Speak kindly, wife; the little ones will grow
Fairest and straightest in the warmest sun.
We talk so often of the seed we sow;
But, maybe, when we think our labour done,
And when we look to gather in the grain,
We'll find these stones, we fling about, again
Strewing the fruitless sod,
Having crush'd down and stunted the sweet life
That bore the likeness of the life of God.
All your hard words of bitterness and strife
Will lie upon their love, as stones would lie;
You think to pick them up, but, by-and-by,
You'll find where they have lain
By the poor, meagre, crooked ears of grain.
You will be sorry then.
Speak kindly, wife; you know not half the wealth
Kind words bring in. Ah! I remember when
I was a little lad, all youth and health,
How I went wrong for want of one, and how
One saved my life—ay, keeps it steady now.
* * * * *
My mother died, you know, when I had seen
Only a few days' light; they say her face
Was fair and young—and so it might have been;
I cannot tell. But she, who took her place,
Was coarse and hard, and had a shrewish tongue
That fretted all the household into strife.
Ah, how that sharp voice rung
Through ear and heart—through all the peace of life!
It drove my father from his home at length,
And drove him to the ale-house, where he learn'd
To drink away the good name he had earn'd,
And drink away his precious health and strength.
I can remember well how he would sigh,
Would sigh, and turn from his own chimney nook;
And how, though wintry winds blew fierce and high,
He fumbled at the door with hands that shook,
And pass'd out slowly, as though caring not
Whither he went. And she, who tempted him,
Was first to see the change—to mark the blot
That made his manhood's beauty blurred and dim—
But had no mercy and no help for him.
I think I see her now!
Standing, with that red flush upon her brow,
Hurling her stinging insults thick and fast,
As he was sadly creeping through the door;
Until he raised his grizzled head, and swore,
And suddenly struck her, growing mad at last.
Was that the way to better him? Ah, no;
She taunted him, and stung his spirit so,
That what was weakness became sin and crime.
Wife, did you ever hear
What happen'd in that dark and dreadful time?
One night, when I was wide awake for fear,
Straining my baby ears to catch the sound
Of the fierce voices that were storming near—
One night, I heard a cry—
So sharp! so shrill! a strange and fearful cry—
And then a heavy fall upon the ground;
And then—and then—in the grey morning light
I saw her lie,
With her hard face so strangely still and white,
With a broad purple stain upon her brow,
And dusky shadows on her lips and eyes.
Ah me! ah me! I think I see her now,
Wrapped in that awful death-sleep, as she lies!
I well remember how I cried and shook
In childish terror, and with what a look
I turn'd to all the living faces there,
Seeking in vain,
With the first dreary thrill of my despair,
The one face that I never saw again!
* * * * *
I was so young—a little lad, a child—
And it was hard, ay, very hard, to be
So helpless and so ignorant and wild,
With not a soul to love and care for me.
She, when she storm'd about,
Had roughly used me, and had turn'd me out
Into the streets, to gather what I could
And what I liked of all the evil there;
But he, my father, at odd times he would
Sit, with his arms flung round me, in his chair,
And tell me, as he stroked my curly head,
How he could see the mother that was dead
In my blue eyes and in my golden hair.
And now I was alone—quite, quite alone.
Ah, you can never know how I was toss'd
From place to place; how like a thing of stone,
Frozen for want of just a kindly tone,
My heart became—all its good instincts cross'd!
And how like some distorted tree I grew,
Barren of all things beautiful and true.
Sullen, and hard, and reckless, I was fit
And ready, when the devil laid his snare—
Quite ready—to rush headlong into it.
And who was there to care?
In a wild night—a well-remember'd night,
When I was prowling in a darken'd street,
Trying to hush the echo of my feet,
Trying to hide me out of sound and sight—
Just as I heard the bells begin to call
From a church-tower—as I caught a gleam
Of marble pillars, standing white and tall,
And saw the stream
Of tender, mellow light make, as it were,
A shining pathway in the misty air,
Whither soft footsteps trod
Out of the world into the courts of God—
Just then they fou
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