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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

An Artist's Creation

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I had easily persuaded Janet to let me have a peep every night at my darling, as she slept; and once I was surprised to find Laura sitting by the small white bed. Graceful and beautiful as she always was, she never before had seemed to me so lovely, for she never had seemed quite like a mother. But I could not demand a sweeter look of tenderness than that with which she now gazed upon her child.

Little Marian lay with one brown, plump hand visible from its full white sleeve, while the other nestled half hid beneath the sheet, grasping a pair of blue morocco shoes, the last acquisition of her favorite doll. Drooping from beneath the pillow hung a handful of scarlet poppies, which the child had wished to place under her head, in the very superfluous project of putting herself to sleep thereby. Her soft brown hair was scattered on the sheet, her black lashes lay motionless upon the olive cheeks. Laura wished to move her, that I might see her the better.

"You will wake her," exclaimed I, in alarm.

"Wake this little dormouse?" Laura lightly answered. "Impossible."

And, twining her arms about her, the young mother lifted the child from the bed, three or four times in succession, while the healthy little creature remained utterly undisturbed, breathing the same quiet breath. I watched Laura with amazement; she seemed transformed.

She gayly returned my eager look, and then, seeming suddenly to penetrate its meaning, cast down her eyes, while the color mounted into her cheeks. "You thought," she said, almost sternly, "that I did not love my child."

"No," I said half untruthfully.

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"I can hardly wonder," she continued, more sadly, "for it is only what I have said to myself a thousand times. Sometimes I think that I have lived in a dream, and one that few share with me. I have questioned others, and never yet found a woman who did not admit that her child was more to her, in her secret soul, than her husband. What can they mean? Such a thought is foreign to my very nature."

"Why separate the two?" I asked.

"I must separate them in thought," she answered, with the air of one driven to bay by her own self-reproaching. "I had, like other young girls, my dream of love and marriage. Unlike all the rest, I believe, I found my visions fulfilled. The reality was more than the imagination; and I thought it would be so with my love for my child. The first cry of that baby told the difference to my ear. I knew it all from that moment; the bliss which had been mine as a wife would never be mine as a mother. If I had not known what it was to adore my husband, I might have been content with my love for Marian. But look at that exquisite creature as she lies there asleep, and then think that I, her mother, should desert her if she were dying, for aught I know, at one word from him!"

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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