Faith and her Mother, from, "The Gates
Aunt Winifred went again to Worcester to-day. She
said that she had to buy trimming for Faith's sack.
She went alone, as usual, and Faith and I kept each other company
through the afternoon,—she on the floor with her doll, I in
the easy-chair with Macaulay. As the light began to fall level on
the floor, I threw the book aside,—being at the end of a volume,—and,
Mary Ann having exhausted her attractions, I surrendered
unconditionally to the little maiden.
She took me up garret, and down cellar, on top of the wood-pile,
and into the apple-trees; I fathomed the mysteries of Old
Man's Castle and Still Palm; I was her grandmother; I was her
baby; I was a rabbit; I was a chestnut horse; I was a watch-dog;
I was a mild-tempered giant; I was a bear, "warranted not to
eat little girls"; I was a roaring hippopotamus and a canary-bird;
I was Jeff Davis, and I was Moses in the bulrushes; and of what
I was, the time faileth me to tell.
It comes over me with a curious, mingled sense of the ludicrous
and the horrible, that I should have spent the afternoon like a
baby and almost as happily, laughing out with the child, past and
future forgotten, the tremendous risks of "I spy" absorbing all my
present, while what was happening was happening, and what was
to come was coming. Not an echo in the air, not a prophecy in
the sunshine, not a note of warning in the song of the robins that
watched me from the apple-boughs.
As the long, golden afternoon slid away, we came out by the
front gate to watch for the child's mother. I was tired, and, lying
back on the grass, gave Faith some pink and purple larkspurs, that
she might amuse herself in making a chain of them. The picture
that she made sitting there on the short dying grass—the light
which broke all about her and over her at the first, creeping slowly
down and away to the west, her little fingers linking the rich,
bright flowers, tube into tube, the dimple on her cheek and the
love in her eyes—has photographed itself into my thinking.
How her voice rang out, when the wheels sounded at last, and
the carriage, somewhat slowly driven, stopped!
"Mamma, mamma! see what I've got for you, mamma!"
Auntie tried to step from the carriage, and called me: "Mary,
can you help me a little? I am—tired."
I went to her, and she leaned heavily on my arm, and we came
up the path.
"Such a pretty little chain, all for you, mamma," began Faith,
and stopped, struck by her mother's look.
"It has been a long ride, and I am in pain. I believe I will lie
right down on the parlor sofa. Mary, would you be kind enough
to give Faith her supper and put her to bed?"
Faith's lip grieved.
"Cousin Mary isn't you, mamma. I want to be kissed. You
haven't kissed me."
Her mother hesitated for a moment; then kissed her once,
twice; put both arms about her neck, and turned her face to the
wall without a word.
"Mamma is tired, dear," I said; "come away."
She was lying quite still when I had done what was to be done
for the child, and had come back. The room was nearly dark. I
sat down on my cricket by her sofa.
"Did you find the sack-trimming?" I ventured, after a pause.
"I believe so,—yes."
She drew a little package from her pocket, held it a moment,
then let it roll to the floor forgotten. When I picked it up, the
soft, tissue-paper wrapper was wet and hot with tears.
"I never thought of the little trimming till the last minute. I
had another errand."
"I thought at first I would not tell you just yet. But I suppose
the time has come; it will be no more easy to put it off. I
have been to Worcester all these times to see a doctor."
I bent my head in the dark, and listened for the rest.
"He has his reputation; they said he could help me if anybody
could. He thought at first he could. But to-day—"
The leaves rustled out of doors. Faith, up stairs, was singing
herself to sleep with a droning sound.
"I suppose," she said at length, "I must give up and be sick
now; I am feeling the reaction from having kept up so long. He
thinks I shall not suffer a very great deal. He thinks he can
relieve me, and that it may be soon over."
"There is no chance?"
I took both of her hands, and cried out, "Auntie, Auntie,
Auntie!" and tried to think what I was doing, but only cried out
"Why, Mary!" she said; "why, Mary!" and again, as before,
she passed her soft hand to and fro across my hair, till by and by I
began to think, as I had thought before, that I could bear anything
which God, who loved us all,—who surely loved us all,—should
So then, after I had grown still, she began to tell me about it in
her quiet voice; and the leaves rustled, and Faith had sung herself
to sleep, and I listened wondering. For there was no pain in the
quiet voice,—no pain, nor tone of fear. Indeed, it seemed to me that
I detected, through its subdued sadness, a secret, suppressed buoyancy
of satisfaction, with which something struggled.
"And you?" I asked, turning quickly upon her.
"I should thank God with all my heart, Mary, if it were not
for Faith and you. But it is for Faith and you. That's all."
When I had locked the front door, and was creeping up here to
my room, my foot crushed something, and a faint, wounded perfume
came up. It was the little pink and purple chain.