Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
From now on to the spring Yan was daily gaining in strength, and he and his mother came closer together. She tried to take an interest in the pursuits that were his whole nature. But she also strove hard to make him take an interest in her world. She was a morbidly religious woman. Her conversation was bristling with Scripture texts. She had a vast store of them–indeed, she had them all; and she used them on every occasion possible and impossible, with bewildering efficiency.
If ever she saw a group of young people dancing, romping, playing any game, or even laughing heartily, she would interrupt them to say, “Children, are you sure you can ask God’s blessing on all this? Do you think that beings with immortal souls to save should give rein to such frivolity! I fear you are sinning, and be sure your sin will find you out. Remember, that for every idle word and deed we must give an account to the Great Judge of Heaven and earth.”
She was perfectly sincere in all this, but she never ceased, except during the time of her son’s illness, when, under orders from the doctor, she avoided the painful topic of eternal happiness and tried to simulate an interest in his pursuits. This was the blessed truce that brought them together.
He found a confidante for the first time since he met the collarless stranger, and used to tell all his loves and fears among the woodfolk and things. He would talk about this or that bird or flower, and hoped to find out its name, till the mother would suddenly feel shocked that any being with an immortal soul to save could talk so seriously about anything outside of the Bible; then gently reprove her son and herself, too, with a number of texts.
He might reply with others, for he was well equipped. But her unanswerable answer would be: “There is but one thing needful. What profiteth it a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
These fencing bouts grew more frequent as Yan grew stronger and the doctor’s inhibition was removed.
After one of unusual warmth, Yan realized with a chill that all her interest in his pursuits had been an affected one. He was silent a long time, then said: “Mother! you like to talk about your Bible. It tells you the things that you long to know, that you love to learn. You would be unhappy if you went a day without reading a chapter or two. That is your nature; God made you so.
“I have been obliged to read the Bible all my life. Every day I read a chapter; but I do not love it. I read it because I am forced to do it. It tells me nothing I want to know. It does not teach me to love God, which you say is the one thing needful. But I go out into the woods, and every bird and flower I see stirs me to the heart with something, I do not know what it is; only I love them: I love them with all my strength, and they make me feel like praying when your Bible does not. They are my Bible. This is my nature. God made me so.”
The mother was silent after this, but Yan could see that she was praying for him as for a lost soul.
A few days later they were out walking in the early spring morning. A Shore-lark on a clod whistled prettily as it felt the growing sunshine.
Yan strained his eyes and attention to take it in. He crept up near it. It took wing, and as it went he threw after it a short stick he was carrying. The stick whirled over and struck the bird. It fell fluttering. Yan rushed wildly after it and caught it in spite of his mother’s calling him back.
He came with the bird in his hand, but it did not live many minutes. His mother was grieved and disgusted. She said. “So this is the great love you have for the wild things; the very first spring bird to sing you must club to death. I do not understand your affections. Are not two sparrows sold for one farthing, and yet not one of them falls to the ground without the knowledge of your heavenly Father.”
Yan was crushed. He held the dead bird in his hand and said, contradictorily, as the tears stood in his eyes, “I wish I hadn’t; but oh, it was so beautiful.”
He could not explain, because he did not understand, and yet was no hypocrite.
Weeks later a cheap trip gave him the chance for the first time in his life to see Niagara. As he stood with his mother watching the racing flood, in the gorge below the cataract, he noticed straws, bubbles and froth, that seemed to be actually moving upstream. He said:
“Mother, you see the froth how it seems to go up-stream.”
“Yet we know it is a trifle and means nothing. We know that just below the froth is the deep, wide, terrible, irresistible, arrowy flood, surging all the other way.”
“Yes, my son.”
“Well, Mother, when I killed the Shore-lark, that was froth going the wrong way, I did love the little bird. I know now why I killed it. Because it was going away from me. If I could have seen it near and could have touched it, or even have heard it every day, I should never have wished to harm it. I didn’t mean to kill it, only to get it. You gather flowers because you love to keep them near you, not because you want to destroy them. They die and you are sorry. I only tried to gather the Shore-lark as you would a flower. It died, and I was very, very sorry.”
“Nevertheless,” the mother replied, “the merciful man is merciful unto his beast. He who hearkens when the young Ravens cry, surely took note of it, and in His great Book of Remembrance it is written down against you.”
And from that time they surely drifted apart.