Out of the Mouth of Babes
by Florence Finch Kelly
Perhaps it was a mere matter of nerves, but it seemed to me that
morning that it was the cliffs of the Valley. Those mighty,
overshadowing, everlasting walls and towers of the Yosemite seem to be
endowed with the power to produce numberless changes of feeling.
Sometimes you gaze at them, and they lift up your spirit and hold it
aloft in the free air, and send it up, and up, and up, until it reaches
the very blue of heaven, and you know that you are free and powerful
and ennobled, made one with the saints and mighty ones of earth.
The next morning you go forth and look up at those silent granite
heights, and expect them to repeat their miracle. But they will not.
They frown upon you and crush you down into the earth you are made of.
Like an accusing conscience, they lift their stern, forbidding faces
above you on all sides and look you steadily in the eyes with their
insistence upon your unworthiness, until, in despair, you are ready to
shut yourself up to escape their persecutions.
Of course, as I said before, it may not be the cliffs at all. It may
be nothing but nerves. But I think it is the walls of the Valley.
On that particular morning they had made me bite the dust until I could
no longer endure the sight of them. To escape their solemn,
contemptuous faces I ran down a little path which led into a dense
thicket of young pines and cedars. The trees grew so close together
that they shut out all view of everything beyond a few feet on each
side of the path. The ground was brown with their cast-off needles,
and the air was pungent with their fragrance. Overhead there were
glimpses of a smiling blue sky, and the cool, fragrant shadows of the
thicket were brightened by patches of gleaming sunshine. The friendly
sounds of woodpeckers hammering the trees, and of birds singing among
the branches, pleased my ears and diverted my thoughts.
The only reminder of those towering granite Preachers, with their
everlasting "All is vanity," was the roaring and crashing of the
Yosemite Falls, which filled the Valley with their thunder and made the
The sights, the sounds, the odors, enveloped my senses and filled me
with delighted, languorous content. It was very comforting, and I sat
down on a log in the edge of a little opening, all pink and fragrant
with wild roses, to enjoy the sensuous delight of it all and so take
revenge upon the great stone Preachers waiting for me outside the
Presently there came from beyond the glade a soft, crooning noise,
which in an instant more became that sweetest of sounds, the voice of a
happy child alone with nature.
A little girl, perhaps four or five years old, came slowly down the
path. She was talking to herself and to the trees and birds and
squirrels, and even to the brown pine-needles under her feet. Her hat,
which she had stuck full of wild roses, hung at the back of her head,
the ends of her brown curls just peeping below it. Without the least
trace of childish shyness she came straight to where I sat, mounted the
log beside me, and asked me to take a thorn from her finger.
"Did it hurt you?" I asked, as I patted the chubby brown fist after the
operation. "You are a very brave little girl not to cry."
"Yes, I know it," she replied, looking at me with big violet eyes,
frank and confiding. She was a beautiful child, with a glorious
perfection of feature and complexion. "I 'm always brave. My papa
says so, and my new mamma says so, too. I 've got two mammas—my new
mamma and my gone-away mamma. But I like my new mamma best."
"Do you? Why?"
"'Cause she's always and always dust as good as she can be. And she
never and never says 'Stop this minute!' er 'at I make her head ache,
er 'at I 'm naughty, er anything. She dust puts her arms all 'round me
and says, 'Dear little girl.' An' 'en I 'm good. And I love my new
mamma, I do, better than my gone-away mamma." And she gave a decided
little nod, as if in defiance of some privately urged claim.
"Where has your other mamma gone?" I asked, expecting to hear but the
one answer. She raised her long lashes and looked at me seriously.
"You 're a tourist lady, ain't you? That's why you don't know. Well,
it was a tourist man, 'at stayed a long time, who tooked my gone-away
"A tourist man? Why did he do that?"
"'Cause he did n't want me 'round, I guess. When the flowers was here
that other time he comed to the store where my mamma sold all the
pretty things my papa made dust every day an' every day. An' I did n't
like him a bit, I did n't."
"Why didn't you like him?"
"'Cause he did n't like me, and did n't want me 'round. When my mamma
was there and I was there, he would come and talk to my mamma, an' 'en
he would tell her to send me away. An' 'en she would put me in the
back room; an' if I cried an' kicked the door, she would put me in the
closet. If the tourist man wasn't there, she loved me most all the
"Did n't she love you all the time, anyway?"
For answer the small maiden shut her eyes tightly and shook her head
rapidly and decidedly.
"Why do you think she did n't love you all the time?"
"'Cause sometimes she was n't good to me."
"Did you love her all the time?"
Another decided head-shaking.
"You did n't? Why?"
"I did n't love her when she did n't love me. But my new mamma loves
me all the time an' all day an' all night an' every day an' every night
an' always. An' we dust have the bestest times togevver, an' I love
her dust all I can love anybody." She hugged her chubby arms close up
to her breast as if she had them around the loved one's neck, screwed
up her pretty face, and gave the little grunt with which childhood
expresses the fulness of its affection.
"Did you see the tourist man take your gone-away mamma away?"
"No, I didn't see him, but he did, 'cause once she went to take a walk
an' 'en he never came back any more."
"And did n't she ever come back?"
"'Course not!" She looked at me in wide-eyed amazement at my
ignorance. "One day she said for me to stay there 'cause she was going
to take a walk. An' I cried to go too, an' 'en she picked me up quick
an' hugged me tight an' kissed me. An' 'en she put me down an' said
no, she was going too far. An' she took off her ring, her pretty gold
ring, 'at she never let me have before, an' said to play wif it and
when papa come give it to him. An' I did, an' papa readed a letter 'at
was on the table, an' 'en he fell down on the bed an' cried. An' I put
my hand on his face an' said, 'Poor papa, what's 'e matter?' An' 'en
he took me up in his arms, an' we bofe cried, an' cried, an' cried.
An' he said, 'Poor little girl!'"
She paused a moment, and then, with the air of one summing up a long
discourse, she exclaimed, "An' that's why I 've got a gone-away mamma!"
I stroked the little one's hand, which nestled confidingly in mine, and
said, half absently, "And she never came back?"
The child had fallen into a reverie, her big violet eyes fastened on
the ground at our feet, but my words roused her into sociability again
and she chattered on:
"No, 'course not, she never comed back. But one day 'ere was a letter,
all alone dust for me, an' my papa called me an' said, 'Here is a
letter for my little girl; now, I wonder who it's from?' She said this
with the quaintest imitation of grown-up condescension addressing a
child, waited a moment, as if to give to suspense its proper effect,
and then went on:
"He tored it open an' inside the en'lope was dust a tiny bit of a
letter wif just a little bit of reading and writing on it. An' 'en my
papa dropped it 's if it was a yellow-jacket an' he said, great big an'
loud, 'Money! from them! Don't touch it, child!' An' he frowed it in
the fire. But I did n't see no money and I wanted to keep my letter,
'cause it was all mine. But I had my new mamma then, an' when I cried
she writed me another letter."
"Yes," I said, "it's very queer to have two mammas, is n't it? But
when did you get your new mamma?"
"Well, one day, after there was n't any more snow, we all went to
church. And I had on my new white dress—it's awful pretty—and a new
ribbon on my hair, and a new hat—not this old one—prettier than this,
lots, with pretty flowers on it. And papa and—and—her, they stood
up and talked wif the preacher, an' I would n't sit still. I dust
runned right up side of my papa and held on to his leg all the time.
An' when the preacher did n't talk any more she picked me up an' hugged
me tight, an' kissed me an' said, 'I 'm going to be your mamma now,
"An' she 's been my new mamma ever since, an' I 'm going to keep her
for my mamma always and always, and I don't want my gone-away mamma
ever to come back, 'cause I love my new mamma best."
Just then there burst upon the warm, soft air a babel of shouts and
yells and loud hurrahs. The wee maiden turned a brightening face in
the direction of the uproar, and announced:
"That's wecess. I must go now. I 'spect my mamma will want me. She
is n't dust my new mamma, she is n't. She's the teacher, too. An' I
go to school wif her every day. But I don't have to stay in the
schoolhouse 'less I want to."
She slipped off the log and started down the path, and then came back
to kiss me good-bye. The hurried tread of a woman rustled through the
thicket, and a Madonna-like face appeared between the branches.
"Come, dearie," she called, and the child ran across the glade, jumped
into her arms and nestled upon her neck with a cry of delight.
Months afterward, in a city on the other side of the continent, I met a
beautiful woman. She was a little overdressed and over-jewelled, but I
thought as I talked with her that never before had I seen a woman of
such glorious perfection of features and complexion and figure.
My visit to the Yosemite, the previous summer, chanced to be mentioned,
and at once she began to ask me question after question about the
Valley, and about those who live in it and cater to the comfort of
travellers. Her husband, tall, athletic-looking, and handsome, leaned
upon the back of her chair and made tactful efforts to divert the
conversation into other channels. She yielded for the moment, but soon
managed to lead me away to a quiet nook where she at once re-commenced
her inquiries. Her beautiful face haunted and teased me with
suggestions of previous sight. But I could not recall any former
meeting, and so I decided that some chance street view of her
countenance had impressed its beauty upon my memory.
As she rapidly poured forth question after question, I could not help
noticing and wondering about the pathetic wistfulness in her eyes and
the nervous eagerness of her manner. Presently she said she hoped to
visit the Yosemite herself some time, and then hurriedly asked if I had
seen any of the people who live there during the winter, and if any of
them had children, and if the little ones, too, were subjected to that
There was intense longing in her lovely violet eyes as she asked these
questions, but she quickly dropped her lids, and only her hands,
trembling in her lap, betrayed that she felt more than casual interest.
I told her everything I could remember, facts, incidents, and
anecdotes, that I thought would interest her. It did not occur to me
that her eagerness for information was anything more than an unusually
keen curiosity about a mode of life so different from her own.
Chancing to recall my adventure with the little maid I told her about
I dwelt on the child's beauty and precocity, and repeated her account
of why she had two mammas. The red blood was dyeing my listener's face
a deep crimson, but still I did not understand, and went on lightly—
"She was as charming a little thing as I ever saw, but she was not at
all complimentary to the 'gone-away mamma,' for she declared,
emphatically, that she loved her new mamma best, and meant to keep her
always, and did n't want her gone-away mamma ever to come back, because
the new mamma loved her so much, and they had such good times together."
The surging color flowed in a quick tide from her face and left there a
gray pallor, like that of granite cliffs when the sun goes down, and
her hands were so tightly locked that her fingers looked white and
ghastly. I thought it was indignation against that distant and unknown
woman who had yielded to temptation that was moving her so strongly,
and expected to hear from her parted lips some sweeping sentence of
fiery feminine scorn and contempt.
But it was a low moan that came through their paling curves as she
swayed once in her chair and then fell to the floor.
The physician, who was hurriedly summoned, said that it was a case of
heart failure, and that she must have died instantly from some sudden
And then, looking again at the beautiful, cold face, I understood at
last. For death had completed the likeness which life had only
suggested, and the faultless features, lying now in their eternal,
expressionless calm, were exactly those of the beautiful child.
Her friends wondered much at her strange and sudden death. But I knew
that remorse had had its perfect work, and that the sudden vision of a
sweet child-face out of whose rosy lips came the accusing words, "I
love my new mamma best, and I don't want my gone-away mamma ever to
come back," had pierced her heart through and through.