“The Olive Branch” written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is about peacemaking.
“If you are going for the fodder for our cow, Carlo, what say you to taking our little Rosina with you? It is long since she has been beyond our village, and a ride upon our trusty old Duchessa will do her good.”
It was Bice, the wife of an Italian peasant, who spoke these words to her husband, as she stood at her cottage door, with her bright little girl at her side.
“What say you, Rosina?” asked the smiling father; “have you a mind for a ride?”
The little girl clapped her hands for joy. “Oh, if we are going to the farmer’s for the fodder,” she cried, “then we will pass by Aunt Barbara’s cottage. May I go in and see her, father, and carry her one of mother’s little goat-milk cheeses that she always likes so much?”
Rosina saw with surprise a shade of sadness gathering upon her father’s sunburnt face; and when she turned to look at her mother, Bice was brushing a tear from her eye.
“You cannot go to your aunt, Rosina,” said Carlo; and his voice sounded almost stern to his child.
“Is poor aunt ill?” asked the little girl; for she saw that her mother was greatly distressed.
“Ask no questions, my child,” said Carlo. Then, turning to his wife, he went on: “She cannot understand, poor lamb, why a woman should quarrel with an only sister, who never meant to give her cause of offence.”
Rosina heard her father’s words with in creasing wonder. She knew that her Aunt Barbara had a peevish and angry temper; but she could not think how she, or any one else, could possibly quarrel with that gentle mother who had always taught Rosina to love and forgive. The child did not, however, venture to ask any more questions, though her heart was sad at the idea that any one could by unkindness bring a tear to her mother’s eye.
“Perhaps, after all, Carlo,” said Bice, looking up earnestly into the face of her husband, “it might be as well for you to let our little one run in and see her aunt, as you are passing her very door. Barbara has always been kind to Rosina; it might”—Bice’s voice dropped to a whisper as she added, “it might do good—it could scarcely do harm.”
“It would look like an attempt to make up with her,” said Carlo, rather proudly; “and after her insolent conduct to you, I would not choose to take the first step.”
“I would take not the first step only, but go the whole way, if I could but win back my sister to love me,” said Bice, clasping her hands. “O Carlo, ‘Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God!”
“I never knew any one more ready to forget and forgive than you are, Bice,” said her husband; “it is all the greater shame to Barbara that she quarrels with such a sister. But she is a woman who would snap at any one who chanced to stand in her light. However, as you wish it, our little Rosina shall run in and wish her aunt good-day; a child should never be mixed up with the disputes of older people.”
“And may I carry aunt one of your nice cheeses?” whispered Rosina, standing on tip-toe, and drawing down her mother to wards her, that she might breathe the words in her ear.
“Alas! Rosina, my darling, she would now accept nothing from me!”
“Not even a kiss?” whispered Rosina.
The mother’s heart was too full for reply; for, notwithstanding Barbara’s unkindness, she was dear to her only sister. Bice could only lift her darling up in her arms, and half cover her rosy face with kisses.
“Half of these are for your own little girl, half are for auntie,” said simple Rosina; and she resolved to be a trusty messenger, and deliver faithfully what she considered to be tokens of love and forgiveness.
Carlo started on his way to the farm, leading the patient and trusty Duchessa, while Fidele, the dog, ran by his side. The day was warm and bright; sunshine lay on the valley and gilded the distant hills; but Rosina sat on her ass more quiet and silent than usual—she had scarcely a word even for her old friend Fidele. Carlo might have missed her merry prattle had not his own thoughts been painfully occupied with the family quarrel. He little guessed what was passing through the mind of the child scarcely four years of age.
Barbara, it is true, had hitherto been always kind to Rosina; the child had seen her angry with others, but had never had a harsh word herself. Yet Barbara’s temper was such that Rosina’s love for her had always been mixed with some fear. What the child had just heard and seen had increased that feeling of fear to a painful degree. Rosina quite dreaded having to go alone into the presence of her aunt, the stern black-eyed woman, whose unkindness had made even her mother cry. Rosina would far rather have quietly passed the door on her ass; and she knew that a word to her father would be enough to make him spare her what she now felt to be a very great trial of courage. But then her mother’s tears and her mother’s kisses! Rosina could not forget these, and she ought to deliver them. Besides, her mother had said such beautiful words from Scripture; oh, if Aunt Barbara could but have heard them, surely she would become a peace-maker too, and never be angry or cross any more!
So, while the ass went on at her slow, steady pace, little Rosina was repeating to herself over and over again, “Blessed are the peace-makers.” Her young heart beat faster as Duchessa stopped, as she often had done before, at the vine-covered porch of Barbara’s door, over which hung clusters of ripe dark grapes. Rosina felt almost inclined to cling to her father’s arm, and beg him to drive on Duchessa, for she dared not go in by herself; but even one as young as Rosina may be guided by conscience, and conscience was whispering to the child that her mother wished her to go, that it was right to go, and that the great God of peace could put kind thoughts into the heart of her aunt.
Barbara was sitting alone in a darkened room: it was dark because she had made it so; she had so choked up her window with thick-growing plants that the light which shone so brightly outside could hardly creep in through the leaves. And so poor Barbara was shutting out the sunshine of love from her home and her heart, and making them both dull and cheerless when they might have been so bright. Do you think that the proud, quarrelsome woman was happy? Ah, no, dear reader; for there never is true happiness with sin. It has been truly said that a little sin disturbs our peace more than a great deal of sorrow. Barbara was in her secret soul vexed at having quarrelled with her sister; she was vexed, but she would not own it, for her heart was full of pride. Barbara had resolved never to confess herself wrong, and rather to live all her life unloving and unloved than to bend her haughty spirit to make friends with her younger sister.
There sat unhappy Barbara, with no companion but bitter thoughts. She felt terribly alone in the world; but it was her own pride and temper that had made a desert around her. She could not help thinking of the happy days of childhood, when she and her sister had been merry playmates together. Barbara’s eyes chanced to rest on a little olive-plant in her window; and the sight of that plant had brought back to her memory days of old. She recollected how Bice, then a rosy-cheeked child, had once asked her what shrub or tree she would choose for her own especial favorite.
“I would choose the laurel,” had been Barbara’s proud reply; “for that is the plant of which wreaths are made for those who conquer in war.”
“I would choose the olive,” little Bice had said; “for it was the leaf of the olive that was brought by the dove to Noah; and it always seems as if the plant, with its juicy fruit and silvery hue, made one think of gentle peace.”
So from that day the olive had always been connected in the mind of Barbara with the thought of her gentle sister.
“I’ll throw that plant away; I’ll pull it up,” muttered Barbara; “I don’t care to keep anything now to remind me of her.”
The proud woman had hardly uttered the words when a soft—a very soft—knock was heard at the door. At Barbara’s rough “Come in,” the door slowly opened, and a little child appeared, so like to what Bice had been at her age, that Barbara could almost fancy that she was looking again at her earliest playmate. Rosina crept in timidly at first, for she thought that her aunt looked terribly stern.
“Why do you come here?” asked Barbara, with a little softening, however, in her tone.
“I have something to give you from mother,” said the child.
“I will take nothing from her,” replied Barbara; “I’ll return it, whatever it be.”
“Will you?” cried Rosina, suddenly running up to her aunt, and opening wide her little arms. The next moment the arms were clasped tightly round Barbara’s neck, and the soft little lips were printing kisses on her cheek.
Barbara was a proud, ill-tempered woman; but she still had a heart, and a heart that might be conquered by love. She would have spurned a gift, but she could not refuse a kiss. Barbara could not help pressing her sister’s child to her bosom, and a strange choking sensation appeared to rise in her throat.
“Those are mother’s kisses—dear mother’s kisses—and you promised to return what ever she sent,” cried Rosina. “Give me the kisses back for my mother!”
And if Barbara did give the kisses, and if her proud eyes were moist as she did so, who can wonder? She would have mocked at words of reproach; she would have retorted insult or scorn; but the kiss, the fond kiss, sent through the little child, subdued both her anger and pride.
Barbara rose from her seat, and slowly walked to the window; perhaps it was partly to hide her eyes that she did so. She broke off a large branch from the olive, and suddenly turning round, held it out to her little niece.
“Take this to your mother from me, Rosina,” she said, “and tell her to remember our early choice. The laurel, I have found, bears but a poisonous berry; the fruit of the olive is good—I will cultivate it from this day.”
If Rosina did not fully understand the message, she understood the smile which followed it, which looked so pleasant on a face so lately furrowed with gloomy frowns. And when Rosina, bearing the olive-branch in her little hand, ran out to her father, and told him all that had passed, his look of amusement and pleasure more than rewarded the child for the effort she had made.
“Brava, my brave little messenger!” exclaimed Carlo, giving Rosina a hearty kiss as he lifted her up to Duchessa’s back. “Brava, little peace-maker! So you made her give back the kisses again! That bit of olive will bring as much joy to your mother’s heart as if it were made of silver, with blossoms of pearl and leaves of gold.”
Very joyful was the return of Rosina to her home. The fodder which Carlo procured from the farm, and heaped high on the patient Duchessa, looked like a little throne for the child, who, as she saw her mother standing at her door to welcome her, merrily waved her branch of olive, the token of joy and success.
Carlo planted the olive-twig in his garden, where it took root, and in time grew up to be a goodly tree with blossoms and fruit. Barbara, who was often a guest at her sister’s cottage, watched the growth of the olive with peculiar interest; and Rosina always on her aunt’s birth-day bore to her a little spray from the tree. And when Rosina herself had grown up to be a woman, and married, and had little children of her own, their favorite spot for play was under the shadow of what was called “the peace maker’s tree.”
Dear children, plant in the gardens of your own little hearts the olive-branch of peace.