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“For now her father's chimney glows,
In expectation of a guest;
And, thinking this will please him best,
She takes a ribbon or a rose.”

Spring-lane is one of those secluded, winding roads, just
wide enough for the passing of two carriages, that adorn
the vicinity of Boston. The hand of “improvement,” reckless
of beauty, and blind to nature, has yet spared it; and
it is still fenced on each side with an impervious hedge of
barberries, roses, spineas, and other wild shrubs, and enriched
with little inclosures of independent homesteads and
homes, where the dear relations and affinities exist, that are
well symbolized by the bright berries and sweet flowers of
the hedge-rows.

In this lane, on ascending ground, and a little above a turn
round a high rock, a boulder, that stands out from the adjoining
field, is a small house, nowise distinguished from other
houses of its class in the neighborhood, except by being out
of repair, a singular feature where thrift and order prevail.
The faded paint is kindly screened by a rich mantle of honey-suckles,
Roxbury wax-work (dulca-mara), and Virginia
creeper, now (in October) in its most brilliant color. Solomon
in all his glory was not arrayed like the ruinous porch
of this decayed house, with its crimson, scarlet, and purple
hangings. The sun was just setting, the sky golden to the
zenith; golden, too, were the autumn leaves as they dropped


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from the boughs, stirred by the breeze, to a song of summer
memories. And golden was the hue on the flaxen heads
and sun-burned cheeks of two sturdy boys, who, having
clambered to the top of the boulder, were flourishing, at the
end of two long sticks, many-colored cotton handkerchiefs.
A whistle at the nearest station of the railroad, just under
the hill, was heard; they shouted, and waved their flags.
Their signal was answered, and they bounded off toward the

“He's come, mother, he's come!” screamed a little child,
who stood in the porch watching the boys.

“He's come, Letty!” echoed the mother to a damsel who
stood at the window gazing out, and whose heightened color
and beating heart already indicated that fact. “Why, Letty,
why don't you move? I tell you he's come! Put the tea
in to draw, set the chairs round the table, and put on Nat's

“I don't want my apron, Letty—he can't see my boots if
my apron is on,” cried out the little fellow, jealous of his
first display of the attributes of manhood.

While Letty did all that she was bid, and more, the
matron looked at the baking biscuits, set the white sugar on
the table, the smoked tongue, honey, cakes, sweetmeats, and
all the accessories that had been reserved in the pantry till
the frugal housewife was sure of her guest. Letty slipped
a napkin into a napkin-ring, freshly embroidered with two
letters in blue, and placed it, with a bouquet, on the table.

“I know those letters, Miss Letty!” cried the booted boy,
“and I know who that place is for, and I know who the
flowers are for!” and he snatched up the bouquet and buried
his little dough-nose in it.

“Oh don't, Nat! give it to me,” said Letty, dismayed at
the peril of the sweet things, which seemed to her to have
providentially blossomed at the right time. But she did not


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recover them. Off Nat ran to meet the party, which had
now turned the angle of the boulder. A spare, elderly, hard-handed,
care-worn, and work-worn man, with a sunken
cheek, and hair thin and gray, was approaching, with his
arm in that of a young man, who might be seven or eight
and twenty. Weary and a hungered for his absent son the
old man had been for many tedious months; now, by the
bright twilight, might be seen infinite joy and sweet peace
on that wasted face; and in truth, the younger man looked
like one who fed his father's lamp with the oil of gladness.
The two boys were hanging on by his disengaged arm and
hand, while little Nat, bounding toward him, tumbled head
over heels, crushing poor Letty's flowers in the dust. There
they were left, unseen by him for whose eye they had been
nurtured in dews, and pampered with every ray of autumn
sunshine. There, covered with dust, their beauteous life
crushed out of them, lay the rich Malmaison, the delicate
Vervain, the brilliant Salvia—the precious flowers, over which
Letty had said a hundred times, as she shifted the pots that
contained them from shade to sunshine, “If they will only
bloom for his coming! But I know they will not—nothing
ever does happen as I want it.” Poor, prophetic Letty!

“Well, done! my little man,” said the brother, picking
the boy up, shaking the dust from his dress, wiping his
cheek, and giving him a kiss. “Is this our little Nat? why
the boy was hardly on his feet when I went away!”

The child looked up, for an instant daunted into silence
by a certain air and tone of breeding foreign to his rustic
home; but a Yankee boy is not long daunted by any thing,
and he soon cried out, “Yes, I am Nat,” and thrusting out
one foot, “don't you see my boots?” The new-comer responded
good-humoredly, while the father said, in an under
tone, which did not escape his notice, “Poor boys! they
don't get boots every day now!”


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A buxom matron of forty, with long flaxen curls hanging
over her blooming cheeks, and a rustic toilette, somewhat
elaborated, advanced from the door-step to welcome the
guest. There was no tenderness in the meeting, and no
want of kindness. “How well you look!” she exclaimed,
the word well covering a wide space. “I declare I should
hardly know you, Mr. Lisle.”

“Oh, no Mr. Lisle-ing me, pray. Call me Archibald—
Archy—any of the old familiar household names—there is
home in the sound of them. But where is Letty?”

“Letty! Letty!” screamed the boys in chorus; “Letty,
brother 's come!” Letty appeared at the top of the stairs,
which, as in most rustic houses in New England, fronted the
outer door, and were near it. She rather slid, than ran
down, and was stretching her hand to Archibald, when he
caught her in his arms and kissed her, as he had kissed his
little brothers. “Your hand, indeed! Letty,” he cried; “is
that the way you meet me, after I have been away so

“Why, what ails you, Letty, my own Letty?” asked little
Nat, looking up in her face tenderly, “there's tears on your

“Tears of joy, then,” said Letty, blushing hot enough to
dry them away.

“Oh, I know now what you are crying for,” said Nat,
with a child's inconvenient persistance, “'cause of the flowers!
I am so sorry—I tumbled down, and lost them in the

“Oh hush, Nat, never mind,” said Letty, eager to prevent
the allusion to her flowers being heard by him for
whom they were destined; but there was no danger of this.
The young man's attention was arrested; he was eagerly
looking around upon those material things that identify
home, and which had lived in his memory. A shade passed


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over his brow. He was pained, as we are with wrinkles and
time-stains on faces that we love. His father's wife was a
notable dame, and the house was clean and orderly; but
there was a general worn-out look, as if every thing was
used-up—a faded threadbare carpet, discolored paint, a
soiled paper, general indications of a want of means to produce
the national aspect of thrift and tidiness. The shadow
on the son's face was answered by a sigh from the father;
but his affection shone out, and cleared the atmosphere.
“Come, my dear boy,” he said, “sit down to supper. Come,
mother,” and looking complacently round upon the plentiful
viands, “I declare! you have done your best. Sit here,
Archy, in your old place, between me and Letty.”

“No, it's my old place!” cried Nat, seizing Archibald's

“Little sinner! but take it—take it. The other side is
next to father, too—just as good, Nat.”

“No, but it is not, though—t'other side is not next to
Letty, too.” Letty smiled on her little champion. Archibald
was adjusting his seat, and did not mark him. Words
enter some ears but words, and into others as leaden weights
sinking deep in the heart.

It was a noisy meal. The boys detailed their last winter
feats on the ice, and their summer sports, beginning and
ending with, “Oh, Archy, how we did wish you were here!”
The father edged in a few items of political news, and the
voluble matron beginning each sentence with a “Hush, boys,
as if your brother would care for such nonsense,” retailed
the miscellaneous country gossip—how “old Mrs. Tibbits
had died, after every body was worn out watching with her;
and how old Sally Ford had married at last, some said because
she wanted to have Mrs. put on her tomb-stone; but
Sally herself said, it was because she observed pious people
always prayed for widows, and never for old maids! And


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how their young minister had left them for another parish,
and some folks said Letty best knew why! (Letty's disclaimer
did not arrest the flood-tide.) How the anti-slavery
fair had prospered, and the women's-rights convention
rather failed; how Adeline Clapp's brother had come home
from China, rich as Crœsus; how the old gentleman's fortune
had turned out beyond account—the old place having sold
for double what it was rated at—and some folks thought
Adeline would heir her Uncle Medad's property; how every
thing the Clapps touched seemed to turn to gold, but how,
in spite of it all, Adeline was as friendly as ever, and had
lately sent a letter to inquire when Archibald was expected.”

All things have an end, and so this temporal destiny
brought a conclusion to the good woman's communication.
The meal ended, she retired to her household duties, and as
soon as she had withdrawn, the gently flowing fountains of
sweet family love that had been overpowered by her torrent
were fully enjoyed. The evening was getting late when she
returned, and addressing her husband, in the usual rustic
mode, said, “Father, you look tired, not over well; I guess
we'll omit prayers to-night.”

“Not to-night! not to-night of all the nights in the year.
I could not sleep without it. I feel unusually—but it's far
from unpleasant,” added the old man, with a pensive smile.
“Let the boys stay up, mother—don't send little Nat to
bed. Here, Archy, at my right hand, you are my right
hand—and,” he added, lowering his voice, “it will not be
long before you take my place to these young ones; the
thought gives me great pleasure.” It is well and fitting,
when a son's life pours a full tide into the dried channels of
a father's.

“Let us pray,” said the old man, with a solemn, tender
earnestness, which indicated that prayer was to him an irrepressible


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desire—no studying of phrases, no preconsidering
of words. He began with an ascription of praise from
David's Psalms, that mould into which the devout spirit so
naturally runs. He then proceeded in what has been
somewhat flippantly called the “narrative style,” the spontaneous
expression of a simple, truthful heart communing
with a Being, of whom it comprehends His providential
oversight, His infinite love, and His tender sympathy.

Affection had daguerreotyped on the old man's memory the
circumstances of his son's life. He now noted them with
the minuteness of a scrupulous accountant. “It pleased
thee, O Lord,” he said, “to remove from me my first companion—exceedingly
pleasant she was unto me. Among all
the daughters of thy people, there was none like unto her
for wisdom to rule her household. Early didst Thou ripen
her for Thy kingdom, and when, with her departure, Thy
servant's sun set, Thou didst leave one lesser light in his firmament,
ever waxing stronger and stronger. Surely he
was, as it were, the first-born, the beginning of strength, the
excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power. And
now, O Lord! in view of past mercies, thy servant offereth
unto Thee here, at his hearth-stone, his altar, as it were, his
thank-offering. Thou hast been an ever-present help to his
heart's-child. Thou didst save him in the sicknesses of
childhood, that, like ravening wolves, devour the younglings
of the flock. Thou didst preserve him in the slippery paths
of childhood. Thou didst lead him `through the wilderness'
of boys; and when the temptations of youth beset him,
though he was of a mirthful turn, though he loved sport, and
mixed in dances to the sound of the timbrel and the harp,
yet didst Thou keep his feet from sliding, and his heart from a
snare! And, O Lord, Thou didst bless the labors of thy now
aged and decaying servant, so that the lad himself being a
fellow-worker thereto, was carried through the heavy outlay


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of a college course; and there obtained knowledge, and
walked uprightly, so that the elders spake well of him, and
his companions loved him; and thou didst open a door for
him in the thronged city, so that he had honorable place
among those that expound the law, and right men's wrongs;
and when, failing health and so forth made it seem, as it
were, wise for him so to do, Thou didst open up a way for
him to visit far countries, and there thou wert graciously
with him, so that he did not go up and down, and to and fro,
following after singing men, and dancing women, but diligently
sought after knowledge; and now, in Thine own good
time, Thou hast brought him back to his father's house, as it
were, not the prodigal son who has wasted health and substance
with riotous livers, but pure in heart, and with a
ruddy countenance, through which the inner life shineth.
Thy servant (the old man's voice trembled) hath no fatted
calf to bring forth—naught, but the salutation, `well done,
good and faithful child.'” Suddenly the voice which had
grown clearer and stronger as it proceeded in its devout
testimony, failed. The old man seemed clearing his throat,
and the family group, expecting him to resume his prayer,
remained quiet in their positions, all, except the petted little
Benjamin, Nat, who, patting the old man on the arm,
whispered, “Go ahead, father, go ahead,” and the father, as
if answering, resumed, but indistinctly and falteringly,
“The youngling, may he—the elder carry the youngling—
my little boy in his bosom—and comfort—and—protect—
the use—useful—prof—profit—able companion of—his—my
—later—days—” Archibald was startled by this unusual
stammering. He looked at the old man. The unmistakable
paleness of death was on his face. Archibald sprang toward
him just in time to receive him, as his head subsided backward.
Letty knelt down beside Archy, her hands clasped
in instinctive awe at the visitation of the solemn angel, whose


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presence was now certain. Archibald's step-mother despatched
her frightened boys for the doctor and the neighbors;
and she brought out the common appliances for such
exigencies. Archibald put them all aside, with a “hush,
ma'am, it is useless.” Once the old man rallied, and his
bodily and mental eye recognized life's dearest, as the setting
sun touches the highest, objects. He gazed on Archy with a
smile more of heaven than earth, and said in a tone, just
audible, “Your mother—my dear son—is waiting for me;”
and then comprehending in a slow turn of his eye the group
around him, he said, “Archy—the widow and the fatherless
—I leave them poor—take care of them—my good son.”

“I will, dear father, so help me God.”

“And Letty, Archy—she has been so kind! Some day
—perhaps—you and Letty—” His voice faltered. He
groped about with his feeble hand, and took Letty's, and
attempted again to speak, but his utterance was gone, and
the wish welling up from the very depths of his heart was
paralyzed by the inexorable hand that was upon him.

“What did he say?” asked Letty, whose ear had not
caught the last feebly uttered words.

“Never mind now, dear Letty. Lift his feet, we will lay
him on the bed.” And as these young people reverently
moved him into the adjoining bedroom, the good man's
spirit returned to Him who gave it.