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Littell's Living Age/Volume 144/Issue 1856/Grandmother's Teaching

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Grandmother's Teaching
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And so, my dear, you're come back at last? I always fancied you would.
Well, you see the old home of your childhood's days is standing where it stood.
The roses still clamber from porch to roof, the elder is white at the gate,
And over the long smooth gravel path the peacock still struts in state.
On the gabled lodge, as of old, in the sun, the pigeons sit and coo,
And our hearts, my dear, are no whit more changed, but have kept still warm for you.

You'll find little altered, unless it be me, and that since my last attack;
But so that you only give me time, I can walk to the church and back.
You bade me not die till you returned, and so you see I lived on:
I'm glad that I did now you've really come, but it's almost time I was gone.
I suppose that there isn't room for us all, and the old should depart the first.
That's but as it should be. What is sad, is to bury the dead you've nursed.

Won't you take something at once, my dear? Not even a glass of whey?
The dappled Alderney calved last week, and the baking is fresh to-day.
Have you lost your appetite too in town, or is it you've grown over-nice?
If you'd rather have biscuits and cowslip wine, they'll bring them up in a trice.
But what am I saying? Your coming down has set me all in a maze:
I forgot that you travelled down by train; I was thinking of coaching days.

There, sit you down, and give me your hand, and tell me about it all,
From the day that you left us, keen to go, to the pride that had a fall.
And all went well at the first? So it does, when we're young and puffed with hope;
But the foot of the hill is quicker reached the easier seems the slope.
And men thronged round you, and women too? Yes, that I can understand.
When there's gold in the palm, the greedy world is eager to grasp the hand.

I heard them tell of your smart town house, but I always shook my head.
One doesn't grow rich in a year and a day, in the time of my youth 'twas said.
Men do not reap in the spring, my dear, nor are granaries filled in May,
Save it be with the harvest of former years, stored up for a rainy day.
The seasons will keep their own true time, you can hurry nor furrow nor sod:
It's honest labor and steadfast thrift that alone are blest by God.

You say you were honest. I trust you were, nor do I judge you, my dear:
I have old-fashioned ways, and it's quite enough to keep one s own conscience clear.
But still the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," though a simple and ancient rule,
Was not made for complex cunning to baulk, nor for any new age to befool;
And if my growing rich unto others brought but penury, chill, and grief,
I should feel, though I never had filched with my hands, I was only a craftier thief.

That isn't the way they look at it there? All worshipped the rising sun?
Most of all the fine lady, in pride of purse you fancied your heart had won.
I don't want to hear of her beauty or birth: I reckon her foul and low;
Far better a steadfast cottage wench than grand loves that come and go.
To cleave to their husbands through weal, through woe, is all women have to do:
In growing as clever as men they seem to have matched them in fickleness too.

But there's one in whose heart has your image still dwelt through many an absent day,
As the scent of a flower will haunt a closed room, though the flower be taken away.
Connie's not quite so young as she was, no doubt, but faithfulness never grows old;
And were beauty the only fuel of love, the warmest heart soon would grow cold.
Once you thought that she had not travelled, and knew neither the world nor life:
Not to roam, but to deem her own hearth the whole world, that's what a man wants in a wife.

I'm sure you'd be happy with Connie, at least if your own heart's in the right place.
She will bring you nor power, nor station, nor wealth, but she never will bring you disgrace.
They say that the moon, though she moves round the sun, never turns to him morning or night
But one face of her sphere, and it must be because she's so true a satellite;
And Connie, if into your orbit once drawn by the sacrament sanctioned above,
Would revolve round you constantly, only to show the one-sided aspect of love.

You will never grow rich by the land, I own; but if Connie and you should wed,
It will feed your children and household too, as it you and your fathers fed.
The seasons have been unkindly of late; there's a wonderful cut of hay,
But the showers have washed all the goodness out, till it's scarcely worth carting away.
There's a fairish promise of barley straw, but the ears look rusty and slim:
I suppose God intends to remind us thus that something depends on him.

God neither progresses nor changes, dear, as I once heard you rashly say:
Men's schools and philosophies come and go, but his word doth not pass away.
We worship him here as we did of old, with simple and reverent rite
In the morning we pray him to bless our work, to forgive our transgressions at night.
To keep his commandments, to fear his name, and what should be done, to do, —
That's the beginning of wisdom still; I suspect 'tis the end of it too.

You must see the new-fangled machines at work, that harrow, and thresh, and reap
They're wonderful quick, there's no mistake, and they say in the end they're cheap.
But they make such a clatter, and seem to bring the rule of the town to the fields:
There's something more precious in country life than the balance of wealth it yields.
But that seems going; I'm sure I hope that I shall be gone before
Better poor sweet silence of rural toil than the factory's opulent roar.

They're a mighty saving of labor, though; so
at least I hear them tell,
Making fewer hands and fewer mouths, but fewer hearts as well:
They sweep up so close that there's nothing left for widows and bairns to glean;
If machines are growing like men, man seems to be growing a half machine.
There's no friendliness left; the only tie is the wage upon Saturday nights:
Right used to mean duty; you'll find that now there's no duty, but only rights.

Still stick to your duty, my dear, and then things cannot go much amiss.
What made folks happy in bygone times, will make them happy in this.
There's little that's called amusement, here; but why should the old joys pall?
Has the blackbird ceased to sing loud in spring? Has the cuckoo forgotten to call?
Are bleating voices no longer heard when the cherry-blossoms swarm?
And have home, and children, and fireside lost one gleam of their ancient charm?

Come, let us go round; to the farmyard first, with its litter of fresh-strewn straw,
Past the ash-tree dell, round whose branching tops the young rooks wheel and caw;
Through the ten-acre mead that was mown the first, and looks well for aftermath.
Then round by the beans — I shall tire by then, — and home up the garden path,
Where the peonies hang their blushing heads, where the larkspur laughs from its stalk —
With my stick and your arm I can manage. But see! There, Connie comes up the walk.


 

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.