines trail. All about it is the tall, waving grass, and over yonder is the swale with a legion of chattering blackbirds perched on its swaying reeds and rushes. Bright wild flowers bloom on every side, the quail whistles on the pasture fence, and from his home in the chimney corner the cricket tries to chirrup an echo to the lonely bird's call. In this little prairie home we see a man holding on his knee a little girl, who is telling him of her play as he smooths her fair curls or strokes her tiny velvet hands; or perhaps she is singing him one of her baby songs, or asking him strange questions of the great wide world that is so new to her; or perhaps he binds the wild flowers she has brought into a little nosegay for her new gingham dress, or—but we see it all, and so, too, does the soldier, and so does Nellie, and they hear the blackbird's twitter and the quail's shrill call and the cricket's faint echo, and all about them is the sweet, subtle, holy fragrance of memory.
And so at last, when Death came and the soldier fell asleep forever, Nellie, his little girl, was holding his hands and whispering to him of those days. Hers were the last words he heard, and by the peace that rested on his face when he was dead you might have thought the soldier was dreaming of a time when Nellie prattled on his knee and bade him weave the wild flowers in her curls.
THE 'JININ' FARMS
You see Bill an' I wuz jest like brothers; wuz raised on 'jinin' farms: he wuz his folks' only child, an' I wuz my folks' only one. So, nat'ril like, we growed up together, lovin' an' sympathizin' with each other. What I knowed, I told Bill, an' what Bill knowed, he told me, an' what neither on us knowed—why, that warn't wuth knowin'!
If I had n't got over my braggin' days, I 'd allow that, in our time, Bill an' I wuz jest about the sparkin'est beaus in the township; leastwise that's what the girls thought; but, to be honest about it, there wuz only two uv them girls we courted, Bill an' I, he courtin' one an' I t'other. You see we sung in the choir, an' as our good luck would have it we got sot on the sopranner an' the alto, an' bimeby—oh, well, after beauin' 'em round a spell—a year or so, for that matter—we up an' married 'em, an' the old folks gin us the farms, 'jinin' farms, where we boys had lived all our lives. Lizzie, my wife, had always been powerful friendly with Marthy, Bill's wife; them two girls never met up but what they wuz huggin' an' kissin' an' carryin' on, like girls does; for women ain't like men—they can't control theirselves an' their feelin's, like the stronger sext does.
I tell you, it wuz happy times for Lizzie an' me and Marthy an' Bill—happy times on the 'jinin' farms, with the pastures full uv fat cattle, an' the barns full uv hay an' grain, and the twin cottages full uv love an' contentment! Then when Cyrus come—our little boy—our first an' only one! why, when he come, I wuz jest so happy an' so grateful that if I had n't been a man I guess I 'd have hollered—maybe cried—with joy. Wanted to call the little tyke Bill, but Bill would n't hear to nothin' but Cyrus. You see, he 'd bought a cyclopeedy the winter we wuz all marr'ed an' had been readin' in it uv a great foreign warrior named Cyrus that lived a long spell ago.
"Land uv Goshen, Bill!" sez I, "you don't reckon the baby 'll ever be a warrior?"
"Well, I don't know about that," sez Bill. "There 's no tellin'. At any rate, Cyrus Ketcham has an uncommon sound for a name; so Cyrus it must be, an' when he 's seven years old I 'll gin him the finest Morgan colt in the deestrick!"
So we called him Cyrus, an' he grew up lovin' and bein' loved by everybody.
Well, along about two years—or, say, eighteen months or so—after Cyrus come to us a little girl baby come to Bill an' Marthy, an' of all the cunnin' sweet little things you ever seen that little girl baby was the cunnin'est an' sweetest! Looked jest like one of them foreign crockery figgers you buy in city stores—all pink an' white, with big brown eyes here, an' a teeny, weeney mouth there, an' a nose an' ears, you'd have bet they wuz wax—they wuz so small an' fragile. Never darst hold her for fear I 'd break her, an' it liked to skeered me to death to see the way Marthy and Lizzie would kind uv toss her round an' trot her—so—on their knees or pat her—so—on the back when she wuz collicky like the wimmin folks sez all healthy babies is afore they 're three months old.
"You 're goin' to have the namin' uv her," sez Bill to me.
"Yes," sez Marthy; "we made it up atween us long ago that you should have the namin' uv our baby like we had the namin' uv yourn."
Then, kind uv hectorin' like—for I was always a powerful tease—I sez: "How would Cleopatry do for a name? or Venis? I have been readin' the cyclopeedy myself, I 'd have you know!"
An' then I laffed one on them provokin' laffs uv mine—oh, I tell ye, I was the worst feller for hectorin' folks you ever seen! But I meant it all in fun, for when I suspicioned they did n't like my funnin', I sez: "Bill," sez I, "an' Marthy, there 's only one name I 'd love above all the rest to call your little lambkin, an' that's the dearest name on earth to me—the name uv Lizzie, my wife!"
That jest suited 'em to a T, an' always after that she wuz called leetle Lizzie, an' it sot on her, that name did, like it was made for her, an' she for it. We made it up then—perhaps more in fun than anything else—that when the children growed up, Cyrus an' leetle Lizzie, they should get marr'd together, an' have both the farms an' be happy, an' be a blessin' to us all in our old age. We made it up in fun, perhaps, but down in our hearts it wuz our prayer jest the same, and God heard the prayer an' granted it to be so.
They played together, they lived together; together they tended deestrick school an' went huckleberryin'; there wuz huskin's an' spellin' bees an' choir meetin's an' skatin' an' slidin' down-hill—oh, the happy times uv youth! an' all those times our boy Cyrus an' their leetle Lizzie went lovin'ly together!
What made me start so—what made me ask of Bill one time: "Are we a-gettin' old, Bill?" that wuz the Thanksgivin' night when, as we set round the fire in Bill's front-room, Cyrus come to us, holdin' leetle Lizzie by the hand, an' they asked us could they get marr'd come next Thanksgivin' time? Why, it seemed only yesterday that they wuz chicks together! God! how swift the years go by when they are happy years!
"Reuben," sez Bill to me, "le's go down' cellar and draw a pitcher uv cider!"
You see that, bein' men, it wuz n't for us to make a show uv ourselves. Marty an' Lizzie just hugged each other an' laughed an' cried—they wuz so glad! Then they hugged Cyrus an' leetle Lizzie; and talk and laff? Well, it did beat all how them women folks did talk and laugh, all at one time! Cyrus laffed, too; an' then he said he reckoned he 'd go out an' throw some fodder in to the steers, and Bill an' I—well, we went down-cellar to draw that pitcher uv cider.
It ain't for me to tell now uv the meller sweetness uv their courtin' time; I could n't do it if I tried. Oh, how we loved 'em both! Yet, once in the early summer-time, our boy Cyrus he come to me an' said: "Father, I want you to let me go away for a spell."
"Cyrus, my boy! Go away?"
"Yes, father; President Linkern has called for soldiers; father, you have always taught me to obey the voice of Duty. That voice summons me now."
"God in heaven," I thought, "you have given us this child only to take him from us!"
But then came the second thought: "Steady, Reuben! You are a man; be a man! Steady, Reuben; be a man!"
"Yer mother," sez I, "yer mother—it will break her heart!"
"She leaves it all to you, father."
"But—the other—the other, Cyrus—leetle Lizzie—ye know!"
"She is content," sez he.
A storm swep' through me like a cyclone. It wuz all Bill's fault; that warrior-name had done it all—the cyclopeedy with its lies had pizened Bill's mind to put this trouble on me an' mine!
No, no, a thousand times no! These wuz coward feelin's an' they misbecome me; the ache herein this heart uv mine had no business there. The better part uv me called to me an' said: "Pull yourself together, Reuben Ketcham, and be a man!"
Well, after he went away, leetle Lizzie wuz more to us 'n ever before; wuz at our house all the time; called Lizzie "mother"; wuz contented, in her woman's way, willin' to do her part, waitin' an' watchin' an' prayin' for him to come back. They sent him boxes of good things every fortnight, mother an' leetle Lizzie did; there wuz n't a minute uv the day that they wuz n't talkin' or thinkin' uv him.
Well—ye—see—I must tell it my own way—he got killed. In the very first battle Cyrus got killed. The rest uv the soldiers turnt to retreat, because there wuz too many for 'em on the other side. But Cyrus stood right up; he wuz the warrior Bill allowed he wuz goin' to be; our boy wuz n't the kind to run. They tell me there wuz bullet holes here, an' here, an' here—all over his breast. We always knew our boy wuz a hero!
Ye can thank God ye wuz n't at the 'jinin' farms when the news come that he 'd got killed. The neighbors, they were there, of course, to kind uv hold us up an' comfort us. Bill an' I sot all day in the woodshed, holdin' hands an' lookin' away from each other, so; never said a word; jest sot there, sympathizin' an' holdin' hands. If we 'd been women, Bill an' I would uv cried an' beat our forrids an' hung round each other's neck, like the womenfolks done. Bein' we wuz men, we jest set there in the woodshed, away from all the rest, holdin' hands an' sympathizin'.
From that time on, leetle Lizzie wuz our daughter—our very daughter, all that wuz left to us uv our boy. She never shed a tear; crep' like a shadder 'round the house an' up the front walk an' through the garden. Her heart wuz broke. You could see it in the leetle lambkin's eyes an' hear it in her voice. Wanted to tell her sometimes when she kissed me and called me "father"—wanted to tell her, "Leetle Lizzie, let me help ye bear yer load. Speak out the sorrer that's in yer broken heart; speak it out, leetle one, an' let me help yer bear yer load!"
But it is n't for a man to have them feelin's—leastwise, it is n't for him to tell uv 'em. So I held my peace and made no sign.
She jest drooped, an' pined, an' died. One mornin' in the spring she wuz standin' in the garden, an' all at oncet she threw her arms up, so, an' fell upon her face, an' when they got to her all thet wuz left to us uv leetle Lizzie wuz her lifeless leetle body. I can't tell of what happened next—uv the funeral an' all that. I said this wuz in the spring, an' so it wuz all around us; but it wuz cold and winter here.
One day mother sez to me: "Reuben," sez she, softlike, "Marthy an' I is goin' to the buryin' ground for a spell. Don't you reckon it would be a good time for you to step over an' see Bill while we 're gone?"
"Mebbe so, mother," sez I.
It wuz a pretty day. Cuttin' across lots, I thought to myself what I 'd say to Bill to kind uv comfort him. I made it up that I 'd speak about the time when we wuz boys together; uv how we used to slide down the meetin'-house hill, an' go huckleberryin'; uv how I jumped into the pond one day an' saved him from bein' drownded; uv the spellin' school, the huskin' bees, the choir meetin's, the sparkin' times; of the swimmin' hole, the crow's nest in the pine-tree, the woodchuck's hole in the old pasture lot; uv the sunny summer days an' the snug winter nights when we wuz boys, an' happy! And then——
No, no! I could n't go on like that! I 'd break down. A man can't be a man more 'n jest so far!
Why did mother send me over to see Bill? I 'd better stayed to home! I felt myself chokin' up; if I had n't took a chew uv terbacker, I 'd 'ave been cryin', in a minute!
The nearer I got to Bill's, the worst I hated to go in. Standin' on the stoop, I could hear the tall clock tickin' solemnly inside—"tick-tock, tick-tock," jest as plain as if I wuz settin' aside uv it. The door wuz shet, yet I knew jest what Bill wuz doin'; he was settin' in the old red easy-chair, lookin' down at the floor—like this. Strange, ain't it, how sometimes when you love folks you know jest what they 're doin', without knowin' anything about it!
There warn't no use knockin', but I knocked three times; so. Did n't say a word; only jest knocked three times—that a-way. Did n't hear no answer—nothin' but the tickin' uv the tall clock; an' yet I knew that Bill heered me an' that down in his heart he was sayin' to me to come in. He never said a word, yet I knowed all the time Bill wuz sayin' for me to come in.
I opened the door, keerful-like, an' slipped in. Did n't say nothin'; jest opened the door, softly-like, an' slipped in. There set Bill jist as I knowed he was settin', lonesome-like, sad-like; his head hangin' down; he never looked up at me; never said a word—knowed I wuz there all the time, but never said a word an' never made a sign.
How changed Bill wuz—oh, Bill, how changed ye wuz! There wuz furrers in yer face an' yer hair wuz white—as white as—as white as mine! Looked small about the body, thin an' hump-shouldered.
Jest two ol' men, that's what we wuz; an' we had been boys together!
Well, I stood there a spell, kind uv hesitatin' like, neither uv us sayin' anything, until bimeby Bill he sort of made a sign for me to set down. Did n't speak, did n't lift his eyes from the floor; only made a sign, like this, in a weak, tremblin' way—that wuz all. An' I set down, and there we both set, neither uv us sayin' a word, but both settin' there, lovin' each other an' sympathize' as hard as we could, for that is the way with men.
Bimeby, like we 'd kind uv made it up aforehand, we hitched up closer, for when folks is in sorrer an' trouble they like to be closte together. But not a word all the time, an' hitchin' closer an' closer together, why, bimeby we set side by side. So we set a spell longer, lovin' an' sympathizin', as men-folks do; thinkin' uv the old times, uv our boyhood; thinkin' uv the happiness uv the past an' uv all the hopes them two children had brought us! The tall clock ticked, an' that wuz all the sound there wuz, excep' when Bill gin a sigh an' I gin a sigh, too—to lighten the load, ye know.
Not a word come from either of us: 't wuz all we could do to set there, lovin' each other an' sympathizin'!
All at oncet—for we could n't stand it no longer—all at oncet we turnt our faces t' other way an' reached out, so, an' groped with our hands, this way, till we found an' held each other fast in a clasp uv tender meanin'.
Then—God forgive me if I done a wrong—then I wisht I wuz a woman! For, bein' a woman, I could have riz up, an', standin' so, I could have cried: "Come, Bill! come, let me hold you in these arms; come, let us weep together, an' let this broken heart uv mine speak through these tremblin' lips to that broken heart uv yourn, Bill, tellin' ye how much I love ye an' sympathize with ye!"
But—no! I wuz not a woman! I wuz a man! an', bein' a man, I must let my heart break; I must hold my peace, an' I must make no sign.
THE ANGEL AND THE FLOWERS
An angel once asked the Father if he might leave heaven for a day and go down to earth to visit the flowers and birds and little children, for you must know that no other earthly things so much please the angels of heaven as do the flowers, the birds, and the little children.
"Yes," said the Father, "you may go down to earth, but be sure to stay no longer than a day; and when you come back to heaven bring me the loveliest flower you can find, that I may transplant it to my garden and love it for its beauty and its fragrance. Cherish it tenderly, that no harm may befall it."
Then the angel went down to the earth, and he came to a beautiful rose-bush upon which bloomed a rose lovelier and more fragrant than any of her kind.
"Heyday, sweet rose," said the angel; "how proudly you hold up your fair head for the winds to kiss."
"Ay, that I do," replied the rose, blushing, albeit she enjoyed the flattery. "But I do not care for these idle zephyrs nor for the wanton sunbeams that dance among my leaves all the day long. To-night a cavalier will come hither and tear me from this awkward bush with all its thorns, and kiss me with impassioned lips, and bear me to his lady, who, too, will kiss me and wear me on her bosom, next her heart. That, O angel, is the glory of the rose—to be a bearer of kisses from lover to lover, and to hear the whispered vows of the cavalier and his lady, to feel the beating of a gentle heart, and to wither on the white bosom of a wooed maiden."
Then the angel came to a lily that arose fair and majestic from its waxen leaves and bowed gracefully to each passing breeze.
"Why are you so pale and sad, dear lily?" asked the angel.
"My love is the north wind," said the lily, "and I look for him and mourn because he does not come. And when he does come, and I would smile under his caresses, he is cold and harsh and cruel to me, and I wither and die for a season, and when I am wooed back to life again by the smiles and tears of heaven, which are the sunlight and the dew, lo! he is gone."
The angel smiled sadly to hear of the trusting, virgin fidelity of the lily.
"Tell me," asked the lily, "will the north wind come to-day?"
"No," said the angel, "nor for many days yet, since it is early summer now."
But the lonely lily did not believe the angel's words. Still looking for her cruel lover, she held her pale face aloft and questioned each zephyr that hurried by. And the angel went his way.
And the angel came next to a daisy that thrived in a meadow where the cattle were grazing and the lambs were frisking.
"Nay, do not pluck me, sir," cried the daisy, merrily; "I would not exchange my home in this smiling pasture for a place upon the princess' bosom."
"You seem very blithesome, little daisy," quoth the angel.
"So I am, and why should I not be?" rejoined the daisy. "The dews bathe me with their kisses, and the stars wink merrily at me all the night through, and during the day the bees come and sing their songs to me, and the little lambs frisk about me, and the big cattle caress me gently with their rough tongues, and all seem to say 'Bloom on, little daisy, for we love you.' So we frolic here on the meadow all the time—the lambs, the bees, the cattle, the stars, and I—and we are very, very happy."
Next the angel came to a camellia which was most beautiful to look upon. But the camellia made no reply to the angel's salutation, for the camellia, having no fragrance, is dumb—for flowers, you must know, speak by means of their scented breath. The camellia, therefore, could say no word to the angel, so the angel walked on in silent sadness.
"Look at me, good angel," cried the honeysuckle; "see how adventuresome I am. At the top of this trellis dwells a ladybird, and in her cozy nest are three daughters, the youngest of whom I go to woo. I carry sweetmeats with me to tempt the pretty dear; do you think she will love me?"
The angel laughed at the honeysuckle's quaint conceit, but made no reply, for yonder he saw a purple aster he fain would question.
"Are you then so busy," asked the angel, "that you turn your head away from every other thing and look always into the sky?"
"Do not interrupt me," murmured the purple aster. "I love the great luminous sun, and whither he rolls in the blazing heavens I turn my face in awe and veneration. I would be the bride of the sun, but he only smiles down upon my devotion and beauty!"
So the angel wandered among the flowers all the day long and talked with them. And toward evening he came to a little grave which was freshly made.
"Do not tread upon us," said the violets. "Let us cluster here over this sacred mound and sing our lullabies."
"To whom do you sing, little flowers?" asked the angel.
"We sing to the child that lies sleeping beneath us," replied the violets. "All through the seasons, even under the snows of winter, we nestle close to this mound and sing to the sleeping child. None but he hears us, and his soul is lulled by our gentle music."
"But do you not often long for other occupation, for loftier service?" inquired the angel.
"Nay," said the violets, "we are content, for we love to sing to the little, sleeping child."
The angel was touched by the sweet humility of these modest flowers. He wept, and his tears fell upon the grave, and the flowers drank up the angel tears and sang more sweetly than before, but so softly that only the sleeping child heard them.
And when the angel flew back to heaven, he cherished a violet in his bosom.
THE CHILD'S LETTER
Everybody was afraid of the old governor because he was so cross and surly. And one morning he was crosser and surlier than ever, because he had been troubled for several days with a matter which he had already decided, but which many people wished to have reversed. A man, found guilty of a crime, had been imprisoned, and there were those who, convinced of his penitence and knowing that his family needed his support, earnestly sought his pardon. To all these solicitations the old governor replied "no," and, having made up his mind, the old governor had no patience with those who persisted in their intercessions. So the old governor was in high dudgeon one morning, and when he came to his office he said to his secretary: "Admit no one to see me; I am weary of these constant and senseless importunities."
Now, the secretary had a discreet regard for the old governor's feelings, and it was seldom that his presence of mind so far deserted him as to admit of his suffering the old governor's wishes to be disregarded. He bolted the door and sat himself down at his modest desk and simulated intense enthusiasm in his work. His simulation was more intense than usual, for never before had the secretary seen the old governor in such a harsh mood.
"Has the mail come—where are the papers and the letters?" demanded the old governor, in a gruff voice.
"Here they are, sir," said the secretary, as he put the bundle on the old governor's table. "These are addressed to you privately; the business letters are on my desk. Would you like to see them now?"
"No, not now," growled the old governor; "I will read the papers and my private correspondence first."
But the old governor found cause for uneasiness in this employment. The papers discussed the affair of the imprisoned man, and these private letters came from certain of the old governor's friends, who, strangely enough, exhibited an interest in the self-same prisoner's affair. The old governor was highly disgusted.
"They should mind their own business," muttered the old governor. "The papers are very officious, and these other people are simply impertinent. My mind is made up—nothing shall change me!"
Then the old governor turned to his private secretary and bade him bring the business letters, and presently the private secretary could hear the old governor growling and fumbling over the pile of correspondence. He knew why the old governor was so excited; many of these letters were petitions from the people touching the affair of the imprisoned man. Oh, how they angered the old governor!
"Humph!" said the old governor at last, "I 'm glad I 'm done with them. There are no more, I suppose."
When the secretary made no reply the old governor was surprised. He wheeled in his chair and searchingly regarded the secretary over his spectacles. He saw that the secretary was strangely embarrassed.
"You have not shown me all," said the old governor, sternly. "What is it you have kept back?"
Then the secretary said: "I had thought not to show it to you. It is nothing but a little child's letter—I thought I should not bother you with it."
The old governor was interested. A child's letter to him—what could it be about? Such a thing had never happened to him before.
"A child's letter; let me see it," said the old governor, and, although his voice was harsh, somewhat of a tender light came into his eyes.
"'T is nothing but a scrawl," explained the secretary, "and it comes from the prisoner's child—Monckton's little girl—Monckton, the forger, you know. Of course there's nothing to it—a mere scrawl; for the child is only four years old. But the gentleman who sends it says the child brought it to him and asked him to send it to the governor, and then, perhaps, the governor would send her papa home."
The old governor took the letter, and he scanned it curiously. What a wonderful letter it was, and who but a little child could have written it! Such strange hieroglyphics and such crooked lines—oh! it was a wonderful letter, as you can imagine.
But the old governor saw something more than the strange hieroglyphics and crooked lines and rude pencillings. He could see in and between the lines of the little child's letter a sweetness and a pathos he had never seen before, and on the crumpled sheet he found a love like the love his bereaved heart had vainly yearned for, oh! so many years.
He saw, or seemed to see, a little head bending over the crumpled page, a dimpled hand toiling at its rude labor of love, and an earnest little face smiling at the thought that this labor would not be in vain. And how wearied the little hand grew and how sleepy the little head became, but the loyal little heart throbbed on and on with patient joy, and neither hand nor head rested till the task was done.
Sweet innocence of childhood! Who would molest thee—who bring thee one shadow of sorrow? Who would not rather brave all dangers, endure all fatigues, and bear all burdens to shield thee from the worldly ills thou dream'st not of!
So thought the old governor, as he looked upon the crumpled page and saw and heard the pleadings of the child's letter; for you must know that from the crumpled page there stole a thousand gentle voices that murmured in his ears so sweetly that his heart seemed full of tears. And the old governor thought of his own little one—God rest her innocent soul. And it seemed to him as if he could hear her dear baby voice joining with this other's in trustful pleading.
The secretary was amazed when the old governor said to him: "Give me a pardon blank." But what most amazed the secretary was the tremulous tenderness in the old governor's voice and the mistiness behind the old governor's spectacles as he folded the crumpled page reverently and put it carefully in the breast pocket of his greatcoat.
"Humph," thought the secretary, "the old governor has a kinder heart than any of us suspected."
Then, when the prisoner was pardoned and came from his cell, people grasped him by the hand and said: "Our eloquence and perseverance saved you. The old governor could not withstand the pressure we brought to bear on him!"
But the secretary knew, and the old governor, too—God bless him for his human heart! They knew that it was the sacred influence of a little child's letter that had done it all—that a dimpled baby hand had opened those prison doors.
THE SINGER MOTHER
Once, as Death walked the earth in search of some fair flower upon which he could breathe his icy breath, he met the graceful and pleasing spirit who is called Ambition.
"Good morrow," quoth Death, "let us journey a time together. Both of us are hale fellows; let us henceforth be travelling companions."
Now Ambition is one of the most easily cajoled persons in the world. The soft words of Death flattered him. So Death and Ambition set out together, hand in hand.
And having come into a great city, they were walking in a fine street when they beheld at the window of a certain house a lady who was named Griselda. She was sitting at the window, fondling in her lap her child, a beautiful little infant that held out his dimpled arms to the mother and prattled sweet little things which only a mother can understand.
"What a beautiful lady," said Ambition, "and what a wonderful song she is singing to the child."
"You may praise the mother as you will," said Death, "but it is the child which engages my attention and absorbs my admiration. How I wish the child were mine!"
But Ambition continued to regard Griselda with an eye of covetousness; the song Griselda sang to her babe seemed to have exerted a wondrous spell over the spirit.
"I know a way," suggested Death, "by which we can possess ourselves of these two—you of the mother and I of the child."
Ambition's eyes sparkled. He longed for the beautiful mother.
"Tell me how I may win her," said he to Death, "and you shall have the babe."
So Death and Ambition walked in the street and talked of Griselda and her child.
Griselda was a famous singer. She sang in the theatre of the great city, and people came from all parts of the world to hear her songs and join in her praise. Such a voice had never before been heard, and Griselda's fame was equalled only by the riches which her art had brought her. In the height of her career the little babe came to make her life all the sweeter, and Griselda was indeed very happy.
"Who is that at the door?" inquired Charlotte, the old nurse. "It must be somebody of consequence, for he knocks with a certain confidence only those in authority have."
"Go to the door and see," said Griselda.
So Charlotte went to the door, and lo, there was a messenger from the king, and the messenger was accompanied by two persons attired in royal robes.
These companions were Ambition and Death, but they were so splendidly arrayed you never would have recognized them.
"Does the Lady Griselda abide here?" asked the messenger.
"She does," replied old Charlotte, courtesying very low, for the brilliant attire of the strangers dazzled her.
"I have a message from the king," said the messenger.
Old Charlotte could hardly believe her ears. A message from the king! Never before had such an honor befallen one in Griselda's station.
The message besought Griselda to appear in the theatre that night before the king, who knew of her wondrous voice, but had never heard it. And with the message came a royal gift of costly jewels, the like of which Griselda had never set eyes upon.
"You cannot refuse," said Ambition in a seductive voice. "Such an opportunity never before was accorded you and may never again be offered. It is the king for whom you are to sing!"
Griselda hesitated and cast a lingering look at her babe.
"Have no fear for the child," said Death, "for I will care for him while you are gone."
So, between the insinuating advice of Ambition and the fair promises of Death, Griselda was persuaded, and the messenger bore back to the king word that Griselda would sing for him that night.
But Ambition and Death remained as guests in Griselda's household.
The child grew restless as the day advanced. From the very moment that Death had entered the house the little one had seemed very changed, but Griselda was so busy listening to the flattering speeches of Ambition that she did not notice the flush on her infant's cheeks and the feverish rapidity of his breathing.
But Death sat grimly in a corner of the room and never took his eyes from the crib where the little one lay.
"You shall so please the king with your beautiful face and voice," said Ambition, "that he will confer wealth and title upon you. You will be the most famous woman on earth; better than that, your fame shall live always in history—it shall be eternal!"
And Griselda smiled, for the picture was most pleasing.
"The child's hands are hot," said old Charlotte, the nurse, "and there seem to be strange tremors in his little body, and he groans as he tosses from one side of his cradle to the other."
Griselda was momentarily alarmed, but Ambition only laughed.
"Nonsense," quoth Ambition, "'tis an old woman's fancy. This envious old witch would have you disappoint the king—the king, who would load you with riches and honors!"
So the day lengthened, and Griselda listened to the grateful flatteries of Ambition. But Death sat all the time gazing steadfastly on the little one in the cradle. The candles were brought, and Griselda arrayed herself in her costliest robes.
"I must look my best," she said, "for this is to be the greatest triumph of my life."
"You are very beautiful; you will captivate the king," said Ambition.
"The child is very ill," croaked old Charlotte, the nurse; "he does not seem to be awake nor yet asleep, and there is a strange, hoarse rattling in his breathing."
"For shame!" cried Ambition. "See how the glow of health mantles his cheeks and how the fire of health burns in his eyes."
And Griselda believed the words of Ambition. She did not stoop to kiss her little one. She called his name and threw him a kiss, and hastened to her carriage in the street below. The child heard the mother's voice, raised his head, and stretched forth his hands to Griselda, but she was gone and Ambition had gone with her. But Death remained with Griselda's little one.
The theatre was more brilliant that night than ever before. It had been noised about that Griselda would sing for the king, and lords and ladies in their most imposing raiment filled the great edifice to overflowing, while in the royal box sat the king himself, with the queen and the princes and the princesses.
"It will be a great triumph," said Ambition to Griselda, and Griselda knew that she had never looked half so beautiful nor felt half so ready for the great task she had to perform. There was mighty cheering when she swept before the vast throng, and the king smiled and bowed when he saw that Griselda wore about her neck the costly jewels he had sent her. But if the applause was mighty when she appeared, what was it when she finished her marvellous song and bowed herself from the stage! Thrice was she compelled to repeat the song, and a score of times was she recalled to receive the homage of the delighted throng. Bouquets of beautiful flowers were heaped about her feet, and with his own hand from his box the king threw to her a jewelled necklace far costlier than his previous gift.
As Griselda hurried from her dressing-room to her carriage she marvelled that Ambition had suddenly and mysteriously quitted her presence. In his place stood the figure of a woman, all in black, and with large, sad eyes and pale face.
"Who are you?" asked Griselda.
"I am the Spirit of Eternal Sorrow," said the woman.
And the strange, sad woman went with Griselda into the carriage and to Griselda's home.
Old Charlotte, the nurse, met them at the door. She was very white and she trembled as if with fear.
Then Griselda seemed to awaken from a dream.
"My child?" she asked, excitedly.
"He is gone," replied old Charlotte, the nurse.
Griselda flew to the chamber where she had left him. There stood the little cradle where he had lain, but the cradle was empty.
"Who has taken him away?" cried Griselda, sinking upon her knees and stretching her hands in agony to heaven.
"Death took him away but an hour ago," said old Charlotte, the nurse.
Then Griselda thought of his fevered face and his pitiful little moans and sighs; of the guileful flatteries of Ambition that had deafened her mother ears to the pleadings of her sick babe; of the brilliant theatre and the applause of royalty and of the last moments of her lonely, dying child.
And Griselda arose and tore the jewels from her breast and threw them far from her and cried: "O God, it is my punishment! I am alone."
"Nay, not so, O mother," said a solemn voice; "I am with thee and will abide with thee forever."
Griselda turned and looked upon the tall, gloomy figure that approached her with these words.
It was the Spirit of Eternal Sorrow.
THE TWO WIVES
In a certain city there were two wives named Gerda and Hulda. Although their homes adjoined, these wives were in very different social stations, for Gerda was the wife of a very proud and very rich man, while Hulda was the wife of a humble artisan. Gerda's house was lofty and spacious and was adorned with most costly and most beautiful things, but Hulda's house was a scantily furnished little cottage. The difference in their social stations did not, however, prevent Gerda and Hulda from being very friendly in a proper fashion, and the two frequently exchanged visits while their husbands were away from home.
One day Hulda was at Gerda's house, and Gerda said: "I must show you the painting we have just received from Paris. It is the most beautiful painting in the world, and it cost a princely sum of money."
And Gerda took Hulda into an adjoining chamber and uncovered the picture, and for a long time Hulda stood admiring it in silence. It was indeed a masterpiece of art. Such beauty of conception, such elegance of design, and such nicety in execution had never before been seen. It was a marvel of figure and color and effect.
"Is it not the most beautiful picture in all the world?" asked Gerda.
"It is very beautiful," replied Hulda, "but it is not the most beautiful picture in all the world."
Then Gerda took Hulda into another chamber and showed her a jewelled music-box which the most cunning artisans in all Switzerland had labored for years to produce.
"You shall hear it make music," said Gerda.
And Gerda touched the spring, and the music-box discoursed a harmony such as Hulda's listening ears had never heard before. It seemed as if a mountain brook, a summer zephyr, and a wild-wood bird were in the box vying with each other in sweet melodies.
"Is it not the most beautiful music in all the world?" asked Gerda.
"It is very beautiful," replied Hulda, "but it is not the most beautiful music in all the world."
Then Gerda was sorely vexed.
"You said that of the picture," said Gerda, "and you say it of the music. Now tell me, Hulda, where is there to be found a more beautiful picture, and where more beautiful music?"
"Come with me, Gerda," said Hulda.
And Hulda led Gerda from the stately mansion into her own humble little cottage.
"See there upon the wall near the door?" said Hulda.
"I see nothing but stains and marks of dirt," said Gerda. "Where is the picture of which you spoke?"
"They are the prints of a baby hand," said Hulda. "You are a woman and a wife, and would you not exchange all the treasures of your palace for the finger-marks of a little hand upon your tinted walls?"
And Gerda made no reply.
Then Hulda went to a corner and drew forth a pair of quaint, tiny shoes and showed them to Gerda.
"These are a baby's shoes," said Hulda, "and make a music no art can equal. Other sounds may charm the ear and delight the senses, but the music of a baby's shoe thrills the heart and brings the soul into communion with the angels."
Then Gerda cried "'T is true, O Hulda! 't is true." And she bowed her head and wept. For she was childless.
THE WOOING OF MISS WOPPIT
At that time the camp was new. Most of what was called the valuable property was owned by an English syndicate, but there were many who had small claims scattered here and there on the mountainside, and Three-fingered Hoover and I were rightly reckoned among these others. The camp was new and rough to the degree of uncouthness, yet, upon the whole, the little population was well disposed and orderly. But along in the spring of '81, finding that we numbered eight hundred, with electric lights, telephones, a bank, a meeting-house, a race-track, and such-like modern improvements, we of Red Hoss Mountain became possessed of the notion to have a city government; so nothing else would do but to proceed at once and solemnly to the choice of a mayor, marshal, clerk, and other municipal officers. The spirit of party politics (as it is known and as it controls things elsewhere) did not enter into the short and active canvass; there were numerous candidates for each office, all were friends, and the most popular of the lot were to win. The campaign was fervent but good-natured.
I shall venture to say that Jim Woppit would never have been elected city marshal but for the potent circumstance that several of the most influential gentlemen in the camp were in love with Jim's sister; that was Jim's hold on these influences, and that was why he was elected.
Yet Jim was what you 'd call a good fellow—not that he was fair to look upon, for he was not; he was swarthy and heavy-featured and hulking; but he was a fair-speaking man, and he was always ready to help out the boys when they went broke or were elsewise in trouble. Yes, take him all in all, Jim Woppit was properly fairly popular, although, as I shall always maintain, he would never have been elected city marshal over Buckskin and Red Drake and Salty Boardman if it had n't been (as I have intimated) for the backing he got from Hoover, Jake Dodsley, and Barber Sam. These three men last named were influences in the camp, enterprising and respected citizens, with plenty of sand in their craws and plenty of stuff in their pockets; they loved Miss Woppit, and they were in honor bound to stand by the interests of the brother of that fascinating young woman.
I was not surprised that they were smitten; she might have caught me, too, had it not been for the little woman and the three kids back in the states. As handsome and as gentle a lady was Miss Woppit as ever walked a white pine floor—so very different from White River Ann, and Red Drake's wife, and old man Edgar's daughter, for they were magpies who chattered continually and maliciously, hating Miss Woppit because she wisely chose to have nothing to do with them. She lived with her brother Jim on the side-hill, just off the main road, in the cabin that Smooth Ephe Hicks built before he was thrown off his broncho into the gulch. It was a pretty but lonesome place, about three-quarters of a mile from the camp, adjoining the claim which Jim Woppit worked in a lazy sort of way—Jim being fairly well fixed, having sold off a coal farm in Illinois just before he came west.
In this little cabin abode Miss Woppit during the period of her wooing, a period covering, as I now recall, six or, may be, eight months. She was so pretty, so modest, so diligent, so homekeeping, and so shy, what wonder that those lonely, heart-hungry men should fall in love with her? In all the population of the camp the number of women was fewer than two score, and of this number half were married, others were hopeless spinsters, and others were irretrievably bad, only excepting Miss Woppit, the prettiest, the tidiest, the gentlest of all. She was good, pure, and lovely in her womanliness; I shall not say that I envied—no, I respected Hoover and Dodsley and Barber Sam for being stuck on the girl; you 'd have respected 'em, too, if you 'd seen her and—and them. But I did take it to heart because Miss Woppit seemed disinclined to favor any suit for her fair hand—particularly because she was by no means partial to Three-fingered Hoover, as square a man as ever struck pay dirt—dear old pardner, your honest eyes will never read these lines, between which speaks my lasting love for you!
In the first place, Miss Woppit would never let the boys call on her of an evening unless her brother Jim was home; she had strict notions about that sort of thing which she would n't waive. I reckon she was right according to the way society looks at these things, but it was powerful hard on Three-fingered Hoover and Jake Dodsley and Barber Sam to be handicapped by etiquette when they had their bosoms chock full of love and were dying to tell the girl all about it.
Jake Dodsley came a heap nearer than the others to letting Miss Woppit know what his exact feelings were. He was a poet of no mean order. What he wrote was printed regularly in Cad Davis' Leadville paper under the head of "Pearls of Pegasus," and all us Red Hoss Mountain folks allowed that next to Willie Pabor of Denver our own Jake Dodsley had more of the afflatus in him than any other living human poet. Hoover appreciated Jake's genius, even though Jake was his rival. It was Jake's custom to write poems at Miss Woppit—poems breathing the most fervid sentiment, all about love and bleeding hearts and unrequited affection. The papers containing these effusions he would gather together with rare diligence, and would send them, marked duly with a blue or a red pencil, to Miss Woppit.
The poem which Hoover liked best was one entitled "True Love," and Hoover committed it to memory—yes, he went even further; he hired Professor De Blanc (Casey's piano player) to set it to music, and this office the professor discharged nobly, producing a simple but solemn-like melody which Hoover was wont to sing in feeling wise, poor, dear, misguided fellow that he was! Seems to me I can hear his big, honest, husky, voice lifted up even now in rendition of that expression of his passion:
Turrue love never dies— Like a river flowin' In its course it gathers force, Broader, deeper growin'; Strength'nin' in the storms 'at come, Triumphin' in sorrer, Till To-day fades away In the las' To-morrer. Wot though Time flies? Turrue love never dies!
Moreover, Three-fingered Hoover discoursed deftly upon the fiddle; at obligates and things he was not much, but at real music he could not be beat. Called his fiddle "Mother," because his own mother was dead, and being he loved her and had no other way of showing it, why, he named his fiddle after her. Three-fingered Hoover was full of just such queer conceits.
Barber Sam was another music genius; his skill as a performer upon the guitar was one of the marvels of the camp. Nor had he an indifferent voice—Prof. De Blanc allowed that if Barber Sam's voice had been cultured at the proper time—by which I suppose he meant in youth—Barber Sam would undoubtedly have become "one of the brightest constellations in the operatic firmament." Moreover, Barber Sam had a winsome presence; a dapper body was he, with a clear olive skin, soulful eyes, a noble mustache, and a splendid suit of black curly hair. His powers of conversation were remarkable—that fact, coupled with his playing the guitar and wearing plaid clothes, gave him the name of Barber Sam, for he was not really a barber; was only just like one.
In the face of all their wooing, Miss Woppit hardened her heart against these three gentlemen, any one of whom the highest lady in the land might have been proud to catch. The girl was not inclined to affairs of the heart; she cared for no man but her brother Jim. What seemed to suit her best was to tend to things about the cabin—it was called The Bower, the poet Jake Dodsley having given it that name—to till the little garden where the hollyhocks grew, and to stroll away by herself on the hillside or down through Magpie Glen, beside the gulch. A queer, moodful creature she was; unlike other girls, so far as we were able to judge. She just doted on Jim, and Jim only—how she loved that brother you shall know presently.
It was lucky that we organized a city government when we did. All communities have streaks of bad luck, and it was just after we had elected a mayor, a marshal, and a full quota of officers that Red Hoss Mountain had a spell of experiences that seemed likely at one time to break up the camp. There 's no telling where it all would have ended if we had n't happened to have a corps of vigilant and brave men in office, determined to maintain law and order at all personal hazards. With a camp, same as 'tis with dogs, it is mighty unhealthy to get a bad name.
The tidal wave of crime—if I may so term it—struck us three days after the election. I remember distinctly that all our crowd was in at Casey's, soon after nightfall, indulging in harmless pleasantries, such as eating, drinking, and stud poker. Casey was telling how he had turned several cute tricks on election day, and his recital recalled to others certain exciting experiences they had had in the states; so, in an atmosphere of tobacco, beer, onions, wine, and braggadocio, and with the further delectable stimulus of seven-year-old McBrayer, the evening opened up congenially and gave great promise. The boys were convivial, if not boisterous. But Jim Woppit, wearing the big silver star of his exalted office on his coat-front, was present in the interests of peace and order, and the severest respect was shown to the newly elected representative of municipal dignity and authority.