by Ethel Beers (1861) Which shall it be? Which shall it be? I look'd at John, John look'd at me (Dear, patient John, who loves me yet As well as though my locks were jet); And when I found that I must speak, My voice seem'd strangely low and weak: "Tell me again what Robert said?'' And then I, listening, bent my head. This is his letter... 'I will give A house and land while you shall live, If, in return, from out your seven, One child to me for aye is given.' I look'd at John's old garments worn, I thought of all that John had borne Of poverty, and work, and care, Which I, though willing, could not share; I thought of seven mouths to feed, Of seven little children's need, And then of this. "Come, John,'' said I, "We'll choose among them as they lie Asleep''; so, walking hand in hand, Dear John and I survey'd our band. First to the cradle lightly stepp'd, Where the new nameless baby slept. Shall it be baby, whispered John, I took his hand and hurried on. To Lily's crib. Her sleeping grasp Held her old doll within its clasp. Her dark curls lay like gold alight, A glory 'gainst the pillow white. Softly the father stooped to lay His rough hand down in loving way, When dream or whisper made her stir, And huskily he said: "Not her!'' We stopped beside the trundle-bed And one long ray of lamp-light shed Athwart the boyish faces there, In sleep so pitiful and fair; I saw on Jamie's rough, red cheek, A tear undried. Ere John could speak, "He's but a baby, too,'' said I, And kissed him as we hurried by. Pale, patient Robbie's angel face Still in his sleep bore suffering's trace; "No, for a thousand crowns, not him,'' He whispered, while our eyes were dim. Poor Dick! bad Dick! our wayward son, Turbulent, reckless, idle one-- Could he be spared? "Nay, He who gave, Bade us befriend him to the grave; Only a mother's heart can be Patient enough for such as he; And so,"said John, "I would not dare To send him from her bedside prayer." Then stole we softly up above And knelt by Mary, child of love. "Perhaps for her 'twould better be,'' I said to John, Quite silently He lifted up a curl that lay Across her cheek in willful way, And shook his head, "Nay, love, not thee,'' The while my heart beat audibly. Only one more, our eldest lad, Trusty and truthful, good and glad-- So like his father. "No, John, no-- I can not, will not let him go.'' And so we wrote in courteous way, We could not drive one child away, And afterward, toil lighter seemed, Thinking of that of which we dreamed; Happy, in truth, that not one face We missed from its accustomed place; Thankful to work for all the seven, Trusting the rest to One in heaven!
The end