One Young Man Receives A Letter
( Originally Published 1917 )
GEORGE'S stepfather wrote to Sydney Baxter as soon as he received the heartbroken letter telling of his chum's death. To this letter from the father I devote a chapter. It must stand alone.
In all the glorious annals of the war it is, to me at least, unique. Nothing that I can write can add to its pathos or increase its heroism or enhance its beauty. I leave it to speak for itself—this letter which will live, I believe, as the most beautiful expression of a stepfather's love and devotion in our language.
" MY DEAR LADDIE,
" Our hearts are breaking for you, and our thoughts and prayers are much taken up on your behalf. All along we have united you and George in our petitions, and all that was sent addressed to George was meant for Syd and George. We never thought of you separately at all, but just as sure as you shared all in common, so our thoughts were for you both.
" George's call home was undreamt of by me. It was dreaded by his mother, but I hardly think the possibility of such a thing had entered into the minds of his sisters or brothers. I cannot explain it, but I never expected him to give his life out there. I knew many were praying for you both, and must have rested my mind completely on the expectation of our prayers being answered in the way we wanted. It was not to be. And at the first look one feels rebellious in that God permitted his death to take place_ But who am I, and of what account am I, in the scheme of things ? Can I understand the infinite thought of God ? Can I see the end, as He can ? I can only bow my head, with a heart full of sadness, and accept the ruling of my God; and hope for a reunion with our dear lad when my call shall come. It was something for me, a stepfather, to have had the fathering of such a dear lad. It is a heart-break to me that that is ended, and never more in reality (though I expect often in mind) shall I hear his voice or feel his kiss, or see the dear lad, as he used in these later years to do, standing in front of the fireplace talking down at me on the chair or listening to me talking up at him on Saturday nights. You can picture him, I have no doubt. Now all is over, his place in the home is empty—but in the heart that can never be. His Mum (as he always called his mother) is heart-broken, but very brave. The dear woman is worthy to have had such a son, and that is praise indeed. If she was prouder of one of the children or made any distinction between them, George held that place, and though I think we were all conscious of it, none of us grudged it him. And that is the greatest tribute that could be paid to him when you think it out. We are all jealous of Mother's love. We all want it, and if one is first he must be good indeed if it is not a cause of trouble. And that it never was in his case.
" Now, my dear lad, I have a proposal to make to you. We received some money to send things out to the lads at the front, and there is some left. Besides, George sent some home, so that he might get what he wanted sent him without asking if I could afford it, I suppose. Well, I am to send you some little thing every now and then; you are to get another friend and share with him, and you are to make every endeavour short of cowardice (of which you are not capable) to save your life, valuable to all who have, the privilege of knowing you, doubly valuable to your mother, and precious to your many friends. We feel we have a personal claim on you, and I am writing you just as I would were you indeed my boy, and we entreat you to bear up, to do your duty, to be a brave and true and Christian lad, and to come back safe to us all. Oh, what a happy day it will be when we welcome you back home !
" We shall always think of you as partly ours; and for what you were to and did for George we will ever bless you. Dear lad, get another friend to lean upon and be leant upon. It is a glorious thing—friendship. You risked your life to try and save George's. God bless you for it. I think He will. If you could read our hearts, you would feel afraid. I cannot write as I would like. It is in my heart, in my brain, but the pen won't put in on the paper. It couldn't. But it is there, a deep love for you, a great admiration for your bravery, and an earnest prayer that you may be preserved to live a happy and useful life for many years to come.
" Mummie wishes me to say how her heart goes out to you, and how she feels for you in your loneliness. Be assured of a place in a good woman's prayers, and be assured also that all of us continue constantly in prayer for you. We did not know how constantly and continually we could petition the Great Father till you lads went away. We will not cease because one needs them no more. Rather we will be more constant, and perhaps that may be one of the results of this war. Think what a power the prayers of a whole world would have with God ! If only they were for the one thing—that His Kingdom would come, it would be accomplished at once ! May the knowledge of His all-pervading love dwell more and more in the hearts of the people of the world, so that wars and all kindred evils may cease and the hearts of the people be taken up with the one task of living for God and His Kingdom_
" May God be ever present with you, watching over and blessing you, and may He come into your heart more and more, helping and sustaining you in your hard task, and blessing you in all your endeavours to be His true son and servant.
" Your loving friend,
" P.S. We have not, up to the time of writing this, received an official notification of our poor laddie's death. I felt I must write you, however. You will perhaps be able to read into my letter what 1 have been unable to say, but all my thoughts for you are summed up in ' God bless you.' Thank all the dear lads for their kind sympathy with us."