Love is the only bow on life’s dark cloud. It is the morning and the evening star. It shines upon the babe, and sheds its radiance on the quiet tomb. It is the Mother of Art, inspirer of poet, patriot and philosopher. It is the air and light to tired souls–builder of every home, kindler of every fire on every hearth. It was the first to dream of immortality. It fills the world with melody–for music is the voice of love. Love is the magician, the enchanter that changes worthless things to joy, and makes right-royal kings and queens of common clay. It is the perfume of that wondrous flower, the heart, and without that sacred passion, that divine swoon, we are less than beasts; but with it, earth is heaven and we are gods.
—Robert G. Ingersoll
He was three years old, was Robert Ingersoll. There was a baby boy one year old, Ebon by name; then there were John, five years, and two elder sisters.
Little Robert wore a red linsey-woolsey dress, and was a restless, active youngster with a big head, a round face and a pug-nose. No one ever asked. “What is it?”–there was “boy” written large in every baby action and every feature from chubby bare feet to the two crowns of his close-cropped tow-head.
It was a morning in January, and the snow lay smooth and white over all those York State hills. The winter sun sent long gleams of light through the frost-covered panes upon which the children were trying to draw pictures. Visitors began to arrive–visitors in stiff Sunday clothes, although it wasn’t Sunday. There were aunts, and uncles, and cousins, and then just neighbors. They filled the little house full. Some of the men went out and split wood and brought in big armfuls and piled it in the corner. They moved on tiptoe and talked in whispers. And now and then they would walk softly into the little parlor by twos and threes and close the door after them.
This parlor was always a forbidden place to the children; on Sunday afternoons only were they allowed to go in there, or on prayer-meeting night.
In this parlor were six haircloth chairs and a sofa to match. In the center was a little marble-top table, and on it were two red books and a blue one. On the mantel was a plaster-of-Paris cat at one end and a bunch of crystallized flowers at the other. There was a “what-not” in the corner covered with little shells and filled with strange and wonderful things. There was a “store” carpet, bright red. It was a very beautiful room, and to look into it was a great privilege.
Little Robert had tried several times to enter the parlor this cold winter morning, but each time he had been thrust back. Finally he clung to the leg of a tall man, and was safely inside. It was very cold–one of the windows was open! He looked about with wondering baby eyes to see what the people wanted to go in there for!
On two of the haircloth chairs rested a coffin. The baby hands clutched the side–he drew himself up on tiptoe and looked down at the still, white face–the face of his mother. Her hands were crossed just so, and in her fingers was a spray of flowers–he recognized them as the flowers she had always worn on her Sunday bonnet–a rusty black bonnet–not real flowers, just “made” flowers.
But why was she so quiet? He had never seen her hands that way before: those hands were always busy–knitting, sewing, cooking, weaving, scrubbing, washing!
“Mamma! Mamma!” called the boy.
“Hush, little boy, hush! Your Mamma is dead,” said the tall man, and he lifted the boy in his arms and carried him from the room.
Out in the kitchen, in a crib in the corner, lay the “Other Baby,” and thither little Robert made his way. He patted the sleeping baby brother, and called aloud in lisping words, “Wake up, Baby, your Mamma is dead!”