Daily Bread





I.



A QUESTION OF NOURISHMENT.



"And how is he?" said Robert, as he came in from his day's work, in

every moment of which he had thought of his child. He spoke in a whisper

to his wife, who met him in the narrow entry at the head of the stairs.

And in a whisper she replied.



"He is certainly no worse," said Mary: "the doctor says, maybe a shade

better. At least," she said, sitting on the lower step, and holding her

husband's hand, and still whispering,--"at least he said that the

breathing seemed to him a shade easier, one lung seemed to him a little

more free, and that it is now a question of time and nourishment."



"Nourishment?"



"Yes, nourishment,--and I own my heart sunk as he said so. Poor little

thing, he loathes the slops, and I told the doctor so. I told him the

struggle and fight to get them down his poor little throat gave him more

flush and fever than any thing. And then he begged me not to try that

again, asked if there were really nothing that the child would take, and

suggested every thing so kindly. But the poor little thing, weak as he

is, seems to rise up with supernatural strength against them all. I am

not sure, though, but perhaps we may do something with the old milk and

water: that is really my only hope now, and that is the reason I spoke

to you so cheerfully."



Then poor Mary explained more at length that Emily had brought in Dr.

Cummings's Manual[1] about the use of milk with children, and that they

had sent round to the Corlisses', who always had good milk, and had set

a pint according to the direction and formula,--and that though dear

little Jamie had refused the groats and the barley, and I know not what

else, that at six he had gladly taken all the watered milk they dared to

give him, and that it now had rested on his stomach half an hour, so

that she could not but hope that the tide had turned, only she hoped

with trembling, because he had so steadily refused cow's milk only the

week before.



[1] Has the reader a delicate infant? Let him send for

Dr. Cummings's little book on Milk for Children.



This rapid review in her entry, of the bulletins of a day, is really the

beginning of this Christmas story. No matter which day it was,--it was a

little before Christmas, and one of the shortest days, but I have

forgotten which. Enough that the baby, for he was a baby still, just

entering his thirteenth month,--enough that he did relish the milk, so

carefully measured and prepared, and hour by hour took his little dole

of it as if it had come from his mother's breast. Enough that three or

four days went by so, the little thing lying so still on his back in his

crib, his lips still so blue, and his skin of such deadly color against

the white of his pillow, and that, twice a day, as Dr. Morton came in

and felt his pulse, and listened to the panting, he smiled and looked

pleased, and said, "We are getting on better than I dared expect." Only

every time he said, "Does he still relish the milk?" and every time was

so pleased to know that he took to it still, and every day he added a

teaspoonful or two to the hourly dole,--and so poor Mary's heart was

lifted day by day.



This lasted till St. Victoria's day. Do you know which day that is? It

is the second day before Christmas; and here, properly speaking, the

story begins.





II.



ST. VICTORIA'S DAY.



St. Victoria's day the doctor was full two hours late. Mary was not

anxious about this. She was beginning to feel bravely about the boy, and

no longer counted the minutes till she could hear the door-bell ring.

When he came he loitered in the entry below,--or she thought he did. He

was long coming up stairs. And when he came in she saw that he was

excited by something,--was really even then panting for breath.



"I am here at last," he said. "Did you think I should fail you?"



Why, no,--poor innocent Mary had not thought any such thing. She had

known he would come,--and baby was so well that she had not minded his

delay.



Morton looked up at the close drawn shades, which shut out the light,

and said, "You did not think of the storm?"



"Storm? no!" said poor Mary. She had noticed, when Robert went to the

door at seven and she closed it after him, that some snow was falling.

But she had not thought of it again. She had kissed him, told him to

keep up good heart, and had come back to her baby.



Then the doctor told her that the storm which had begun before daybreak

had been gathering more and more severely; that the drifts were already

heavier than he remembered them in all his Boston life; that after half

an hour's trial in his sleigh he had been glad to get back to the stable

with his horse; and that all he had done since he had done on foot, with

difficulty she could not conceive of. He had been so long down stairs

while he brushed the snow off, that he might be fit to come near the

child.



"And really, Mrs. Walter, we are doing so well here," he said

cheerfully, "that I will not try to come round this afternoon, unless

you see a change. If you do, your husband must come up for me, you know.

But you will not need me, I am sure."



Mary felt quite brave to think that they should not need him really for

twenty-four hours, and said so; and added, with the first smile he had

seen for a fortnight: "I do not know anybody to whom it is of less

account than to me, whether the streets are blocked or open. Only I am

sorry for you."



Poor Mary, how often she thought of that speech, before Christmas day

went by! But she did not think of it all through St. Victoria's day. Her

husband did not come home to dinner. She did not expect him. The

children came from school at two, rejoicing in the long morning session

and the half holiday of the afternoon which had been earned by it. They

had some story of their frolic in the snow, and after dinner went

quietly away to their little play-room in the attic. And Mary sat with

her baby all the afternoon,--nor wanted other company. She could count

his breathing now, and knew how to time it by the watch, and she knew

that it was steadier and slower than it was the day before. And really

he almost showed an appetite for the hourly dole. Her husband was not

late. He had taken care of that, and had left the shop an hour early.

And as he came in and looked at the child from the other side of the

crib, and smiled so cheerfully on her, Mary felt that she could not

enough thank God for his mercy.





III.



ST. VICTORIA'S DAY IN THE COUNTRY.



Five and twenty miles away was another mother, with a baby born the same

day as Jamie. Mary had never heard of her and never has heard of her,

and, unless she reads this story, never will hear of her till they meet

together in the other home, look each other in the face, and know as

they are known. Yet their two lives, as you shall see, are twisted

together, as indeed are all lives, only they do not know it--as how

should they?



A great day for Huldah Stevens was this St. Victoria's day. Not that she

knew its name more than Mary did. Indeed it was only of late years that

Huldah Stevens had cared much for keeping Christmas day. But of late

years they had all thought of it more; and this year, on Thanksgiving

day, at old Mr. Stevens's, after great joking about the young people's

housekeeping, it had been determined, with some banter, that the same

party should meet with John and Huldah on Christmas eve, with all

Huldah's side of the house besides, to a late dinner or early supper, as

the guests might please to call it. Little difference between the meals,

indeed, was there ever in the profusion of these country homes. The men

folks were seldom at home at the noon-day meal, call it what you will.

For they were all in the milk-business, as you will see. And, what with

collecting the milk from the hill-farms, on the one hand, and then

carrying it for delivery at the three o'clock morning milk-train, on the

other hand, any hours which you, dear reader, might consider systematic,

or of course in country life, were certainly always set aside. But,

after much conference, as I have said, it had been determined at the

Thanksgiving party that all hands in both families should meet at John

and Huldah's as near three o'clock as they could the day before

Christmas; and then and there Huldah was to show her powers in

entertaining at her first state family party.



So this St. Victoria's day was a great day of preparation for Huldah,

if she had only known its name, as she did not. For she was of the kind

which prepares in time, not of the kind that is caught out when the

company come with the work half done. And as John started on his

collection beat that morning at about the hour Robert, in town, kissed

Mary good-by, Huldah stood on the step with him, and looked with

satisfaction on the gathering snow, because it would make better

sleighing the next day for her father and mother to come over. She

charged him not to forget her box of raisins when he came back, and to

ask at the express if anything came up from town, bade him good-by, and

turned back into the house, not wholly dissatisfied to be almost alone.

She washed her baby, gave him his first lunch and put him to bed. Then,

with the coast fairly clear,--what woman does not enjoy a clear coast,

if it only be early enough in the morning?--she dipped boldly and wisely

into her flour-barrel, stripped her plump round arms to their work, and

began on the pie-crust which was to appear to-morrow in the fivefold

forms of apple, cranberry, Marlboro', mince, and squash,--careful and

discriminating in the nice chemistry of her mixtures and the nice

manipulations of her handicraft, but in nowise dreading the issue. A

long, active, lively morning she had of it. Not dissatisfied with the

stages of her work, step by step she advanced, stage by stage she

attained of the elaborate plan which was well laid out in her head, but,

of course, had never been intrusted to words, far less to tell-tale

paper. From the oven at last came the pies,--and she was satisfied with

the color; from the other oven came the turkey, which she proposed to

have cold,--as a relay, or piece de resistance, for any who might not

be at hand at the right moment for dinner. Into the empty oven went the

clove-blossoming ham, which, as it boiled, had given the least

appetizing odor to the kitchen. In the pretty moulds in the woodshed

stood the translucent cranberry hardening to its fixed consistency. In

other moulds the obedient calf's foot already announced its willingness

and intention to "gell" as she directed. Huldah's decks were cleared

again, her kitchen table fit to cut out "work" upon,--all the pans and

plates were put away, which accumulate so mysteriously where cooking is

going forward; on its nail hung the weary jigger, on its hook the spicy

grater, on the roller a fresh towel. Everything gave sign of victory,

the whole kitchen looking only a little nicer than usual. Huldah herself

was dressed for the afternoon, and so was the baby; and nobody but as

acute observers as you and I would have known that she had been in

action all along the line and had won the battle at every point, when

two o'clock came, the earliest moment at which her husband ever

returned.



Then for the first time it occurred to Huldah to look out doors and see

how fast the snow was gathering. She knew it was still falling. But the

storm was a quiet one, and she had had too much to do to be gaping out

of the windows. She went to the shed door, and to her amazement saw that

the north wood-pile was wholly drifted in! Nor could she, as she stood,

see the fences of the roadway!



Huldah ran back into the house, opened the parlor door and drew up the

curtain, to see that there were indeed no fences on the front of the

house to be seen. On the northwest, where the wind had full

sweep,--between her and the barn, the ground was bare. But all that

snow--and who should say how much more?--was piled up in front of her;

so that unless Huldah had known every landmark, she would not have

suspected that any road was ever there. She looked uneasily out at the

northwest windows, but she could not see an inch to windward: dogged

snow--snow--snow--as if it would never be done.



Huldah knew very well then that there was no husband for her in the next

hour, nor most like in the next or the next. She knew very well too what

she had to do; and, knowing it, she did it. She tied on her hood, and

buttoned tight around her her rough sack, passed through the shed and

crossed that bare strip to the barn, opened the door with some

difficulty, because snow was already drifting into the doorway, and

entered. She gave the cows and oxen their water and the two night horses

theirs,--went up into the loft and pitched down hay enough for

all,--went down stairs to the pigs and cared for them,--took one of the

barn shovels and cleared a path where she had had to plunge into the

snow at the doorway, took the shovel back, and then crossed home again

to her baby. She thought she saw the Empsons' chimney smoking as she

went home, and that seemed companionable. She took off her over-shoes,

sack, and hood, said aloud, "This will be a good stay-at-home day,"

brought round her desk to the kitchen table, and began on a nice long

letter to her brother Cephas in Seattle.



That letter was finished, eight good quarto pages written, and a long

delayed letter to Emily Tabor, whom Huldah had not seen since she was

married; and a long pull at her milk accounts had brought them up to

date,--and still no John. Huldah had the table all set, you may be sure

of that; but, for herself, she had had no heart to go through the

formalities of lunch or dinner. A cup of tea and something to eat with

it as she wrote did better, she thought, for her,--and she could eat

when the men came. It is a way women have. Not till it became quite

dark, and she set her kerosene lamp in the window that he might have a

chance to see it when he turned the Locust Grove corner, did Huldah once

feel herself lonely, or permit herself to wish that she did not live in

a place where she could be cut off from all her race. "If John had gone

into partnership with Joe Winter and we had lived in Boston." This was

the thought that crossed her mind. Dear Huldah,--from the end of one

summer to the beginning of the next, Joe Winter does not go home to his

dinner; and what you experience to-day, so far as absence from your

husband goes, is what his wife experiences in Boston ten months, save

Sundays, in every year.



I do not mean that Huldah winced or whined. Not she. Only she did think

"if." Then she sat in front of the stove and watched the coals, and for

a little while continued to think "if." Not long. Very soon she was

engaged in planning how she would arrange the table to-morrow,--whether

Mother Stevens should cut the chicken-pie, or whether she would have

that in front of her own mother. Then she fell to planning what she

would make for Cynthia's baby,--and then to wondering whether Cephas was

in earnest in that half nonsense he wrote about Sibyl Dyer,--and then

the clock struck six!



No bells yet,--no husband,--no anybody. Lantern out and lighted. Rubber

boots on, hood and sack. Shed-shovel in one hand, lantern in the other.

Roadway still bare, but a drift as high as Huldah's shoulders at the

barn door. Lantern on the ground; snow-shovel in both hands now. One,

two, three!--one cubic foot out. One, two, three!--another cubic foot

out. And so on, and so on, and so on, till the doorway is clear again.

Lantern in one hand, snow-shovel in the other, we enter the barn, draw

the water for cows and oxen,--we shake down more hay, and see to the

pigs again. This time we make beds of straw for the horses and the

cattle. Nay, we linger a minute or two, for there is something

companionable there. Then we shut them in, in the dark, and cross the

well-cleared roadway to the shed, and so home again. Certainly Mrs.

Empson's kerosene lamp is in her window. That must be her light which

gives a little halo in that direction in the falling snow. That looks

like society.



And this time Huldah undresses the baby, puts on her yellow flannel

night-gown,--makes the whole as long as it may be,--and then, still

making believe be jolly, lights another lamp, eats her own supper,

clears it away, and cuts into the new Harper which John had brought up

to her the day before.



But the Harper is dull reading to her, though generally so attractive.

And when her Plymouth-Hollow clock consents to strike eight at last,

Huldah, who has stinted herself to read till eight, gladly puts down the

"Travels in Arizona," which seem to her as much like the "Travels in

Peru," of the month before, as those had seemed like the "Travels in

Chinchilla." Rubber boots again,--lantern again,--sack and hood again.

The men will be in no case for milking when they come. So Huldah brings

together their pails,--takes her shovel once more and her lantern,--digs

out the barn drift again, and goes over to milk little Carry and big

Fanchon. For, though the milking of a hundred cows passes under those

roofs and out again every day, Huldah is far too conservative to abandon

the custom which she inherits from some Thorfinn or some Elfrida, and

her husband is well pleased to humor her in keeping in that barn always,

at least two of the choicest three-quarter blood cows that he can

choose, for the family supply. Only, in general, he or Reuben milks

them; as duties are divided there, this is not Huldah's share. But on

this eve of St. Spiridion the gentle creatures were glad when she came

in; and in two journeys back and forth Huldah had carried her

well-filled pails into her dairy. This helped along the hour, and just

after nine o'clock struck, she could hear the cheers of the men at last.

She ran out again with the ready lighted lantern to the shed-door,--in

an instant had on her boots and sack and hood, had crossed to the barn,

and slid open the great barn door,--and stood there with her

light,--another Hero for another Leander to buffet towards, through the

snow. A sight to see were the two men, to be sure! And a story, indeed,

they had to tell! On their different beats they had fought snow all day,

had been breaking roads with the help of the farmers where they could,

had had to give up more than half of the outlying farms, sending such

messages as they might, that the outlying farmers might bring down

to-morrow's milk to such stations as they could arrange, and, at last,

by good luck, had both met at the depot in the hollow, where each had

gone to learn at what hour the milk-train might be expected in the

morning. Little reason was there, indeed, to expect it at all. Nothing

had passed the station-master since the morning express, called

lightning by satire, had slowly pushed up with three or four engines

five hours behind its time, and just now had come down a messenger from

them that he should telegraph to Boston that they were all blocked up at

Tyler's Summit,--the snow drifting beneath their wheels faster than they

could clear it. Above, the station-master said, nothing whatever had yet

passed Winchendon. Five engines had gone out from Fitchburg eastward,

but in the whole day they had not come as far as Leominster. It was very

clear that no milk-train nor any other train would be on time the next

morning.



Such was, in brief, John's report to Huldah, when they had got to that

state of things in which a man can make a report; that is, after they

had rubbed dry the horses, had locked up the barn, after the men had

rubbed themselves dry, and had put on dry clothing, and after each of

them, sitting on the fire side of the table, had drunk his first cup of

tea, and eaten his first square cubit of dipped-toast. After the

dipped-toast, they were going to begin on Huldah's fried potatoes and

sausages.



Huldah heard their stories with all their infinite little details; knew

every corner and turn by which they had husbanded strength and life; was

grateful to the Corbetts and Varnums and Prescotts and the rest, who,

with their oxen and their red right hands, had given such loyal help for

the common good; and she heaved a deep sigh when the story ended with

the verdict of the failure of the whole,--"No trains on time to-morrow."



"Bad for the Boston babies," said Reuben bluntly, giving words to what

the others were feeling. "Poor little things!" said Huldah, "Alice has

been so pretty all day." And she gulped down just one more sigh,

disgusted with herself, as she remembered that "if" of the

afternoon,--"if John had only gone into partnership with Joe Winter."







IV. HOW THEY BROKE THE BLOCKADE.



Three o'clock in the morning saw Huldah's fire burning in the stove, her

water boiling in the kettle, her slices of ham broiling on the gridiron,

and quarter-past three saw the men come across from the barn, where they

had been shaking down hay for the cows and horses, and yoking the oxen

for the terrible onset of the day. It was bright star-light

above,--thank Heaven for that. This strip of three hundred thousand

square miles of snow cloud, which had been drifting steadily cast over a

continent, was, it seemed, only twenty hours wide,--say two hundred

miles, more or less,--and at about midnight its last flecks had fallen,

and all the heaven was washed black and clear. The men were well rested

by those five hours of hard sleep. They were fitly dressed for their

great encounter and started cheerily upon it, as men who meant to do

their duty, and to both of whom, indeed, the thought had come, that life

and death might be trembling in their hands. They did not take out the

pungs to-day, nor, of course, the horses. Such milk as they had

collected on St. Victoria's day they had stored already at the station,

and at Stacy's; and the best they could do to-day would be to break open

the road from the Four Corners to the station, that they might place as

many cans as possible there before the down-train came. From the house,

then, they had only to drive down their oxen that they might work with

the other teams from the Four Corners; and it was only by begging him,

that Huldah persuaded Reuben to take one lunch-can for them both. Then,

as Reuben left the door, leaving John to kiss her "good-by," and to tell

her not to be alarmed if they did not come home at night,--she gave to

John the full milk-can into which she had poured every drop of Carry's

milk, and said, "It will be one more; and God knows what child may be

crying for it now."



So they parted for eight and twenty hours; and in place of Huldah's

first state party of both families, she and Alice reigned solitary that

day, and held their little court with never a suitor. And when her

lunch-time came, Huldah looked half-mournfully, half-merrily, on her

array of dainties prepared for the feast, and she would not touch one of

them. She toasted some bread before the fire, made a cup of tea, boiled

an egg, and would not so much as set the table. As has been before

stated, this is the way with women.



And of the men, who shall tell the story of the pluck and endurance, of

the unfailing good-will, of the resource in strange emergency, of the

mutual help and common courage with which all the men worked that day

on that well-nigh hopeless task of breaking open the highway from the

Corners to the station? Well-nigh hopeless, indeed; for although at

first, with fresh cattle and united effort, they made in the hours,

which passed so quickly up to ten o'clock, near two miles headway, and

had brought yesterday's milk thus far,--more than half way to their

point of delivery,--at ten o'clock it was quite evident that this sharp

northwest wind, which told so heavily on the oxen and even on the men,

was filling in the very roadway they had opened, and so was cutting them

off from their base, and, by its new drifts, was leaving the roadway for

to-day's milk even worse than it was when they began. In one of those

extemporized councils, then,--such as fought the battle of Bunker Hill,

and threw the tea into Boston harbor,--it was determined, at ten

o'clock, to divide the working parties. The larger body should work back

to the Four Corners, and by proper relays keep that trunk line of road

open, if they could; while six yoke, with their owners, still pressing

forward to the station, should make a new base at Lovejoy's, where, when

these oxen gave out, they could be put up at his barn. It was quite

clear, indeed, to the experts that that time was not far distant.



And so, indeed, it proved. By three in the afternoon, John and Reuben

and the other leaders of the advance party--namely, the whole of it, for

such is the custom of New England--gathered around the fire at

Lovejoy's, conscious that after twelve hours of such battle as Pavia

never saw, nor Roncesvalles, they were defeated at every point but one.

Before them the mile of road which they had made in the steady work of

hours was drifted in again as smooth as the surrounding pastures, only

if possible a little more treacherous for the labor which they had

thrown away upon it. The oxen which had worked kindly and patiently,

well handled by good-tempered men, yet all confused and half dead with

exposure, could do no more. Well, indeed, if those that had been stalled

fast, and had had to stand in that biting wind after gigantic effort,

escaped with their lives from such exposure. All that the men had gained

was that they had advanced their first depot of milk--two hundred and

thirty-nine cans--as far as Lovejoy's. What supply might have worked

down to the Four Corners behind them, they did not know and hardly

cared, their communications that way being well-nigh cut off again. What

they thought of, and planned for, was simply how these cans at Lovejoy's

could be put on any downward train. For by this time they knew that all

trains would have lost their grades and their names, and that this milk

would go into Boston by the first engine that went there, though it rode

on the velvet of a palace car.



What train this might be, they did not know. From the hill above

Lovejoy's they could see poor old Dix, the station-master, with his wife

and boys, doing his best to make an appearance of shovelling in front of

his little station. But Dix's best was but little, for he had but one

arm, having lost the other in a collision, and so as a sort of pension

the company had placed him at this little flag-station, where was a roof

over his head, a few tickets to sell, and generally very little else to

do. It was clear enough that no working parties on the railroad had

worked up to Dix, or had worked down; nor was it very likely that any

would before night, unless the railroad people had better luck with

their drifts than our friends had found. But, as to this, who should

say? Snow-drifts are "mighty onsartain." The line of that road is in

general northwest, and to-day's wind might have cleaned out its gorges

as persistently as it had filled up our crosscuts. From Lovejoy's barn

they could see that the track was now perfectly clear for the half mile

where it crossed the Prescott meadows.



I am sorry to have been so long in describing thus the aspect of the

field after the first engagement. But it was on this condition of

affairs that, after full conference, the enterprises of the night were

determined. Whatever was to be done was to be done by men. And after

thorough regale on Mrs. Lovejoy's green tea, and continual return to her

constant relays of thin bacon gilded by unnumbered eggs; after cutting

and coming again upon unnumbered mince-pies, which, I am sorry to say,

did not in any point compare well with Huldah's,--each man thrust many

doughnuts into his outside pockets, drew on the long boots again, and

his buckskin gloves and mittens, and, unencumbered now by the care of

animals, started on the work of the evening. The sun was just taking his

last look at them from the western hills, where Reuben and John could

see Huldah's chimney smoking. The plan was, by taking a double hand-sled

of Lovejoy's, and by knocking together two or three more,

jumper-fashion, to work their way across the meadow to the railroad

causeway, and establish a milk depot there, where the line was not half

a mile from Lovejoy's. By going and coming often, following certain

tracks well known to Lovejoy on the windward side of walls and fences,

these eight men felt quite sure that by midnight they could place all

their milk at the spot where the old farm crossing strikes the railroad.

Meanwhile, Silas Lovejoy, a boy of fourteen, was to put on a pair of

snow-shoes, go down to the station, state the case to old Dix, and get

from him a red lantern and permission to stop the first train where it

swept out from the Pitman cut upon the causeway. Old Dix had no more

right to give this permission than had the humblest street-sweeper in

Ispahan, and this they all knew. But the fact that Silas had asked for

it would show a willingness on their part to submit to authority, if

authority there had been. This satisfied the New England love of law, on

the one hand. On the other hand, the train would be stopped, and this

satisfied the New England determination to get the thing done any way.

To give additional force to Silas, John provided him with a note to Dix,

and it was generally agreed that if Dix wasn't ugly, he would give the

red lantern and the permission. Silas was then to work up the road and

station himself as far beyond the curve as he could, and stop the first

down-train. He was to tell the conductor where the men were waiting with

the milk, was to come down to them on the train, and his duty would be

done. Lest Dix should be ugly, Silas was provided with Lovejoy's only

lantern, but he was directed not to show this at the station until his

interview was finished. Silas started cheerfully on his snow-shoes; John

and Lovejoy, at the same time, starting with the first hand-sled of the

cans. First of all into the sled, John put Huldah's well-known can, a

little shorter than the others, and with a different handle. "Whatever

else went to Boston," he said, "that can was bound to go through."



They established the basis of their pyramid, and met the three new

jumpers with their makers as they went back for more. This party

enlarged the base of the pyramid; and, as they worked, Silas passed them

cheerfully with his red lantern. Old Dix had not been ugly, had given

the lantern and all the permission he had to give, and had communicated

some intelligence also. The intelligence was, that an accumulated force

of seven engines, with a large working party, had left Groton Junction

downward at three. Nothing had arrived upward at Groton Junction; and,

from Boston, Dix learned that nothing more would leave there till early

morning. No trains had arrived in Boston from any quarter for

twenty-four hours. So long the blockade had lasted already.



On this intelligence, it was clear that, with good luck, the down-train

might reach them at any moment. Still the men resolved to leave their

milk, while they went back for more, relying on Silas and the "large

working party" to put it on the cars, if the train chanced to pass

before any of them returned. So back they fared to Lovejoy's for their

next relay, and met John and Reuben working in successfully with their

second. But no one need have hurried; for, as trip after trip they built

their pyramid of cans higher and higher, no welcome whistle broke the

stillness of the night, and by ten o'clock, when all these cans were in

place by the rail, the train had not yet come.



John and Reuben then proposed to go up into the cut, and to relieve poor

Silas, who had not been heard from since he swung along so cheerfully

like an "Excelsior" boy on his way up the Alps. But they had hardly

started, when a horn from the meadow recalled them, and, retracing their

way, they met a messenger who had come in to say that a fresh team from

the Four Corners had been reported at Lovejoy's, with a dozen or more

men, who had succeeded in bringing down nearly as far as Lovejoy's

mowing-lot near a hundred more cans; that it was quite possible in two

or three hours more to bring this over also,--and, although the first

train was probably now close at hand, it was clearly worth while to

place this relief in readiness for a second. So poor Silas was left for

the moment to his loneliness, and Reuben and John returned again upon

their steps. They passed the house where they found Mrs. Lovejoy and

Mrs. Stacy at work in the shed, finishing off two more jumpers, and

claiming congratulation for their skill, and after a cup of tea

again,--for no man touched spirit that day nor that night,--they

reported at the new station by the mowing-lot.



And Silas Lovejoy--who had turned the corner into the Pitman cut, and so

shut himself out from sight of the station light, or his father's

windows, or the lanterns of the party at the pyramid of cans--Silas

Lovejoy held his watch there, hour by hour, with such courage as the

sense of the advance gives boy or man. He had not neglected to take the

indispensable shovel as he came. In going over the causeway he had

slipped off the snow-shoes and hung them on his back. Then there was

heavy wading as he turned into the Pitman cut, knee deep, middle deep,

and he laid his snow-shoes on the snow and set the red lantern on them,

as he reconnoitred. Middle deep, neck deep, and he fell forward on his

face into the yielding mass. "This will not do, I must not fall like

that often," said Silas to himself, as he gained his balance and threw

himself backward against the mass. Slowly he turned round, worked back

to the lantern, worked out to the causeway, and fastened on the shoes

again. With their safer help he easily skimmed up to Pitman's bridge,

which he had determined on for his station. He knew that thence his

lantern could be seen for a mile, and that yet there the train might

safely be stopped, so near was the open causeway which he had just

traversed. He had no fear of an up-train behind him.



So Silas walked back and forth, and sang, and spouted "pieces," and

mused on the future of his life, and spouted "pieces" again, and sang in

the loneliness. How the time passed, he did not know. No sound of clock,

no baying of dog, no plash of waterfall, broke that utter stillness. The

wind, thank God, had at last died away; and Silas paced his beat in a

long oval he made for himself, under and beyond the bridge, with no

sound but his own voice when he chose to raise it. He expected, as they

all did, that every moment the whistle of the train, as it swept into

sight a mile or more away, would break the silence; so he paced, and

shouted, and sang.



"This is a man's duty," he said to himself: "they would not let me go

with the fifth regiment,--not as a drummer boy; but this is duty such as

no drummer boy of them all is doing. Company, march!" and he "stepped

forward smartly" with his left foot. "Really I am placed on guard here

quite as much as if I were on picket in Virginia." "Who goes there?"

"Advance, friend, and give the countersign." Not that any one did go

there, or could go there; but the boy's fancy was ready, and so he

amused himself during the first hours. Then he began to wonder whether

they were hours, as they seemed, or whether this was all a wretched

illusion,--that the time passed slowly to him because he was nothing but

a boy, and did not know how to occupy his mind. So he resolutely said

the multiplication-table from the beginning to the end, and from the end

to the beginning,--first to himself, and again aloud, to make it slower.

Then he tried the ten commandments. "Thou shalt have none other Gods

before me:" easy to say that beneath those stars; and he said them

again. No, it is no illusion. I must have been here hours long! Then he

began on Milton's hymn:--



"It was the winter wild,

While the heaven-born child,

All meanly wrapt, in the rude manger lies."



"Winter wild, indeed," said Silas aloud; and, if he had only known it,

at that moment the sun beneath his feet was crossing the meridian,

midnight had passed already, and Christmas day was born!



"Only with speeches fair

She wooes the gentle air

To hide her guilty front with innocent snow."



"Innocent, indeed," said poor Silas, still aloud, "much did he know of

innocent snow!" And vainly did he try to recall the other stanzas, as he

paced back and forth, round and round, and began now to wonder where his

father and the others were, and if they could have come to any

misfortune. Surely, they could not have forgotten that he was here.

Would that train never come?



If he were not afraid of its coming at once, he would have run back to

the causeway to look for their lights,--and perhaps they had a fire. Why

had he not brought an axe for a fire? "That rail fence above would have

served perfectly,--nay, it is not five rods to a load of hickory we left

the day before Thanksgiving. Surely one of them might come up to me with

an axe. But maybe there is trouble below. They might have come with an

axe--with an axe--with an axe--with an--axe"--"I am going to sleep,"

cried Silas,--aloud again this time,--as his head dropped heavily on the

handle of the shovel he was resting on there in the lee of the stone

wall. "I am going to sleep,--that will never do. Sentinel asleep at his

post. Order out the relief. Blind his eyes. Kneel, sir. Make ready.

Fire. That, sir, for sentinels asleep." And so Silas laughed grimly, and

began his march again. Then he took his shovel and began a great pit

where he supposed the track might be beneath him. "Anything to keep warm

and to keep awake. But why did they not send up to him? Why was he here?

Why was he all alone? He who had never been alone before. Was he alone?

Was there companionship in the stars,--or in the good God who held the

stars? Did the good God put me here? If he put me here, will he keep me

here? Or did he put me here to die! To die in this cold? It is cold,--it

is very cold! Is there any good in my dying? The train will run down,

and they will see a dead body lying under the bridge,--black on the

snow, with a red lantern by it. Then they will stop. Shall I--I

will--just go back to see if the lights are at the bend. I will leave

the lantern here on the edge of this wall!" And so Silas turned, half

benumbed, worked his way nearly out of the gorge, and started as he

heard, or thought he heard, a baby's scream. "A thousand babies are

starving, and I am afraid to stay here to give them their life," he

said. "There is a boy fit for a soldier! Order out the relief! Drum-head

court-martial! Prisoner, hear your sentence! Deserter, to be shot!

Blindfold,--kneel, sir! Fire! Good enough for deserters!" And so poor

Silas worked back again to the lantern.



And now he saw and felt sure that Orion was bending downward, and he

knew that the night must be broken; and, with some new hope, throwing

down the shovel with which he had been working, he began his soldier

tramp once more,--as far as soldier tramp was possible with those

trailing snow-shoes,--tried again on "No war nor battle sound," broke

down on "Cynthia's seat" and the "music of the spheres;" but at

last,--working on "beams," "long beams," and "that with long beams,"--he

caught the stanzas he was feeling for, and broke out exultant with,--



"At last surrounds their sight,

A globe of circular light

That with long beams the shame-faced night arrayed;

The helmed cherubim

And sworded seraphim

Are seen in glittering ranks--"



"Globe of circular light--am I dreaming, or have they come!"--



Come they had! The globe of circular light swept full over the valley,

and the scream of the engine was welcomed by the freezing boy as if it

had been an angel's whisper to him. Not unprepared did it find him. The

red lantern swung to and fro in a well-practised hand, and he was in

waiting on his firmest spot as the train slowed and the engine passed

him.



"Do not stop for me," he cried, as he threw his weight heavily on the

tender side, and the workmen dragged him in. "Only run slow till you are

out of the ledge: we have made a milk station at the cross-road."



"Good for you!" said the wondering fireman, who in a moment understood

the exigency. The heavy plough threw out the snow steadily still, in ten

seconds they were clear of the ledge, and saw the fire-light shimmering

on the great pyramids of milk-cans. Slower and slower ran the train,

and by the blazing fire stopped, for once, because its masters chose to

stop. And the working party on the train cheered lustily as they tumbled

out of the cars, as they apprehended the situation, and were cheered by

the working party from the village.



Two or three cans of milk stood on the embers of the fire, that they

might be ready for the men on the train with something that was at least

warm. An empty passenger car was opened and the pyramids of milk-cans

were hurried into it,--forty men now assisting.



"You will find Joe Winter at the Boston station," said John Stevens to

the "gentlemanly conductor" of the express, whose lightning train had

thus become a milk convoy. "Tell Winter to distribute this among all the

carts, that everybody may have some. Good luck to you. Good-by!" And the

engines snorted again, and John Stevens turned back, not so much as

thinking that he had made his Christmas present to a starving town.





V.



CHRISTMAS MORNING.



The children were around Robert Walter's knees, and each of the two

spelled out a verse of the second chapter of Luke, on Christmas morning.

And Robert and Mary kneeled with them, and they said together, "Our

Father who art in heaven." Mary's voice broke a little when they came to

"daily bread," but with the two, and her husband, she continued to the

end, and could say "thine is the power," and believe it too.



"Mamma," whispered little Fanny, as she kissed her mother after the

prayer, "when I said my prayer up stairs last night, I said 'our daily

milk,' and so did Robert." This was more than poor Mary could bear. She

kissed the child, and she hurried away.



For last night at six o'clock it was clear that the milk was sour, and

little Jamie had detected it first of all. Then, with every one of the

old wiles, they had gone back over the old slops; but the child, with

that old weird strength, had pushed them all away. Christmas morning

broke, and poor Robert, as soon as light would serve, had gone to the

neighbors all,--their nearest intimates they had tried the night

before,--and from all had brought back the same reply; one friend had

sent a wretched sample, but the boy detected the taint and pushed it,

untasted, away. Dr. Morton had the alarm the day before. He was at the

house earlier than usual with some condensed milk, which his wife's

stores had furnished; but that would not answer. Poor Jamie pushed this

by. There was some smoke or something,--who should say what?--it would

not do. The doctor could see in an instant how his patient had fallen

back in the night. That weird, anxious, entreating look, as his head lay

back on the little pillow, had all come back again. Robert and Robert's

friends, Gaisford and Warren, had gone down to the Old Colony, to the

Worcester, and to the Hartford stations. Perhaps their trains were doing

better. The door-bell rang yet again. "Mrs. Appleton's love to Mrs.

Walter, and perhaps her child will try some fresh beef-tea." As if poor

Jamie did not hate beef-tea; still Morton resolutely forced three

spoonfuls down. Half an hour more and Mrs. Dudley's compliments. "Mrs.

Dudley heard that Mrs. Walter was out of milk, and took the liberty to

send round some very particularly nice Scotch groats, which her brother

had just brought from Edinburgh." "Do your best with it, Fanny," said

poor Mary, but she knew that if Jamie took those Scotch groats it was

only because they were a Christmas present. Half an hour more! Three

more spoonfuls of beef-tea after a fight. Door-bell again. Carriage at

the door. "Would Mrs. Walter come down and see Mrs. Fitch? It was really

very particular." Mary was half dazed, and went down, she did not know

why.



"Dear Mrs. Walter, you do not remember me," said this eager girl,

crossing the room and taking her by both hands.



"Why, no--yes--do I?" said Mary, crying and laughing together.



"Yes, you will remember, it was at church, at the baptism. My Jennie and

your Jamie were christened the same day. And now I hear,--we all know

how low he is,--and perhaps he will share my Jennie's breakfast. Dear

Mrs. Walter, do let me try."



Then Mary saw that the little woman's cloak and hat were already thrown

off,--which had not seemed strange to her before,--and the two passed

quietly up stairs together; and Julia Fitch bent gently over him, and

cooed to him, and smiled to him, but could not make the poor child

smile. And they lifted him so gently on the pillow,--but only to hear

him scream. And she brought his head gently to her heart, and drew back

the little curtain that was left, and offered to him her life; but he

was frightened, and did not know her, and had forgotten what it was she

gave him, and screamed again; and so they had to lay him back gently

upon the pillow. And then,--as Julia was saying she would stay, and how

they could try again, and could do this and that,--then the door-bell

rang again, and Mrs. Coleman had herself come round with a little white

pitcher, and herself ran up stairs with it, and herself knocked at the

door!



The blockade was broken, and



THE MILK HAD COME!



* * * * *



Mary never knew that it was from Huldah Stevens's milk-can that her boy

drank in the first drop of his new life. Nor did Huldah know it. Nor

did John know it, nor the paladins who fought that day at his side. Nor

did Silas Lovejoy know it.



But the good God and all good angels knew it. Why ask for more?



And you and I, dear reader, if we can forget that always our daily bread

comes to us, because a thousand brave men and a thousand brave women are

at work in the world, praying to God and trying to serve him, we will

not forget it as we meet at breakfast on this blessed Christmas day!





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