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- Observations of a Retired Veteran - 4/11 -


the troubles of our neighbors, even if they are next door to us, and few of us thought to ask about the baby. One night coming in late from the theatre, I saw a large rocking chair at the end of the floor on which the baby slept, and I was astonished on looking closer to see the Major in it. His gentle face had a worn and weary look on it, and the waiter told me next morning that the Major had walked the hall pretty much all night for several nights, and that he had carried the chair there for him to rest in. The baby, the waiter said, was not likely to live. As I went up after breakfast, I stopped to inquire, and the little one's mother, whose eyes were red with weeping, said I could come in, adding, "It would hardly make any difference, now." There sat the Major by the bed, with all manner of toys and dolls spread out on the coverlet, before the sick child's eyes. Like a man's idea of doing something, he had bought them. Poor fellow! it was all he could think of to do. The little blue eyes were changed and the thin little hands were restless. They would pick out a toy and lay it aside, and then the dear old Major would arrange them freshly, so as to attract her attention. I think she was delirious, for she asked that her "tose" be given her, that she might talk with the "Mady." And then the poor fellow would look up to the mother, and say: "I think she can to-morrow, madam; I think she can to-morrow, don't you?"

I think he hardly knew what he said it for, except with the vague idea of giving somebody hope. Anyhow, his voice seemed to arouse the little one, and she drew her little thin hand over his face, and said, in an inquiring tone, "Mady?" I think the world was floating out of sight and she wasn't certain. The Major turned, with a look of alarm, to the mother at the window, and said, "Oh, do you think--" But whatever he was going to ask was answered before he asked it, for the mother leaned her head against the window pane and sobbed. He looked around the room quickly, as one who would look for help from somewhere, he knew not where, and then slipping out of his chair to his knees by the bedside, took the child's hand and laid his head on the coverlet. It seemed to stop the fast going spirit for a moment, and the other little thin hand wandered to the gray head and nestled there, and once more the weak voice said "Mady." As I softly closed the door, I could hear the poor old Major, between his sobs, repeating over and over, "Oh, my little one! my little one!"

The next night several of us went to the Ladies' Parlor to set up with baby. At the head of the little coffin sat the Major. He was in full evening dress--none of us had seen him in evening dress before--and in his lapel was a bouquet of white flowers, evidently arranged by himself. He looked years older; indeed, about all there was left of his old look was the patient gentleness that had won us all. In the coffin, in the little hand, was another bouquet of white flowers, as awkwardly arranged as the one the Major wore. We did not need to be told where it came from. Always shy, he was even more so that night, from the unaccustomed duty he seemed struggling to perform. As the boarders dropped in, to look at the child, he seemed glad of the opportunity to go up again and look into the coffin, but he never went by himself. He had nothing to say, but if spoken to, replied with his never-failing sweetness of manner. Often during that night he was out for water, but those of us who saw his wet lashes, knew what took him out. Towards morning a lady watcher found lying on the centre table a broken doll which had belonged to the little one and which she had named after the "Mady." The Major went out quickly and came back no more.

At the funeral next day it looked to us, though the parents of the little one were there, as if the chief mourner was not, for the Major was absent. Indeed, he was not at the hotel during the day, and it was late in the evening before he came home. He still had the dress suit on, but the bouquet was gone. It needed no one tell us on what little mound of earth it had been left. I think I have said that the Major was not easy to be intimate with, and to that fact I ascribe none of us trying to console his grief by reference to his little love. He resumed his every day suit--he wore his full dress suit for several days, I think, as a sort of silent expression of mourning--and resumed his old seat in the corner of the veranda, where he and the little one had such gay larks and which was their headquarters when they came from walk. He was the same gentle, sweet old man, except if anything a shade gentler to all and especially to children. When I came away he walked to the depot with me, and as we walked, told me he expected always to live where--well, where he lived now. That was the nearest he ever came to speaking of what filled his heart. I can see him now, as the cars started, waving his hand and his blue eyes lighted up.

And now to the letter. It is just a few days since I got it. In writing to one of my hotel acquaintances I had sent my regards to the old Major, and asked if he had kept his promise to live there always. The answer shocked me. He had not kept his promise, the writer said, but he had gone to live in a another and Better Country. His health of late had not been strong, and a few weeks ago it had become clear that he was fast going. His last walk was out to the resting place of his little love. As he grew worse and weaker he asked that the rector be sent for. When he came, the Major told him that he had long ago placed his hopes on the Heavenly Father and tried to live as a child of His, and--with his old time gentle hesitation--he added, "as a poor unworthy child of His." But it was not for that he had sent for him, it was this, and here the Major took from under his pillow a letter addressed to baby's parents, which he asked the rector to deliver. It had been written just after her death and was a simple request that he might be buried by her side. One thing he questioned the rector anxiously about: as to whether in the Better Country we would know each other. The letter was delivered and the next day baby's father and mother came to see her old friend. He was fast going, and lay with his eyes closed. Somehow, it seemed to cross his mind that they would know, and as they were leaving, he said, "You think I'll know the little one? Oh, I hope I will know her." After he was buried, adds the writer, we found some of her broken toys in his desk, and a list, written way back in the fall, of Christmas gifts to buy for her.

Has he seen her again? It cannot be that the loving Father has not taken this simple hearted of His by the hand and led him to the little one who went before. And that in this blessed Christmas time, in that far off and better land, listening to the songs of angels and gazing at the glories of a brighter world, there walk, once more, hand in hand, the Major and his Last Love.

OBSERVATIONS OF A RETIRED VETERAN V

The people are taking their vacation--an imposing three-syllable name for a very tiny slice of holiday taken off an immense lump of work. Of all the impositions that I know, this vacation business, in the way we take it, is greatest. Somehow, by some inexplicable way, it has grown into a custom with men who have business, to understand that a vacation means two weeks, fourteen days, out of three hundred and sixty-five, or one week out of every twenty-six. And then back again to work. It is like taking a poor devil out of a box once a year, and after giving him a breath of fresh air, putting him back and letting the lid down on him again. It is often said that a thing is as free as air, but to a busy man the air is anything but free. Whiskey, cigars, newspapers, the church, the theatre are at hand and easy of access, but the long, lazy, untrammelled breathing of fresh air out of town is hard to get. I never see a cart-horse enjoying his dinner out of a nose-bag that I don't think this is the way business men get their fresh air. They sniff it from the streets on the run. They haven't time to unharness and drop the cart and take a long and satisfactory meal. I say I don't know who invented the two weeks system, but I strongly suspect the doctors had a hand in it. I never hear their flippant, devil-may-care (you must see by this time that I am in an awful humor) way in which they assure you that a week or two out will "set you up all right," that I don't feel that I am getting nearer and nearer to the inventor. But what will I do with him if I get him? It will be the old story, "You didn't improve at the pink sulphur springs; why, what did you do?" Well, I lay down under the trees and had a good rest. "That's it, my boy; didn't I tell you exercise was the thing; why, that's what you went there for." And then he is astonished that Smith didn't improve at the brown sulphur; "what could he have done?" Well, he went fishing and hunted some. "Great Scott, man, how did you expect to improve; why, you walked off every pound you gained. Why, you went there for rest, not to walk yourself to death." And so they go. As if fourteen days could hold enough of health in them to improve anybody. Fourteen days is of no account to anybody unless, perhaps, it might be a two-weeks respite to a man to be hung, and even that would be a very temporary sort of satisfaction.

* * * * *

Now, that I am in a bad humor, let me touch on another grievance. I declare to you that something ought to be done about tomato cans--a law forbidding women to have or handle them. There now; don't fly off and say I am attacking the gentler sex. I am not; I am attacking the combination of the two. Take the gentler sex by themselves and they are just lovely, but when they go in partnership with tomato cans they are--well, I won't say anything rash. There is one thing, thank heaven; I can keep my temper under all circumstances. Sitting in the cars the other day, engaged wasting a whole day of my fourteen to go something over a hundred miles, the new Floral Transfer Express came in sight. It was a lady of middle age--I won't say how old, though I wouldn't have forgiven her if she had been sixteen. Her arms were full of tomato cans, containing slips of flowers, and it took the conductor and porter both to hoist her up the car steps--for like all women, she would rather be run over than let go her bundles. When she took her seat, the cans were distributed on all the seats around her, two-thirds of them exuding the water with which the flowers had been sprinkled while she was waiting at the station. I got two or three of them as a retribution, I presume, for my having kept her from falling over the stove, and for my duplicity in saying that they would not be in the way in the slightest. If I live I shall hereafter be a more truthful man. I was kept busy just four hours balancing them so as to keep them from being jarred from the seat by the motion of the car. But one ray illuminated the scene, and that was, when returning from the water cooler she sat down on a little nest of four of them. It looked like a judgment and I believe it was. I don't mind the deadly traps women set on window ledges, in the shape of tomato cans filled with flowers to slip down on man's head, but I do insist that railroad authorities should not allow them to bring canned flower gardens into the cars with them, and in that I have the support of every free born American citizen.

* * * * *

While I was away I learned a secret that is worth a good deal of money to any young man intending marriage, and that would have been without price to me if I had known it thirty years ago--before I knew the estimable woman, who, in company, insists that I am her better-half, and in private treats me as if I were hardly a sixteenth. I learned it at sea. Just before we sailed out of a port one afternoon a couple came down to the wharf, which consisted of a very large and fine-looking young woman and very small young man, who carried himself with much meekness. Why will little men marry big women? They looked like they had not been long married. When they came on board she was the captain and he ranked about cook. When they got off, forty-eight hours after, he ranked as admiral and she ranked about a hand before the mast. When


Observations of a Retired Veteran - 4/11

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