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- Their Yesterdays - 4/34 -
know him when he came. And it was no shame to her that, even while this was so, she saw herself in the years to come a wife and mother. In the glowing heart of the fire she saw her home warm with holy love, bright with sacred companionship. In the dancing flames she saw her children--happy, beautiful, children. Nor did she in her dreams fear the flickering shadows that came and went for in the dusk of the room she felt the dear presence of that one who was to be her other self; who was to be to her strength in her weakness, hope in her sadness, and comfort in her mourning.
It is well indeed that the shadows of life bring no fears into our dreams else we would not dare to dream and life itself would lose its purpose and its meaning.
So the woman saw her future, not in the shadows that came and went upon the wall, but in the glowing heart of the fire. And, as she dreamed her dreams of womanhood, her face grew beautiful with a tender, thoughtful, beauty that is given only to those women who dream such dreams. With the realization of her womanhood and the beginning of her woman life, her lips curved in a smile that was different from the smile of girlhood and there came into her eyes a light that was never there before. And then, as one setting out on a long journey might turn back for a last farewell view of loved familiar scenes, she turned to go back for a little into her Yesterdays.
There was a home in those Yesterdays and there was a mother--a mother who lived now in a better home than any of earth's building. A father she had never known but there was a big, jolly, uncle who had done and was doing yet all that an uncle of limited means could do to take her father's place in the life of his sister's only child. And there was sunshine in her Yesterdays--bright sunshine--unclouded by city smoke; and flowers unstained by city grime; and blue skies unmarred by city buildings; and there were beautiful trees and singing birds and broad fields in her Yesterdays. Also there were dreams--such dreams as only those who are very young or very wise dare to dream.
It may have been the firelight that did it; it may have been the vision of her children who lived only in the life that she saw beyond the old, old, open door: or perhaps it was the wedding finery that lay over a nearby chair: or the familiar tick, tick, tick, of the clock in the arms of the fat cupid who neglected his bow and arrows in a vain attempt to do away with time--whatever it was that brought it about, the woman dreamed again the dreams of childhood--dreamed them even as she dreamed those first dreams of her womanhood.
And no one was there to tell her that the dreams of her girlhood and of her womanhood were the same.
Again, on a long summer afternoon, as she kept house in a snug corner of the vine shaded porch, she was really the mistress of a grand mansion that was furnished with beautiful carpets and furniture, china and silver, books and pictures. And in that mansion she received her distinguished guests and entertained her friends with charming grace and dignity, even as she set her tiny play table with dishes of thimble size and served tea and cakes to her play lady friends. Again, as she rocked her dollies to sleep beside the evening fire and tucked them into their beds with a little mother kiss for each, there were dreams of merry boys and girls who should some day call her mother. And there were dreams of fine dresses and jewels the while she stitched tiny garments for her newest child who had come to her with no clothing at all, or fashioned a marvelous hat for another whose features were but a smudge of paint and whose hair had been glued on so many times that it was far past combing and a hat was a necessity to hide the tangled mat. And sometimes she was a princess shut up in a castle tower and a noble prince, who wore golden armor and rode a great war horse, would come to woo her and she would ride away with him through the deep forest followed by a long procession of lords and ladies, of knights and squires and pages. Or, perhaps, she would be a homeless girl in pitiful rags who, because of her great beauty, would be stolen by gypsies and sold to a cruel king to be kept in a dungeon until rescued by a brave soldier lover.
And, in her Yesterdays, the master of the dream home over which she was mistress--the father of her dream children--the prince with whom she rode away through the forest--the soldier lover who rescued her from the dungeon--and the hero of many other adventures of which she was the heroine--was always the same. Outside her dreams he was a sturdy, brown cheeked, bare legged, little boy who lived next door. But what a man is outside a woman's dreams counts for little after all--even though that woman be a very small and dainty little woman with a very large family of dolls.
The woman remembered so well their first meeting. It was at the upper end of the garden near the strawberry beds and he was creeping toward her on hands and knees through a hole in the hedge that separated the two places. How she had jumped when she first caught sight of him! How he had started and turned as if to escape when he saw her watching him! How shyly they had approached each other with the first timid offerings of friendship!
Many, many, times after that did he come to her through the opening in the hedge. Many, many, times did she go to him. And he came in many disguises. In many disguises she helped him put his dreams into action. But always, to her, he was a hero to be worshiped, a leader to be followed, a master to be obeyed. Always she was very proud of him--of his strength and courage--of the grand deeds he wrought--and of the great things that he would some day do. And sometimes--the most delightful times of all--at her wish, he would help her, in his masterful way, to play out her dreams. And then, though he liked being an Indian or a robber or a soldier best, he would be a model husband and help her with the children; although he did, at times, insist upon punishing them rather more than she thought necessary. But when the little family was ill with the measles or scarlet fever or whooping cough no dream husband could have been more gentle, more thoughtful, or more wise, in his attention.
And once they had played a wedding.
The woman whose heart was as an empty room stirred in her chair uneasily as one who feels the gaze of a hidden observer. But the door was locked, the shades drawn close, and the only light was the flickering light of the fire. The night without was very dark and still. There was no sound in the sleeping house--no sound save the steady tick, tick, tick, of the time piece in the chubby arms of the fat cupid on the mantle.
And once they had played a wedding.
It was when her big, jolly, uncle was married. The boy and the girl were present at the ceremony and she wore a wonderful new dress while the boy, scrubbed and combed and brushed, was arrayed in his best clothes with shoes and stockings. There were flowers and music and good things to eat and no end of laughter and gay excitement; and the jolly uncle looked so big and fine and solemn; and the bride, in her white veil, was so like a princess in one of the dreams; that the little girl was half frightened and felt a queer lump in her throat as she clung to her mother's hand. And there was a strange ceremony in which the minister, in his gown, read out of a book and said a prayer and asked questions; and the uncle and the princess answered the questions; and the uncle put a ring on the finger of the princess; and the minister said that they were husband and wife. And then there were kisses while everybody laughed and cried and shook hands; and some one told the little girl that the princess was her new auntie; and her uncle caught her up in his big arms and was his own jolly self again. It was all very fine and strange and impressive to their childish eyes; and so, of course, the very next day, the boy and the girl played a wedding.
It was up in that quiet corner of the garden, near the hedge, and the cherry tree was in bloom and showered its delicate blossoms down upon them with every puff of air that stirred the branches; while, in the hedge nearby, a little brown bird was putting the finishing touch to a new nest. The boy's shepherd dog, who sat up when you told him, was the minister; and all the dollies were there, dressed in their finest gowns. The little girl was very serious and again, half frightened, felt that queer lump in her throat as she promised to be his wife. And the boy looked very serious, too, as he placed a little brass ring upon her finger and, speaking for the brown eyed, shaggy coated, minister, said: "I pronounce you husband and wife and anything that God has done must never be done any different by anybody forever and ever, Amen." And then--because there was no one else present and they both felt that the play would not be complete without--then, he had kissed her, and they were both very, very, happy.
So it was that, in the quiet secrecy of her dimly lighted room, the woman who that night knew herself to be a woman, felt her cheeks hot with blushes and upon her hot cheeks felt her tears.
So it was that she came back from her Yesterdays to wonder: where was the boy now? What kind of a man had he grown to be? Was he making his way to fame and wealth or laboring in some humble position? Had he a home with wife and children? Did he ever go back into the Yesterdays? Had he forgotten that wedding under the cherry tree? When the one with whom she would go through the old, old, door into the life of her womanhood dreams should come, would it matter if the hero of her childhood dreams went in with them? He could be no rival to that one who was to come for he lived only in the Yesterdays and the Yesterdays could not come back. The fat little cupid on the mantle neglected his bow and arrows in vain; he could not do away with time.
Very slowly the woman prepared for her rest and, when she was ready, knelt in the soft dusk of her room, a virgin in white to pray. And God, I know, understood why her prayer was confused and uncertain with longings she could not express even to him who said: "Except ye become as little children." God, I know, understood why this woman, who that night, for the first time, knowing herself to be a woman had dreamed a true woman's dream--God, I know, understood why, as she lay down to sleep in the quiet darkness, she stretched forth her empty arms and almost cried aloud.
In to-morrow's light it would all be gone, but that night--that night--her womanhood dreams of the future were real--real even as the girlhood dreams of her Yesterdays.
In a small, bare, room in a cheap city boarding house, the man cowered like a wild thing, wounded, neglected, afraid; while over him, gaunt and menacing, cruel, pitiless, insistent, stood a dreadful need--the need of Occupation--the need of something to do.
In all the world there is no danger so menacing as the danger of idleness: there is no privation so cruel, no suffering so pitiful, as the need of Occupation: there is no demand so imperative, no necessity so dreadful, as the want of something to do.
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