APPLES, RIPE AND ROSY, SIR,
AND OTHER STORIES,
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS,
MARY CATHERINE CRAWLEY,
REPRINTED FROM THE "AVE MARIA."
OFFICE OF THE "AVE MARIA:"
NOTRE DAME, IND.
D. E. HUDSON, C. S. C.
BECKTOLD & Co., Printers and Binders,
ST. Louis, Mo.
Apples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir
Better than Riches
Building a Boat
A May-Day Gift
A Little White Dress
A Miser's Gold
That Red Silk Frock
A Lesson with a Sequel
Uncle Tom's Story
APPLES, RIPE AND ROSY, SIR.
"APPLES, RIPE AND ROSY, SIR."
What a month of March it was! And after an unusually mild season, too. Old Winter seemed to have hoarded up all his stock of snow and cold weather, and left it as an inheritance to his wild and rollicking heir, that was expending it with lavish extravagance.
March was a jolly good fellow though, in spite of his bluster and boisterous ways. There was a wealth of sunshine in his honest heart, and he evidently wanted to render everybody happy. He appeared to have entered into a compact with Santa Claus to make it his business to see that the boys and girls should not, in the end, be deprived of their fair share of the season's merrymaking; that innumerable sleds and toboggans and skates, which had laid idle since Christmas, and been the objects of much sad contemplation, should have their day, after all.
And he was not really inconsiderate of the poor either; for though, very frequently, in a spirit of mischief, he and his chum Jack frost drew caricatures of spring flowers on their window-panes, knocked at their doors only to run away in a trice, and played other pranks upon them, they did not feel the same dread of all this that they would have felt in December. He would make up for it by being on his best and balmiest behavior for some days following; would promise that milder weather, when the need and the price of coal would be less, was surely coming; and that both the wild blossoms of the country fields, and the stray dandelions which struggle into bloom in city yards, would be on time, as usual.
On the special day with which we have to do, however, March was not in "a melting mood." On the contrary, the temperature was sharp and frosty, the ground white, the clouds heavy with snow. The storm of the night before had only ceased temporarily; it would begin again soon,—indeed a few flakes were already floating in the air. At four o'clock in the afternoon the children commenced to troop out of the schools. How pleasant to watch them!—to see the great doors swing open and emit, now a throng of bright-eyed, chattering little girls, in gay cloaks and hoods and mittens; or again a crowd of sturdy boys,—a few vociferating and disputing, others trudging along discussing games and sports, and others again indulging in a little random snowballing of their comrades, by the way. Half an hour later the snow was falling thick and fast. The boys were in their element. A number of them had gathered in one of the parks or squares for which the garden-like city of E——— is noted, and were busy completing a snow-fort. The jingle of sleigh-bells became less frequent, however; people hurried home; it was sure to be a disagreeable evening.
These indications were dolefully noted by one person in particular, to whom they meant more than to others in general. This was the good old Irishwoman who kept the apple and peanut stand at the street corner, and was the centre of attraction to the children on their way to and from school.
"Wisha, this is goin' to be a wild night, I'm thinkin'!" sighed she, wrapping a faded and much-worn "broshay" shawl more securely about her, and striving to protect both herself and her wares beneath the shelter of a dilapidated umbrella, one of the ribs of which had parted company with the cotton covering,—escaped from its moorings, as it were, and stood out independently. "Glory be to God, but what bad luck I've had the day!" she continued under her breath, from habit still scanning the faces of the passers-by, though she had now faint hope that any would pause to purchase. "An' it's a bigger lot than usual I laid in, too. The peanuts is extry size; an' them Baldwins look so fine and rosy, I thought it ud make anybody's mouth water to see them. I counted upon the schoolb'ys to buy them up in a twinklin', by reason of me markin' them down to two for a cent. An' so they would, but they're so taken up with sportin' in the snow that they can think of nothin' else. An' now that it's turned so raw, sure I'm afraid it's cold comfort any one but a lad would think it, settin' his teeth on edge tryin' to eat them. I'll tarry a bit longer; an' then, if no better fortune comes, I'll take meself to me little room, even though I'll have to drink me tea without a tint of milk or a dust of sugar the night, and be thankful for that same."
Patiently she waited. The clock struck five. As no other customers appeared, the old woman, who was known as Widow Barry, concluded that she would be moving. "Though it is too bad," she murmured; "an' this the best stand anywhere hereabouts."
In reality, the stand consisted of a large basket, a camp-seat, the tiresome privilege of leaning against two feet of stone-wall, and the aforesaid umbrella, which was intended to afford, not only a roof, but an air of dignity to the concern, and was therefore always open, rain or shine.
To "shut up shop," though it meant simply to lower the umbrella, gather up the goods and depart, was to the apple-vender a momentous affair. Every merchant who attempts, as the saying is, to carry his establishment, finds it no easy task; yet this is what the widow was obliged literally to do. To make her way, thus laden, in the midst of a driving snowstorm was indeed a difficult matter. Half a dozen times she faltered in discouragement. The street led over a steep hill; how was she to reach the top? She struggled along; the wind blew through her thin garments and drove her back; the umbrella bobbed wildly about; her hands grew numb; now the basket, again the camp-seat, kept slipping from her grasp. Several persons passed, but no one seemed to think of stopping to assist her. A party of well-dressed boys were coasting down the middle of the street; what cared they for the storm? Several, who were standing awaiting their turn, glanced idly at the grotesque figure.
"What a guy!" cried Ed Brown, with a laugh, sending a well-aimed snowball straight against the umbrella, which it shook with a thud. He was on the point of following up with another.
"Oh, come!" protested a carelessly good-natured companion. "That's no fun. But here—look out for the other double-runner! Now we go, hurray!"
And, presto, they whizzed by, without another thought of the aged creature toiling up the ascent. No one appeared to have time to help her.
Presently, however, she heard a firm, light step behind her. The next moment a pair of merry brown eyes peered under the umbrella; a face as round and ruddy as one of her best Baldwins beamed upon her with the smile of old friendship, and a gay, youthful voice cried out:
"Good afternoon, Missis Barry! It's hard work getting on to-day, isn't it?"
A singularly gentle expression lighted up the apple-woman's weather-beaten features as she recognized the little fellow in the handsome overcoat, who was evidently returning from an errand, as he carried a milk can in one hand while drawing a sled with the other.
"Indade an' it is, Masther Tom!" she replied, pausing a second.
"Let us see if we can't manage differently," he went on, taking her burden and setting it upon the sled. "There, that is better. Now give me your hand."
She had watched him mechanically; but, thus recalled to herself, she answered hastily:
"Oh, thank ye kindly, sir! It's too much for ye to be takin' this trouble; but I can get along very well now, with only the umbrelly to carry."
"No trouble at all," said he. "Look, then,—follow me; I'll pick out the best places for you to walk in,—the snow is drifting so!"
He trudged on ahead, glancing back occasionally to see if the basket and camp-seat were safe, or to direct her steps,—as if all this were the most natural thing in the world for him to do, as in truth it was; for, though he thought it a great joke that she should call him "sir," will not any one admit that he deserved the title which belongs to a gentleman? He and Widow Barry had been good friends for some time.
"Sure, an' didn't he buy out me whole supply one day this last January?" she would say. "His birthday it was, and the dear creature was eleven years old. He spent the big silver dollar his grandfather gave him like a prince, a treatin' all the b'ys of the neighborhood to apples an' peanuts, an' sendin' me home to take me comfort."
Tom, moreover, was a regular patron of "the stand." He always declared that "she knew what suited him to a T." During the selection he was accustomed to discuss with her many weighty questions, especially Irish politics, in which they both took a deep if not very well-informed interest.
"Guess I'll have that dark-red one over there. Don't you think Mr. Gladstone is the greatest statesman of the age, Missis Barry?—what? That other one is bigger? Well!—and your father knew Daniel O'Connell you say?—ah, I tell you that's a fine fellow!"
Whether he meant the patriot or the pippin it might be difficult to determine. This, however, is but a specimen of their conversation. Then in the end she would produce the ripest and rosiest of her stock—which she had been keeping for him all the while,—and, leaving a penny in her palm, he would hurry away in order to reach St. Francis' School before the bell rang.
This particular afternoon, when he had helped her over the worst part of the way, she glanced uneasily at the can which he carried, and said:
"Faith, Masther Tom, it's afraid I am that they'll be waitin' at home for the milk ye were sent for. Sure I wouldn't want ye to be blamed for not makin' haste, avick! An' all because of yer doin' a kindly turn for a poor old woman."
"No fear of that, ma'am," answered Tom, confidently. "There is no hurry; the milk won't be needed till supper time."
Then, noticing that she was tired and panting for breath, he took out the stopper and held the can toward her, saying impulsively,
"Have a drink, Missis Barry,—yes, it will do you good."
A suspicious moisture dimmed the widow's faded eyes for a moment, and her heart gave a throb of grateful surprise at the child's ingenuous friendliness; but she drew back with a deprecating gesture, saying,
"Well, well, Masther Tom, ye're the thoughtfullest young gentleman that ever I see! An' I'm sure I thank ye kindly. It isn't for the likes of me to be tellin' ye what is right an' proper, but what would yer mother say to yer not bringin' the milk home just as ye got it from the store, an' to ye givin' a poor creature like me a drink out of the can?"
"Oh, she wouldn't care!" replied Tom. "Didn't she say you were welcome at the house any time, to have a cup of tea and get warm by the kitchen fire? Do you think she'd grudge you a sup of milk?"
"It isn't that; for I know she wouldn't, God bless her!" said the apple-woman, heartily. "Still, asthore, take heed of what I say. Never meddle with what's trusted to ye, but carry it safe an' whole to the person it's meant for, or the place ye are told to fetch it to. It's the best plan, dear."
"I suppose it is, Missis Barry, generally," agreed Tom. "I remember once Ed Brown and I made away with half of a big package of raisins that mother sent me for, and she scolded me about it. But that was different, you know. Pshaw! I didn't mean to tell you it was Ed. Here we are at your door, ma'am. I'll put your things inside—oh, no! Never mind. I was glad to come. Really I oughtn't to take it. Well, thank you. Good-bye!"
And Tom scampered off with an especially toothsome-looking apple, which the woman forced into his hand.
"Ah, but he's the dear, blithe, generous-hearted b'y!" she exclaimed, with a warmth of affectionate admiration, as she stood looking after him. "There's not a bit of worldly pride or meanness about him. May the Lord keep him so! The only thing I'd be afraid of is that, like many such, he'd be easily led. There's that Ed Brown now,—Heaven forgive me, but somehow I don't like that lad. Though he's the son of the richest man in the neighborhood, an' his people live in grand style, he's no fit companion for Masther Tom Norris, I'm thinkin'."
Tom lost no time now in getting home. A little later he had entered a spacious brick house on Florence Street, deposited the milk can on the kitchen table, set the cook a laughing by some droll speech, and, passing on, sought his mother in her cheerful sitting-room.
"Why, my son, what delayed you so long?" she inquired, folding away her sewing; for it was becoming too dark to work.
"Oh, I went home with Missis Barry!" he answered, with the matter-of-fact air with which he might have said that he had been escorting some particular friend of the family.
Mrs. Norris smiled and drew nearer to the bright fire which burned in the grate. Tom slipped into a seat beside her upon the wide, old-fashioned sofa, which was just the place for one of those cosy twilight chats with mother, which boys especially love so much, and the memory of which gleams, star-like, through the mists of years, exerting even far greater influence than she dreams of upon their lives. Tom considered this quiet half hour the pleasantest of the day. Mrs. Norris, with a gentle wisdom worthy of wider imitation, encouraged him to talk to her about whatever interested him. She was seldom too tired or too preoccupied at this time to hear of the mechanism of the steam-engine, the mysteries of the printing-press, or the feats that may be performed with a bicycle,—of which "taking a header," or the method by which the rider learns to fly off the machine head foremost into a ditch with impunity, appeared to be the most desirable. Her patience in this respect was rewarded by that most precious possession to a mother, a son's confidence.
Tom liked to tell her of various things that happened during the day; to compare notes, and get her opinions of matters in general; at the same time giving his own, which were often quaint and entertaining.
"Really, mother, Missis Barry knows a lot!" he now exclaimed, abruptly, clasping his knee and staring at the fire in a meditative manner.
Mrs. Norris looked amused, but she did not venture to question the apple-vender's wisdom. One or two kindly inquiries about the old woman, however, prompted him to speak of her further,—of his meeting her as she struggled along with her burden, his drawing it on the sled, and last of her refusal of the drink he offered.
"You would not have minded, would you, mother?" he asked.
"No, not for the sake of the milk, certainly," responded Mrs. Norris, laughing; "but—" then she hesitated. How could she hamper the mind of this ingenuous little lad of hers with false and finical ideas of refinement and delicacy! Why should she suggest to him that it is at least not customary to go about giving the poor to drink out of our own especial milk cans? There came to her mind the noble lines which but frame as with jewels the simple Christian precept,—the words spoken to Sir Launfal when, weary, poverty-stricken, and disheartened, the knight returns from his fruitless search for the Holy Grail; when humbly he shares his cup and crust with the leper at the gate,—the leper who straightway stands before him glorified, a vision of Our Lord, and tells him that true love of our neighbor consists in,
"Not what we give, but what we share; For the gift without the giver is bare."
And then the mother's hands rested lovingly a moment upon Tom's head, as again she repeated more softly: "No, certainly."
* * * * *
As Widow Barry had surmised, the keynote of Tom's nature was that he was easily led, and therein rested the possibilities of great good or evil. The little confidential chats with his mother were a strong safeguard to him, and laid the foundation of the true principles by which he should be guided; but, as he mingled more with other boys, he was not always steadfast in acting up to his knowledge of what was right, and was apt to be more influenced by his companions than his best friends cared to see him. At present he was inclined to make a chum of Ed Brown, who, though only a year older, was so precociously shrewd, and what the world calls "smart," that, according to good Widow Barry's opinion, "he could buy and sell Masther Tom any day."
The old woman had, indeed, many opportunities for observation; for is not sometimes so simple a transaction as the buying of an apple a real test of character? If a boy or man is tricky or mean or unjust in his business dealings, is it likely that we shall find him upright and honorable in other things? Though Mrs. Norris was not as well posted as the apple-vender, one or two occurrences had caused her to positively forbid Tom to have any more to do with Ed,—a command which he grumbled a good deal about, and, alas! occasionally disobeyed.
But to continue our story. The following Saturday morning the skies were blue, the sun shone bright, the gladness of spring was in the air,—all promised a long, pleasant holiday. The apple stand at the corner had a prosperous aspect. The umbrella, though shabbier and more rakish-looking than ever, wore a cheery, hail-fellow-well-met appearance. Widow Barry had, as she told a neighbor, "spruced up her old bonnet a bit,"—an evidence of the approach of spring, which the boys recognized and appreciated. Now she was engaged in polishing up her apples, and arranging the peanuts as invitingly as possible; a number of pennies already jingled in the small bag attached to her apron-string, in which she kept her money.
"Ah, here comes Masther Tom!" she exclaimed, presently. "An' right glad I am; for he always brings me a good hansel."
"Hello, Missis Barry!" cried he. "How's trade to-day? Too early to tell yet? Well, see if I can't boom it a little. Give me a dozen apples, and one—yes, two quarts of nuts."
Pleased and flustered at this stroke of fortune, she busied herself in getting out two of the largest of her paper bags, and filling the munificent order. But Tom was not like himself this morning. He had plenty to say, to be sure; but he talked away with a kind of reckless gaiety that appeared a trifle forced, and he was eager to be off.
The old woman paused a second, as if suddenly impressed by the difference in his manner; then, by a shake of the head, she strove to banish the thought, which she reproached herself for as an unworthy suspicion, and smiled as if to reassure herself. With a pleasant word she put the well-filled bags into Tom's hands, and received the silver he offered in payment—three bright new dimes. At that moment she caught a glimpse of Ed Brown lurking in the area way of a house at the other end of the block. The sight filled her with a vague misgiving which she could not have explained. She glanced again at Tom; he was nervous and excited.
"Wait a bit," said she, laying a restraining hand upon his arm.
"What is the matter? Didn't I give you just the price?" he inquired, somewhat impatiently.
The old woman bent forward and peered anxiously into his face; her kind but searching eyes seemed to look down into his very soul, as, in a voice trembling with emotion, she replied: "Yes: but tell me, asthore, where did ye get the money?"
Tom's countenance changed; he tried to put her off, saying, "Pshaw! Why do you want to ask a fellow such a question? Haven't I bought more than this of you before?"
"Troth an' ye have, dear; but not in this way, I'm thinkin'," she answered.
"It's all right. Do let me go, Missis Barry!" cried he, vexed and beginning to feel decidedly frightened.
"Hi, Tom, come on!" called Ed Brown, emerging from the area.
"Look here, Masther Tom, darlin'! You'll not move a step with them things, an' I'll not put up that money till I know where it came from."
"Well, then," said Tom, doggedly, seeing that escape was impossible, "I got it at home, off the mantel in the sitting-room."
"Oh, yes!" ejaculated Mrs. Barry, raising her eyes toward heaven, as if praying for the pardon of the offence.
"Why, that's nothing!" he went on. "Ed Brown says lots of boys do it. Some take the change out of their father's pockets even, if they get a chance. His father don't mind a bit. He always has plenty of cash, Ed has."
"Ah, yes, that ne'er-do-well, Ed Brown!" said the old woman, shaking her fist at the distant Ed, who, realizing that Tom had got into trouble, disappeared in a twinkling.
"An' his father don't mind! Then it's because he knows nothin' about it. They'll come a day of reckonin' for him. An' you—"
"Oh, the folks at home won't care!" persisted Tom, thoroughly ashamed, but still anxious to excuse himself. "Mother always says that everything in the house is for the use of the family. If we children should make a raid on the pantry, and carry off a pie or cake, she might punish us for the disobedience, but she wouldn't call it stealing." He blushed as he uttered the ugly word.
"Yes, but to take money is different, ye know," continued his relentless mentor, whose heart, however, was sorrowing over him with the tenderness of a mother for her child.
Tom was silent; he did know, had really known from the first, though now his fault stood before him in its unsightliness; all the pretexts by which he had attempted to palliate it fell from it like a veil, and showed the hateful thing it was. He could not bring himself to acknowledge it, however. Sullenly he set down the apples and peanuts, murmuring, "I never did it before, anyhow!"
"No, nor never will again, I'm sure, avick! This'll be a lifelong lesson to ye," returned the old woman, with agitation, as she put the dimes back into his hand. "Go right home with them now, an' tell yer father all about it."
"My father!" faltered Tom, doubtful of the consequences of such a confession.
"Well, yer mother, then. She'll be gentle with ye, never fear, if ye are really sorry."
"Indeed I am, Missis Barry," declared Tom, quite breaking down at last.
"I'm certain ye are, asthore!" continued the good creature, heartily. "An', whisper, when ye get home go to yer own little room, an' there on yer bended knees ask God to forgive ye. Make up yer mind to shun bad company for the future; an' never, from this hour, will we speak another word about this—either ye to me or I to ye,—save an' except ye may come an' say: 'I've done as ye bid me, Missis Barry. It's all hunkey dory!'"
The old woman smiled with grim humor as she found herself quoting the boy's favorite slang expression.
Tom laughed in spite of himself, so droll did it sound from her lips; but at the same time he drew his jacket sleeve across his eyes, which had grown strangely dim, and said:
"I will, Missis Barry. You may trust me: I will."
And Tom did. From that day he and the honest old apple-woman were better friends than ever. Meanwhile her trade improved so much that before long she was able to set up a more pretentious establishment,—a genuine stand, with an awning to replace the faithful umbrella, which was forthwith honorably retired from service. Here she carried on a thriving business for several years, Tom, though now a student at St. Jerome's College, often bought apples and peanuts of her.
"You see that old woman?" said he to a comrade one day. "Don't look much like an angel, does she?"
His friend, glancing at the queer figure and plain, ordinary features, was amused at the comparison.
"And yet," continued Tom, earnestly, "she proved a second Guardian Angel to me once, and I'll bless her all my life for it."
"BETTER THAN RICHES."
"Cash! Cash! here!" cried an attendant at the stationery counter of one of New York's great shopping emporiums. At the summons a delicate-looking little girl came wearily up, and held out a small wicker basket for the goods and the money. "Be quick now: the lady's in a hurry."
Notwithstanding the injunction, the child started off with no special attempt at haste. The same words were dinned into her ears a hundred times a day. She did not see why ladies should be in a hurry. The ladies of her world seemed to have nothing to do but to wear pretty clothes, and to shop, which meant principally the buying of more pretty clothes. It was all very well to make an extra effort to oblige one occasionally; but if she did it every time she was exhorted to, surely her tired feet would give out before the end of the day.
"Cash is so poky!" complained the salesgirl to her companion behind the counter.
"Hie you, Cash! Hustle I say!" called the floor-walker peremptorily, as he passed.
Thus warned, the child skurried away, and reappeared after a very brief interval. As she rushed up with the parcel, an awkward accident occurred. The lady heedlessly stepped backward. Cash dodged; but, alas! before she could stop herself, she had dashed into a pyramid of note-paper that stood upon the end of the counter, and sent the boxes scattering over the floor in dire confusion.
"Oh!—oh, my!" exclaimed the salesgirl, distressed, as she contemplated the wreck of the architectural display.
The disturbance at once brought the floor-walker to the spot. "Stupid!" he muttered, taking poor Cash by the shoulder. "Why don't you look where you're going? If you can't mind what you're about, we have no use for you here; remember that!"
"Please do not blame the child," interposed the lady who had unwittingly caused the trouble. "It was my fault: I carelessly got in her way. I am very sorry."
"Don't mention it, Mrs. M——. It is not of the slightest consequence," said the floor-walker, with a bland smile and a bow. (Mrs. M—— was a desirable customer, and he would have said the same thing if she had happened to tip the show-case over.) "We have to keep our employees up to the mark, you know," he added in a low tone, by way of apology for his brusqueness. "The best of them become careless. But Cash has found a friend this time, so we'll let it pass."
Cash, who was busily picking up the boxes, made a little grimace to herself at his change of manner. The lady politely inclined her head by way of acknowledgment, and the floor-walker left abruptly, having suddenly discovered that something required his immediate attention in another part of the store.
When he had disappeared, the little girl looked up and faltered gratefully: "Thank you, ma'am!"
Mrs. M—— now for the first time took notice of the individual to whom she had just rendered a service. She glanced down upon a freckled face of the complexion described as pasty, a pair of greyish-blue eyes, and a tangle of reddish curls just long enough to admit of being tied back with the bit of crumpled ribbon which kept them tidy. Cash was not of prepossessing appearance; yet perhaps because, the grateful glance touched a chord common to humanity in the heart of the stranger, or because one naturally warms to any creature whom one has befriended, or perhaps simply from the sweet womanliness which finds all childhood attractive,—whatever the motive, upon the impulse of the moment the lady did a very graceful thing. Taking a rose from the bunch of jacqueminots she wore, she fastened it to the breast of the child's black apron, and was gone before the latter could recover from her astonishment.
It was only a little incident, but it changed the whole aspect of Cash's day. The beautiful flower glowed against the dark uniform, like a bit of joy vouchsafed to a sombre life.
"How lovely!" exclaimed the salesgirl. "Aren't you lucky, Cash! Don't you want to exchange with me? I'll give you a delicious orange I brought with my lunch for that posie."
Cash shook her head. As soon as she could, she stole away to the room where the girls kept their cloaks and hats. Here, after a furtive look around to see that ho one was by who might snatch, it away, she unpinned the rose and slipped it into a small card-board box, having first carefully wrapped the stem in a piece of well moistened paper. Then she tucked the box into the pocket of her jacket, and ran downstairs to the store again.
For the next two or three hours it happened that Cash was kept running to and fro almost without intermission; but she did not mind it now. The kindly word spoken in her behalf by the truly gracious lady, the simple gift of a flower, had given her new spirit. Her heart, like a little bird, kept singing a cheery song to itself; while, as she journeyed hither and thither, her feet seemed to keep time to its gladness.
"Why, Cash, you're getting smart! What has waked you up?" said the salesgirl, when, well on in the afternoon, the child sat down by the counter for a few seconds. Then, without waiting for a reply, she continued: "Now, aren't you sorry you did not exchange with me? See, you've lost your rose!"
"Oh, 'taint losted," answered the girl.
"You did not give it to any one after I made the first bid?" (The inquiry was in a sharper tone.)
"No: I'm keeping it for Ellie."
"Oh, sure enough! Poor Ellie! how is she? Cash, you're a good little thing to remember her so kindly. Here, I have the orange still; take it to her, too."
The child's eyes sparkled with pleasure as the salesgirl put the golden ball into her hand. "Ellie'll be awful pleased. I'll tell her you sent it, Julia," she said.
Cash had, of course, another name: it was Katy Connors. Katy lived way over on the east side of the city, in a house which was once a handsome dwelling, but had long since been divided into tenements and given up to ruin. The Connors were known among their neighbors as a respectable, hard-working family. The father was a day-laborer; the mother went out washing; Joe, a boy of fourteen, was in the district messenger service; after him came Katy, who was employed in McNaughton's store; and then Ellie, the little invalid. Two younger children had died in infancy.
Poor Ellie was fast becoming helpless. How different it had been a few months before! What a sturdy, active, child she was, when one morning she set out in gay spirits "to earn money for mother!" Like Katy, she had obtained a position as cashgirl in McNaughton's. And how quick and smart she was about her duties! The floor-walker commended her twice during the week, and said he would speak for an increase in her wages. How proud she felt when Saturday came, and she knew she would have two dollars and a half to take home! Unfortunately, it was to be dearly gained.
Saturday afternoon it happened that the store was unusually crowded; everything was stir and confusion. Little Ellie and her companions dashed now here, now there, in response to the unceasing cry of "Cash! Cash!" In the midst of the hurry, the floor-walker gave Ellie a message to deliver to one of the clerks in the basement. "Don't delay!" he called after her. Eager to please, the child made her way through the throng, and was on the point of darting down the stairs, when, alas! her foot caught, she tripped, gave a little scream, and was precipitated down the entire flight. In an instant several employees from the neighboring counters rushed to pick her up; but, to their alarm, though she strove to be brave, when they attempted to move her she could not repress a low moan of anguish. The superintendent sent at once for a doctor, who discovered that she had sustained a severe injury, having struck against the edge of one of the iron steps.
Where was now the proud home-coming? Ellie was taken to the hospital, whither frightened Mrs. Connors was summoned. Upon one of the cots in the accident ward lay the child, her small face wan with pain, and in her eyes the startled expression noticeable in those of a person who has had a serious fall. In one feverish hand she held something tightly clasped—something for which she had asked before being carried from the store. When the doctor turned aside she beckoned to her mother, and, with a pathetic little smile, folded into the palm of the weeping woman a small yellow envelope. The next moment she fainted away, Mrs. Connors' tears flowed faster as she beheld the precious offering—Ellie's first wages, and the last which she was likely ever to earn.
The firm of McNaughton & Co. investigated the accident, to see if they could by any means be liable to an action for damages brought by an employee. But there was no loose nail in the stairway, not the least obstruction. The proprietors were not to blame; it was simply the child's heedlessness, they said. In fact, the fault was with Ellie's shoes: the sole of one, being broken, caught on the top step and caused her fall.
And she was to have had a new pair that very evening. Mrs. Connors had quietly determined that her first earnings should be expended in this way. Poor Ellie! she would not need shoes now: the doctors feared she would never walk again. The firm sent a twenty-dollar bill to the child's mother, another "Cash" was engaged to take Ellie's place, and the matter was speedily forgotten.
Not growing better at the hospital, Ellie begged to be taken home. Rather than live apart from those she loved, she strove to be content to remain alone day after day, propped up by an inverted chair upon a wretched bed. Or, when she felt stronger, with the aid of a pair of rude crutches, she would drag herself to the window to watch patiently for the return of the dear bread-winners, whose toil she would so willingly have shared.
There, in a little stuffy room, upon the top floor of the old house, she spent the long, sultry summer; there she remained when autumn came; there the approaching Christmas holidays were likely to find her.
How was it, then, that Ellie was generally cheery and blithe? Perhaps her mother's prayer each morning, as she bade her good-bye to go to work, had most to do with it. "May Jesus and His Blessed Mother watch over you, mavourneen!" the good woman would say, with a sigh at the necessity for leaving her.
Frequently, when the child could have wept for loneliness, the words would keep echoing in her heart. She was a well-disposed little creature, and those hours spent alone often brought serious thoughts, which molded and beautified her character. But Ellie was a thoroughly natural child: there was none of the story-book goodness about her. She was keenly interested in everything that went on. She thought there was no one like mother, but it was Katy who represented the world to her,—the world of McNaughton's store, with its brightness and beautiful wares, and its ever-changing crowd of handsomely costumed ladies intent upon the pleasures of shopping. Any scrap of news which one fagged out little cashgirl brought home at the close of the day was eagerly listened to by the other; who found her enforced idleness so irksome.
Katy had a great deal to narrate at the close of the day upon which our story opened. Sitting upon the foot of Ellie's bed, she told how she upset the pyramid of note-paper; and what trouble she would have been in, but for the kind lady who so promptly came to the rescue. To Ellie's quick imagination the story had all the charm of a fairy tale. And when, at the close, her sister placed in her hands the orange and the tiny box wherein lay the rose, still quite fresh and fragrant, her face beamed with delight; and Katy went to bed very happy, feeling herself more than repaid for having treasured them so carefully.
The next morning, when Katy reached the store, she found everybody in a state of pleasurable excitement over the opening of the holiday goods; for it wanted but three weeks to Christmas. At the end of the stationery counter, where the pyramid of note-paper had been, an immense stack of dolls was now attractively displayed. The little cashgirl stood before it, lost in admiration. There were little dolls and big ones; dolls with blue eyes, and others with brown; some with light hair, and some with dark; bebee Jumeau and bebee Brue; rubber dolls, and rag dolls with papier-mache faces.
"How lovely they are!" she murmured to herself, including even the plainest and least among them in her appreciation of the gorgeous company. "Don't I wish Ellie could see them!" she continued. "I'll have to count them, so as to tell her how many there are; for I don't believe that by herself she could imagine such a lot of dolls together."
Katy and Ellie had never had a doll in their lives,—that is, a real boughten one, as they called those not of home manufacture.
The kind salesgirl who had sent the orange to Ellie, from her post behind the counter, noticed the child's wonderment.
"Will you look at Cash!" she said to a companion. Katy was oblivious of them, however. After watching her a few moments, Julia called out:
"Well, Cash, which do you like best?"
The little girl looked the dolls over again with much deliberation; and finally, pointing to a good-sized one, with golden hair and large eyes, said:
"Oh, one of those ninety-seven cent dolls!" responded Julia. "They are handsome for the price. Sawdust bodies, to be sure; but what fine heads?—red cheeks, splendid eyes, and hair that will comb out as well as that of some costlier ones, I'll be bound."
"Ninety-seven cents!" repeated Katy, with a sigh. It was an unattainable sum, as far as she was concerned. The salesgirl remarked the sigh.
"Say, Cash, why don't you buy it?" she urged. "Your mother'll let you keep part of your wages for yourself Christmas week, won't she? And you wouldn't get such another bargain in a doll if you hunted a year and a day. You'd better speak for it quick, though; for when the rush of trade comes, there's no knowing how long the lot will last."
Katy shook her head. "I wouldn't want to buy a Christmas present for myself," she answered. "But I was wishing—only there is really no use in wishing; still, just supposing there was—I was thinking if I could only get that doll for Ellie, how happy she would be. You know she has to be alone so much, and she gets awful blue sometimes; though she won't let on, 'cause it would fret mother. But the doll would be great company for her. We've neither of us ever had one."
She continued to gaze longingly at the rosy beauty, while the salesgirl meditatively dusted the show-case.
"Stop! I'll tell you how you can manage to get it," Julia said, suddenly. "It's the rule of this store that on Christmas Eve, after all the customers are gone, each employee may choose as a present from the firm some article worth a quarter of his or her wages for the week. Let's see: you're paid three dollars, aren't you?"
"That would count for seventy-five cents on the doll; then all you would have to put to it would be twenty-two cents. Couldn't you do that somehow?"
"Yes!" cried Katy, delighted. "Sometimes I run errands for a dressmaker who lives in the block below us, and she gives me pennies, or once in a while a nickel. And when my aunt's husband comes to see us—he's a widder man and sorter rich; he drives a truck,—well, when he comes 'casionally, he gives each of us children as much as ten cents; and I guess he'll be round about Christmas time. Oh, yes, I'm almost sure I can make up the twenty-two cents!"
"But, then, when the doll is yours, won't you hate to give it away?" queried Julia; for Katy already began to assume an air of possession.
"Oh, not to Ellie! And, you know, she'll be sure to let me hold it sometimes" was the ingenuous reply.
The quick tears sprang to the salesgirl's eyes, and she turned abruptly away, to arrange some dolls upon the shelves behind her.
"After all, love is better than riches," she reflected, as the picture of the crippled child in the humble home arose in her mind, and she gave a sidelong glance at Katy's thin face and shabby dress.
"You will be sure to save this very doll for me, won't you?" pleaded the child.
"I can't put it aside for you," she explained, "because the floor-walker would not allow that; but I'll arrange so you will have one of the lot, never fear."
"But I want this one," declared Katy.
"My goodness gracious, you foolish midget! They're all as much alike as rows of peas in a pod," exclaimed her friend, a trifle impatiently.
"No," insisted the little girl. "All the others have red painted buckles on their shoes, but this doll has blue buckles; and I'm sure Ellie would prefer blue buckles, 'cause we've often talked about it when we played choosing what we'd like best."
"Well, well!" laughed Julia. "All right, Katy: I'll save it, if I can."
Satisfied by this promise, the child ran away; for customers began to come in, and to loiter would be to lessen her chance of gaining the treasure which to herself she already called Ellie's.
McNaughton & Co. did a great business within the next two weeks; the employees were "fearfully rushed," as they expressed it. Katy had no opportunity for further conversation with the sociable attendant at the end of the stationery counter, now given over to toys, upon the subject oftenest in her thoughts. She had been transferred to another department; but every day she took occasion to go around and look at the doll, to make sure that it was still there; and the kindly salesgirl always found time to give her an encouraging nod and a smile.
One afternoon, however, a few days before Christmas, when Julia returned from her lunch she met Katy, who was crying bitterly. The cause of her distress was soon told. A new girl had been put at the counter that morning; she knew nothing about Katy's doll, and now, as luck would have it, was just in the act of selling it to a big, bluff-looking man, who said he wanted it for his little daughter.
Julia rushed to her post. The man was upon the point of paying for the doll, and had decided that he would take the parcel with him.
"Have you seen the brown-eyed dolls?" she interposed, pleasantly. The other girl scowled at the interference with 'her sale,' but she persisted. "The brown-eyed ones are considered the most desirable."
"Are they?" the man hesitated. "Well, I believe I'll take one, then, instead of this. My little maid likes brown eyes."
Katy's doll was saved. The child, in a fever of suspense, had watched the transaction from behind a pile of dry-goods. Now she turned toward her friend a face bright with gratitude, as she hurried away in response to the imperative call of "Cash."
When Julia recovered from her flurry, she explained matters to her associate. The girl's ill-humor quickly vanished once she understood the situation, and she willingly agreed to help retain the doll if possible.
On the morning of the day before Christmas, Katy appeared at the counter and offered the twenty-two cents which she had succeeded in getting together—the balance to be paid on her present.
"Can't I take the doll now, please?" she begged.
"You will have to ask the floor-walker," replied Julia.
She did so, but he said she must wait until evening; he could not make any exceptions. So she was obliged to control her impatience.
Scarcely five minutes afterward a crash was heard. The equilibrium of the rack of dolls had been disturbed, and the whole collection was dashed to the floor. Fortunately, only three or four of the dolls were broken; but, alas! among them was the one Katy had set her heart upon giving to her sick sister.
The commotion brought her to the scene at once. Poor Katy! She did not burst out crying, as Julia expected; but just clasped her hands and stood looking at the wreck of the doll, with an expression of hopeless disappointment, which would have seemed ludicrous, considering the cause, had it not been so pathetic. It aroused the ready sympathy of Julia.
"Don't feel so bad, midget!" she whispered, picking up the pieces. "See: only the head is spoiled. There's another with the feet knocked off. I'll get permission to take the two dolls up to the toy-mender's room, and have the head of the other put on your doll; that will make it as good as new."
When order was restored, she made her request of the floor-walker.
"All right," he answered. "It will cut down the loss by ninety-seven cents; so you may have it done, if they can spare the time upstairs. That is an awkward corner, anyhow; it will have to be left free in future."
At noon Julia snatched a few moments from the short interval allowed her to get her lunch, and hurried up to the toy-mender's quarters. She prevailed upon him to have the doll repaired in the course of an hour or two; he promised to do so, and it was sent back to her early in the afternoon.
That day Katy's duties, fortunately for her peace of mind, brought her frequently into the vicinity of the doll counter. Now she hastened to it, in a quiver of excitement, to witness the success of the process. When the cover was taken off the box, her cheeks crimsoned with indignation and her eyes blazed, as she turned inquiringly to Julia.
"Indeed, Katy, it is none of my doings," protested the salesgirl; though the result of the experiment was so funny she had not the heart to laugh. The doll with the beautiful blue buckles on her shoes had now a mop of darky wool, and a face as black as the ace of spades.
Julia's quick wit at once jumped at the correct conclusion regarding the apparent blunder. The toy-mender's two thoughtless apprentices had played a joke upon the little cashgirl.
"It is only the nonsense of those rogues upstairs. I'll take the doll back and tell them they must fix it to-night, or I'll complain of them for their fooling at this busy time," she announced, energetically; for she noted the twitching around the corners of Katy's mouth, notwithstanding the child's brave effort at self-control.
Katy went off partially comforted.
"It's mean to tease a child in that way," added Julia, in an audible aside, as she laid the doll on the shelf behind, and wished that the lady to whom she was showing some very handsome dolls would finish her choice, so that she might get a free minute to run up to the mending room again. But the interest of the customer had been awakened by the little drama enacted before her.
"What is the matter?" she inquired, cordially.
Julia looked disconcerted; but the lady had such a sweet and noble face, and her manner was so winning, that the girl found herself telling briefly not only the history of Katy's doll, but of Katy and Ellie too. It was not a waste of time either; for while she talked the purchaser made one or two additional selections, and then, after giving directions concerning them, passed on.
"Do you know who that was?" asked Katy, rushing up as the lady turned into another aisle of the store.
"Yes: Mrs. M——, of 34th Street. Of course she left her address for the parcels," replied Julia.
"It's my Rose-lady, as I call her,—don't you remember the one who gave me the pretty flower?" cried the child.
"Why, so it is!" rejoined Julia. "Well, she's a lovely lady certainly. She happened to ask what the trouble was about the doll; and was so interested I couldn't help telling how you had saved and planned to get it for Ellie, and all about it."
"Mercy! did you?" answered the child, in confusion. "My, but you're the talker, Julia! What would the likes of her care to hear about that!"
The store kept open till half-past eleven Christmas Eve; but at length the last customer was gone, and the employees were allowed to choose their presents. Katy skipped around with joy when the doll was put into her arms. After a moment, however, Julia whisked it away again, and sent it to be packed in a box. The box proved to be large and clumsy, but this was accounted for upon the plea of haste.
"Well, good-night and merry Christmas, Julia!" said the little cashgirl, gratefully. "I don't know how to thank you enough for being so good, and helping me so much,—indeed I don't!"
"Never mind trying," answered Julia, brightly, but with an earnestness unusual to her. "Isn't this Christmas Eve, and didn't the Infant Jesus come to help us, and teach us to do what we can for one another? Just say a prayer for me at Mass to-morrow; that is all I ask."
"You may be sure I will," Katy responded, heartily.
"Good-night! Merry Christmas to you all, and especially to Ellie!" added Julia, hurrying away.
Katy's father was waiting for her at one of the entrances of the store. After a slight demur, she allowed him to carry the package, while she trudged along at his side. The stores were closed, the gay throng of shoppers had disappeared. People were still abroad upon the great thoroughfares; but the side streets were deserted, except when, now and again, overtaxed workers like herself were to be met making their way home. The lamps burned dim, save where, occasionally, an electric light flared up with a spectral glare. The glitter of the world had departed. It was past midnight; in the deep blue of the winter's sky the stars glowed with a peaceful radiance. Looking up at them, Katy began to think, in her own simple fashion, of the meaning of Christmas and of Christmas gifts; of Bethlehem, the Virgin Mother, and the Divine Child; of the Love that came into the world on that holy night of long ago, to kindle in all hearts a spirit of kindliness and helpfulness toward one another, making it more blessed to give than to receive. The little girl realized the happiness of making others happy, when she handed to Ellie the bulky package over which she had kept watch all the way to the house.
The usually pale face of the young invalid flushed with excitement, while, with trembling fingers, she unfastened the wrappings and opened the box.
"O Katy!" she exclaimed, as she beheld the hard-won present,—"O Katy!" It was all she could say, but the tone and the look which accompanied it were quite enough.
At first neither of the children could think of anything besides the doll; but after a while Ellie made another discovery. As she trifled with the box, she cried:
"Why, there's something else here!"
The next moment she drew out a doll precisely like the first, except that its shoes had red buckles; at the sight of which Katy immediately concluded that, for herself, she liked red buckles better. Attached to it was a card on which was written: "For an unselfish little sister."
"It did not get there by mistake: it's for you, Katy," said Ellie, ecstatically.
"Then the Rose-lady must have sent it," declared Katy, feeling as if she were in a dream.
That her conjecture was correct was evident the next day; for about noon a carriage stopped at the door of the dilapidated house in —— street; and a visitor, who seemed to bring with her an additional share of Christmas sunshine, was shown up to the Connors' tenement. She was followed by a tall footman, who quietly deposited upon the table a generous basket of the season's delicacies.
"The Rose-lady, mother!" cried Katy, pinching her own arm to see if she could possibly be awake.
It was all true, however; and that day the Connors family found a devoted friend. Henceforth the Rose-lady took a special interest in Ellie. She induced a celebrated doctor to go and see her. The great man said there was a chance that the crippled child might be cured by electricity; and it was arranged that the mother should take her regularly to his office for treatment, Mrs. M—— offering the use of her carriage.
Now Ellie can walk almost as well as ever. She is growing stronger every day, and will probably before long be able to attain her ambition—"to earn money to help mother."
"And to think, Katy," the little girl often says, affectionately, "it all came about through your wanting to give me that Christmas doll!"
BUILDING A BOAT.
"Oh, if we only had a boat, what jolly fun we might have!" exclaimed Jack Gordon regretfully, following with his eyes the bright waters as they rushed along,—now coursing smoothly, now leaping in the sunshine; again darkened for the moment, and eddying beneath the shade of the overhanging branches of a willow tree; then in the distance coming almost to a standstill, and expanding into the clear, floating mirror of the mill-pond.
"That's so," answered Rob Stuart, laconically. The two boys were lounging on the bank of the creek, which, though dignified by the name of Hohokus River and situated in New Jersey, is not considered of sufficient importance to be designated on the map of that State, even by one of those wavering, nameless lines which seem to be hopelessly entangled with one another for the express purpose of confusing a fellow who has neglected his geography lesson until the last moment.
"Yes, if we had a boat we might explore this stream from source to mouth," continued Jack, who was always in search of adventures.
"A canoe?" suggested Rob.
"That would be just the thing," agreed Jack. "But a regular canoe, made of birch bark or paper, would cost too much. I'll tell you what it is, Rob. Jim and I have next to nothing in the treasury at present. We haven't had a chance to earn much lately."
"I'm about dead broke, too," replied Rob.
"I say," exclaimed Jack, after a moment of silence, "suppose we make one?"
"Make one!" echoed Rob, surprised.
"Why, yes. All we need is a flat-bottomed boat; and it ought not to be hard to put one together. Uncle Gerald promised to give me some boards for my chicken-coops; perhaps he would add a few more if he knew what we wanted them for. Let's go over and see if he is at home now,"
"All right," answered Rob, preparing to start.
Jack and Rob might almost always be found together. They were of about the same age,—Jack being fourteen on his last birthday, the 22d of January, and Rob on the 30th of the following March. They lived within a stone's-throw of each other, and had been friends from the time they were little chaps.
Mr. Gerald Sheridan was a merchant who did business in New York, but he was now taking a few days' vacation, to look a little after the work upon his farm, which was in charge of a hired man. His house, situated a short distance down the road, was large and spacious. The boys walked briskly toward it, planning as they went.
At Uncle Gerald's the latch string was always out—that is, if the door was not standing hospitably open, as was usually the case in pleasant spring or summer weather; one had only to turn the knob and walk in. Just as they were about to enter the square, home-like hall, lined with old-fashioned settles and adorned with fowling-pieces, fishing-rods, tennis rackets, and the like, Jack's cousin, eleven-year-old Leo, came out of an adjoining room and said;
"Hello! You want to see father? Well, he's over yonder"—pointing to a sunny patch of ground toward the south,—"showing Michael how he wants the vegetable garden planted. Wait a minute and I'll go with you."
Leo's hat having been discovered in a corner where he had tossed it an hour or two earlier, they started on a race to the garden, and brought up suddenly in front of Uncle Gerald, who now, in a dark blue flannel shirt, trousers to match, and a broad-brimmed hat of grey felt, was evidently dressed for the role of a farmer. He was a pleasant man, tall and slight in figure, with blue eyes, a brown beard, and a cheery, kindly manner, which made him a favorite with everybody, and especially with boys, in whose projects he was always interested.
"Give you the wood to build a boat?" he repeated, when told what Jack and Rob wanted to accomplish. "Willingly. I am glad to have you attempt something of the kind. I have always maintained that boys should be taught to work with their hands. Every youth ought to learn the use of tools, just as a girl learns to sew, to cook, and help her mother in household duties. Then we should not have so many awkward, stupid, bungling fellows, who can not do anything for themselves. It is as disgraceful for a lad not to be able to drive a nail straight without pounding his fingers or thumb as it is for a girl not to know how to stitch on a button. But I am letting my hobby run away with me, and no doubt you are anxious to be off. You will find the lumber piled in the storeroom of the barn. Take what you need. Perhaps Leo will lend you his pony to draw the load home."
"Thank you, sir!" answered Jack, heartily.
Now that the means of carrying out his plan were insured to him, he did not feel in such a hurry; and, furthermore, though quite satisfied that he should have no trouble about it, he would not have objected to a few hints as to how to begin.
"Can you tell me, Uncle," asked the boy, half jocosely, "if any of the distinguished men you are thinking of ever attempted to make a boat?"
"To be sure," returned the gentleman. "There was Peter the Great, who, though a tyrannical ruler, might have earned fair wages as a ship-builder. But we shall have to talk about him another time, when I have leisure; for I see that at present Michael wants me to devote all my attention to tomato plants, peas, beans, and seed potatoes. If you wait till tomorrow, I will show you how to set to work."
"Oh, I guess we can get on!" returned Jack, becoming impatient again, and feeling that it would be impossible to delay, with the whole bright day before them. Rob seemed to be of the same opinion.
Uncle Gerald smiled, reflecting that, since manual training does not begin with boat-building, they would soon discover the task so confidently undertaken to be a far greater one than they realized. He made no comment, however; and the boys started for the barn-loft, where they selected the wood best suited to their purpose, and carried it down to the yard, where Leo had dragged out the pony wagon.
"Here," said he, "you may stow the boards into this; and I'll lend you Winkie to draw them home, if you'll promise to let Jim and me see you build the boat."
Jack's brother Jim was a year older than Leo; but the two chummed together, and were accustomed to stand up for each other, and thus hold their own against the big boys, who were sometimes rather too much inclined to adopt a patronizing tone toward them.
Jack and Rob now exchanged significant glances, which said plainly that they would prefer the loan of the pony without any conditions. It would be annoying to have the little fellows "tagging after them." But there was no help for it. The pony belonged to Leo, and they could not take it without his permission.
"Oh—ahem—I suppose so! Hey, Rob?" said Jack, shutting one eye expressively.
"Well—yes," agreed Rob, appreciating the situation.
They went round to the front of Winkie's stall. Immediately a shaggy head protruded through the window-like opening, a pair of bright eyes passed over the other visitors and rested upon Leo, with a look which might well be interpreted as one of affection; and a rough nose rubbed up against the boy's arm, this being Winkle's way of expressing delight at seeing his master. He rather resented any attempt at petting from Jack or Rob, however; which led them to tease him, much as they would play with a dog,—for he was only a little Shetland pony, hardly larger than a good-sized Newfoundland.
"Kittelywink!" exclaimed Rob, giving him his full name, which had been shortened for the sake of euphony. "What in the world did you call him that for?"
"Well, I can't exactly say," replied Leo; "but somehow it's a name that's all jumbled up and confused like, and, that is just about how you feel when he gets playing his pranks. Presto, change! you know. Now you're here, and now you don't know where you are, but most likely it is in the middle of a dusty or muddy road. Oh, you don't mind the fall, 'cause he has an accommodating way of letting you down easy; but it hurts your feelings awful, especially if there's anybody round. You don't seem as big as you were a few moments before. He doesn't act that way with me now, because I try to be always kind and gentle with him. But you just attempt to really plague him, and see who'll get the best of it."
"Thank you, I guess I won't mind," responded Rob, in a dry tone, which made the others laugh. He already knew by experience something of the pony's capers, though it had been in Leo's possession only a few weeks; while Jack, having been away on a visit, had never driven Winkie.
"Perhaps if you changed his name he would behave better," suggested Rob.
"I did think of that," answered Leo, seriously. "I had half a mind to call him Cream Puff; you see he's just the color of those lovely ones they sell at the baker's."
Both the boys laughed heartily.
"Crickey! that is an odd name, sure enough, and would suit him splendidly!" said Rob.
"Yes, and he'd have to be sweet and nice all the time, in order to live up to it," added Jack.
"Oh, you must not think he is ugly or vicious!" continued Leo. "He never tried to run away, and most of his antics are nothing but sport. He is not really bad, only a bit contrary occasionally, as Michael says. Mother declares that he reminds her sometimes of a boy who has forgotten to say his prayers in the morning, 'cause then he (the boy, you know) is apt to be fractious, and keeps getting into trouble all day."
"Ha, Leo, what a dead give away!" exclaimed Jack, in a badgering manner. "That's the way it is with you, is it?"
"That's the way with most fellows, I'll wager!" mumbled Leo, growing red, and wishing he had not been quite so communicative.
Neither of the others replied to this, but each secretly admitted that there was a good deal of truth in what he said.
They all assisted in harnessing Kittelywink, who appeared to think this great fun. However, when it became evident that he was expected to draw the little wagon laden with the lumber, he protested decidedly.
"He doesn't want to be used as a dray-horse," observed Leo, sympathetically.
Whether Winkie's pride was indeed hurt at being put to menial employment, or whether he simply felt it an imposition to require him to carry a pile of boards and three sturdy lads in addition, it is impossible to say. At all events, he refused to budge.
"Pshaw!" said Jack. "You fellows had better get off. I'll drive."
There was nothing to be done but for Rob and Leo to scramble down.
"Geet a-a-p!" cried Jack, giving the pony a sharp lash with the whip.
Winkle bounded forward, and darted up the road at what may be called literally a rattling speed; for the boards clattered away at every revolution of the wheels, and the driver found some difficulty in keeping his seat. Jack became excited. He sawed at the pony's mouth and drew him up so suddenly as to pull him back on his haunches. Winkie resolutely objected to these proceedings, and forthwith absolutely declined to go a step farther.
Rob and Leo came running up.
"Jingo, but he's a beauty!", exclaimed Rob, with admiring sincerity.
Winkie, in truth, looked very handsome and roguish as he stood there, with his head bent doggedly, his shaggy mane blown about by the wind, and his bright eyes mischievously asking as plainly as they could: "Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Huh! Handsome is that handsome does!" grumbled Jack. "But I'll teach him to behave himself."
He raised the whip once more, but Leo caught his arm, crying,
"No, you must not whip him. Father says a horse can be managed by kindness better than in any other way."
"Oh, I must not!" repeated Jack, ironically; but, glancing at Leo's face, he saw that his cousin looked flushed and determined. It would not do to quarrel with such a little fellow as Leo, so he checked the sharp words that rose to his lips, and answered with an effort to be good-natured: "Try it yourself, then. I'll just sit here and hold the reins, and you can reason with him all you have a mind to."
Leo went up to the pony's head, patted and spoke gently to him. Winkie arched his neck, then put down his nose and coolly rubbed it all over his young master's face, as if deprecating his misconduct, while making his complaint, as it were, that he had not been fairly treated.
"If he isn't the cutest chap!" ejaculated Rob, delighted at his sagacity.
Jack could not help being amused also.
"Come now, Kittelywink, go 'long!" said he. "You shall have some sugar when I get home."
Most horses are very fond of sugar, and Winkie was no exception. He turned his ears back, with what Rob called "a pleased expression," at this propitiatory tone. But, although he enjoyed the petting now lavished upon him from all quarters, his sensibilities had apparently been too deeply wounded to admit of his being at once conciliated.
"I know!" suggested Jack, unwilling to relinquish the reins. "Suppose I ride on his back?"
Leo demurred till he saw that the pony did not oppose Jack's endeavor to mount. Winkie appeared to be under the impression that they were now to leave the wagon and the despised load behind. To the surprise of the boys he started ahead willingly, and Jack's spirits rose.
"Ha-ha! that's a good fellow!" he began.
Winkie went on a few rods. Presently he discovered that his expectations were not to be realized. The wagon was unusually heavy still; the clattering boards set up a racket every time he moved. He could not get away from them. It might be a good plan to try again, though. He capered and danced, then plunged onward. Jack did not look like a model horseman at this juncture. The boys screamed at him, giving contrary advice; though this made no difference, for his utmost exertions were directed to clinging to his refractory steed.
The pony was only annoyed, not frightened. He seemed to find Jack's efforts to keep from falling off quite entertaining. Suddenly a new idea occurred to him. What a wonder that he did not think of it before! He veered toward the side of the way, stopped abruptly, and, bending his head, sent Jack flying over it into the ditch. A grand success! With a satisfied air Winkie followed up his victory, approached his prostrate antagonist, regarded him for a moment, and—for he wore no check-line—putting down that clever nose of his, by a playful push with it he rolled the boy fairly over, and then set off in a steady trot along the highway.
Winkie had just reached the gate of Jack's home, when our young friends caught up with him. Leo was now allowed to assume control, and, by dint of much coaxing and encouragement, at length succeeded in leading him to Mr. Gordon's barn. The wagon was here unloaded, after which Leo leaped into it, crying, "Come on, old fellow; that's all!" And Winkie, shaking his mane, as if felicitating himself that the disagreeable task was over, started off with much satisfaction.
"I'll be back again this afternoon," his little master shouted to the others as he drove away; "but—I think I'll walk!"
For the next fortnight the lads spent the greater part of the time in the Gordon barn. Such a hammering and sawing as went on there! At first the proceedings were enveloped in an air of mystery. Jack's father suspected that they were preparing for an amateur circus performance. His mother wondered at the interest manifested in the repair of the chicken-coops. Some experiment was in progress, she was sure; but what? At last the secret came out. They were building a boat!
Jack and Rob did it all. "The little boys"—as they were accustomed to call Jim and Leo, much to the chagrin of the latter—were not permitted to have anything to say. They were to keep their eyes open and learn by observation. This they did, though not with exactly the result that had been intended. Before long they understood very well what not to do in building a boat. But we are all liable to make mistakes; and are we not continually teaching others, at least by our experience?
In season and out of season the work went on. Little Barbara Stuart was constantly coming over to ask: "Is Rob here? Mother wants him; he hasn't half finished what he had to do at home." Leo kept getting into trouble because he would stop at his cousin's, instead of going directly home from school as his father wished him to do. Jim, who had a decided, but, alas! entirely uncultivated, taste for drawing, spoiled his new writing-book with extraordinary sketches meant to represent every kind of boat, from a punt or dory to an ocean steamer; and in consequence was not on good terms with the schoolmaster, who did not appreciate such evidences of genius.
Jack—well, everything seemed to go wrong with him. "Where is Jack?"—"Oh, bother, over at the barn!" The answer soon became a byword. The barn was at some distance from the house, and what a time there was in summoning the boy! The method was sufficiently telling, one would think, since it informed the whole neighborhood when he was wanted. It consisted in blowing the horn for him. Now, this was no common horn, but the voice of a giant imprisoned in a cylinder. Jack could have explained it upon the principle of compressed air, for he was studying natural philosophy; but Mr. Sheridan's Michael once described it in this way:
"Sure, it's the queerest thing that ever ye saw! Ye just jam one piece of tin pipe into another piece of tin pipe, as hard as ye can; an' it lets a wail out of it that ye'd think would strike terror to the heart of a stone and wake the dead!"
Whatever effect it might have upon granite or ghosts, however, Jack was usually so engrossed with the boat as to be deaf to its call. If Mrs. Gordon wanted him to harness a horse for her in a hurry, there was no use in sounding a bugle blast; she might try again and again, but in the end she would have to send some one over to him with the message. If he was sent up to the village on an errand, or told to do anything which took him away from his work, he either objected, or complied with a very bad grace.
"I'll tell ye one thing," said Mary Ann the cook, one day when neither Jack nor Jim would go to the store for her, though it would only have taken a few minutes to make the trip on the bicycle,—"I'll tell ye one thing, young sirs. Ye can't expect to have a bit of luck with that boat ye're buildin'."
"No luck! Why not, I'd like to know?" inquired Jack.
"Because all four of ye boys are neglectin' what ye ought to do, and takin' for this the time which by right should be spent on other things; because ye've given yer fathers and mothers more cause to find fault with ye durin' the last two or three weeks than for long before, all on account of it; because ye're none of ye so good-natured as ye used to be. I've heard that havin' a bee in the bonnet spoils a body; but faith I think a boat on the brain is worse. There's one thing, though, that my mind's made up to. I'll make no more cookies for young gentlemen that are not polite and obligin'."
Here was a threat! But, though the boys were secretly somewhat disconcerted, they would not give Mary Ann the satisfaction of seeing that either her prophecy or warning had any effect upon them.
"Pshaw, Mary Ann, you're so cross to-day!" declared Jim.
"It isn't always the good people who seem to have the best luck," continued Jack, braving it out. "And how can you tell whether we'll succeed or not? You are not a fortune-teller."
"Heaven forbid!" ejaculated Mary Ann, devoutly. "And, to be sure, there's plenty of people that gets on very successfully in the world, that don't seem to deserve to prosper half as much as others we know of. But God sees what we don't, and this much we may be certain of: wrong-doin' is always punished sooner or later; while we know that, in the end, those that tries to do right gets their full share of blessin's and a good bit over and above. I'm not sayin' indeed that ye won't build yer boat, only that if ye neglect yer duty ye'll have reason to regret it."
"Well, don't cast an 'evil eye' on the boat, anyway," said Jim; "for if we don't finish it, how can we ever give you a row on the creek?"
"Is it I ride in yer boat!" exclaimed Mary Ann, who was stout and short-breathed. The idea of trusting herself to the tender mercies of the lads, and venturing into any craft of their construction, was so ludicrous that she forgot her vexation and laughed heartily. "Faith, it's fine ballast I'd be for ye!" she said. "And is it in the middle of the river ye'd be landin' me? Thank ye kindly, but I'll not go a pleasurin' with ye. And as for an 'evil eye,' troth ye're but makin' game of my want of book-larnin'. But well I know there's no such thing; and if there was, it could never harm ye or yer work if ye were doin' right. So now be off with ye to the store, and bring me five pounds of sugar, quick as ye can. And if ye take the molasses jug along and get it filled—well, this once I'll beat up a batch of cookies, so ye can have some for yer lunch at school to-morrow."
At last the wonderful boat was pronounced finished. It had obviously not been modeled with an eye to beauty—was flat as the barn floor, square at both ends, and entirely lacking in the curves which constitute the grace of the seabird-like craft which are the delight of yachtmen. Nevertheless, the boys were proud of it. It was their own: they had built it themselves.
"There she is, complete from bow to stern!" exclaimed Jack, with a satisfied air.
"Yes," responded Leo, admiringly. "But"—hesitating—"but—which is the bow and which the stern, you know—eh?"
"Why, this end, stupid! Don't you see I've marked it with a cross?" answered Jack.
"Perhaps I am stupid," thought Leo; "for I don't understand now how one end can be both. I wish Jack would be a little more particular about explaining a thing. It's queer how few fellows are! They jumble their words all up, and think that because they know what they mean, you ought to understand, of course."
"Well," observed Jim, quizzically, "she isn't quite as handsome as the barges on the lake in the park, that float up and down, looking like white swans. Yes, I guess she'll do."
"We didn't set out to build a gondola, to paddle children and nursery maids around in," retorted Rob, with a withering glance. "She's a good, serviceable boat, and safe—"
"Oh, safe as a tub!" agreed Jim, hastily, intending the remark as conciliatory.
"Huh! Perhaps you never tried to pilot a tub," interposed Leo. "I did the other day, just for practice, so I'd know how to row when the time came to use this here punt—if that's what you call it. Jimminy! I got tipped over into the creek, and a scolding besides when I went home! I'd be sorry to have her act like that."
"A tub is a tub and a boat is a boat," said Jack, sententiously. "This one couldn't tip over if it tried. Don't you see it's most square? In fact, we didn't mean to get it quite so wide; but, after all, it is better than those canoe-like things, which are always rocking from one side to the other."
"What are you going to name it?" asked Jim.
Jack looked nonplussed. This necessity had not occurred to him before. He appealed to Rob.
"Suppose," replied the latter, after mature deliberation,—"suppose we call it the Sylph? There's a, story in the Boys' Own about a beautiful boat called the Sylph."
"Cricky! it looks about as much like a sylph as—well, as Mary Ann does!" said Jim. Since the stout, good-natured cook was heavy, and nearly square in figure, the comparison was amusingly apt.
"Do you remember the tents at Coney Island in summer, where a regular wooden circus procession goes round in a ring, keeping time to the music?" asked Leo.
"Yes, and by paying five cents you can take your choice, and ride on a zebra or a lion or a big gold ostrich, or anything that's there. And once we chose a scrumptious boat, all blue and silver, and drawn by two swans," responded Jim.
"Well, what was the name of that?" said Leo.
"I think the man told us she was known as the Fairy," answered Jim.
Again they looked at the boat and shook their heads. It would not do.
"I did not mean the name of the blue and silver barge, but of the whole thing—the ring and all?" added Leo.
"Oh, the Merry-go-Round," said Jack.
"Why would not that be a good name?" argued Rob, pleased with the sound, and, like many a person whose fancy is caught by the jingle of a word, paying little attention to its sense.
"That is what I thought," began Leo, delighted to find his motion seconded, as he would have explained in the language of the juvenile debating society, which met periodically in that very barn.
"Why! do you expect this boat to keep going round and round when we get it out into the middle of the creek?" said practical Jack, pretending to be highly indignant at the imputation.
"No indeed," disclaimed Rob. "Only that she would go around everywhere—up and down the stream, you know; and on an exploring expedition, as we proposed."
"That is not so bad," Jack admitted. "Still, I think we could get a better name. Let us see! The Merry Sailor,—how's that?"
"N—no—hardly," murmured Bob.
"The Jolly Sail—I have it: the Jolly Pioneer!"
"Hurrah!" cried Jim. "The very thing!"
"Yes, I guess that fits pretty well," acknowledged Rob.
"It's capital!" volunteered Leo.
And so the matter was finally settled. The Jolly Pioneer was still destitute of paint, but the boys were in so great a hurry to launch her that they decided not to delay on this account. They carried her down to the creek, and by means of a board slid her into the water. Jack got into the boat first, while the others held the side close to the bank. After him came Rob. Jim and Leo were to follow, but the Jolly Pioneer seemed to have dwindled in size, and did not look half so big or imposing as when in the barn.
"Hold on!" cried Jack. "I'm afraid you will be too heavy. It won't do to crowd at first. We'll just row gently with the current a short distance, and then come back and let you have a turn."
Though disappointed, the little fellows did not demur, but handed him the oars, and waited to see the two boys glide away. But, alas! though the Jolly Pioneer moved a little, it was not with the freedom and confidence which was to be expected of her in her native element. She seemed to shrink and falter, "as if afraid of getting wet," as Jim laughingly declared.
"Hello! what's that?" exclaimed Rob, as he felt something cold at his feet. He looked down: his shoes were thoroughly wet; the water was coming in through the crevices of the boat.
"Pshaw!" cried Jack. "That is because it is new yet; when the wood is soaked it will swell a bit. Hurry and bail out the water, though."
"But we haven't anything to do it with," returned Rob, helplessly.
"Oh, take your hat, man! A fine sailor you'd make!" Jack answered, setting the example by dipping in his own old felt. Rob's was a new straw yet. Unfortunately for its appearance during the remainder of the summer, he did not think of this, but immediately went to work. Their efforts were of no use: the Jolly Pioneer sank slowly but surely.
"Don't give up the ship!" cried Jack, melodramatically.
So as neither of the boys attempted to get out, and thus lessen the weight, down, down it went, till it reached the pebbly bed of the creek, and they found themselves—still in the boat to be sure, but standing up to their waists in water. The worst of the mortification was that the little fellows, high and dry on the bank, were choking with laughter, which finally could no longer be suppressed, and broke forth in a merry peal.
"What do you want to stand there guffawing for?" called Jack, ill-naturedly. "Why don't you try to get the oars?"
Thus made to realize that they might be of some assistance, Jim and Leo waded in heroically, unmindful of the effect upon shoes, stockings, and clothing generally, and rescued the oars, of which poor Jack had carelessly relaxed his hold in the effort to bail out the boat, and which were being carried swiftly away by the current.
In the meantime Jack and Rob succeeded in raising the Jolly Pioneer and hauling her up on the bank. While they stood there, contemplating her in discouragement, and regardless of their own bedraggled condition, who should come along but Uncle Gerald.
"Hie! what is the matter?" he called from the road, suspecting the situation at once.
"Something is wrong with the blamed boat, after all!" Jack shouted back, impatiently.
Uncle Gerald leaped over the low wall, which separated the highway from the meadow, and was presently among them, surveying the unfortunate Pioneer, which now did not look at all jolly, but wore a dejected appearance, one might fancy, as if out of conceit with itself at having proved such a miserable failure.
"There! I suppose he'll say, 'If you had not been so positive that you knew all about boatbuilding—if you had come to me for the advice I promised you,—this would not have happened,'" thought Jack; feeling that (like the story of the last straw placed upon the overladen pack-horse, which proved too much for its strength) to be thus reminded would make the burden of his vexations greater than he could bear.
Uncle Gerald might indeed have moralized in some such fashion, but he considerately refrained, and only remarked, kindly:
"Do not be disheartened. This is not such bad work for a first attempt. The boat would look better if it were painted, and that would fill up a few of the cracks too. As some of the boards are not dovetailed together, you should have calked the seams with oakum."
"To be sure!" responded Jack. "How could we have had so little gumption as not to have thought of it?"
"Oakum is hemp obtained from untwisting old ropes," continued Uncle Gerald. "In genuine ship-building, calking consists in crowding threads of this material with great force into the seams between the planks. When filled, they are then rubbed over with pitch, or what is known as marine glue,—a composition of shellac and caoutchouc. It will not be necessary for you to do all this, however. Oakum is often used for packing goods also. I dare say if you hunt around in the barn you will find a little lying about somewhere. But, bless me, you young rogues! Here you are all this time in your wet clothes. Leo, your mother will be worried for fear you may take cold. Run home as fast as you can and get into a dry suit. And you other fellows, come! We'll take the Jolly Pioneer back to the workshop without delay; and then you must hurry and do the same."
Many days had not passed before the boys succeeded in making the punt water-tight. Yet the carpentering still went on at the barn.
"What is all the hammering for now?" asked Mr. Gordon one afternoon. "I thought the Jolly Pioneer was in splendid trim and doing good service."
"So she is," answered Jack. "But—well, she doesn't quite come up to our expectations; so Rob and I have given her to the little boys. We are building a larger boat for ourselves."
Upon the principle "Never look a gift-horse in the mouth," Jim and Leo were not disposed to find anything amiss with the present. In the first flush of their pride of possession they were quite jubilant.
It was shortly after this that Jim came in to dinner one day, tattooed in a manner which would remind one of a sachem in full Indian war-paint. There was a patch of blue low down on one cheek, a daub of red high up on the other, a tip of chrome-yellow on the end of his nose, and a fair share of all three upon his hands, and the sleeve of his jacket as well.
"Why, my son!" exclaimed Mrs. Gordon, as this vision met her eyes.
"Can't help it, mother,—it won't come off. I've scrubbed and scrubbed!" the little fellow protested, apologetically.
"Plenty of hot water and soap will prove effectual. But you must persevere," she went on, good-naturedly. "But what is the reason of this extraordinary decoration? Do you want to be taken for the 'missing link'?"
Mrs. Gordon was always good friends with her boys. She had a bright, cheery way of talking to them, of entering into their plans. She thoroughly appreciated a joke, even a practical one, when it was not perpetrated at the expense of anybody's feelings. And the lads could always count upon her interest and sympathy. It was not easy to impose upon her, though. "I tell you, if a fellow tries, he is always sure to get the worst of it!" Jim used to say.
"Ah, that is better!" said she, when Jim returned to the dining-room, his face at last restored to its usual sunburnt hue, and shining from the effect of a liberal lather of soap-suds, and his hands also of a comparatively respectable color. "Now, do tell us what you have been attempting."
"Haven't been attempting anything," he mumbled. "Leo and I were painting our boat, that is all. We hurried so as to finish it before dinner. I suppose that is the reason the paint got splashed around a little."
Jim's temper had manifestly been somewhat ruffled by the necessity of repeating the soap and water process. He frowned like a thundercloud.
Mrs. Gordon, however, always had great consideration for a hungry boy. Without appearing to notice that Jim was out of sorts, she merely remarked, while helping him bountifully to beefsteak: "You have painted the Jolly Pioneer? How well she must look! I believe I'll walk over to the barn after dinner and see her."
"Will you really, mother?" he exclaimed, brightening at once.
"Yes, certainly. What color did you choose?"
"Blue, with red and yellow trimmings," answered the boy, exultingly.
His mother smiled. She had inferred so. But Jim's ill-humor had vanished like mists before the sun. The next moment he was explaining to her the merits of various kinds of paint, and discussing the question with Jack, in the best possible spirits.
Jack and Rob took counsel with Mr. Sheridan in the construction of the new boat, and very creditable and satisfactory was the result. The ceremonies of the launch were now to be observed with as much formality as if she were the crack yacht of the season,—"Barrin' the traditional bottle of champagne, which it is customary to break over the bows of the new skiff as she plunges into the sea," laughed Uncle Gerald; "and that would not do at all for you, boys."
"No, sir," answered Jack, decidedly. "If it was as cheap and as plentiful as soda-water, we wouldn't have it."
"I am glad to hear you say that," continued Leo's father, warmly. "It is one of the best resolutions to start in life with."
"You know, we have joined the temperance cadet corps which Father Martin is getting up," explained Rob.
"An excellent plan. I had not heard of it," responded the gentleman. "Persevere, and you will find that by encouraging you in this, Father Martin has proved one of the truest friends you are ever likely to have. However, the old custom of christening a boat, as it is called, may be carried out quite as effectively with a bottle of ginger-pop, which Leo has stowed away somewhere in that basket. It is the part of common-sense to unite true poetry and prose, just as we now propose to combine a picturesque custom with temperance principles. So, boys, hurrah for ginger-pop, say I!"
The lads entered into the spirit of his mood with great gusto, and cheered hilariously. The basket was produced, and at this moment Mrs. Gordon was seen coming across the meadow. "Just in time, mother!" cried Jack, starting off to meet her.
"You must christen the boat!" vociferated all.
"And is that the reason why Uncle Gerald sent for me, and brought me away from my morning's mending?" she exclaimed, in a tone which was intended to be slightly reproachful, though she looked prepared for anything that might be required of her; for Mrs. Gordon, somehow, managed never to be so busy as to be unable to enter into the pleasures of her boys.