by Jessie Maria Goldney (1849-1923)
A young woman, the “flower” of her village, falls for the wastrel brother of a school friend.
It was on a bright clear spring afternoon, when the birds were warbling sweetly amongst the green trees, and the flowers and leaves were all blossoming in all the fairness and freshness of nature, when the skies were bluest, bedecked with snowy clouds, like a picture of fairyland. It was on just such an afternoon, with the drowsy hum of the bees in the distance, and the faint tinkle of the sheep-bell from afar, and the odoriferous scent of the fair-tinted flowers around in the air, that I wended my way to the little churchyard of Atherton, a sweet little rural village, to which I was paying a few weeks visit, but whose surroundings I had not yet had opportunity to explore.
As I opened the little white age of the cemetery and beheld the blooming yew and cypress nodding mournfully over the hillocks, of all sizes; some newly-made, with the fresh earth heaped on them, others grassgrown, or with the sweet violets and daisies, or wreaths strewn over them, telling of loving hands that still cared for the dead. As I noted the marble tablets and tombstones of some telling the names and ages of the fair household flowerets that slept below, with sweet verses and holy texts, and all speaking of the gar blessed haven which they had reached, and saw others with only a small willow or simple wooden cross to mark their resting place, and as I mused with half pensive, half mournful frame, which one generally feels stealing over the mind half unconsciously when brought in contact with the dead, and here they rest, I thought, so calmly and peacefully, so free from all pain and sorrow; safe in the everlasting home till the resurrection morn shall wake them to newer and holier joys ever found upon earth, and as a vision of the fleeting nature of all things in this life arose before me the transient joys, the weariness, and sadly aching hearts oft found here below, the wish and longing almost yearningly arose; — would that I, too, were at rest; but then as I mused on all the love and tenderness which surrounded me on every side, life is so fraught with, blessings of the many mercies sent to gladden earth’s pathway of the spheres of usefulness opened to us of the blessed privilege of relieving and pouring balm into the weary and aching hearts around, of the means of developing the talents entrusted to us, I expressed the murmur as I strove to say — “Thy will be done.”
Then passing up the trimly-kept little paths I beheld an old man with a mild benignant expression of face busily engaged in digging a grave. After a time he climbed out of it, and stood gazing sadly and thoughtfully into its depth. On observing me he touched his hat respect-fully and remarked —
“A very fine afternoon, Miss.”
“Very, I answered; and after a few commonplace remarks about indifferent topics the old man observed as he noticed my rather enquiring expression of countenance —
“Mine is rather a sad occupation, Ma’am.”
“Well, yes, rather;” I answered, “but I suppose it is also one of necessity.”
“Yes, yes,” responded the old man sighing, “but I little thought to have occasion to do this to-day.”
“Indeed! one of your friends,” I asked.
“Well, no, Miss, not exactly; she was rather a step above me for that, but she had always a kind word and a bright smile for poor old uncle Norman. Heaven bless her,” added the old man, wiping his eyes, “and my Missus fairly worshipped her; poor little dear Susie. Why, Ma’am, I watched that, little’un from a wee bit of a thing tripping about till she grew to be one of the sweetest and prettiest girls as you’d see on a summer’s day. I saw her wedded in this very chapel, and a bonny little bride she was, and now I little thought that these hands would make her last resting place.”
“Then the lady was married,” I asked, feeling a strange interest in the old man’s story.
“Well, yes she was, worse luck, poor dearie,” sighed he, mournfully shaking his head, “to a scamp not worthy of her; Susie Meredith, she used to be; Mrs. Bernard, she is now. But if you are not above stepping into my cottage, miss, till the funeral comes, I’ll tell you a little about her. My missus will be glad to see you.”
So saying the old man led the way to his little homestead, a pretty cottage all wreathed over with ivy and honey-suckle. The neat and trim-looking good wife made me welcome, offering me a glass of milk and a biscuit after my walk; and the old man, placing a chair for me in the pleasant verandah over-looking the charming garden, and seating himself opposite on a rustic bench, with his good wife beside him, began his narrative, the old lady — who was busy with her knitting— often wiping her eyes, in which I kept her company.
Susan — or Susie Meredith, as she was generally called — was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer in the village of Atherton, and considerably looked up to by the country people about. She was one of the prettiest and sweetest girls to be found for many miles round, and a great favorite with everybody on account of her artless bewitching ways. Gay as a singing bird, ever carolling either some sweet ditty or fragments of old hymns, with a sweet smile and bright word for everybody, little wonder was it that Susie was beloved; nor was it for the fairness of the sweet child-like face, for the grace of the petite figure, that Susie was so popular. Nay, it was the sweetness of disposition, the kind generosity of heart, that made every face light up, and a smile pass over hard faces as she appeared, while the involuntary “Heaven bless her” rose earnestly from the heart. Truth seemed written on the broad white brow, from which the fair brown hair rippled in clustering waves, and candour and open ingenuousness to gleam from the sweet, blue eyes, and sweet sensitiveness and refinement of feeling, to quiver on the delicate full-curved lip.
Susie, it may be supposed, was not without her admirers. Far from it; there were not a few of the simple, earnest, but kindly honest-hearted sons of industry whose hearts beat quicker, and whose pulses throbbed with a strange ecstatic thrill whenever the sweet child-face and graceful plump little form appeared; but to them Susie was provokingly indifferent, and it was small wonder if our little heroine was not the least bit of a flirt. Better for her, alas! poor child, that she had given her warm little impulsive heart to some of these excellent and honest sons of toil; better, a thousand times, that she had yielded to their earnest entreaties, for her to link her fate with theirs — in their fond and longing whispers of “Do dear; oh! do.”
But after a time Susie was sent away to our gay city of Adelaide, to school, and though the village sadly missed her light foot-steps and winsome ways, yet they were cheered as by a flood of sunshine, or a gleam of spring-time, by her occasional visits in the school holidays, when she would appear amongst them apparently as charming, frank, and unsophisticated as ever. But there were certain rumors of attraction elsewhere for the blythesome Susie, in the person of a dashing young clerk in one of the Banks, with whom she had become acquainted during her brief sojourn at her aunt’s, and to whom, it was said, the capricious little maiden had bestowed all her earthly affection.
And when at length he made his appearance with a young lady, a schoolfellow of Susie, though whom she made her acquaintance,— and when his slight graceful form was seen beside the sylph-like Susie, and the face so pleasant and attractive with the violet eyes, shaded by long dark lashes, was bent to catch, as if it were, every low-spoken sweet sound, or joined merrily in the silvery laugh, as the wee white hand rested so easily and lovingly — with woman’s intuitive, winning fondness — on the manly arm of the young stranger, folks began to look wise, and nod their heads as they prophesied that ere long the strange young gentleman would be transplanting their little village daisy, as they styled Susie; and while an involuntary sigh would escape the indulgent father, to whom she was — as he often declared — the light of his eyes, as he patted the fair hair of his darling, and noted the bright love-light in her soft eye, and the sweet rose-flush that would mantle her face whenever the handsome face of Vivian Bernard appeared at the door under pretext of champion for his sister Rose. And her mother — to whom she was, as she often phrased it, her right hand — would hold her close to that loving breast, that safe refuge to those who in after years have passed child-hood’s border land, as she breathed a prayer on that young head in the words — “Heaven bless my Susie.”
And so at length it came to pass that Vivian Bernard became quite a regular visitor at the homestead, till it became quite a familiar thing to see his pretty roan pony tied up at the slip-panel, or to see the gay saucy face of Susie’s lover, strolling by the side of the fair girl over the pleasant fields and through the sunny gardens; and as they saw the bright smiles wreathing the sweet girlish face, and saw the glad light in her eyes, little wonder that the same fervent prayer for her happiness rose in their hearts, as in that of old Squire Meredith’s when Susie had knelt before him for his blessing, which he freely gave with the murmured voice of love — “Heaven bless my loving little girl;” then placing the small hand in that of Vivian, he added — “Oh, sir, tenderly cherish and love our frail blossom;” to which Vivian had warmly responded — “Ah! will I not, sir.”
Did Vivian Bernard keep his vow in the after years? We shall see.
Susie’s two brothers — John, a grave sensible youth, older by some years, and Frank, a merry mischief-loving lad, nearer to her in age, and who both thought there never could be such a bewitching bright darling little sister anywhere as their Sue, as they used to call her, were quite fascinated by the charming stranger, who made himself so agreeable to them both, entering with such zest into their amusements and studies; and though John would look very grave, and an ominous frown contract the sunny brow of the lively Frank at the prospect of losing their sister, yet they tried to think of that as something far off yet; and, meanwhile, Vivian Bernard was so pleasant and entertaining that they could not but like him immensely. So the spring slipped away all too soon for the happy, bewitched Bernard, and summer began in all its golden glory to approach, when one evening, after a short absence, Vivian Bernard appeared at the door of the parlor, where Frank was sitting at the table repairing a riding whip.
“Well, Frank,’’ was his free and easy familiar greeting, “how does the world use you, eh, my boy?” as he shook hands with and clapped the youth on the shoulder. “What, Viv, this you?” “Well; yes, what’s left of me. But where’s Susie?”
“I say, Sue” cried Frank, in the usual impulsive manner, in which boys of his age demonstrate themselves, “Here’s Viv; make haste.”
Vivian Bernard threw himself into an easy chair, with the air of a privileged person. Presently light steps were heard, tapping the floor of the passage, and a plump little figure, with the light of gladness shining from the bright blue eyes, and a happy smile parting the sweet mouth and dimpling the young face, came fluttering in, sleeves rolled above the tapering rounded arms; and the soft masses of hair floating from the fair brow, as she exclaimed in answer to Vivian’s loving greeting and caress.
“Oh, Viv! dearest Vivian! how glad I am that you have come.” And little wonder that at sight of so bright a vision Vivian should catch her close to his breast, and hold her close, as we only clasp earth’s brightest treasures, and Susie with smiles dimpling all over her sweet rosebud of a face could not pretend to be otherwise than glad to see him when her little heart was just fluttering in a state between thankfulness and pleasure. She was no heartless coquette, this Susie of ours, affecting what she did not feel.
“ ‘Pon’ my word, Susie,” began Vivian after the first love greetings were over, “you grow more bewitching every time I come; where have you been, ma chere, helping mother in the back region, eh!
“Susie in the kitchen,
Susie in the hall,
Susie in the parlor,
I like her best of all,”
sang Vivian mischievously.
“Indeed, Sir,” cried Susie, blushing prettily, as she imperiously stamped her little foot, “you are to like me everywhere always best.”
“Am I, indeed,” cried Vivian, laughing, with a tender half-roguish light in his beautiful bright violet eyes, “come here, and kiss me, my pretty Sue, and see what I have brought you;” and winding his arm round the young girl’s waist, he drew her closer to his side while he quickly drew from a small paper parcel and slid a gleaming golden circlet on the slight tapering finger, adding. “I can do no longer without you, my village daisy, sweetest of wayside flowers come to me and be my own;” and as Susie, her sweet face suffused with deep blushes, hung her head, she answered —
“Do you really want me so much, dearest Vivian.”
Vivian, for an answer, drew her closer to him once more, and murmured low in her ear, as only men of his class can do, that he always wanted her — that she alone could satisfy the craving and want of his life, and thus it came to pass that as is ever the case in a love story, the ever old, ever new experienced friends were talked over, and parents persuaded, the homestead decorated, the neighborhood more or less invited to the festivities of the day, and a blythe little wedding was held, and Susie became Mrs. Vivian Bernard, and drove off amid April tears and smiles and heartfelt blessings and congratulations from the friends and fair bridesmaids, to the city.
True it was that certain rumors were occasionally heard from thence of Vivian’s entertaining too strong an attachment to the billiard table; too great an inclination to tarry over the marriage; yet, after all, these were only vague rumors afloat, and it did not do, of course, the villagers said, to believe all one heard.
Four years have passed away; we will now, gentle reader, take a peep into Susan Bernard’s home and see how it has fared with her. It is a small house and of rather more scanty belongings than that in which we should have expected to find it; one could never think of associating anything but nicety and good management with Susie. But though all within seems apparently comme il faut somehow there is a barrenness so to speak, an absence of that innate refinement in the adjustment of the somewhat shabby furniture and belongings that jar rather painfully on our ideas of what Susie’s home should be.
A little child of three is dragging up and down a broken toy wagon; it needs but a glance at the wee fair face of the little maiden to see whom she belongs to; it is, in fact, a true edition of our former little friends; and those deep violet eyes surely belong to Vivian Bernard, a pretty little face truly, but on the small baby features there is an absence of that careless infant glee, a quaintness in the movements which rather send a feeling of pain to the heart, than thrill it with that glow of pleasure one feels on beholding sweet childhood by the table; her fair hand engaged on some delicate embroidery sits a woman, still girlish and youthful in her demeanor.
But can this be our Susie; this fragile careworn creature; every trace of the deep coloring fled from the poor white face, the sweet eyes looking so large and wistful in their expression, the dimpled cheek now thin and sharp in the outline, a hollow cough shakes the slight form and two spots glow on the pale face; the small hands so thin and almost transparent ply their task, with an energy that seems to imply that it is done more for necessity than pleasure? At her side one small foot touches the rocker of a bassinet in which a young infant sleeps; and is this how Vivian Bernard has kept his vow to guard from ill and storm, the frail blossom? We shall see.
Presently a low cry is heard from the cradle, and Susie flinging down her work snatches up her babe wrapped in a thick plaid shawl, this one relic of her happy girlhood, and which most likely she has taken from her own shoulders to wrap round her child. Presently baby’s cries being soothed by Susie, after half unconsciously humming a fragment of a song often sung in happier days. By and bye the little girl left her playthings and came and leaned her soft head against her mother’s knee. Susie was not so occupied, but what she found time to stretch one hand caressingly on the sunny curls.
“What is it, Rosie;” she asked tenderly, “does my little girl want any thing?”
“Yes, mamma, yes;” and the small lip quivered.
“What dearie, a biscuit.”
“No, mamma, no;” and tears like liquid gems trembled in the violet eyes, and ran in a pearly shower down the fair cheeks as she sobbed convulsively — “Oh! mamma, you are always working, sewing; you never seem to have time to speaks to Rosie; I want you to love and kiss me as you used to.”
Susie caught the little child up in her arms ; the little earnest appeal was but an echo of her own heart cry, and almost yearning prayer; she, too, was longing, craving for somebody to love and pet her as he used to when the sky seemed so bright and her every wish was sacred; tears of mother and child mingled as rain, while Susie caressed and soothed the little one as only a mother’s tender love can.
Presently a light tap was heard at the door, and a young lady clad in silks and furs entered; it was Rose Bernard, the old schoolfellow of former days, still retaining much of her old girlish fondness for Susie, though she secretly marvelled why one so blythe and still pretty, if she would but smarten up a bit, should become so dowdy; but she supposed it was the way with most married women, but she inwardly determined it should not be so with her, for pretty Rose Bernard was soon to link her destiny with that of a rich merchant, and to grace a mansion.
“Well, Sue,” was her salutation, as she kissed Susie’s fresh face, “coddling your bairn, eh? I ran in just in a hurry while Papa made a call, to see if you can go with us to-night.”
“Where is it, Rose?’’
“Oh, only to hear the celebrated singer, Madame something or other with Raymond, and his sister and brother, and we want you; do come, Sue.”
Susie shook her head as she replied, “I cannot dear; who would see to Susie and baby?”
“Oh, what a nuisance children are. Vivian can mind them though; he ought to, Sue, of course, but men are so selfish.”
A quick flash came into Susie’s eyes, and a color suffused her sweet face as she answered, with somewhat of her old spirit, “Hush! hush! Rose, I cannot let you say any such thing about dear Vivian, who is nothing of the kind, it is not true. I wonder too,” she added, an arch expression coming over her face, “when you are going to be married yourself, Rose?”
“Well, if I am,” returned Rose, somewhat confused, as she laughed, and blushed. “I am sure that is no reason why I should be tyrannized over, is it? For Heaven’s sake, child,” she cried, as her little namesake toddled up to her with outstretched hands, “mind my dress,” gathering up, as she spoke, the expensive silk with her delicately gloved hands. “Kiss me if you will, dear, but have a little regard for Auntie’s general appearance. Well, Sue,” she continued, patting her little niece on the shoulder, “you will come, will you not.”
“No thank you, Rosie, I cannot.”
“Oh, well I must really go,” responded Rose, consulting a tiny gold watch, “dear me! how close these rooms are. I wonder that you are not stifled Sue, it is strange that Viv — but there, I suppose,” a mischievous light coming into her eyes, “that I must not say any more.”
Susie shook her hand playfully, as Rose retreated— this spoilt child of fashion, how could she, in her girlish gaiety and light-heartedness, understand the mute, uncomplaining sufferings of poor, almost heart-broken Susie. So Rosie went home to music, as she leaned back amid the soft cushions of the carriage, and afterwards to confide to her mother how pale and worn poor Susie looked; and that she really ought to have a change; for she was not hard-hearted, this gay, brilliant Rose, only thoughtless.
Meanwhile, Susie, once more left to herself, moved about with a brighter look which always, more or less, came to Susie at the close of the day; for was not Vivian coming home soon? So Susie spread the white damask on the table, and de-posited the little supper as cozily as possible thereon; and shaking up the cushions in the arm chair, and placed the easy slippers near at hand. Little Rose having been duty taught, as was her custom, knelt as some white robed saint, to implore God’s blessing on the dear, absent Papa, and bring him safely home to mamma and darling brother Harry, had been tucked away in her nest, and was far away in the land of dreams, sleeping the slumber of the innocent.
Susie took care to have Rose in bed before Vivian came home; he having, on finding her up, plainly indicated his displeasure, and also his dislike to having children bothering round a fellow so, when he came home weary at nights. Where upon Susie, with a flash of her old self, had indignantly declared that he should never so be plagued. But directly after she was all tenderness again, and her heart clung to him as fondly as ever.
Oh woman! woman! so constant, so faithful, little wonder that man, when he feels as he should, covets thee as Earth’s fairest jewels, clinging so tenaciously even to the most unworthy object, so faithful in adversity, and every changing scene.
Susie sat down at last with her baby in her arms, to await her husband’s return. Presently quick footsteps were heard from without, the door flying open, and Vivian Bernard entered the room. Rather changed from the gay careless Vivian of yore, the marks of dissipation and fast living were but too plainly visible on that handsome face. There was a careless negligence in his manners, and a looseness in his expression when conversing; formerly unknown to Vivian Bernard, Susie had at first been shocked at the occasional oath that would slip out, when Vivian was annoyed, but she had, alas, become accustomed to it.
“Come Sue!” he cried, “make haste, I am in a desperate hurry.”
“Oh! Vivian, what for?” cried Susie in wondering dismay.
“Now don’t stand bothering a fellow, girl, make haste,” an ominous frown gathering on his brow. Susie knew but too well what that meant; so hastily placing the viands on the table, she took her sonny, as she called him, in her arms and sat down, while her lord and master commenced his supper in not the best of tempers.
“What weak tea, Sue!” he began, “and the mutton is as tough as leather; really Sue you might have a little consideration for a fellow who has been out all day.”
A little consideration. Heaven help the girl! when her whole life and aim had been ever since her marriage, to gratify every wish and whim of him whom she had indeed taken for better for worse; and how could she provide any better for the wants of the household out of the gloomy means vouchsafed her?
And as Susie turned and bent her head lower over her boy’s face the tears fell fast again. At last Vivian, who in spite of his complaints had made a very fair meal from the despised fare, sprang up, and hastily putting on his great coat and muffler, cried —
“Well, I’m off now Sue to Madame’s concert, don’t mind sitting up for me, do you hear? I promised some fellows to go,” he added, half apologetically.
“Yes, Vivian,” answered Susie, faintly.
“What envying!’ exclaimed Vivian, angrily; “really Sue this is too bad, as if it were not enough for a fellow to be penned up in that dingy old counting room all day long, but when he comes home there’s nothing but howling children and lamenting.”
“Oh! Vivian, don’t,” cried Susie, in such a tone of real pain that Vivian was touched in spite of himself. He came over and patting her on the shoulder —
“Come now, old girl, don’t mind me, but really it rather is too bad of you, isn’t it?”
But in a moment Susie’s little yearning arms were flying around him convulsively, as she sobbed hysterically, piteously entreating.
“Oh! don’t leave me to-night, don’t go out; stay at home dear, oh! do.”
“But I must go, Sue,” answered Vivian, not unkindly. “I promised those fellows to meet them, and I must keep my word; what’s wrong, eh?”
“Oh, nothing Viv; only I am foolish and nervous, that’s all, and oh, Viv!”
“Well, Sue, what is it?”
And nestling closer to the man all so unworthy of her, Susie pleaded the wish her little child had uttered: “Only love me as you used to, Vivian dearest.”
“Of course I do Sue, how foolish you are. Do you think a fellow would marry a girl if he did not think something of her, and care for her besides?”
“Kiss me then Vivian, once.”
Vivian stooped and kissed the pallid lips again and again, for as we have said he was not hard-hearted, only selfish and thoughtless. And as he went out and stepped into the cold dark street, somehow the poor pale face of his little wife haunted him, and he stamped his foot down firmly on the pavement as he soliloquised. “Well it has been rather hard for her lately, poor lass; some day when the tide turns and these confounded debts are paid, I’ll make it up to Sue.”
But alas! for Vivian Bernard’s good resolutions, they all melted away before the enchanted singing, the hot supper, the brilliantly lighted saloon, the society of his companions, and the bewitching bagatelle.
A week has passed away, and Susie is once more alone at her work. She looks much the same as usual, except that the hectic spots burn more clearly on the almost transparent skin, and a racking cough shakes the slight frame. Presently a cab rattled up to toe door and stopped before Susie had time to recover from her surprise; the door was thrown open, she was caught and kissed, and almost strangled by a brown-bearded young fellow who exclaimed out of breath —
“So glad, Sue, old girl, we have got here at last. Jack ran down from Angaston for a holiday, and so we thought that we would just look you up, dear.”
The bright color flushed into Susie’s sweet face and the blue eyes filled with tears aft she exclaimed —
“Why, Frank, and you my dear, dear John,” and she threw herself into the arms of the somewhat kindly-looking eldest brother, whose greeting, though perhaps less demonstrative, was none the less tender than Frank’s had been, as he spoke soothingly as though addressing a child —
“Yes, my little sister, it is all true, and we have come to carry you off captive now at once, so get on your bonnet, Susie, and we will depart. Mother, when she had all her noisy boys around her once more, said, as did father, that she could not do without our little girl; our sweetest blossom,” answered tall, graceful John as he kissed the poor little pale face resting on his shoulder as full of content as a weary child’s.
“But Viv is away on business for a month.” “Well, all the better, Sue,” cried Frank, “why, how lonely you must find it by yourself.”
“Hallo, Tot,” he exclaimed suddenly, seizing hold of the shy little Rose, who had retreated to a corner at the entrance of the new comers, and was casting furtive glances from her soft blue eyes at her two uncles, “ ‘Pon my word,” continued he, “Susie, the second, you ought to be called, I think ; I say, Jack, isn’t this what you fellows that are up to the lingo call a facsimile?”
John nodded, and smiled as he placed the little maiden on his knee, while he proceeded to make her friendship by sundry sweets such as rarely fail to propitiate juveniles.
Susie sat chairing for a time quite happily with John’s arm clasped round her, and Frank holding her hand, making light of the change and alteration they noticed so painfully in her. She had not been very strong lately, and the town did not suit her so well, she believed, as the June country air, besides baby had not been well, and she had been up a good deal at night attending him, etc. Poor Susie, not a word concerning the late vigils, and almost heart-broken tears shed over Vivian’s wild unsteady ways before his absence, when he had so often returned home late frequently the worse for the wine-cup and the billiard saloon. Truly great is the love of woman!
“Ah! by the bye, Sue,” cried Frank, after a while, “where’s that precious son of yours; let’s have a peep at him.”
“ ‘Pon my word,” as Susie tenderly placed her boy in Frank’s arms, “what a living bundle of flannels and shawls; call this a boy, Sue, such a weak——.” But a playful clutch at Frank’s nut-brown curls, cut short whatever that young gentleman might have meant to say. “I say, Sue,” cried Frank, over his second cap of tea, “you must come; that old willow which we planted has grown so beautifully, and waves over so grace-fully, and old Polly, the horse you used to ride, you remember Sue, are both as frisky as ever, and Tabby, that was your little kitten, Sue, has grown into the finest cat imaginable, with two black and white sons for Rosie here to torment and teaze, and old Snooks has a store, and that pretty little May Marsden, the post-mistress (one of your girl, confidantes, by the way, was she not, Sue?) is married, nearly broke Jack’s heart, the little sinner,” with a mischievous glance at his brother, who laughed gaily, “and — but make haste Sue, the cab will be back presently, pack up your duds, lock up the jolly old house, and despatch a note to Vivian.”
Susie, whose eyes had brightened, with a sweet gladness beautiful to see, now looked grave again at the mention of Vivian.
“Do you really think I ought to go, John?” she queried earnestly of her brother; “would it be quite right?”
“Cease your rattle, Frank, and go and look for the cab.”
“Well, yes, my child,” he answered caressing the small hand laid appealingly on his arm, “you certainly are not well, and it is not good for you to be alone like this; besides, the change will be desirable for the children. Little Rose looks pale, a wee white rose truly, and you yourself are dying by inches here, my little Susie; you’ll come, won’t you dear?”
And so the note was written, and Susie and her children’s wardrobes were packed, and with a false strength and energy the young wife sprang about, declaring that she felt almost well at the sight of her dear brothers, and the thought of seeing her childhood’s home again, for brief and few bad been her visits there; and so she went home to her mother’s loving arms, to be nursed and petted back again to life and health, if that were possible; but, alas it was all too late.
For a time Susie seemed to rally, the long walks and drives, the pleasant visiting, the sight of the roses coming back to her little daughter’s face, and the growth and sturdiness of her baby-boy were as medicine to her weary soul; above all a kind letter written by Vivian in one of his penitent moods, did much to cheer and comfort her, as he expressed his approval of the step she had taken, charging her to soon get well and strong again for his sake, against he came to fetch her back again.
But after awhile the lamp of her life, that had flamed up so brightly for a time, began to wane: the best doctor from the city and nurses from amongst the villagers, who had all, at Susie’s return clustered round her, glad to have their pet amongst them once more, were procured, especially the old grave-digger’s wife, but Susie’s days, it was evident, were numbered; alas! hard trial and privation had done their work on that delicate frame; above all, the craving and starving in her heart for her husband’s fitful affection, and oft times seeming in-difference, had surely done the rest.
But before Susie died, in the little church where she had so often, from childhood to girlhood listened to the teachings, from his revered servant of God’s Holy Word, she at length found refuge from the storms of life; in the Rock of Ages the poor weary one found sweet comfort and rest in the arms of the loving Saviour of earth’s sad and toil-worn children, and leaving her almost worse than orphaned little ones to His tender care and keeping, while loving friends and her fond parents gathered round the couch of the fair young sufferer, she, even as a little, weary, worn-out child peacefully fell asleep safe in that Haven of Rest, where storms no more could reach her.
Vivian did not receive the telegram which was sent to him till it was too late, and so it came to pass that his young wife had to go through the dark valley without the hand to clasp or the arm to lean upon, of her nearest and dearest; and so, poor Susie, white and still, with a sweet repose on her child-like face, to which, in a great measure, came back much of its former native grace and beauty, was laid away in her coffin, amongst the white flowers.
And this was the end of the old man’s tale; little wonder that my eyes were wet as well as his, and when a few minutes later I sat in the little church, where the coffin was placed with wreaths of fair blossoms, and heard at the grave the old but ever new words “I am the Resurrection and the Life;” and noted the silvery hair and bowed form of the aged sire, the sable-robed, heart-broken mother, and sobbing child Rosie, my heart could not but ache with tender pity, as I, with the group of sorrowing villagers, heard the earth rattle sadly on the coffin, “earth to earth, dust to dust,” and looking in saw the last of what was indeed a daisy crushed.
Later still I heard of Vivian Bernard. It appeared that business had detained him later than he had calculated at first, and thoughtless and careless up to the last, he had delayed writing, thinking Sue was all right at home. The shock of her death sobered him; in his, alas! often wild courses, and many and bitter were his self-reproaches, while poor, thoughtless Rose, his sister, wept in real distress when she heard the sad news, for she was warm-hearted after all, and the event tended, in a great measure to make of her a tried and more noble woman, more fitted to adorn the bright sphere in which she was soon after placed.
When Vivian hastened home to meet the parents of his lost Susie, all was forgiven, as they had promised their child it should be on her death-bed, and all that Susie’s father, old Mr. Meredith, said, as he held out his hand, was “Son, you are forgiven for the sake of our child.” With many prayers and vows for the future, and tenderly embracing his little ones, once more, Vivian at length departed again to his routine of city life, leaving his children to their grandparents’ care, who insisted on keeping them for Susie’s sake; so he went back to keep, we will hope, once more the good resolutions, and renewed vows, which arose from “A Daisy Crushed.”
Goldney, Jessie Maria, “A Daisy Crushed” (1876, short story): published in serial form in Bunyip (Gawler, SA): 21 Apr 1876; 28 Apr 1876; 5 May 1876.