All Quiet along the Potomac and other poems/Which shall it Be?
WHICH SHALL IT BE?
WHICH shall it be? which shall it be?"
I looked at John—John looked at me
(Dear patient John, who loves me yet
As well as tho my locks were jet);
And when I found that I must speak,
My voice seemed strangely low and weak:
"Tell me again what Robert said"
And then I, list'ning, 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 looked 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 surveyed our band.
First to the cradle lightly stepped
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 damp curls laid like gold alight,
A glory 'gainst the pillow white.
Softly her father stooped to lay
His rough hand down in loving way,
When dream or whisper made her stir,—
Then, huskily, said John, "Not her! not her!"
We stooped beside the trundle-bed,
And one long ray of lamplight 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!"
We 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,
Bids us befriend him to his 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 astray
Across her cheek in wilful 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 cannot, will not let him go!"
And so we wrote in courteous way
We could not give 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.