I woke one morning, after a sound sleep,--not so sound, however, but that I had been dreaming, and that, when I awoke, I could recall my dream. It was a very odd one. I thought I was a hen, strutting about amongst ricks of corn, picking here and scratching there, followed by a whole brood of chickens, toward which I felt exceedingly benevolent and attentive. Suddenly I heard the scream of a hawk in the air above me, and instantly gave the proper cry to fetch the little creatures under my wings. They came scurrying to me as fast as their legs could carry them,--all but one, which wouldn't mind my cry, although I kept repeating it again and again. Meantime the hawk kept screaming; and I felt as if I didn't care for any of those that were safe under my wings, but only for the solitary creature that kept pecking away as if nothing was the matter. About it I grew so terribly anxious, that at length I woke with a cry of misery and terror.
The moment I opened my eyes, there was my mother standing beside me. The room was so dark that I thought for a moment what a fog there must be; but the next, I forgot every thing at hearing a little cry, which I verily believe, in my stupid dream, I had taken for the voice of the hawk; whereas it was the cry of my first and only chicken, which I had not yet seen, but which my mother now held in her grandmotherly arms, ready to hand her to me. I dared not speak; for I felt very weak, and was afraid of crying from delight. I looked in my mother's face; and she folded back the clothes, and laid the baby down beside me, with its little head resting on my arm.
"Draw back the curtain a little bit, mother dear," I whispered, "and let me see what it is like."
I believe I said it, for I was not quite a mother yet. My mother did as I requested; a ray of clear spring light fell upon the face of the little white thing by my side,--for white she was, though most babies are red,--and if I dared not speak before, I could not now. My mother went away again, and sat down by the fireside, leaving me with my baby. Never shall I forget the unutterable content of that hour. It was not gladness, nor was it thankfulness, that filled my heart, but a certain absolute contentment,--just on the point, but for my want of strength, of blossoming into unspeakable gladness and thankfulness. Somehow, too, there was mingled with it a sense of dignity, as if I had vindicated for myself a right to a part in the creation; for was I not proved at least a link in the marvellous chain of existence, in carrying on the designs of the great Maker? Not that the thought was there,--only the feeling, which afterwards found the thought, in order to account for its own being. Besides, the state of perfect repose after what had passed was in itself bliss; the very sense of weakness was delightful, for I had earned the right to be weak, to rest as much as I pleased, to be important, and to be congratulated.
Somehow I had got through. The trouble lay behind me; and here, for the sake of any one who will read my poor words, I record the conviction, that, in one way or other, special individual help is given to every creature to endure to the end. I think I have heard my father say, and hitherto it has been my own experience, that always when suffering, whether mental or bodily, approached the point where further endurance appeared impossible, the pulse of it began to ebb, and a lull ensued. I do not venture to found any general assertion upon this: I only state it as a fact of my own experience. He who does not allow any man to be tempted above that he is able to bear, doubtless acts in the same way in all kinds of trials.
I was listening to the gentle talk about me in the darkened room--not listening, indeed, only aware that loving words were spoken. Whether I was dozing, I do not know; but something touched my lips. I did not start. I had been dreadfully given to starting for a long time,--so much so that I was quite ashamed sometimes, for I would even cry out,--I who had always been so sharp on feminine affectations before; but now it seemed as if nothing could startle me. I only opened my eyes; and there was my great big huge bear looking down on me, with something in his eyes I had never seen there before. But even his presence could not ripple the waters of my deep rest. I gave him half a smile,--I knew it was but half a smile, but I thought it would do,--closed my eyes, and sunk again, not into sleep, but into that same blessed repose. I remember wondering if I should feel any thing like that for the first hour or two after I was dead. May there not one day be such a repose for all,--only the heavenly counterpart, coming of perfect activity instead of weary success?
This was all but the beginning of endlessly varied pleasures. I dare say the mothers would let me go on for a good while in this direction,--perhaps even some of the fathers could stand a little more of it; but I must remember, that, if anybody reads this at all, it will have multitudes of readers in whom the chord which could alone respond to such experiences hangs loose over the sounding-board of their being.
By slow degrees the daylight, the light of work, that is, began to penetrate me, or rather to rise in my being from its own hidden sun. First I began to wash and dress my baby myself. One who has not tried that kind of amusement cannot know what endless pleasure it affords. I do not doubt that to the paternal spectator it appears monotonous, unproductive, unprogressive; but then he, looking upon it from the outside, and regarding the process with a speculative compassion, and not with sympathy, so cannot know the communion into which it brings you with the baby. I remember well enough what my father has written about it in "The Seaboard Parish;" but he is all wrong--I mean him to confess that before this is printed. If things were done as he proposes, the tenderness of mothers would be far less developed, and the moral training of children would be postponed to an indefinite period. There, papa! that's something in your own style!
Next I began to order the dinners; and the very day on which I first ordered the dinner, I took my place at the head of the table. A happier little party--well, of course, I saw it all through the rose-mists of my motherhood, but I am nevertheless bold to assert that my husband was happy, and that my mother was happy; and if there was one more guest at the table concerning whom I am not prepared to assert that he was happy, I can confidently affirm that he was merry and gracious and talkative, originating three parts of the laughter of the evening. To watch him with the baby was a pleasure even to the heart of a mother, anxious as she must be when any one, especially a gentleman, more especially a bachelor, and most especially a young bachelor, takes her precious little wax-doll in his arms, and pretends to know all about the management of such. It was he indeed who introduced her to the dining-room; for, leaving the table during dessert, he returned bearing her in his arms, to my astonishment, and even mild maternal indignation at the liberty. Resuming his seat, and pouring out for his charge, as he pretended, a glass of old port, he said in the soberest voice:--
"Charles Percivale, with all the solemnity suitable to the occasion, I, the old moon, with the new moon in my arms, propose the health of Miss Percivale on her first visit to this boring bullet of a world. By the way, what a mercy it is that she carries her atmosphere with her!"
Here I, stupidly thinking he reflected on the atmosphere of baby, rose to take her from him with suppressed indignation; for why should a man, who assumes a baby unbidden, be so very much nicer than a woman who accepts her as given, and makes the best of it? But he declined giving her up.
"I'm not pinching her," he said.
"No; but I am afraid you find her disagreeable."
"On the contrary, she is the nicest of little ladies; for she lets you talk all the nonsense you like, and never takes the least offence."
I sat down again directly.
"I propose her health," he repeated, "coupled with that of her mother, to whom I, for one, am more obliged than I can explain, for at length convincing me that I belong no more to the youth of my country, but am an uncle with a homuncle in his arms."
"Wifie, your health! Baby, yours too!" said my husband; and the ladies drank the toast in silence.
It is time I explained who this fourth--or should I say fifth?--person in our family party was. He was the younger brother of my Percivale, by name Roger,--still more unsuccessful than he; of similar trustworthiness, but less equanimity; for he was subject to sudden elevations and depressions of the inner barometer. I shall have more to tell about him by and by. Meantime it is enough to mention that my daughter--how grand I thought it when I first said my daughter!--now began her acquaintance with him. Before long he was her chief favorite next to her mother and--I am sorry I cannot conscientiously add father; for, at a certain early period of her history, the child showed a decided preference for her uncle over her father.
But it is time I put a stop to this ooze of maternal memories. Having thus introduced my baby and her Uncle Roger, I close the chapter.
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