Short Stories » Florence


MORE than twenty years ago, while traveling in pursuit of pleasure and information, we were stopped by heavy snows, at a town where, pleasantly for us, some families whom we had formerly known were living. There was also a friend who had visited us in our own home, during his frequent trading trips to the coast, and he urged us to make our stay with his family. They had ample accommodations for persons and animals, so we settled down for a good long visit around among old friends and new. In this family there was a sweet little girl of about eighteen months old, so fair and spiritual looking and so angelic in disposition that I soon grew very fond of her. There was little hope of her ever becoming as strong and well as the other children, for one side of her body was almost helpless.

Although the telegraph kept us informed that the roads were still unbroken, and the snow was steadily filling the great canyons ahead of us, a partial spring was dawning in the valley where we were staying. The snow melted and thinned away the icy covering of the brooks, while here a tuft of green rose by the water's edge. Now* and then a bird sang, and for part of the day the sun was warm.

Early one forenoon I wrapped the dear child comfortably and told her mother I was going to give Florence the benefit of the fresh air, and would stay out as long as she seemed satisfied. The dear mother was glad, for she was too busy to do this herself. The little darling was smiles and wonder as I carried her along ; she looked with such eager eyes upon the swift-running and babbling water, listening and looking into my eyes as though asking what it meant. When I gathered the few slender grasses and put them in her tiny hand she was so happy. I used to walk with her as long as she staid awake. My arms never tired of her little form, for I loved to watch her lovely eyes follow the clouds, the flight of the snow- birds, or the sway of bare branches in the frequent breeze. When walking along the thinly built-up streets, I used to sing very quietly to her, and she would finally be fast asleep.

Then I would go into the house of some acquaintance.and lay her down among the cozy quilts and pil- lows.

Florence always took a long nap, and when she woke was so sweet and amiable and ready for her dinner. Then we would set out again and walk until it was wisest to go home. Upon our return Florence would be so cheerful that they began to build hopes. Babies quickly learn what to expect, and before many days had passed, she would turn around in her high-chair and point to her hood and cloak, hung against the wall. Often did I hasten my breakfast in answer to those sweet eyes looking so patiently at me, and when her mother would give her to me, all bundled up warm, the little sweetheart would try and get one hand out to pat our faces and hold it out for a kiss in the little white palm. Dear child, that was little enough to give her, just a kiss, but it satisfied her and she would smile "good-by" as we went out.

Thanks to the spring-time, we found a few leaves each day for Florence to hold, and a few evergreens helped out, also a little southernwood in a south corner gave a few sprigs to perfume the whole. Florence certainly grew better; she even tried one day to stand by a chair, but it was almost too soon. Some- times a trinket from my trunk found its way into her lap, and her pleasure seemed so gentle and complete.

The time drew near for us to resume our journey, and when I looked at the delicate child that still needed her daily walk, my heart reproached me for going away. I felt followed by the thought of a sweet little pale face waiting for me, and a word of permission when the others were starting would have held me back with the hild I had grown to love so. But I was to go on, and when I clasped her frail form in my arms, then gave her to her mother, it would have been hard for me to express the thoughts that arose. It looked selfish in me to go, when perhaps I might have been the means of saving her life by staying.

After we reached "the city " and the months rolled by until October, and the conference folks filled the streets, who should call one day but the parents of Florence! She was not with them, and I dared not to ask, but they understood. "Florence died in the summer. She missed those walks, and she never grew stronger but just faded away." Sometimes memory brings before me a fair little face, lighted by blue, wishful eyes,, and outlined by flossy golden tresses, with outreached hands that ask me to take her, but when I whisper " Florence, " it is gone.

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