The Little Widow's Mite
by Grace Greenwood
On a nice little farm, on the shore of one of our
beautiful Western lakes, lives a noble young
German girl named Bertha Johansen, but oftener
called "little woman," for her womanly qualities,
and her staid, quaint ways; and for a while, among
her family-friends, still oftener called "little
widow," for a reason I will give by and by. Early in
the war against the Rebellion, Bertha's father and
three brothers enlisted in one regiment, and were
very soon marched away to the front, taking with
them the tender, tearful blessings of the lonely little
household left behind. The good wife and mother,
Ernestine Johansen, took upon her brave heart and
strong hands the entire business of the little farm,
having for a while only the assistance of a young
adopted son, an orphan nephew, who had lived with
the Johansens from his infancy. But after having
seen his uncle and cousins go forth so bravely to
their grand though dreadful duty, the lad Heinrich
grew discontented and unhappy. He had a man's
heart in his boyish breast,—a heart full of patriotic
ardor and devotion; and at last his good aunt
consented that he too should go to the war, in the only
capacity in which he could be accepted, as a
drummer boy, in a regiment just ready to march to the
Bertha had grieved deeply, though quietly, in the
brave, uncomplaining, submissive spirit peculiar to
her, at bidding adieu to her dear father,—to
Gustave, and Fritz, and Carl, her brothers,—but she
grieved no less at parting with Heinrich Holberg.
The two children had always been to each other the
best and dearest of friends. Almost from her
babyhood, Heinrich had called Bertha his "little wife,"
and she had early learned to play the character, in
the most demure and charming manner. She had
for him a tender and clinging affection; she
believed in him with all her heart, and he was not
altogether unworthy of such love and confidence,—he
was a very good boy, as boys go.
Well, Heinrich marched away with the rest of
the admirable German band, proudly and gayly
they said,—the pluckiest of drummer-boys. But
he had seemed neither proud nor gay, a few hours
before, when he had run down to the little
lakeside farm, to take leave of his aunt and cousin.
He had looked pale and very sad. He had said
farewell in a voice choked with sobs, and when he
ran down the little garden walk to the road, great
tears were dropping fast on the bright buttons of
his new uniform. His "little wife" went to her
little chamber, knelt down beside her little bed,
and said a little prayer for him,—then dashed the
bitter dew from her sweet violet eyes, and went
about her household duties, like the dear little
woman that she was.
Alas, it was the same old sad story! The father
was killed at Pittsburg Landing, and the oldest
brother wounded and taken captive: he afterwards
died in Libby Prison. The second brother returned
home, after a year's hard marching and fighting, a
pale, wan invalid, with one sleeve of his worn blue
coat hanging empty. The third brother is now an
officer in the triumphant Union army, and let us
thank God for him, for his work is nearly done.
The sorrow of the little German household did
not end with the death of the beloved father, and
of brave Gustave, and the loss of the good right
arm of poor Fritz. Heinrich was also taken
prisoner, in a sudden night attack on his regiment
in Tennessee, and carried off by one of the robber
bands of the barbarous Forrest. His tender age,
and gentle, prepossessing ways, won him no pity.
He was shut up, with thousands of others, in one of
those horrible slaughter-pens of the South, called
a "stockade," where he languished for many
months, bearing all his hardships with the utmost
sweetness and patience, feeling that his suffering
was but a drop to the great ocean of human agony
and despair around him.
Heinrich had been religiously brought up, and
while many brave men about him lost all faith and
hope, and believed themselves forgotten by the God
who made them, he believed that over their
loathsome prison-yard hovered hosts of pitying angels,
and that above and around the vast field of
fraternal strife brooded an infinite fatherly love, and
"the peace of God that passeth all understanding."
He had never a doubt but that Heaven was very
near to their prison-pen,—that the "many
mansions" of the Father would be all open to those
martyrs of freedom,—that there rest and sweet
refreshment awaited them,—that there pitiless hate
and cruel wounds, hunger and fierce heat and
bitter cold, would torture them no more forever.
From the time of his capture, nothing more was
heard of poor Heinrich in his sad home on the Lake
shore, and he was at last given up as dead by all
his friends, except little Bertha. She had a
"feeling," she said, that he was living still, and would
come back one day, if only she could keep up heart
for him. He might be so weak and ill, she thought,
that he would die if she once should give him
up,—but not till then. O little woman, great
was thy faith! Bertha knew not that she was
already called by neighbors and friends "the little
widow." She would have passionately rejected
the title. She "could not make him dead."
She had little time for fretting about her absent
friend. Her mother's brave spirit had bent under
the successive burdens of sorrow, and her bodily
strength for a while gave way. Carl, the invalid
soldier, had much difficulty in managing the affairs
of the farm, and nearly all the cares of the
household came upon Bertha. O, nobly she bore herself
under them. She so completely took the place of
her sick mother, that all went well in that humble
and peaceful home, till the bitterest trouble was
past, and the good mother rallied and was able to
take part of the burden of labor and care, which,
however cheerfully borne, was quite too heavy for
such young shoulders.
Bertha's wise little head was perplexed. There
was to be a great Sanitary fair in the city near by,
and she felt a passionate desire to contribute
something towards the great and good work. What
could she do? She was not rich enough to give
money; she could not paint nor embroider; she had
not the skill to manufacture elegant trifles; she was
not old or pretty or fashionable enough to stand
behind one of the tables. What could she do?
At last it occurred to her that she could
contribute to the refreshment department a roll of
butter of her own churning, from the milk of her
own little snow-white cow. So, with her good
mother's consent, she saved all the cream off the
rich milk of her pet for a week, and dedicated the
golden product to the soldiers. She had two
churnings, and the result was five pounds of
delicious butter. Her pleasant work was done in the
open air, before the side-door of the cottage, in
sight of the beautiful lake. On the day of her
second churning, her thoughts were peculiarly
sweet and cheerful. She sung as gayly as the
robin, nestling in the vine-leaves over the cottage
window. Her soul was as serene as the sky, her
heart as tranquil as the lake, sleeping in the still
As Bertha worked with all the strength of her
vigorous little arms, and with a gay good-will,
little jets of cream now and then spirted up around
the dasher, sometimes sprinkling her round, rosy
face, and once or twice reaching her smiling lips
to dissolve in sweetness there; and she said to
herself, "How many sweet and beautiful things have
gone to make up this golden cream!—the tender
bloom of the early summer clover and daisies, and
dew and sunshine, and by and by, when it hardens
into more golden butter, and goes to the 'Sanitary,'
won't more beautiful things still be added to it?—pity,
and love, and patriotism, and the blessing of
God?" Then her thoughts wandered, and her
face clouded, and she murmured, "O our poor
sick and wounded soldiers! O the poor prisoners!
O my poor, dear Heinrich!"
Just then she heard her mother call her in an
eager, trembling voice. She ran into the cottage
to see, seated in the neat kitchen, a young soldier,
in a faded and tattered uniform,—a pale, emaciated
figure, childlike in weakness, but old in suffering.
Bertha knew him rather by heart than by sight,
and, falling on his neck, cried, "Dear, dear
Heinrich! I have always said the Lord would bring you
back, and He has, has n't he?"
"Yes, little wife, all that the Rebels have left of me."
The drummer-boy's story was sad and strange
but such stories are painfully common now-a-days.
He had escaped from the stockade with a party of
friends; they had been chased by bloodhounds and
all retaken. Heinrich escaped again, alone; he
was befriended, fed, guided by loyal negroes; he
made his way, on foot, through the mountains of
Tennessee, and, after countless hardships and
adventures, reached the glorious Northwest, and his
home. He was ill with a disease brought on by
starvation and exposure, and though he had no
battle-wounds to show, there were, on his neck
and arms, the terrible marks of the bloodhound's
teeth,—surely honorable scars. On the whole,
Bertha Johansen thought her cousin Heinrich a
hero, and I think she was right.
But to return to the Sanitary butter,—"the
little widow's mite." Bertha made it up into
beautiful rolls, which she printed with a stamp
representing buttercups and clover-flowers, and it
looked deliciously tempting. "There is only five
pounds," she said, as she walked towards the Fair
Grounds, bearing her offering in a neat basket,
covered with a snowy napkin. "Only five pounds;
how I wish there were fifty. If our dear Lord
were only here on earth, He could easily make
them fifty. If He could multiply loaves of bread,
I suppose He could rolls of butter. But, O dear,
He is n't here!"
Dear Bertha, our Lord is always on earth, in the
hearts of good men and women,—is always ready
to work through them His miracles of love and mercy.
Bertha presented her humble gift most modestly
to one of the lady managers, who received it very
graciously. This lady was one of Bertha's
neighbors, and knew of her beautiful life of duty,
obedience, and cheerful self-sacrifices.
She told the simple story of the child to some
friends about her, and showed the five rolls of
golden butter. A group of gentlemen soon
gathered near. "I will give a dollar a pound for that
butter," said one. "I will give two," called out
another. Then there was a laugh. Then other
bids were made,—three, four, five dollars. It
was getting to be a nice little frolic, and those
grave business men entered into it like boys.
Higher and higher they went, till at last Bertha's
butter was knocked down at fifty dollars,—ten
dollars a pound.
As the purchaser laid down a roll of "greenbacks"
for the golden rolls of butter, a gust of
wind caught the bills and blew them over the
counter, where the lady secured them. "So riches
fly away in your Sanitary Fairs," said the
gentleman, smiling. "Yes," replied the lady, "but with
healing on their wings."