AN old wife sat by her bright fireside,
Swaying thoughtfully to and fro,
In an ancient chair whose creaky frame
Told a tale of long ago;
While down by her side, on the kitchen floor,
Stood a basket of worsted balls—a score.
The old man dozed o'er the latest news,
Till the light of his pipe went out,
And, unheeded, the kitten, with cunning paws,
Rolled and tangled the balls about;
Yet still sat the wife in the ancient chair,
Swaying to and fro, in the firelight glare.
But anon a misty tear-drop came
In her eye of faded blue,
Then trickled down in a furrow deep,
Like a single drop of dew;
So deep was the channel—so silent the stream—
The good man saw naught but the dimmed eye-beam.
Yet he marvelled much that the cheerful light
Of her eye had weary grown,
And marvelled he more at the tangled balls;
So he said in a gentle tone,
"I have shared thy joys since our marriage vow,
Conceal not from me thy sorrows now."
Then she spoke of the time when the basket there
Was filled to the very brim,
And how there remained of the goodly pile
But a single pair—for him.
"Then wonder not at the dimmed eye-light,
There's but one pair of stockings to mend to-night.
"I cannot but think of the busy feet,
Whose wrappings were wont to lie
In the basket, awaiting the needle's time,
Now wandered so far away;
How the sprightly steps to a mother dear,
Unheeded fell on the careless ear.
"For each empty nook in the basket old,
By the hearth there's a vacant seat;
And I miss the shadows from off the wall,
And the patter of many feet;
'Tis for this that a tear gathered over my sight
At the one pair of stockings to mend to-night.
"'Twas said that far through the forest wild,
And over the mountains bold,
Was a land whose rivers and darkening caves
Were gemmed with the rarest gold;
Then my first-born turned from the oaken door,
And I knew the shadows were only four.
"Another went forth on the foaming waves
And diminished the basket's store—
But his feet grew cold—so weary and cold—
They'll never be warm any more—
And this nook in its emptiness, seemeth to me
To give forth no voice but the moan of the sea.
"Two others have gone towards the setting sun,
And made them a home in its light,
And fairy fingers have taken their share
To mend by the fireside bright;
Some other baskets their garments fill—
But mine! Oh, mine is emptier still.
"Another—the dearest—the fairest—the best—
Was ta'en by the angels away,
And clad in a garment that waxeth not old,
In a land of continual day.
Oh! wonder no more at the dimmed eye-light,
While I mend the one pair of stockings to-night."