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- Observations of a Retired Veteran - 3/11 -


* * * * *

A perfectly new friend is the Sky. How often does one in health look at the Sky save to see about the weather? But once a year. But in sickness it is an ever present friend. You watch for day breaks in it, and for the fading stars, and find an exciting interest in which of two stars will go out first, something like you were betting on a race. And then the figures in the blue field all day long; for it is not at evening and night alone that they appear. What have I not seen march across my window in the procession--a castle, a fan, a swan, a kerosene can, the king of spades, a cream jug, troops of angels, in short, anything that an idle imagination wants to conjure up. And when it dresses for the evening, in what glorious costumes does it appear. But all that is garish compared with the Sky upon which the night has settled down. That is the sort of Sky to bring calmness and content. The quiet lighting up of the stars, with no step ladders and no hurried match scratching of the police; the ease with which the moon climbs up her route, no puffing, no machinery clanking; the deepening of the blue to better show the celestial sparks that glow on it--and the knowledge that all this will go on without failure and without your having to turn over in bed to work some lever to help it move, makes the coming of night a comfort to the sick. Who thinks of the stars in health? No one. We think of supper, of the theatre, of the band concert, of the church, of the lecture--but who thinks of the stars they are walking under. It is given to the sick to remember them, and in return they remember the sick. Whoever else fails us the Stars are there. Steady, faithful, unchanging, always waiting. Shall I remember them after this? Ah, I can't tell, I am like the rest and will soon forget them in the busy street. But to-night while all is still, I look with reverence and curiosity on our future homes, my newest friends, the Stars.

* * * * *

Another new friend is the News Gatherer. I give you my word that one sick man gets more news--political, gossip, scandal--than any twenty well ones. You see he is always there and easy to find. Human nature can't keep news long and it always hunts up the man that is easy to find and unloads on him. There is a sense of security in talking to a man flat of his back--he can't get out to repeat it. Many things combine to make the News Gatherer the sick man's friend. He is helpless, weak and can't talk back. That secures a good listener. He is sick and wants to be entertained. That makes him an eager listener. And finally being confined and unable to get out he is presumably an empty vessel waiting to be filled. And with this inviting prospect the News Gatherer moves his machine up to the side of the bed and monotonously pumps, pumps, pumps. It is well for that kindly hearted man that the patient is not only stretched out on his bed, but also unarmed. Ah! how many men earn sudden death and yet in the mystery of Providence escape it! I have often wondered at the persistency with which habit has fixed on women the exclusive reputation of gossipers. For I say unto you, brethren, that Woman, who with empty head and silly tongue toys with her neighbor's character unto its destruction, is not more full of gossip than her brother Man, who knows better and yet cannot stand the temptation of a sick man and a safe chance to chatter about matters with which he has no business. I am afraid like the idea of original sin we all have just a little spice of it.

* * * * *

A relief to this friend, and a friend I never saw before, was my Moth. I think he came into the world about February, having been deceived by the hot room into the belief that Spring had come. Many days after, when snow could be seen on the ground, I have seen him feebly climbing up the window pane and looking out with the air of one whose whole life had been a dreadful mistake. The first time I saw him was one night sitting in the light and heat of the lamp, his grey wing shining like silver and his brown little body giving a soft, velvety light, his face grave with owl-like stupidity, and two big black eyes. After the snow passed away he seemed to get settled, and at night would sit on a match box staring for hours at the lamp, as one who should say, "Well, I understand the medicine vials, and the blisters, and the inkstand, and all that, but this great bright thing is quite beyond me." He never once thought of flying into it to see how it was done, and I thought of writing to the Bug Professor at the Smithsonian that here was a species of moth that light did not attract. But what will not bad company do? After the warm weather came and the windows were open, what should come in but other moths, of little character I think, who commenced pranks of humming and buzzing and butting the lamp. My Moth watched it with deep interest for two nights, but on the second night, I saw from his rubbing his nose with his paws that he was getting excited. Sure enough on the third night he remarked, "Well, I guess I'll try a little of that myself," and hopping back to the mucilage bottle for a start he took a header at the lamp. Except that his silver wings trembled, and his velvet legs drew up, he never moved again. I had lost a good friend whose innocent ramblings I had watched for hours and whose antics, when he tasted the ink or got a sniff of the ammonia, had much amused me. I don't know that he died too early. He had learned a bad habit, and for a man or a Bug who has learned a bad habit, I am not certain that death can come too soon. He died thinking he knew everything worth knowing, for I have no doubt that through the panes of my window and across my narrow street he thought he had seen the World. Just as we larger, but not wiser animals think that after gazing through our little theological panes, we have seen clear through Eternity, and into the mind of the Father. After all, my Moth was not worse off than the rest of us. We have all our little streets which we call the World, and our little pane of glass through which we think we see all that is worth seeing, and we need but a soupcon of bad example to make us blindly dash into the worst of follies. Let us never forget that, more than for this Moth, there is for us an unseen Hand that after these follies picks us up and starts us on our course again, with a pitying touch, and that, more than this, when the last twilight of evening shall gather around us, and the hands of those we love can be no longer seen, there shall appear to us through the gray mist of Death, that bright and gentle Hand, and with it the face of a Father and a Friend.

OBSERVATIONS OF A RETIRED VETERAN IV

I must tell you of the Major's Last Love. I had thought I would leave it in my note book, but a letter, which I can only read through a mist of tears, has changed my mind.

Strolling out as the sun was setting, on the first evening of my stay at a village hotel last summer, I saw two shadows cast across the street; one so very long, and one so very short, as to look ridiculous. They were the shadows of the Major and his Last Love. The Major, hatless, was swinging musingly the torn straw hat of his love, while the little three-year-old lady herself was struggling along with the Major's hat piled with flowers and toys and teacups on her return from having "a party" on the river edge. The little feet stumbled, the party crockery flew, and the two shadows melted in one as the prattling owner and the tall Major knelt together to gather them up. That was my first sight of the Major and his love.

I cannot say that any of us knew, or came to know, all about the Major; always excepting that we loved him. He was tall, straight, and frost-haired. His regular features were of that sort that might have belonged to a man of forty-five or a man of sixty, and he was a changeable sort of a person who one day would look one age and the next another. Of his means, we knew absolutely nothing. It was said that his wealth had been carried away by the civil war and that he was living on a small but sufficient remainder, which was doubtless true. Over his gray moustache there was a blue eye that sometimes looked as it might belong to a boy of eighteen and sometimes had the weary look of a man long acquainted with grief. His skin was as soft as a woman's and often suffused with a faint blush which would have better become a woman. He was the very spirit of gentleness to both men and women, and it seemed hard to realize, looking at him, that, as we heard afterwards, this man had been wounded and captured in a battle and set apart to be executed in reprisal. We did not learn that from him, for he never talked about himself, but from an old army comrade who met him and was the only man that we boarders ever saw the Major familiar with. Not that he was distant, but after a gentle smile of salutation or recognition he never seemed anxious to converse, and like most men, silence gave him an air of mystery. There were many solutions of the mystery by the lady boarders, particularly by Mrs. Pointlace, a restless little widow, who was never at peace unless she was in love with somebody or somebody was in love with her. Her theory was that the Major had suffered, at some period or other, a great shock to his affections--a supposition that failed to find confirmation in the regular appetite and the eccentric neatness of the person who had received the shock. Whether the lady's theory was correct or not, none of us had an opportunity to know, for we would as soon have expected to see the Major come into the dining-room without his coat as to have heard him speak of his personal affairs. The widow was a new boarder; if she had been there as long as the rest of us she would have known that whatever he might have suffered in the past, the Major's heart was now full to the brim of affection for a female, and that female not longer than his arm.

She couldn't have been over three years old, and was the only girl among four boys, running up like stair steps. I can see her now under a broad summer hat that would have covered the top of a barrel. The crown had given away and her little blue eyes would be oftener looking out through the gap than from under the brim. Her stockings were never both tied up at the same time, except when her mother turned her over, fresh dressed, in the morning to the Major, or when she put on her "tose" in the evening to walk with him. How the Major had gotten such possession of her, I think even her father and mother hardly knew, but certain it was that she had become his personal property. They went the rounds of the town stores every day, and took long walks from which the little lady always came back tired and asleep in the arms of the "Mady," as she called him. I suppose sometimes the Major had carried her for miles, and he would mount the steps of the hotel veranda in those sultry days, mopping his face wet from fatigue. And then he would unload his pockets of all the shells and rocks and sticks and strings that the little one had gathered in the waking part of her walk, and put them away for her carefully. One day the usual load had a marked variety in the shape of a large watermelon and three kittens. In managing all of which the little lady was assisting by bringing one kitten tail foremost under each arm. Much time was spent by the little tyrant in directing the Major as to where each article of that remarkable load was to go. If she had become, the Major's property, I think I may say that the Major had also become her property. I think that on rainy days from his vest to his heels, the Major's clothing was marked with little muddy foot prints; that his hat was used as a carryall for all manner of toys and sweetmeats; that his watch was demanded at all hours of the day to see if it was "bekfus time" yet, and that his cane served as an Arab steed for races around the porch without limit. The "Mady" and all he had were the undisturbed possession of the little one.

It was the close of the summer that, one morning, the little one did not appear. She was sick of fever, they said. At breakfast, the Major looked disturbed. But in a hotel we are not apt to think seriously of


Observations of a Retired Veteran - 3/11

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