Saturday, May 2, 2009

Lily's Grave by Madge Carrol

December 24-- It is Christmas eve! The third anniversary of Lily's death. Robert is unavoidably absent-- gone a week to be gone a week longer. I sit alone and muse on the little life that blessed and brightened my three happy Christmas tides, then dropped away, almost as though it had never been. Almost as though it had never been, yet there are countless reminders of her hidden away in the house. Hidden away, for not one of them can nestle in my arms, speak to me with her voice, or touch me with the dear, soft touch of her hands.

      I have put away everything that speaks of her except the little high-chair she used at meal-time. It is Robert's fancy to have that and her tiny cup, saucer and plate carved with lilies-of-the-valley, placed between our own at table. Robert's fancy, and he has so few I have humored it under the heart-break of seeing them empty for evermore.

      Flesh and sense gasp at the silence in the house, rebel against the mocking, empty horror in the air; still, wondering dumbly were it ever otherwise.

      Do I not dream I once bore a child? I ask this; then my soul speaks, cries out in its awful agony after that other part of me wrenched away when they laid my frozen lily under the winter snows. Yes, she was mine, she was here; no dream-child, but a warm, living presence. My very own, purchased through suffering -- my only one, knitted close to body, soul, heart, brain-- the very pulse of my being, my love, my pride, my glory, torn from me in very mockery of the claims of motherhood.

      Mrs. Fluffy calls, her arms full of Christmas toys, her eyes of Christmas lights. I hate her, I hate the sound of children's voices in the street, the boys' merry shout, the girls' tuneful laugh. It pleases Mrs. Fluffy to say, "Dear me! How quiet and cozy you are here! Our house is such a hurly-burly from beginning to end, I declare I almost lose my sense. Sam's hammering from garret to cellar. little Jem's tearing 'round like mad, and even Fanny begins to know what Christmas is, and goes wild. They'll be on the watch for me at the window, I bet; and how to get these things in without their seeing me is more than I can contrive. You don't have any of this bother; you look as comfortable as an old maid. Whatever in the world have you got three chairs at the table for? Laws! And a high one at that! Did I ever!"

      She laughs-- a thoroughly silly, care-for-naught laugh--dropping some of her parcels as she does so.

      I do not answer, nor does she notice that I so not, being completely engrossed in herself and her purchases.

      She goes, and I, kneeling beside the empty chair of my dead darling, wrestle afresh with my old, ever-new grief. She too had just begun to know what Christmas is, & died with Christmas toys about her.

      "We're not rich, you know, Abbie, and can't afford to spend much on her grave just now; but suppose we put away for a year or two what we would have spent for her had she lived, and then get one of the handsomest monuments we can find."

      So said Robert while that tiny mound lay fresh under winter snows. There is a blue-and-silver purse in the drawer up-stairs . I was knitting it for him the winter we lost her-- how often her willful, fondling baby hands were tangled in its meshes! Through its unfinished thread gleam the coins that, had she been spared us, would have bought her little frocks and shoes, her dainty embroideries, books, bonbons, dolls.

      Somehow the fancy comes to me to-night, and my lonely, gnawing anguish seizes upon it, to go out and make believe buy her a new baby.

      "Oh yes, my little girl must have a Christmas doll and a tree; I must trim a tree for my darling," I say, clutching at my outdoor wraps with feverish eagerness, and leaving my supper untasted, for Ann to clear or not, as she likes.

      The cold air stings me into something like animation. I find the streets all alive with big and little people; they seem so joyous too, every one; so different from me. Christmas boughs trail on my footpath, Christmas holly burns redly overhead, my sombre garments take on strange colors in the dancing Christmas lights. I am quick to see everything that betrays the warm father and mother heart and the presence of child-treasures in the house. The gayly-painted sleds and wheelbarrows, tiny tippet-boxes, Cinderella skates, great blonde dolls, tea-tables, wash tubs, irons, dustpans, and all the paraphernalia of mimic housekeeping that goes to make up the charm of Christmas-time.

      What hurts me the most of all amid so many cruel pangs, I think, is the knowing, or rather unknowing, looks of these happy parents planning for their children's pleasure. They appear to take it quite for granted that I have stolen out under cover of darkness on bewildering burdens. I t maddens me to recognize this thought, and then remember the little chair I left sitting empty at the table.

      A large, ruddy Irishwoman, with more dolls in her arms and hugged against her broad bosom than she can very well look to, even goes so far as to indicate a bloomy brunette with her fat chin and says to me,

      "Look, only a dollar seventy-five--up at Jones'-- git one fur yours-- I warrant she'll be tickled."

      Following this blind guide I go to Jones'. I have been there before, but they so not know me. I don't mean to give trouble, but I ask in a dreamy way the price of things, and the attendant brings them and places them before me. I look at them without really seeing, and turn to others still.

      The food-natured shuffle and bustle around me, the noise and lights, tend to make me more and more confused, for I am not used to being among people since Lily died. Then, too, the eager, joyous, expectant child faces fill me with passionate pangs. So I let them go on, piling around me all the glittering trifles for a tree; and at last the heap is crowned by a great wax doll dressed for a party in rose color and white.

      "How much is this?"

      I have heard the question repeated some half dozen times; the soft musical underflow of a child's plaintive voice among the busy roll and banter of grown-up men and women's tongues; heard it unheeded like one under the influence of a narcotic; its meaning comes straight home when the blonde beauty of a child's hair straying out from the faded hood touches my listlessly dropped hands.

      "Haven't you got anything for a penny?" she asks despondently of the attendants, who are too busy with pounds to look after pence.

      "Oh, bother your penny! Go somewhere else with it. We don't want it."

The little one turns as if I had addressed her, and looks up into my face with eyes of such piteous grieving my whole soul trembles and leans out toward her.

      "Oh, give me something for a penny-- ever such a little something; I do so want a tiny bit of Christmas."

      "Go along, I tell you; what do you come in here for, anyhow? Here, out with you!" and the attendant's hands swoop down on the small shoulders peeping bare and red through slits in the thin dress. "Jim, set this youngster outside."

      "Lily!"

      It is an older girl who speaks, even more forlorn and ragged that this little transgressor; she has squeezed herself up against the wall and remained unnoticed hitherto.

      "Hah!" blusters the proprietor of the premises, coming to the rescue, not of children, but of his rights, which he firmly believed are endangered. "There's the couple of you, is there? Come to steal, have you? Out with them Jim! Let me see you here again and I'll see you in prison."

The little storm-tossed human blossom-- bearing my angel's-- baby's name, wearing also her golden drift of hair, looking at me with eyes as blue as hers-- is lifted over my listless arms, crying out as she goes,

      "I didn't, indeed I didn't come to steal! My mother's dead, and oh, I did so want a bit of Christmas!"

      The lava torrent of mocked maternal love wells hot within me in answer to that agonizing child-cry. They hustle her out, they set her poor little half-bare feet upon winter snows; but on the instant I am there beside her. I kneel on the cold pavement, I clasp her quivering form; and in this blessed moment, when I vow to shield this motherless one, so help me God, even as I would have my own Lily shielded, something of joy that thrills through heaven over a soul saved comes down into my heart.

      In the next street I find a dead woman in a cellar.

      "She was uppish-like, and rinted our fust floor when she come here six months ago; but laws! I know'd she couldn't hold on; death had her than jist as tight as her has now. You see her man he forgeried and killed hisself in prison. Then his people, they turned her off; she had none, you know. She sewed real smart, and tried to hold together for the young uns' sake, but 'twere no use at all."

      That is the history of these little ones.

      I take the oldest to a kind woman whom I know; I make arrangements fo rhte mother's burial; then I bring the little one home. I cannot help but feel selfish, thankful thrill when Ann, after washing her, says:

      "What'll you be afther puttin' on her? She's to big fur Miss Lily's clothes, though sure an' she'd a-been this big if she'd a-lived."

      Yes, I am thankful, for what it not be wrong to withhold them if their soft folds could shape themselves to these shivering limbs? Yet could I bear to see them thus?

      I take out my little pocket-book, bronze and gold--Robert's gift. I count out the sum that one hour ago I would have assigned to the blue-and-silver purse for Lily's Christmas toys, and Ann is speeding out to a furnishing-house near by for a six-year-old child's outfit; while I, wrapping my warm woollen shawl about the small thing, find myself telling her about my heaven sheltered Lily.

      She listens to me, this motherless, homeless waif, with eyes like newly-opened morning glories, and when I am done sits with one hand holding back her golden fall of hair, while her gaze rests bright and earnest on my face.

      "Of what are you thinking, little one?" I ask.

      A pious mother's lessons make the music of her speech when she answer me:

      "I am thinking that when my mother got to heaven, your little girl must have met her and told her how sorry you was, and then my mother told her all about how sorry I was; and both together they went to Jesus and told him, and he sent me here to comfort you. Don't you think so?"

      With the fire-gleams glancing on that golden head, where all was emptiness and horror, with those infant accents breaking up the awful silence of the house, with that new, strange feeling of rest and unrest, with that delicious, brooding sense of comfort, compensation, just within my grasp, no marvel that I cry, "I do, I do," and feel adown my cheeks a rush of bitter-sweet tears.

      December 28-- I can put nothing more in the blue-and-silver purse. Indeed, with the new and unexpected expense I have assumed, I am even obliged to take something out. I do not regret it. Since I waked to the knowledge that I am not the only one who struggles and suffers-- in my blindness I lost sight of this-- that even children, babes like my lost one, are not spared the chill and the agony of bereavement, and, worst still, privations of which my sheltered life knows nothing; --since, as I say, I waked to a sense of this, there comes a feeling with it, a fear, lest the pride of marble we proposed to rear above our darling would stand betwixt some young head like this and sunshine-- would glitter coldly between some fair child-mouth and daily bread.

      New Year's Eve. Robert comes to-night, this soft, white winter night. He sees close beside our Lily's chair another, not empty, but crowned with a fair child-face, golden hair and lips like a japonica bud.

      It comes upon him a surprise. I meant it should.

      "Robert," I say, half laughing, half crying, "this is Lily's monument."

      He is even better content than I to have it so.

      "Next spring," he says,"we will make of her grave such am alter of bloom and fragrance that all the bees and birds for miles around will seek it out."

      Yes," I reply; "and while our hearts sadden over her memory, let us never fail to be thankful that no glittering shaft of marble stands between us and a starving child."

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