I’ve been reading some old stories in preparation for sharing some on Fridays over at Story Warren and I came across this little gem from Mrs. W. K. Clifford. It’s from her collection, Very Short Stories, written around the turn of the last century. While it’s probably too didactic for children to enjoy and has no real plot, I found it inspiring and lovely. It gets at something I believe many of us care deeply about. See if you feel the same. —Sam
The Light on the Hills by Mrs. W. K. Clifford
“I want to work at my picture,” he said, and went into the field. The little sister went too, and stood by him watching while he painted.
“The trees are not quite straight,” she said, presently, “and oh, dear brother, the sky is not blue enough.”
“It will all come right soon,” he answered. “Will it be of any good?”
“Oh yes,” she said, wondering that he should even ask, “it will make people happy to look at it. They will feel as if they were in the field.”
“If I do it badly, will it make them unhappy?”
“Not if you do your very best,” she answered; “for they will know how hard you have tried. Look up,” she said suddenly, “look up at the light upon the hills,” and they stood together looking at all he was trying to paint, at the trees and the field, at the deep shadows and the hills beyond, and the light that rested upon them.
“It is a beautiful world,” the girl said. “It is a great honour to make things for it.”
“It is a beautiful world,” the boy echoed sadly. “It is a sin to disgrace it with things that are badly done.”
“But you will do things well?”
“I get so tired,” he said, “and long to leave off so much. What do you do when you want to do your best,—your very, very best?” he asked, suddenly.
“I think that I am doing it for the people I love,” she answered. “It makes you very strong if you think of them; you can bear pain, and walk far, and do all manner of things, and you don’t get tired so soon.”
He thought for a moment. “Then I shall paint my picture for you,” he said; “I shall think of you all the time I am doing it.”
Once more they looked at the hills that seemed to rise up out of the deep shadows into the light, and then together they went home.
Soon afterwards a great sorrow came to the boy. While the little sister slept, she wandered into another world, and journeyed on so far that she lost the clue to earth, and came back no more. The boy painted many pictures before he saw the field again, but in the long hours, as he sat and worked, there came to him a strange power that answered more and more truly to the longing in his heart—the longing to put into the world something of which he was not ashamed, something which should make it, if only in the person of its meanest, humblest citizen, a little happier or better.
At last, when he knew that his eye was true and his touch sure, he took up the picture he had promised to paint for the dear sister, and worked at it until he was finished.
“This is better than all he has done before,” the beholders said. “It is surely beautiful, for it makes one happy to look at it.”
“And yet my heart ached as I did it,” the boy said, as he went back to the field. “I thought of her all the time I worked,—it was sorrow that gave me power.” It seemed as if a soft voice, that spoke only to his heart, answered back—
“Not sorrow but love, and perfect love has all things in its gift, and of it are all things born save happiness, and though that may be born too—”
“How does one find happiness?” interrupted the boy.
“It is a strange chase,” the answer seemed to be; “to find it for one’s own self, one must seek it for others. We all throw the ball for each other.”
“But it is so difficult to seize.”
“Perfect love helps one to live without happiness,” his own heart answered to himself; “and above all things it helps one to work and to wait.”
“But if it gives one happiness too?” he asked eagerly.
“Ah, then it is called Heaven.”