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The Child-Mother


Heavily lay the warm sunlight
Upon the green blades shining bright,
An outspread grassy sea:
She through the burnished yellow flowers
Went walking in the golden hours
That slept upon the lea.

The bee went past her with a hum;
The merry gnats did go and come
In complicated dance;
Like a blue angel, to and fro,
The splendid dragon-fly did go,
Shot like a seeking glance.

She never followed them, but still
Went forward with a quiet will,
That got, but did not miss;
With gentle step she passed along,
And once a low, half-murmured song
Uttered her share of bliss.

It was a little maiden-child;
You see, not frolicsome and wild,
As such a child should be;
For though she was just nine, no more,
Another little child she bore,
Almost as big as she.

With tender care of straining arms,
She kept it circled from all harms,
With face turned from the sun;
For in that perfect tiny heart,
The mother, sister, nurse, had part,
Her womanhood begun.

At length they reach an ugly ditch,
The slippery sloping bank of which
Flowers and long grasses line;
Some ragged-robins baby spied,
And spread his little arms out wide,
As he had found a mine.

What baby wants, that baby has:
A law unalterable as--
The poor shall serve the rich;
She kneeleth down with eager eyes,
And, reaching far out for the prize,
Topples into the ditch.

And slanting down the bank she rolled,
But in her little bosom's fold
She clasps the baby tight;
And in the ditch's muddy flow,
No safety sought by letting go,
At length she stands upright.

Alas! her little feet are wet;
Her new shoes! how can she forget?
And yet she does not cry.
Her scanty frock of dingy blue,
Her petticoat wet through and through!
But baby is quite dry.

And baby laughs, and baby crows;
And baby being right, she knows
That nothing can be wrong;
And so with troubled heart, yet stout,
She plans how ever to get out,
With meditations long.

The bank is higher than her head,
And slippery too, as I have said;
And what to do with baby?
For even the monkey, when he goes,
Needs both his fingers and his toes.--
She is perplexed as may be.

But all her puzzling was no good,
Though staring up the bank she stood,
Which, as she sunk, grew higher;
Until, invaded with dismay,
Lest baby's patience should give way,
She frees her from the mire.

And up and down the ditch, not glad,
But patient, she did promenade;
Splash! splash! went her poor feet.
And baby thought it rare good fun,
And did not want it to be done;
And the ditch flowers were sweet.

But, oh! the world that she had left,
The meads from her so lately reft,
An infant Proserpine,
Lay like a fabled land above,
A paradise of sunny love,
In warmth and light divine.

While, with the hot sun overhead,
She her low watery way did tread,
'Mid slimy weeds and frogs;
While now and then from distant field
The sound of laughter faintly pealed,
Or bark of village dogs.

And once the ground began to shake,
And her poor little heart to quake
For fear of added woes;
Till, looking up, at last, perforce,
She saw the head of a huge horse
Go past upon its nose.

And with a sound of tearing grass,
And puffing breath that awful was,
And horns of frightful size,
A cow looked through the broken hedge,
And gazed down on her from the edge,
With great big Juno eyes.

And so the sun went on and on,
And horse and cow and horns were gone,
And still no help came near;
Till at the last she heard the sound
Of human footsteps on the ground,
And then she cried: "I'm here!"

It was a man, much to her joy,
Who looked amazed at girl and boy,
And reached his hand so strong.
"Give me the child," he said; but no,
She would not let the baby go,
She had endured too long.

So, with a smile at her alarms,
He stretched down both his lusty arms,
And lifted them together;
And, having thanked her helper, she
Did hasten homeward painfully,
Wet in the sunny weather.

At home at length, lo! scarce a speck
Was on the child from heel to neck,
Though she was sorely mired;
Nor gave she sign of grief's unrest,
Till, hid upon her mother's breast,
She wept till she was tired.

And intermixed with sobbing wail,
She told her mother all the tale,--
"But"--here her wet cheeks glow--
"Mother, I did not, through it all,
I did not once let baby fall--
I never let him go."

Ah me! if on this star-world's face
We men and women had like grace
To bear and shield each other;
Our race would soon be young again,
Its heart as free of ache and pain
As that of this child-mother.



George MacDonald