Widow Cahoon and Her Grandson

by the American Sunday-School Union

"I wish to make a call in —— street," said a lady to me, as we together were visiting some of the poor of the city. "There is a Mrs. Smith living there, a poor old woman nearly eighty years old. She is infirm and partially blind. She has a little grandson, and she has no means with which to take care of him. We hope to persuade her to give him to us, and let us find a good home, by adoption, for him."

It was a warm winter's morning. Snow had fallen the day before, but it was rapidly disappearing. The foot sank in the melting mass at every step. The crossings were muddy, and it required some skill to pick our way along dry-shod.

We turned into the street, and sought for the number which had been given us. We found it on the door of a low, shed-like building, old and out of repair.

"Does Mrs. Smith live here?" we inquired.

"No, ma'am."

"Is there an old lady, who is almost blind, and who has a little grandson, in the house?"—we further asked, thinking Mrs. Smith might not be known by name.

"No, ma'am. There is no such person here."

"Does she live in the neighbourhood?"

"She may be in No. ——."

We made inquiries at several doors, dodging in quickly to avoid the great drops which came pattering down on the pavement from the gutterless eaves, but we could learn nothing of the object of our search.

At length we came to a grocery, and, stepping in by the mackerel barrels which stood at the door, we repeated our inquiry—

"Can you tell us where Mrs. Smith lives? She is an old lady, almost blind, and has a little grandson."

"Oh, yes! I know her well. She is a deserving, needy woman."

The man followed us to the street to point out the house where she lived. As he was telling us, a woman passed by. He spoke to her, saying,

"You know where Mrs. Smith lives—the old lady who is almost blind, and who has a little grandson?"

"Yes."

"Will you show these ladies the place?"

"Yes."

She walked on with us till she came to a large tenement building, and then directed us to a room in the upper story. We thanked her, and entered the narrow hall, and passed up the still narrower staircase.

We knocked at the door, and were bidden to enter. The old lady was not there. We inquired for her again, and learned that she had just gone out. The woman said she would send for her. A boy, ten or twelve years old, went to find her. While he was gone, we talked with his mother,—a round-faced, good-natured, intelligent Irish woman. We asked her where Mrs. Smith lived, and she said she was most of the time with her. Poor woman! she had only a living-room and a bed-room for herself and four children, yet she was willing to share them with another as poor and more helpless than herself.

She was a widow, too, and had no one to depend upon. Her husband died last spring. During the summer she had provided for her family by washing and cleaning, but this winter she finds it almost impossible to get work. One of the children is a babe, who was lying on a rough, unpainted board-cradle, rudely put together by some unaccustomed hand. This infant had been taken care of during the summer by his brother, not more than ten or twelve years old, while his mother was absent at work. There was a little girl, about eight years old, who attends the Industrial School. She was quite unwell, and had not been able to go out for several days. She sat in the great rocking-chair, looking sad and disconsolate, as most sick children do. She was comfortably clothed. Her dress she had received at the school, and had sewed on it herself doing all her little fingers could do to make it. Her hair was neatly combed. She was feverish and very thirsty. Sometimes she went to the pail herself for a cup of water, and sometimes her brother would get it for her. He seemed kind, gentle, and sympathizing—a good example for some more favoured boys.

Pretty soon the door opened, and an aged woman, bent with years and breathing hard and painfully, entered the room. A boy, with a complexion fair and transparent, through which the blue veins showed themselves, immediately followed her. She greeted us kindly, and took a chair by my side, bending towards us that she might hear more easily, for she was almost deaf. She told us that since her daughter's death she had been entirely dependent on charity.

After talking with her a short time, Mrs. B——, the lady accompanying me, gave her little grandson a penny to buy some candy. She did so, because she wished to talk with his grandmother about him, and thought he had, perhaps, better not be in the room. So soon as he left, she asked the old lady if she had made up her mind to part with the child. She had been spoken to a fortnight previously in regard to it by another lady, and seemed then unwilling that he should leave her. She said she had come to the conclusion that she must give him up, for she was too old and feeble to take care of him, and she was constantly anxious about him. She could not do for him all that he needed, and she knew it would be much better for him to be adopted in some kind family, where he could be brought up as a son. She spoke of him most tenderly and affectionately. He was her earthly all. She had taken care of him from his infancy. She came from Ireland for that very purpose. His father had died before he was old enough to remember him, and his mother had supported him by her own industry.

The grandmother's name was not Smith, as we called her. It was, as she said, widow Cahoon. The daughter's name was Smith, and the sunny-haired boy was David. Last May, Mrs. Smith died of cholera, leaving her aged mother homeless, and her beautiful boy an orphan.

When David returned with a great piece of molasses-candy, he did not keep it all himself. He divided it among the other children without being told to do so. This showed that he was a generous child, and loved to make others happy. When he had eaten his portion, his grandmother washed his face, neck, and hands, and put on his best clothes, which his mother had made for him before her death. He looked very tidy and comfortable in his brown overcoat and his new boots—a New-Year's present.

The grandmother tied up a pair of shoes and a few socks in a little bundle. When she handed it to David, he burst into tears. He felt that he was really going from his dearest friend. She wept aloud for a few minutes, but when she saw how much it affected him, she wiped away her tears, and attempted to cheer him. He summoned his resolution and became once more calm.

Mrs. B—— took him by the hand, and led him down stairs. As he left the room, I gave mine to his grandmother, who uplifted it in both her's, as if pleading, in silent agony, for strength to bear this new trial. I shall never forget the expression of that wrinkled, up-turned face. Dear old grandmother! Who will comfort her now? David will not forget her, but he cannot put his arms around her neck, nor cheer her with the sunlight of his bright face. She is alone—none of her kindred near. The lady who took charge of David will do what she can for her, but her heart must yearn for the dear boy that poverty and age compelled her to give to the fostering care of strangers.

When David reached the street, the tears were tracing their way over his round, plump cheek, but soon a smile played around his mouth. Mrs. B—— took him into a toy-shop, and purchased for him a tin horse suspended in a wheel, which he could roll about the room. He selected this himself, and it was delightful to see with how much pleasure he looked at it, as he carried it in his hand.

We concluded to make no more calls that day, but to take David directly to Mrs. B——'s. When his coat and cap were taken off, he began to roll the horse across the floor. Sometimes he would come and stand by my side, and examine it closely. I said to him—

"Have you ever been in the country?"

"Oh, yes. I was there a month, when we buried mother."

"Where were you?"

"We were with Elek, grandma's son."

"Why doesn't your grandmother live with him?"

"He isn't kind to her."

"Was his wife kind?"

"No; she said she wouldn't live with him if grandma did."

"What did you see in the country?"

"I saw the fields, and the trees, and horses, and cows."

"Did Elek have a cow?"

"Yes; and she went away every day, and at night she came home, and they milked her."

"Did you see any birds?"

"I saw birds no bigger than that," said he, putting his hand over his horse so as to hide more than half of it, "and they sang all the time. And there were some chickens, that laid eggs, and then Elek's wife sold the eggs to the baker to pay for bread."

"And had you apples or peaches?"

"I used to throw small stones at the apples, and knock them off. The peaches I could reach with my hand. I had just as many as I wanted."

The little orphan's month in the country had been a sunny spot in his memory, clouded only by the unkindness of Elek towards the grandmother he loved so much.

How strange it is that children can ever forget how much they owe their parents! When the widow Cahoon was young, she had watched over his infancy. She had carried him in her arms, unmindful of her own weariness, and had done all for him that his helplessness required. But now she is old; her eyes are dim; her hearing is impaired; her hands are tremulous, and she is unable to provide for herself. Yet Elek's heart is hard. He has forgotten all her love, and will not even give her a home. He cannot prosper.

I well remember, when a child, what a fearful impression a passage from the "words of Agur" made on my mind: "The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it." "Honour thy father and mother, (which is the first commandment with promise,") Paul writes to the Ephesian children, "that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth."

I should fear to hear Elek's future history. It must be dark and sorrowful. His poor old mother uttered a groan, when, as she was talking about David's mother, I asked if she had any other children. "He isn't kind to her," explained its meaning.

"Sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child."

I left David with Mrs. B——, who will find him a home in some family where they wish to adopt a little son. "He will make friends for himself,"—she said, confidently, and I felt so also, for his sweet, intelligent face is too attractive and winning not to find its way to some loving heart.

When Mrs. B—— talked with him about his mother, he wept. She soon comforted him, and told him that God would provide for him. He seems to possess a sensitive nature, with, at the same time, the power of self-control.

Who of you would like this orphan for an adopted brother? He is only five years old. I have written to a kind lady of my acquaintance, who has adopted two little girls, to inquire if she does not wish to add David to her household treasures. There are many such homeless children in New York, and it is an act of Christian charity to adopt and educate them, and one which is rich in blessings to every heart that is open to receive the fatherless and motherless.

Mrs. B—— would like to have adopted David herself but she has so much to do for so many orphan children, that she concluded she had not the time to devote to him. She sent him to a place known as the Home of the Friendless. This is a large brick house, built on purpose to shelter those who have no home of their own. There are always many children there, who are kindly taken care of till homes can be obtained for them. Those who are large enough attend school.

I was so much interested in David that I often called to see him. The first call was made one day just before dinner. I looked about for my little friend, and found him in the wash-room. He was standing by a great towel, and wiping his fair, plump face as nicely as he could. I kissed his clean, rosy cheek, and inquired if he remembered me. He smiled, and said, "Yes, ma'am." He appeared quite happy and contented. His teacher told me that he was a remarkably good boy.

Several applications were made for David by those who heard his story, and found room in their hearts and houses for the fatherless and motherless boy. His grandmother, knowing that she was too aged and feeble to take care of him, gave him to the Home. It was a great trial to do so, but she loved him too well not to seek his best interests. She was willing to live alone, uncheered by the presence and affection of her darling grandchild, if she could only feel that he would be kindly treated and educated by Christian people.

A lady in Illinois wrote that she had a dear little son in heaven, and wanted David to come to her to supply his place in the home circle, where he would find those whom he might call "father, mother, and grandmother." A clergyman in Connecticut proposed to adopt him, and was coming to New York the first of May to take him home, if it should be thought best.

While David was at the Home for the Friendless, his grandmother occupied a room not far from Mrs. B——'s. It was on the lower floor, so that she was no longer exhausted by going up so many flights of stairs. Several ladies united, and each sent her a dinner one day in the week, and saw that she was provided with breakfast and tea. They furnished her with comfortable clothing, for which she manifested much gratitude.

It was always pleasant to call upon "Widow Cahoon," and hear her talk about herself and her previous charge. She told us about his parents and grandparents. His father's father was a Methodist clergyman, and his grandmother, Smith, was a most devout woman. She loved to talk of their excellencies of character, and the good they had accomplished. I never heard her without being reminded of God's faithfulness in showing mercy unto thousands of them that love him and keep his commandments.

One day, when I was at Mrs. B——'s, "Widow Cahoon" was ushered into her private room—a back parlour on the second story. She was much out of breath, and it required some time for her to recover herself sufficiently to talk. At length she spoke of her children, some of whom she hoped were living. Two sons and a daughter had come to America long before she did, and had gone to Pennsylvania. She had not heard from them for twelve years. She had often prayed that she might see them before she died, and she hoped still that she should. She had been the mother of eleven children, and here she was entirely alone,—no relative near her to care for her in her age and helplessness. She was very desirous Mrs. B—— should write to Pennsylvania to make inquiries about her children. It seemed almost a hopeless effort, but, to gratify her, Mrs. B—— wrote to the postmaster of the town where her sons were last heard from. In about a week an answer came from the postmaster saying that he was well acquainted with James, and had seen him a short time previously. He spoke highly of him, as an industrious and respectable man, and one who would be happy to provide for his mother. In regard to her other son, he said he did not know him personally. His reputation was good, and his circumstances were such that he could assist in the care of his mother. From James the "Widow Cahoon" afterwards learned that her daughter had married and moved farther west, but she had not been heard from for ten years. When Mrs. B—— read the letter to her, she was much overcome, and the tears chased each other down her furrowed cheeks. "Glory be to God!" she exclaimed. "He has lifted a load off my heart. I shall see my sons before I die. Bless the Lord that I ever saw the like of you! I have been trying seven years to get that letter written!"

I had the pleasure of carrying to her a letter from James, and reading it to her myself. As I entered the room she was sitting by the little stove in a large rocking-chair, looking as comfortable as one could wish. She seemed very happy, and told me about the prospect of seeing her sons. "They will send for me, and I shall go to them," was a cheering and delightful thought. She said she was expecting every day a letter from James. When I told her I had brought it, her face lighted up, and she uttered expressions of thankfulness, evidently from a full and overflowing heart. She spoke of David, and of being once more with him, if "the boys should send for him." She wished to do what was best for the child, and was still willing he should be adopted, if it was thought desirable. She expressed the utmost confidence in Mrs. B——, and was willing to leave it all to her judgment. This was the last time I ever saw the "Widow Cahoon," and we shall probably never meet again. She had no earthly treasure to confer upon me, but she gave me her blessing, and, I doubt not, will remember me in her prayers so long as she remains upon earth; and when the spirit-world is our home, I shall expect her face, unwrinkled by sorrow or age, to beam upon me a heavenly welcome. It was but little I did for this poor widow, and yet that little has been rich in blessings to me, and may be to mine, for whom she fervently prayed.

James, in his second letter, sent a check to his mother to pay her fare from New York to Pennsylvania with a request that David might accompany her. He will provide for them both in future.

So soon as arrangements could be made, the now happy widow and her little grandson started, under the protection of a friend, for her new home in the country where, I suppose, they now are. What a pleasure it must be to James to have his mother once more with him, and to be able to do something for her who has done so much for him! Little David will again see the birds and the chickens, and be surrounded by kind and loving friends. The ladies of the Home will occasionally inquire about him, and if he needs their care they will provide for him, as his grandmother made them his legal protectors. If I ever hear more about David which I think will interest you, I shall write you again in regard to him.