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The Valley of Lost Children


The two of them stood together and watched the boy, and he, a brave little fellow near upon his fourth birthday, having no knowledge that he was watched, hammered a big tom-cat with right lusty strokes, scolding it the while for having killed a "mices." Presently the cat made its escape, followed by the boy, whose chubby little legs twinkled in the sunlight, and whose tossed head of golden tangle was as a star of hope to the watchers. As he vanished among the nearer bushes the woman pulled at the man's sleeve.

"Our b'y," she said in a low voice.

"Aye, Sus'n, thet's so," he replied, and laid a great arm about her neck in a manner which was not displeasing to her.

They were neither of them young, and marriage had come late in life; for fortune had dealt hardly with the man, so that he had been unable to take her to wife in the earlier days. Yet she had waited, and at last a sufficiency had been attained, so that in the end they had come together in the calm happiness of middle life. Then had come the boy, and with his coming a touch of something like passionate joy had crept into their lives.

It is true that there was a mortgage upon the farm, and the interest had to be paid before Abra'm could touch his profits; but what of that! He was strong, uncommonly so, and then there was the boy. Later he would be old enough to lend a hand; though Abra'm had a secret hope that before that time he would have the mortgage cleared off and be free of all his profits.

For a while longer they stood together, and so, in a little, the boy came running back out of the bushes. It was evident that he must have had a tumble, for the knees of his wee knickers were stained with clay-marks. He ran up to them and held out his left hand, into which a thorn was sticking, yet he made no movement to ask for sympathy, for was he not a man?—ay, every inch of his little four-year body! His intense manliness will be the better understood when I explain that upon that day he had been "breeked," and four years old in breeks has a mighty savour of manliness.

His father plucked the thorn from his hand, while his mother made shift to remove some of the clay; but it was wet, and she decided to leave it until it had dried somewhat.

"Hev ter put ye back inter shorts," threatened his mother; whereat the little man's face showed a comprehension of the direness of the threat.

"No! no! no!" he pleaded, and lifted up to her an ensnaring glance from dangerous baby eyes.

Then his mother, being like other women, took him into her arms, and all her regret was that she could take him no closer.

An Abra'm his father, looked down upon the two of them, and felt that God had dealt not unkindly with him.

Three days later the boy lay dead. A swelling had come around the place where the thorn had pricked, and the child had complained of pains in the hand and arm. His mother, thinking little of the matter in a country where rude health is the rule, had applied a poultice, but without producing relief. Towards the close of the second day it became apparent to her that the child ailed something beyond her knowledge or supposition, and she had hurried Abra'm off to the doctor, a matter of forty miles distant; but she was childless or ever she saw her husband's face again.


Abra'm had digged the tiny grave at the foot of a small hill at the bank of the shanty, and now he stood leaning upon his spade and waiting for that which his wife had gone to bring. He looked neither to the right nor to the left; but stood there a very effigy of stony grief, and in this wise he chanced not to see the figure of a little man in a rusty-black suit, who had come over the brow of the hill some five minutes earlier.

Presently Sus'n came out from the back of the shanty and walked swiftly towards the grave. At the sight of that which she carried, the little man upon the hill stood up quickly and bared his head, bald and shiny, to the sun. The woman reached the grave, stood one instant irresolute, then stooped and laid her burden gently into the place prepared. Then, after one long look at the little shape, she went aside a few paces and turned her face away. At that, Abra'm bent and took a shovelful of earth, intending to fill in the grave; but in that moment the voice of the stranger came to him, and he looked up. The little bald-headed man had approached to within a few feet of the grave, and in one hand he carried his hat, while in the other he held a small, much-worn book.

"Nay, me friend," he said, speaking slowly, "gev not ther child's body ter ther arth wi'out commendin' ther sperret ter ther Almighty. Hev I permisshun ter read ther sarvice fer them as 's dead in ther Lord?"

Abra'm looked at the little old stranger for a short space, and said no word; then he glanced over to where his wife stood, after which he nodded a dumb assent.

At that the old man kneeled down beside the grave and, rustling over the leaves of his book, found the place. He began to read in a steady voice. At the first word, Abra'm uncovered and stood there leaning upon his spade; but his wife ran forward and fell upon her knees near the old man.

And so for a solemn while no sound but the aged voice. Presently he stretched out his hand to the earth beside the grave and, taking a few grains, loosed them upon the dead, commending the spirit of the child into the Everlasting Arms. And so, in a little, he had made an end.

When all was over, the old man spread out his hands above the tiny grave as though invoking a blessing. After a moment he spoke; but so low that they who were near scarce heard him:

"Leetle One," he said in a half whisper, "mebbe ye'll meet wi' that gell o' mine in yon valley o' ther lost childer. Ye'll telt hur's I'm praying ter ther Father 's 'E'll purmit thess ole sinner ter come nigh 'er agin."

And after that he knelt awhile, as though in prayer. In a little he got upon his feet and, stretching out his hands, lifted the woman from her knees. Then, for the first time, she spoke:

"Reckon I'll never see 'im no mor," she said in a quiet, toneless voice, and without tears.

The old man looked into her face and, having seen much sorrow, knew somewhat of that which she suffered. He took one of her cold hands between his old, withered ones with a strange gesture of reverence.

"Hev no bitterness, Ma'am," he said. "I know ye lack ther pow'r jest now ter say: 'Ther Lord gev, an' ther Lord 'ath teken away; blessed be ther Name o' ther Lord;' but I reckon 'E don't 'spect mor'n ye can gev. 'E's mighty tender wi' them 's is stricken."

As he spoke, unconsciously he was stroking her hand, as though to comfort her. Yet the woman remained dry-eyed and set-featured; so that the old man, seeing her need of stirring, bade her "set" down while he told her a "bit o' a tale."

"Ye'll know," he began, when she was seated, " 's I unnerstan' hoo mighty sore ye feel, w'en I tell ye I lost a wee gell o' mine way back."

He stopped a moment, and the woman's eyes turned upon him with the first dawning of interest.

"I was suthin' like yew," he continued. "I didn't seem able nohow ter get goin' agin in ther affairs o' thess 'arth. I cudn't eat, 'n I cudn't sleep. Then one night, 's I wus tryin' ter get a bit o' rest 'fore ther morn come in, I heerd a Voice sayin' in me ear 's 'twer:

" ' 'Cept ye become 's leetle childer, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom o' 'Eaven.' But I hedn't got shet o' ther bitterness o' me grief, 'n I tarned a deaf ear. Then agin ther Voice kem, 'n agin I shet ther soul o' me ter et's callin'; but 'twer no manner uv use; for it kem agin and agin, 'n I grew tur'ble feared 'n humble.

" 'Lord,' I cried out, 'guess ther oldest o' us 's on'y childer in ther sight o' God.'

"But agin ther Voice kem, an' ther sperret thet wer in me quaked, 'n I set up in ther bed, cryin' upon the Lord:

" 'Lord, shet me not oot o' ther Kingdom!" Fer I wus feared 's I mightn't get ter see ther wee gell's 'ad gone on befor'. But agin kem ther Voice, an' ther sperret in me became broke, 'n I wus 's er lonesome child, 'n all ther bitterness wer gone from me. Then I said ther words that had not passed me lips by reason o' ther bitterness o' me stubborn 'art:

" 'Ther Lord gev, an' ther Lord 'ath teken away; blessed be ther Name o' ther Lord.'

"An' ther Voice kem agin; but 'twer softer like, 'n I no longer wus feared.

" 'Lo!' et said, 'thy 'art is become like unter ther 'art o' one o' ther leetle ones whose sperrets dew always behold ther face o' ther Father. Look now wi' ther eyes o' a child, 'n them shalt behold ther Place o' ther Leetle Ones—ther valley wher' maybe found ther lost childer o' ther 'arth. Know thou thet ther leetle folk whom ther Lord teketh pass not inter ther Valley o' ther Shadder, but inter ther Valley o' Light.'

"An' immediate I looked an' saw right thro' ther logs o' ther back o' ther shanty. I cud see 's plain 's plain, lookin' out onter a mighty wilderness o' country, 'n et seemed 's tho' ther sperret o' me went forrard a space inter ther night, an' then, mighty suddin et wer', I wus lookin' down inter a tur'ble big valley. 'Twer' all lit up 'n shinin'; tho' 'twer' midnight, 'n everywher' wer' mighty flowers 's seemed ter shine o' ther own accord, an' thar wer' leetle brooks runnin' among 'em 'n singin' like canary birds, 'n grass 's fresh 's ther 'art o' a maid. An' ther valley wer' all shet in by mortial great cliffs 's seemed ter be made o' nothin' but mighty walls o' moonstone; fer they sent out light's tho' moons wer' sleepin' ahind 'em.

"After awhile I tuk a look way up inter ther sky 'bove ther valley, an' 'twer's tho' I looked up a mighty great funnel—hunder 'n hunder o' miles o' night on each side o' et; but ther sky 'bove ther valley wer' most wonnerful o' all; fer thar wer' seven suns in et, 'n each one o' a diff'rent colour, an' soft tinted, like 's tho' a mist wer' round 'em.

"An' presently, I tarned an' looked agin inter ther valley; fer I hedn't seen ther half o' et, 'n now I made out sumthin's I'd missed befor'—a wee bit o' a child sleepin' under a great flower, 'n now I saw more—Eh! but I made out a mighty multitoode o' 'em. They 'adn't no wings, now I come ter think o' et, an' no closes; but I guess closes wer'n't needed; fer 't must heve bin like a 'tarnal summer down thar; no I guess—"

The old man stopped a moment, as though to meditate upon this point. He was still stroking the woman's hand, and she, perhaps because of the magnetism of his sympathy, was crying silently.

In a moment he resumed;

"Et wer' jest after discoverin' ther childer's I made out 's thar wer' no cliff ter ther end o' ther valley upon me left. Inste'd o' cliff, et seemed ter me 's a mighty wall o' shadder went acrost from one side ter ther other. I wus starin' an' wondering', w'en a voice whispered low in me ear: 'Ther Valley o' ther Shadder o' Death,' 'n I knew 's I'd come ter ther valley o' ther lost childer—which wer' named ther Valley o' Light. Fer ther Valley of ther Shadder, 'n ther Valley o' ther Lost Childer come end ter end.

"Fer a while I stared, 'n presently et seemed ter me 's I could see ther shadders o' grown men 'n wimmin within ther darkness o' ther Valley o' Death, an' they seemed ter be groping' 'n gropin'; but down in ther Valley of Light some of ther childer had waked, 'n wer' playin' 'bout, an' ther light o' ther seven suns covered 'em, 'n made 'em j'yful.

"Et wer' a bit later 's I saw a bit o' a gell sleepin' in ther shade o' a leetle tree all covered wi' flowers. Et seemed ter me's she hed er look o' mine; but I cudn't be sure, cause 'er face wer' hid by a branch. Presently, 'owever, she roused up 'n started playin' round wi' some o' ther others, 'n I seed then 's 'twer' my gell righ enuff, 'n I lifted up me voice 'n shouted; but 'twern't no good. Seemed 's ef tar wer' sum-thin' thet come betwixt us, 'n I cudn't 'ear 'er, 'n she cudn't 'ear me. Guess I felt powerful like sheddin' tears!

"An' then, suddin, ther hull thing faded 'n wer' gone, an' I wer' thar alone in ther midst o' ther night. I felt purty 'mazed 'n sore, an' me 'art seemed like ter harden wi' their grief o' ther thing, 'n then, 'fore I'd time ter make a fool o' meself et seemed 's I 'eard ther Voice saying:

" 'Ef ye, bein' eevil, know how ter gev good gifts unter yer childer, how much more shall yer Father w'ich es in 'eaven gev good things ter them thet asks 'Im.'

"An' ther next moment I wus settin' up 'n me bed, 'n et wer' broad daylight."

"Must hev bin a dream," said Abra'm.

The old man shook his head, and in the succeeding silence the woman spoke:

"Hev ye seen et sence?"

"Nay, Ma'am," he replied; "but"—with a quiet, assuring nod— "I tuk ther hint's ther Voice gev me, 'n I've bin askin' ther Father ever sence 's I might come acrost thet valley o' ther lost childer."

The woman stood up.

"Guess I'll pray thet way 's well," she said simply.

The old man nodded and, turning, waved a shrivelled hand towards the West, where the sun was sinking.

"Thet minds one o' death," he said slowly; then, with sudden energy, "I tell ye thar's no sunset ever 'curs 's don't tell ye o' life hereafter. Yon blood-coloured sky es ter us ther banner o' night 'n Death; but 'tes ther unwrapping o' ther flag o'dawn 'n Life in some other part o' ther 'arth."

And with that he got him to his feet, his old face aglow with the dying light.

"Must be goin'," he said. And though they pressed him to remain the night, he refused all the entreaties.

"Nay," he said quietly. "Ther Voice hev called, 'n I must jest go."

He turned and took off his old hat to the woman. For a moment he stood thus, looking into her tear-stained face. Then, abruptly, he stretched out an arm and pointed to the vanishing day.

"Night 'n sorrow 'n death come upon ther 'arth; but in ther Valley o' ther Lost Childer es light 'n joy 'n life etarnal."

And the woman, weary with grief, looked back at him with very little hope in her eyes.

"Guess tho we'm too old fer ther valley o' ther childer," she said slowly.

The old man caught her by the arm. His voice rang with conviction:

" 'Cept ye become 's leetle childer, ye shall not enter into ther Kingdom o' 'Eaven."

He shook her slightly, as though to impress some meaning upon her. A sudden light came into her dull eyes.

"Ye mean—" she cried out and stopped, unable to formulate her thought.

"Aye," he said in a loud, triumphant voice. "I guess we'm on'y childer 'n ther sight o' God. But we hev ter be mighty 'umble o' 'art 'fore 'E 'lows us in wi'ther leetle ones, mighty 'umble."

He moved from her and knelt by the grave.

"Lord," he muttered, "some o' us, thro' bitter stubbornness o' 'art, hev ter wander in ther Valley o' ther Shadder; but them as 's 'umble 'n childlike 'n faith find no shadder in ther valley; but light, 'n their lost j'yfullness o'child'ood, w'ich es ther nat'ral state o' ther soul. I guess, Lord, 's Thou'lt shew thess woman all ther marcifulness o' Thy 'art, 'n bring 'er et last ter ther Valley o' ther Lost Childer. 'n whle I'm et it, Lord, I puts up a word fer meself, 's Thou'lt bring thess ole sinner et last ter the same place."

Then, still kneeling, he cried out: "Hark!" And they all listened; but the farmer and his wife heard only a far distant moan, like the cry of the night wind rising.

The old man hasted to his feet.

"I must be goin'," he said. "Ther Voice 's callin'."

He placed his hat upon his head.

"Till we meet in ther valley 'o ther 'arth's lost childer," he cried, and went from them into the surrounding dusk.


Twenty years had added their count to Eternity, and Abra'm and his wife Sus'n had come upon old age. The years had dealt hardly with the twain of them, and disaster overshadowed them in the shape of foreclosure; for Abra'm had been unable to pay off the mortgage, and latterly the interest had fallen in arrears.

There came a bitter time of saving and scraping, and of low diet; but all to no purpose. The foreclosure was effected, and a certain morning ushered in the day when Abra'm and Sus'n were made homeless.

He found her, a little after dawn, kneeling before the ancient press. She had the lowest drawer open, and a little heap of clothing filled her lap. There was a tiny guernsey, a small shoe, a wee, wee pair of baby boy's trousers, and the knees were stained with clay. Then, with about it a most tearful air of manfulness, a "made" shirt, with "real" buttoning wristbands; but it was not at any of these that the woman looked. Her gaze, passing through half-shed tears, was fixed upon something which she held out at arm's length. It was a diminutive pair of braces, so terribly small, so unmistakably the pride of some manly minded baby-boy—and so little worn!

For the half of a minute Abra'm said no word. His face had grown very stern and rugged during the stress of those twenty years' fight with poverty; yet a certain steely look faded out of his eyes as he noted that which his wife held.

The woman had not seen him, nor heard his step; so that, unconscious of his presence, she continued to hold up the little suspenders. The man caught the reflection of her face in a little tinsel-framed mirror opposite, and saw her tears, and abruptly his hard features gave a quiver that made them almost grotesque: it was such an upheaval of set grimness. The quivering died away, and his face resumed its old, iron look. Probably it would have retained it, had not the woman, with a sudden extraordinary gesture of hopelessness, crumpled up the tiny braces and clasped them in her hands above her hair. She bowed forward almost on to her face, and her old knuckles grew tense with the stress she put upon that which she held. A few seconds of silence came and went; then a sob burst from her, and she commenced to rock to and fro upon her knees.

Across the man's face there came again that quivering upheaval, as unaccustomed emotions betrayed their existence; he stretched forth a hand, that shook with half-conscious longing, toward an end of the braces which hung down behind the woman's neck and swayed as she rocked.

Abruptly, he seemed to come into possession of himself and drew back silently. He calmed his face and, making a noise with his feet, stepped over to where his wife kneeled desolate. He put a great, crinkled hand upon her shoulder.

"Et wer' a powerful purty thought o' yon valley o' ther lost childer," he said quietly, meaning to waken her memory to it.

''Aye! aye!'' she gasped between her sobs. "But—'' and she broke off, holding out to him the little suspenders.

For answer the man patted her heavily on the shoulder, and thus a space of time went by, until presently she calmed.

A little later he went out upon a matter to which he had to attend. While he was gone she gathered the wee garments hastily into a shawl, and when he returned the press was closed, and all that he saw was a small bundle which she held jealously in one hand.

They left shortly before noon, having singly and together visited a little mound at the foot of the hill. The evening saw them upon the verge of a great wood. They slept that night upon its outskirts, and the next day entered into its shades.

Through all that day they walked steadily. They had many a mile to go before they reached their destination— the shanty of a distant relative with whom they hoped to find temporary shelter.

Twice as they went forward Sus'n had spoken to her husband to stop and listen; but he declared he heard nothing.

"Kind o' singin' et sounded like," she explained.

That night they camped within the heart of the wood, and Abra'm made a great fire, partly for warmth, but more to scare away any evil thing which might be lurking amid the shadows.

They made a frugal supper of the poor things which they had brought with them, though Sus'n declared she had no mind for eating and, indeed, she seemed wofully tired and worn.

Then, it was just as she was about to lie down for the night, she cried out to Abra'm to hark.

"Singin'," she declared. "Milluns o' childer's voices."

Yet still her husband heard nothing beyond the whispering of the trees one to another, as the night wind shook them.

For the better part of an hour after that she listened; but heard no further sounds, and so, her weariness returning upon her, she fell asleep; the which Abra'm had done a while since.

Some time later she woke with a start. She sat up and looked about her, with a feeling that there had been a sound where now all was silent. She noticed that the fire had burned down to a dull mound of glowing red. Then, in the following instant, there came to her once more a sound of children singing—the voices of a nation of little ones. She turned and looked to her left, and became aware that all the wood on that side was full of a gentle light. She rose and went forward a few steps, and as she went the singing grew louder and sweeter. Abruptly, she came to a pause; for there right beneath her was a vast valley. She knew it on the instant. It was the Valley of the Lost Children. Unlike the old man, she noted less of its beauties than the fact that she looked upon the most enormous concourse of Little Ones that can be conceived.

"My b'y! My b'y!" she murmured to herself, and her gaze ran hungrily over that inconceivable army.

"Ef on'y I cud get down," she cried, and in the same instant it seemed to her that the side upon which she stood was less steep. She stepped forward and commenced to clamber down. Presently she walked. She had gotten halfway to the bottom of the valley when a little naked boy ran from out of the shadow of a bush just ahead of her.

"Possy," she cried out. "Possy."

He turned and raced towards her, laughing gleefully. He leapt into her arms, and so a little while of extraordinary contentment passed.

Presently, she loosed him and bade him stand back from her.

"Eh!" she said, "yew've not growed one bit!"

She laid her bundle on the ground and commenced to undo it.

"Guess they'll fet ye same's ever," she murmured, and held up the little trousers for him to see; but the boy showed no eagerness to take them.

She put out her hand to him, but he ran from her. Then she ran after him, carrying the little trousers with her. Yet she could not catch him, for he eluded her with an elf-like agility and ease.

"No, no, no," he screamed out in a very passion of glee.

She ceased to chase him and came to a stand, hands upon her hips.

"Come yew 'ere, Possy, immediate!" she called in a tone of command. "Come yew 'ere!"

But the baby elf was in a strange mood, and disobeyed her in a manner which made her rejoice that she was his mother.

"Oo tarnt ketch me," he cried, and at that she dropped the little knickers and went a-chase of him. He raced down the remaining half of the slope into the valley, and she followed, and so came to a country where there are no trousers—where youth is, and age is not.


When Abra'm waked in the early morn he was chill and stiff; for during the night he had taken off his jacket and spread it over the form of his sleeping wife.

He rose with quietness, being minded to let her sleep until he had got the fire going again. Presently he had a pannikin of steaming tea ready for her, and he went across to wake her; but she waked not, being at that time chased by a chubby baby-boy in the Valley of Lost Children.

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