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from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - STORIES BY FAVORITE AMERICAN WRITERS





BY HELEN HUNT JACKSON


During the whole of one of a summer's hottest days I had the good
fortune to be seated in a railway car near a mother and four children,
whose relations with each other were so beautiful that the pleasure of
watching them was quite enough to make one forget the discomforts of the
journey.

It was plain that they were poor; their clothes were coarse and old, and
had been made by inexperienced hands. The mother's bonnet alone would
have been enough to have condemned the whole party on any of the world's
thoroughfares. I remembered afterward, with shame, that I myself had
smiled at the first sight of its antiquated ugliness; but her face was
one which it gave you a sense of rest to look upon--it was so earnest,
tender, true, and strong. It had little comeliness of shape or color in
it, it was thin, and pale; she was not young; she had worked hard; she
had evidently been much ill; but I have seen few faces which gave me
such pleasure. I think that she was the wife of a poor clergyman; and I
think that clergyman must be one of the Lord's best watchmen of souls.
The children--two boys and two girls--were all under the age of 12, and
the youngest could not speak plainly. They had had a rare treat; they
had been visiting the mountains, and they were talking over all the
wonders they had seen with a glow of enthusiastic delight which was
to be envied. Only a word-for-word record would do justice to their
conversation; no description could give any idea of it--so free, so
pleasant, so genial, no interruptions, no contradictions; and the
mother's part borne all the while with such equal interest and eagerness
that no one not seeing her face would dream that she was any other than
an elder sister.

In the course of the day there were many occasions when it was necessary
for her to deny requests, and to ask services, especially from the
eldest boy; but no young girl, anxious to please a lover, could have
done either with a more tender courtesy. She had her reward; for no
lover could have been more tender and manly than was this boy of 12.
Their lunch was simple and scanty; but it had the grace of a royal
banquet. At the last, the mother produced with much glee three apples
and an orange, of which the children had not known. All eyes fastened on
the orange. It was evidently a great rarity. I watched to see if this
test would bring out selfishness. There was a little silence; just the
shade of a cloud. The mother said: "How shall I divide this? There is
one for each of you; and I shall be best off of all, for I expect big
tastes from each of you."

"Oh, give Annie the orange. Annie loves oranges," spoke out the oldest
boy, with a sudden air of a conqueror, and at the same time taking the
smallest and worst apple himself.

"Oh, yes, let Annie have the orange," echoed the second boy, nine years
old.

"Yes, Annie may have the orange, because that is nicer than the apple,
and she is a lady, and her brothers are gentlemen," said the mother,
quietly. Then there was a merry contest as to who should feed the mother
with largest and most frequent mouthfuls; and so the feast went on. Then
Annie pretended to want an apple, and exchanged thin golden strips of
orange for bites out of the cheeks of Baldwins; and, as I sat watching
her intently, she suddenly fancied she saw longing in my face, and
sprang over to me, holding out a quarter of her orange, and saying,
"Don't you want a taste, too?" The mother smiled, understandingly, when
I said, "No, I thank you, you dear, generous little girl; I don't care
about oranges."

At noon we had a tedious interval of waiting at a dreary station. We sat
for two hours on a narrow platform, which the sun had scorched till it
smelled of heat. The oldest boy--the little lover--held the youngest
child, and talked to her, while the tired mother closed her eyes and
rested. Now and then he looked over at her, and then back at the baby;
and at last he said confidentially to me (for we had become fast friends
by this time): "Isn't it funny, to think that I was ever so small as
this baby? And papa says that then mamma was almost a little girl
herself."

The two other children were toiling up and down the banks of the
railroad track, picking ox-eye daisies, buttercups, and sorrel. They
worked like beavers, and soon the bunches were almost too big for their
little hands. Then they came running to give them to their mother. "Oh,
dear," thought I, "how that poor, tired woman will hate to open her
eyes! and she never can take those great bunches of common, fading
flowers, in addition to all her bundles and bags." I was mistaken.

"Oh, thank you, my darlings! How kind you were! Poor, hot, tired little
flowers, how thirsty they look! If they will only try and keep alive
till we get home, we will make them very happy in some water; won't we?
And you shall put one bunch by papa's plate, and one by mine."

Sweet and happy, the weary and flushed little children stood looking up
in her face while she talked, their hearts thrilling with compassion for
the drooping flowers and with delight in the giving of their gift. Then
she took great trouble to get a string and tie up the flowers, and then
the train came, and we were whirling along again. Soon it grew dark, and
little Annie's head nodded. Then I heard the mother say to the oldest
boy, "Dear, are you too tired to let little Annie put her head on your
shoulder and take a nap? We shall get her home in much better ease to
see papa if we can manage to give her a little sleep." How many boys of
twelve hear such words as these from tired, overburdened mothers?

Soon came the city, the final station, with its bustle and noise. I
lingered to watch my happy family, hoping to see the father. "Why, papa
isn't here!" exclaimed one disappointed little voice after another.
"Never mind," said the mother, with a still deeper disappointment in her
own tone; "perhaps he had to go to see some poor body who is sick." In
the hurry of picking up all the parcels, and the sleepy babies, the poor
daisies and buttercups were left forgotten in a corner of the rack. I
wondered if the mother had not intended this. May I be forgiven for the
injustice! A few minutes after I passed the little group, standing still
just outside the station, and heard the mother say, "Oh, my darlings, I
have forgotten your pretty bouquets. I am so sorry! I wonder if I could
find them if I went back. Will you all stand still if I go?"

"Oh, mamma, don't go, don't go. We will get you some more. Don't go,"
cried all the children.

"Here are your flowers, madam," said I. "I saw that you had forgotten
them, and I took them as mementos of you and your sweet children." She
blushed and looked disconcerted. She was evidently unused to people, and
shy with all but her children. However, she thanked me sweetly, and
said:

"I was very sorry about them. The children took such trouble to get
them, and I think they will revive in water. They cannot be quite dead."

"They will never die!" said I, with an emphasis which went from my heart
to hers. Then all her shyness fled. She knew me; and we shook hands, and
smiled into each other's eyes with the smile of kindred as we parted.

As I followed on, I heard the two children, who were walking behind,
saying to each other: "Wouldn't that have been too bad? Mamma liked them
so much, and we never could have got so many all at once again."

"Yes, we could, too, next Summer," said the boy, sturdily.

They are sure of their "next summers," I think, all six of those
souls--children, and mother, and father. They may never again gather so
many ox-eye daisies and buttercups "all at once." Perhaps some of the
little hands have already picked their last flowers. Nevertheless, their
summers are certain. To such souls as these, all trees, either here or
in God's larger country, are Trees of Life, with twelve manner of fruits
and leaves for healing; and it is but little change from the summers
here, whose suns burn and make weary, to the summers there, of which
"the Lamb is the light."





Next: Prince Little Boy

Previous: Little Annie's Dream Or The Fairy Flower



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