« PreviousContinue »
What will you think of me, if I say that in my children's prattle that night I saw for myself no reproof; that indeed I was almost vexed with their thoughtless joy; their merry voices stung me; I shrank away from their little plays and laughter. It was the silence only that I heard. He — he was my first-born, and I loved him. To live through to-morrow's festival without him; to fill it with the old glad customs and the old rejoicings; to come to the table and see only that one vacant chair; to watch the children play about the fire, where he had played among them; to sit and worship and give thanks in the church to which he had walked with us in company, and from which we had borne him to his rest; to keep eyes free from tears and lips from quivering.
"Mary," said a voice beside me. My husband had come in from his study, and was pacing the room in his restless way.
"I suppose you have been preparing for — to-morrow?"
"The children shall have their dinner; what else can I do't"
"Wc do not want them to have a gloomy day of it, Mary."
"I can not, can not help it. John, you know."
He came up and laid his hand upon my bowed head.
"I know, Mary, I know. I am stronger to bear it than you. I will try and be cheerful for both of us, it will soon be over."
That was just like him; all my burdens were bis own; all my pain doubly his. I might have known how it would be. Was this sorrow making me forgetful of my husband V Could I be that*
"Oh, John. I am so selfish! but you know I loved him so — if I could be brighter, John!" "I understand it all. Why, Mary !*' He took me in his arms as I broke into sobbing; he took me in his arms like a child, and
window which the frost was painting thicker and thicker with its cold clear pictures, and through it I saw a solitary figure passing over the moonlit snow and into the shadow of the church. It was as I supposed.
As I went back to the fire some sleighing party in the street shot by, singing a merry Thanksgiving song. I expect only those who mourn to understand how I listened to it It was a little thing to hurt me; but it did. Thanksgiving! I could have laughed at the word. Should I give thanks? For this desolated fireside, for that vacant chair and silent voice, for the vanished smile and touch and household blessing, for those few dimmed letters, and the heart-ache of that lock of clinging hair, and the grave beneath the early snows — should I give thanks for these t
So many memories crowded into the word; so many pictures came and went, as I sat there alone in the firelight. The boy sitting just here at my feet— he was the only one then — cracking his nuts, and stealing the raisins from my pocket after dinner, looking up into my eyes with the pretty mischief bright in his, so great and dark and full; no one ever had eyes like Willie's. He was such a pretty baby, and so dear; you see, he taught me the word mother; it was his little upturned face, and the touch of his tiny fingers, in which I first read the beauty of its holiness. How could I help it that he was what he was to me? What should I do with all this love that had grown into my heart for one-and-twenty years?
Another picture. How the years went and came V He was the only one no longer; but in the group of happy faces his always stood alone to me. It was he who stilled the little ones at their quarrels or when the plays grew rough; it was he who made the beautiful Thanksgivingdays so bright to them; it was he who watched my steps about the room and drew my chair up to the fire, and followed me with his little smile —such a beautiful smile it always was! Why,
I see the smile again — older and more manly, but with the same child's tenderness in it; even the mustache of the young collegian could not hide it. How we laughed at him about that mustache! He knew how proud I was of him all the while; how could I help it? Those college vacations are so many sunny days, they were so brief and bright. I remember how we watched for him at the door; how the old coach came lumbering up — it passed the house just now as I write. I suppose I always hear it. I suppose I never hear it without a quickening of my pulse. I suppose I never shall. I see him bounding up the steps. I feel his arm about me. I see the children pulling at his sleeve. I see his face — why will God give us such faces to be our own, our very own, and snatch them away into darkness? Yet I would not now, I would not even then, that night, with the murmuring words upon my lips, lose the sweet memory for ten thousand times its pain.
Once more I see the smile; but it is the smile of a martyr. He knew, when he came to me, with all the hero in his eyes, fired with his pure bright dreams of sacrifice, loving his country as only her young men can — when he came, as if he were again a child, and asked his mother's blessing — he knew to what he was going. So, I think, did I. Yet I did not say him nay. I did not hold him back with my weak tears and pleadings. I thank God for that. I thanked Him on that desolate Thanksgiving-eve. And when I go down the sloping years to meet my old age without my boy, I shall thank Him still. I am very sure of that.
But you do not care to hear the rest of my story. It is yours, perhaps, as well as mine: and of its sacrcdness you and I know well.
I was not there to see him die. I can never go back and be there to help him die. There was one woman — you have heard of her, perhaps—she found him a stranger, cared for by strange hands; and when they bore him to his quick-made grave upon the battle-field, she stooped to touch his face with reverent lips, and said, " Let me kiss him for his mother." God bless her for that! God bless her wherever she may be! and may she never lay her first-born away under the frozen ground, where he can never call to her, or take her in his arms, or kiss her with his warm young lips I
But we have brought him home since that, and in the shadow of the old familiar church he is at rest. As I sat before the fire, through
all my bitter musing that night, I rememben4 the solitary figure pacing round and round tae moonlit grave — his father loved him so. 1 aa not say that even I, his mother, loved him more.
Did I ask for strength to live through tins day which was coming—to live it quietly, beskafully, thankfully, remembering that mine t» not a thorn-wreath, since "no mortal grief deserves that crown?" I do not know. Do w* never pray for that which we trill net kaz*.' Our Father, who is very patient with us, atas* knows.
And then these facts of sorrow are so sharp. It was one thing to give him up— a grand, heroic thing; it was another to find him gone—
11 To feel the door-Uteh ctir and clink.
Do you know this " surprise when one sits quirt alone 5" But, with my prayers or without then, the morning came. It came as other Thanksgiving mornings had come — with fresh, frolicking winds, and sunlight, and blue skies; with merry voices, with cloudtaes faces, and happy hearts.
The children woke me with the old rap on my door—Susy and Harry and Bertie, and May hiding shyly in the entry, lest papa should have a peep at her night-cap, half doubting, indeed, whether she was not getting to be too much of a woman to take part in the children's sport. How merry Willie always was at it! his little rap always the loudest, and his lau^h the clearest of all. I could not forget it, and turned away to hide the quick, hot tears.
"Mamma don't talk," cried Bertie through the keyhole. "I guess she hasn't woke up — Mamma!"
"Come away," said May in a whisper — "Mamma feels badly to have Thanksgi ving come, you know. Perhaps she isn't well — let's go and dress."
And before I found my voice the little bare feet had pattered away over the entry, and it was too late to call them back.
I remember just how yellow and murky the sunshine lay on the floors that morning, and how I thought the wind wailed about the corners of the house—to me it had no frolic. The children came in from coasting while I was at work, all flushed, and eager, and happy, jostling and pushing each other at play in the entry. The moment they saw my face Susy grew sober, and May began to hush Harry's laughter. How could I help it?
** "Where's the evergreen trimmings?" asked 3ertie, looking around the room with disappointed eyes. "Tliere's a lot picked up garrets, mother."
Ah, that pretty celebration of the day! / had never planned for it. It was Willie's fancy, and Willie's skilful fingers they were "wliieh had always made the old rooms bright and festive. How I cling to the baby-name! "Yet he never minded it from me; sometimes, from a quick, pleased look in bis manly eyes, 1 used to think he liked to have me call him
"May! May! fix the trimmings," I said, turning away. "I — I am too busy this morning."
"It isn't like having you," said May, her bright face falling, and then the children with puzzled eyes, crept one by one away.
Dinner-time came at last, and they gathered round the table gleefully —just as gleefully, I thought, with a half bitterness, as if they had all been there. ^
"Why! what's this for?" asked Harry, stopping. "Mother, you've got one chair too many."
"Hush, Harry! I know — don't you see?" And then I heard Susy whispering to him.
Why had I done it? I hardly knew. To lay the plates, and set the chairs, and pass that one place by — that place that always was by mine — it seemed hard. It was a very little thing; but you know how dear these little things become to women sometimes.
So I had put it there— the empty chair; and with its pitiful, appealing blankness beside me, I sat down to the festival meal. I remember just how everything looked as in a picture — my husband's face, with its white, peaceful smile, the same that he had given to his boy, and the children grouped around in the old places; and a fleck of yellow sunlight that had fallen in through the warm south window upon the tablecloth. I remember every thing. I know that John had just bowed his head to ask God's blessing on our food, and the children's eyes were closed, when I saw — I saw as distinctly as I see
- • • - »i.„ _,„„!„ tt
old, rare smile; I touched his own bright curls upon his forehead; I spoke to liini; he spoke to me.
The voice was breathless, but it was his. "Willie! Willie!"
Again the old, rare smile. With one hand he motioned silence. His father's voice hushed the Amen, and the children looked up and began their chatter.
"Did you speak to me, Mary?" asked my husband.
"Why, I thought some one spoke during the blessing. Well, Miss May, what part of the turkey shall I help you to?"
So they did not see him. I alone was chosen. I looked into his face, smiling, smiling down into mine so tenderly — you cannot know how tenderly; but in his eyes I saw — and I thought my heart would break to see it — a certain sad, reproachful look, that I had caught on his face once, years ago, when I accused him with injustice of some trifling childish fault — a look that had haunted me in many a still hour since. And then I hoard him say distinctly, though to not another ear was the breathless voice audible:
"/ -want them to be happy. / want you to enjoy the day. Did you think I should not be with you, mother?"
He was with me, thank God! and I was happy. I talked, I laughed, I chatted with the children ; their merriment increased with mine; my husband's pale face lighted up; I felt my own eyes sparkling. And all the while, where they saw only that empty chair, I saw the beautiful still face and happy smile. I saw him pleased with the old familiar customs. I saw him mindful of the children's jests. I saw his eyes, full of their own home-love, turn from one to another, and back again to me — I saw and I was content All that day he was beside ine. He followed us into the sitting-room and took his old seat by the cozy fire. He listened to his father's stories, and watched ♦•>» Mmiaot •*
♦lip'" "amen, nn/\ TM«rwl
took me in his arms, and said, as he had said before:
"Did you think I should not be with you, mother't"
And then I missed him. I called to him, but he did not answer. I stretched out my arms after him, but he did not come bask to me. The room grew dark; my head swam; I tottered over to my husband.
"Oh, John! I have lost him! Oh, John! John!"
"Mary — why, Mary! what is the matter?" and he caught me in his arms.
I looked up. I was not in the parlor by the frost-bound window; the children were not beside me. The sitting-room fire had died down into ashes; the door into the hall was open, and my husband had on his over-coat. He was holding me tightly in his arms.
"How you shiver, Mary! Why, my darling, what has happened?"
"John, where — when did you find me?"
"I have just come in. I heard you cry ; you called my name, I think."
"I know, I know I I thought — Oh, John, John!"
And then I told him all my dream. AVhen I had finished he was still a long time, then —
"Mary, perhaps the boy has been to you."
At this moment the clock on the mantle struck twelve. We listened to its strokes till the last one died away.
"It is our Thanksgiving morning," said my husband, solemnly. "Let us give thanks to God."
So we knelt down and prayed together.
When the morning really came, with its fresh, frolicking winds, and sunlight, and blue skies; with its merry faces and gay voices, and the happy children rapping at my door, I thought of what he said: "Perhaps the boy has been to you." Sometimes I think he must have been, so real and sweet is, even now, the memory of his coming. All that day he stood beside me; all that day I saw his peaceful face, and felt the blessing of his smile, and heard his low sweet voice. What for months I had looked upon and feared with the bitterness of a great dread, the face, and smile, made almost painless.
The children's merry greetings did not hurt me; my fingers did not tremble when they twined the fresh green leaves about the walls. Into the very making of my pudding I threw
my heart, and the day became once more a 5=tival; just as truly a festival, I think, as it »a when Willie blessed it and made it bright, because I knew he wished to have it so.
The older children went with us to chnri that morning. Harry and Susy, finding tat turkeys rather an impediment to religious eiscation, kept guard at home. Susy's little wlueper at starting did me good, I think.
"Mamma, you're just like the old manuui you — you used to was."
God knows I tried to be.
The little church was very still and pleasant that morning, and somehow the service Etc* way down into my heart. It was no eloqnt-tt preacher that we heard; only a plain man, with God's plainest gifts of mind and culture. Maty a time I should have preferred my own worskip to any to which he could help me. But this morning his heart was very full. I saw that the day was real to him, and I listened.
A bit of Mrs. IJrovvninjA music kept singing itself in my soul:
"1 praiae Thee while my day* go on, •
I love Thee while my days go on;
Through dark and dearth, through fire and frost,
With emptied anon and treasure lost,
I thank Thee while my daj'B go on."
I think that I did thank Him — I, who only last year had sat there with my boy beside me— so manly and so brave he looked, so pleased that they chose the hymn he loved, so happy and at rest while he sang it with them.
I think that when the dear familiar words flooded the church with harmony again, as on that other morning, and John and I clasped hands silently— I think we uttered the old, old cry, " Blessed be the name of the Lord!"
We stopped after church together where the boy was lying, to let May lay down her little green wreath, and I was glad that she could do it calmly. Somehow I felt as if tears would be profanation just then. Then we went quietly home.
It was a happy home that day — as happy as it could be when we did not see him. Yet I know he was there.
"Did you think I should not be with yon, mother?"
I heard it over and over; I hear it over and over now; I shall hear it when the next Thanksgiving sun brightens his quiet grave. He wished us to be happy; I know he was with us. I think he will always be.
December comes to us, not with storms and chilling winds; but mild and gentle; as if pitying tbe poor who are suffering from the high prices that still prevail everywhere, and more especially in the provision for larder and coal bin. God pity the poor whose hearths arc cold Mid whose tables arc empty of food! Jlow little can one who has plenty and comfort at the board and the fireside, appreciate the bless* ing that rests onftim. How little can he feel for his poor neighbor, for him who toils with scanty reward, and finds, after all his labor, that the meagre sum will not warm or feed or clothe his family sufficiently.
But, thank God! there arc warm hearts and open hands, that are continually devising and exoouting generous deeds. There are noble charities, stealing, with their blessed influences, into the homes of those, who, by misfortune or bereavement, have sunk from competence to that bitterest of all poverty — that which will not ask relief. Many a mother, to-day, tends hex fatherless children near a tireless hearth, who, in the days of her prosperity was hailed as the friend of the poor; yet now is poorer than they whom she relieved. Many a father, whose failing health is unequal to the labor of providing for his family, is doomed to see others reaping the fruits that which his own talent and enterprise once invented or established; while '•is own large and grand heart shrinks from --•> nf charity. Could we
sympathy — what brave, enduring spirits sinking down into despair!
It is sad — this looking into the realities of life; but we cannot lay aside the fact that they are such. Novelists and poets may write and sing of sunshine and flowjers and beauty; and they are right in doing so. God has made for us a beautiful world; fitted it with light and incense and brightness. But behind all this beauty, there are clouds that sometimes veil it from our sight. Poverty comes in and shrouds our blessings, and then the world is dark to the eyes that before only saw light and beauty.
Now, would it not be a blessed privilege to minister to this sorrow, to bear up the sinking heart, to hold up the feeble hands and to let in once more the sweet light of Heaven!' And it is, after all, so easy to do it! So easy to drop the balm of consolation, to bind the broken heart and set the grief-stricken prisoner free.
Nor is it always money that is wanted for this. A little sympathy directed in the right channel; an opening suggested that has not been presented to the mind of him who so sorely needs it; a shifting of the dismal phenomena that has so long been before his eyes, so as to let in a sun ray. Oh, how much this might do! Then the tone — the manner of addressing such an one, so as not to hurt his feelings by implied superiority on your part; — the simple showing him how infinitely more yon think of the man than of his surroundings. How such a course on your part will reconcile him to himself and help to sustain in him tho dignity of manhood. Coming, too, perhaps,