WHICH SHALL IT BE?
it be? Which shall it be?
I looked at John, John looked at me;
And when I found that I must speak,
My voice seemed 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 looked at John’s old garments worn;
I thought of all that he had borne
Of poverty, and work, and care,
Which I, though willing, could not share;
I thought of seven young 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 surveyed our band:
First to the cradle lightly stepped,
Where Lilian, the baby, slept.
Softly the father stooped to lay
His rough hand down in loving way,
When dream or whisper made her stir,
And huskily he said: “Not her!”
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 kissed 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!”
He whispered, while our eyes were dim.
bad Dick, our wayward son—
Turbulent, restless, idle one—
Could he be spared? Nay, He who gave
Bade us befriend him to the grave;
Only a mother’s heart could be
Patient enough for such as he;
“And so,” said John, “I would not dare
To take him from her bedside prayer.”
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 that lay
Across her cheek in wilful way,
And shook his head: “Nay, love, not thee,”
The while my heart beat audibly.
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 afterwards toil lighter seemed,
Thinking of that of which we dreamed,
Happy in truth that not one face
Was missed from its accustomed place,
Thankful to work for all the seven,
Trusting the rest to One in Heaven!