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- Barriers Burned Away - 5/81 -
approach and appeal, they timidly drew a step nearer, and looked into his wasted, yet peaceful face, with its closed eyes and motionless repose, and then, turning to their mother, said in a loud whisper, with faces full of perplexity and trouble, "Is papa asleep?"
The little figures in their white drapery, standing beside their dead father, waiting to perform the usual, well-remembered household rite, proved a scene too touching for the poor mother's self-control, and again she gave way to a burst of sorrow. But her son, true to his resolution to be the stay and strength of the family, hastened to the children, and, taking them by the hand, said gently: "Yes, little ones, papa is asleep. It may be a long time before he wakes, but he surely will by and by, and then he will never be sick any more. Come, we will go into the other room and sing a pretty hymn about papa's sleep."
The thought of hearing their brother sing lured them away at once, for he had a mellow tenor voice that seemed to the little girls sweeter than a bird's. A moment later the widow's heart was comforted by hearing those words that have been balm for so many wounds:
"Asleep in Jesus! blessed sleep! From which none ever wakes to weep."
Then, putting on his sisters' flannel wrappers, he set them down by the fire, telling stories in the meantime to divert their thoughts from the scene they had just witnessed.
Thus no horror of death was suffered to enter their young minds. They were not brought face to face with a dreadful mystery which they could not understand, but which would have a sinister effect for life. Gradually they would learn the truth, but still the first impression would remain, and their father's death would ever be to them a sleep from which he would wake by and by, "never to be sick any more."
Dennis set about preparations for their simple morning meal so deftly and easily as to show that it was no unaccustomed task. A sister older than himself had died while yet an infant, leaving a heartache till he came--God's best remedy. Then two sisters had died after his day, and he had been compelled to be to his mother daughter as well as son, to make himself useful in every household task. His father had been wrapped up in useless inventions, vain enterprises, and was much away. So mother and son were constantly together. He had early become a great comfort and help to her, God blessing her in this vital respect, though her lot seemed hard in other ways. Thus, while he had the heart and courage of a man, he also had the quick, supple hand and gentle bearing of a woman, when occasion required. As proof of his skill, a tempting meal from the simplest materials was placed smoking on the table, and the little girls were soon chatting contentedly over their breakfast. In the meantime the wife within had drawn near her dead husband and taken his cold hand. For a while she dwelt on the past in strong and tearful agony, then, in accordance with long-established habit, her thoughts went forward into the future. In imagination she was present at her husband's reception in heaven. The narrow, meagre room melted away, and her feet seemed to stand on the "golden pavement." The jubilant clash of heavenly cymbals thrilled her heart. She seemed taking part in a triumphal march led by celestial minstrelsy toward the throne. She saw her husband mount its white, glistening steps, so changed, and yet so like his former self when full of love, youth, and hope. He appeared overwhelmed with a sense of unworthiness, but his reception was all the more kind and reassuring. Then as he departed from the royal presence, crowned with God's love and favor forever, though he had all heaven before him, he seemed looking for her as that he longed for most, and her strong effort to reach his side aroused her from her revery as from a dream. But her vision had strengthened her, as was ever the case, and the bitterness of grief was passed. Imprinting a long kiss on her husband's cold forehead, she joined her family in the outer room with calm and quiet mien. Her son saw and understood the change in his mother's manner, and from long experience knew its cause.
We need not dwell on what followed--preparations for burial, the funeral, the return to a home from which one who had filled so large a place had gone--a home on which rested the shadow of death. These are old, familiar scenes, acted over and over every day, and yet in the little households where they occur there is a terrible sense of novelty as if they then happened for the first time. The family feel as if they were passing through a chaotic period--the old world breaking up and vanishing, and a new formation and combination of all the elements that make up life taking place.
Many changes followed. Their farm was sold. Part of a small house in the village of Bankville was rented as their future residence. A very small annuity from some property in the East, left by Mrs. Fleet's father, was, with Dennis's labor, all the family had to depend on now--a meagre prospect.
But Dennis was very sanguine; for in this respect he had his father's temperament. The world was all before him, and Chicago, the young and giant city of the West, seemed an Eldorado, where fortune, and perhaps fame, might soon be won. He would not only place the family beyond want, but surround them with every luxury.
Dennis, wise and apt as far as his knowledge went, was in some respects as simple and ignorant as a child. There were many phases and conditions of society of which he had never dreamed. Of the ways of the rich and fashionable, of the character of artificial life, he had not the remotest experience. He could not see or understand the distinctions and barriers that to the world are more impassable than those of ignorance, stupidity, and even gross immorality. He would learn, to his infinite surprise, that even in a Western democratic city men would be welcomed in society whose hand no pure woman or honorable man ought to touch, while he, a gentleman by birth, education, and especially character, would not be recognized at all. He would discover that wealth and the indorsement of a few fashionable people, though all else were lacking, would be a better passport than the noblest qualities and fine abilities. As we follow him from the seclusion of his simple country home into the complicated life of the world, all this will become apparent.
Long and earnest was the conversation between mother and son before they separated. Pure and noble were the maxims that she sought to instil into his mind. They may not have been worldly wise, but they were heavenly wise. Though some of her advice in the letter might avail little, since she knew less of the world than did her son, still in its spirit it contained the best of all wisdom, profitable for this life and the life to come. But she sent him forth to seek his fortune and theirs with less solicitude than most mothers have just cause to feel, for she knew that he had Christian principle, and had passed through discipline that had sobered and matured him far beyond his years. She saw, however, in every word and act his father's sanguine temperament. He was expecting much, hoping far more, and she feared that he also was destined to many a bitter disappointment. Still she believed that he possessed a good strong substratum of common-sense, and this combined with the lessons of faith and patience taught of God would prove the ballast his father had lacked.
She sought to modify his towering hopes and rose-colored visions, but to little purpose. Young, buoyant, in splendid health, with a surplus of warm blood tingling in every vein, how could he take a prudent, distrustful view of the world? It seemed to beckon him smilingly into any path of success he might choose. Had not many won the victory? and who ever felt braver and more determined than he, with the needs of the dear ones at home added to his own incentives and ambitions? So, with many embraces, lingering kisses, and farewell words, that lost not their meaning though said over and over again, they parted. The stage carried him to the nearest railway station, and the express train bore him rapidly toward the great city where he expected to find all that a man's heart most craves on earth.
Sanguine as his father, constant as his mother, with a nature that would go right or wrong with tremendous energy, as direction might be given it, he was destined to live no tame, colorless life, but would either enjoy much, or else suffer much. To his young heart, swelling with hopes, burning with zeal to distinguish himself and provide for those he was leaving, even the bleak, snow-clad prairie seemed an arena in which he might accomplish a vague something.
The train, somewhat impeded by snow, landed Dennis in Chicago at about nine in the evening. In his pocket he had ten dollars--ample seed corn, he believed, for a golden harvest. This large sum was expected to provide for him till he should find a situation and receive the first instalment of salary. He would inform his employer, when he found him, how he was situated, and ask to be paid early and often.
Without a misgiving he shouldered the little trunk that contained his worldly effects, and stalked off to a neighboring hotel, that, from its small proportions, suggested a modest bill. With a highly important man-of-the-world manner he scrawled his name in an illegible, student-like hand on the dingy, dog-eared register. With a gracious, condescending air he ordered the filthy, tobacco-stained porter to take his trunk to his room.
The bar-room was the only place provided for strangers. Regarding the bar with a holy horror, he got away from it as far as possible, and seated himself by the stove, on which simmered a kettle of hot water for the concoction of punches, apparently more in demand at that hotel than beds. Becoming disgusted with the profanity and obscenity downstairs, he sought refuge in the cold, miserable little room assigned to him. Putting on his overcoat, he wrapped himself up in a coverlet and threw himself down on the outside of the bed.
The night passed slowly. He was too uncomfortable, too excited, to sleep. The scenes of the past blended confusedly with visions of the future, and it was nearly morning when he fell into an unquiet slumber.
When at last aroused by the shriek of a locomotive, he found that the sun was up and shining on the blotched and broken wall above him. A few minutes sufficed for his toilet, and yet, with his black curling hair, noble forehead, and dark, silken upper lip, many an exquisite would have envied the result.
His plan was simple enough--dictated indeed by the necessities of the case. He must at once find a situation in which he could earn sufficient to support his mother and sisters and himself. Thence he could look around till he found the calling that promised most. Having left college and given up his chosen profession of the law, he had resolved to adopt any honest pursuit that seemed to lead most quickly to fortune.
Too impatient to eat his breakfast, he sallied forth into the great city, knowing not a soul in it. His only recommendations and credentials were his young, honest face, and a letter from his minister, saying that he was a member of the church in Bankville, "in good and regular
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