The Child’s Letter by Eugene Field

Story type: Literature

Everybody was afraid of the old governor because he was so cross and surly. And one morning he was crosser and surlier than ever, because he had been troubled for several days with a matter which he had already decided, but which many people wished to have reversed. A man, found guilty of a crime, had been imprisoned, and there were those who, convinced of his penitence and knowing that his family needed his support, earnestly sought his pardon. To all these solicitations the old governor replied “no,” and, having made up his mind, the old governor had no patience with those who persisted in their intercessions. So the old governor was in high dudgeon one morning, and when he came to his office he said to his secretary: “Admit no one to see me; I am weary of these constant and senseless importunities.”

Now, the secretary had a discreet regard for the old governor’s feelings, and it was seldom that his presence of mind so far deserted him as to admit of his suffering the old governor’s wishes to be disregarded. He bolted the door and sat himself down at his modest desk and simulated intense enthusiasm in his work. His simulation was more intense than usual, for never before had the secretary seen the old governor in such a harsh mood.

“Has the mail come–where are the papers and the letters?” demanded the old governor, in a gruff voice.

“Here they are, sir,” said the secretary, as he put the bundle on the old governor’s table. “These are addressed to you privately; the business letters are on my desk. Would you like to see them now?”

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“No, not now,” growled the old governor; “I will read the papers and my private correspondence first.”

But the old governor found cause for uneasiness in this employment. The papers discussed the affair of the imprisoned man, and these private letters came from certain of the old governor’s friends, who, strangely enough, exhibited an interest in the self-same prisoner’s affair. The old governor was highly disgusted.

“They should mind their own business,” muttered the old governor. “The papers are very officious, and these other people are simply impertinent. My mind is made up–nothing shall change me!”

Then the old governor turned to his private secretary and bade him bring the business letters, and presently the private secretary could hear the old governor growling and fumbling over the pile of correspondence. He knew why the old governor was so excited; many of these letters were petitions from the people touching the affair of the imprisoned man. Oh, how they angered the old governor!

“Humph!” said the old governor at last, “I ‘m glad I ‘m done with them. There are no more, I suppose.”

When the secretary made no reply the old governor was surprised. He wheeled in his chair and searchingly regarded the secretary over his spectacles. He saw that the secretary was strangely embarrassed.

“You have not shown me all,” said the old governor, sternly. “What is it you have kept back?”

Then the secretary said: “I had thought not to show it to you. It is nothing but a little child’s letter–I thought I should not bother you with it.”

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The old governor was interested. A child’s letter to him–what could it be about? Such a thing had never happened to him before.

“A child’s letter; let me see it,” said the old governor, and, although his voice was harsh, somewhat of a tender light came into his eyes.

“‘T is nothing but a scrawl,” explained the secretary, “and it comes from the prisoner’s child–Monckton’s little girl–Monckton, the forger, you know. Of course there’s nothing to it–a mere scrawl; for the child is only four years old. But the gentleman who sends it says the child brought it to him and asked him to send it to the governor, and then, perhaps, the governor would send her papa home.”

The old governor took the letter, and he scanned it curiously. What a wonderful letter it was, and who but a little child could have written it! Such strange hieroglyphics and such crooked lines–oh! it was a wonderful letter, as you can imagine.

But the old governor saw something more than the strange hieroglyphics and crooked lines and rude pencillings. He could see in and between the lines of the little child’s letter a sweetness and a pathos he had never seen before, and on the crumpled sheet he found a love like the love his bereaved heart had vainly yearned for, oh! so many years.

He saw, or seemed to see, a little head bending over the crumpled page, a dimpled hand toiling at its rude labor of love, and an earnest little face smiling at the thought that this labor would not be in vain. And how wearied the little hand grew and how sleepy the little head became, but the loyal little heart throbbed on and on with patient joy, and neither hand nor head rested till the task was done.

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Sweet innocence of childhood! Who would molest thee–who bring thee one shadow of sorrow? Who would not rather brave all dangers, endure all fatigues, and bear all burdens to shield thee from the worldly ills thou dream’st not of!

So thought the old governor, as he looked upon the crumpled page and saw and heard the pleadings of the child’s letter; for you must know that from the crumpled page there stole a thousand gentle voices that murmured in his ears so sweetly that his heart seemed full of tears. And the old governor thought of his own little one–God rest her innocent soul. And it seemed to him as if he could hear her dear baby voice joining with this other’s in trustful pleading.

The secretary was amazed when the old governor said to him: “Give me a pardon blank.” But what most amazed the secretary was the tremulous tenderness in the old governor’s voice and the mistiness behind the old governor’s spectacles as he folded the crumpled page reverently and put it carefully in the breast pocket of his greatcoat.

“Humph,” thought the secretary, “the old governor has a kinder heart than any of us suspected.”

Then, when the prisoner was pardoned and came from his cell, people grasped him by the hand and said: “Our eloquence and perseverance saved you. The old governor could not withstand the pressure we brought to bear on him!”

But the secretary knew, and the old governor, too–God bless him for his human heart! They knew that it was the sacred influence of a little child’s letter that had done it all–that a dimpled baby hand had opened those prison doors.

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