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Mercy Philbrick's Choice   By: (1830-1885)

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To one who found us on a starless night, All helpless, groping in a dangerous way, Where countless treacherous hidden pitfalls lay, And, seeing all our peril, flashed a light To show to our bewildered, blinded sight, By one swift, clear, and piercing ray, The safe, sure path, what words could reach the height Of our great thankfulness? And yet, at most, The most he saved was this poor, paltry life Of flesh, which is so little worth its cost, Which eager sows, but may not stay to reap, And so soon breathless with the strain and strife, Its work half done, exhausted, falls asleep.


But unto him who finds men's souls astray In night that they know not is night at all, Walking, with reckless feet, where they may fall Each moment into deadlier deaths than slay The flesh, to him whose truth can rend away From such lost souls their moral night's black pall, Oh, unto him what words can hearts recall Which their deep gratitude finds fit to say? No words but these, and these to him are best: That, henceforth, like a quenchless vestal flame, His words of truth shall burn on Truth's pure shrine; His memory be truth worshipped and confessed; Our gratitude and love, the priestess line, Who serve before Truth's altar, in his name.

Mercy Philbrick's Choice.

Chapter I.

It was late in the afternoon of a November day. The sky had worn all day that pale leaden gray color, which is depressing even to the least sensitive of souls. Now, at sunset, a dull red tint was slowly stealing over the west; but the gray cloud was too thick for the sun to pierce, and the struggle of the crimson color with the unyielding sky only made the heavens look more stern and pitiless than before.

Stephen White stood with his arms folded, leaning on the gate which shut off, but seemed in no wise to separate, the front yard of the house in which he lived from the public highway. There is something always pathetic in the attempt to enforce the idea of seclusion and privacy, by building a fence around houses only ten or twelve feet away from the public road, and only forty or fifty feet from each other. Rows of picketed palings and gates with latches and locks seem superfluous, when the passer by can look, if he likes, into the very centre of your sitting room, and your neighbors on the right hand and on the left can overhear every word you say on a summer night, where windows are open.

One cannot walk through the streets of a New England village, without being impressed by a sense of this futile semblance of barrier, this touching effort at withdrawal and reticence. Often we see the tacit recognition of its uselessness in an old gate shoved back to its farthest, and left standing so till the very grass roots have embanked themselves on each side of it, and it can never again be closed without digging away the sods in which it is wedged. The gate on which Stephen White was leaning had stood open in that way for years before Stephen rented the house; had stood open, in fact, ever since old Billy Jacobs, the owner of the house, had been carried out of it dead, in a coffin so wide that at first the bearers had thought it could not pass through the gate; but by huddling close, three at the head and three at the feet, they managed to tug the heavy old man through without taking down the palings. This was so long ago that now there was nobody left who remembered Billy Jacobs distinctly, except his widow, who lived in a poor little house on the outskirts of the town, her only income being that derived from the renting of the large house, in which she had once lived in comfort with her husband and son. The house was a double house; and for a few years Billy Jacobs's twin brother, a sea captain, had lived in the other half of it. But Mrs. Billy could not abide Mrs. John, and so with a big heart wrench the two brothers, who loved each other as only twin children can love, had separated. Captain John took his wife and went to sea again... Continue reading book >>

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