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What I Miss Post by :HoneyBee Category :Essays Author :Amber Date :November 2011 Read :3043

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What I Miss

I can get used to my darling's dress
That hangs on the closet door;
And the little silent half-worn shoes
That patter no more on the floor.

I can get used to the hopeless blank
That greets my waking eyes,
As they meet the sight of the empty crib
Where no little nestling lies.

I can get used to the dreary hush,
In the home which my darling blest
With her prattling speech and her rippling laugh,
Ere we laid her away to rest.

But, ah! the touch of those little hands
That wandered o'er my face,
Like the wavering fall of rose-leaves soft,
In some sunlit garden place.

Those dimpled caressing baby hands!
I feel them again at night,
And in dreams I gather them back again
From their harp in the City of Light.

My hungry heart will claim them still;
I cannot let them depart.
So I gather them back again in dreams
To my desolate, breaking heart.


The other day my strolling took me into a second-hand furniture shop. I wanted to find an ice chest. "Have you any second-hand chests?" I asked of the hoary-headed son of Erin who tended the place and raked in the shekels. He didn't answer a word, but silently arose and beckoned me to follow. Through ranks of withered tables and blighted chairs I picked my way until my guide dived down a gruesome stairway and then I stopped. Presently his head emerged like a grimy Jack-in-the-box.

"Is it an ice chist yez want?" asked he. There was mold on his faded cheeks and a cobweb on his brow as he awaited my answer.

"Must I go down there to find it?" I inquired. He replied in the affirmative.

"Old man, I will go no further," said I, "but come back here and tell me the price of this lovely desk." So saying, I designated a delightful old claw-handled, brass-mounted, spider-legged piece of furniture, which might have been used by Adam to cast up his accounts on. There was a suggestion of secret drawers about it that was quite ravishing. The doors were oddly shaped little panes of mirror glass, within which I gazed pensively at a soot blemish on my nose. "Is it the price of that yez'd be afther knowing?" said the old man, in the tone of one who dealt with a harmless lunatic. "I thought it was ice chists yez was afther." "Yes," said I, drawing out two long slabs as I spoke, such as were used to support the shelf of the desk I remembered in my grandmother's house. "That bit of furnichoor," said the old-man, gazing sadly meanwhile at the grime of ages which I could not rub from off my nose, "is more than two hundred years old." He stopped for a moment to see if I would believe him, then went on: "Yis, ma'am, that same is nearer three hundred years old, all told."

Here I gave him a look which stopped him at the threshold of the fourth century.

"Yez may have it for $25," says he.

"I'll give you five," says I.

He turned away as one who found his mother tongue inadequate to express the deep-seated scorn of his soul. I followed.

"Did yez say twenty?" he asked stopping abruptly and facing me with the blurred photograph of what was once an engaging smile.

"I said five," I answered.

"Well, take it thin," said he, "but it would be dirt chape at fifty. It's not a day less than four hun--"

"Stop," said I, "if you add another century I'll only pay you two and a half for it."

And so to-night it comes to pass that I am writing at my new old desk. I am half conscious, as my pencil glides along the paper, of a laughing face, half-hidden by showers of falling hair, that flickers like a shadow in and out of the soft gloom that enfolds me. Fingers, light as air, seem to follow the motion of my own, and the ghost of the mistress who thought and wrote at this same desk, one, two, three, four hundred years ago, seems whispering in my ear. I wonder what will be the effect if I read to that sweet, gentle woman of "ye olden time" a few bits from the morning paper.

Madam, are you aware that a man kicked his wife to death yesterday because she failed to have his supper ready for him? Are you not to be congratulated that you are out of reach of this latter day development of the human brute? Do you know that the Blank concerts began this last week, and that the melodies that throng the beautiful hall yonder on the avenue are like bands of singing angels charming a world's sorrows to rest? Do not the gentle caprices of the flutes and the swing of the fiddles make even you, flake of airy nothingness that you are! dance like a thistle-down in a summer breeze? Madam, do you know, and how does it affect you to know, that there are bargain sales in town where you can buy a gown for a song, and a pair of all-wool blankets for the worth of a dream? In your long time disembodied state have you yet reached a point, I wonder, when such news as this can no longer thrill a woman's heart? If so, madam, you are truly and undeniably dead, and your room is better than your company. I bid you a gentle good evening.

* * * * *

Among the many things I shall be glad to find out some day will be why, in spite of heroic effort to keep it straight, my hat always gets crooked and my hair becomes disordered on the march. I thoroughly detest the sight of a typical "blue-stocking," or a literary woman who affects a sublime superiority to appearances, and yet Mrs. Jellyby was nowhere as to general demoralization of raiment compared to my unfortunate self. Taking my seat in a down-town restaurant the other day, I found myself surrounded by half a dozen girls as bright and pretty and jolly as girls go. No sooner was I seated than the whisper went round that a newspaper woman had invaded the party. "Looks like one," murmured the plumpest one of the lot, and I could have cried. "Girls," I wanted to say, "judge not by appearances. The best christians sometimes have red noses, just as the jolliest literary folks have frowsy hair and abandoned hats. They can't help it, my dears, any more than a black cat can help being somber. It is never safe to condemn anybody, not even a poor, miserable scribbler for the press, on circumstantial evidence. You see a crooked hat, electric hair, and that is all. Put on Titbottom spectacles and look deeper. Perhaps you will then see an anguish-stricken woman rising at 5 a. m. to make herself smart for the day. You will note how carefully she adjusts the feeble adjuncts to her toilet, how she places her hat on straight and secures it with a cast-iron cable! How she combs out her curls and sticks a feathery kerchief within her belt. Two hours later the cable hat-pin has been struck by a tidal-wave and swept from its anchorage; the curls have degenerated into wisps of wind-tossed hay; and the kerchief? Gone as a feather is gone when the summer tempest gets behind it! We mean well, girls. We want to look trim and slick and span. All of us poor literary people do, but we can't bring it about. Life is so everlastingly full, anyway, that it seems preposterous to spend more than half one's time in getting fixed up. Sometimes I am foolish enough to believe that good St. Peter, when we come toiling up to his gate, won't look so much to the condition of our hats and our hair as he will to the way we wear our souls. If they are tip-tilted and frowsy it may go a little bit hard with us. Of course, it is a good thing to be able to wear a hat straight, and be remarked for your pretty hair and generally pleasing appearance, but I declare to you if it comes to a question of mental array and soul-correction as opposed to style and good form, I am willing to choose the former and be laughed at now and then by saucy girls."

* * * * *

That's right. Stand on shore and beat him back when he attempts to make a landing. If necessary, club him under water and congratulate yourself that you are so self-righteous and everlastingly holy that nobody can get a chance to swing a club at you. What is this half-dead thing that is trying to force its way onto dry land from the whelming waters of temptation and misery? A rat? Oh, no; only a human creature like yourself. Sin overtaken and subdued by evil. He is young, perhaps, and never had a mother's care or a father's training. He has drifted with easy currents into dangerous waters, and the devil, who lurks beneath the flood, is trying to snatch him down to hell! Raise your club and give him a clip! The audacity of such a boy trying to be anything with such a record behind him! Oh, I am sick of you all, you omniverous feeders on reputation, you unveilers of past records of shame! I hope in my heart that if ever you get your own foot on the threshold of some haven of relief, after a tight tussle with danger and death, an angel will stand over against the doorway with a flaming sword and demand to see your credentials. No hope of that, though. Angels are not up to that sort of work; it is left to men, and sometimes--God pity us all!--to women.

* * * * *

If you expect to escape criticism, girls, in this world, you will put yourselves very much in the plight of flower-roots that expect to grow without the discipline of the hoe. Before we can amount to anything either in blossom or as fruit, we must undergo much honest criticism, and of such we need never be afraid. A candid and above-board enemy is of far more benefit, often, than a timid friend, who, seeing our faults, is afraid to tell us of them. The fact that boys stone certain trees and pass others by, is explained when we find that the stones are always thrown at the fruit-bearing trees. And so with character; the fact that we are criticized proves that we are something better than scrub-oak saplings. But all criticism that does not make us grow, and put forth fairer and richer blossoms, is like a hoe made of wood, or a cultivator without power applied to cause it to destroy the weeds. If the unanimous verdict of the community in which we live asserts that we are proud, or ill-natured, or lazy, we may be pretty sure that there is some cause for the application of that particular stroke of the hoe, and the sooner we set about seeking to remedy the evil, the better for our next world's crop of blossoms. Nobody (save One) was ever yet maligned without some little cause. Those who come in contact with you at home may not see little blemishes upon your conduct or character which those who meet you in business may detect. For instance, to the folks at home you never put on that indifferent and languid air to which you treat the customer who drops in to buy ribbon, or the woman who asks you a question at your office desk. The customer and the questioner go away with an estimate of your behavior very unlike the one held at home, where you are frank and cheerful, and willing to please. And, on the other hand, the party with whom you associate casually in business, or with whom you ride daily to and from your office and your home, has no conception how snappy and snarly you can be when none but familiar ears are open to your surly complaints.

The statement from your little brother or sister that you are a "cross old thing" would hardly be believed by those who meet you away from home. And yet the hoe in the little hands strikes at a weed that threatens to make havoc in the garden. Better look to it, dearie, before the ugly thing quite overtops the mignonette and the pinks! Whenever you hear of an adverse criticism set to find the weed somewhere in your character. I believe firmly that every one of us was born into the world with capabilities for almost every evil under the sun if environment favors the development. Like a garden patch, the roots of the weeds lie already deep, the flower seeds must be sown. And no gardener ever struggled with "pusley" and burdock as we must struggle with the evil crop, heredity-sown. Thanks be to the quick eye, then, be it of friend or foe, who discerns the weed before we do, and whips out the hoe to attack it. We are not exactly pleased when it is borne in upon us through the criticism of some acquaintance or neighbor, that we are selfish in little things. Our folks don't say so, and we try to believe the charge is a libel. Next time you throw your banana skin heedlessly on the pavement, or crowd into a seat without a "by your leave," or refuse to move up in a crowded car, or open your window without asking if it be agreeable to the person behind you, or eat peanuts and throw the shucks on the floor instead of out of the window, or see a lady going by with a disarranged dress and don't tell her of it, or return an indifferent answer to a civil question, or refuse the sweet service of a smile and a gentle look to the humblest wayfarer that jostles you on the road, just remember the criticism, and see if there is not occasion for it. Set about correcting the little faults, and the great ones leave to God. He will keep you, no doubt, from theft, and murder, and perjury, but you don't ask or seem to stand in need of His help in getting rid of temptations to be mean and selfish, and discourteous and lazy.

What would you think of a gardener who went about with a spade seeking to exterminate nothing but Canada thistles, and let all the rest of the weeds go? It is not often that so big and determinate a thing as a Canada thistle gets in among the roses, and when it does it is quickly disposed of. But oh, the wee growths! The tiny shoots that come up faster than flies swarm in dog-days, and need to be forever stood over against with a steady hand and a hoe. If my neighbor comes out and charges me with stealing a barrel of flour from her storehouse, or attacking her first-born with a meat-axe, I can quickly disprove that sort of a charge; but when she says that I am unprincipled because I steal in and coax her girl away from her with the offer of higher wages--how is that? Or that I am selfish because she sees me let my old mother wait on me to what I am able to get myself; or cross, because I am untender to the children; or untruthful, because I instruct the servant to say I am "not at home" when I am, how am I going to dispose of those charges? Sure as you live, there are weeds in front of such hoe strokes, and with heaven's help we'll get rid of 'em.

Cultivate your critics, then, provided they be honest and fair-dealing. Avoid only such as strike in the dark. The man who goes out to hoe weeds in the night time is not to be trusted, and the enemy who resorts to the underhand methods of backbiting and scandal to do his work, is not worth talking about, much less heeding. Take criticism that is fair and open, as you occasionally take quinine, to tone up the system and dissipate the malaria of sloth and inertia. Only they shall come into the festival by and by, bearing garlands of roses, and wreaths of hearts' delight and balm, who have welcomed the strong stroke of the hoe at the root of every blossom to bear down the weeds and loosen the tough and sun-baked soil.

As Charles Kingsley says:


"My fairest child, I have no song to give you;
No lark could pipe 'neath skies so dull and gray;
Yet, ere we part, one lesson I can leave you
For every day:

"Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long,
And so make life, death and that vast forever
One grand, sweet song."

* * * * *


See that half-grown man? He never will know as much again as he does now at the ripe age of twenty. When he gets to be fifty, when his hair is grizzled and his hopes are like the dead leaves that cling to November trees, he will look back upon these years of rare wisdom and colossal effrontery and blush a little, perhaps, at the recollection. Now he has no reverence for a woman or for God. He sneers at good in a world whose threshold he has barely crossed, as a year-old child might stand in the doorway of his nursery and denounce what was going on in the drawing-room. Most of the scathing things that are said about domestic felicity, and the sneers that are bestowed on love, and the gibes that are flung at purity, and the scoffs that are launched at established religions; all the jokes at the expense of noble womanhood and the witticisms that are lavished upon the old-fashioned virtues, spring from the gigantic brain of the youth of the period.

* * * * *

Often as I pass along the streets of this town I notice certain places which I do not burn down, nor tear down, nor otherwise demolish, merely because of inherent cowardice and inadequate strength. If I had a wide-awake, growing boy I would no more turn him loose in your town, Mr. Alderman, than I would cut his throat with my own hand. Not, certainly, if there was a spark of human nature within him, and a boy without such a spark is hardly worth raising. And more than that, I will say this, that what with your saloons and your wide-open gambling resorts, and your doorways of hell, wherein sit spiders luring flies, it has come to pass that every mother whose boy encounters harm thereby should be entitled to damages at least as great as juries award a careless pedestrian who gets his legs cut off at a railway crossing. You say that laws are inadequate to cope with evils of this kind; if that is so, then an outraged citizenhood should rise superior to law, and enter upon a crusade to destroy the infamous dens that decoy our boys. On a certain downtown street there is a newly opened resort, the windows of which are closely draped, and before the door of which a placard is suspended which invites only men to enter within. Now and then a hideously ugly man, with a yellow beard, comes to the ticket window and looks out like a tarantula from its hole, but in the main the place seems absolutely unfrequented.

Take your stand and watch for awhile, though, and you will see young men and small boys, old men and slouching reprobates of all conditions and colors going in and coming out by dozens. Why doesn't some good citizen enter a complaint of that place and break it up? We would pounce upon a smallpox case soon enough wherever it might lurk, but we are strangely indifferent where the menace is only to the soul.

How can we expect to keep our boys pure and raise them to lives of usefulness when such iniquitous places are run wide open on public streets at noonday, granting admission to all masculinity between the ages of 7 and 70?

A well-guarded youth is supposed to be at home in the night time and not to be frequenting shy neighborhoods at any hour. So that we might feel comparatively safe about the boy we send out into the world at an early age to begin his career as errand boy or messenger if these pernicious decoys were maintained only at night and in low vicinities. When the trap is set, however, right in the business center of the town by daylight, what safety have we? Whenever I look into the face of an eager, bright, curious, thoroughly alive boy I feel like shaking every other duty of life and going forth to do battle with the devil for that lad's soul.

Why should evil have so much greater chance than good? For one reason I don't believe we make the good attractive enough. The devil has stolen the trademark of light for half his wares. Why not have more fun and frolic in the home? Why not add a gymnasium and dancing hall to the Sunday school and filter some of the world's innocent sunshine inside its gloomy walls? Why may not the eager, active heart of youth find its good cheer and jollity somewhere else than in forbidden places and among smooth and unscrupulous knaves? If we made our churches less austere and their gatherings more alluring to the young, these low and vicious resorts might close for lack of patronage.

God bless the boys. I love them next best to girls, and sometimes even a little better, when they are especially frank and brave and true. I am not going to see them harmed without a protest, either, and I would be one of a crowd this very day to march upon the resorts of evil that lie in wait, all over town, to destroy the bonnie fellows. If I had my way, every man or woman who makes money by pandering to the curiosity of a boy's nature, inciting to unworthy passion by means of lewd pictures and the like, should be consigned to instant perdition. The earth is too hallowed to receive their vile dust!

* * * * *

Dear girls, if you would be beautiful with the beauty that strikes root in heaven, first of all be natural. Be true to something within you higher than any conventional code or worldly wise mandate. If it is your natural impulse to be courteous, and sympathetic, and sweet (and blessed be the fact, it is the natural impulse of most girls so to be!), don't let miserable conformity and its tricksters exchange your genuine blossom for a mere shred of painted muslin, fashioned though it be after even so perfect a similitude of a rose. The birds of the air nor the angels in heaven will ever be fooled by any artificial rose, let me tell you, however much dudes and society feather-heads may pretend to desire it. Grow for something better than this world; wear your sweetness in your heart rather than on your pocket handkerchief.

* * * * *

The great drawback to domestic felicity often lies in the fact that we get too familiar with one another. There should be a certain reserve in the most intimate relationships. Sisters and brothers have no right to burst into one another's private rooms without knocking. Wives have no more right to search their husband's pockets than they have to do the same little service for a distant acquaintance. I have no right to read the Young Person's letters without permission, although I have a right to win her confidence so that she shows them freely. The Captain has no more right to visit the Boy's bank for pennies because he is her brother, than she has to abstract money from the grocery-man's till. You have no more right to obtrude your conversation upon your wife, nor she upon her husband, when either is in the middle of a thrilling story, than you or she would have to interrupt the Queen of England at her devotions. An "excuse me," if a mother is obliged to interrupt her youngest child's babble, is quite as good a way to teach the baby manners as a course of lectures later on etiquette. The man who gets up and slams shut the ventilator in a crowded car to suit his own convenience, or the woman who throws open a car-window regardless of the occupants of the seat behind her, is no ruder than Bess is when she ignores brother Tom's comfort at home, or Tom is when he pounces for the biggest orange on the plate when only Bess and he are at table. When either makes rude remarks to the other, they sin against the true code of etiquette more than when they are discourteous at a party or boisterously unkind with a comrade, just as he is more criminally careless who pounds a piano to pieces with a hammer than he who batters the pine case it was brought in. The greater the value of the article, the choicer we are supposed to be of it, and in the same line of argument, the dearer and closer the tie that binds us, the more considerate we should be in the handling of it. I may hurt the feelings of a society acquaintance, and there is restitution and forgiveness, but when I stab the dear old mother's heart with an unkind word, or wound my child's feelings with an injustice or a cruelty, or ridicule the sensitive feelings of a brother or a sister, not eternity itself shall be long enough to extract the sting from my memory when my dear ones are dead and love's opportunity is vanished forever.

Study politeness, then, which is the bodyguard of love, and build up for yourself the structure of a happy home.

* * * * *

Has it been borne in upon you what radiant mornings and September nights the last two weeks have brought in? Have you stopped, Mr. Busyman, to note the wonder of the skies, never so glorious as of late? Did you see the sunset the other evening when a gigantic cloud stood almost zenith high against the flaming west, and took on for a time the panoply of a king? Did you notice the purple center and the dazzling edge, with the rose blush that fringed its borders? Did you see it pale to gray and vanish like a ghost into the starry night? Do you ever stop, Mrs. Featherhead, to mark the beauty of our wayside clover or the sparkle of a buttercup in the dew? Have you found the nooks where, like shy children, the violets cluster? Did you mark a certain day, a week or so ago, when the heavens were full of cloud battalions, taking new shapes every minute, and often dissolving in long lines of purple rain, shot through with stitches of golden light? Have you seen the lake lately, as blue as a heather bell, as wild as a wood-bird, as peaceful as a brooding dove? Where were you the other night when out of the sullen storm cloud the "light that never was on land or sea" enfolded us, and the world hung like an emerald in a topaz sky?

* * * * *

No law of morals should be less arbitrary for men than it is for women. An impure heart, a riotous appetite, a profane tongue, are no more excusable in a man than they are in a woman. If a man is supposed to shrink from selecting his wife among the unclean in thought and immoral of practice, why should not a young girl be allowed an undefiled selection? When girls grow so queenly natured that they demand that their lover should be of the royal stock and never demean themselves to stoop to mate with impurity and profligacy just because it carries a handsome face and a well-filled pocketbook, there will be some chance for happiness in the married estate. It is this placing white flowers in smutty buttonholes, or, in other words, the wedding of pure women to blasé and wicked men, that sows the seed of the tare in what was meant by the primal law to be a harvest of golden grain. Do you pick slug-eaten roses and wind-fall blossoms? When you go forth to buy material for a new gown do you choose cotton warp fabrics and colors that will fade in the first washing? Your answers to all these question are prompt enough, but when I ask you what choice you make of gentlemen friends, you are not quite so ready with a reply. Do you choose the young man who has a clean record, who neither drinks nor wastes his money in riotous practices? How about the tobacco chewers and the swearers? How about the lewd jesters and the low-minded? Provided he wears fine clothes, can dance well and make a good appearance in society, and above all can give you a handsome diamond for an engagement ring, are you not willing to accept a lover in spite of his known reputation as a fast young man about town? Girls, you had much better choose a specked peach for canning than such a man for a husband. Do you imagine that by and by at the upper court, whither we are all hastening as quickly as the old patrol wagon of time can carry us, there will be any distinction made between men and women? Think you a man is going to get off easier than a sorrowful and sinful woman merely because the world falsely taught him that the exigencies of his nature demanded greater latitude than hers?

* * * * *

You may retouch a faded picture, you may patch up an old piano, you may mend a shattered vase, but you cannot make a plucked rose grow again; it will wither and die in spite of every effort to restore it to the stem from which it fell. And so with the heart from which a low desire in the guise of an alluring temptation has snatched the flower of innocence. That heart will fade into hopeless loss unless a greater love than yours or mine intervenes to save. An impure soul never started out impure from the first any more than a peach was decayed in the blossom. It is the small beginnings, dear girls, that lead up to the bitter endings. The impure book read on the sly, the questionable jest laughed at in secret, the talk indulged in with a schoolmate or a friend which you would be unwilling for "mother" to hear, the horrible card circulated under the desk or behind the teacher's back, those are the beginnings of an ending sadder than the blight of any desolation that storm or drought or frost can bring upon the blossoms. If I only could, how gladly I would dip my pen to-night in a light that should outshine the electric splendor of our streets and write a message against the dark background of the sky, to startle young girls into the realization of the danger that lurks in the first indulgence of thoughts and companionships that are not pure. Avoid all such as you would avoid the contagion of small-pox, and a thousand times more. Small-pox, at its worst, can only mar the body, but the friend who lends you bad books or tells you "smutty" stories proffers a contagion to your soul which all the fountains of all your tears can never cleanse away.


(The end)
Amber's essay: What I Miss

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