This is to tell of our little Mistress Merciless, who for a season
abided with us, but is now and forever gone from us unto the far-off
land of Ever-Plaisance. The tale is soon told; for it were not seemly
to speak all the things that are in one’s heart when one hath to say
of a much-beloved child, whose life here hath been shortened so that,
in God’s wisdom and kindness, her life shall be longer in that garden
that bloometh far away.
You shall know that all did call her Mistress Merciless; but her
mercilessness was of a sweet, persuasive kind: for with the beauty of
her face and the music of her voice and the exceeding sweetness of her
virtues was she wont to slay all hearts; and this she did unwittingly,
for she was a little child. And so it was in love that we did call her
Mistress Merciless, just as it was in love that she did lord it over
all our hearts.
Upon a time walked she in a full fair garden, and there went with her
an handmaiden that we did call in merry wise the Queen of Sheba; for
this handmaiden was in sooth no queen at all, but a sorry and
ill-favored wench; but she was assotted upon our little Mistress
Merciless and served her diligently, and for that good reason was
vastly beholden of us all. Yet, in a jest, we called her the Queen of
Sheba; and I make a venture that she looked exceeding fair in the eyes
of our little Mistress Merciless: for the eyes of children look not
upon the faces but into the hearts and souls of others. Whilst these
two walked in the full fair garden at that time they came presently
unto an arbor wherein there was a rustic seat, which was called the
Siege of Restfulness; and hereupon sate a little sick boy that, from
his birth, had been lame, so that he could not play and make merry
with other children, but was wont to come every day into this full
fair garden and content himself with the companionship of the flowers.
And, though he was a little lame boy, he never trod upon those
flowers; and even had he done so, methinks the pressure of those
crippled feet had been a caress, for the little lame boy was filled
with the spirit of love and tenderness. As the tiniest, whitest,
shrinking flower exhaleth the most precious perfume, so in and from
this little lame boy’s life there came a grace that was hallowing in
Since they never before had seen him, they asked him his name; and he
answered them that of those at home he was called Master Sweetheart, a
name he could not understand: for surely, being a cripple, he must be
a very sorry sweetheart; yet, that he was a sweetheart unto his mother
at least he had no doubt, for she did love to hold him in her lap and
call him by that name; and many times when she did so he saw that
tears were in her eyes,–a proof, she told him when he asked, that
Master Sweetheart was her sweetheart before all others upon earth.
It befell that our little Mistress Merciless and Master Sweetheart
became fast friends, and the Queen of Sheba was handmaiden to them
both; for the simple, loyal creature had not a mind above the artless
prattle of childhood, and the strange allegory of the lame boy’s
speech filled her with awe, even as the innocent lisping of our little
Mistress Merciless delighted her heart and came within the
comprehension of her limited understanding. So each day, when it was
fair, these three came into the full fair garden, and rambled there
together; and when they were weary they entered into the arbor and
sate together upon the Siege of Restfulness. Wit ye well there was not
a flower or a tree or a shrub or a bird in all that full fair garden
which they did not know and love, and in very sooth every flower and
tree and shrub and bird therein did know and love them.
When they entered into the arbor, and sate together upon the Siege of
Restfulness, it was Master Sweetheart’s wont to tell them of the land
of Ever-Plaisance, for it was a conceit of his that he journeyed each
day nearer and nearer to that land, and that his journey thitherward
was nearly done. How came he to know of that land I cannot say, for I
do not know; but I am fain to believe that, as he said, the exceeding
fair angels told him thereof when by night, as he lay sleeping, they
came singing and with caresses to his bedside.
I speak now of a holy thing, therefore I speak truth when I say that
while little children lie sleeping in their beds at night it pleaseth
God to send His exceeding fair angels with singing and caresses to
bear messages of His love unto those little sleeping children. And I
have seen those exceeding fair angels bend with folded wings over the
little cradles and the little beds, and kiss those little sleeping
children and whisper God’s messages of love to them, and I knew that
those messages were full of sweet tidings; for, even though they
slept, the little children smiled. This have I seen, and there is none
who loveth little children that will deny the truth of this thing
which I have now solemnly declared.
“Ting-long! Ting-a-long! Ting-long!” and off is the train again. And
swifter and swifter it speedeth,–oh, I am sure no other train
speedeth half so swiftly! The sights my dear one sees! I cannot tell
of them–one must see those beauteous sights to know how wonderful
“Shug-chug! Shug-chug! Shug-chug!”
On and on and on the locomotive proudly whirleth the train.
“Ting-long! Ting-a-long! Ting-long!”
The bell calleth anon, but fainter and evermore fainter; and fainter
and fainter groweth that other calling–“Toot! Toot! Toot!”–till
finally I know that in that Shut-Eye Town afar my dear one dreameth
the dreams of Balow.
This was the bedtime tale which I was wont to tell our little Mistress
Merciless, and at its end I looked upon her face to see it calm and
beautiful in sleep.
Then was I wont to kneel beside her little bed and fold my two
hands,–thus,–and let my heart call to the host invisible: “O
guardian angels of this little child, hold her in thy keeping from all
the perils of darkness and the night! O sovereign Shepherd, cherish
Thy little lamb and mine, and, Holy Mother, fold her to thy bosom and
thy love! But give her back to me,–when morning cometh, restore ye
unto me my little one!”
But once she came not back. She had spoken much of Master Sweetheart
and of that land of Ever-Plaisance whither he had gone. And she was
not afeard to make the journey alone; so once upon a time when our
little Mistress Merciless bade us good-by, and went away forever, we
knew that it were better so; for she was lonely here, and without her
that far-distant country whither she journeyed were not content.
Though our hearts were like to break for love of her, we knew that it
were better so.
The tale is told, for it were not seemly to speak all the things that
are in one’s heart when one hath to say of a much-beloved child whose
life here hath been shortened so that, in God’s wisdom and kindness,
her life shall be longer in that garden that bloometh far away.
About me are scattered the toys she loved, and the doll Beautiful hath
come down all-battered and grim,–yet, oh! so very precious to me,
from those distant years; yonder fareth the Queen of Sheba in her
service as handmaiden unto me and mine,–gaunt and doleful-eyed, yet
stanch and sturdy as of old. The garden lieth under the Christmas
snow,–the garden where ghosts of trees wave their arms and moan over
the graves of flowers; the once gracious arbor is crippled now with
the infirmities of age, the Siege of Restfulness fast sinketh into
decay, and long, oh! long ago did that bird Joyous carol forth his
last sweet song in the garden that was once so passing fair.
And amid it all,–this heartache and the loneliness which the years
have brought,–cometh my Christmas gift to-day: the solace of a vision
of that country whither she–our little Mistress Merciless–hath gone;
a glimpse of that far-off land of Ever-Plaisance.