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26 A Spray of Wild Roses Although for several years my wife and children had spent four months of each year in West Salem, and notwithstanding the fact that my father was free to come down to visit us at any time, I suffered a feeling of uneasiness (almost of guilt),whenever I thought of him camping alone for the larger part of the year in that big, silent house. His love for the children and for Zulime made every day of his lonely life a reproach to me,and yet there seemed no way in which I could justly grant him more of our time.The welfare of my wife and the education of the children must be considered. He was nearing his eighty-fourth birthday, and a realization that every week in which he did not see his granddaughters was an irreparable loss, gave me uneasiness. It was a comfort to think of him sitting in an easy chair in the blaze of a fireplace which he loved and found a solace and yet he was a lonely old man—that could not be denied.He made no complaint in his short infrequent letters although as spring came on he once or twice asked,“Why don’t you come up? The best place for the children is on the lawn under the maples.” In one note to me he said,“My old legs are giving out. I don’t enjoy walking any more. I don’t stand the work of the garden as well as I did last year.You’d better come up and help me put in the seed.” This confession produced in me a keen pang. He who had marched so tirelessly under the lead of Grant and Thomas;he who had fearlessly cruised the pine forests of Wisconsin, and joyously explored the prairies of Iowa and Minnesota,was now uncertain of his footing.Alarmed more than I cared to confess, I hurried up to help him, and to tell him of the success of The Middle Border, which was in truth as much his story as mine. The air was thick with bird songs as I walked up the street, for it was late April,and I came upon him at work in the garden,bare309 Garland_Daughter_to press 10/20/06 3:44 PM Page 309 headed as usual, his white hair gleaming in the sunlight like a silver crown. Outwardly serene,without a trace of bitterness in his voice, he spoke of his growing weakness.“Oh, the old machine is wearing out,that’s all.”Aware of his decline he accepted it as something in the natural course of human life and was content. Several of his comrades had dropped away during the winter and he was aware that all of his generation were nearing their end.“There’s only one more migration left for us,” he said composedly ,yet with a note of regret. Not on the strength of any particular religious creed but by reason of a manly faith in the universe he faced death. He was a kind of primitive warrior, who, having lived honorably,was prepared to meet what was to come.“I’ve no complaint to make,” he said,“I’ve had a long life and on the whole a happy life. I’m ready for the bugle.” This was the faith of a pathfinder, a philosophy born of the open spaces,courage generated by the sun and the wind.“I find it hard to keep warm on dark days,” he explained.“I guess my old heart is getting tired,” and as he spoke I thought of the strain which that brave heart had undergone in its eighty years of action, on the battlefield, along the river, in the logging camps, and through out all the stern,unceasing years of labor on the farm.His tireless energy and his indomitable spirit came back, filling my mind with pictures of his swift and graceful use of axe and scythe, and when I spoke of the early days, he found it difficult to reply— they were so beautiful in retrospect. The next day was Sunday, and Sunday afternoon was for him a period of musing, an hour of dream, and as night began to fall he turned to me and with familiar accent called out,“Come,Hamlin , sing some of the songs your mother used to love,’’ and I complied , although I could play but a crude accompaniment to my...


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