The Path of Duty, and Other Stories
THE PATH OF DUTY,
AND OTHER STORIES,
H. S. CASWELL,
JOHN LOVELL, 28 AND 25 ST. NICHOLAS STREET.
A SUDDEN BEREAVEMENT.
"Awake, my dear child, awake!" These were the words I heard: I startedup, gazing in a bewildered manner into the face of my mother, who had,with some difficulty, succeeded in arousing me from the sweet, healthfulsleep of childhood. My mother drew nigh to me and whispered, "My dearClara, your papa is dying." With a frightened cry, I threw my armsaround her neck, and begged her to tell me what had happened. I wasunable to comprehend the meaning of her words. Since my earliestrecollection, my father had never experienced a day's illness, and sothe reader may be able to form some idea of the shock occasioned by herwords—uttered, as they were, at the hour of midnight. When my motherhad succeeded in soothing me, in some degree, to calmness, she informedme, in a voice choked with sobs, which, for my sake, she tried tosuppress, that my father had, two hours since, been stricken withapoplexy, in so severe a form that his life was despaired of. Shefurther informed me that his attending physician thought he would notlive to see the light of another [Pg 2]morning. Well do I remember the nervousterror with which I clung to my mother as we entered my father'sapartment, and the icy chill which diffused itself over my body, as Igazed upon the fearfully changed features of my father. I had neverbefore seen death in any form. I believe the first view of death is moreor less terrible to every child; it certainly was terrible for me tofirst view death imprinted upon the countenance of a fond father. I haveever since thought that my father recognized me when my mother led me tohis bed-side; but power of utterance was gone. It was a fearful trial tome, who had seen but ten years of life. After the first shock, a strangecalm took possession of me. Though many years have passed since thatperiod, I remember, as though it were but yesterday, how I sat duringthose long hours, scarcely for an instant removing my eyes from myfather's face, but shed not a tear; for, after the first burst of grief,tears refused to come to my relief. Just as the day began to dawn Iheard the physician say, in a whisper, to a kind neighbor who stood by,I think he is going. At that moment my father opened his eyes, and,looking upward with a pleasant smile, expired without a struggle. Icould never clearly remember how I passed the intervening days betweenmy father's death and burial. I have an indistinct recollection of thehushed voices and soft footsteps of friends and neighbors, who kindlycame to aid in performing the last offices of love and friendship to theremains of my departed father. I [Pg 3]also remember being led by my almostheart-broken mother into the darkened room, where lay the lifeless bodyof my father, now prepared for the grave; but I have a more vividrecollection of standing with my mother beside an open grave, andhearing our pastor, in a solemn voice, utter the words, "Earth toearth—ashes to ashes—dust to dust." Oh! the falling of that firstearth upon my father's coffin, shall I ever forget the sound? Child as Iwas, it seemed to me that my heart would break; but tears, the first Ihad shed since my father's death, came to my relief. Those blessedtears. I may well call them blessed, since the physician afterwards toldmy mother that they saved either my reason or my life. Kind friendsbesought my mother and me to allow ourselves to be conveyed home and notawait the filling up of the grave. But no. We could not leave the spottill the last earth was thrown upon the grave, and a mound covered withgrassy sods was to be seen, where a little before was only a mournfulcavity. Then indeed we felt that he was gone, and that we must return toour desolate home—the home which ever before his presence had filledwith joy and gladness.
I must pass over, with a few words only, the first year of ourbereavement, as even now I shudder to recall the feeling of lonelinessand desolation which took possession of us, when we found ourselves leftalone in the home where everything reminded us so strongly of thedeparted one. There was a small apartment adjoining our usual[Pg 4]sitting-room which my father was wont to call his study, and, being fondof books, he used there to pass much of his leisure time. It was quite along time after his death before my mother could enter that apartment.She said to me one day, "Will you go with me, Clara, to your father'sstudy?" I replied, "Can you go there, Mamma?" "Yes, dear," said mymother, and led the way to the door. No one had entered that room sincemy father left it on the last night of his life, the door having beenlocked on the day succeeding his death. As my mother softly turned thekey and opened the door, it seemed almost that we stood in my father'spresence, so vividly did the surroundings of that room recall him to ourminds. There stood his table and chair, and his writing desk stood uponthe table, and several books and papers were scattered carelessly uponthe table. The last book he had been reading lay open as he had left it;it was a volume of Whitfield's sermons; it was a book which my fathervalued highly, and is now a cherished keep-sake of my own. My motherseemed quite overcome with grief. I know she had striven daily toconceal her grief when in my presence, for she knew how I grieved for myfather; and she was aware that her tears would only add to my sorrow, sofor my sake it was that she forced herself to appear calm—almostcheerful; but upon this occasion her grief was not to be checked. Shebowed her head upon the table, while convulsive sobs shook her frame. Itried, in my childish way, to comfort her. I had never seen her so muchmoved since my father's [Pg 5]death. When she became more composed, she rose,and I assisted her in dusting and arranging the furniture of the room;and after this first visit to the room, we no longer avoided enteringit. Since quite a young man my father had been employed as book-keeperin a large mercantile house in the city of Philadelphia, where weresided. As he had ever proved trustworthy and faithful to the interestsof his employers, they had seen fit, upon his marriage, to give him anincrease of salary, which enabled him to purchase a small, but neat andconvenient dwelling in a respectable street in Philadelphia, where wehad lived in the enjoyment of all the comforts, and with many of theluxuries of life, to the time of the sad event which left me fatherlessand my mother a widow. I had never, as yet, attended any school. Mymother had been my only teacher, and as her own education had beenthorough, she was amply qualified for the task.
SUCCESS AT SCHOOL.
About a year after my father's death, my mother decided upon sending meto school, as she thought I was becoming too sedate and serious for achild only eleven years of age. I had never been very familiar with theneighbouring children of my own age, and after the death of my father Icared still less for their companionship. My chief enjoyment was in thesociety of my mother; and as we kept no servant, I found many ways ofmaking myself useful to her; and every afternoon she devoted two orthree hours to my lessons and needlework. Thus passed away the firstyear after our great sorrow, when, as I have already said, my motherdecided upon sending me to school. It seemed to me, at the time, quite aformidable undertaking—this going to school. I had never been separatedfrom my mother, and the five hours to be spent daily in the school-roomseemed to my childish mind a very long time. I had ever been shy anddiffident in the presence of strangers, and the idea of entering a largeschool a stranger to both teacher and pupils, was very unpleasant [Pg 7]to me.But when I found it to be my mother's wish that I should go, Iendeavoured to overcome my reluctance, and assisted my mother in herpreparations for entering me as a pupil at the beginning of the ensuingterm.
It was with a feeling of timidity that I accompanied my mother throughseveral streets to the school taught by Miss Edmonds. My motheraccompanied me to relieve me from any awkwardness I might feel inpresenting myself for admission. It was a select school for girls. As myeducation had thus far been entirely conducted by my mother, I had ofcourse, never been subjected to the rules of a school-room; and I mustconfess that I had formed an idea of school teachers in general that wasnot at all flattering. I fancied them all to be old, sour and cross—amere walking bundle of rules and regulations, and I was quite unpreparedto see the sweet-looking young lady who answered to my mother's summonsat the door. Surely, thought I, this young lady cannot be Miss Edmonds;and when my mother enquired if such were her name and she replied in theaffirmative, I thought going to school might not be so bad after all.After giving Miss Edmonds my name and age, my mother held someconversation with her regarding my studies, and left me with anencouraging smile. I felt all my timidity return when I thought ofentering the school-room with Miss Edmonds, but her kind and friendlymanner reassured me. The school consisted of about thirty girls, many ofthem older than myself. I had [Pg 8]feared that my attainments would beinferior to those of the youngest of the pupils, and I was equallypleased and surprised when Miss Edmonds, after a long and carefulexamination in regard to my acquirements, placed me in one of the higherclasses. There was to me an irresistible attraction in the countenanceand manner of my teacher; and, from the first moment I saw her I lovedher. Although her home is now far distant from mine, and we have not metfor many years, I love her as dearly now as when she took me by the handwhen a child of eleven years. She conducted her school in a verysystematic and orderly manner, and was