One day Mr. Morrill’s attention was called to a little pale, thin bootblack who had a bunch of bluebells in his buttonhole. He let the boy black his boots, then balancing a quarter on his finger, said:
“Here is ten cents for the shine and fifteen cents for the flowers,” pointing to the bluebells.
The lad put his small hand over the flowers.
“No sir I can’t sell them; if I was starving I wouldn’t sell a bluebell.”
“And why not, little man?”
The lad looked at Mr. Morrill so piteously that he was almost sorry he had asked him. He put his hand on the boy’s head and said:
“Excuse me for asking; you need not tell me unless you wish, and you can keep the quarter besides.”
“I like you, and I’ll tell you. Just a year ago this month, and it has been such a long year. I thought the bluebells would never come.” Then the boy stopped and put his hand over his eyes as if to shut out some horrid sight. Presently he took down his hand and said.
“My father was a drunkard. We once owned some property, I’ve heard mother say, but that was before I was born. We got so poor mother had to go out and wash to get food for Bess and me. We lived in a little log house, a quarter of a mile from town.
“One Friday morning there was only a plate of cornmeal and about two spoonfuls of molasses. Mother baked the meal into bread, and told me to feed the baby when she awoke, and to keep a sharp lookout for father, while she was away washing that day. She kissed me at the door. ‘Be a good boy, Willie, and take care of little sister,’ she said.
“Bessie slept a long time, and I passed the time by sitting by her and going to the door to watch for father. When she woke up she said, ‘Baby is so hungry, Willie, get something to eat.’ ‘Get up, Bessie, and let me dress you, and then we will have some breakfast.’ I had not eaten a mouthful, nor had mother before leaving home, and I was dreadfully hungry. She got up, and I dressed, washed, and combed her, and when we sat down to the table Bessie just dropped her curly head right down on the table and sobbed out, ‘O, Willie, I am so tired of cornbread and molasses; I can’t eat it; I want some meat and butter.’
“’Don’t cry baby.’ I said, stroking her curls. Mother will bring home something tonight.’
“’But it is so long to wait.’
“’Try to eat.’ I said, and I put a spoonful of molasses on her plate, and she did try, but she only swallowed a few mouthfuls and then she left the table. I ate a small piece of dry bread. I thought she would eat the molasses, so I did not touch it. All day she kept saying she was hungry, but refused to eat.
“Father had not come home and it was nearly dark; we were both sitting on the doorstep. Bessie had laid her head against my arm, and she began to cry, ‘I’m so hungry, Willie; mother stays so late tonight.’
“’Don’t cry, baby; mother will soon be home.’ ‘Of course she will!’ exclaimed George Anderson. He lived a mile beyond us, and as he spoke he tossed a bunch of bluebells into Bessie’s lap.
“’Oh, how pretty!’ she exclaimed, while the tears dropped from her sweet blue eyes onto the bluebells.
“’Come Bessie,’ I said, ‘let me fasten them among your curls.’ She stood up on the doorstep with her face toward the house. I stood behind her and tied the bluebells in her golden curls. I had just fasted the last one, when someone jerked me off the step. It was my father; he was almost crazy with drink.
“He caught Bessie and said you have been crying; what did Willie do to you?’
“She was so white and scared that I thought she would faint. ‘Willie didn’t do anything she gasped out.
“Father let her go and grasped me; he commenced to shake me awful. ‘You rascal, what did you do to Bessie? Tell me, or I’ll shake the breath out of you.’
“he shook me so I could not answer. Then little Bessie caught him by the arm. ‘Please, father, don’t hurt Willie; I was so hungry it made me cry.’
“He looked at the table and saw the bread and molasses. ‘You little white-faced liar, you are not hungry. Look at the table; there is plenty to eat, and good enough for such a brat as you,’ and he shook her roughly.
“She began to cry, and I tried to put my arms around her but father pushed me away. ‘If you can’t eat anything, I can give you something to drink,’ and he started down the path that led to the pond.
“Bessie hushed crying, but she looked awful scared. ‘I’ll give you something to drink,’ he said, when he reached the edge of the water, and I followed scarcely knowing what I was doing, I was so frightened.
“He waded in about knee deep, then took Bessie and put her curly head down under the water. She threw up her little white hands and cried out. ‘Oh, Willie, take baby!, ‘but the curly head went down.
“I waded around father and tried with all my strength to raise her little head out of the water, but father held it down. I begged father to take her out, but he would not listen. She threw up her hands wildly, there was a gurgling sound, then all was still. It seemed hours to me, but father at last lifted up Bessie’s white dripping face, I called her name wildly, but her lips did not move, she was dead.
“Father carried her and laid her down on the green grass. ‘I guess she won’t get hungry for a while.
“I was so stunned I never moved nor spoke until I saw the bluebells that I had twined in Bessie’s hair floating out in the water. I couldn’t bear to see them drift away, so I waded out after them. The water was so deep, and on I went. I was up to my armpits, now over my shoulders, still the bluebells where just beyond my reach, but I must have them. The water touched my chin after another step, and I caught them. Just as I did I heard mother call. ‘Willie! Where are you?’
“I looked for father. He was seated on the ground by Bessie. ‘Willie! Oh, Willie!’ mother called again.
“I was out of the water now, but was so weak I could hardly stand. I called. ‘Here, mother, at the pond.’”
“Father gave one mad leap into the water-he plunged in face down. I was so terrified I did not know what to do. I heard mother coming. I trembled so I could not walk, so I crawled up to Bessie. I took father’s straw hat and put it over Bessie’s dead face to keep mother from seeing it.
“When she came, she saw I was dripping with water. ‘Willie, Willie, what is the matter?’
”She lifted the hat from Bessie’s face. She stood for a moment as if turned to stone. ‘Tell me how it happened. Willie, tell me quick!’ Then I found voice and told her everything. She heard me through without a word, but when I had finished, she stood with clasped hands over Bessie and shrieked such unearthly cries that soon the neighbors came running.
“Father had drowned himself. His body was taken from the beautiful water and buried in the cemetery along side of Bessie. Mother was a raving maniac. I put the bluebells in a little box and hung them around my neck. After the funeral I lay in the hospital sick for weeks with brain fever, but when I came to myself, the box was still around my neck; here it is.” And he drew from his bosom a small box containing a few withered leaves.
“They speak of sweet baby Bessie,” he said, as he closed the box and slipped it back under his shirt bosom. Then he looked Mr. Morrill straight in the eyes and said, “Please mister, don’t ever vote for (beer) whiskey. It killed my father and dear little baby Bessie, and it locked mother up in the madhouse. Please don’t vote rum.”
Who can read this pathetic true story and not feel his manhood stirred to fight against the hellish liquor traffic which produces such results as here recorded. Evil and nothing but evil is the record of the liquor traffic. Nations will freely give fathers, brothers, sons, and wealth, to fight a foreign foe, while this monster is tolerated right at their doors. How long will we permit such a murderer to carry on such a cruel work? [And it always starts with one drop and some people can’t stop. What a pitiful example to pass to others.]
Osterhus Pub. House