THE BENDED TWIG.
BY COUSIN CICELY, AUTHOR OF THE "SILVER LAKE STORIES," ETC. ETC.
"Train up this child for me, and I will give thee thy wages."
"Mother! thy gentle hand hath mighty power, For thou alone may'st train, and guide, and mould, Plants that shall blossom with an odor sweet, Or like the cursed fig-tree, wither and become Vile cumberers of the ground."
AUBURN AND ROCHESTER: ALDEN & BEARDSLEY. 1856.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1853, by ALDEN BEARDSLEY & CO. In the Clerk's Office for the Northern District of New York.
It seems to be thought that a preface or introduction of some sort is absolutely necessary to a book; why, I do not know, unless it be that it looks rather abrupt to begin one's story without a word as to the why or wherefore of its being written. This in the present case can be said very shortly.
The principal events in the following story, the loved and petted child being, as it seemed, given back to life in answer to the mother's importunate cry; the indulgence under which he grew up, and the fatal consequences of that indulgence upon a temper such as his; are taken from real life, and may be used as sad warnings to those who shrink from the present trouble and pain, of rightly training the little ones God has given them.
The story of the Governess is a true one in every particular; names only being altered; I believe there are none remaining now whose feelings will be pained by this sad history being made public, so far as this little book may make it so, but there are one or two I know, and perhaps more, now living, who will smile if the chapter entitled "Ruth Glenn" meets their eyes, when they remember the disturbed nights years ago at a certain city boarding school. If she to whom I have given this name should ever see these pages, I hope she will forgive me for thus "telling tales out of school," in consideration of the high station to which by my single voice I have raised her, and the pleasant memory she leaves behind.
Many other little scenes and incidents interwoven in, the story, are from life.
And now I can only close my preface as I have closed the book, in the earnest hope that it may have the effect of leading some mothers to train rightly the little shoots springing up around the parent tree, restraining their wandering inclinations, and teaching them ever to look and grow towards Heaven.
Page The cross baby brother—The patient sister—The novel-reading mamma—The broken work-box—Undeserved punishment—The lock of papa's hair—Old Mammy—The cold north room—"Never alone"—Aunt Wharton—Lewie sick—A pleasant change for the little prisoner 11
Bridget's rage—Mammy's story—The runaway match—The dead father—The cheerful home at Brook Farm—Cousin Emily—The ice palace—Christmas secrets—The mother's agony—Life from the dead 28
Preparations for Christmas—The needle-book—Santa Claus himself expected -Old Cousin Betty—Loads of presents—Christmas Eve—Appearance of Santa Claus—"Who can he be?"—Cousin Tom—Poor Emily's grief 58
Cousin Betty—Absence of mind and body—A habit of dying—The shadow on the wall—Cousin Betty's ride on Prancer—Training day—Cousin Betty a captain of militia—Cousin Betty's stories 67
Agnes and Mr. Wharton on their way to the Hemlocks—The novel-reading mamma again—Lewie better—Agnes must stay—A lay sermon to Mrs. Elwyn—The needle-case—The bitter disappointment 77
Lewie roving the woods and fields again—Capricious and fretful still—The birth-day party at Mr. Wharton's—Preparations for tableaux—Another disappointment for Agnes—The sweetest tableaux of all 89
The lady who came for wool—The home in New-England—Midnight studies—Miss Edwards engaged as governess—A universal genius—A letter from the long-lost brother—The journey—The old Virginia church—The ghost no ghost at all—The old log-house—Horrible murder!—of pigs 98
No news from Miss Edwards—The letter from the strange physician—The manuscript—The brother found, and where—The engagement—Desertion—The country house—The "crazy room"—The Eastern Asylum—Rest at last in the quiet nook 127
Lewie's education—Mr. Malcolm tutor at the Hemlocks—Frequent calls at Brook Farm—Emily's sufferings—The disclosure—Strength for time of trial 140
THE TUTOR AND THE PUPIL.
Lewie's insubordination—Passion and tears—The mother's anxiety—Mr. Malcolm's firmness—No dinner for Lewie—Sulking—Brought to terms at last—The tutor dismissed 159
Leaving for boarding-school—Mrs. Arlington and her daughters—The third story room—The new strange girl—Nocturnal disturbances—Ruth Glenn's expostulations—Imminent danger—The physician consulted—Morning walks—Sad partings 173
LEWIE AT SCHOOL.
The dictator in the play-ground—Strife and contention—The tormentor—Lewie's mortification—The sore spot—The attack upon Colton—The removal from school—Mrs. Elwyn's failing health—Agnes summoned—A death bed—Changes proposed to Agnes—Her departure for Wilston 196
NEW SCENES FOR AGNES.
The two Miss Fairlands—The step-mother—Arrival at Wilston—Unpromising pupils—Poor Tiney—Dreadful scene at the tea-table—Tiney's suffering—The effect of music 212
THE SCHOOL IN THE WEST WING.
A hard task—The children's toilettes—Bible teachings—Practical applications—Sunday at Mr. Fairland's—The children's singing—The father's tears—A visit to Brook Farm—A visit from Lewie 223
THE STRANGERS IN THE ROOKERY.
An arrival—The Rookery—Mrs. Danby and Bella—A sudden accident—The rescue—The strangers—An old friend—A row on the lake—Music on the water—Shrieking in the house—A new method of laying spirits—Mortifying disclosures by Frank 250
DEATH AND THE FUGITIVE.
Music on the lawn—The midnight interview—The horrid truth disclosed—Lewie a fugitive from justice—Jealousy of Calista and Evelina—Poor Tiney's death bed—The search—The arrest 269
Return to Brook Farm—The visit to the jail—The involuntary and the voluntary prisoner—A talk about the future—Mr. Malcolm's visits—The lawyer—The evening before the trial 284
The Court-room—Mr. W.—The testimony—Speeches—Mr. G.'s agitation—Charge to the jury 298
THE SEALED PAPER.
A night of fearful suspense—The verdict—Insensibility—Delirium—Meeting between the brother and sister—Lewie's illness—Longings for freedom—A journey to the capital—Ruth Glenn again—The governor—A sister's pleadings—Her reward 310
Freedom for the captive—Removal to Brook Farm—Decline—Changes of temper and heart—A final release—The quiet nook—Resignation —Cheerfulness—The unexpected visitor 328
THE WINDING UP.
Repairs at the Rookery—Calista and Evelina on the qui vive—Mr. Harrington and his bride—Another Christmas gathering—Farewell, and kind wishes 331
"And she, not seven years old, A slighted child."—WORDSWORTH.
"What is it Lewie wants? Does he want sister's pretty book?"
"No!" roared the cross baby boy, pointing with his finger to the side-board.
"Well, see here, Lewie! here is a pretty ball; shall we roll it? There! now roll it back to sister."
"No-o-o!" still screamed Master Lewie, the little finger still stretched out towards something on the side-board which he seemed much to desire.
"Here is my lovely dolly, Lewie. If you will be very careful, I will let you take her. See her beautiful eyes! Will Lewie make her open and shut her eyes?"
"No-o-o-o!" again shouted the fretful child, and this time so loud as effectually to arouse his youthful mamma, who was deep in an arm-chair, and deeper still in the last fashionable novel.
"Agnes!" she exclaimed sharply, "cannot you let that child alone? I told you to amuse him; and instead of doing so, you seem to delight in teazing him and making him scream."
Again the little girl tried in various ways to amuse the wayward child. He really was not well, and felt cross and irritable, and nothing that his little sister could do to please him would succeed. With the utmost patience and gentleness she labored to bring a smile to her little brother's cheek, or at least so to win his attention as to keep him from disturbing her mother. But the handkerchief rabbits, and the paper men and women she could cut so beautifully, and which at times gave little Lewie so much pleasure, were now all dashed impatiently aside. One by one her little playthings were brought out, and placed before him, but with no better success. Lewie had once seen the contents of a beautiful work-box of his sister's, which stood in the centre of the side-board: at this he pointed, and for this he screamed. Nothing else would please him; at nothing else would he condescend to look.
"Oh, Lewie! darling Lewie! play with something else! Don't you know Aunt Ellen gave sister that pretty work-box? and she said I must be so careful of it, and Lewie would break all sister's pretty things."
Again Master Lewie had recourse to the strength of his lungs, which he knew, by past experience, to be all-powerful in gaining whatever his fancy might desire, and sent forth a roar so loud as once more to arouse the attention of the novel-reading mamma; who, with a stamp of the foot, and a threatening shake of the finger, gave the little girl to understand that she must expect instant and severe punishment, if Lewie was heard to scream again.
Still Lewie demanded the work-box, and nothing that the patient little Agnes could do would divert his attention from it for a moment. The little angry brow was contracted, and the mouth wide open for another shriek, when little Agnes, with a sigh of despair, went to the side-board, and, mounting on a chair, lifted down her much-valued and carefully-preserved treasure, saying to herself:
"If Aunt Ellen only knew, I think she would not blame me!"
And now with a shout of delight the spoiled child seized on the pretty work-box; and in another moment, winders, spools, scissors, thimble, were scattered in sad confusion over the carpet. In vain did little Agnes try, as she picked up one after the other of her pretty things, to conceal them from the baby's sight; if one was gone, he knew it in a moment, and worried till it was restored to him.
Finally, laying open the cover of the box, he began to pound with a little hammer, which was lying near him, upon the looking-glass inside of it; and, pleased with the noise it made, he struck harder and still harder blows.
"No, no, Lewie! please don't! You will break sister's pretty looking-glass. No! Lewie must not!" And Agnes held his little hand. At this the passionate child threw himself back violently on the floor, and screamed and shrieked in a paroxysm of rage; in the midst of which, the threatened punishment came upon poor little Agnes, in the shape of a sharp blow upon her cheek, from the soft, white hand of her mother, who exclaimed:
"There! didn't I tell you so? It seems to be your greatest pleasure to teaze and torment that poor baby; and you know he is sick, too. Now, miss, the next time he screams, I shall take you to the north room, and lock you up, and keep you there on bread and water all day!"
Agnes retreated to a corner, and wept silently, but very bitterly, not so much from the pain of the blow, as from a sense of injustice and harsh treatment at the hands of one who should have loved her; and the mother returned to her novel, in which she was soon as deep as ever. At the same moment, the looking-glass in the cover of the work-box flew into fifty pieces, under the renewed blows of the hammer in Master Lewie's hand.
The little conqueror now had free range among his sister's hitherto carefully-guarded treasures; her bits of work, and little trinkets, tokens of affection from her kind aunt and her young cousins at Brook Farm, were ruthlessly torn in pieces, or broken and strewed over the floor. Agnes sat in mute despair. She knew that as long as her mother was absorbed in the novel, no sound would disturb her less powerful than Lewie's screams, and that all else that might be going on in the room would pass unnoticed by her. So, wiping her eyes, she sat still in the corner, watching Lewie with silent anguish, as he revelled among her precious things, as "happy as a king" in the work of destruction, and only hoping that he might not discover one secret little spot in the corner of the box where her dearest treasure was concealed.
But at length she started, and, with an exclamation of horror, and a cry like that of pain, she sprang towards her little brother, and violently wrenched something from his hand. And now the piercing shrieks of the angry and astonished child filled the house, and brought even Old Mammy to the room, to see what was the matter with the baby. Mammy opened the door just in time to witness the severe punishment inflicted upon little Agnes, and to receive an order to take that naughty girl to the north room, and lock her in, and leave her there till farther orders.
Agnes had not spoken before, when rebuked by her mother; but now, raising her mild blue eyes, all dimmed by tears, to her mother's face, she said:
"Oh, mamma! it was papa's hair!—it was that soft curl I cut from his forehead, as he lay in his coffin, Lewie was going to tear the paper!" But even this touching appeal, which should have found its way to the young widow's heart, was unheeded by her—perhaps, in the storm of passion, it was unheard; and Agnes was led away by Mammy to a cold, unfurnished room, where she had been doomed to spend many an hour, when Lewie was cross; while the fretful and half-sick child, now tired of his last play-thing, was taken in his mother's arms, and rocked till he fell into a slumber, undisturbed for perhaps an hour, except by a start, when the tears from his mother's cheek fell on his—tears caused by the well-imagined sufferings of the heroine of her romance.
All the time Mammy was leading little Agnes through the wide hall, and up the broad stairs and—along the upper hall to the door of the "North Room," the good old woman was wiping her eyes with her apron, and trying to choke down something in her throat which prevented her speaking the words of comfort she wished to say to the sobbing child. When they reached the door of the room in which little Agnes was to be a prisoner, Mammy sat down, and taking the child in her lap she took off her own warm shawl and pinned it carefully around her, and as she stooped to kiss her, Agnes saw the tears upon her cheek.
"Why do you cry, Mammy?" she asked, "mamma has not scolded you to-day, has she?"
"Are you crying then because you are so sorry for me?"
"That's it, my darling, I cannot bear to lock you up here alone for the day and leave you so sorrowful, you that ought to be as blithe as the birds in spring."
"Mammy, do you think I deserve this punishment?"
"No, sweet, if I must say the truth, I do not think you ever deserve any punishment at all. But I must not say anything that's wrong to you, about what your mamma chooses to do."
"Then, Mammy, don't you think I ought to be happier than if I had really been naughty and was punished for it. Don't you remember Mammy the verse you taught me from the Bible the last time Lewie was so fretful and mamma sent you to lock me up here. I learned it afterwards from my Bible: hear me say it:—"
'For what glory is it if when ye be buffeted for your faults ye take it patiently; but if when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.'
"Now, Mammy, I did try to be patient with Lewie, and I gave him everything I had, but I could not let him destroy that lock of papa's hair. I am afraid I was rough then, I hope I did not hurt his little hand. Mammy, do you think mamma loves me any."
"How could anybody help loving you, my darling!"
"But, oh! Mammy, if I thought she would ever love me as she does Lewie! She never kisses me, she never speaks kind to me. No, Mammy, I do not think she loves me; but how strange it is for a mother not to love her own little girl."
"Well, darling, we will talk no more of that, or we shall be saying something naughty; we will both try and do our duty, and then God will bless us, and whatever our troubles and trials may be, let us go to Him with them all. Now, darling, I must leave you."
"Mammy, will you please bring me my Bible; and my little hymn-book? I want to learn the"
'I am never alone.'
"God is always by my side, isn't he Mammy?"
"Yes, love, and he says, 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.'"
When little Agnes was left alone in the great cold room, she walked up and down the floor repeating to herself verses from her Bible and hymn-book. Sometimes she stopped at the window and looked across the country, towards a wooded hill, where just above the tops of the trees she could see the chimneys of her uncle's house; and she thought how happy her young cousins were in the love of their father and mother, and she remembered how her own dear papa had loved her, and she thought of the difference now; and the tears flowed afresh. Then she walked the room again, repeating in a low voice to herself the words:
"Never alone; though through deserts I roam Where footstep of man has ne'er printed the sand. Never alone; though the ocean's wild foam Rage between me and the loved ones on land. Though hearts that have cherished are laid 'neath the sod, Though hearts which should cherish are colder than stone, I still have thy love and thy friendship my God, Thou always art near me; I'm never alone."
Soon she grew tired of walking, and seating herself at the table, she laid her head upon her crossed arms and was soon in a sweet slumber, and far away in her dreams from the cold desolate north room, at "the Hemlocks."
At the end of an hour the youthful widow was disturbed by the sound of merry sleigh-bells, and she had only time to throw her novel hastily aside, when the door opened and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Wharton, entered, accompanied by two of her little girls, their bright faces glowing with health and happiness.
"And how are the children?" Mrs. Wharton asked, after the first salutations were over.
"Why, Lewie does not seem well, he has been complaining for a day or two."
"And where is Agnes? We rode over to see if you let her go over and pass the holidays with us."
"Why, to tell the truth, Agnes has been very naughty, and I have been obliged to shut her up."
"Again!" exclaimed Mrs. Wharton, while glances of indignation shot from the eyes of her two little girls. "Agnes naughty, and shut up again! Why, Harriet, do you know she appears to me so perfectly gentle and lovely, that I can hardly imagine her as doing anything wrong. Mr. Wharton and I often speak of her as the most faultless child we have ever met with."
"She is not so bad in other ways, but she does delight to tease Lewie, and keep him screaming. Now, it has been one incessant scream from the child all this morning, and Agnes can amuse him very well when she chooses."
"Judging from all her own pretty things scattered about the floor here, I should think she had been doing her best to amuse him," said Mrs. Wharton; "she has even taken down her beautiful work-box, of which she has always been so careful. You may be sure it was a case of extremity, which compelled her to do that."
"Why, what a sad litter they have made to be sure; I did not observe it before. The fact is, Ellen, I have been exceedingly occupied this morning, and did not know what the children were about, only that Agnes kept Lewie screaming, and, at last, with the utmost rudeness, for that I saw myself, she snatched something from his hand, and for that, I punished her."
"Ah, yes, I see, Harriet," said Mrs. Wharton, glancing at the yellow-covered publication on the table; "I see how it is, now; you have been wholly absorbed in one of those wretched novels, and left little Agnes to take care of a sick, cross baby. That child is very sick, Harriet; do you see what a burning fever he has?"
"Ellen, do you think so?" said the mother hastily and in great agitation. "Oh, Ellen, what shall I do; oh, what shall I do! perhaps my baby, my darling, is going to be very ill."
"Do not agitate yourself so, Harriet, I will send Matthew directly over to the village for the doctor; but first, may I have Agnes?"
"Oh, do what you please with Agnes, only send the doctor to my baby; call Mammy, she will bring Agnes, and do go, quick!"
The bell was rung, and Mammy was despatched to bring the little prisoner down; she found her as we left her, sleeping with her head upon her arms.
"Precious lamb!" said Mammy, "she has cried herself to sleep." Then, kissing her, and rousing her gently, she told her that her aunt and cousins had come to take her to Brook Farm.
Agnes was at first very happy at the idea of once more enjoying the sunshine of her aunt's cheerful home, but, when she heard that Lewie was sick, a cloud came over her face.
"Aunty," she whispered, "I think I had better not go, perhaps I can do something for Lewie. I can almost always amuse him."
"Lewie is too sick to be amused now, my dear, and you can do no good here; besides, I want to get you away as quickly as possible, for I think it may be the scarlet fever that Lewie has. Come, darling, we will go."
Agnes drew her hand quietly from that of her aunt, and running back, she stooped over her little brother as he lay in his mother's arms, and kissed him; and then, standing a moment before her mother, she raised her eyes to her face. But her mother's eyes, with a gaze of almost despair, were fixed on her darling boy, and she did not seem to be aware even of the presence of her little daughter.
A look of disappointment passed over the face of Agnes, as, without intruding upon her mother by even a word of farewell, she turned, and put her hand once more in that of her aunt. And now, as, comfortably wrapped in buffalo skins, Mrs. Wharton and the little girls are flying over the country roads, to the sound of the merry sleigh-bells, we will relate a conversation which took place between Mammy and Bridget; and by so doing, will give a little insight into the history of the young widow, whom we have introduced to the reader.
"By the gathering round the winter hearth, When twilight called unto household mirth; By the fairy tale, or the legend old, In that ring of happy faces told; By the quiet hours when hearts unite In the parting prayer and the kind "good night", By the smiling eye and the loving tone, Over thy life has the spell been thrown."—SPELLS OF HOME.
When Mammy left little Agnes in the north room, and descended to the kitchen, she found Bridget, who had already been made acquainted with, passing events by Anne, the chambermaid, in a state of great wrath and indignation. The china must have been strong that stood so bravely the rough treatment it received that morning, and the tins kept up a continued shriek of anguish as they were dashed against each other in the sink; while every time Bridget set down her foot as she stamped about the kitchen, it was done with an emphasis that made itself felt throughout the whole house.
"And so ye've been locking up that swate crathur again, have ye, Mrs. McCrae?" were the words with which, in no gentle tones, she assailed Mammy as she entered the kitchen.
"I did as I was bid, Bridget," said Mammy, with a sigh.
"And indade it wouldn't be me would do as I was bid, if I was bid to do the like o' that. I'd rather coot off my right hand than use it to turn the kay on the darlint."
"I always mind my mistress, Bridget," said Mammy, "though it's often I'm forced to pray for patience wi' her."
"And indade I don't ask for patience wid her at all, anny how," stormed Bridget. "To think of sending the swate child, that never has anny but a kind an' a pleasant word for iverybody, away to the cold room, just because the brat she doats on chooses to yowl in the fashion he did the morn. I don't know, indade, what's the matther with the woman! I think it's a quare thing, and an on nattheral thing, anny how!"
"She's much to be blamed, no doubt, Bridget, and yet there's excuses to be made for my mistress," said Mammy, mildly. "She's young yet in years, no but twenty-two; and she's nothing but a child in her ways and her knowledge. She never knew the blessing of a mither's care, puir thing; and up to the very day she was married, her life was passed at one o' them fashionable boarding-schules, where they teach them to play on instruments, and to sing, and to dance, and to paint, and to talk some unchristian tongue that's never going to do them no good for this life nor the next. But they never give them so much as a hint that they've got a soul to be saved, and they take no pains to fit them to be wives and mothers. My mistress was but fifteen years old when she ran away with Master Harry. Poor dear Master Harry! It was the only fulish thing I ever knew him to do, was running away wi' that chit of a schule-girl. He met her, I think, at a ball that was given at this schule, and Master Harry was over head and ears in love in a minute; and after two or three meetings and a few notes passing, they determined on this runnin' away folly. I think it was them novels she was always readin' put it in her head. It wouldn't do, you know, to be like other folks, but they must have a little kind of a romance about it. Puir, fulish, young things!"
"You see, I was living with old Mr. Elwyn then," continued Mammy; "indeed, I've been in the family ever since I came over from Scotland, quite a lassie, thirty-one years ago come next April. I left them, besure, when I married; but as my gude-man lived but two years, I was soon back in my old home again. Old Mr. Elwyn, Master Harry's father, had lost his property before this time; but his brother, 'Uncle Ben,' as they called him, was very rich. They all lived together—'Uncle Ben,' old Mr. Elwyn, Master Harry and Miss Ellen, that's Mrs. Wharton. Miss Ellen was a few years older than Master Harry, and she was the housekeeper. But Master Harry, bless you! was only twenty years old, when he walked in one morning, and told his father he was married. I never shall forget the time there was then! The old gentleman was complaining, and had had a bad night, though Master Harry did not know that. Well, the sudden shock threw him into an apoplectic fit; and two days after, he had another, and died. Master Harry was almost distracted then: he called himself his father's murderer; and, indeed, I think he was never what you might call well from that time."
"But you never saw any one so angry as Mr. Benjamin Elwyn was. He had always intended to make master Harry his heir, but his conduct in this foolish affair enraged him so that he said he would leave him nothing. At first the young folks lived with her father, but he soon died, leaving his daughter a little property settled on herself. But it was not enough to support them, and so Master Harry had to apply to old Mr. Benjamin Elwyn again, and the old man gave him this place, and enough to live on pretty comfortably here. He told Master Harry that perhaps something might be made of his baby wife yet, if he brought her away from the follies of the city, to a country place like this, and tried to improve her mind; and so they have lived here ever since, till last year, when poor master Harry died."
"And what do ye think is the raison that the misthress thrates little Miss Agnes the way she does?"
"Well, I can hardly tell you, Bridget. In the first place, I have often heard her say that she couldn't abide girls, and bating other reasons, I think she would have been disappointed on her own account, you know, to have the first child a girl. But, besides this, I have heard that Mr. Benjamin Elwyn quite forgave Mr. Harry, and promised him that if his oldest child was a boy, and he named it after him, he would leave him the bulk of his property. I cannot tell you how bitterly disappointed my young mistress was, when her first born proved to be a girl. She was but sixteen years old then, you know, Bridget, and she acted like a cross, spoiled baby. She cried herself into a fever, and she wouldn't let the poor, helpless baby, come into her sight. I think she never loved her; and from the time of Master Lewie's birth, she has seemed to dislike her more and more."
"But how the father loved her, Mrs. McCrae!"
"Aye, indeed he did; he never could be easy a minute without her. It was a sore day for my poor bairn, when it pleased God to take her father; poor man! But He knows best, Bridget, and He orders all things right."
Here Mammy was summoned by the bell, and despatched to bring little Agnes down; to accompany her aunt and cousins to their home.
As Agnes was riding along, seated so comfortably by the side of her kind aunt, in the large covered sleigh, with the rosy, smiling faces of her little cousins, Grace and Effie, opposite her, she could scarcely believe that she was the same little girl, who, but an hour or two before, was walking so sadly up and down the desolate North Room, and trying to persuade herself that she was "not alone." Agnes was naturally of a lively, cheerful disposition, and like any other little girl of six years of age, she soon forgot past sorrow in present pleasure, though, at times, the sudden remembrance of her dear little baby brother, lying so ill at home, would cause a sigh to chase away the smile of pleasure beaming on her lovely face.
It was but little more than two miles from "The Hemlocks," Mrs. Elwyn's residence, to "Brook Farm," the home of the Wharton's, and, as Matthew had received orders to drive very rapidly, it seemed to Agnes that her ride was just begun, when they turned into the lane that led up to her Uncle Wharton's house. And now the pillars of the piazza appear between the trees, and now the breakfast room windows, and more bright young faces are looking out, and little chubby hands are clapped together, as the sleigh is discovered coming rapidly up the lane, and the cry resounds through the house, "They've come! they've come! and Agnes is with them!"
A bright, cheerful wood fire was burning in the pleasant, great breakfast room, and the party who had just arrived were soon surrounded by smiles of welcome, while busy little fingers were assisting them to untie their bonnets, and unfasten their cloaks. In a few moments the door opened, and a pale, but lovely looking girl, in deep mourning, entered the room. She was a niece of Mr. Wharton's, and, having lately been left an orphan, by the death of her mother, she had been brought by her kind uncle, to his hospitable home, where she was received by all as a member, henceforth, of their family.
"Well, aunty," said she, after stooping to kiss Agnes, "you are back sooner than I expected."
"Yes, dear, I was obliged to hurry; little Lewie is very ill, I fear. By the way, Harry, run and tell Matthew that just as soon as he is warm, he must drive as fast as possible to the village, and ask Dr. Rodney to get directly into the sleigh, to go to your Aunt Elwyn's; and tell him to call for me, as he comes back."
"Why, mamma, are you going back there again?" asked Effie.
"Yes, love, I must go back, and remain with your Aunt Harriet to-day. I only came home to make some arrangements for the family. I want your papa to drive over for me to-night, after the little ones are all in bed; and I desire the rest of you to keep out of my way till I have changed my dress. I do not know yet what is the matter with Lewie. How do you feel, Emily?"
"Much better, thank you, aunty; I am quite prepared to play lady of the house in your absence."
"Well, do put aside those books, dear: your health is the most important thing now. I wish I could leave you so busy with household concerns as to give you not a moment's time for reading."
"Dear aunty, I do not think the books hurt me; and you certainly would not have me grow up a dunce, would you?"
"No fear of that, dear; and I by no means wish you to give up your books altogether, but only to lay them aside till you get a little color in these pale cheeks. I shall lay my commands on your uncle not to give you any more assistance in your studies till I give him permission."
"Well, I'll be very good, aunty, and I've promised the boys to take a run with them over to the pond, and see them skate; and besides, we are all invited to an entertainment in a certain snow palace, which is nearly finished, and which I have promised to grace with my presence."
Just then two fine handsome boys, the pictures of health and good nature, rushed in. These were Robert and Albert Wharton, home from school for the Christmas holidays.
"Mother, what will you give us for our entertainment?" they cried.
"Have you a table and seats?" she asked.
"Yes, all made of snow," said Albert. "But don't let us tell her all about it, Bob; I want to surprise her."
"I think your entertainment, to be in keeping with your furniture, ought to be of snow and icicles," said Mrs. Wharton; "but, whatever it is, I am sorry that I cannot visit your snow palace to-day."
"Oh! that's too bad, mother; it will spoil all our fun. But, say, will you give us something to eat?"
"Yes; I leave Emily mistress of the keys for to-day, and you may call upon her for pies, cake, or anything the store-room contains; only be a little moderate, and don't leave us entirely destitute."
"It won't be half so pleasant without you, mother," said Robert; "but we shall have quite as many as our palace can accommodate, if all these go. Hallo! here's Agnes! Why, Aggy, how do you do? I didn't see you before."
At this moment the sleigh was seen coming up the lane, and Mrs. Wharton hastened to get ready to accompany the doctor to the Hemlocks.
"I want to whisper to you, dear mother, one minute," said little Grace.
"What more Christmas secrets?" asked her mother.
A whispered consultation here took place, some request being urged with great eagerness by Grace; and the pleasant "Yes, yes," from her mother, made her bright eyes dance with joy.
As Mrs. Wharton was driving from the door, Albert called out:
"Mother, may the baby go with us?"
"Yes, if Kitty will wrap him up well," was the answer, and the sleigh flew down the lane, and was soon out of sight.
Agnes was now hurried off by her young cousins to inspect the various preparations for Christmas, and was made the repository of some most important secrets, "of which she must not give a hint for the world." She saw the purse Effie was knitting for Albert, and the guard-chain Grace was weaving for Robert, and the mittens for Harry, and the socks for the baby, and the pen-wiper for papa, and the iron-holder for mamma; and then Effie took her aside alone, to show her something she was making for Grace; and Grace took her aside alone, to show something she had bought with "her own money" for Effie; and there was a beautiful book for Cousin Emily. "And we cannot show you yet whether we have anything for you, Agnes, because, you know, we always keep our secrets till Christmas comes," they said.
"There comes papa from the mill," cried Effie, looking out of the window; "let's run down and see him. How surprised he will be to find mamma gone, and Agnes here!"
Mr. Wharton came in with his usual cheerful manner; and soon as he was warming his feet by the fire, he had Agnes on one knee, and Harry on the other, and the rest of the noisy little tribe round him, eagerly telling the events of the day, and the pleasant anticipations for the afternoon.
"Oh, papa," said Effie, "I've got something I want to say to you, if you would only come in the other room a few minutes, or if the children would only be kind enough to go out of this room a little while."
"Won't it keep, Effie, till I warm my feet?" asked her father; "because, if it will not, I suppose I must go now."
"Oh no, papa, I will wait patiently," said Effie.
In a few minutes her father said, "Now, Effie, for that important secret;" and they went together into another room.
"This is what I wanted to say, papa," said Effie: "you know poor Agnes never has any money of her own; and I know, when she sees us all giving presents to each other, she will feel badly, if she cannot give something too; and I want to know if you won't give her a little money, and let her go to the village with us the next time we go, and get some materials to make something out of?"
Mr. Wharton answered by putting his hand in his pocket, and giving Effie some silver for Agnes, with which she went off perfectly happy.
And now little Grace put in her curly head, and said, "Effie, when you are through with papa, I've got something to say to him too."
The sum and substance of Grace's communication was this: "she had seen something at a store in the village, with which she was sure her mamma would be perfectly charmed, but she hadn't quite enough money to purchase it; she only wanted ten cents more." And she too went off with a smiling face.
Emily now came in jingling her keys and called them all to dinner.
As soon as possible after dinner, the boys laden with a basket of good things, which Emily had provided for them, started off for the snow palace, one of them carrying the dinner-horn, which was used in the summer, to call the men to the farm-house to their meals. When the entertainment was ready the horn was to sound. In the meantime, the children were sitting around the fire, waiting impatiently for the signal, to call them to the palace of snow.
"Cousin Emily," said Agnes, for she too said "Cousin Emily," though there was no relationship, in fact, between them, "Cousin Emily, I wish I knew what to read and study. I do want to know something, and I don't know anything but my Bible, and my little book of hymns. Mammy taught me to read, or I should'nt have known anything at all," she added sadly.
"Well, Agnes," that is the best knowledge you could possibly have, said Emily, "though I am far from thinking other studies unimportant; but, if I can help you in any way, I will gladly lend you books, and tell you how to study."
"Oh! will you, cousin Emily?" said Agnes, her face brightening; "how happy I shall be! aunty has taught Effie and Grace, and they have studied Geography and History, and they can cipher, and I don't know anything at all about those things; why, even little Harry knows more than I do."
"But you can beat us all in Bible knowledge, I know, Agnes," said Emily, "and, in a very little time, you will catch up to the other children, for aunty has little leisure time to devote to them. But there! I hear the horn! call Kitty, to bring the baby, and we'll all start."
And now all warmly wrapped in cloaks and hoods, the little party left the side piazza, and walked down towards the pond. The path was well broken, as the boys travelled it so often, on their way to the pond and the snow palace, and the little party went briskly on. Emily and Agnes headed the procession, then came Effie and Grace, dragging a box-sled in which the baby was comfortably stowed, and Kitty, the nurse, brought up the rear, leading little Harry. The two boys met them at some distance from the snow palace, and told them they must go through the labyrinth before they could reach the place of entertainment.
The labyrinth was composed of paths, cut in the deep snow, winding in and out, and circling about in all directions, till, at length, the foremost of the party halted before the entrance to the snow palace. The boys had, indeed, been industrious, and the new comers stared in amazement, at the results of their labor. They found themselves, on entering the palace, in a room high enough for the tallest of the party to stand upright in, and of dimensions large enough to seat them all comfortably around the square block of snow which formed the centre table. The seats were of the same material, and were substantial enough, while the extreme cold weather lasted. On the table was placed the entertainment provided by Emily, to which the party did all possible justice, considering that they had just risen from a plentiful dinner at home. After the feast, Robert and Alfred entertained them with feats of agility on the ice, dragging one or the other of the children after them upon the sled, and when they returned home, even Emily's usually pale cheeks were in a glow.
Towards evening Agnes began to be uneasy, and to watch at the window for her aunt's return. "I will not see aunty, cousin Emily," she said, "but I cannot go to bed till I hear how Lewie is to-night."
At length her uncle and aunt returned, and Agnes heard that her little brother was very ill; but the doctor was of opinion that his disease was a brain fever, and therefore there was no danger of contagion. Agnes went to bed with a heavy heart, and cried herself to sleep.
The next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, Mrs. Wharton again ordered the sleigh and drove to "the Hemlocks." She found Mrs. Elwyn in a state bordering on distraction.
"Oh, Ellen," she said, "how I have wanted you! Lewie has had a night of dreadful suffering, and now he is unconscious. He does not know me, Ellen! He does not hear me when I call. I think he does not see. Oh, Ellen, what would life be to me if I lose my darling. And now I want you to pray! You can pray, Ellen, and God answers your prayers. Pray for the life of my child! Mammy prays, but she will only say, 'The will of the Lord be done!'"
"And I can say no more, Ellen. I do pray; I have prayed, that your darling boy's life may be spared, if it be the will of God, but more than that I cannot say."
"And what if it be His will to take my darling from me, Ellen?"
"Then, Harriet, I hope you might learn to acquiesce without a murmur, and to say from your heart, 'It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth to Him good.'"
"No, Ellen, never! I cannot contemplate the bare possibility of losing my boy. If you will not pray as I wish, I will try to pray myself;" and falling on her knees, she prayed for the life of her child. "Take whatever else thou wilt, oh God," she cried, "but oh, spare me my child."
"Harriet, this seems to me most horrible impiety," said Mrs. Wharton, "to ask God to grant your desires, whether agreeable to His will, or not; I should much fear if your request were granted, that it would only be to show you, that you know not what is best for yourself, and for those you love; and that you might some day wish you had left this matter in the hands of God, even if it had been His will to take your darling to Himself."
When Dr. Rodney came that morning, he found the child in a profound slumber. "This," said he, "is, I think, the crisis of the disease; on no account let him be disturbed; if he awakes conscious, he will in all human probability recover."
And they watched him in breathless stillness, Mrs. Wharton on one side of the cradle, and his mother on a low stool beside him, with her sad gaze riveted on his little face, to catch his first waking glance, and to see whether the eye then beamed with intelligence, or not.
Oh, who can imagine the agony, the terrible suspense of such watching, but those who have sat as that poor mother did, over a loved one hovering between life and death. And as Mrs. Wharton sat so silently opposite her, her thoughts were sometimes raised in prayer for her poor misguided sister; and sometimes she sat looking at her as a perfect enigma; with a heart so capable of loving devotedly, and yet so steeled against her own child, and so lovely and winning a little creature as Agnes. It was a puzzle which she had often tried to solve, in vain.
After an hour more of deep slumber, Lewie started and awoke. For a moment his glance rested with a bewildered expression upon his mother's face; and then, stretching out his little hands, he said, "Mamma!" Mrs. Wharton's attention was fixed upon the child; but when she turned to the mother, she saw her, white as the snow, falling back upon the floor. The revulsion of feeling was too much for her; she had fainted.
When Mrs. Wharton came home that night, she said, "Agnes, my love, your little brother is better, and, with great care, he may now recover."
"Oh, aunty!" exclaimed Agnes, joyfully, "and when may I see him?"
"You must be content to remain with us without going home for some days yet, dear; for the doctor says the most perfect quiet is necessary, and you could not see Lewie if you were at home."
And now that the mind of little Agnes was comparatively free from anxiety, she entered with great delight into the preparations going on at Brook Farm for Christmas.
"In the sounding hall they wake The rural gambol."—THOMSON.
And now but a week was wanting to Christmas, and all was excitement and bustle among the little folks at Brook Farm. Lewie was quite out of danger, and Agnes was as happy and as busy as any of her little cousins. The cutter was in constant demand; for when one was particularly desirous to go over to the village on some secret expedition, that one must go alone, or only with those who were in her secret. Many were the mysterious brown-paper parcels which were smuggled into the house, and hidden away under lock and key in various closets and drawers; and there were sudden scramblings and hidings of half-finished articles, when some member of the family who "was not to see" entered the room.
"Aunty," said Agnes one day, in a confidential tone, "I should like to make a needle-book for mamma, like the one cousin Emily is making for Effie. She says she will show me, and fix it for me, and I think I can do it. Do you think mamma would like it?"
"Certainly, darling, I should think she would like it; I do not see how any mamma could help being pleased with anything her little girl made for her."
"But, aunty," said Agnes, as if speaking of a well-known and acknowledged fact, "you know mamma doesn't love me much, and perhaps it would trouble her."
The sad tone in which these words were said brought tears to the eyes of Mrs. Wharton, but still she encouraged Agnes to go on with the needle-book. It was not a very complicated affair, and Emily arranged all the most difficult parts; but still it was a work of time, and one requiring much patience and perseverance on the part of so young a child as Agnes. However, it was at length completed on the day before Christmas, and, when handed about for inspection, was much admired by all her friends. Agnes was very happy, for on Christmas day her uncle was to take her over home to see Lewie, who called for her constantly, her aunt said. Mammy had walked over too, to see her little girl, and she told her that "Lewie was greetin' for 'sister' from morn till night."
The day before Christmas came, and with it the party at Brook Farm was augmented by the arrival of Mrs. Ellison, a younger sister of Mr. Wharton's, her husband and baby, a beautiful child of about a year old. There was great joy at the arrival of "Aunt Fanny," who was very lively, and always ready to enter with glee into the frolics and sports of the children.
As they were sitting at the dinner table that day, Mr. Wharton said:
"I have received certain information that Santa Claus himself is to visit us to-night, and bring his gifts in person. He desires me to inform the children, that all packages to be entrusted to his care must be handed into my study, labelled and directed, before six o'clock this evening."
Many were the wonders and speculations as to the nature and appearance of the expected Santa Claus; but they were suddenly interrupted by Robert, who exclaimed:
"Why, who comes here up the lane? It's old cousin Betty, I do declare, in her old green gig set on runners."
"I thought cousin Betty would hardly let Christmas go by without making her appearance," said Mrs. Wharton; "I have thought two or three times to-day that she might come along before night."
"Cousin Betty" was a distant relation of Mrs. Wharton's, a lonely old body, who lodged with a relative in a village about ten miles distant from Brook Farm. She was very eccentric—so much so, that she was by some thought crazy; but Mrs. Wharton was of opinion that cousin Betty had never possessed sufficient mind to subject her to such a calamity. She was more silly than crazy, very good-natured, very inquisitive as to the affairs of others, and very communicative as to her own.
In a few minutes cousin Betty had received a hearty welcome, and was seated by the bright fire, asking and answering questions with the utmost rapidity.
"I've been looking for you, cousin Betty," said Mrs. Wharton.
"Have! What made you?"
"Oh, I thought you could hardly let Christmas go by without coming to see the fun."
"Did! Well, I never thought nothing about comin' till yesterday, when I sat in my little room, and I got feelin' pretty dull; and thinks I to myself, I'll just borrow Mr. White's old horse, and take my old gig, and drive up to the farm, and see the folks."
"Cousin Betty, who do you think is coming to see us to-night?" asked little Grace.
"I'm sure I can't tell, child. Who is it?"
"Why, Santa Claus himself, with all his presents around him."
"Is, hey?" said cousin Betty; "well, I shall be mighty glad to see him, I can tell you; for, old as I am, I've never seen him yet."
"I'm so glad you've come, cousin Betty!" said Effie; "we want you to go with us some day over to the farm-house, and tell us about our great-grandfather, whose house stood where the farm-house stands now; and how his house was burnt down by the Indians, and he was carried off. Agnes wants to hear it so much."
"Does! Well, I will go over there, and tell you the story, some day. But I can't walk over there while the weather is so cold; I should get the rheumatiz."
"I'll drag you over on my sled, if that will do, cousin Betty," said Robert.
The children laughed so heartily at the picture presented to their imagination of little old cousin Betty riding on Robert's sled, that Grace actually rolled out of her chair.
"Why wouldn't it do to tell the story here, Effie?" asked Agnes.
"Oh, because it is a great deal more interesting, told on the spot you know. Cousin Betty has heard it all over and over again from grandmamma, and she can point out, from one window of the farm-house, all the places where all those dreadful things happened."
Some warm dinner was now brought in for cousin Betty, and the children went off to tie up and label the gifts for Santa Claus.
"What shall we do with the presents we have for papa and mamma?" asked Grace.
"Oh, we cannot hand those in to the study," said Effie; "we must contrive some way to give them afterwards."
And now the children, one after the other, with their arms laden with packages, were making their way to their father's study; Emily and Agnes, too, had several contributions to make to the heap of bundles which was piled up on the study table; and before six o'clock, Mr. Wharton said he had taken in enough articles to stock a very respectable country store. At six o'clock the study door was locked, and there was no more admittance.
An hour or two after this, the whole family were assembled in the two large parlors, which were brilliantly lighted for the occasion, and all were on the tiptoe of expectation.
"I should like to know how he is coming," said Albert; "he'll be likely to get well scorched, if he comes down either chimney."
At this moment there was a slight tap at one of the windows opening on to the piazza, which Mr. Wharton immediately proceeded to open, and in walked St. Nicholas.
He was a jolly, merry-looking, little old gentleman, with beard and whiskers as white as snow, and enveloped in furs from head to foot. Around his neck, around his waist, over his shoulders, down his back, and even on the top of his head, were presents and toys of every description. Behind him he dragged a beautiful sled, which was loaded with some articles too bulky to be carried around his person. Every pocket was full; and as he passed through the rooms, he threw sugar plums and mottoes, nuts and raisins, on all sides, causing a great scrambling and screaming and laughing among the children.
Then he began to disengage the presents, which were pinned about him, and tied to the buttons of his coat; and as he did so, he looked at the label, and threw it at the one for whom it was intended. It would be hard for one who was not there to imagine the lively scene which was now presented in the great parlors at Brook Farm; the presents flying round in all directions; the children dodging, and diving, and catching, while shouts and screams of laughter made the house ring.
"But who is he?—who can he be?" was the question which each asked of the other a great many times during this merry scene. Mr. Wharton and Mr. Ellison, "Aunt Fanny's" husband, were both in the room, and they were sure there was no other gentleman in the house.
Just then Robert screamed, "Oh, I know now! It's cousin Tom! He throws left-handed!" And now the effort was made to pull off the mask, but Santa Claus avoided them with great dexterity, still continuing his business of distributing the presents.
At the feet of Agnes he placed a work-box, much handsomer than that which Lewie had destroyed; at Emily's, a writing-desk, and some valuable books; and when his sled was emptied, he drew the sled, and left it with little Harry, for whom it was intended.
"My goodness gracious!" said cousin Betty, as a beautiful muff "took her in the head," as Albert said, and sadly disarranged the set of her odd little turban.
"And now I believe old Santa Claus has finished his labors," said Mr. Wharton.
"Oh no, not yet," cried Effie; "he must come with us for a new supply. But I feel a little afraid of him yet. If I only could be sure it was cousin Tom!"
"You need not doubt that, Effie," said Robert; "nobody else ever threw like cousin Tom. I've seen him play snow-ball often enough."
And now Santa Claus was taken captive by the children, and in a few minutes he re-appeared, laden with gifts, but this time for the older members of the family; and the products of the children's industry made quite a display, and much astonished those for whom they were intended, the children having kept their secrets well.
And now, as the rooms were warm, old Santa Claus was quite willing to get rid of his mask and his furs; and this done, he straightened up, and cousin Tom stood revealed.
"And how did you come, and where have you been?" asked the children.
"Oh, I came this afternoon, and stopped at the farm house," answered cousin Tom, or Mr. Thomas Wharton, for it is time he should be introduced by his true name to the reader. "And after it was dusk I slipped over here, and went round to uncle's study door while you were at tea. I sent word by Aunt Fanny that you might expect Santa Claus to-night."
And now began a game of romps, which lasted for an hour or more, and then little bodies began to be stumbled over, and were found under tables, and on sofas fast asleep, and were taken off to bed. Mrs. Ellison's baby being roused by the noise, had awaked, and persisted in keeping awake, and his mother came back to the parlor bringing him in her arms, with his night-gown on, and his cheeks as red as roses.
"Isn't he a splendid fellow?" said she, holding him up before cousin Tom.
"A very comfortable looking piece of flesh certainly," he answered; "but then they are all alike. I think you might divide all babies into two class, the fat and the lean; otherwise, there is no difference in them that I can see."
"Pshaw, how ridiculously you talk; there is a great deal more difference between two babies, than between you and all the other young dandies who walk Broadway. They are all alike, the same cut of the coat and collar, and whiskers; the same tie of the neck-cloth, and shape of the boot: when you have seen one, you have seen all. But now just take a good look at this magnificent baby, and confess; wouldn't you like to kiss him?"
"Excuse me, my dear aunty, but that is a thing I haven't been left to do very often. I've no fancy for having my cheeks and whiskers converted into spitoons. It is really astonishing now," continued cousin Tom, "what fools such a brat as that will make of very sensible people."
"Are your allusions personal, sir?" asked Mrs. Ellison, laughing.
"No, not just now; but I was thinking of a man in our place, who used to be really a very sensible fellow; and though quite an old bachelor, he was the life of every party he attended, and more of a favorite than most of the young men. Well, when he was about fifty years old he got married, and he's got a young one now about two years old. And what kind of an exhibition do you suppose that man made of himself the other day. Why, this refractory young individual couldn't be persuaded to walk towards home in any other way, when they had him out for an airing, and what does this old friend of mine do, but allow a handkerchief to be pinned to his coat-tail, and go prancing along the street like a horse for the spoiled brat to drive. The calf! I declare, before I'd make such a fool of myself as that, I'd eat my head! What are you writing there, uncle?"
"Only taking notes of these remarks, Tom," answered Mr. Wharton, "for your benefit on some future occasion."
There was only one in that Christmas party who could not heartily join in the glee; it was poor Emily, to whom this scene brought back so vividly other holiday seasons passed with those who had "gone from earth to return no more," that only by a strong effort could she prevent her own sadness from casting a shade over the happiness of others; for they all loved cousin Emily so dearly, that they could not be merry when she was sad. Emily was usually so quiet, that in their noisy play they did not miss her as she retired to the sofa and shaded her eyes with her hand; but her kind uncle noticed her, and readily understood the reason of her sadness. Taking a seat by her he put his arm around her, and took her hand in his. This act of tenderness was too much for poor Emily's already full heart, and laying her head on her uncle's shoulder, she sobbed out her grief unchecked.
"Come, wilt thou see me ride!"—HENRY VIII.
Cousin Betty was a little bit of a woman, with a face as full of wrinkles as a frozen apple, and a pair of the busiest and most twinkling little black eyes you ever saw, a prominent and parrot like nose, with a chin formed on the very same pattern, only that it turned up instead of down, the two so very nearly meeting that the children said they had "to turn their faces sideways to kiss her." She had some very unaccountable ways too, which no one understood, and which she never made any attempt to explain, perhaps because she did not understand them herself.
For instance, whenever meals were ready, and the family prepared to sit down, though cousin Betty might have been hovering round for an hour or two before, she was often missing at that very moment, and when a search was instituted she was sometimes found taking a stroll in the garret where she could have no possible business, and sometimes poking about in the darkest corner of the dark cellar, without the slightest conceivable object. If her thimble or spectacles were lost, she has often been known to go to the pantry and lift up every tumbler and wine-glass on the shelf, one after the other, and look under it as if she really expected to find the missing article there; and to take off the cover of vegetable dishes to look for her snuff-box, or open the door of the stove, if her work-bag, or knitting were missing, apparently with the confident expectation of finding them unharmed amidst the blazing fire.
Cousin Betty had a very uncomfortable fashion of dying too, every little while, which at first alarmed her friends so much that restoratives were speedily procured; but as she never failed to come to life again, they became, after a time, accustomed to the parting scene, so that there was great danger that when she really did take her departure, nobody would believe it.
"My dear," said she one night to Effie, "I feel very unwell; very unwell, indeed; I think it's more'n likely I shan't last the night through. I wish you wouldn't leave me alone this evening, and then if I'm suddenly taken worse, you know you can call the family. I should like to see them all before I go."
Effie promised she would not leave her, and bringing her book, she seated herself by the stove in cousin Betty's room. In about a hour she appeared in the parlor, her face purple with the effort to suppress the inclination to laugh, and said, "Oh, do all of you please to come to cousin Betty's room a few moments."
"What, is she dying?" they asked.
"Oh, no! but just come; very quietly; there's a sight for you to see."
Cousin Betty always tied a large handkerchief about her head when she went to bed, and on the night in question, the two ends of the handkerchief being tied in a knot stood up from her head like two enormous ears. She was bolstered up by pillows, as she declared she could not breathe in any other position, and at every breath she drew she opened and shut her mouth with a sudden jerk. Effie had looked up from her reading suddenly, and caught the reflection of cousin Betty's profile, thrown by the light, greatly magnified upon the wall, and stuffing her handkerchief in her mouth to prevent a sudden explosion of laughter, by which cousin Betty might be awakened, she ran to call the family. No pen-sketch but an actual profile would give the slightest idea of the extraordinary and most ludicrous appearance of the image thus thrown upon the wall; with the enormous ears standing up, and the mouth and chin snapping together like the claws of a lobster. One by one they rushed from the room, till at length a smothered cacchination from one of the little ones awoke cousin Betty, who exclaimed:
"Who is sobbing there? My dear friends do not distress yourselves, I find myself considerably more comfortable."
This "clapped the climax," and the room was unavoidably deserted for a few minutes; but at length Effie found courage to return, and, by placing the light in another position, was enabled to keep watch for the remainder of the evening.
There were some very amusing stories told in the family of cousin Betty's adventures, one of which I will relate here. She was at one time making one of her long visits at Mr. Wharton's, when, getting out of yarn, and not being willing to remain long idle, she began to worry about some way to get over to the village. The horses were all out at work upon the farm, except Old Prancer, a superannuated old horse, who was never used except for Mrs. Wharton or the girls to drive; for, whatever claims "Prancer" may once have had to his name, it had been a misnomer for some years past, and no one suspected him of having a spark of spirit.
When Mr. Wharton came in to dinner, and cousin Betty consulted him as to the best means of getting over to the village, he told her that the best thing he could do for her would be to put the side-saddle on to Old Prancer, and let her ride over. To this cousin Betty consented, not without a slight trepidation, for she had never been much of a horse-woman, but still, as she had known Prancer for many years, and he had always borne the character of a staid, steady-going animal, she thought there could surely be no risk in trusting herself to him.
Soon after dinner, cousin Betty, with a very short and very scanty skirt, was mounted on the back of Old Prancer. She felt quite timid at first at finding herself upon so lofty an elevation, (for Prancer was an immense animal;) but when she found how steadily and sedately he went on, and that neither encouragement nor blows could induce him to break into a trot, she lost all her fears, and began to enjoy her ride saving that the pace was rather a slow one.
But just as cousin Betty began to ascend the hill leading into the village, the sound of martial music burst upon her ear, and she remembered hearing the children say that this was "general training day." Cousin Betty did not know that Prancer had once belonged to a militia officer; and if she had, it would have made no difference, as all the fire of youth seemed to have died out with Prancer years ago. But early associations are strong; and as the "horse scenteth the battle afar off," so did Prancer prick up his ears and quicken his pace at the spirit-stirring sounds of the fife and drum; and now he began to make an awkward attempt to dance sideways upon the points of his hoofs; and as he neared the brow of the hill, his excitement became more intense, and his curveting and prancing more animated. Cousin Betty was almost terrified to death. Throwing away her whip, and grasping the reins, she endeavored to stop him; but he only held in his head, and danced sideways up the street with more animation and spirit than ever. She thought of throwing herself off, but the immense height rendered such a feat utterly unsafe; she endeavored to rein the horse up to the side-walk; but now he had caught sight of the motley array of trainers, and of the gay horses and gayer uniforms of the officers, and, regardless alike of bit and rein, he started off at full speed, to join the long-forgotten but once familiar spectacle.
Cousin Betty had by this time dropped the reins, and was clinging with both arms to Old Prancer's neck; and as he turned his face to the company, and backed gallantly down the street, the sight was too irresistibly ludicrous. Shouts and laughter, and expressions of encouragement to poor cousin Betty, were heard on all sides; till at length a militia officer, taking pity upon her helpless condition, led the unwilling Prancer to the tavern, and assisted her to alight. Here cousin Betty remained till sun-down, and all was quiet; and then, requesting the tavern-keeper to lead the horse out of town while she walked, she again, with much fear and trembling, mounted when beyond the precincts of the village.
Prancer, however, walked slowly home, with his head drooping, as if thoroughly mortified at the excesses into which he had been betrayed; and cousin Betty, when she once got safely home, declared that she'd go without yarn another time, if it was a whole year, before she would mount such a "treacherous animal as that 'ere."
But, with all her oddities, cousin Betty was sometimes a very amusing companion. She had many stories of her youth stowed away in her memory, which, when wanted, could be found and brought to light much more readily than the articles she was so constantly missing now; and though these stories were not told in the purest English, they were none the less interesting to the children for that.
There came, early in February, some pleasant, mild days, which soon made a ruin of the boys' palace of snow; and though cousin Betty had been in a dying state for an hour or two the night before, she was so far revived that morning, that she was easily persuaded by the children to go over with them to the farm-house, and tell them the story of their great-grandfather, and his capture by the Indians; which same, though a very interesting story to the children, might not be so to my readers; and after changing my mind about it several times, I have concluded to leave it out, as having nothing to do with the rest of my story.
"Deal very, very gently with a young child's tender heart."
With a face beaming with joy, little Agnes took her place in the cutter by her uncle on Christmas morning, and nodded good-bye to her cousins, who were crowded at the window to see her off.
"Mind you come back to dinner!" screamed little Grace, knocking with her knuckles on the window pane.
Agnes nodded again, and they were gone. Many a time during the short ride did Agnes take out of her little muff the paper in which her needle-case for her mother was rolled up, to see if it was all safe; and she never let go for a moment of the basket in which were some toys for Lewie, which she and her cousins had purchased at the village. As she drove up the road from the gate to her mother's house, it seemed to her so long since she had been away, that she expected to see great changes. She had never been from home so long before, and a great deal had happened in that fort night.
Mrs. Elwyn was reading again; indeed, she had resumed that very yellow-covered book, the reading of which Lewie's sickness had interrupted; so she had not much time for a greeting for Agnes, though she did allow her to kiss her cheek, and of course laid aside her book, out of compliment to Mr. Wharton. But little Lewie, who was sitting in his cradle, surrounded by toys, was in perfect ecstasies at the return of Agnes.
He stretched his little arms towards her; and as she sprang towards him, and stooped to kiss him, he threw them around her neck, and clasped his little hands together, as if determined never to let her go again.
"Sister come! sister come!" he exclaimed over and over again, with the greatest glee; "sister stay with Lewie now."
"Sister will stay a little while," said Agnes, kissing over and over again her beautiful little brother.
"No, sister stay!—sister shall not go!" said Lewie, in the best manner in which he could express it; but exactly how, we must be excused from making known to the reader, having a great horror of baby-talk in books.
"But I must go, darling; all my things are at uncle's, and I want to get some books cousin Emily is going to give me; but I will come back very soon to stay with Lewie."
"No! sister shall not go!" was still the cry; and Mrs. Elwyn settled the matter by saying:
"Agnes, if Lewie wants you here so much, you may as well take off your things; you cannot return to Brook Farm; besides, I want you to amuse Lewie." Agnes thought of some of the consequences of her endeavors to amuse Lewie, and sighed.
"If your mother insists upon your remaining, Agnes," said her uncle, "I will bring over your things, and Emily shall come with me, to bring the books, and tell you how to study."
"Oh, thank you, dear uncle!" said Agnes, her face brightening at once.
In the first scene in which our little hero is introduced to the reader, he certainly does not appear to advantage, as few persons would in the first stages of a fever. He was not always so hard to please, or so recklessly destructive, as he was that day; and had an intimation ever been conveyed to his mind, that it was a possible thing for any desire of his to remain ungratified, he might have grown up less supremely selfish than he did.
But the natural selfishness of his nature being constantly fed and ministered to by his doating mother, led the little fellow to understand very early that no wish of his was to be denied; and before he was two years old, he fully understood the power he held in his hands.
He was a beautiful boy; "as handsome as a picture," as Mammy said; but, for my part, I have seldom seen a picture of a child that could at all compare with Lewie Elwyn, with his golden curls, and deep blue eyes, and brilliant color. He was warm-hearted and affectionate, too, and might have been moulded by the hand of love into a glorious character. But selfishness is a deformity which early attention and care may remedy, and the grace of God alone may completely subdue; but, if allowed to take its own course, or worse, if encouraged and nurtured, it grows with wonderful rapidity, and makes a horrid shape of what might be the fairest.
Upon this text, or something very like it, Mr. Wharton spake to Mrs. Elwyn, when Agnes had carried Lewie into the next room to spin his top for him.
"Lewie is a most beautiful little fellow, certainly," said he; "but, Harriet, take care; he is getting the upper hand of you already. It is time already—indeed, it has long been time—to make him understand that his will is to be subservient to those who are older."
To which Mrs. Elwyn replied, "How absurd, Mr. Wharton, to talk of governing a child like that!"
"There are other ways of governing, Harriet, besides the whip and the lock and key, neither of which do I approve of, except in extreme cases. Lewie could very easily be guided by the hand of love, and it rests with you now to make of him almost what you choose. A mother's gentle hand hath mighty power."
"Well, Mr. Wharton, to tell you the truth, nothing seems to me so absurd as all these ideas of nursery education; and the people who write books on the subject seem to think there is but one rule by which all children are to be governed."
"I perfectly agree with you, Harriet, that it is very ridiculous to suppose that one set of rules will answer for the education of all, except, of course, so far as the Bible rule is the foundation for all government. I think the methods adopted with children should be as numerous and different as the children themselves, each one, by their constitution and disposition, requiring different treatment; but still there are some general rules, you must admit, which will serve for all. One of these is a rule of very long standing; it is this—'Honor thy father and thy mother;' and another—'Children, obey your parents in the Lord.' Now, how can you expect your son, as he grows up, to honor, respect, or obey you, if you take the trouble to teach him, every day and hour, that he is the master, and you only the slave of his will. There is another saying in that same old book from which these rules are drawn, which tells you that 'A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.'"
Mrs. Elwyn, during this conversation, kept up a series of polite little bows, but could not altogether conceal an expression of weariness, and distaste at the turn the conversation had taken. She had a sincere respect, however, for Mr. Wharton, who always exercised over her the power which a strong mind exercises over a weak one, and she felt in her heart that he was a real friend to her, and one who had the interests of herself and her children at heart.
As Mr. Wharton rose to go she said, laughingly:
"I thank you for your kind advice with regard to Lewie, Mr. Wharton, but in spite of it, I do not think I shall put him in a straight-jacket before he is out of his frocks."
"No straight-jacket is needed, Harriet; you have often written in your copy-book at school, I suppose, 'Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined.' You remember that strange apple-tree in my orchard, which the children use for a seat, it rises about a foot from the ground, and then turns and runs along for several feet horizontally, and then shoots up again to the sky. When that was a twig, your thumb and finger could have bent it straight; but now, what force could do it. If sufficient strength could be applied it might be broken, but never bent again. Excuse my plain speaking, Harriet, but I see before you so much trouble, unless that little boy's strong will is controlled, that my conscience would not let me rest, unless I spoke honestly to you what is in my mind."
"I must say you are not a prophesier of 'smooth things'" said Mrs. Elwyn, "but still, I hope the dismal things you have hinted at may not come to pass."
"I hope not too, Harriet," said Mr. Wharton, "but God has now mercifully spared your little boy's life, and it rests with you whether he shall be trained for His service or not."
Then calling for Agnes and Lewie, Mr. Wharton kissed them for good-bye, telling Agnes that he would bring Emily over the next day.
Mrs. Elwyn looked infinitely relieved when Mr. Wharton drove off, and returned to her novel with as much interest as ever, and in the very exciting scene into which her heroine was now introduced, she soon forgot the unpleasant nature of Mr. Wharton's "lecture," as she called it.
Agnes was contriving in her mind all the morning, how she should present the needle-case to her mother, and wondering how it would be received. It was such a great affair to her, and had cost her so much time and labor, that she was quite sure it must be an acceptable gift, and yet natural timidity in approaching her mother, made her shrink from presenting it, and every time she thought of it her heart beat in her very throat.
At length the novel was finished and thrown aside, and Mrs. Elwyn sat with her feet on the low fender gazing abstractedly into the fire. Now was the time Agnes thought, and approaching her gently, she said:
"Mamma, here is a needle-case I made for you, all myself, for a Christmas present."
The words could not have been heard by Mrs. Elwyn, she only knew that a voice not Lewie's interrupted her in her reverie.
"Hush! hush! child," she said, waving her hand impatiently towards Agnes, "be quiet! don't disturb me!"
Oh, what a grieved and disappointed little heart that, as Agnes turned away with the tears in her eyes, and a lump in her throat.
The next voice that disturbed the young widow was one to which she always gave attention:
"Mamma! mamma!" cried Lewie, pulling imperiously at her gown; "mamma! sister feels sorry, speak to sister."
"What is it, dear?" his mother asked.
"Speak to sister! sister crying," said Lewie, pulling her with all the strength of his little hands towards Agnes.
"What is the matter, Agnes? Why are you crying? What did you say to me a few moments ago?" asked her mother.
Agnes tried to say "It is no matter, mamma," bet she sobbed so bitterly that she could not form the words. But Lewie, who had seen and understood the whole thing, pulled the needle-case from his sister's hand, and gave his mother to understand that Agnes had made it for her, and then he struck his little hand towards her and called her "naughty mamma, to make sister cry!"
More to please Lewie than for any other reason, Mrs. Elwyn took the needle-case, and said:
"Why Agnes, did you make this yourself, and for me? how pretty it is; isn't it, Lewie? Now Agnes, you may fill it with needles for me."
Agnes wiped her eyes and began her task, but that painful lump would not go away from her throat. Ah! if those kind words had only come at first!
How much suffering is caused to the hearts of little children by mere thoughtlessness, sometimes in those even who love them; by a want of sympathy in their little griefs and troubles, as great and all-important to them, as are the troubles of "children of a larger growth," in their own estimation.
"A mournful thing is love which grows to one so mild as thou, With that bright restlessness of eye—that tameless fire of brow Mournful! but dearer far I call its mingled fear and pride, And the trouble of its happiness than aught on earth beside."
Lewie recovered rapidly; and by the time that "the singing of birds had come," the roses bloomed as brightly as ever in his cheeks; and, with his hand in that of Agnes, he roamed about the woods and groves which surrounded their home, gathering wild flowers, and watching with delight the nimble squirrel and the brilliant wild birds, as they hopped from limb to limb. The children were always happy together; Lewie was more yielding and less passionate when with his gentle sister than at other times; and it was only when again in the presence of his mother that his wilful, fretful manner returned, and he was again capricious and hard to please.
Thus, while he was still almost in his infancy, his mother began to reap the fruit of her sowing; for, while to others he could be gentle and pleasant, with her he was always fretful and capricious. Already her wishes had no weight with him, if they ran counter to his own, and commands she never ventured to lay upon him; already the little twig was taking its own bent.
The birth-days were all rigidly kept in Mr. Wharton's family, and some little pleasant entertainment provided on every such occasion. Thus, while Mr. and Mrs. Wharton failed not to make every proper and serious use of these way-marks on the journey of life, they loved to show their children how pleasant to themselves was the remembrance of the day when one more little bright face had come to cheer and brighten their earthly pilgrimage. Miss Effie was the important character in commemoration of whose "first appearance on any stage" a pleasant party had collected in Mr. Wharton's parlor, one evening in May. Mrs. Elwyn and her children were spending a few days at Brook Farm; and the family of Dr. Rodney, and a few other little folks from the village, were invited, on Effie's birth-day, to pass the afternoon and evening.
Great had been the preparations, for they were, for the first time, to have an exhibition of the "tableaux vivants" in the evening. Mr. Wharton had constructed a large frame, which, covered with gilt paper, and having a black lace spread over it, made the illusion more perfect. Many pretty scenes had been selected by cousin Emily, who was mistress of ceremonies; and that no child's feelings might be hurt, a character was assigned for each one, in one or other of the pictures. A temporary curtain was hung across the room, which was to be drawn whenever the pictures were ready for exhibition.
Agnes had been as busy as anybody in bringing down from a certain closet devoted to that purpose old finery, and other things which belonged to days long gone by, and her anticipations of pleasure for the evening were raised to the highest pitch. But just when all were assembled in the darkened parlor, the lights all being arranged behind the curtain so as to fall upon the pictures, Master Lewie, who was up beyond his usual bed time, and who was hardly old enough to take much interest in what was going on, declared that he was sleepy, and would go to bed. Neither Mammy nor Anne were with them at Brook Farm; and as Mrs. Elwyn seemed as much interested as any one in seeing the tableaux, Agnes knew what the result would be, if Lewie insisted upon going to bed; so she endeavored to amuse him and keep him awake till she had seen at least one tableau.
"Oh, Lewie, wait one moment!" said she; "Lewie will see a beautiful picture."
"Lewie don't want to see pictures; Lewie wants to go to bed. Sister, come! sing to Lewie."
"In one moment, then, little brother. Let Agnes see one picture. Won't you let sister see one picture?"
"No; Lewie must go to bed. Mamma, tell sister to come with Lewie."
The result was, of course, in accordance with Master Lewie's wishes, and Agnes was directed to take him up to bed. "He will very soon be asleep," her mother added, "and then you can come down."
This Master Lewie heard, and it put quite a new idea into his head, it never having occurred to him before that the person who sang him to sleep left him alone, after her task was accomplished. That was a thing he was not going to submit to, and he was so determined to watch Agnes, lest she should slip away from him, that all sleep seemed to have deserted his eyes, which were wider open, and more bright and wide awake, than ever.
Agnes laid down beside him, and, patting him gently on the cheek, she sang in a sleepy sort of way, hoping the tone of her voice would have a somniferous effect.
"Sing louder!" shouted Master Lewie.
Agnes obeyed, and sang many nursery songs suggested by Master Lewie, hoping, at the end of each one, that there would be some signs of drowsiness manifested on the part of the little tyrant; but the moment it was finished, brightly and quickly he would speak up:
"Sing that over again!—sing another!—sing 'Old Woman!'—sing 'Jack Horner,'" &c., &c.
And Agnes' heart died within her as question upon question would follow each other in quick succession, suggested by the lively imagination of Master Lewie, as to the name and parentage of "the little boy who lived by himself;" and the childless condition of the man whose "old wife wasn't at home;" and where the dogs actually did take the "wheel-barrow, wife and all;" he feeling perfectly satisfied of the accurate information of Agnes on all these important topics.
Several times the little bright eyes slowly closed, and Agnes thought he was fairly conquered. Slowly drawing her arm from under his head, she began cautiously to rise; but before she had stolen a foot from the bed, he would start up and stare at her in amazement, exclaiming, "Where going, sister?" and then he seemed to learn by experience, and to determine that he wouldn't be "caught napping" again that evening.
In the meantime, the fun was going on below, and several beautiful pictures had been exhibited and admired before Agnes was missed from the darkened parlor. But now came the cry, "Agnes! Come, Agnes! Where's Agnes? She is to be in this picture." To which Mrs. Elwyn replied, that "Agnes was putting Lewie to sleep."
"And hasn't she been here at all, Aunt Harriet?"
"No," answered Mrs. Elwyn, "Lewie takes a long time to get to sleep to-night."
"That is too bad, I declare!" said little Grace, her cheeks reddening with vexation, "Agnes did want to see these pictures so; can't I go up and see if Lewie is asleep, Aunt Harriet."
"Better not," said Mrs. Elwyn; "you may disturb him just as he is dropping asleep, and then Agnes will have to stay much longer."
The exclamations of indignation were loud and furious from the whole party of little folks, when it was found that Agnes had been all the evening banished from the room, and they were ready to go up to Lewie's room in a body and take possession of Agnes, and bring her down in triumph. But Emily said, "stop children, and I will go."
Very quietly Emily stole into the room and up to the bedside. The children were lying with their arms about each other, Agnes' little hand was on her brother's cheek, and both were soundly sleeping. Emily touched Agnes gently and whispered in her ear, but her slumber was so very sound that she could not arouse her. "Better to let her sleep on now," said Emily, "and if Agnes only knew it, she has helped to make the prettiest tableaux we have had this evening."
Thus early was little Agnes learning to give up her own gratification for the sake of others, while the strong will of her little brother was strengthened by constant exercise and indulgence, for this was but one of many instances daily occurring, in which Agnes was obliged to relinquish her own pleasure in order to gratify the whims and caprices of her little brother. Lewie had so often heard such expressions from his mother, that almost as soon as he could speak a connected sentence, he would say, "Lewie must have his own way; Lewie must not be crossed," and in this way did his mother prepare him for the jostling and conflicts of life.
"An ower true tale."
Mr. Wharton was one day writing in his study, for though a practical farmer he devoted much of his time to literary pursuits,—when there was a knock at his door, and on opening it he saw there a young woman of delicate appearance, and of so much apparent refinement and cultivation, that he was quite taken by surprise when she asked him the question, "if he had any wool to be given out on shares?"
Mr. Wharton replied, that he had had so much trouble with those to whom he had given out wool in that way, and had been so often cheated by them, that he had said he would give out no more, but he believed he must break through his rule for once, in her favor. She seemed very grateful, and said she hoped he would have no reason to regret his kindness in giving her employment. And so it proved; Miss Edwards, (for that was her name,) gave such entire satisfaction as to her work, and the share of it she returned, that Mr. Wharton kept her for some time in constant employment. Every time she came, he was more and more pleased with her gentle and unaffected manners, and with the style of her conversation, which showed without the slightest appearance of effort, a person of great intelligence and good breeding, while an air of subdued melancholy excited an interest in her, which increased with every interview.