Chapter II My Child-Wife

The Bible says it is not good for man to be alone. This is a truth that has been borne in on my mind, with peculiar force, from the earliest of my recollection. In fact when I was only seven years old I had selected my wife, and asked the paternal consent.

You see, I was an unusually lonesome little fellow, because I belonged to the number of those unlucky waifs who come into this mortal life under circumstances when nobody wants or expects them. My father was a poor country minister in the mountains of New Hampshire with a salary of six hundred dollars, with nine children. I was the tenth. I was not expected; my immediate predecessor was five years of age, and the gossips of the neighborhood had already presented congratulations to my mother on having "done up her work in the forenoon," and being ready to sit down to afternoon leisure.

Her well-worn baby clothes were all given away, the cradle was peaceably consigned to the garret, and my mother was now regarded as without excuse if she did not preside at the weekly prayer-meeting, the monthly Maternal Association, and the Missionary meeting, and perform besides regular pastoral visitations among the good wives of her parish.

No one, of course, ever thought of voting her any little extra salary on account of these public duties which absorbed so much time and attention from her perplexing domestic cares—rendered still more severe and onerous by my father's limited salary. My father's six hundred dollars, however, was considered by the farmers of the vicinity as being a princely income, which accounted satisfactorily for everything, and had he not been considered by them as "about the smartest man in the State," they could not have gone up to such a figure. My mother was one of those gentle, soft-spoken, quiet little women who, like oil, permeate every crack and joint of life with smoothness.

With a noiseless step, an almost shadowy movement, her hand and eye were every where. Her house was a miracle of neatness and order—her children of all ages and sizes under her perfect control, and the accumulations of labor of all descriptions which beset a great family where there are no servants, all melted away under her hands as if by enchantment.

She had a divine magic too, that mother of mine; if it be magic to commune daily with the supernatural. She had a little room all her own, where on a stand always lay open the great family Bible, and when work pressed hard and children were untoward, when sickness threatened, when the skeins of life were all crossways and tangled, she went quietly to that room, and kneeling over that Bible, took hold of a warm, healing, invisible hand, that made the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

"Poor Mrs. Henderson—another boy!" said the gossips on the day that I was born. "What a shame! poor woman. Well, I wish her joy!"

But she took me to a warm bosom and bade God bless me! All that God sent to her was treasure. "Who knows," she said cheerily to my father, "this may be our brightest."

"God bless him," said my father, kissing me and my mother, and then he returned to an important treatise which was to reconcile the decrees of God with the free agency of man, and which the event of my entrance into this world had interrupted for some hours. The sermon was a perfect success I am told, and nobody that heard it ever had a moment's further trouble on that subject.

As to me, my outfit for this world was of the scantest-a few yellow flannel petticoats and a few slips run up from some of my older sisters cast off white gowns, were deemed sufficient.

The first child in a family is its poem—it is a sort of nativity play, and we bend before the young stranger, with gifts, "gold, frankincense and myrrh." But the tenth child in a poor family is prose, and gets simply what is due to comfort. There are no superfluities, no fripperies, no idealities about the tenth cradle.

As I grew up I found myself rather a solitary little fellow in a great house, full of the bustle and noise and conflicting claims of older brothers and sisters, who had got the floor in the stage of life before me, and who were too busy with their own wants, schemes and plans, to regard me.

I was all very well so long as I kept within the limits of babyhood. They said I was the handsomest baby ever pertaining to the family establishment, and as long as that quality and condition lasted I was made a pet of. My sisters curled my golden locks and made me wonderful little frocks, and took me about to show me. But when I grew bigger, and the golden locks were sheared off and replaced by straight light hair, and I was inducted into jacket and pantaloons, cut down by Miss Abia Ferkin from my next brother's last year's suit, outgrown—then I was turned upon the world to shift for myself. Babyhood was over, and manhood not begun—I was to run the gauntlet of boyhood.

My brothers and sisters were affectionate enough in their way, but had not the least sentiment, and as I said before they had each one their own concerns to look after. My eldest brother was in college, my next brother was fitting for college in a neighboring academy, and used to walk ten miles daily to his lessons and take his dinner with him. One of my older sisters was married, the two next were handsome lively girls, with a retinue of beaux, who of course took up a deal of their time and thoughts. The sister next before me was four years above me on the lists of life, and of course looked down on me as a little boy unworthy of her society. When her two or three chattering girl friends came to see her and they had their dolls and their baby houses to manage, I was always in the way. They laughed at my awkwardness, criticised my nose, my hair, and my ears to my face, with that feminine freedom by which the gentler sex joy to put down the stronger one when they have it at advantage. I used often to retire from their society swelling with impotent wrath, at their free comments. "I won't play with you," I would exclaim. "Nobody wants you," would be the rejoinder. "We've been wanting to be rid of you this good while."

But as I was a stout little fellow, my elders thought it advisable to devolve on me any such tasks and errands as interfered with their comfort. I was sent to the store when the wind howled and the frost bit, and my brothers and sisters preferred a warm corner. "He's only a boy, he can go, or he can do or he can wait," was always the award of my sisters.

My individual pursuits, and my own little stock of interests, were of course of no account. I was required to be in a perfectly free, disengaged state of mind, and ready to drop every thing at a moment's warning from any of my half dozen seniors. "Here Hal, run down cellar and get me a dozen apples," my brother would say, just as I had half built a block house. "Harry, run up stairs and get the book I left on the bed—Harry, run out to the barn and get the rake I left there—Here, Harry, carry this up garret—Harry, run out to the tool shop and get that"—were sounds constantly occurring—breaking up my private cherished little enterprises of building cob-houses, making mill dams and bridges, or loading carriages, or driving horses. Where is the mature Christian who could bear with patience the interruptions and crosses in his daily schemes, that beset a boy?

Then there were for me dire mortifications and bitter disappointments. If any company came and the family board was filled and the cake and preserves brought out, and gay conversation made my heart bound with special longings to be in at the fun, I heard them say, "No need to set a plate for Harry—he can just as well wait till after." I can recollect many a serious deprivation of mature life, that did not bring such bitterness of soul as that sentence of exclusion. Then when my sister's admirer, Sam Richards, was expected, and the best parlor fire lighted, and the hearth swept, how I longed to sit up and hear his funny stories, how I hid in dark corners, and lay off in shadowy places, hoping to escape notice and so avoid the activity of the domestic police. But no, "Mamma, mustn't Harry go to bed?" was the busy outcry of my sisters, desirous to have the deck cleared for action, and superfluous members finally disposed of.

Take it for all in all—I felt myself, though not wanting in the supply of any physical necessity, to be somehow, as I said, a very lonesome little fellow in the world. In all that busy, lively, gay, bustling household I had no mate.

"I think we must send Harry to school," said my mother, gently, to my father, when I had vented this complaint in her maternal bosom. "Poor little fellow, he is an odd one!—there isn't exactly any one in the house for him to mate with!"

So to school I was sent, with a clean checked apron, drawn up tight in my neck, and a dinner basket, and a brown towel on which I was to be instructed in the wholesome practice of sewing. I went, trembling and blushing, with many an apprehension of the big boys who had promised to thrash me when I came; but the very first day I was made blessed in the vision of my little child-wife, Susie Morril.

Such a pretty, neat little figure as she was! I saw her first standing in the school-room door. Her cheeks and neck were like wax; her eyes clear blue; and when she smiled, two little dimples flitted in and out on her cheeks, like those in a sunny brook. She was dressed in a pink gingham frock, with a clean white apron fitted trimly about her little round neck. She was her mother's only child, and always daintily dressed.

"Oh, Susie dear," said my mother, who had me by the hand, "I've brought a little boy here to school, and will be a mate for you."

How affably and graciously she received me—the little Eve—all smiles and obligingness and encouragement for the lumpish, awkward Adam. How she made me sit down on a seat by her, and put her little white arm cosily over my neck, as she laid the spelling-book on her knee, saying—"I read in Baker. Where do you read?"

Friend, it was Webster's Spelling-book that was their text-book, and many of you will remember where "Baker" is in that literary career. The column of words thus headed was a mile-stone on the path of infant progress. But my mother had been a diligent instructress at home, and I an apt scholar, and my breast swelled as I told little Susie that I had gone beyond Baker. I saw "respect mingling with surprise" in her great violet eyes; my soul was enlarged—my little frame dilated, as turning over to the picture of the "old man who found a rude boy on one of his trees stealing apples," I answered her that I had read there!

"Why-ee!" said the little maiden; "only think, girls—he reads in readings!"

I was set up and glorified in my own esteem; two or three girls looked at me with evident consideration.

"Don't you want to sit on our side?" said Susie, engagingly. "I'll ask Miss Bessie to let you, 'cause she said the big boys always plague the little ones." And so, as she was a smooth-tongued little favorite, she not only introduced me to the teacher, but got me comfortably niched, beside her dainty self on the hard, backless seat, where I sat swinging my heels, and looking for all the world like a rough little short-tailed robin, just pushed out of the nest, and surveying the world with round, anxious eyes. The big boys quizzed me, made hideous faces at me from behind their spelling-books, and great hulking Tom Halliday threw a spit ball that lodged on the wall just over my head, by way of showing his contempt for me; but I looked at Susie, and took courage. I thought I never saw anything so pretty as she was. I was never tired with following the mazes of her golden curls. I thought how dainty and nice and white her pink dress and white apron were; and she wore a pair of wonderful little red shoes; her tiny hands were so skillful and so busy! She turned the hem of my brown towel, and basted it for me so nicely, and then she took out some delicate ruffling that was her school work, and I admired her bright, fine needle and fine thread, and the waxen little finger crowned with a little brass thimble, as she sewed away with an industrious steadiness. To me the brass was gold, and her hands were pearl, and she was a little fairy princess!—yet every few moments she turned her great blue eyes on me, and smiled and nodded her little head knowingly, as much as to bid me be of good cheer, and I felt a thrill go right to my heart, that beat delightedly under the checked apron.

"Please, ma'am," said Susan, glibly, "mayn't Henry go out to play with the girls? The big boys are so rough."

And Miss Bessie smiled, and said I might; and I was a blessed little boy from that moment. In the first recess Susie instructed me in playing "Tag," and "Oats, peas, beans, and barley, O," and in "Threading the needle," and "Opening the gates as high as high as the sky, to let King George and his court pass by"—in all which she was a proficient, and where I needed a great deal of teaching and encouraging.

But when it came to more athletic feats, I could distinguish myself. I dared jump off from a higher fence than she could, and covered myself with glory by climbing to the top of a five-railed gate, and jumping boldly down; and moreover, when a cow appeared on the green before the school-house door, I marched up to her with a stick and ordered her off, with a manly stride and a determined voice, and chased her with the utmost vigor quite out of sight. These proceedings seemed to inspire Susie with a certain respect and confidence. I could read in "readings," jump off from high fences, and wasn't afraid of cows! These were manly accomplishments!

The school-house was a long distance from my father's, and I used to bring my dinner. Susie brought hers also, and many a delightful picnic have we had together. We made ourselves a house under a great button-ball tree, at whose foot the grass was short and green. Our house was neither more nor less than a square, marked out on the green turf by stones taken from the wall. I glorified myself in my own eyes and in Susie's, by being able to lift stones twice as heavy as she could, and a big flat one, which nearly broke my back, was deposited in the centre of the square, as our table. We used a clean pocket-handkerchief for a table-cloth; and Susie was wont to set out our meals with great order, making plates and dishes out of the button-ball leaves. Under her direction also, I fitted up our house with a pantry, and a small room where we used to play wash dishes, and set away what was left of our meals. The pantry was a stone cupboard, where we kept chestnuts and apples, and what remained of our cookies and gingerbread. Susie was fond of ornamentation, and stuck bouquets of golden rod and aster around in our best room, and there we received company, and had select society come to see us. Susie brought her doll to dwell in this establishment, and I made her a bedroom and a little bed of milkweed-silk to lie on. We put her to bed and tucked her up when we went into school—not without apprehension that those savages, the big boys, might visit our Eden with devastation. But the girls' recess came first, and we could venture to leave her there taking a nap till our play-time came; and when the girls went in Susie rolled her nursling in a napkin and took her safely into school, and laid her away in a corner of her desk, while the dreadful big boys were having their yelling war-whoop and carnival outside.

"How nice it is to have Harry gone all day to school," I heard one of my sisters saying to the other. "He used to be so in the way, meddling and getting into everything"—"And listening to everything one says," said the other, "Children have such horridly quick ears. Harry always listens to what we talk about."

"I think he is happier now, poor little fellow," said my mother. "He has somebody now to play with." This was the truth of the matter.

On Saturday afternoons, I used to beg of my mother to let me go and see Susie; and my sisters, nothing loth, used to brush my hair and put on me a stiff, clean, checked apron, and send me trotting off, the happiest of young lovers.

How bright and fair life seemed to me those Saturday afternoons, when the sun, through the picket-fences, made golden-green lines on the turf—and the trees waved and whispered, and I gathered handfuls of golden-rod and asters to ornament our house, under the button-wood tree!

Then we used to play in the barn together. We hunted for hens' eggs, and I dived under the barn to dark places where she dared not go; and climbed up to high places over the hay-mow, where she trembled to behold me—bringing stores of eggs, which she received in her clean white apron.

This daintiness of outfit excited my constant admiration. I wore stiff, heavy jackets and checked aprons, and was constantly, so my sisters said, wearing holes through my knees and elbows for them to patch; but little Susie always appeared to me fresh and fine and untumbled; she never dirtied her hands or soiled her dress. Like a true little woman, she seemed to have nerves through all her clothes that kept them in order. This nicety of person inspired me with a secret, wondering reverence. How could she always be so clean, so trim, and every way so pretty, I wondered? Her golden curls always seemed fresh from the brush, and even when she climbed and ran, and went with me into the barn-yard, or through the swamp and into all sorts of compromising places, she somehow picked her way out bright and unsoiled.

But though I admired her ceaselessly for this, she was no less in admiration of my daring strength and prowess. I felt myself a perfect Paladin in her defense. I remember that the chip-yard which we used to cross, on our way to the barn, was tyrannized over by a most loud-mouthed and arrogant old turkey-cock, that used to strut and swell and gobble and chitter greatly to her terror. She told me of different times when she had tried to cross the yard alone, how he had jumped upon her and flapped his wings, and thrown her down, to her great distress and horror. The first time he tried the game on me, I marched up to him, and by a dexterous pass, seized his red neck in my hand, and confining his wings down with my arm, walked him ingloriously out of the yard.

How triumphant Susie was, and how I swelled and exulted to her, telling her what I would do to protect her under every supposable variety of circumstances! Susie had confessed to me of being dreadfully afraid of "bears," and I took this occasion to tell her what I would do if a bear should actually attack her. I assured her that I would get father's gun and shoot him without mercy—and she listened and believed. I also dilated on what I would do if robbers should get into the house; I would, I informed her, immediately get up and pour shovelfuls of hot coal down their backs—and wouldn't they have to run? What comfort and security this view of matters gave us both! What bears and robbers were, we had no very precise idea, but it was a comfort to think how strong and adequate to meet them in any event I was.

Sometimes, of a Saturday afternoon, Susie was permitted to come and play with me. I always went after her, and solicited the favor humbly at the hands of her mother, who, after many washings and dressings and cautions as to her clothes, delivered her up to me, with the condition that she was to start for home when the sun was half an hour high. Susie was very conscientious in watching, but for my part I never agreed with her. I was always sure that the sun was an hour high, when she set her little face dutifully homeward. My sisters used to pet her greatly during these visits. They delighted to twine her curls over their fingers, and try the effects of different articles of costume on her fair complexion. They would ask her, laughing, would she be my little wife, to which she always answered with a grave affirmative.


"Early marriages?" said my mother, stopping her knitting looking at me, while a smile flashed over her thin cheeks: "what's the child thinking of?"

Yes, she was to be my wife; it was all settled between us. But when? I didn't see why we must wait till we grew up. She was lonesome when I was gone, and I was lonesome when she was gone. Why not marry her now, and take her home to live with me? I asked her and she said she was willing, but mamma never would spare her. I said I would get my mamma to ask her, and I knew she couldn't refuse, because my papa was the minister.

I turned the matter over and over in my mind, and thought sometime when I could find my mother alone, I would introduce the subject. So one evening, as I sat on my little stool at my mother's knees, I thought I would open the subject, and began:

"Mamma, why do people object to early marriages?"

"Early marriages?" said my mother, stopping her knitting, looking at me, while a smile flashed over her thin cheeks: "what's the child thinking of?"

"I mean, why can't Susie and I be married now? I want her here. I'm lonesome without her. Nobody wants to play with me in this house, and if she were here we should be together all the time."

My father woke up from his meditation on his next Sunday's sermon, and looked at my mother, smiling. A gentle laugh rippled her bosom.

"Why, dear," she said, "don't you know your father is a poor man, and has hard work to support his children now? He couldn't afford to keep another little girl."

I thought the matter over, sorrowfully. Here was the pecuniary difficulty, that puts off so many desiring lovers, meeting me on the very threshold of life.

"Mother," I said, after a period of mournful consideration, "I wouldn't eat but just half as much as I do now, and I'd try not to wear out my clothes, and make 'em last longer." My mother had very bright eyes, and there was a mingled flash of tears and laughter in them, as when the sun winks through rain drops. She lifted me gently into her lap and drew my head down on her bosom.

"Some day, when my little son grows to be a man, I hope God will give him a wife he loves dearly. 'Houses and lands are from the fathers; but a good wife is of the Lord,' the Bible says."

"That's true, dear," said my father, looking at her tenderly; "nobody knows that better than I do."

My mother rocked gently back and forward with me in the evening shadows, and talked with me and soothed me, and told me stories how one day I should grow to be a good man—a minister, like my father, she hoped—and have a dear little house of my own.

"And will Susie be in it?"

"Let's hope so," said my mother. "Who knows?"

"But, mother, ain't you sure? I want you to say it will be certainly."

"My little one, only our dear Father could tell us that," said my mother. "But now you must try and learn fast, and become a good strong man, so that you can take care of a little wife."

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