The earth was still "hiding her guilty front with innocent snow," when a little baby was laid by the side of the pale, white mother. It was a boy; beforehand she had wished for a girl, as being less likely to feel the want of a father--as being what a mother, worse than widowed, could most effectually shelter. But now she did not think or remember this. What it was, she would not have exchanged for a wilderness of girls. It was her own, her darling, her individual baby, already, though not an hour old, separate and sole in her heart, strangely filling up its measure with love and peace, and even hope. For here was a new, pure, beautiful, innocent life, which she fondly imagined, in that early passion of maternal love, she could guard from every touch of corrupting sin by ever watchful and most tender care. And her mother had thought the same, most probably; and thousands of others think the same, and pray to God to purify and cleanse their souls, that they may be fit guardians for their little children. Oh, how Ruth prayed, even while she was yet too weak to speak; and how she felt the beauty and significance of the words, "Our Father!" butterfly strapon
She was roused from this holy abstraction by the sound of Miss Benson's voice. It was very much as if she had been crying.
"Look, Ruth!" it said softly, "my brother sends you these. They are the first snowdrops in the garden." And she put them on the pillow by Ruth; the baby lay on the opposite side.
"Won't you look at him?" said Ruth; "he is so pretty!"
Miss Benson had a strange reluctance to see him. To Ruth, in spite of all that had come and gone, she was reconciled--nay, more, she was deeply attached; but over the baby there hung a cloud of shame and disgrace. Poor little creature! her heart was closed against it--firmly, as she thought. But she could not resist Ruth's low faint voice, nor her pleading eyes, and she went round to peep at him as he lay on his mother's arm, as yet his shield and guard.
"Sally says he will have black hair, she thinks," said Ruth. "His little hand is quite a man's, already. Just feel how firmly he closes it;" and with her own weak fingers she opened his little red fist, and taking Miss Benson's reluctant hand, placed one of her fingers in his grasp. That baby-touch called out her love; the doors of her heart were thrown open wide for the little infant to go in and take possession.
"Ah, my darling!" said Ruth, failing back weak and weary. "If God will but spare you to me, never mother did more than I will. I have done you a grievous wrong--but, if I may but live, I will spend my life in serving you!"