The air was full of sweetness, the tall spire of the village church had just caught the last rays of the descending sun, crimsoning its glittering vane; while in the distance the forest vista, already in shadow, was lit as by enchantment; innumerable fire-flies were there sporting through their brilliant voluptuous life, with luster ever burning brighter as darkness deepened.
Within the little cottage of Jacob Somers, the table had long been spread for the evening meal; his wife Rachel had displaced and re-arranged, at least a dozen times, the brown loaf, the rich-looking golden cheese, the plate of berries, and the homely milk-jug, seeking thus to wile away the time. She had long ended her household labors, and for an hour and more had been anxiously awaiting the return of her husband. Again she took a seat by the window, and pressing aside the trailing jasmine and wild rose, which afforded so fragrant a shade from the noontide heat, looked eagerly to the hillside, the path whence he usually returned. Just within sight was the clear lake, so replete with mournful memories, as the blinding tears gathered in her eyes.
Jacob, with heavy, listless step, entered the room; he bore the appearance of one utterly regardless of all things; his eye was dull and cold; yet there was a contraction of the brow that spoke of pain, and possibly bitter grief. Carelessly he threw his coat across a chair-back, as he took a seat by the table. No change of countenance betokened interest or affection, as he replied to Rachel's kind words of inquiry. "Yes, the oxen had been long put up; 'twas hours since he had worked."
Then, as if the mere utterance of these few words were painful, he buried his face in his hands, taking no note of the bowl of milk Rachel had pushed towards him. A moment passed; again the hands were withdrawn; while, more from habit than necessity, he commenced eating the bread he had broken into the milk. A large Newfoundland dog had crept to his feet, and now sought to win his attention; if possible to engage him in a game of romps as of old; suddenly Jacob gazed on the dog. Yes, 'twas plain enough, he held in his teeth a stocking — a child's stocking — the sight revived all his grief; the assumed calmness fled; all stoicism was gone; with each sinew strained, each feature working convulsively, the strong man flung himself on the floor, writhing with anguish.
And where was Molly? the farmer's only child — his little darling — she who had made his home a paradise, by her childish prattle and endearing ways — she who had ever welcomed him with kisses. She was the hidden pearl who made blaze of glory in that lowly cottage; the little one, who, with voice so sweet, would question him of Heaven, until he, the father, had learned from his child, "From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise!"
Molly had been drowned. These few terrible words comprised an eternity of agony. Rachel's memory was no less fond. Her bosom still throbbed with the pressure of that tiny form she had there hushed to sleep last week, yet, woman-like, she suppressed her grief to comfort the heart whose sobs were so despairing. No; she had not forgotten how lifelike looked the little one on her funeral couch — a smile playing round the dimpled mouth; the golden curls resting on the fair cheek; the hands folded over a bunch of violets, fitting emblem of such purity and loveliness — all seemed more sleep than death. Her own hands had arranged the robe worn on her birthday festival, and tied up the sleeves with blossom-colored bows; and even while thus arraying her treasure for the grave — while her tears fell fastest — she felt that "Those whom God loves, He chastens," striving submissively to say, "Not my will, but Yours, O Lord! be done!"
As all these recollections were stirred afresh by her husband's outburst of sorrow, a shadow seemed to fall from her gaze — her duty plainly revealed was before her, to lead Jacob's mind from the ghastliness and terror of death, which now oppressed him — to the hope in God, which comforted her. Kneeling, she raised her husband's face, and kissed the embrowned forehead.
Thus, with words of grave tenderness and simple teachings, she strove to lead his mind heavenward — to give another bend to the images imagination presented. Long it was before the farmer could find consolation; long before he could drive away the torturing thought of the loving farewell in the morn, as she climbed his knee and clung to his neck — with the painful contrast which met him on his return at eve — a dripping, lifeless mass, drawn from the lake which had drunk up her young life, as in innocent play on its brink, she had slipped and fallen in.
But the loving wife persevered, and an unknown calm descended on the mourners, and, as they knelt in prayer, resigning themselves to the wise and holy will of God.