“Which shall it be? Which shall it be?”
I look’d at John - John look’d at me
(Dear, patient John, who loves me yet
As well as though my locks were jet);
And when I found that I must speak,
My voice seem’d strangely low and weak:
“Tell me again what Robert said.”
And then I, listening, bent my head.
“This is his letter: ‘I will give
A house and land while you shall live,
If, in return, from out your seven,
One child to me for aye is given.’”
I look’d at John’s old garments worn,
I thought of all that John had borne
Of poverty and work and care,
Which I, though willing, could not share;
I thought of seven mouths to feed,
Of seven little children’s need,
And then of this. “Come, John,” said I,
“We’ll choose among them as they lie
Asleep;” so, walking hand in hand,
Dear John and I survey’d our band.
First to the cradle lightly stepp’d
Where the new nameless baby slept.
“Shall it be Baby?” whispered John.
I took his hand, and hurried on
To Lily’s crib. Her sleeping grasp
Held her old doll within its clasp;
Her dark curls lay like gold alight,
A glory ‘gainst the pillow white.
Softly her father stoop’d to lay
His rough hand down in loving way,
When dream or whisper made her stir,
Then huskily said John, “Not her, not her!”
We stopp’d beside the trundle bed,
And one long ray of lamplight shed
Athwart the boyish faces there,
In sleep so pitiful and fair;
I saw on Jamie’s rough, red cheek
A tear undried. Ere John could speak,
“He’s but a baby, too,” said, I
And kiss’d him as we hurried by.
Pale, patient Robbie’s angel face
Still in his sleep bore suffering’s trace.
“No, for a thousand crowns, not him!”
We whisper’d, while our eyes were dim.
Poor Dick! bad Dick! Our wayward son,
Turbulent, reckless, idle one-
Could he be spared? Nay; He who gave
Bids us befriend him to his grave;
Only a mother’s heart can be
Patient enough for such as he;
“And so,” said John, “I would not dare
To send him from her bedside prayer.”
Then stole we softly up above
And knelt by Mary, child of love.
“Perhaps for her ‘twould better be,”
I said to John. Quite silently
He lifted up a curl astray
Across her cheek in willful way,
And shook his head: “Nay, love; not thee,”
The while my heart beat audibly.
Only one more, our eldest lad,
Trusty and truthful, good and glad -
So like his father. “No, John, no-
I cannot, will not, let him go.”
And so we wrote, in courteous way,
We could not give one child away;
And afterward toil lighter seem’d
Thinking of that of which we dream’d,
Happy in truth that not one face
We miss’d from its accustom’d place;
Thankful to work for all the seven,
Trusting the rest to One in heaven.
- Ethel Lynn Beers