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   Chapter 16 XVIToC

The Next of Kin: Those who Wait and Wonder By Nellie L. McClung Characters: 9535

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


WAITING!

Sing a song of the Next of Kin,

A weary, wishful, waiting rhyme,

That has no tune and has no time,

But just a way of wearing in!

Sing a song of those who weep

While slow the weary night hours go;

Wondering if God willed it so,

That human life should be so cheap!

Sing a song of those who wait,

Wondering what the post will bring;

Saddened when he slights the gate,

Trembling at his ring,-

The day the British mail comes in

Is a day of thrills for the Next of Kin.

When the Alpine climbers make a dangerous ascent, they fasten a rope from one to the other; so that if one slips, the others will be able to hold him until he finds his feet again; and thus many a catastrophe is averted! We have a ring like that here-we whose boys are gone. Somebody is almost sure to get a letter when the British mail comes in; and even a letter from another boy read over the 'phone is cheering, especially if he mentions your boy-or even if he doesn't; for we tell each other that the writer of the letter would surely know "if anything had happened."

Even "Posty" does his best to cheer us when the letters are far apart, and when the British mail has brought us nothing tells us it was a very small, and, he is sure, divided mail, and the other part of it will be along to-morrow. He also tells us the U-boats are probably accounting for the scarcity of French mail, anyway, and we must not be worried. He is a good fellow, this "Posty"!

We hold tight to every thread of comfort-we have to. That's why we wear bright-colored clothes: there is a buoyancy, an assurance about them, that we sorely need! We try to economize on our emotions, too, never shedding a useless or idle tear! In the days of peace we could afford to go to see "East Lynne," "Madame X," or "Romeo and Juliet," and cry our eyes red over their sorrows. Now we must go easy on all that! Some of us are running on the emergency tank now, and there is still a long way to go!

There are some things we try not to think about, especially at night. There is no use-we have thought it all over and over again; and now our brains act like machines which have been used for sewing something too heavy for them, and which don't "feed" just right, and skip stitches. So we try to do the things that we think ought to be done, and take all the enjoyment we can from the day's work.

We have learned to divide our time into day-lengths, following the plan of the water-tight compartments in ships, which are so arranged that, if a leak occurs in one of these, the damaged one may be closed up, and no harm is done to the ship. So it is in life. We can live so completely one day at a time that no mournful yesterday can throw its dull shadow on the sunshine of to-day; neither can any frowning to-morrow reach back and with a black hand slap its smiling face. To-day is a sacred thing if we know how to live it.

I am writing this on the fourth day of August, which is a day when memory grows bitter and reflective if we are not careful. The August sunshine lies rich and yellow on the fields, and almost perceptibly the pale green of the wheat is absorbing the golden hue of the air. The painted cup has faded from rosy pink to a dull, ashy color, and the few wild roses which are still to be seen in the shaded places have paled to a pastel shade. The purple and yellow of goldenrod, wild sage, gallardia, and coxcomb are to be seen everywhere-the strong, bold colors of the harvest.

Everything spoke of peace to-day as we drove through the country. The air had the indescribably sweet smell of ripening grain, clover-blooms, and new hay; for the high stands of wild hay around the ponds and lakes are all being cut this year, and even the timothy along the roads, and there was a mellow undertone of mowing machines everywhere, like the distant hum of a city. Fat cattle stood knee-deep in a stream as we passed, and others lay contentedly on the clover-covered banks. One restless spirit, with a poke on her neck, sniffed at us as we went by, and tossed her head in grim defiance of public opinion and man-made laws. She had been given a bad name-and was going to live up to it!

Going over a hill, we came upon a woman driving a mower. It was the first reminder of the war. She was a fine-looking woman, with a tanned face, brown, but handsome, and she swung her team around the edge of the meadow with a grace and skill that called forth our admiration.

I went over and spoke to her, for I recognized her as a woman whom I had met at the Farm-Woman's Convention last winter. After we had exchanged greetings, and she had made her kind inquiry, "What news do you get from the Front?" and had heard that my news had been good-she said abruptly:-

"Did you know I've lost my husband?"

I expressed my sorrow.

"Yes," she said, "it was a smashing blow-never believed Alex could be killed: he was so big, and strong, and could do anything.... Ever since I can remember, I thought Alex was the most wonderful of all people on earth ... and at first ... when the news came, it seemed I could not go on living ... but I am all right now, and have thought things out.... This isn't the only plane of existence ... there are others; this is merely one phase of life.... I am taking a longer view of things now.... You see that schoolhouse over there,"-she pointed with her whip to a green-and-white school farther down the road,-"Alex and I went to school there.... We began the same day and left the same day. His family and mine settled in this neighborhood twenty years ago-we are all Kincardine people-Bruce, you know. Our road to school lay together on the last mile ... and we had a way of telling whether the other one had passed. We had a red willow stick which we drove into the ground. Then, when I came along in the morning and found it standing, I knew I was there first. I pulled it out and laid it down, so when Alex came he knew I had passed, and hurried along after me. When he came first and found it standing, he always waited for me, if he could, for he would rather be late than go without me. When I got the message I could not think of anything but the loneliness of the world, for a few days; but after a while I realized what it meant ... Alex had passed ... the willow was down ... but he'll wait for me some place ... nothing is surer than that! I am not lonely now.... Alex and I are closer together than plenty of people who are living side by side. Distance is a matter of spirit ... like everything else that counts.

"I am getting on well. The children are at school now, both of them,-they sit in the same seats we sat in,-the crops are in good shape-did you ever see a finer stand of wild hay? I can manage the farm, with one extra hired man in harvest-time. Alex went out on the crest of the wave-he had just been recommended for promotion-the children will always have a proud memory.

"This is a great country, isn't it? Where can you find such abundance, and such a climate, with its sunshine and its cool nights, and such a chance to make good?... I suppose freedom has to be paid for. We thought the people long ago had paid for it, but another installment of the debt fell due. Freedom is like a farm-it has to be kept up. It is worth something to have a chance to work and bring up my children-in peace-so I am living on from day to day ... not grieving ... not moping ... not thinking too much,-it hurts to think too hard,-just living."

Then we shook hands, and I told her that she had found something far greater than happiness, for she had achieved power!

* * *

There is a fine rainbow in the sky this evening, so bright and strong that it shows again in a reflected bow on the clouds behind it. A rainbow is a heartsome thing, for it reminds us of a promise made long ago, and faithfully kept.

There is shadow and shine, sorrow and joy, all the way along. This is inevitable, and so we must take them as they come, and rejoice over every sunny hour of every day, or, if the day is all dark, we must go hopefully forward through the gloom.

To-day has been fine. There was one spattering shower, which pebbled the dusty roads, and a few crashes of rolling thunder. But the western sky is red now, giving promise of a good day to-morrow.

A PRAYER FOR THE NEXT OF KIN

O Thou, who once Thine own Son gave

To save the world from sin,

Draw near in pity now we crave

To all the Next of Kin.

To Thee we make our humble prayer

To save us from despair!

Send sleep to all the hearts that wake;

Send tears into the eyes that burn;

Steady the trembling hands that shake;

Comfort all hearts that mourn.

But most of all, dear Lord, we pray

For strength to see us through this day.

As in the wilderness of old,

When Thou Thy children safely led,

They gathered, as we have been told,

One day's supply of heavenly bread,

And if they gathered more than that,

At evening it was stale and flat,-

So, Lord, may this our faith increase-

To leave, untouched, to-morrow's load,

To take of grace a one-day lease

Upon life's winding road.

Though round the bend we may not see,

Still let us travel hopefully!

Or, if our faith is still so small-

Our hearts so void of heavenly grace,

That we may still affrighted be

In passing some dark place-

Then in Thy mercy let us run

Blindfolded in the race.

THE END

* * *

The Riverside Press

CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS

U.S.A.

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