The First Heritage


MY wood-fire purrs and whispers. The Big Ben clock ticks faithfully on the mantel; the Little Ben dog snores a doggy snore on the rug. The baby, in her white bassinet in the corner, stirs and makes funny sleepy noises.

The room is gay with sunshine, and comforting to the soul with the books and pictures beloved of a lifetime. Darning stockings by the fire, I glance up now and then, and let my eyes be pleased and puzzled by the queer blue Scripture tiles around the fireplace.

Some day, when the baby is bigger, she will sit in my lap with her feet sticking out to the good heat, and I will hug her, and tell her, —

‘That funny man up in the tree is Zaccheus. And here is the poor Prodigal Son coming home again. Those are the kind ravens who fed Elijah in the dry wilderness; and that man there is —’; and doubtless, if she lives to be a hundred, Zaccheus and the Prodigal and the Prophet will appear to her drawn in coarse blue flowing lines, medallioned about a flickering birch-fire.

I wonder what else of this room and this house she will take with her, out across the years. She is very little now — hardly big enough to lift her head like a strong little turtle, to smile a broad square smile with a dimple at each corner, and to squeal out with inconsequent joy. But no doubt she has already begun to store that brown silken head, bumping my cheek so nonchalantly at times, with the stockin-trade of all her future. Little Ben’s terrible Airedale bark will be the gentle ‘Bow-wow’ of her first patter; and Big Ben is destined some day to clang and bang her out of dozy delights, crying ‘School!’ to the cold gray winter dawn.

The little bluebirds of my chintzy curtains will sing and fly for her like the first gay troubadours of the fence-posts. The hour-glass, up beside Big Ben, waits for her small hand to reach and turn it, while she wonders at the red sand slipping in its chase on old Time’s heels. Perhaps she will carry away with her a strange vision: dark, windy cypresses, deathly rock-chambers, curdling water and fatal barque, from the Böcklin ‘Isle of Death,’ over there; or Parrish’s dreamy boy, blowing opal bubbles and pearly castles in the air, or swinging out of his black pine tree into the unbounded blue like an exulting arrow of youth, will make her little secret spirit dance and sing.

Downstairs, the piano, with a crack in its back and a rattle in its throat, seems asking that she should steal new music from it. The wide hearth has more than Scriptural bed-time joys to teach her. Pop-corn, and sparks running to Sunday-School, and dwarfs’ forges and witches’ caldrons and burning ships! Grimm and Andersen and Howard Pyle, now perched on the highest shelves, will come down to her desire, and the theology and history will go up, lighter than vanity, before many years. Will she keep house between her father’s feet, there in the dark palatial space under the big desk? Will she shudder when she finds that it is a gray half-skull that holds her father’s pipes so jauntily, and learn to watch the crystals of the ancient candlesticks for rainbow charms, each sunny morning?

Out in the garden the poppies flame, and the hollyhocks and larkspur sway. She will remember, some day, that she held pink poppy petals high against the blue, blue sky, and saw how deep a bee can burrow in a crimson hollyhock. And before that, there will be such dandelions on the lawn; such grasshoppers to jump after; such busy ants, toiling about their little sand-huts on the crooked red-brick walk!

She will have many happy things to remember, I think.

But what will she remember best of me, who sit here dreaming into her life the things that many years have wrought into mine? Perhaps it will be only that I wore a white dress on warm summer days; or that my hair had such and such a twist; or that I sat by the fire and darned many stockings, sometimes. Perhaps it will prove that I am just a picture in her swiftly turning picture-book: no more.

She is very little, there in the white bassinet. She starts on her long journey most quietly. But the house, the garden, the meadows, and the roads seem waiting for the stirring of her feet. I am waiting too; and some day the memory of me may be to her no keener than that of the red fire, the blue tiles, the poppies.

It does not trouble me to think that, though it has a sad empty look as I write it. Why should it trouble me? — Once I too lay in a basket in a corner, and made sleepy noises under a blueedged shawl; once I watched a woodfire dance, safe-hugged and rocked in quiet arms.

She will remember of this first heritage even what I have remembered. May it but prove as dear, out across her years!