“’—of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’” Peter finished it for her, his boyish voice a cry of agony.
A light, puffing breath, as of a candle blown out, exhaled from his mother’s lips. Her eyes closed, the hand in Peter’s fell limp and slack. The awful and mysterious smile of death fixed itself upon her pale mouth.
So passed Maria Champneys from her tiny house in Riverton, in the dawn of a winter morning, when the tide was turning and the world was full of the sound of water running seaward.
AT GRIPS WITH LIFE
The best or the worst thing that can happen to a boy in this country is to be poor in it for a while, to be picked up neck and crop and flung upon his own resources; not always to remain poor, of course, for one may be damned quite as effectually and everlastingly upon the cross as off it; but to be poor long enough to acquire a sense of proportion by coming to close grips with life; to learn what things and people really are, the good and the bad of them together; to have to weigh and measure cant and sentimentality and Christian charity—which last is a fearsome thing—in the balance with truth and common sense and human kindness. It is an experience that makes or breaks.
Peter had always adored his mother; but it wasn’t until now that he realized how really wonderful she had been. How she had kept the roof over his head, and his stomach somehow satisfied, and had sent him to church and to school decently enough clad, Peter couldn’t imagine.
There was no possibility now of regular schooling. Nature hasn’t provided as providently for the human grub as for the insect one. A human grub isn’t born upon a food-plant that is a house as well, nor is nature his tailor and his shoemaker. Peter wasn’t blood kin to anybody in Riverton, so there was no home open to him. He was deeply sensible of the genuine kindness extended to him in his dark hour, but he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, have gone permanently into any of their homes had he been asked to do so, which of course he wasn’t. He clung to the little house on the big cove. His mother’s presence lingered there and hallowed the place.
There was some talk of sending him to an orphanage—he was barely twelve, and penniless. But when Mrs. Cooke, the minister’s wife, mentioned it to Peter, gently enough, the boy turned upon her with flaming eyes, and said he wouldn’t stay in any asylum; he’d run away, and keep on running away until he died! Mrs. Cooke looked troubled, and said that Mr. McMasters, a vestryman in the church, was really the head and front of that project.
Peter went after Mr. McMasters, and found him in his grocery store—one of those long, dim country stores that sell everything from cradles to coffins. Mr. McMasters came from behind the counter, rubbing his hands.