“It ain’t any use! it ain’t any use!” she wailed out. “If there is a God He won’t hear me, He won’t help me, He won’t bring him back. He only does His own will forever. Oh, Abel, Abel, Abel! Oh, my husband! Where are you? where are you? Where is the head that I’ve held on my breast? Where are the lips I have kissed? I couldn’t even see him laid safe in his grave—not even that comfort! Oh, Abel, Abel, my husband, my husband! my own flesh and my own soul, torn away from me, and I left to draw the breath of life! Abel, Abel, come back, come back, come back!”
Ann Edwards’s voice broke into inarticulate sobs and moans; then she did not speak audibly again. Jerome lay back in his bed, cold and trembling. Elmira, in the next chamber, was sound asleep, but he slept no more that night. A revelation of the love and sorrow of this world had come to him through his mother’s voice. He was shamed and awed and overwhelmed by this glimpse of the nakedness of nature and that mighty current which swept him on with all mankind. The taste of knowledge was all at once upon the boy’s soul.
The next morning Jerome arose at dawn, and crept down-stairs noiselessly on his bare feet, that he might not awake his mother. However, still as he was, he had hardly crossed the threshold of the kitchen before his mother called to him from her bedroom, the door of which stood open.
“Who’s that?” called Ann Edwards, in a strained voice; and Jerome knew that she had a wild hope that it was his father’s step she heard instead of his. The boy caught his breath, hesitating a second, and his mother called again: “Who’s that? Who’s that out in the kitchen?”
“It’s only me,” answered Jerome, with that most pitiful of apologies in his tone—the apology for presence and very existence in the stead of one more beloved.
His mother drew a great shuddering sigh. “Come in here,” she called out, harshly, and Jerome went into the bedroom and stood beside her bed. The curtain was not drawn over the one window, and the little homely interior was full of the pale dusk of dawn. This had been Ann Edwards’s bridal chamber, and her children had been born there. The face of that little poor room was as familiar to Jerome as the face of his mother. From his earliest memory the high bureau had stood against the west wall, near the window, and a little round table, with a white towel and a rosewood box on it, in the corner at the head of the great high-posted bedstead, which filled the rest of the room, with scant passageway at the foot and one side. Ann’s little body scarcely raised the patchwork quilt on the bed; her face, sunken in the feather pillows, looked small and weazened as a sick child’s in the dim light. She reached out one little bony hand, clutched Jerome’s poor jacket, and pulled him close. “What’s goin’ to be done?” she demanded, querulously. “What’s goin’ to be done? Do you know what’s goin’ to be done, Jerome Edwards?”