"Please, ma'am, do you want to hire any help?" said a sweet, sad voice one morning, as I was taking a walk through the shady groves of Pleasant Retreat.
" Hire help ! " and as I looked at the ragged, shrunken form by my side, and peered into that childish face, so early marked with care, I instinctively said, " Indeed, what could a child of your size do ? "
"O, a great many things. Please let me work for you, lady do, for Charlie is so sick, mother can't go out to get work any more, and we have nothing in the house to eat, and no money to buy any thing with. Oh, if I could only earn a very little sum, just enough to buy a loaf of bread for mother, and a few crackers for poor sick Charlie I would be so glad! If you will only hire me, I will do any thing you wish. Won't you, please?"
"I do not need any help," I replied, really annoyed at the child's earnestness of manner, for had she not interrupted my quiet reverie, and overthrown all the beautiful "air castles" I was building? So I gave her a few pennies, and told her to run home, and I would call on her mother soon, and see what I could do for her. The child kindly thanked me and hurried away, while I resumed my walk; but it was useless trying to settle my mind again that morning, for that pleading voice was ringing in my ears, telling me, in tones too plainly to be mistaken, that instead of idling away my time thus, I ought to be lightening the burdens of the poor widow, whose cottage on yonder hill, I could plainly see from my own door, and who, I knew for some time past, had been toiling early and late, to keep her family from starving. Again the voice of duty was disregarded, and I returned to a home of luxury; and to quiet my conscience, took up a fascinating novel, and was soon deeply absorbed in its contents. Day after day passed, and though, at times, I would, in fancy, see the light form and hear the pleading tones of Lettie Lee, I neglected to fulfill my promise, and quieted my mind with the hope that somebody surely had cared for the family ere this, or that another time to inquire after them would do as well, till weeks passed, and I left my quiet country home, for one in the city of Boston.
Ten years, fraught with its many changes, passed away, and I again visited Pleasant Retreat. The lofty trees beneath whose shade I had loved so to wander, waved their heads even more proudly than on the day I left. The winding stream rippled along over its pebbly bed as in days of yore; but I noticed on the hill where had stood the weather-beaten cottage of the widow Lee, had been erected a beautiful mansion, which was surrounded by every thing that wealth or art could bring to make it attractive. I immediately inquired who were the
occupants of this lovely home; thinking I should proudly avail myself of the first opportunity to make their aquaintance; and still more anxious was I to meet them, when told that Hon. Mr. Waldron resided there. But what was my surprise to learn that his wife was the once ragged, starving Lettie Lee!
I learned also that the poor child wandered day after day inquiring for work, for she was too proud to beg, till one day, faint with weariness and hunger, she dropped by the road side, unable to proceed further. There she was found by Dr. Waldron, who chanced to be riding that way. The kind-hearted physician listened to her story, and kindly lifting her into his carriage drove to her mother's home.
A sadder sight never met his gaze, than that which he witnessed beneath that roof. In one corner of the room, on a bed of straw, lay the inanimate form of the mother, clasping her dead child in her arms. The doctor immediately applied restoratives to the woman, from, whom life was not quite extinct; but she only returned to consciousness enough to say, " My darling Lettie, I am so glad you have come! Oh, who will care for you when mother is gone?"
" I will," said the kind-hearted stranger, taking the hand of the dying woman, and placing it on the head of her sobbing child.
"May Heaven bless you," said the mother, "now I can go in peace. Lettie, be a good girl and meet me in heaven!" And with these words she passed to the other world.
As there were no neighbors very near, Mr. Waldron saw that the mother and son had a decent burial, then taking Lettie to his own home, he cared for her, and gave her the same advantages that he had given his own children, and she grew to womanhood, loving and beloved by all who knew her. Her adopted parents so appreciated her, that when the youngest son asked that she might become his bride, they gladly gave their consent. So Mark and Lettie Waldron now occupy that beautiful home, happy in each other's love but oh, the feelings of remorse that are mine, whenever I look that way; for I am constantly reminded of the mound in yonder church-yard, where on a plain marble slab, are engraven these words, " Here lie the remains of Mary and her son Charles Lee." Had I heeded the voice of duty, their lives might, no doubt, have been prolonged for many years. Oh, those lost opportunities for doing good! how they haunt us through this life, and perhaps will through-out the ages of eternity!
( Originally Published 1887 )
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