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- Observations of a Retired Veteran - 11/11 -


* * * * *

Ah, I expected to see you here! I knew you would come! Why? Ah, my boy, every veteran knows well what comes after picket firing. Let me see: at church with her, concerts, soirees--where else could you be to-day but in here buying a present? Why, you bought her that last Christmas! Oh, I see, this Christmas it is for another girl! Come now, don't look conscious over it. The girls can't help it; they will change now and then, It is not their fault, but still it will happen. My boy, the business you are now in has by no means been reduced to a fixed science. No calculation yet made has reduced to a certainty any way of holding a girl after you think you have her. There is a good deal of money in store for the man that makes it--when he does. But she seemed--. There now, I know all about it; but you musn't hold a girl rigidly to what you think she seems. When you get to be as old as I am, you will know that girls have a hard, hard time of it. Custom won't allow them to do anything but seem. It doesn't allow them to tell a man that they like him, and, still worse, it doesn't allow them to tell him that they don't like him. You did go there, you know, pretty nearly all last year, didn't you? What could she do? Set the dogs on you? That would have been unmistakable, but in her set that isn't allowable. Be rude to you? She is a lady, how could she be rude? She shouldn't have accepted--. There now, be fair about this thing. How could she help accepting your attentions, your bonbons, your sleigh rides, your--well, your boring generally, if you will have it--without being rude? There isn't, under our social rules, a more defenceless creature on earth than an attractive girl in society, from attentions that are wearisome and unwelcome. Nor, if she maintains the self-respecting rules that society has laid down for her, is there a more helpless creature in obtaining what she wants. You often hear it flippantly said, that if a girl loves a man she can always let him know it. There never was a greater mistake. On the contrary, the poor young things, when they find it out, so far from being able to let the young fellow know it, commence a fearful struggle to keep him from knowing it. I suppose it is, so to speak, constitutional with them, and they can't help it. I have seen a gentle, well-bred young girl in such agonized fear of discovery that she rudely repulsed the common advances of politeness on the part of the object. Women lose their heads on the subject of love, as often, I sometimes think, as their hearts.

* * * * *

Why, you are only buying one little wagon this year; I thought I saw you buying two last Christmas; one of the little ones has outgrown it, I reckon? What, dead! I beg your pardon. It was thoughtless of me. Dead! Then he has outgrown it. Outgrown it all--sickness, pain, disappointments, a long, weary life--all at a single leap. But this does not comfort you. Ah, no; nothing comforts us for those we have seen slip into the dark. It will be but human in you to miss him this Christmas, and to think of the hundred ways in which he would have had pleasure if he had only lived. I think that in the death of children there is an added grief to that we feel when men and women die. They are so little, so helpless, one cannot help feeling anxious about how they will get along in the new world they have gone to; who will take care of them, and whether they will be neglected. When the time comes for putting the children to bed in the evening, we cannot help thinking about the little one who has gone from life, and wondering as we sit by the firelight whether there is any one taking care of it. We can't help feeling sure that it wants to be with its mother; it always used to when night came on. It always climbed into her lap when dark came and it surely wants to be back to-night. It cannot be happy, for it is among strangers, and if it is unhappy, there is but one place for it, its home, and but one bosom on which to lay its head, its mother's. And so our human heart talks on in its hot grief. It is a great comfort to remember, after awhile, that there is a Father who watches over it as tenderly as he has watched over all his children, and who will guide the little one into a new and higher life, as He will us older children who come to Him later in life, like tired and weary children seeking a mother's breast.

* * * * *

And so you didn't know what a castle in Spain was? Why, you have lived in one. In one! you have lived in a hundred, and if you were older you would have lived in a thousand. Why, everybody lives in castles in Spain sometimes. Let me see how to tell you about it. You know your elder sister that young Pettengill comes to see so often, and whom you hate so because you have to go to bed early? Well, your sister lives in a castle in Spain. She has had it papered and painted, and moved to another street to be near her dearest girl friend so as to make visiting convenient, and she has had the front yard fixed with flowers, particularly those he likes, and has had a door-plate put on the castle door with a name on it, CLARENCE PETTENGILL, in large letters. I remember when your father married your mother forty years ago, that she lived in a castle in Spain, and to her eyes your father was clad in shining armor and wore long plumes in his hat, and to those same eyes was a Hero of high degree. Why, even the old gentleman who is writing this to you, has lived in those castles, and as he looks back at them now with their bare walls and broken windows and tumbled down appearance generally, he often wonders how he came to build them. Some times, more especially at Christmas time, he gets on an old, and now uncertain steed called Memory, and rides back to all the castles he has lived in. So beautiful when he built them, so brightly painted by Hope and Pride and Ambition and all the other celebrated artists of that day; now so dingy and wrecked that you would hardly know them, and some clear faded out of sight. The castle, little one, that you are now living in has over the front door in big letters CHRISTMAS, and from its window you see such lots of fun that you will never have, such lots of presents that you will never get, and such a lot of imagining that you will never see realized. After this week is over, you will take down the big sign over the door, close the blinds, and stand watching with grieved heart while your castle fades into the air. There is nothing on earth, as you will see when you are old, that is not something like these castles in Spain, and but One Thing, that is not tainted with their evanescent life. God grant, little one, that at the end of our lives, you and I may have clung to that one thing, and that we may have so lived that the many mansions of our Father in a fairer world may not be for us--castles in Spain.

FINIS.

(Envoy)

FOR A SOLDIER

(Henry C. Tinsley, Died August 21, 1902)

Not 'mid the din of battle long ago, But in the lingering clutch of later pain Death found him, whom we shall not see again Lifting a fearless front to every foe. Yet shall suns somewhere shine for him, and blow The lilies and the roses without stain, Who through the lengthened years in heart and brain Knew most of storm and winter with its snow.

For it is written in the starry sky,-- In the vast spaces and the silences,-- That God's eternal universe is his Who fears not, though he live or if he die. --A soldier to the dauntless end was he, As riding with his red artillery.

ARMISTEAD C. GORDON.


Observations of a Retired Veteran - 11/11

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