An old wife sat by her bright fireside,
Swaying thoughtfully to and fro
In an easy chair, whose creaky craw
Told a tale of long ago;
While down by her side, on the kitchen floor,
Stood a basket of worsted balls—a score.
The good man dozed o’er the latest news
Till the light in his pipe went out;
And, unheeded, the kitten with cunning paws
Rolled and tangled the balls about;
Yet still sat the wife in the ancient chair,
Swaying to and fro in the fire-light glare.
But anon, a misty teardrop came
In her eyes of faded blue,
Then trickled down in a furrow deep
Like a single drop of dew;
So deep was the channel—so silent the stream—
That the good man saw naught but the dimmed eye-beam.
Yet marveled he much that the cheerful light
Of her eye had heavy grown,
And marveled he more at the tangled balls,
So he said in a gentle tone:
“I have shared thy joys since our marriage vow,
Conceal not from me thy sorrows now.”
Then she spoke of the time when the basket there
Was filled to the very brim;
And now, there remained of the goodly pile
But a single pair—for him;
“Then wonder not at the dimmed eye-light,
There’s but one pair of stockings to mend to-night.
“I cannot but think of the busy feet
Whose wrappings were wont to lay
In the basket, awaiting the needle’s time—
Now wandering so far away;
How the sprightly steps to a mother dear,
Unheeded fell on the careless ear.
“For each empty nook in the basket old
By the hearth there’s a vacant seat;
And I miss the shadows from off the wall,
And the patter of many feet;
‘Tis for this that a tear gathered over my sight,
At the one pair of stockings to mend to-night.
“‘Twas said that far through the forest wild,
And over the mountains bold,
Was a land whose rivers and darkening caves
Were gemmed with the rarest gold;
Then my first-born turned from the oaken door—
And I knew the shadows were only four.
“Another went forth on the foaming wave,
And diminished the basket’s store;
But his feet grew cold—so weary and cold,
They’ll never be warm any more.
And this nook, in its emptiness, seemeth to me
To give forth no voice but the moan of the sea.
“Two others have gone toward the setting sun,
And made them a home in its light,
And fairy fingers have taken their share,
To mend by the fireside bright;
Some other baskets their garments will fill—
But mine, ah, mine is emptier still.
“Another—the dearest, the fairest, the best—
Was taken by angels away,
And clad in a garment that waxeth not old,
In a land of continual day;
Oh! wonder no more at the dimmed eye-light,
When I mend the one pair of stockings to-night.”