Chapter III. Our Child-Eden

My mother's talk aroused all the enthusiasm of my nature. Here was a motive, to be sure. I went to bed and dreamed of it. I thought over all possible ways of growing big and strong rapidly—I had heard the stories of Samson from the Bible. How did he grow so strong? He was probably once a little boy like me. "Did he go for the cows, I wonder," thought I—"and let down very big bars when his hands were little, and learn to ride the old horse bare-back, when his legs were very short?" All these things I was emulous to do; and I resolved to lift very heavy pails full of water, and very many of them, and to climb into the mow, and throw down great armfulls of hay, and in every possible way to grow big and strong.

I remember the next day after my talk with my mother was Saturday, and I had leave to go up and spend it with Susie.

There was a meadow just back of her mother's house, which we used to call the mowing lot. It was white with daisies, yellow with buttercups, with some moderate share of timothy and herds grass intermixed. But what was specially interesting to us was, that, down low at the roots of the grass, and here and there in moist, rich spots, grew wild strawberries, large and juicy, rising on nice high stalks, with three or four on a cluster. What joy there was in the possession of a whole sunny Saturday afternoon to be spent with Susie in this meadow! To me the amount of happiness in the survey was greatly in advance of what I now have in the view of a three weeks' summer excursion.

When, after multiplied cautions and directions, and careful adjustment of Susie's clothing, on the part of her mother, Susie was fairly delivered up to me; when we had turned our backs on the house and got beyond call, then our bliss was complete. How carefully and patronizingly I helped her up the loose, mossy, stone wall, all hedged with a wilderness of golden-rod, ferns, raspberry bushes, and asters! Down we went through this tangled thicket, into such a secure world of joy, where the daisied meadow received us to her motherly bosom, and we were sure nobody could see us.

We could sit down and look upward, and see daisies and grasses nodding and bobbing over our heads, hiding us as completely as two young grass birds; and it was such fun to think that nobody could find out where we were! Two bob-o-links, who had a nest somewhere in that lot, used to mount guard in an old apple tree, and sit on tall, bending twigs, and say, "Chack! chack! chack!" and flutter their black and white wings up and down, and burst out into most elaborate and complicated babbles of melody. These were our only associates and witnesses. We thought that they knew us, and were glad to see us there, and wouldn't tell anybody where we were for the world. There was an exquisite pleasure to us in this sense of utter isolation—of being hid with each other where nobody could find us.

We had worlds of nice secrets peculiar to ourselves. Nobody but ourselves knew where the "thick spots" were, where the ripe, scarlet strawberries grew; the big boys never suspected them, we said to one another, nor the big girls; it was our own secret, which we kept between our own little selves. How we searched, and picked, and chatted, and oh'd and ah'd to each other, as we found wonderful places, where the strawberries passed all belief!

But profoundest of all our wonderful secrets were our discoveries in the region of animal life. We found, in a tuft of grass overshadowed by wild roses, a grass bird's nest. In vain did the cunning mother creep yards from the cherished spot, and then suddenly fly up in the wrong place; we were not to be deceived. Our busy hands parted the lace curtains of fern, and, with whispers of astonishment, we counted the little speckled, bluegreen eggs. How round and fine and exquisite, past all gems polished by art, they seemed; and what a mystery was the little curious smooth-lined nest in which we found them! We talked to the birds encouragingly. "Dear little birds," we said, "don't be afraid; nobody but we shall know it;" and then we said to each other, "Tom Halliday never shall find this out, nor Jim Fellows." They would carry off the eggs and tear up the nest; and our hearts swelled with such a responsibility for the tender secret, that it was all we could do that week to avoid telling it to everybody we met. We informed all the children at school that we knew something that they didn't—something that we never should tell!—something so wonderful!—something that it would be wicked to tell of—for mother said so; for be it observed that, like good children, we had taken our respective mothers into confidence, and received the strictest and most conscientious charges as to our duty to keep the birds' secret.

In that enchanted meadow of ours grew tall, yellow lilies, glowing as the sunset, hanging down their bells, six or seven in number, from high, graceful stalks, like bell towers of fairy land. They were over our heads sometimes, as they rose from the grass and daisies, and we looked up into their golden hearts spotted with black, with a secret, wondering joy.

"Oh, don't pick them, they look too pretty," said Susie to me once when I stretched up my hand to gather one of these. "Let's leave them to be here when we come again! I like to see them wave."

And so we left the tallest of them; but I was not forbidden to gather handfuls of the less wonderful specimens that grew only one or two on a stalk. Our bouquets of flowers increased with our strawberries.

Through the middle of this meadow chattered a little brook, gurgling and tinkling over many-colored pebbles, and here and there collecting itself into a miniature waterfall, as it pitched over a broken bit of rock. For our height and size, the waterfalls of this little brook were equal to those of Trenton, or any of the medium cascades that draw the fashionable crowd of grown-up people; and what was the best of it was, it was our brook, and our waterfall. We found them, and we verily believed nobody else but ourselves knew of them.

By this waterfall, as I called it, which was certainly a foot and a half high, we sat and arranged our strawberries when our baskets were full, and I talked with Susie about what my mother had told me.

I can see her now, the little crumb of womanhood, as she sat, gaily laughing at me. "She didn't care a bit," she said. She had just as lief wait till I grew to be a man. Why, we could go to school together, and have Saturday afternoons together. "Don't you mind it, Hazzy Dazzy," she said, coming close up to me, and putting her little arms coaxingly round my neck; "we love each other, and it's ever so nice now."

I wonder what the reason is that it is one of the first movements of affectionate feeling to change the name of the loved one. Give a baby a name, ever so short and ever so musical, where is the mother that does not twist it into some other pet name between herself and her child. So Susie, when she was very loving, called me Hazzy, and sometimes would play on my name, and call me Hazzy Dazzy, and sometimes Dazzy, and we laughed at this because it was between us; and we amused ourselves with thinking how surprised people would be to hear her say Dazzy, and how they would wonder who she meant. In like manner, I used to call her Daisy when we were by ourselves, because she seemed to me so neat and trim and pure, and wore a little flat hat on Sundays just like a daisy.

"I'll tell you, Daisy," said I, "just what I'm going to do—I'm going to grow strong as Sampson did."

"Oh, but how can you?" she suggested, doubtfully.

"Oh, I'm going to run and jump and climb, and carry ever so much water for Mother, and I'm to ride on horseback and go to mill, and go all round on errands, and so I shall get to be a man fast, and when I get to be a man I'll build a house all on purpose for you and me—I'll build it all myself; it shall have a parlor and a dining-room and kitchen, and bed-room, and well-room, and chambers"—

"And nice closets to put things in," suggested the little woman.

"Certainly, ever so many—just where you want them, there I'll put them," said I, with surpassing liberality. "And then, when we live together, I'll take care of you—I'll keep off all the lions and bears and panthers. If a bear should come at you, Daisy, I should tear him right in two, just as Sampson did."

At this vivid picture, Daisy nestled close to my shoulder, and her eyes grew large and reflective. "We shouldn't leave poor Mother alone," said she.

"Oh, no; she shall come and live with us," said I, with an exalted generosity. "I will make her a nice chamber on purpose, and my mother shall come, too."

"But she can't leave your father, you know."

"Oh, father shall come, too—when he gets old and can't preach any more. I shall take care of them all."

And my little Daisy looked at me with eyes of approving credulity, and said I was a brave boy; and the bobolinks chittered and chattered applause as they sung and skirmished and whirled up over the meadow grasses; and by and by, when the sun fell low, and looked like a great golden ball, with our hands full of lilies, and our baskets full of strawberries, we climbed over the old wall, and toddled home.

After that, I remember many gay and joyous passages in that happiest summer of my life. How, when autumn came, we roved through the woods together, and gathered such stores of glossy brown chestnuts. What joy it was to us to scuff through the painted fallen leaves and send them flying like showers of jewels before us! How I reconnoitered and marked available chestnut trees, and how I gloried in being able to climb like a cat, and get astride high limbs and shake and beat them, and hear the glossy brown nuts fall with a rich, heavy thud below, while Susie was busily picking up at the foot of the tree. How she did flatter me with my success and prowess! Tom Halliday might be a bigger boy, but he could never go up a tree as I could; and as for that great clumsy Jim Fellows, she laughed to think what a figure he would make, going out on the end of the small limbs, which would be sure to break and send him bundling down. The picture which Susie drew of the awkwardness of the big boys often made us laugh till the tears rolled down our cheeks. To this day I observe it as a weakness of my sex that we all take it in extremely good part when the pretty girl of our heart laughs at other fellows in a snug, quiet way, just between one's dear self and herself alone. We encourage our own dear little cat to scratch and claw the sacred memories of Jim or Tom, and think that she does it in an extremely cunning and diverting way—it being understood between us that there is no malice in it—that "Jim and Tom are nice fellows enough, you know—only that somebody else is so superior to them," etc.

Susie and I considered ourselves as an extremely forehanded, well-to-do partnership, in the matter of gathering in our autumn stores. No pair of chipmonks in the neighborhood conducted business with more ability. We had a famous cellar that I dug and stoned, where we stored away our spoils. We had chestnuts and walnuts and butternuts, as we said, to last us all winter, and many an earnest consultation and many a busy hour did the gathering and arranging of these spoils cost us.

Then, oh, the golden times we had when father's barrels of new cider came home from the press! How I cut and gathered and selected bunches of choice straws, which I took to school and showed to Susie, surreptitiously, at intervals, during school exercises, that she might see what a provision of bliss I was making for Saturday afternoons. How Susie was sent to visit us on these occasions, in leather shoes and checked apron, so that we might go in the cellar; and how, mounted up on logs on either side of a barrel of cider, we plunged our straws through the foamy mass at the bung-hole, and drew out long draughts of sweet cider! I was sure to get myself dirty in my zeal, which she never did; and then she would laugh at me and patronize me, and wipe me up in a motherly sort of way. "How do you always get so dirty, Harry?" she would say, in a truly maternal tone of reproof. "How do you keep so clean?" I would say, in wonder; and she would laugh, and call me her dear, dirty boy. She would often laugh at me, the little elf, and make herself distractingly merry at my expense, but the moment she saw that the blood was getting too high in my cheeks, she would stroke me down with praises, as became a wise young daughter of Eve.

Besides all this, she had her little airs of moral superiority, and used occasionally to lecture me in the nicest manner. Being an only darling, she herself was brought up in the strictest ways in which little feet could go; and the nicety of her conscience was as unsullied as that of her dress. I was hot tempered and heady, and under stress of great provocation would come as near swearing as a minister's son could possibly do. When the big boys ravaged our house under the tree, or threw sticks at us, I used to stretch every permitted limit, and scream, "Darn you!" and "Confound you!" with a vigor and emphasis that made it almost equal to something a good deal stronger.

On such occasions Susie would listen pale and frightened, and, when reason came back to me, gravely lecture me, and bring me into the paths of virtue. She used to rehearse to me the teachings of her mother about all manner of good things.

I have her image now in my mind, looking so crisp and composed and neat in her sobriety, repeating, for my edification, the hymn which contained the good child's ideal in those days:

"Oh, that it were my chief delight

To do the things I ought,

Then let me try with all my might

To mind what I am taught.

Whene'er I'm told, I'll freely bring

Whatever I have got,

And never touch a pretty thing,

When mother tells me not.

If she permits me, I may tell

About my little toys,

But if she's busy or unwell,

I must not make a noise."

I can hear now the delicious lisp of my little saint, and see the gracious gravity of her manner. To my mind, she was unaccountably well established in the ways of virtue, and I listened to her little lectures with a secret reverence.

Susie was especially careful in the observation of Sunday, and as that is a point where children are apt to be particularly weak, she would exhort me to rigorous exactitude.

I kept it, first, by thinking that I should see her at church, and by growing very precise about my Sunday clothes, whereat my sisters winked at each other and laughed slyly. Then at church we sat in great square pews adjoining to each other. It was my pleasure to peep through the slats at Susie. She was wonderful to behold then, all in white, with a profusion of blue ribbons and her little flat hat over her curls—and a pair of dainty blue shoes peeping out from her dress.

She informed me that little girls never must think about their clothes in meeting, and so I supposed she was trying to be entirely absorbed from earthly vanities, unconscious of the fixed and earnest stare with which I followed every movement.

Human nature is but partially sanctified, however, in little saints as well as grown up ones, and I noticed that occasionally, probably by accident, the great blue eyes met mine, and a smile, almost amounting to a sinful giggle, was with difficulty choked down. She was, however, a most conscientious little puss and recovered herself in a moment, and looked gravely upward at the minister, not one word of whose sermon could she by any possibility understand, severely devoting herself to her religious duties, till exhausted nature gave way. The little lids would close over the eyes like blue pimpernel before a shower,—the head would drop and nod, till finally the mother would dispense the little Christian from further labors, by laying her head on her lap and drawing her feet up comfortably upon the seat, to sleep out to the end of the sermon.

When winter came on I beset my older brother to make me a sled. Sleds, such as every boy in Boston or New York now rejoices in, were blessings in our parts unknown; our sled was of rough, domestic manufacture.

My brother, laughing, asked if my sled was intended to draw Susie on, and on my earnest response in the affirmative he amused himself with painting it in colors, red and blue, most glorious to behold.

My soul was magnified within me when I first started with this stylish establishment to wait on Susie.

What young fellow does not exult in a smart team when he has a girl whom he wants to dazzle? Great was my joy and pride when I first stopped at Susie's and told her to hurry on her things, for I had come to draw her to school!

What a pretty picture she made in her little blue knit hood and mittens, her bright curls flying and cheeks glowing with the keen winter air! There was a long hill on the way to school, and seated on the sled behind her, I careered gloriously down with exultation in my breast, while a stream of laughter floated on the breeze behind us. That was a winter of much coasting down hill, of red cheeks and red noses, of cold toes, which we never minded, and of abundant jollity. Susie, under her mother's careful showing, knit me a pair of red mittens, warming to the heart and delightful to the eyes; and I piled up wood and carried water for Mother, and by vigorous economy earned money enough to buy Susie a great candy heart as big as my two hands, that had the picture of two doves tied together by a blue ribbon on one side, and on the other two very red hearts skewered together by an arrow.

No work of art ever gave greater and more unmingled delight. Susie gave it a prominent place in her baby-house,—and though it was undeniably sweet, as certain little nibbling trials on its edges had proved, yet the artistic sense was stronger than the palate, and the candy heart was kept to be looked at and rejoiced in.

Susie's mother was an intimate and confidential friend of my mother, and a most docile and confiding sheep of my father's flock. She regarded her minister's family, and all that belonged to it, as something set apart and sacred. My mother had imparted to her the little joke of my matrimonial wishes, and the two matrons had laughed over it together, and then sighed, and said, "Ah! well, stranger things have happened." Susie's mother told how she used to know her husband when he was a little boy, and what if it should be! and then they strayed on to the general truth that this was a world of uncertainty, and we never can tell what a day may bring forth.

Our little idyl, too, was rather encouraged by my brothers and sisters, who made a pet and plaything of Susie, and diverted themselves by the gravity and honesty with which we devoted ourselves to each other. Oh! dear ignorant days—sweet little child-Eden—why could it not last?

But it could not. It was fleeting as the bobolink's song, as the spotted yellow lilies, as the grass and daisies. My little Daisy was too dear to the angels to be spared to grow up in our coarse world.

The winter passed and spring came, and Susie and I rejoiced in the first bluebird, and found blue and white violets together, and went to school together, till the heats of summer came on. Then a sad epidemic began to linger around in our mountains, and to be heard of in neighboring villages, and my poor Daisy was scorched by its breath.

I remember well our last afternoon together in the meadow, where, the year before, we had gathered strawberries. We went down into it in high spirits; the strawberries were abundant, and we chatted and picked together gaily, till Daisy began to complain that her head ached and her throat was sore. I sat her down by the brook, and wet her curls with the water, and told her to rest there, and let me pick for her. But pretty soon she called me. She was crying with pain. "Oh! Hazzy, dear, I must go home," she said. "Take me to Mother." I hurried to help her, for she cried and moaned so that I was frightened. I began to cry, too, and we came up the steps of her mother's house sobbing together.

When her mother came out the little one suppressed her tears and distress for a moment, and turning, threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. "Don't cry any more, Hazzy," she said; "we'll see each other again."

Her mother took her up in her arms and carried her in, and I never saw my little baby-wife again on this earth! Not where the daisies and buttercups grew; nor where the golden lilies shook their bells, and the bobolinks trilled; not in the school-room, with its many child-voices; not in the old square pew in church—never, never more that trim little maiden form, those violet blue eyes, those golden curls of hair, were to be seen on earth!

My Daisy's last kisses, with the fever throbbing in her veins, very nearly took me with her. From that time I have only indistinct remembrances of going home crying, of turning with a strange loathing from my supper, of creeping up and getting into bed, shivering and burning, with a thumping and beating pain in my head.

The next morning the family doctor pronounced me a case of the epidemic (scarlet fever) which he said was all about among children in the neighborhood.

I have dim, hot, hazy recollections of burning, thirsty, head-achey days, when I longed for cold water, and could not get a drop, according to the good old rules of medical practice in those times. I dimly observed different people sitting up with me every night, and putting different medicines in my unresisting mouth; and day crept slowly after day, and I lay idly watching the rays of sunlight and flutter of leaves on the opposite wall.

One afternoon, I remember, as I lay thus listless, I heard the village bell strike slowly—six times. The sound wavered and trembled with long and solemn intervals of shivering vibration between. It was the numbering of my Daisy's little years on earth,—the announcement that she had gone to the land where time is no more measured by day and night, for there shall be no night there.

When I was well again I remember my mother told me that my little Daisy was in heaven, and I heard it with a dull, cold chill about my heart, and wondered that I could not cry.

I look back now into my little heart as it was then, and remember the paroxysms of silent pain I used to have at times, deep within, while yet I seemed to be like any other boy.

I heard my sisters one day discussing whether I cared much for Daisy's death.

"He don't seem to, much," said one.

"Oh, children are little animals, they forget what's out of sight," said another.

But I did not forget,—I could not bear to go to the meadow where we gathered strawberries,—to the chestnut trees where we had gathered nuts,—and oftentimes, suddenly, in work or play, that smothering sense of a past, forever gone, came over me like a physical sickness.

When children grow up among older people and are pushed and jostled, and set aside in the more engrossing interests of their elders, there is an almost incredible amount of timidity and dumbness of nature, with regard to the expression of inward feeling,—and yet, often at this time the instinctive sense of pleasure and pain is fearfully acute. But the child has imperfectly learned language. His stock of words, as yet, consists only in names and attributes of outward and physical objects, and he has no phraseology with which to embody a mere emotional experience.

What I felt when I thought of my little playfellow, was a dizzying, choking rush of bitter pain and anguish. Children can feel this acutely as men and women,—but even in mature life this experience has no gift of expression.

My mother alone, with the divining power of mothers, kept an eye on me. "Who knows," she said to my father, "but this death may be a heavenly call to him."

She sat down gently by my bed one night and talked with me of heaven, and the brightness and beauty there, and told me that little Susie was now a fair white angel.

I remember shaking with a tempest of sobs.

"But I want her here," I said. "I want to see her."

My mother went over all the explanations in the premises,—all that can ever be said in such cases, but I only sobbed the more.

"I can't see her! Oh mother, mother!"

That night I sobbed myself to sleep and dreamed a blessed dream.

It seemed to me that I was again in our meadow, and that it was fairer than ever before; the sun shone gaily, the sky was blue, and our great, golden lily stocks seemed mysteriously bright and fair, but I was wandering lonesome and solitary. Then suddenly my little Daisy came running to meet me in her pink dress and white apron, with her golden curls hanging down her neck. "Oh Daisy, Daisy!" said I running up to her. "Are you alive?—they told me that you were dead."

"No, Hazzy, dear, I am not dead,—never you believe that," she said, and I felt the clasp of her soft little arms round my neck. "Didn't I tell you we'd see each other again?"

"But they told me you were dead," I said in wonder—and I thought I held her off and looked at her,—she laughed gently at me as she often used to, but her lovely eyes had a mysterious power that seemed to thrill all through me.

"I am not dead, dear Hazzy," she said. "We never die were I am—I shall love you always," and with that my dream wavered and grew misty as when clear water breaks an image into a thousand glassy rings and fragments.

I thought I heard lovely music, and felt soft, clasping arms, and I awoke with a sense of being loved and pitied, and comforted.

I cannot describe the vivid, penetrating sense of reality which this dream left behind it. It seemed to warm my whole life, and to give back to my poor little heart something that had been rudely torn away from it. Perhaps there is no reader that has not had experiences of the wonderful power which a dream often exercises over the waking hours for weeks after—and it will not appear incredible that after that, instead of shunning the meadow where we used to play, it was my delight to wander there alone, to gather the strawberries—tend the birds' nests, and lie down on my back in the grass and look up into the blue sky through an overarching roof of daisies, with a strange sort of feeling of society, as if my little Daisy were with me.

And is it not perhaps so? Right along side of this troublous life, that is seen and temporal, may lie the green pastures and the still waters of the unseen and eternal, and they who know us better than we know them, can at any time step across that little rill that we call Death, to minister to our comfort.

For what are these child-angels made, that are sent down to this world to bring so much love and rapture, and go from us in such bitterness and mourning? If we believe in Almighty Love we must believe that they have a merciful and tender mission to our wayward souls. The love wherewith we love them is something the most utterly pure and unworldly of which human experience is capable, and we must hope that every one who goes from us to the world of light, goes holding an invisible chain of love by which to draw us there.

Sometimes I think I would never have had my little Daisy grow older on our earth. The little child dies in growing into womanhood, and often the woman is far less lovely than the little child. It seems to me that lovely and loving childhood, with its truthfulness, its frank sincerity, its pure, simple love, is so sweet and holy an estate that it would be a beautiful thing in heaven to have a band of heavenly children, guileless, gay and forever joyous—tender Spring blossoms of the Kingdom of Light. Was it of such whom he had left in his heavenly home our Saviour was thinking, when he took little children up in his arms and blessed them, and said, "Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven?"

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