[Transcriber's notes: Punctuation and inconsistencies in language and dialect found in the original book have been retained. Sophie May is a pseudonym of Rebecca Sophia Clarke. Smilie/Smiley spelled two ways: used Smiley.]
LITTLE PRUDY'S FLYAWAY SERIES.
AUNT MADGE'S STORY.
AUTHOR OF "LITTLE PRUDY STORIES," "DOTTY DIMPLE STORIES," ETC.
BOSTON: LEE AND SHEPARD, PUBLISHERS.
NEW YORK: LEE, SHEPARD AND DILLINGHAM. 1874.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, BY LEE AND SHEPARD, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Electrotyped at the Boston Stereotype Foundry, No. 19 Spring Lane.
LITTLE PRUDY'S FLYAWAY SERIES.
TO BE COMPLETED IN SIX VOLS.
1. LITTLE FOLKS ASTRAY.
2. PRUDY KEEPING HOUSE.
3. AUNT MADGE'S STORY.
(Others in preparation.)
I. TOTTY-WAX. 9
II. THE LADY CHILD. 20
III. THE BLUE PARASOL. 38
IV. LIZE JANE. 55
V. THE PARTY. 69
VI. THE PATCHWORK SCHOOL. 87
VII. THE LITTLE LIE-GIRL. 108
VIII. THE TANSY CHEESE. 122
IX. "WAXERATION." 140
X. "THE CHILD'S ALIVE." 159
XI. THE FIRST CAR RIDE. 174
XII. BETTER THAN KITTENS. 188
XIII. GOOD BY. 199
AUNT MADGE'S STORY.
Here you sit, Horace, Prudy, Dotty, and Flyaway, all waiting for a story. How shall I begin? I cannot remember the events of my life in right order, so I shall have to tell them as they come into my mind. Let us see. To go back to the long, long summer, when I was a child:
There once lived and moved a little try-patience, called Margaret Parlin; no more nor less a personage than myself, your affectionate auntie, and very humble servant. I was as restless a baby as ever sat on a papa's knee and was trotted to "Boston." When I cried, my womanly sister 'Ria, seven years old, thought I was very silly; and my brother Ned, aged four, said, "Div her a pill; I would!"
He thought pills would cure naughtiness. If so, I ought to have swallowed some. Pity they didn't "div" me a whole box full before I began to creep; for I crept straight into mischief. Aunt Persis, a very proper woman, with glittering black eyes, was more shocked by me than words can tell. She said your grandma "spoiled me by baby-talk; it was very wrong to let little ones hear baby-talk. If she had had the care of me she would have taught me grammar from the cradle." No doubt of it; but unfortunately I had to grow up with my own father and mother, and ever so many other folks, who were not half as wise as Aunt Persis.
They called me Marg'et, Maggie, Marjie, Madge; and your grandpa's pet name was Totty-wax; only, if I joggled the floor when he shaved, it was full-length "Mar-ga-ret."
I was a sad little minx, so everybody kindly informed me, and so I fully believed. My motto in my little days seems to have been, "Speak twice before you think once;" and you will see what troubles it led me into. I never failed to "speak twice," but often forgot the thinking altogether. Margaret means Daisy; but if I was like any flower at all, I should say it was "the lady in the bower." You know it, Prudy, how it peeps out from a tangle of little tendrils? Just so I peeped out, and was dimly seen, through a wild, flying head of hair. Your grandma was ashamed of me, for if she cut off my hair I was taken for a boy, and if she let it grow, there was danger of my getting a squint in my eye. Sometimes I ran into the house very much grieved, and said,—
"O, mamma, I wasn't doin' noffin, only sitting top o' the gate, and a man said, 'Who's that funny little fellow?'—Please, mamma, won't you not cut my hair no more?"
I was only a wee bit of a Totty-wax when she stopped cutting my yellow hair, and braided it in two little tails behind. The other girls had braids as well as I; but, alas! mine were not straight like theirs; they quirled over at the end. I hated that curly kink; if it didn't go off it would bring my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
But, children, I fear some of the stories I told were crookeder than even my braids. In the first place, I didn't know any better. I told lies, to hear how funny they would sound. My imagination was large, and my common sense small. I lived in a little world of my own, and had very queer thoughts. Perhaps all children do; what think, Fly? When I was lying in the cradle I found my hands one day, and I shouldn't wonder if I thought they were two weeny babies come visiting; what do you suppose? Of course I didn't know they belonged to me, but I stared at them, and tried to talk. And from that time until I was a great girl, as much as five years old, I was always supposing things were "diffunt" from what they really were. I thought our andirons were made of gold, just like the stars, only the andirons had enough gold in them to sprinkle the whole sky, and leave a good slice to make a new sun. When I saw a rainbow, I asked if it was "a side-yalk for angels to yalk on?"
I thought the cat heard what I said when I talked to her, and if I picked a flower I kissed it, for "mebbe" the flower liked to be kissed.
I had a great deal of fun "making believe," all to myself. I made believe my mamma had said I might go somewhere, and off I would go, thinking, as I crept along by the fence, bent almost double for fear of being seen, "Prehaps she'll tie me to the bed-post for it."
And she always did.
I was the youngest of the family then, but I made believe I had once had a sister Marjie, no bigger than my doll, and a naughty woman in a green cloak came and carried her off in her pocket. I told my little friend Ruphelle so much about this other Marjie that she believed in her, and after a while I believed in her myself. We used to sit on the hay and talk about her, and wonder if the naughty woman would ever bring her back. We thought it would be nice to have her to play with.
This was not very wicked; it was only a fairy story. But the mischief was, my dear mother did not know where to draw the line between fairy stories and lies. Once I ran away, and Mrs. Gray told her she had seen me playing on the meeting-house steps with Ann Smiley.
"No, mamma," said I, catching my breath, "'twasn't me Mis' Gray saw; I know who 'twas. There's a little girl in this town looks jus' like me; has hair jus' the same; same kind o' dress; lives right under the meeting-house. Folks think it's me!"
Your grandma was distressed to have me look her straight in the face and tell such a lie; but the more she said, "Why, Margaret!" the deeper I went into particulars.
"Name's Jane Smif. Eats acorns; sleeps in a big hole. Didn't you never hear about her, mamma?"
As I spoke, I could almost see Jane Smif creeping slyly out of the big hole with mud on her apron. She was as real to me as some of the little girls I met on the street; not the little girls I played with, but those who "came from over the river."
My dear mother did not know what to do with a child that had such a habit of making up stories; but my father said,—
"Totty-wax doesn't know any better."
Mother sighed, and answered, "But Maria always knew better."
I knew there was "sumpin bad" about me, but thought it was like the black on a negro's face, that wouldn't wash off. The idea of trying to stop lying never entered my head. When mother took me out of the closet, and asked, "Would I be a better girl?" I generally said, "Yes um," very promptly, and cried behind my yellow hair; but that was only because I was touched by the trembling of her voice, and vaguely wished, for half a minute, that I hadn't made her so sorry; that was all.
But when I told that amazing story about Jane Smif, in addition to running away, mother whipped me for the first time in my life with a birch switch.
"Margaret," said she, "if you ever tell another wrong story, I shall whip you harder than this, you may depend upon it."
I was frightened into awful silence for a while, but soon forgot the threat. I was careful to avoid the name of Jane Smif, but I very soon went and told Ruphelle that my mamma had silk dresses, spangled with stars; "kep' 'em locked into a trunk; did her mamma have stars on her dresses?" Ruphelle looked as meek as a lamb, but her brother Gust snapped his fingers, and said,—
"O, what a whopper!"
That is why I remember it, for Ruth heard him, and asked what kind of a whopper I had been telling now, and reported it to mother.
Mother rose very sorrowfully from her chair, and bade me follow her into the attic. I went with fear and trembling, for she had that dreadful switch in her hand. Poor woman! She wished she had not promised to use it again, for she began to think it was all in vain. But she must not break her word; so she struck me across the wrists and ankles several times; not very hard, but hard enough to make me hop about and cry.
When she had finished she turned to go down stairs, but I said something so strange that she stopped short with surprise.
"I can't 'pend upon it, mamma," said I, looking out through my hair, with the tears all dried off. "You said you'd whip me harder, but you whipped me softer. I can't 'pend upon it, mamma. You've telled a lie yourse'f."
What could mother say? I have often heard her describe the scene with a droll smile. She gave me a few more tingles across the neck, to satisfy my ideas of justice; but that was the last time she used the switch for many a long day. Not that I stopped telling marvellous stories; but she thought she would wait till she saw some faint sign in me that I knew the "diffunce" between truth and falsehood.
THE LADY CHILD.
They say I grew very troublesome. Ruthie thought I was always "under foot," and nothing went on, from parlor to kitchen, from attic to cellar, but I knew all about it. There was not a pie, particularly a mince pie, that I didn't try to have a finger in.
But I could not have been in the house all the time, for Abner declares I was always out of doors. My little shoes were generally thick with mud, and my little frocks ready every night for the wash-tub. If there was a spoon or a knife missing, Abner often found it in the ploughed field, where I had been using it as a kind of pickaxe to dig my way through to China. No matter how muddy or slippery the walking, I begged to go out. I had a feeling that I wanted to skip like a lamb, fly like a bird, and dart like a squirrel, and of course needed all out doors to do it in.
"Don't fall down," cried mamma from the window; "look out for the ice."
And I answered back from under my red, quilted hood,—
"Well, if I do fall down and break me, mamma, you mus' pick up all my little bones and glue 'em togedder. God glued 'em in the firs' place, all but my tongue, and that's nailed in."
Not nailed in very tight: I could move it fast enough.
And when the snow and ice were gone, I liked to wade ankle-deep in the mud. Father had to buy me a pair of rubber boots, and that is the first present I remember. They filled my soul with joy. When I said my prayers I had one on each side of me, and when I slept it was with both boots on my pillow. At first I could think of nothing else to wish for; but one day I said,—
"I wish I was a pussy-cat, mamma, so I could have four yubber boots!"
Brother Ned and I were great friends. Partly to keep his eye on me, and partly because he enjoyed my conversation, he would say in the cool spring days, "Come, Maggie, dear, bring your cloak, and I'll wrap you up all so warm, so you can sit out on the woodpile while I chop my stint."
I think he must have been a little fellow to chop wood. After I got there, and was having a good time, he often remarked, in tones as cutting as the edge of his hatchet,—
"If I had a brother, Miss Maggie, I shouldn't take pains to wrap up a speck of a girl like you for company."
"Well, if had a little sister, I wouldn't be yapped up for comp'ny," retorted I, rubbing my small, red nose; "I'd be a-yockin' her cradle."
Ned laughed at that; for it was just what he expected me to say. We had one bond of sympathy; he longed for a little brother, and I longed for a little sister. He liked to hear me talk grandly about "my new baby-girlie, Rosy Posy Parlin. She wouldn't bl'ong to him any 'tall. She'd be mine clear through."
He led me on to snap out little sharp speeches, which he always laughed at; and I suspect that was one thing that made me so pert. I looked up to him as a superior being, except when I was angry with him, which was about half the time. I told Ruphelle Allen he was a "bad, naughty boy;" but when she said, "Yes, I think so, too," I instantly cried out, "Well, I guess he's gooder 'n your brother; so!"
Ruphelle was my bosom friend. We had shaken rattles together before we were big enough to shake hands. She had beautiful brown eyes, and straight, brown hair; while, as for me, my eyes were gray, and my kinky hair the color of tow.
Sister 'Ria called Ruphelle "a nice little girl;" while, owing to the way my hair had of running wild, and the way my frocks had of tearing, she didn't mind saying I was "a real romp," and looked half the time like "an up-and-down fright."
As I always believed exactly what people said, and couldn't understand jokes, I was rather unhappy about this; but concluded I had been made for a vexation, like flies and mosquitos, and so wasn't to blame.
Ruphelle lived on a hill, in the handsomest house in Willowbrook, with a "cupalo" on top, where you could look off and see the whole town, with the blue river running right through the middle, and cutting it in two.
Ruphelle had an English father and mother. I remember Madam Allen's turban, how it loomed up over her stately head like a great white peony. There was a saucy brother Augustus, whom I never could abide, and a grandpa, who always said and did such strange things that I did not understand what it meant till I grew older, and learned that he was afflicted with "softening of the brain."
Then in the kitchen there was a broad-shouldered, ruddy-faced woman, named Tempy Ann Crawford, whom I always see, with my mind's eye, roasting coffee and stirring it with a pudding-stick, or rolling out doughnuts, which she called crullers, and holding up a fried image, said to be a little sailor boy with a tarpaulin hat on,—only his figure was injured so much by swelling in the lard kettle that his own mother wouldn't have known him; still he made very good eating.
There was a little bound girl in the family, Ann Smiley, who often led me into mischief, but always before Madam Allen looked as demure as a little gray kitten.
Fel and I were uncommonly forward about learning our letters, and wished very much to go to school and finish our education; but were told that the "committee men" would not let us in till we were four years old. My birthday came the first of May, and very proud was I when mother led me up to a lady visitor, and said, "My little girl is four years old to-day." I thought the people "up street" would ring bells and fire cannons, but they forgot it. I looked in the glass, and could not see the great change in my face which I had expected. I didn't look any "diffunt." How would the teacher know I was so old?
"O, will they let me in?" I asked. "For always when I go to school, then somebody comes that's a teacher, and tells me to go home, and says I musn't stay."
"You will have to wait till the school begins," said my mother, "and that is all the better, for then little Fel can go too." I was willing to wait, for Fel was the other half of me. In three weeks she was as old as I was, and in the rosy month of June we began to go to the district school.
Your grandfather lived a little way out of town, and Squire Allen much farther; so every morning Ruphelle and her brother Augustus called for me, and we girls trudged along to school together, while Gust followed like a little dog with our dinner baskets. This was one of the greatest trials in the whole world; for, do you see, he had a pair of ears which heard altogether too much, and when we said anything which was not remarkably wise, he had a habit of crying "Pooh!" which was very provoking. We went hand in hand, Fel and I, and counted the steps we took, or hopped on one foot like lame ducklings, and "that great Gust" would look on and laugh. I had so much to say to Fel that I couldn't help talking, though I knew he was there to hear.
"I'd like to be a skurrel once," said I.
"O, pooh!" said Gust.
"I'd like to be 'em once, Gust Allen. I'd like to be 'em long enough to know how they feel. Once there was a boy, and he was turned into a skurrel, and his name was Bunny."
"That's a whopper, miss!"
Such were "the tricks and the manners" of Fel's disagreeable brother. Do you wonder I called him a trial? But Fel didn't mind him much, for he was good to her, and never laughed at her as he did at me. She was "a lady-child," and her disposition was much sweeter than mine.
Mr. Clifford, who was fitting for college then, used to pass us with a book under his arm and pat our sun-bonnets, and call us "Juno's swans." We had never seen any swans, and did not know who Juno was, but presumed it was some old woman who kept geese and hens.
When we reached the school-house we were sure of a good time, for the teacher lent us an old blunt penknife, with pretty red stones on the back, the like of which was never seen before in this world. Nobody else ever asked for the knife but us two little tots, and we went up hand in hand; and I spoke the words, while Fel asked with her eyes. Miss Lee smiled blandly, and said,—
"Well, now, the best one may have the knife a little while."
That always happened to be Fel; but it was all the same, for we sat together, and she let me play with it "more than my half." We were really very forward children, and learned so fast that Miss Lee says now she was very proud of us. I think she was, for I remember how she showed us off before the committee men. We could soon read in the Second Reader, and Fel always cried about the poor blind fiddler to whom Billy gave his cake, and I poked her with my elbow to make her stop. For my part I was apt to giggle aloud when we came to the story of the two silly cats, and the cheese, and the monkey.
Ah, that dear old school-house, where we studied the "Primary's Joggerphy," and saw by the map that some countries are yellow and some fire-red, and the rivers no bigger than crooked knitting-needles! That queer old school-house, with the hacked-up benches, where we learned "rithumtick" by laying buttered paper over the pictures in Emerson's First Part, and drawing blackbirds, chairs, and cherries all in a row! Fel had a long wooden pencil, but poor I must do with half a one, for 'Ria teased me by making me think people would call me selfish if I had a long pencil all to myself, while my grown-up and much more worthy sister went without any.
That funny old school-house, where Miss Lee used to make a looking-glass of one of the window-panes, by putting her black apron behind it, and peeping in to see if her hair was smooth when she expected the committee men! How afraid we were of those committee men, and how hard we studied the fly-leaves of our "joggerphies" while they were there, feeling so proud that we knew more than "that great Gust!"
That dear, queer, funny old school-house! No other hall of learning will ever seem like that to me!
Didn't we go at noon to the spring under the river bank and "duck" our little heads, till our mothers found it out and forbade it? Didn't we squeeze long-legged grasshoppers, and solemnly repeat the couplet:—
"Grass'per, grass'per Gray, Give me some m'lasses, And then fly away."
Didn't we fling flat pebbles in the river to the tune of
"One to make ready, Two to prepare, Three to go slap-dash, Right—in—there"?
And how we enjoyed our dinners under the spreading oil-nut tree, chatting as we ate, and deciding every day anew that Tempy Ann made the nicest sage cheese in the world, and our Ruthie the best turnovers.
Sometimes at night father took me on his lap, and asked,—
"Do you whisper any at school?"
I turned away my face and answered,
"Fel whispers orfly."
"Well, does Totty-wax whisper too?"
I dropped my head, and put my fingers in my mouth.
"Some," said I, in a low voice. For I began to have a dim idea that it was not proper to tell a lie.
When Fel and I had any little trouble,—which was not often, for Fel generally gave up like a darling,—Maria was always sure to decide that Fel was in the right. Fel thought 'Ria a remarkable young woman; but I told her privately, in some of our long chats at school, that older sisters were not such blessings as one might suppose. So far as I knew anything about them, they enjoyed scrubbing your face and neck the wrong way with a rough towel, and making you cry. And they had such poor memories, older sisters had. They could never call up the faintest recollection of a fairy story when you asked for one. They were also very much opposed to your standing in a chair by the sink to wipe dishes.
Now Tempy Ann allowed Fel to wipe dishes, and pat out little pies on the cake-board, and bake doll's cakes. She was such a strong, large woman too, she could hold Fel and me at the same time; and after we were undressed, and had our nighties on, she loved to rock us in the old kitchen chair, and chat with us.
We were confidential sometimes with Tempy Ann,—or I was,—and told her of our plan of going to Italy to give concerts when we grew up. I never saw but one fault in Tempy Ann; she would laugh over our solemn secrets, and would repeat the hateful ditty,—
"Row the boat, row the boat, where shall it stand? Up to Mr. Parlin's door; there's dry land. Who comes here, so skip and so skan? Mr. Gustus Allen, a very likely young man. He steps to the door, and knocks at the ring, And says, 'Mrs. Parlin, is Miss Maggie within?'"
Fel and I were both shocked at the bare hint of such a thing as my marrying Gust. We didn't intend to have any great boys about. If Gust should want to marry me, and ride in our gilt-edged concert-coach, with four white horses, I guessed he'd find he wasn't wanted. I should say "No," just as quick!
The more earnest I grew the more Tempy Ann shook with laughing; and I had some reason to suspect she went and told Madam Allen my objections to marrying her son, which I thought was most unfair of Tempy Ann.
THE BLUE PARASOL.
As I look back upon those make-believe days, naughty recollections spring up as fast as dust in August.
Ruphelle seems to me like a little white lily of the valley, all pure and sweet, but I was no more fit to be with her than a prickly thistle. I loved dearly to tease her. Once she had some bronze shoes, and I wanted some too, but there were none to be had in town, and to console myself, I said to dear little Fel, "I'd twice rather have black shoes, bronzes look so rusty; O, my! If I couldn't have black shoes I'd go barefoot."
Fel did not wish me to see how ashamed this made her feel, but I could not help noticing afterwards that she never wore the bronze shoes to church.
I pined and fretted because I could not have nice things like her. She had a coral necklace, and a blue silk bonnet, and a white dress, with flowers worked all over it with a needle. Did my best dress have flowers worked over it with a needle? I should think not. And I hadn't a speck of a necklace, nor any bonnet but just straw. I did not know that Squire Allen was one of the wealthiest men in the state, and could afford beautiful things for his little daughter, while my father was poor, or at least not rich, and my mother had to puzzle her brains a good deal to contrive to keep her little romping, heedless, try-patience of a daughter looking respectable.
Once, when I was about six years old, I did a very naughty thing. Why, Fly, what makes your eyes shine so? Can it be you like to hear naughty stories? Queer, isn't it? Ah, but this story makes me ashamed, even now that I am a grown-up woman. Wait a minute; I must go back a little; it was the parasol that began it.
When Fel and I were going home from school one night, we stopped to take some of our make-believe slides. Not far from our house, near the river-bank, were two sloping mounds, between which a brook had once run. These little mounds were soft and green, and dotted with white innocence flowers; and what fun it was to start at the top of one of them, and roll over and over, down into the valley. Somehow, Fel, being a lady-child, never stained her cape bonnet, while mine was all streaks; and she never tore her skirts off the waist; but what if I did tear mine? They always grew together again, I never stopped to think how.
This time, as we were having a jolly roll, Madam Allen rode along in the carryall, with Tempy Ann driving.
"Stop, and let us see what those children are doing," said she; and Tempy Ann stopped.
Fel and I danced upon our feet, and started to run to the carryall, but of course I tumbled down before I got there. While I was picking my foot out of the hole in my frock, I heard Fel exclaim, joyfully, "O, mamma, is it for me? What a beauty, beauty, beauty!"
"Yes, dear, I bought it for you, but if you are going to be a gypsy child, I suppose you won't want it."
I looked and saw the cunningest little sunshade, with its head tipped on one side, like a great blue morning glory. Never again shall I behold anything so beautiful. Queen Victoria's crown and Empress Eugenie's diamonds wouldn't compare with it for a moment. They say we feel most keenly those joys we never quite grasp; and I know that parasol, swinging round in Fel's little hand, was more bewitching to me than if I had held it myself. O, why wasn't it mine? I thought of Fel's coral necklace, and blue silk bonnet, and the white dress with needlework flowers, and now if she was going to have a parasol too, I might as well die and done with it.
"O, Marjie, Marjie!" cried she, dancing up to me with her sweet little face in a glow, "do you see what I've got?"
I never answered. I just lay there and kicked dirt with my shoe. The carryall was in front of us, and Madam Allen could not see how I behaved.
"Come, little daughter," called she, "jump in and ride home."
But Fel thought she would rather walk with me, for I hadn't noticed her parasol yet. So her mother drove off.
"Isn't it a teenty tonty beauty?" cried she, waving it before me.
I shut my teeth together and kicked.
"You haven't looked, Marjie; see what a teenty tonty beauty!"
She never could quite enjoy her pretty things till I had praised them. I knew that, and took a wicked pleasure in holding my tongue.
"Why, Marjie," said she, in a grieved tone, "why don't you look? It's the teenty tontiest beauty ever you saw."
"There, that's the threeth time you've said so, Fel Allen."
"Well, it's the truly truth, Madge Parlin."
"No, it isn't neither; and you're a little lie-girl," snapped I.
This was an absurd speech, and I did not mean a word of it, for I doubt if Fel had ever told a wrong story in her life. "You're a little lie-girl. Got a parasol, too!"
She only looked sorry to see me so cross. She couldn't be very unhappy, standing there stroking those soft silk tassels.
"I hope your mamma 'll give you one, too," murmured the dear little soul.
I sprang up at that.
"O, do you s'pose she would?" I cried; and by the time I had taken another roll down the bank my spirits rose wonderfully, and I let her put the parasol in my hand, even exclaiming,—
"No, I never did see anything so nice!" But I secretly hoped my own would be nicer still.
"Come home to my house," said I, "and ask my mamma if I can have a parasol too."
We were very near the house, and she went in with me. Mother was in the kitchen, stewing apple-sauce for supper. I remember what a tired look she had on her face, and how wearily she stirred the apple-sauce, which was bubbling in the porcelain kettle.
"You speak now," whispered I to Fel. "You speak first."
This was asking a great deal of the dear little friend I had just called a lie-girl. If she hadn't loved me better, much better than I deserved, she would have turned and run away. As it was, she called up all her courage, the timid little thing, and fluttering up to my mother, gently poked the end of the parasol into the bow of her black silk apron.
"Please, O, please, Mrs. Parlin, do look and see how pretty it is."
That was as far as she could get for some time, till mother smiled and kissed her, and asked once or twice, "Well, dear, what is it?"
I ran into the shed and back again, too excited to stand still. Mother was always so tender of Fel, that I did think she couldn't refuse her. I was sure, at any rate, she would say as much as, "We will see about it, dear;" but instead of that she gave her an extra hug, and answered sorrowfully,—
"I wish I could buy Margaret a parasol; but really it is not to be thought of."
I dropped into the chip-basket, and cried.
"If she knew how to take care of her things perhaps I might, but it is wicked to throw away money."
"O, mamma, did you s'pose I'd let it fall in the hoss troth?" screamed I, remembering the fate of my last week's hat, with the green vine round it. "If you'll only give me a pairsol, mamma, I won't never carry it out to the barn, nor down to the river, nor anywhere 'n this world. I'll keep it in your bandbox, right side o' your bonnet, where there don't any mice come, or any flies, and never touch it, nor ask to see it, nor—"
"There, that'll do," said mother, stopping me at full tide. "I would be glad to please my little girl if I thought it would be right; but I have said No once, and after that, Margaret, you know how foolish it is to tease."
Didn't I know, to my sorrow? As foolish as it would be to stand and fire popguns at the rock of Gibraltar.
I rushed out to the barn, and never stopped to look behind me. Fel followed, crying softly; but what had I to say to that dear little friend, who felt my sorrows almost as if they were her own?
"You didn't ask my mamma pretty, and that's why she wouldn't give me no pairsol."
No thanks for the kind office she had performed for me; no apology for calling her a lie-girl. Only,—
"You didn't ask my mamma pretty, Fel Allen."
She choked down one little sob that ought to have broken my heart, and turned and went away. You wonder she should have loved me. I suppose I had "good fits;" they say I was honey-sweet sometimes; but as I recall my little days, it does seem to me as if I was always, always snubbing that precious child. When she was out of sight, I dived head first into the hay, and tried for as much as ten minutes to hate my mother. After a long season of sulks, such as it is to be hoped none of you ever indulged in, I stole back to the house through the shed, and Ruth, who did not know what had broken my heart, exclaimed,—
"Why, Maggie, what ails you? You've fairly cried your eyes out, child!"
I climbed a chair, and looked in the glass, which hung between the kitchen windows, and sure enough I was a sight to behold. My eyes, always very large, were now red and swollen, and seemed bursting from their sockets. I had never thought before that eyes could burst; but now I ran to Ruthie in alarm.
"I have cried my eyes out! O, Ruthie, I've started 'em!"
She laughed at my distress, kissed me, and set me at ease about my eyeballs; but the parasol was denied me, and I was sure that, blind or not, I could never be happy without it.
The little bits of girls had afternoon parties that summer; it was quite the fashion; and not long after this Madam Allen made one for Fel. Everybody said it was the nicest party we had had; for Tempy Ann made sailor-boy doughnuts, with sugar sprinkled on, and damson tarts, and lemonade, to say nothing of "sandiges," with chicken in the middle. I loved Fel dearly, I know I did; but by fits and starts I was so full of envy that I had to go off by myself and pout.
"A party and a pairsol the same year! And Fel never 'spected the pairsol, and didn't ask real hard for the party. But that was always the way; her mamma wanted her to have good times, and so did Tempy Ann. Some folks' mammas didn't care!"
I was willing nice things should fall to Fel's lot; but I wanted just as nice ones myself.
Fel showed the girls her "pairsol," and they all said they meant to have one too; all but me; I could only stand and look on, with my eyeballs just ready to pop out of my head.
I remember what sick dolls we had that afternoon; and when any of them died, the live dolls followed them to the grave with weeping and wailing, and their wee handkerchiefs so full of grief that you could trace the procession by the tears that dripped upon the carpet. Yes; but the mourners all had the cunningest little "pairsols" of nasturtium leaves. There wasn't a "single one doll" that marched without a pairsol, not even my Rosy Posy; for I had a motherly heart, and couldn't mortify my child! She should have "sumpin to keep the sun off," if it cost the last cent her mamma had in the world!
I had a dismal fit just before supper, and went into Grandpa Harrington's room, back of the parlor. He was always fond of little folks, but very queer, as I have told you. He had a fire in the fireplace, and was sitting before it, though it was summer. He looked up when I went in, and said, "How do, darling? My feet are as cold as a dead lamb's tongue; does your father keep sheep?"
Next minute he said,—
"My feet are as cold as a dog's nose; does your father keep a dog?"
That was the way he rambled on from one thing to another. But when he saw I was low-spirited, and found by questioning me that I needed a parasol, and couldn't live long without one, he took me on his knee, and said kindly,—
"Never mind it, Pet; you shall have a parasol. I will give you one."
I could hardly speak for joy. I did not feel ashamed of myself till afterwards, for Grandpa Harrington did not seem like other people, and I saw no harm in whining to him about my troubles.
But my happiness did not last long. Grandpa Harrington never thought of my parasol again from that day to the day he died; and little witch and try-patience though I was, I dared not remind him of his promise, still less tell my mother about it.
It was hard to have my hopes raised so high, only to be dashed to the ground; harder still to have to keep it all to myself, and see Fel trip along under that sunshade without a care in the world. If she had been the least bit proud I couldn't have borne it; but even as it was, it wore upon me. Once I called out in severe tones, "Ho, little lie-girl; got a pairsol too!" but was so ashamed of it next minute that I ran up to her and hugged her right in the street, and said, "I didn't mean the leastest thing. I love you jus' the same, if you have got a blue pairsol, and you may wear it to meetin', and I'll try not to care."
And now I come to the naughty story.
I could not always have Fel for a playmate; she was too delicate to be racing about from morning till night as I did, and when she had to stay in the house, I found other girls to romp with me. Sometimes, especially if I felt rather wicked, I enjoyed Eliza Jane Bean, a girl two or three years older than myself. There was a bad fascination about "Lize." When she fixed her big black eyes upon you, she made you think of all sorts of delightful things you wanted to do, only they were strictly forbidden. Her father and mother were not very good people, and did not go to church Sundays. They lived in a low red house near the Gordons. You never saw it, children; it was pulled down ever so long ago, and used for kindlings. People called the house "the Bean Pod," because there were nine little beans in it beside the big ones. Rattlety bang! Harum scarum! There was always a great noise in that house, and people called it "the rattling of the beans." It was well it stood on a corner lot, and poor old Mr. Gordon was so deaf.
Lize Jane used to come to our house for currants. My mamma did not like to have me see much of her, but could not refuse the currants, for our bushes were loaded. It seemed as if the family must have lived half the summer on currants and molasses; for almost every night there was Lize Jane with her big tin pail. It had holes in the bottom, and the juice used to run out sometimes upon her dress; but it didn't make much difference, for her dress was never clean.
One night she came for currants when they were almost gone. Mother had been sick, and was very late about making jelly. She told Eliza Jane she couldn't let her come any more after that night; the rest of the fruit must be saved for our own use. Lize Jane said nothing, but she rolled her black eyes round towards me, and I felt a little ashamed, for I knew she thought mother was stingy, and that was why she rolled her eyes.
I went into the kitchen, and said to Ruth,—
"Don't you want me to pick you a bowl of currants?"
Of course she did. She didn't know Lize Jane was there, or she wouldn't have been so pleased and so ready to get me my sun-bonnet. She had to reach it down from a hook in the ceiling. That was the place where Ned hung it when he wanted to "pester" me; he did it with an old rake handle.
When I was going anywhere to meet Lize Jane, I always felt as if I was stealing raisins. I never exactly stole raisins; but when my mother said I might go to the box and get two or three, I had sometimes taken a whole handful. I knew by the pricking of my conscience that that was wrong, and in the same way I knew that this was wrong too. Mother was in the green chamber, covering an ottoman with green carpeting, so she wouldn't see me from that side of the house.
I ran into the garden, and, going up close to Lize Jane, began to pick with all my might. "My bowl fills up faster 'n your pail," said I. "Cause its littler," said she; "and besides, I'm picking 'em off the stems."
"What do you do that for, Lize Jane? It takes so long."
"I know it; it takes foreverlastin'; but mother told me to, so'st I could get more into my pail."
I opened my eyes.
"She told me to get my pail chuck full. She didn't use to care, but now the currants are most gone, and she wants all she can get."
I said nothing, but I remember I thought Mrs. Bean was a queer woman, to want our very last currants.
"Sh'an't you have your party before they're all gone?" said Lize Jane.
"Why, the one you're going to have."
I suppose she knew my heart was aching for one.
"I want a party dreffully," said I, "but mamma won't let me."
"Won't let you?" cried Lize Jane, in surprise. "Why, Fel Allen had hers last week."
"I know it, and Tempy Ann made us some lemonade."
"Did she? I wish I'd been there," said Lize, pursing her lips. "But Fel lives in such a monstrous nice house, and wouldn't ask me to her party; that's why. Mother says I hadn't oughter care, though, for when she dies she'll lay as low as me."
I did not understand this speech of Mrs. Bean's, which Lize Jane repeated with such a solemn snap of her black eyes; but it came to me years afterwards, and I think it the worst teaching a mother could give her little child. No wonder Lize Jane was full of envy and spite.
"But you'll ask me to your party, won't you?" said she, with a coaxing smile.
"I can't, if I don't have one, Lize Jane."
"You're a-makin' believe, Mag Parlin. You will have one; how can you help it, with a garden full of gooseb'ries and rubub?"
"And thimbleberries, too," added I, surveying the premises with a gloomy eye. We certainly had enough to eat, and it was a very strange thing that I couldn't give a party.
"Has your mother got any cake in the house?" added Lize.
"Yes, lots in the tin chest; but she never lets me eat a speck, hardly," bemoaned I. I was not in the habit of talking to Lize Jane of family matters; but she had shown so much good sense in saying I ought to have a party, that my heart was touched.
"Your mother, seems to me, she never lets you do a thing," returned Lize Jane, in a pitying tone. "Ain't you goin' to have a silk pairsol, like Fel Allen's? I should think you might."
She had driven the nail straight to the mark that time. I could have wailed; but was I going to have Lize Jane go home and tell that I was a baby? No! and I spoke up very pertly,—
"Where's your pairsol, Lize Jane Bean? You never had one any more 'n me."
"No; but there's something I have got, though, better than that. Good to eat, too. And I'll tell you what; if you'll ask me to your party, I'll bring you some in a covered dish."
"What is it, Lize? Ice cream?"
For her face was wondrous sweet.
"Ice cream! How'd you s'pose I kep' that froze? No!" and the bewitching sparkle of her eye called up luscious ideas. I could almost see apricot preserves, pine apples, and honey-heart cherries floating in the air. But why was it a covered dish? "Somethin' nuff sight better 'n ice cream, but I shan't tell what."
"O, I wish you'd bring it to me in the covered dish, 'thout any party, for my mother won't let me have one, Lize, now truly."
"Then you can't have the—what I was goin' to bring," said Lize Jane, firmly.
"That's too bad," I cried; but it was of no use talking; she couldn't be moved any more than the gravel walk, or the asparagus bed.
"Your mother ain't much sick, is she?"
"Not now," replied I; "her strength is better."
"Well, then, why don't you ask some girls to come, and she'll get 'em some supper; see if she don't."
I was so shocked that I almost fell into a currant bush.
"Lize Jane Bean, what you talking about?"
"Why, you said your mother warn't sick."
"No, her strength is better, but she don't 'low me to do things, Lize Jane Bean, 'thout—'thout she lets me."
"Of course not; but I guess she don't know you want a party so dreadful bad, Maggie, or she would let you. I don't believe your mother is ugly."
"But she never said I might have a party, though."
"No, for she don't think about it. She ain't a bad woman, your mother ain't, only she don't think. Your mother don't mean to be ugly."
Lize Jane spoke in a large-hearted way, at the same time stripping currant-stems very industriously. "She'd feel glad afterwards, s'posing you did have a party, I'll bet."
"O, Lize Jane, what a girl! 's if I'd do it 'thout my mother said I might."
"O, I didn't mean a real big party; did you s'pose I did? I didn't know but you could ask me and some of the girls to supper, and not call it a party. We'd play ou' doors."
"O, I didn't know that's what you meant. But I can't,—'cause,—'cause."—
"Well, you needn't, if you don't want to; but I didn't know but you'd like to see that—what I's going to bring."
"But I can't be naughty, and get tied to the bed-post," said I, thoughtfully. "Is that what you's going to bring, something I never saw in all my life, Lize Jane?"
"Yes, I'm certain sure you never."
And she made up another delicious face, that filled the air around with sweet visions.
"And would you bring it if I didn't ask but—but—two girls?"
"No, I don't think I could," replied Lize Jane, squinting her eyes in deep meditation. "I don't hardly think I could; but if you had four girls I'd bring it, and risk it."
"Four 'thout you?"
"No, me 'n three more, if you're so dreadful scared."
That settled the matter. With my usual rashness I cried out,—
"Well, I'll ask 'em."
I went to bed that night in great excitement, and I dare say did not get to sleep for ten minutes or so. What strange thing was this I was about to do?
"Well," said I, "it's only four girls, that's all. I know my mamma 'd be glad to have me have 'em, but I don't dare ask her; so I'll have 'em 'thout asking. She says she wants her little daughter to be happy. That's what she says; but she don't give me no pairsol. How'd she 'spect I's goin' to be happy? But I could be some happy if I had four girls,—not a party, but four girls."
The next day was Saturday, the day I had agreed upon with Lize Jane. I chewed my bonnet-strings all the way to school, and never invited Fel till we got into the entry. At recess I asked Abby Gray and Dunie Foster; that made up the four girls. But when school was out, I happened to think I might as well have a few more, and singled out Sallie Gordon, Mary Vance, and Anna Carey; but Phebe Grant was standing close by, and I knew she would be "mad" if I didn't ask her; and after that I flew about and dropped invitations right and left, till I entirely forgot that I was doing it without leave. "I want you to come to my house, to my party, to-morrow afternoon,"—began to sound perfectly proper.
Instead of speaking twice before I thought, I spoke thirty or forty times. I didn't slight anybody. I asked all the First and Second Reader classes, and the little specks of girls in A B C. They all looked very much pleased. Some of them had never been invited to a party before, and didn't know enough to find the way to "my house;" but I thought, while I was about it, I might as well make a clean sweep: it was no wickeder to have a big party than a little one. I was sorry enough that boys were not in fashion, for I wanted a few. There was Tommy Gordon in particular, who always had his pockets full of "lickerish" and pep'mints; it was as much as I could do to help asking him. As for Gust Allen, I would as soon have had a wild monkey, and that is the truth.
I trudged home at noon, with my eyes looking strange, I know. I had done my speaking, and now I began to think. It came over me like a little whirlwind. I realized for the first time what I had done.
Ruth was hurrying up the dinner.
"Don't come near me, child," said she. "I've got my hands full."
I went into the sitting-room. There was mother on the sofa, bathing her head with cologne. It didn't seem much like having a party! She could eat no dinner, and father said she looked as if she ought to be in bed.
"I feel almost sick enough to be in bed," said she; "but I must help Mrs. Duffy put down that parlor carpet. I have waited for her ever since the carpet was made, and this was the very first day she could come."
"O, dear," thought I, "where'll I have my party?"
"Can't Mrs. Duffy put the carpet down alone?" asked father.
"No; she would skew it badly."
"But, my dear, you are sick; why not have Ruth help her?"
"Ruth does not understand the business as well as I do; and more than that, we have a large quantity of raspberries to be made into jelly. They would spoil if they were kept over Sunday."
Worse and worse! Who was going to get supper for my party?
Then I remembered that wonderful something which Lize Jane had promised to bring in the covered dish,—that delicious mystery which had been the first cause of getting me into trouble. Perhaps there would be enough of it to go round, and we could finish off with cake. I began to think it wasn't much matter what we had to eat.
While life lasts I shall never forget that horrible afternoon. What could I say? What could I do? I felt as Horace used to, as if I should "go a-flyin'." I ran into the parlor where mother and Mrs. Duffy were putting down the carpet, and hopped about till I got a tack in my foot; and after mother had drawn it out, and I had done crying, I ventured to say,—
"Mamma, there's a little girl coming to see me this afternoon. Are you willing?"
"This afternoon? Who?"
She might have asked who wasn't coming, and I could have answered better.
I thought a minute, and then said, "Fel," for I knew she liked her best of all the little folks.
"Very well," said mother, and went on stretching the carpet.
Fel came so often that it was hardly worth mentioning.
"But, mamma, there's somebody else coming, too. It's—it's—Dunie Foster."
Dunie was a lady-child, almost as well-behaved as Fel.
"Ah! I'd rather have her come some other time. But run away, dear, you are troubling me. Take the little girls into the dining-room. I want the sitting-room kept nice for callers."
I couldn't get my mouth open to say another word. Three o'clock was the usual hour for little girls to go to parties, and I flew into the kitchen to ask Ruth what time it was.
"Two o'clock," she said.
"And in an hour would it be three? How many minutes was an hour? Did that jelly boil fast enough? Did jelly bake all hard in the little glass cups so you could eat it the same day—the same night for supper? Was there any cooked chicken in the house, with breastings in (stuffing)? Any sandiges? Why didn't Ruthie make sandiges? Do it very easy. Why didn't Ruthie make sailor-boy doughnuts? I could sprinkle the sugar on 'em, see 'f I couldn't."
In the midst of my troublesome chatter Abner came around to the kitchen door with the horse and wagon, saying he was going to mill, and would Tot like to go, too?
"Will you be back by three o'clock?" said I.
"Yes; it won't take me half an hour."
"I wonder what's the child's notion of watching the clock so snug," remarked Ruth, as I was darting into the parlor to ask if I might go to mill.
As I rode along with Abner, and felt the soft summer air blow on my face, and saw the friendly trees nodding "Good day," it seemed as if I had left trouble behind me. What was the use in going back to it? I had half a mind to run away.
"I didn't want to stay and see those little girls starve to death. No place but the 'dine-room' and the barn to play in! Be tied to the bed-post for it too! Ought to be! Wicked-bad-girl! But would mamma tie me any shorter if I staid away till the moon came up? And then the girls 'd be gone! Get away from Abner just 's easy! He'll be a talkin' to the man 'th flour on his coat, then he'll look round an' I'll be gone, an' he'll say, 'That child's persest'; he always says 'persest,' and then he'll go home and forget."
But stop a minute; what would the girls think?
"They'll think me very unagreeable to go off and leave my party. They'll call me a little lie-girl; they wont ask me to their house no more."
So I didn't run away. I sat in the wagon, groaning softly to myself. The way of the transgressor is hard. Every way was hard to me since I had set out to do wrong. It was hard to run off and be called "unagreeable," and very, very hard to go home and face my troubles.
I had not supposed there was the least danger of any one's coming before three o'clock; but to my surprise, when we reached the house, I found the front entry full of small girls—the little specks in A B C. There they stood, some of them with fingers in their mouths, while mother held the parlor-door open, and was asking them very kindly what they wanted. "Margaret," said she, "these little girls have been here as much as ten minutes; I don't know yet what they came for; perhaps you can find out."
Poor, sick mother was holding her head with her hand as she spoke. I hated myself so that I wanted to scream.
"Hattie," stammered I, taking one of the tiny ones by the hand, "come out in the garden, and I'll get you some pretty posies." Of course the rest followed like a flock of sheep. But we had hardly reached the garden before I saw three or four more girls coming. It was of no use; something must be done at once. I left the A B C girls staring at the garden gate, and ran to the house for dear life.
"Mamma, mamma!" cried I, as soon as I could get my breath; and then I rolled myself up into a little ball of anguish on the parlor carpet.
"Where's the camfire?" exclaimed Mrs. Duffy, springing up; "that child's really a fainting off." Mother came to me and took my hands; she says I was so pale that it quite startled her. "Where do you feel sick, dear?" she asked tenderly.
That sympathetic tone broke me down entirely. My stubborn pride yielded at once, and so did that bitter feeling I had been cherishing so long in regard to the parasol.
"O, mamma!" sobbed I, catching the skirt of her dress and hiding my head in it, and forgetting all about Mrs. Duffy; "I don't care what you do, mamma. You may send 'em home, and tell 'em they didn't be invited; you may go to the front door and say it this minute."
"It's gone till her head," said Mrs. Duffy, laying down the hammer; "see her shuvver! She nades hot wather till her fate, poor thing."
"I don't care what you do to me, mamma; you may tie me to the bed-post, and sew me up in a bag and throw me in the river. You would, if you knew what I've been a doin'. I—I—I've got a party!"
Mother held her hand to her head and stared at me. Just then the door-bell rang.
"That's some of the party," wailed I. "And those little bits of girls were some, and this is some now, and more's a comin'. I'm so glad you didn't give me no pairsol, mamma."
"It can't be; Margaret, you haven't—"
"Yes, I have too. Yes, mamma, I've got a party! I'm wickeder 'n ever you heard of. Wont you put me in the river? I want you to. O, I'm so glad you didn't give me no pairsol."
Mother pulled the carpet and looked at me, and then pulled the carpet again. She was considering what to do. Ruthie had gone to the door when the bell rang; we heard her voice in the entry.
"Call Ruth in here to me," said mother, "and take your little girls into the garden."
I knew by that, that she didn't mean to send them home; and O, how I loved her. It seemed to me I loved her for the first time in my life, for I never knew before how good she was, or how beautiful! Her head was tied up in a handkerchief, and she wore a faded calico dress and a tow apron, but I thought she looked like an angel. I lay flat at her feet and adored her.
While I was taking my little girls into the garden and trying to play, mother was talking to Ruthie about this strange freak of mine. This I learned afterwards.
"I don't like to disappoint all these little children," said she, "and I don't like to expose my naughty daughter either. You see, Ruth, if they find out what a dreadful thing she has done, they will not like her any more, and their mothers will not let them come to see her. And that may make Margaret a worse girl, for she needs a great deal of love."
"I know it," said Ruthie; "she's got a big, warm heart of her own, and one can feel to forgive such children better than the cold, selfish ones; you know that yourself, Mrs. Parlin. Why, bless her, she never had an orange or a peach in her life, that she didn't give away half."
It gratified my poor mother to see Ruthie so ready to take my part. It was more than she liked to do to ask the tired girl to go to work again over the hot stove and prepare a supper for an army of children; but Ruthie did not wait to be asked; for love of mother and for love of me, she set herself about it with a hearty good-will. I do not remember much that was said or done for the rest of the afternoon; only, I know every single girl came that was invited, and they all said it was a nicer party than even Fel's; but Fel didn't care; she was glad of it. Of course it was nicer, for Ruthie spread the table in the front yard, and 'Ria was so kind as to adorn it with flowers, and lay wreaths of cedar round the plates. We had cup-custards and cookies, and, something I didn't expect, little "sandiges," with cold ham in the middle. But didn't I know it was more than I deserved? Didn't my heart swell with shame, and guilt, and gratitude? I remember rushing into the house in the very midst of the supper, just to hug mother and Ruthie.
The funny thing, the only funny thing there was to the whole party, was Lize Jane's present. In my agitation I had almost forgotten how anxious I was to see it. She came dressed very smartly in red calico, with a blue bow at her throat. Her hair was remarkably glossy, and she told us, in a loud whisper, she had "stuck it down with bear's grease and cologne." She brought her old tin pail, the very one she picked currants in, only it really had a cover on it now, and that was what she called "a covered dish." And guess what was in it?
Pumpkin sauce! The drollest looking mess. Dried pumpkin stewed in molasses. She said I never tasted anything like it before, and I am sure I never did, and never should want to again.
And that was the end of my party. Mother didn't sew me up in a bag and throw me in the river, for she was the most patient woman alive. She only forbade my going to anybody's house for a long time to come. It was a hard punishment; but I knew it was just, and I could not complain. My heart was really touched, and I had learned a lesson not easily forgotten. When I think of that party now, it is with a feeling of gratitude to my dear mother for her great forbearance, and her wise management of a wayward, naughty little girl.
THE PATCHWORK SCHOOL.
Fel and I had begun to read before we were four years old, and by the time we were six we knew too much to go to the town school any more. I believe that was what we thought; but the fact was, Fel was very delicate, and her mother considered the walk to the school-house too long for her, and the benches too hard. She wished to have a governess come and live in the house, so the child could study at home. I thought this was too bad. I knew almost as much as Fel did. Why must I go to the town school if it wasn't good enough for her?
"Mamma, I wish I was del'cate," whined I. "Ned snipped off my finger in the corn-sheller,—don't that make me del'cate?"
"Delicate!" said Ned. "You're as tough as a pine knot."
I thought this was a cruel speech. He ought to be ashamed to snip off my finger, and then call me tough.
In looking about for a governess, Madam Allen thought at once of dear Martha Rubie, who lived just across the garden from their house. Uncle John's wife was her sister, the aunt Persis I told you about, who thought I ought not to hear baby-talk. Aunt Persis wasn't willing her sister Martha should go away from home; she said Fel might trip across the garden and say her lessons at her house. Fel didn't like to do it, for she was afraid of aunt Persis—she wouldn't go unless I would go with her; and finally mother said I might; so it turned out just as well for me as if I was delicate. She wanted Gust to go too, and he wasn't willing. But if Fel set her heart on anything it generally came about.
"Augustus," said Madam Allen, smiling with her pleasant black eyes, which had a firm look in them, "you will recite to Miss Rubie if I wish it."
"Well, then, I want some of the other fellows to 'cite too," sniffed little Gust; "'tisn't fair for one boy to go to a patchwork school, long o' girls."
And thus it happened that several children joined us, and Miss Rubie had quite a sizable school.
And now I must tell you what sort of a house we went to; for the whole thing was very queer. In the first place, there was dear uncle John,—yes, your uncle John; but don't ask any questions; I'll tell you more by and by,—and his wife, that was aunt Persis; and his wife's sister, dear sweet Martha Rubie; and his little boy, Zed. Aunt Persis was an elegant, stately woman, but there was always something odd about her. I think myself it was odd she shouldn't like baby-talk.
She knit herself into my earliest recollections when she was Pauline Rubie, and after she married uncle John, she knit my stockings just the same, and uncle never interfered with the stripes, red and white, running round and round like a barber's pole. They were the pride of my life till Gust Allen said they made my little legs look like sticks of candy, good enough to eat. Then I hated them; but aunt Persis had got in the way of knitting stripes, and wouldn't stop it, beg as I might—for she always thought her way was right, and couldn't be improved.
Among other things she thought she knew all about medicine. There was a system called "hot crop," or "steaming," and she believed in it, and wanted everybody to take fiery hot drinks, and be steamed. That was the chief reason why we were so afraid of her.
Her house was a very pleasant, cosy one, or would have been if it hadn't had such a scent of herbs all through it. The first day we went to school aunt Persis met us at the door, and asked Fel to put out her tongue. Then she took us to a cupboard, and gave Fel something to drink, that we both thought was coffee; but it was stinging hot composition tea. Miss Rubie came into the kitchen just as Fel was catching her breath over the last mouthful, and said she,—
"O, Persis, how could you?"
We followed Miss Rubie into the school-room as fast as we could go. This school-room was right over a little cellar, just deep enough for a grown person to stand up in. It was called the "jelly-cellar," and when we were naughty Miss Rubie opened a trap-door and let us down. I was so restless and noisy that for a while I spent half my time in that cellar, surrounded by jars of jelly and jam. And I am afraid I could say sometimes, "How sweet is solitude!" for there was just light enough from the one window to give me a clear view of the jars, with their nice white labels, and more than once I did—I blush to confess it—I did put my fingers into a peach jar and help myself to preserves. I was old enough to know better; I resisted the temptation a great many days, but one unlucky morning I espied Dunie Foster coming up from the cellar with jelly stains on her white apron, and that set me to thinking.
"Ah, ha; Dunie eats perserves, and looks just as innocent's a lamb! Folks think she's better 'n me, but she isn't, she's a make-believer. I wonder if it's dreadful wicked to take perserves? Prehaps auntie spects us to eat 'em. Any way, Fel Allen never gets put down cellar, and it's real mean; and if I have to stay down there the whole time I ought to have something to make me feel better; I feel real hungry, and they ought to spect I'd eat perserves." So I did it; partly because Dunie did, partly because Fel wasn't punished and ought to be, and partly because it was most likely auntie put 'em there a-purpose! I think I never did it but three times; and the third time it was thoroughwort and molasses! Strong, I assure you, boiled down to a thick sirup. I had the jar at my lips, and had taken a long, deep draught, when I happened to look up, and there was aunt Persis going by the window, and looking straight down at me!
I was so startled by the bitter taste in my mouth and the sight of aunt Persis, both coming at the same time, that I gave a little scream, and pranced round and round the cellar like a wild animal. Miss Rubie heard me, and came down to see what was the matter. She did not ask if I had been meddling with the jars; but she must have known, for a sticky stream was trickling over my dress, and I had set the sirup down on the floor with the cover off. She bent a keen glance on me, and at the same time I saw a little twinkle in her eye. I suppose she thought my guilt would bring its own punishment, for she probably knew the thoroughwort would make me sick.
"Are you ready now to be a good, quiet girl?" said she. I had been shut down for noisiness.
"Yes'm," said I, meekly, and followed her up stairs.
But though my heart was heavy with shame, I could not help thinking, "What orful tastin' perserves!" and wondering if aunt Persis really was crazy, as Tempy Ann said she was.
Miss Rubie had had reason to think before that some of the children went to those jars, but she did not say so; she merely remarked,—
"It is nearly noon, children; you may lay aside your books now, and, if you like, I will tell you a story."
Everybody was pleased but me. I wanted to go home. The story was from the text, "Thou, God, seest me." It was about Adaline Singleton, a little girl who took her mother's cake without leave, and her mother counted the slices, and found her out.
I could not look up at Miss Rubie all the while she was talking, but I noticed Dunie Foster did. I was trying to rub that zigzag stream of sirup off my apron; and O, how sick I grew! Would she ever stop?
I knew God had seen me yesterday and day before, when I ate peach preserves, and I had no doubt it was to punish me that I had been allowed to swallow this bitter stuff to-day. But, O, if I could go home!
I never see that story of Adaline Singleton now among my books but it calls up a remembrance of guilt and nausea too. I would give a great deal, little Fly, if I hadn't so many bad things to remember. It is because I hope to do you good that I am willing to tell of them. May you have a purer childhood to look back upon!
Thankful was I when school was out that noon, but I wasn't able to go again in the afternoon; and my mother knew why!
It was the last time I was ever put in that cellar. Miss Rubie found another method of punishment; and I think I can say truthfully it was the last time I ever took sweetmeats without leave. I did other wrong things in plenty, but that I could never do again. When mother said I might go to the box and get "half a dozen raisins," I got half a dozen, and not a handful. Those solemn words rang in my ears,—"Thou, God, seest me,"—just as Miss Rubie had spoken them in her low, sweet tones.
For days I dared not meet aunt Persis's eye, but she treated me just the same, often loading me down with pennyroyal and spearmint to take home to mother. I did not know she was near-sighted, and had not seen me drinking her thoroughwort. It was the first medicine of hers I had ever taken, and that bitter taste in my mouth decided me, upon reflection, that she was crazy. As it proved, I was not very far wrong.
There had been something the matter with her wits for two or three years, and she was growing queerer and queerer. People began to wonder what made her want to look at their tongues so much. She said now if she met people on her way to church, "Please, put out your tongue;" and sometimes said it on the very church steps. This was queer; but they did not know how much queerer she was at home. We children could have told how she came into the school-room and felt all our pulses, but we thought Miss Rubie would be sorry to have us tell.
Her little boy Zed, about four years old, had to take her dreadful medicines, of course, for medicine was the very thing auntie was crazy about. He carried some of his doses into school to drink at recess, and we all pitied him. Sometimes he ate dry senna and raisins mixed on a plate, and we teased away the raisins, and he had to chew the senna "bare." He cried then, and said we ought to help eat that too, and we did. I thought it had a crazy taste, like the thoroughwort, and was sorry Zed had a liver inside him, and wished that his mother hadn't found it out.
Miss Rubie was very good and patient with us, but we began to dread to go to school. I overheard Tempy Ann say to Polly Whiting,—
"The story is, that Mrs. Adams (aunt Persis) steamed her own mother out of the world."
"You don't say so!" said Polly. "How long since?"
"About two years ago. The poor old lady sailed off very easy, with a jug of hot water close to her nose."
That frightened us dreadfully. We knew aunt Persis steamed Zed, for he said so; and what if she should steam us all out of the world with jugs of hot water close to our noses? And she was always trying to make Fel swallow something bad, and always talking about her white face. "Tell your mother to let me have you for a month," said she, "and I'll put roses into your cheeks, my dear."
Fel was so afraid that she trembled when we went into the house, expecting auntie would spring out upon her, and set her over the fire to steam. But she was such a patient, still little thing that she never complained, even to her own mother, and I was too rattle-brained to think much about it, though if I myself had expected to be cooked, the whole town would have heard of it.
Zed grew paler and paler. I asked Miss Rubie, privately, "what made his mother boil him?" And she smiled, though not as if she was happy, and said,—
"She doesn't boil him when I can help it, dear."
About this time I heard my mother say to my father she wished uncle John was at home, for auntie acted so odd, and her eyes looked so strange.
"Yes, mamma," cried I, rushing in from the nursery, "she boils her little boy, and she wants to boil Fel. I should think you'd tell Fel's mother, for Fel dassent tell, she's so scared."
I think mother went right to Madam Allen with what I said, for the next night, when I was at Squire Allen's, and Fel was sitting in her mamma's lap, Madam Allen said,—
"Why didn't my little girl let me know she was afraid of Mrs. Adams? When darling feels unhappy about anything she must always tell mamma."
Fel was so glad somebody was going to protect her, that she threw her arms about her mother's neck, and sobbed for joy. "Don't let her hurt Zed either," said she. She was such a dear little soul, always thinking about others.
"Now tell me if that boy has got a name?" spoke up grandpa Harrington. That was what he always asked when any one spoke of Zed.
"Yes, sir; his name is Rosalvin Colvazart," said Madam Allen. "Zed is for short."
"I know, I know, Rose Albert Coffeepot," laughed grandpa. He had said that fifty times, but he always thought it a new joke.
That night, while we were all soundly asleep, we were suddenly roused by the sharp ringing of the door-bell. Squire Allen went to the door, and there, on the steps, stood our dear teacher, Martha Rubie, in her night dress, with a shawl over her shoulders.
"O, Mr. Allen! O, madam! come quick! My sister is worse. She has steamed Zed, and she was trying him with a fork; but I locked him into the closet. Do come and take care of her. She is putting lobelia down the cow's throat."
Fel and I screamed, and Tempy Ann had to come in and soothe us. Fel wasn't willing her father and mother should go; but I said, "Don't you be afraid; aunt Persis won't boil 'em; they're too big to get into the kettle."
Tempy Ann laughed in her shaky way—which always made me provoked.
"Tempy Ann," cried I, jumping over the foot-board, "I guess you wouldn't laugh if you should be doubled up, and put over the stove! You needn't think Fel and I are babies, and don' know what you said about her boiling her mother up the chimney, with a jug on her nose; but we do know, and it's so, and sober true, for we've seen the kettle."
But it wasn't of the least use to reason with Tempy Ann when she had one of those shaky spells. So silly as she was at such times, I almost wished she could be boiled half a minute, to see if it wouldn't sober her down.
It seems aunt Persis had really become very crazy indeed; and that dear, sweet, patient, good Martha had been trying to keep it a secret; but it couldn't be done any longer. She acted so badly that Martha couldn't manage her. When Squire Allen went into the house, she was stirring "Number Six" into some corn-meal for the hens, and was very angry with him because he made her leave off and go to bed.
Father and mother had to take care of her till uncle John came; but she was as sick as she was crazy, and did not live till October.
I remember looking at her beautiful, white face, the first I ever saw in death, and thinking,—
"How glad auntie is to be so still."
No one told me she was tired, but somehow I knew it, for she was always flying about in such a hurry, and I was sure it must rest her very much to go to sleep. I received then a pleasant, peaceful impression of death, which I never forgot.
Miss Rubie staid at Squire Allen's for some time, and taught Fel. Now she is a person whom you all know very well; but I shall not tell who she is till by and by.
THE LITTLE LIE-GIRL.
And now I will skip along to the next summer, and come to the dreadful lie I told about the hatchet. You remember it, Horace and Prudy, how I saw your uncle Ned's hatchet on the meat block, and heedlessly took it up to break open some clams, and then was so frightened that I dared not tell how I cut my foot. "O, mamma," said I, "my foot slipped, and I fell and hit me on something; I don't know whether 'twas a hatchet or a stick of wood; but I never touched the hatchet."
It was very absurd. I think I did not know clearly what I was saying; but after I had once said it, I supposed it would not do to take it back, but kept repeating it, "No, mamma, I never touched the hatchet."
Mother was grieved to hear me tell such a wrong story, but it was no time to reason with me then, for before my boot could be drawn off I had fainted away. When I came to myself, and saw Dr. Foster was there, it was as much as they could do to keep me on the bed. I was dreadfully afraid of that man. I thought I had deceived mother, but I knew I couldn't deceive him.
"So, so, little girl, you thought you'd make me a good job while you were about it. There's no half-way work about you," said he. And then he laughed in a way that rasped across my feelings like the noise of sharpening a slate pencil, and said I mustn't be allowed to move my foot for days and days.
Every morning when he came, he asked, with that dreadful smile,—
"Let us see: how is it we cut our foot?"
And I answered, blushing with all my might, "Just the same as I did in the first place, you know, sir."
Upon which he would show all his white teeth, and say,—
"Well, stick to it, my dear; you remember the old saying, 'A lie well stuck to is better than the truth wavering.'"
I did not understand that, but I knew he was making fun of me. I understood what Ned meant; for he said flatly, "You've told a bouncer, miss."
I was so glad Gust Allen wasn't in town; he was a worse tease than Ned. When Abner came in to bring me apples or cherries, he always asked,—
"Any news from the hatchet, Maggie?" And then chucked me under the chin, adding, "You're a steam-tug for telling wrong stories. Didn't know how smart you were before."
Miss Rubie said nothing; she came in with Fel every day; but I presumed she was thinking over that solemn text, "Thou, God, seest me."
'Ria did not say anything either; but I always felt as if she was just going to say something, and dreaded to have her bring in my dinner.
I knew that father "looked straight through my face down to the lie;" but I still thought that mother believed in me. One day I found out my mistake. Ned had been saying some pretty cutting things, and I appealed to her, as she came into the room:—
"Mayn't Ned stop plaguing me, mamma?"
"No more of that, Edward," said mother, looking displeased. "It is too serious a subject for jokes. If Margaret has told us a wrong story, she is, of course, very unhappy. Do not add to her distress, my son. We keep hoping every day to hear her confess the truth; she may be sure there is nothing that would make us all so glad."
So mother knew! She must have known all along! She turned to bring me my dolly from the table, and I saw her eyes were red. I wanted to throw myself on her neck and confess; but there was Ned, and somehow I never saw mother alone after that when I could make it convenient.
She was right in thinking me unhappy, but she little dreamed how wretched I was. Horace and Prudy, you have heard something of this before; but I must tell it now to Dotty and Fly; for that hatchet affair was a sort of crisis in my life.
You know I had not always told the truth. My imagination was active, and I liked to relate wonderful stories, to make people open their eyes. It was not wrong in the first place, for I was a mere baby. The whole world was new and wonderful to me, and one thing seemed about as strange to me as another. I could not see much difference between the real and the unreal, between the "truly true" and the make believe. When I said my mamma had silk dresses, spangled with stars, I was thinking,—
"Perhaps she has. There's sumpin in a trunk locked up, and I guess it's silk dresses."
But as I grew older I learned better than to talk so. I found I must keep such wild fancies to myself, and only tell of what I knew to be true. Every time I wanted to utter a falsehood, a little voice in my soul warned me to stop.
Fly, you are old enough to know what I mean. Your eyes say so. You didn't hear that voice when you were patting round grandma's kitchen, making Ruthie's coffee-mill buzz. You were too little to hear it then. It had nothing to say to you when you stole your mamma's "skipt," and soaked it in the wash-bowl; or when you stuffed your little cheeks with 'serves without leave, or told lies, lies, lies, as often as you opened your sweet little lips.
"You don't 'member actin' so?"
O, no; it was "so many years ago!" But I was going to say you did all those dreadful things, and still you were not naughty. Nobody thinks any the worse of you to-day for all your baby-mischief. We only laugh about it, for you did not know any better. But if you were to do such things now, what should we say? Your soul-voice would tell you it was wrong, and it would be wrong.
My soul-voice talked to me, and I was learning to listen to it. I was not in the habit of telling lies; I had been hurried and frightened into this one, and now it seemed as if I could not stop saying it any more than a ball can stop rolling down hill.
It was dreadful. I had to lie there on mother's bed and think about it. I could not go out of doors, or even walk about the room. Fel had lain in her pretty blue chamber day after day, too sick to eat anything but broths and gruel; but then her conscience was easy. I wasn't sick, and could have as many nice things to eat as the rest of the family; still I was wretched.
My little friends came to see me, and were very sorry for me. I was glad to be remembered; but every time I heard the door open, I trembled for fear some one was going to say "hatchet."
And when I was alone again I would turn my face so I could watch the little clock on the mantel. It ticked with a far-away, dreamy sound, like a child talking in its sleep, and somehow it had always one story to tell, and never any other;—"You've told—a lie;—you've told—a lie."
"Well," thought I, "I know it; but stop plaguing me."
There was a pretty picture on the clock door of a little girl, with her apron full of flowers. It was to this little girl that I whispered, "Well, I know it; but you stop plaguing me." She went right on just the same,—"You've told—a lie; you've told—a lie." I turned my face to the wall to get rid of her, but always turned it back again, for there was a strange charm about that dreadful little girl. I could tell you now just how she was dressed, and which way she bent her head with the wreath of flowers on it. You have noticed the old clock in Ruth's room at grandpa's? That's the one. I never see it now but its slow tick-tock calls to mind my sad experience with the hatchet.
Days passed. I was doing my first real thinking. Up to that time I had never kept still long enough to think. It was some comfort to draw the sheet over my head, and make up faces at myself.
"You've told a lie, Mag Parlin. Just 'cause your afraid of getting scolded at for taking the hatchet. You're a little lie-girl. They don't believe anything what you say. God don't believe anything what you say. He saw you plain as could be when you cut your foot, and heard you plain as could be when you said you never touched the hatchet. And there he is up in heaven thinking about you, and not loving you at all! How can he? He don't have many such naughty girls in his whole world. If he did, there'd come a rain and rain all day, and all night, for as much as six weeks, and drown 'em all up 'cept eight good ones, and one of 'em's Fel Allen. But 'twouldn't be you, for you're a little lie-girl, and you know it yourself."
It is idle to say that children do not suffer. I believe I never felt keener anguish than that which thrilled my young heart as I lay on mother's bed, and quailed at the gaze of the little girl on the clock door.
Still no one seemed to remark my unhappiness, and I have never heard it alluded to since. Children keep their feelings to themselves much more than is commonly supposed, especially proud children. And of course I was not wretched all the time; I often forgot my trouble for hours together.
But it was not till long after I had left that room that I could bring my mind to confess my sin. I took it for granted I was ruined for life, and it was of no use to try to be good. I am afraid of tiring you, little Fly; but I want you to hear the little verse that grandpa taught me one evening about this time, as I sat on his knee:
"If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."
I see you remember it, Dotty. Is it not sweet? "God is faithful and just." I had always before repeated my verses like a parrot, I think; but this came home to me. I wondered if my dreadful sin couldn't be washed out, so I might begin over again. I knew what confess meant; it meant to tell God you were sorry. I went right off and told him; and then I went and told father, and I found he'd been waiting all this time to forgive me. It was just wonderful! My heart danced right up. I could look people in the face again, and wasn't afraid of the girl on the clock door, and felt as peaceful and easy as if I'd never told a lie in my life—only I hated a lie so. I can't tell you how I did hate it.
"I'll never, never, never tell another as long as I breathe," whispered I to the blue hills, and the sky, and the fields, and the river. And I knew God heard.
I suppose it is a little remarkable, Fly; but I believe this really was my last deliberate lie. Children's resolves are not always the firmest things in the world, and my parents did not know how much mine was good for. They did not dream it had been burnt into my soul with red-hot anguish.
I have always been glad, very glad, I was allowed to suffer so much, and learn something of the preciousness of truth. It is a diamond with a white light, children. There is no other gem so clear, so pure.
THE TANSY CHEESE.
You are not to suppose from this that I became a good girl the very next day. No, nor the day after. I ceased from the wickedness of telling lies, just as I had stopped pilfering sweetmeats. This was all; but it was certainly better than nothing.
I was soon able to play once more, only I could not run as fast as usual. How pleasant it was out of doors, after my long stay in the house! The flowers and trees seemed glad to see me, and I knew the hens and cows were, and old Deacon Pettibone, the horse. I resumed my old business of hunting hens' nests, though it was some weeks before I dared jump off the scaffold, and it seemed odd enough to come down on the ladder.
"I'd twice rather have it be you that had cut your foot, Fel Allen," said I, "for you don't want to run and jump; and folks that don't want to, might just as well have a lame foot as not."
Fel couldn't quite understand that, though it was as clear to me as A B C. And after all my suffering, she wouldn't own I was as "delicate" as she. I didn't like that.
"You don't remember how many bad things have happened to me," said I, waving my thimble-finger, which had lost its tip-end in the corn-sheller.
"Well, Ned's going to give you a gold thimble to pay for that, and I suppose you're glad it's cut off," said Fel, who had never met with an accident in her life, and was naturally ashamed of not having a single scar or bruise on her little white body, not so much as a wart or pimple to show me. I could not help feeling my superiority sometimes, for I had been cut and burnt, and smashed and scalded, and bore the marks of it, too.
"Well, but you don't have so bad headaches as me," said Fel, recovering her self-esteem. "Your mamma never has to put mustard pace on your feet, and squeeze up burdock leaves and tie 'em on your head, now, does she?"
"I don' know but she did when I was a baby; I never heard her say," returned I, coolly. "Folks don't think much of headaches. Polly Whiting has 'em so she can't but just see out of her eyes. But that isn't like hurting a place on you so bad your mother doesn't dass do it up! I guess you'd think it was something if you cut your foot most in two, and the doctor had to come and stick it together!"