The Cradle in the Garret
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
It was an old-fashioned little cradle. The proud daughter-in-law would scorn to have it in the nursery. Her children sleep in dainty cribs; and the relic of olden times is pushed into a darkened corner, away up in the garret. It is a quiet autumnal day; such days are full of memories; and the old grandmother is thinking, thinking. She arises at length, and totters up the lofty flights of stairs; she passes through the elegant rooms; she reaches the garret, and sinks down beside that unsightly cradle, and bows her trembling head over it, as if watching the slumbers of a babe. That little garret, with one long beam of sunlight streaming from the high window; and the spider-webs woven over the rafters, and one cricket, singing lonesomely from some silent corner, is a good place to dream. Memory is unfolding picture after picture, for the grandmother to look upon.
She sees her cabin home. It is in the flush of summertime; there are green boughs in the fireplace, and around the clock, and over the mantel-board. There are short, white, muslin curtains, drawn partially across the windows. There are two beds, with a bureau between, standing in the eastern part of the room; and a little stand, with a Bible and hymn-book upon its white fringed cover, beneath the little looking-glass. There is her cupboard, with its brightly-polished pewter, and the pine table, scoured by her own hands. And she is sitting by the window, her foot gently touching that same dear little cradle; and her eyes, lifted from her sewing, now and then, to see if her heart's pride is sleeping. How deliciously her heart is stirred to the music of sweet thoughts! It is her first-born, her darling Johnny, sleeping in the cradle. Never yet have his dewy, rose-bud lips murmured "mother;" but his dimpled arms clasp her neck; his velvet cheek nestles against her bosom, his clear blue eyes look lovingly into her own. She is the young mother again, as memory paints that sweet baby face. She hears the bees humming in the little bed of pinks, below the window. She sees the Virginia creepers, playing upon the grass, in the sunlight, as the breeze stirs the long clasping arms that cling about the rough logs.
She hears the rivulet's ripple, as it winds through mossy spots, and leaves the roots of the old sycamore, whose shadows fall upon her roof. She hears the birds singing, away off in the woods. She sees, oh, best of all, her husband coming home from his daily labor. His step is on the sill, his merry voice speaks her name, and then little Johnny is clasped to his heart.
Another picture. She is a little older now. It is winter; there are drifts of snow on the eaves; as far as she can look, one unbroken mass of snow. She hears the winds moan through the sycamores. The flowers are dead; the rivulet frozen; the birds silent. But there is a bright fire upon the hearth, and the cabin home warm with its crimson light. Johnny is playing with father; and a baby girl, the little Lizzie, is in the cradle. Fragile, delicate, beautiful; she has dark eyes, like mother's, only they bear a sadder, softer look, and her baby-smile seems sad also; her hands are clasped and thrown above her head, and she smiles in her sleep, as if the angels were whispering to her.
Another picture. It is in the month of May, and all outdoors is so beautiful. Flowers in the woodland; birds in the woodland; joyous music everywhere. Everywhere? No, there is sadness in the cabin-house. There is another babe in the cradle. It is robust, and the blood of health flows in its veins. It is Charlie. Why are they sad, then? Johnny sits with his face hidden in his mother's bosom, and she is sobbing. Under the front window is something covered with white. The neighbor-women are moving noiselessly about, speaking but little. Lizzie is in her coffin. There is an empty grave where buttercups dot the grass. Dear little Lizzie!
Another picture. Johnny has grown up to nearly manhood. Charlie is a stout, merry boy, and there are others around the fireside. The mother is a good deal older now. Her hair is streaked a little with silver; her brow furrowed, and her cheek very faded. There are fair daughters and sons, that have been born unto her since Lizzie died. Grace, with her dazzling blue eyes and golden hair; Mary, with sad, dark eyes, like her dead sister; Annie, with her lips ever dewy with love and joy; Reginald, with eyes and brow so like his father's, and Louis, the youngest, the pet and the darling. An unbroken family, but not for long.
Another picture. She is a widow now. Her beloved husband sleeps with little Lizzie. God knows how bereft she is; to Him she looks for balm; to Him she prays for her dear children, and most of all for Reginald — the proud, the passionate, willful Reginald. Ah, the mother's heart! How it goes with her children! How it would bear every pang, that they might be saved! Yet, how often it is torn, crushed, broken by those she has sheltered in her bosom! God pity the mother whose heart thus beats against thorns.
Another picture. Oh God, have pity! The household altar is almost desolate. Years have gone by — sad years. No wonder the palsied hand trembles as it clasps the cradle. No wonder tears fall where sunny heads once nestled. No wonder the old grandmother cries out, "Father, have mercy on me!" for she feels the need of strength and love.
Johnny is still with her; he is growing wealthy.
Mary is in the grave, stricken in early womanhood, when life seemed so bright.
Beautiful Grace is gone, she knows not where. Beauty, to her, was a curse, and she fled to a distant land with one as fascinating as the serpent, but already wedded.
Annie joined her fortunes to one, alas! unworthy, and died far from her mother's house, of a broken heart.
Reginald went into the mirthful world — was tempted — was lost! — and the grave of the drunkard and the debauchee closes over his bright head.
Louis, the pet, the youngest, is winning himself a name beneath Italian skies; the beautiful life of the poet-painter is his own, and his face is inspired, almost, by the beautiful associations around him. Over the ocean do his mother's prayers often go to him.
Another picture. Oh no, it is too real. The old garret, and the empty cradle. She is living with Johnny, in his costly home. She is considered an intruder by the daughter-in-law; and her son — her Johnny — the first-born, whom she has watched over, and cradled on her bosom, and loved so, says: "Mother is getting to be quite troublesome — she is growing senile."
The desolate old grandmother knows this, and longs for the grave. She has outlived all that makes life attractive. God compass that weary, almost worn-out heart with His love, and take her to His house of many mansions!