Story type: Literature
The name we meant to call her was Annette, for that was a name I always liked. ‘Way back, before I got married, I made up my mind that if I ever had a daughter I should call her Annette. My intention was good enough, but circumstances of a peculiar nature led me to abandon the idea which in anticipation afforded me really a lot of pleasure. My circumstances have always been humble. I say this in no spirit of complaint. We have very much to be thankful for, and we are particularly grateful for the blessing which heaven has bestowed upon us in the person of our dear child–our daughter who comes from school to-night to spend Thanksgiving with us and with our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Blossom. I must tell you how we became acquainted with the Blossoms.
When our baby was two years old I used to sit of mornings, before going to my work, on the front steps, watching the baby playing on the sidewalk. This pleasantest half-hour of the day I divided between the little one and my pipe. One morning, as I sat there smoking and as the little one was toddling to and fro on the sidewalk, a portly, nice-looking old gentleman came down the street, and, as luck would have it, the baby got right in his path, and before I could get to her she tangled herself all up with the old gentleman’s legs and cane. The old gentleman seemed very much embarrassed, but, bless your soul! the baby liked it!
“A pretty child–a beautiful child!” said the old gentleman, and then he inquired: “Boy or girl?”
“Girl,” says I, and I added: “Two years old and weighs thirty pounds.”
“That must be a great deal for a little girl to weigh,” said the old gentleman, and I saw that his eyes lingered lovingly and yearningly upon the child. I am sure he wanted to say more, but all at once, as if he suddenly recollected himself, he glanced furtively up the street, and then, turning as suddenly the other way, he resumed his course downtown. I thought to myself that he was a kindly old gentleman, a trifle queer, perhaps, but of a gentle nature.
Three or four times within a week after that a similar experience with this old gentleman befell me and the baby. He would greet her cheerily; sometimes he would pat her head, and I saw that his heart warmed toward her. But all the time he talked with us he seemed to act as if he feared he was being watched, and he left us abruptly–sometimes breaking away in the middle of a sentence as if he was afraid he might say something he ought not to say. At last, however, I learned that his name was Blossom, and that Mrs. Blossom and he lived alone in a fine house up yonder in a more fashionable part of our street. In an outburst of confidence one morning he told me that he was very fond of children, and that he felt that much was gone out of his life because no little one had ever come to Mary and himself.
“But,” he added with an air of assumed cheerfulness, “as Mary does not like children at all, it is perhaps for the best that none has ever come to us.”
I now understood why Mr. Blossom was so cautious in his attentions to our baby; he was fearful of being observed by his wife; he felt that it was his duty to humor her in her disinclination to children. I pitied the dear old gentleman, and for the same reason conceived a violent dislike for Mrs. Blossom.
But my wife Cordelia told me something one day that set my heart to aching for both the two old people.
“A sweet-looking old lady passed the house this afternoon,” said Cordelia, “and took notice of baby asleep in my arms on the porch. She stopped and asked me all about her and presently she kissed her, and then I saw that she was crying softly to herself. I asked her if she had ever lost a little girl, and she said no. ‘I have always been childless,’ said the sweet old lady. ‘In all the years of my wifehood I have besought but one blessing of heaven–the joy of maternity. My prayers are unanswered, and it is perhaps better so.’ She told me then that her husband did not care for children; she could hardly reconcile his professed antipathy to them with his warm, gentle, and loyal nature; but it was well, if he did not want children, that none had come.”
“What was the old lady’s name?” I asked.
“Mrs. Blossom,” said my wife Cordelia.
I whistled softly to myself. Then I told Cordelia of my experience with Mr. Blossom, and we wondered where and when and how this pathetic comedy of cross-purposes would end. We talked the matter over many a time after that, and we agreed that it would be hard to find an instance of deception more touching than that which we had met with in the daily life of Mr. and Mrs. Blossom. Meanwhile the two old people became more and more attached to our precious baby. Every morning brought Mr. Blossom down the street with a smile and a caress and a tender word for the little one, that toddled to meet him and overwhelm him with her innocent prattle. Every afternoon found the sweet-looking old lady in front of our house, fondling our child, and feeding her starving maternal instinct upon the little one’s caresses. Each one–the old gentleman and the old lady–each one confessed by action and by word to an overwhelming love for children, yet between them stood that pitiless lie, conceived of the tenderest consideration for each other, but resulting in lifelong misery.
I tell you, it was mighty hard sometimes for Cordelia and me not to break out with the truth!
It occurred to us both that there would eventually come a time when the friendship of Mr. and Mrs. Blossom would be precious indeed to our daughter. We had great hopes of that child, and all our day-dreams involved her. She must go to school, she must be educated, she must want nothing; there was no conceivable sacrifice which Cordelia and I would not make gladly for our little girl. Would we be willing to share her love with these two childless old people, who yearned for that love and were ready to repay it with every benefit which riches can supply? We asked ourselves that question a thousand times. God helped us to answer it.
The winter set in early and suddenly. We were awakened one night by that hoarse, terrifying sound which chills the parent heart with anxiety. Our little one was flushed with fever, and there was a rattling in her throat when she breathed. When the doctor came he told us not to be frightened; this was a mild form of croup, he said. His medicines seemed to give relief, for presently the child breathed easier and slept. Next morning an old gentleman on his way downtown wondered why the baby was not out to greet him with a hilarious shout; he felt that here–all about his heart–which told him that two dimpled hands had taken hold and held him fast. An old lady came to the door that day and asked questions hurriedly and in whispers, and went away crying to herself under her veil.
When it came night again the baby was as good as well. I was rocking her and telling her a story, when the door-bell rang. A moment later–I could hardly believe my senses, but Mr. Blossom stood before me.
“I heard she was sick,” said he, coming up to the cradle and taking the baby’s hand awkwardly, but tenderly, in his. “You can never know how I have suffered all day, for this little one has grown very dear to me, and I dare not think what I should do if evil were to befall her. To-night I told my wife a lie. I said that I had a business engagement that called me downtown; I told her that in order to hasten here without letting her know the truth. She does not like children; I would not for the world have her know how tenderly I love this little one.”
He was still talking to me in this wise when I heard a step upon the stairway. I went to the door and opened it. Mrs. Blossom stood there.
“I have worried all day about the baby,” she said, excitedly. “Fortunately, Mr. Blossom was called downtown this evening, and I have run in to ask how our precious baby is. I must go away at once, for he does not care for children, you know, and I would not have him know how dear this babe has grown to me!”
Mrs. Blossom stood on the threshold as she said these words. And then she saw the familiar form of the dear old gentleman bending over the cradle, holding the baby’s hands in his. Mr. Blossom had recognized his wife’s voice and heard her words.
“Mary!” he cried, and he turned and faced her. She said, “Oh, John!”–that was all, and her head drooped upon her breast. So there they stood before each other, confronted by the revelation which they had thought buried in long and many years.
She was the first to speak, for women are braver and stronger than men. She accused herself and took all the blame. But he would not listen to her self-reproaches. And they spoke to each other–I know not what things, only that they were tender and sweet and of consolation. I remember that at the last he put his arm about her as if he had not been an aged man and she were not white-haired and bowed, but as if they two were walking in the springtime of their love.
“It is God’s will,” he said, “and let us not rebel against it. The journey to the end is but a little longer now; we have come so far together, and surely we can go on alone.”
“No, not alone,” I said, for the inspiration came to me then. “Our little child yonder–God has lent this lambkin to our keeping–share her love with us. There is so much, so very much you can do for her which we cannot do, for we are poor, and you are rich. Help us to care for her and share her love with us, and she shall be your child and ours.”
That was the compact between us fifteen years ago, and they have been happy, very happy years. Blossom–we call her Blossom, after the dear old friends who have been so good to her and to us–she comes from school to-night, and to-morrow we shall sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with our daughter. We always speak of her as “our daughter,” for, you know, she belongs now no more to Cordelia and me than to Mr. and Mrs. Blossom.