Story type: Literature
You see Bill an’ I wuz jest like brothers; wuz raised on ‘jinin’ farms: he wuz his folks’ only child, an’ I wuz my folks’ only one. So, nat’ril like, we growed up together, lovin’ an’ sympathizin’ with each other. What I knowed, I told Bill, an’ what Bill knowed, he told me, an’ what neither on us knowed–why, that warn’t wuth knowin’!
If I had n’t got over my braggin’ days, I ‘d allow that, in our time, Bill an’ I wuz jest about the sparkin’est beaus in the township; leastwise that’s what the girls thought; but, to be honest about it, there wuz only two uv them girls we courted, Bill an’ I, he courtin’ one an’ I t’other. You see we sung in the choir, an’ as our good luck would have it we got sot on the sopranner an’ the alto, an’ bimeby–oh, well, after beauin’ ’em round a spell–a year or so, for that matter–we up an’ married ’em, an’ the old folks gin us the farms, ‘jinin’ farms, where we boys had lived all our lives. Lizzie, my wife, had always been powerful friendly with Marthy, Bill’s wife; them two girls never met up but what they wuz huggin’ an’ kissin’ an’ carryin’ on, like girls does; for women ain’t like men–they can’t control theirselves an’ their feelin’s, like the stronger sext does.
I tell you, it wuz happy times for Lizzie an’ me and Marthy an’ Bill–happy times on the ‘jinin’ farms, with the pastures full uv fat cattle, an’ the barns full uv hay an’ grain, and the twin cottages full uv love an’ contentment! Then when Cyrus come–our little boy–our first an’ only one! why, when he come, I wuz jest so happy an’ so grateful that if I had n’t been a man I guess I ‘d have hollered–maybe cried–with joy. Wanted to call the little tyke Bill, but Bill would n’t hear to nothin’ but Cyrus. You see, he ‘d bought a cyclopeedy the winter we wuz all marr’ed an’ had been readin’ in it uv a great foreign warrior named Cyrus that lived a long spell ago.
“Land uv Goshen, Bill!” sez I, “you don’t reckon the baby ‘ll ever be a warrior?”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” sez Bill. “There ‘s no tellin’. At any rate, Cyrus Ketcham has an uncommon sound for a name; so Cyrus it must be, an’ when he ‘s seven years old I ‘ll gin him the finest Morgan colt in the deestrick!”
So we called him Cyrus, an’ he grew up lovin’ and bein’ loved by everybody.
Well, along about two years–or, say, eighteen months or so–after Cyrus come to us a little girl baby come to Bill an’ Marthy, an’ of all the cunnin’ sweet little things you ever seen that little girl baby was the cunnin’est an’ sweetest! Looked jest like one of them foreign crockery figgers you buy in city stores–all pink an’ white, with big brown eyes here, an’ a teeny, weeney mouth there, an’ a nose an’ ears, you’d have bet they wuz wax–they wuz so small an’ fragile. Never darst hold her for fear I ‘d break her, an’ it liked to skeered me to death to see the way Marthy and Lizzie would kind uv toss her round an’ trot her–so–on their knees or pat her–so–on the back when she wuz collicky like the wimmin folks sez all healthy babies is afore they ‘re three months old.
“You ‘re goin’ to have the namin’ uv her,” sez Bill to me.
“Yes,” sez Marthy; “we made it up atween us long ago that you should have the namin’ uv our baby like we had the namin’ uv yourn.”
Then, kind uv hectorin’ like–for I was always a powerful tease–I sez: “How would Cleopatry do for a name? or Venis? I have been readin’ the cyclopeedy myself, I ‘d have you know!”
An’ then I laffed one on them provokin’ laffs uv mine–oh, I tell ye, I was the worst feller for hectorin’ folks you ever seen! But I meant it all in fun, for when I suspicioned they did n’t like my funnin’, I sez: “Bill,” sez I, “an’ Marthy, there ‘s only one name I ‘d love above all the rest to call your little lambkin, an’ that’s the dearest name on earth to me–the name uv Lizzie, my wife!”
That jest suited ’em to a T, an’ always after that she wuz called leetle Lizzie, an’ it sot on her, that name did, like it was made for her, an’ she for it. We made it up then–perhaps more in fun than anything else–that when the children growed up, Cyrus an’ leetle Lizzie, they should get marr’d together, an’ have both the farms an’ be happy, an’ be a blessin’ to us all in our old age. We made it up in fun, perhaps, but down in our hearts it wuz our prayer jest the same, and God heard the prayer an’ granted it to be so.
They played together, they lived together; together they tended deestrick school an’ went huckleberryin’; there wuz huskin’s an’ spellin’ bees an’ choir meetin’s an’ skatin’ an’ slidin’ down-hill–oh, the happy times uv youth! an’ all those times our boy Cyrus an’ their leetle Lizzie went lovin’ly together!
What made me start so–what made me ask of Bill one time: “Are we a-gettin’ old, Bill?” that wuz the Thanksgivin’ night when, as we set round the fire in Bill’s front-room, Cyrus come to us, holdin’ leetle Lizzie by the hand, an’ they asked us could they get marr’d come next Thanksgivin’ time? Why, it seemed only yesterday that they wuz chicks together! God! how swift the years go by when they are happy years!
“Reuben,” sez Bill to me, “le’s go down’ cellar and draw a pitcher uv cider!”
You see that, bein’ men, it wuz n’t for us to make a show uv ourselves. Marty an’ Lizzie just hugged each other an’ laughed an’ cried–they wuz so glad! Then they hugged Cyrus an’ leetle Lizzie; and talk and laff? Well, it did beat all how them women folks did talk and laugh, all at one time! Cyrus laffed, too; an’ then he said he reckoned he ‘d go out an’ throw some fodder in to the steers, and Bill an’ I–well, we went down-cellar to draw that pitcher uv cider.
It ain’t for me to tell now uv the meller sweetness uv their courtin’ time; I could n’t do it if I tried. Oh, how we loved ’em both! Yet, once in the early summer-time, our boy Cyrus he come to me an’ said: “Father, I want you to let me go away for a spell.”
“Cyrus, my boy! Go away?”
“Yes, father; President Linkern has called for soldiers; father, you have always taught me to obey the voice of Duty. That voice summons me now.”
“God in heaven,” I thought, “you have given us this child only to take him from us!”
But then came the second thought: “Steady, Reuben! You are a man; be a man! Steady, Reuben; be a man!”
“Yer mother,” sez I, “yer mother–it will break her heart!”
“She leaves it all to you, father.”
“But–the other–the other, Cyrus–leetle Lizzie–ye know!”
“She is content,” sez he.
A storm swep’ through me like a cyclone. It wuz all Bill’s fault; that warrior-name had done it all–the cyclopeedy with its lies had pizened Bill’s mind to put this trouble on me an’ mine!
No, no, a thousand times no! These wuz coward feelin’s an’ they misbecome me; the ache herein this heart uv mine had no business there. The better part uv me called to me an’ said: “Pull yourself together, Reuben Ketcham, and be a man!”
Well, after he went away, leetle Lizzie wuz more to us ‘n ever before; wuz at our house all the time; called Lizzie “mother”; wuz contented, in her woman’s way, willin’ to do her part, waitin’ an’ watchin’ an’ prayin’ for him to come back. They sent him boxes of good things every fortnight, mother an’ leetle Lizzie did; there wuz n’t a minute uv the day that they wuz n’t talkin’ or thinkin’ uv him.
Well–ye–see–I must tell it my own way–he got killed. In the very first battle Cyrus got killed. The rest uv the soldiers turnt to retreat, because there wuz too many for ’em on the other side. But Cyrus stood right up; he wuz the warrior Bill allowed he wuz goin’ to be; our boy wuz n’t the kind to run. They tell me there wuz bullet holes here, an’ here, an’ here–all over his breast. We always knew our boy wuz a hero!
Ye can thank God ye wuz n’t at the ‘jinin’ farms when the news come that he ‘d got killed. The neighbors, they were there, of course, to kind uv hold us up an’ comfort us. Bill an’ I sot all day in the woodshed, holdin’ hands an’ lookin’ away from each other, so; never said a word; jest sot there, sympathizin’ an’ holdin’ hands. If we ‘d been women, Bill an’ I would uv cried an’ beat our forrids an’ hung round each other’s neck, like the womenfolks done. Bein’ we wuz men, we jest set there in the woodshed, away from all the rest, holdin’ hands an’ sympathizin’.
From that time on, leetle Lizzie wuz our daughter–our very daughter, all that wuz left to us uv our boy. She never shed a tear; crep’ like a shadder ’round the house an’ up the front walk an’ through the garden. Her heart wuz broke. You could see it in the leetle lambkin’s eyes an’ hear it in her voice. Wanted to tell her sometimes when she kissed me and called me “father”–wanted to tell her, “Leetle Lizzie, let me help ye bear yer load. Speak out the sorrer that’s in yer broken heart; speak it out, leetle one, an’ let me help yer bear yer load!”
But it is n’t for a man to have them feelin’s–leastwise, it is n’t for him to tell uv ’em. So I held my peace and made no sign.
She jest drooped, an’ pined, an’ died. One mornin’ in the spring she wuz standin’ in the garden, an’ all at oncet she threw her arms up, so, an’ fell upon her face, an’ when they got to her all thet wuz left to us uv leetle Lizzie wuz her lifeless leetle body. I can’t tell of what happened next–uv the funeral an’ all that. I said this wuz in the spring, an’ so it wuz all around us; but it wuz cold and winter here.
One day mother sez to me: “Reuben,” sez she, softlike, “Marthy an’ I is goin’ to the buryin’ ground for a spell. Don’t you reckon it would be a good time for you to step over an’ see Bill while we ‘re gone?”
“Mebbe so, mother,” sez I.
It wuz a pretty day. Cuttin’ across lots, I thought to myself what I ‘d say to Bill to kind uv comfort him. I made it up that I ‘d speak about the time when we wuz boys together; uv how we used to slide down the meetin’-house hill, an’ go huckleberryin’; uv how I jumped into the pond one day an’ saved him from bein’ drownded; uv the spellin’ school, the huskin’ bees, the choir meetin’s, the sparkin’ times; of the swimmin’ hole, the crow’s nest in the pine-tree, the woodchuck’s hole in the old pasture lot; uv the sunny summer days an’ the snug winter nights when we wuz boys, an’ happy! And then—-
No, no! I could n’t go on like that! I ‘d break down. A man can’t be a man more ‘n jest so far!
Why did mother send me over to see Bill? I ‘d better stayed to home! I felt myself chokin’ up; if I had n’t took a chew uv terbacker, I ‘d ‘ave been cryin’, in a minute!
The nearer I got to Bill’s, the worst I hated to go in. Standin’ on the stoop, I could hear the tall clock tickin’ solemnly inside–“tick-tock, tick-tock,” jest as plain as if I wuz settin’ aside uv it. The door wuz shet, yet I knew jest what Bill wuz doin’; he was settin’ in the old red easy-chair, lookin’ down at the floor–like this. Strange, ain’t it, how sometimes when you love folks you know jest what they ‘re doin’, without knowin’ anything about it!
There warn’t no use knockin’, but I knocked three times; so. Did n’t say a word; only jest knocked three times–that a-way. Did n’t hear no answer–nothin’ but the tickin’ uv the tall clock; an’ yet I knew that Bill heered me an’ that down in his heart he was sayin’ to me to come in. He never said a word, yet I knowed all the time Bill wuz sayin’ for me to come in.
I opened the door, keerful-like, an’ slipped in. Did n’t say nothin’; jest opened the door, softly-like, an’ slipped in. There set Bill jist as I knowed he was settin’, lonesome-like, sad-like; his head hangin’ down; he never looked up at me; never said a word–knowed I wuz there all the time, but never said a word an’ never made a sign.
How changed Bill wuz–oh, Bill, how changed ye wuz! There wuz furrers in yer face an’ yer hair wuz white–as white as–as white as mine! Looked small about the body, thin an’ hump-shouldered.
Jest two ol’ men, that’s what we wuz; an’ we had been boys together!
Well, I stood there a spell, kind uv hesitatin’ like, neither uv us sayin’ anything, until bimeby Bill he sort of made a sign for me to set down. Did n’t speak, did n’t lift his eyes from the floor; only made a sign, like this, in a weak, tremblin’ way–that wuz all. An’ I set down, and there we both set, neither uv us sayin’ a word, but both settin’ there, lovin’ each other an’ sympathize’ as hard as we could, for that is the way with men.
Bimeby, like we ‘d kind uv made it up aforehand, we hitched up closer, for when folks is in sorrer an’ trouble they like to be closte together. But not a word all the time, an’ hitchin’ closer an’ closer together, why, bimeby we set side by side. So we set a spell longer, lovin’ an’ sympathizin’, as men-folks do; thinkin’ uv the old times, uv our boyhood; thinkin’ uv the happiness uv the past an’ uv all the hopes them two children had brought us! The tall clock ticked, an’ that wuz all the sound there wuz, excep’ when Bill gin a sigh an’ I gin a sigh, too–to lighten the load, ye know.
Not a word come from either of us: ‘t wuz all we could do to set there, lovin’ each other an’ sympathizin’!
All at oncet–for we could n’t stand it no longer–all at oncet we turnt our faces t’ other way an’ reached out, so, an’ groped with our hands, this way, till we found an’ held each other fast in a clasp uv tender meanin’.
Then–God forgive me if I done a wrong–then I wisht I wuz a woman! For, bein’ a woman, I could have riz up, an’, standin’ so, I could have cried: “Come, Bill! come, let me hold you in these arms; come, let us weep together, an’ let this broken heart uv mine speak through these tremblin’ lips to that broken heart uv yourn, Bill, tellin’ ye how much I love ye an’ sympathize with ye!”
But–no! I wuz not a woman! I wuz a man! an’, bein’ a man, I must let my heart break; I must hold my peace, an’ I must make no sign.