THE STORY OF A LETTER *
HANSON and Louie lived in a small village in southeastern Pennsylvania in the days when your fathers and mothers were boys and girls. Hanson was thirteen, and, although Louie was two years younger, she had always been a little mother to Hanson. Many anxious fears troubled this small sister, fears lest her lively brother should come to grief at school through his love of fun and mischief. As she walked beside him down the village street, she would say, "Now, Hanson, thee will be good and study at school today, won't thee?" all of which, Hanson, with a merry twinkle in his eye, would faithfully promise.
There is nothing so nice as a party when you are thirteen or eleven, and this little Quaker boy and girl had enjoyed their full share of daytime parties, where they played mostly out-of-doors at blind-man's buff, drop the handkerchief, Ruth and Jacob, or best of all, had the old dough-chest filled with bran, in which were hidden mysterious little gifts to be fished out with a big spoon. Those parties had all been in the daytime, but one afternoon the unexpected happened. A note was left on Louie's desk inviting her and Hanson to an evening party. They were to start at seven-thirty and drive in a big hay-wagon several miles out into the country to the home of two of their school friends. It all sounded so new and interesting! Why, they might not get home until eleven o'clock! So Louie and Hanson ran gaily home to tell Father and Mother about it, although deep in their hearts lurked a fear lest perhaps Father might not approve. Hanson took the milk-pail and went down to the meadow where Blossom was patiently waiting at the bars, while Louie skipped into the house to announce the joyful news of the party.
A few minutes later, Hanson looked up from his milking to see a forlorn little figure coming slowly down the path. "Cheer up, sister," he shouted, for boys of thirteen do not care half so much about parties as girls do!
"But, Hanson, Father doesn't want us to go to the party, and I do want to go, when all the others are going."
"What did Father say, Sister?"
"Well, he said something about ten hours of sleep and nine o'clock bedtime for growing boys and girls and that it isn't good business policy to overdraw our health account any more than our bank account, and "
"Now, look here, Sis," interrupted Hanson, "I wouldn't cry about it, if I were thee. I say, let's go up to the house and talk it over with Father and Mother."
So up to the house they went, and, as they talked together, Father said, "Suppose we do something else this evening. Perhaps it may not seem so interesting to you now as the party, but I think it will give you more lasting pleasure. How would you like to write a letter to some great man, asking how he spent his time when he was your age? "
"Oh, yes, that would be interesting," cried Louie. Hanson looked a bit uncertain about it.
"Yes, let's write to John G. Whittier. Thee knows how we love 'Snow Bound,' Hanson, when Mother reads it to us by the fire on snowy evenings. Let's write to Whittier! I'll do it, if thee doesn't want to."
So Louie sat down at the big walnut secretary and began:
A little girl of eleven presumes to address thee. In behalf of myself and a brother, two years my senior, I write to ask how thee spent thy leisure time when thee was our age. Any reply that thee desires to make will be very much appreciated by two lovers of "Snow Bound."
This happened in the spring-time. Weeks went by and Louie saw by the paper that her beloved Quaker poet was very ill. Then, one day in the early autumn, Father came home, carrying in his hand a letter addressed with purple ink in a beautiful hand and postmarked Amesbury, Mass. Louie could hardly wait until the letter was carefully opened. Then she read:
AMESBURY, MASS., 9mo. 17, 1881.
MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND:
I think at the age of which thy note inquires I found about equal satisfaction in an old rural home, with the shifting panorama of the seasons, in reading the few books within my reach, and dreaming of something wonderful and grand somewhere in the future. Neither change nor loss had then made me realize the uncertainty of all earthly things. I felt secure in my mother's love, and dreamed of losing nothing and gaining much. Looking back now, my chief satisfaction is, that I loved and obeyed my parents, and tried to make them happy by seeking to be good. I had at that time a very great thirst for knowledge and little means to gratify it. The beauty of outward nature early impressed me. And the moral and spiritual beauty of the holy lives I read of in the Bible and other good books also affected me with a sense of my own falling short and longing for a better state.
With every good wish for thee, I am,
Thy sincere friend,
JOHN G. WHITTIER.