“The Brother's Return” written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is about the heartache of anger and bitterness between brothers.
“I could have been sure that John’s house stood here,” murmured Ralph Daines to himself as he looked around. “I know that it stood by the turn of a road, just as one came in sight of the church, and that it had a clump of trees in front, just like these before me. Ah! well, well,” he added, “it’s more than twenty years since I turned away from my brother’s door—turned away in anger—and twenty years will bring changes. Perhaps I’ve mistaken the place, after all. I stayed but a short time with John, so that I never knew his home well. In twenty years one may forget; yes, one may for get a spot, but there are some things which never can be forgotten, however long we may live.”
And amongst those things which rested upon Ralph’s mind was his quarrel with his brother, Long John—a quarrel so sharp, that, after the two had parted, they had never seen nor written to each other again. For twenty years and more Ralph had dwelt in a distant land, and had never so much as sent a letter to inquire after the welfare of the brother whom he had left in England. But when Ralph at last returned to his native isle, his heart began to yearn towards the only near relation whom he had upon earth. His anger had been softened by time; and Ralph thought that his brother’s home should be his home, and that, though they had parted in anger, they might yet meet again in affection.
Ralph Daines, after leaving his luggage at the inn nearest to the place where his brother had dwelt, set out on foot for the house, being sure that he knew the road well enough to enable him to find it without much trouble. But the traveller was perplexed, when he came near the spot where he thought that the house should be, to see only waste land over grown with thistles and charlock, with bits of a tumble-down fence which could not keep out some sheep that were grazing where once a garden had been.
“Perhaps I’ve taken the wrong road, after all; perhaps I should have turned to the left after passing the mile-stone,” mused Ralph. “I wish now that I had inquired the way at the inn, but I thought that I could not miss it. However, it matters little, for here comes a child tripping along the path over yon meadow. She perhaps may be able to tell me the way to the house of John Dames.”
Ralph leaned over the rough paling which bordered the meadow, and waited till the little girl whom he saw carrying a bundle of fagots should come up to the place where he stood. The child looked poor, but her dress was neat, and her cheeks were as rosy as the flowers which she had stuck in her bosom.
“I say, my little friend,” began Ralph, as soon as the child could hear him, “is there not a lonely house near this place, with red tiles and a porch, and a poultry-yard behind it?”
“I dun no, sir,” said the child.
“Was there not once such a house on the plot of waste land behind me?”
“I dun no,” repeated the child, who was scarcely four years old.
“I do not seem likely to get much information out of this little one,” said Ralph to himself; “but she may know people, though she does not know places.—Does a Mr. Daines live near this spot?” he inquired.
The child looked doubtful for a minute, then muttered, “Dun no;” and seemed inclined to pass on.
“Wait a bit, little one,” said Ralph. “You may perhaps have heard of Mr. Daines as ‘Long John,’ for he often went by that name!”
A gleam of intelligence broke at once over the rosy young face. “Eh! yes; he be father!” she cried. “Nobody don’t call him mister.”
“Your father!” exclaimed Ralph in surprise; for the speech and dress of the little girl were those of a poor peasant child —not such as might have been expected in one brought up in the comfortable house of his brother. “Do you mean to say that Long John Daines is your father?”
The child nodded her head.
“And where is he now?” cried Ralph. The little girl raised her sunburnt arm and pointed towards the church which appeared at a little distance.
“Can you take me to the place, my little friend? I will help you over the stile, and carry your fagots for you, and you shall have a bright new shilling when we arrive at your home.”
The eyes of the child brightened. She let the stranger lift her over the stile, and kiss her, and gaze in her face—saying that her eyes were just like her father’s. She then tripped merrily along by his side, and in reply to Ralph’s questions told him that her name was Mary, and that sometimes she was called Polly. She did not know whether she had any other name, but she knew that she was Long John’s little child, for all the folk knew that.
“Where is your mother?” asked Ralph. His brother had not been married when they had parted, twenty years back.
“Mother is with father,” said Mary.
“And is that their home?” inquired Ralph, as he approached a pretty farm house which stood a little way back from the road.
“Oh no!” cried Mary, in surprise at the question; “not a big home like that.”
Ralph’s face became graver and sadder, for the farm-house was not so large as the dwelling in which he had last seen his brother. It was clear that Long John could not have prospered in life; and this made Ralph more deeply regret having so long harboured anger against him.
“Why had I the folly—the worse than folly—to keep up a quarrel with my own brother!” thought he. “Poor John has gone down in the world; I shall find him, perhaps, in distress. He has needed the help of a brother, and knew not where a letter would find me.—Has your father to work very hard?” he inquired.
“Oh no,” replied the child again, with a look of surprise.
The mind of Ralph was relieved. “Then he is never very hungry?” said he.
“Never hungry,” answered Mary gravely.
“It is a comfort that John has not known actual want,” thought Ralph; “if I find him—as I expect—a poor man, I, with plenty of money in my pocket, shall be able to start him again in business.”
Ralph walked for some time in silence by his little companion, for his thoughts were full of the days of old. He remembered how he had romped and played with his brother when they had been children together; and he remembered, alas! how often their sports had ended in quarrelling and fighting. Both were proud, passionate boys; neither liked to give in; neither could bear to ask pardon of the brother whom he had wronged. The last sad quarrel between Ralph and his brother had followed on a thousand lesser ones, which had embittered the lives of both.
“Ah, how often our poor mother urged us to love one another!” thought Ralph, now a worn elderly man, as he recalled the days of his youth. “How she spoke to us of the meekness and gentleness which should be shown by every Christian, and taught us that he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city! What grief it would have given to our mother could she have known that, after her death, her sons would be more than twenty years without seeing or hearing tidings of each other! But now I will make amends for the past. Poor John shall find that for him and his family I have an open purse and an open heart. I hope that the quarrel which has kept us so long asunder may be the last which shall ever arise between me and my only brother.”
Ralph was so much engaged with thoughts such as these, that he scarcely noticed that his little guide was now taking him through the village church yard, until she suddenly stopped quite still, which made her companion stop also. Mary pointed to a mound of turf, over which the long grass was growing. There was a low head-stone by the mound, with a short inscription upon it. Ralph started and trembled when his glance fell on that stone. It bore two names: the first that of Mary Daines, who had died, aged twenty; the next that of her husband, John Daines, who (as the date showed) had died not a year before his brother’s return. Little Mary was too young to spell out the words on the stone; but she had been taught to look on that grassy mound as the home of her father and mother.
Great was the surprise of the child to see the burst of grief to which her quiet, grave companion gave way. The little one knew not how great had been her own loss; her childish tears for her father had long since been dried; to her there was no deep sadness in the peaceful churchyard, or the grassy mound on which daisies grew. Mary wondered why the tall stranger should fall on his knees by the mound, and bury his face in his hands, and sob as if he were a child. Mary knew not what a bitter thing it is to repent too late of unkindness shown to a brother; to wish—but to wish in vain—to recall words which should never have been spoken, deeds which should never have been done. Ralph would at that moment have given all that he possessed upon earth to have been able to say to himself, “There was never anything but kindness and love between me and him whom I shall see no more upon earth!”
At length Ralph arose from the grave, with a heavy heart, and eyes swollen with weeping. He took Mary up in his arms, pressed her close to his heart, then covered her face with kisses. He was thankful that there was yet one way left by which he could show affection to his lost brother; he would act the part of a father to John’s little orphan girl. Ralph promised by his brother’s tomb that he would watch over Mary, and care for her and love her, as if she were his own child.
And well did Ralph keep that promise,—well did he supply a parent’s place to Mary. Not only did he feed and clothe her, and give her a happy home, but he earnestly tried to bring her up as a Christian child. He taught his little niece to give and forgive, to bear and forbear, and never to lie down at night to sleep before she had asked forgiveness of any one whom she had offended during the day.
“Oh, my child!” Ralph would say with a sigh to Mary, whenever she showed any sign of a proud or passionate temper, “never let anger have time to grow, for its fruit is sin and bitter sorrow. Pray for grace that you may be able to keep the blessed command, ‘Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.’”