Part 3 out of 4
"What! give up the white silk! Oh, I couldn't!" objected Eugenia,
disconcerted. "Anyhow, I don't believe mamma would like to have me do
"Tulle is so lovely!" sighed Lillie. "And I never did like plain mull."
On the whole, the proposal was not received with favor. It was
discussed with much animation, but the bell rang before any decision
had been arrived at. Later, however, after a consultation with Sister
Agnes, who promised her cordial co-operation, the children concluded to
adopt Connie's suggestion, if their mothers would consent.
"I must acknowledge that I am disappointed," remarked Mrs. Davis to her
husband that evening. "To-day I ordered the material for Lillie's
First Communion dress,--an exquisite tulle. But she came home from
school with a story about furnishing an outfit for a poor child, and
she assures me that her companions are to wear plain dresses for the
occasion." Thereupon the lady proceeded to give the details of the plan
as she had understood it.
"A very creditable determination," said Lillie's papa, approvingly. "I
endorse it heartily. If attired simply, the children will not be
distracted by the thought of their gowns, while at the same time some
deserving little girl will be provided with an appropriate costume. I
advise you to send back the tulle by all means, my dear, and apply the
difference in price between it and the fabric agreed upon to the fund
the children are trying to make up."
"Well, I suppose it will be best to do so," decided his wife. "Anyhow,
tulle is so delicate a tissue, and Lillie is such a heedless little
creature, that it would probably be badly torn before the end of the
"I am sorry," soliloquized Connie's mother when she heard of the
project. "Connie's First Communion will be so important an event for
her that I feel as if I could not do enough in preparation for it. I
should like to dress her more beautifully than on any day in her life.
If she were grown and about to enter society, or if I were buying her
wedding-dress, I would select the handsomest material procurable,--why
not now, for an occasion so great that I ought hardly mention it in
comparison? But, after all," mused she, later, "the children's
arrangement is the best. I am happy that Constance is so free from
frivolity, and has shown so edifying a spirit."
For Eugenia Dillon, the giving up of the white silk was, as the girls
generously agreed, "the biggest act of all." At first Mrs. Dillon
would not hear of it; "though," said she, "I am quite willing to buy
the dress for the poor child myself, if you wish, Eugenia." But
Eugenia explained that this would not do, unless she carried out the
plan like the others. In fact, she found that one of the hardest
things in the world is to argue against what we want very much
ourselves. At last, however, her mother good-naturedly yielded the
point, saying, with a laugh, "Oh, very well, child! But I never before
knew you to object to having a pretty dress." And Eugenia was very
sure she never had.
The great day finally arrived. To picture it, or to describe the joy
which filled the soul of each of our first communicants, is not the
purpose of this story. But as the white-robed band entered the convent
chapel, to the incongruous throng of fashionable people there assembled
their appearance was the strongest possible sermon against vanity.
Their soft white gowns were as simple as the most refined taste could
make them, and as beautiful; their fleecy veils enfolded them as with
holy thoughts; their wreaths of spotless blossoms signified a fairer
crown. They numbered seven originally, but now among them walked
another. Which little girl was the stranger, however, only one mother
knew,--a humble woman, who, as she knelt amid the congregation,
silently invoked a blessing upon the children who by their
thoughtfulness had made possible her pious desire that her child might
be appropriately and respectfully attired to welcome the coming of Our
The first communicants remained at the convent till dusk. During the
afternoon somebody noticed, indeed, that Eugenia's dress, though of
mull like the rest, was more fanciful, and her satin sash twice as wide
as that of any one else. But the discovery only caused a smile of
good-humored amusement; for it was hardly to be expected that Eugenia
would conform absolutely to the rule they had laid down for themselves.
After Benediction, as they prepared to go home, they said to one
another: "What a truly happy day this has been! How often we shall
think of it during our lives!"
A MISER'S GOLD.
"Never mind, mother! Don't fret. We'll get on all right. This little
house is much more comfortable than the miserable flat we have been
living in. The air is good, and the health of the children will be
better. It is quite like having a home of our own again. Now that
Crosswell & Wright have raised my wages, we shall be able to make both
ends meet this winter,--you'll see!"
"Yes, dear, I'm sure we shall," Mrs. Farrell forced herself to respond,
though her tone did not express the absolute conviction which the words
implied. But Bernard was in great spirits, and for his sake she assumed
a cheerfulness which she was far from feeling, as she bade him good-bye,
and from the window watched him hasten away to his work.
"God bless his brave heart!" she murmured. "He is a good boy and
deserves to succeed. It worries me that he has such a burden upon his
young shoulders; but Father Hamill says this will only keep him steady,
and will do him no harm if he does not overtax his strength. What a
shabby, contracted house this is! Well, I must try to make it as bright
and pleasant as possible. I wish the girls were older and able to earn a
trifle; every penny helps nowadays. Mary, indeed, might find a place to
run errands for a dressmaker, or something of the kind; but I can not
bear to think of her going around alone down town, becoming pert and
forward. Besides, she is so bright and smart that it seems a pity to
interfere with her studies. She will need all the advantages she can
get, poor child!"
With a sigh the mother returned to her duties, prepared breakfast for the
other children and in the course of an hour hurried them off to school.
There were three: Mary, just twelve years old; Lizzie, ten; and Jack, who
had attained the precocious and mischief-loving age of seven. Bernard
was eighteen, and the head of the family,--a fact which Mrs. Farrell
strove to impress upon the minds of the younger members, as entitling him
to special respect and affection. He was also the principal
bread-winner, and had ten dollars a week, which was considered a fine
beginning for one so young. Still, it was not a great deal for them all
to rely on, and his mother endeavored to eke out their scanty livelihood
by taking sewing, and in various other ways.
Life had not always been such a struggle for the Farrells. Before the
death of the husband and father they had been in good circumstances. Mr.
Farrell held for years a responsible position as book-keeper and
accountant in one of the largest mercantile establishments of the city.
He had a fair salary, which enabled him to support his family
comfortably. But, alas! how much often depends upon the life and efforts
of one person! An attack of pneumonia, the result of a neglected cold,
carried him out of the world in three days. There had been only time to
attend to his religious duties, and no opportunity to provide for the
dear ones he was about to leave, even if any provision had been possible.
When the income derived from the father's daily labor ceased, they found
themselves suddenly plunged into comparative poverty. His life-insurance
policy had not been kept up; the mortgage on the pretty home had never
been paid off, and was now foreclosed. The best of the furniture was
sold to pay current expenses, and the widow removed with her children to
the third floor of a cheap apartment house,--one of those showy,
aggressively genteel structures so often seen in our Eastern cities, with
walls of questionable safety and defective drainage and ventilation.
Mrs. Farrell was now obliged to dismiss her maid-of-all-work, and attend
to the household duties herself. This was a hardship, for she was not a
strong woman; but she did not complain. Bernard, fortunately, had taken
two years of the commercial course at St. Stanislaus' College, and was
therefore in a measure fitted for practical affairs. He obtained a place
as clerk in the law office of Crosswell & Wright. As he tried to keep
his mind on his duties, and was willing and industrious, his employers
were well pleased with him, and he had been several times advanced. But
the means of the family grew more and more straitened. The following
year the rent of the flat was found to be higher than they could afford.
They sought other quarters, and settled at last, just as winter was
approaching, in the little house where we have discovered them, in a
humble neighborhood and unpaved streets, with no pretensions
whatever,--in fact, it did not appear to have even the ambition to be
regarded as a street at all.
The young people took possession of the new dwelling in high glee. They
did not see the drawbacks to comfort which their mother could have
pointed out; did not notice how much the house needed painting and
papering, how decidedly out of repair it was. Only too glad of their
satisfaction, she refrained from comment, tried to make the best of
everything, and succeeded in having a cosey home for them, despite all
difficulties. For there was not a room of the small house into which at
least a ray of sunlight did not find its way sometime during the day. It
shone upon threadbare carpets and painted floors; upon sofas the
upholstering of which had an unmistakable air of having been experimented
with; and chairs which Mrs. Farrell had recaned, having learned the art
from a blind boy who lived opposite. Yet the sunlight revealed as well
an air of thrift and cheeriness; for the widow, despite her days of
discouragement, aimed to train her children to look upon the bright side
of life, and to trust in Providence.
"Bernard," said she one evening, "I have been thinking that if I could
hire a sewing-machine I might get piecework from the shops, and earn more
than by looking to chance patronage. I have a mind to inquire about one."
The boy was silent. She began to doubt if he had heard, and was about to
repeat the remark when he answered:
"No, mother, don't. There are too many women doing that kind of sewing
at starvation prices. But I'll tell you what would be a fine thing if
you really had the time for it, though I do not see how you could,--it
seems to me we keep you busy."
"What is your idea?" inquired Mrs. Farrell eagerly, paying no heed to the
latter part of his speech.
"Well, if we could manage to pay the rent of a type-writing machine, I
could probably get you copying from the firm as well as from some of the
other lawyers in the building. I was wondering the other day if I could
do anything at it myself, and thus pick up an additional dollar or two in
the week. Of course, you would accomplish more than I could, and it
would be a hundred times better than stitch! stitch! How I hate the whir
of the thing!" And Bernard, with his juggler gift of mimicry, proceeded
forthwith to turn himself into a sewing-machine, jerking his feet up and
down in imitation of the motion of the treadle, and making an odd noise
in his throat.
Mrs. Farrell laughed, as she replied: "I do not know that there is much
choice between this and the click of the type-writer. But, anyhow, your
plan, though it sounds plausible, would not do, because I should not be
able to work the type-writer."
"There would be no difficulty about that," argued Bernard. "You know how
to play the piano, and the fingering is very much easier. It will come
His mother laughed again, yet she sighed as well. Her father had given
her a piano as a wedding present, but this had been the first article of
value to be dispensed with when the hard times came. Bernard was so
sanguine, however, that she consented to his project. He spoke to Mr.
Crosswell on the subject; that gentleman became interested, succeeded in
obtaining a type-writer for Mrs. Farrell on easy terms, and promised to
send her any extra copying he might have. The manipulation of the
machine did not, indeed, come quite as naturally as Bernard predicted,
but after a few weeks of patient practice she mastered it sufficiently to
produce a neat-looking page. Bernard brought her all the work she could
do; it was well paid for, and a more prosperous season seemed to have
dawned upon the little home.
Just at this time the children took scarlet fever at school. They had
the disease lightly, but what anxiety the mother endured! Thank God,
they got through it safely; but there was the doctor's bill to be
settled, and funds were at a low ebb once more. To cap the climax, when
the house had been thoroughly fumigated by the board of health, and Mrs.
Farrell was prepared to take up her occupation again, an attack of
rheumatism crippled her fingers and rendered them almost powerless. Then
it was that, worn out and disheartened, she broke down and cried:
"Oh! why does not God help us?"
Her son's usually happy face wore an expression of discouragement also as
she turned to him with the appeal. His lips twitched nervously; but in a
moment the trustfulness which she had taught him was at hand to comfort
"Indeed, mother, He will--He _does_," said Bernard tenderly, though in
the matter-of-fact manner which he knew would best arouse her. "You are
all tired out, or you would not speak in that way. You must have a good
rest. Keep the rooms warm, so that you will not take any more cold, and
before long you will be able to rattle the type-writer at a greater speed
than ever. That reminds me, mother," he continued--seeing that she was
beginning to recover herself, and wishing to divert her thoughts,--"one
of the things we have to be thankful for is that this house is easily
heated. It beats all the way coal does last here! The ton we got two
months ago isn't gone yet,"
"That is the way coal lasts when there is not any one to steal it, as
there was in the flat, where the cellars were not properly divided off,"
answered Mrs. Farrell, brightening up.
"No, there's nobody living immediately around here whom I'd suspect of
being mean enough to steal coal," returned Bernard, carelessly,--"except,
perhaps, Stingy Willis, I don't think I'd wager that old codger wouldn't,
"I am afraid I should not have entire confidence in him, either," agreed
But the intelligence that there was still coal in the bin had cheered her
wonderfully. Repenting of her rash conclusion, she hastened to qualify
it by adding, "That is, if half of what the neighbors say is true. But,
then, we have no right to listen to gossip, or to judge people."
Stingy Willis, the individual who apparently bore an unenviable
reputation, was a small, dried-up looking old man, who lived next door to
the Farrells,--in fact, under the same roof; for the structure consisted
of two houses built together. Here he dwelt alone, and attended to his
household arrangements himself, except when, occasionally, a woman was
employed for a few hours to put the place in order. He was accustomed to
prepare his own breakfast and supper; his dinner he took at a cheap
restaurant. He dressed shabbily, and was engaged in some mysterious
business down town, to and from which he invariably walked; not even a
heavy rain-storm could make him spend five cents for a ride in a
horse-car. And yet he was said to be very wealthy. Persons declared
they knew "upon good authority" that he held the mortgage which covered
the two connecting houses; that, as the expression is, he "had more money
than he knew what to do with." Others, who did not profess to be so
scrupulously exact in their determination to tell only a plain,
unvarnished tale, delighted in fabulous stories concerning his riches.
They said that though the floor of his sitting-room was carpetless, and
the bay-window curtainless but for the cobwebs, he could cover the one
with gold pieces and the other with bank-notes, if he pleased. Many were
convinced he had a bag of treasure hidden up the chimney or buried in the
cellar; this they asserted was the reason he would not consent to having
the upper rooms of the house rented, and so they remained untenanted
season after season. Thus, according to the general verdict (and
assuredly the circumstantial evidence was strong), he was a miser of the
most pronounced type,--"as stingy as could be," everybody agreed; and is
not what everybody says usually accepted as the truth?
Certain it is that Stingy Willis acted upon the principle, "a penny saved
is a penny gained,"--denied himself every luxury, and lived with extreme
frugality, as the man who kept the meat-market and grocery at the corner
frequently testified. Even in the coldest weather, a fire was never
kindled in the house till evening; for over its dying embers the solitary
man made his coffee the following morning. A basket of coal lasted him a
week, and he sifted the cinders as carefully as if he did not know where
to find a silver quarter to buy more fuel. He had nothing to do with his
neighbors, who really knew very little about him beyond what they could
see of his daily life. They were almost all working people, blessed with
steady employment; though they had not more than enough of this world's
goods, there was no actual poverty among them. They were respectable,
honest, and industrious; as Bernard said, not one of the dwellers in the
street would ever be suspected of being "mean enough to steal coal,"
unless indeed Stingy Willis.
Gloomy days continued for the Farrells; yet the outside world never
dreamed of the straits to which they were reduced, for a spirit of worthy
independence and pardonable pride led them to keep their trouble to
themselves. Mrs. Farrell would have died, almost, rather than reveal
their need to any one; nothing save the cry of her children asking in
vain for bread would bring her to it. Well, they still had bread and
oatmeal porridge, but that was all.
Who would have imagined it! The little house was still distinguished
from the others of the row by an appearance of comfort. Although Mrs.
Farrell could not do any type-writing, the children were neat and trim
going to school; Bernard's clothes were as carefully brushed, his boots
as shining, linen as fresh, his mien as gentlemanly as ever. And they
found great satisfaction in the reflection that no one was aware of the
true state of affairs. The mother and Bernard agreed, when they began
housekeeping under their changed circumstances, to contract no bills;
what they could not afford to pay for at the time they would do without.
So now no butcher nor baker came clamoring for settlement of his account.
The doctor was willing to wait for his money; all they owed besides was
the rent. Only the landlord knew this, and he was disposed to be
lenient. Mrs. Farrell still tried to hope for the best, but sometimes
she grew dejected, was sorely tempted to repine.
"Mother," little Jack once asked, "aren't people who, as you say, 'have
seen better days' and become poor, much poorer than people who have
always been poor?"
"It seems to me they are, my child," answered the widow, dispiritedly.
"But why do you think so?"
"Because," replied the young philosopher, "we are much poorer than the
woman who used to wash for us. She appeared to have everything she
wanted, but we have hardly anything."
It was unreasonable, to be sure, but sometimes Mrs. Farrell used to
wonder how her neighbors could be so hard-hearted as to go past
unconcernedly, and not notice the necessities which, all the while, she
was doing her best to keep from their knowledge. Often, too, as Stingy
Willis went in and out of the door so close to her own, she thought: "How
hard it is that this man should have riches hidden away, while I have
scarcely the wherewith to buy food for my children! Walls are said to
have ears,--why have they not also tongues to cry out to him, to tell him
of the misery so near? Is there nothing which could strike a spark of
human feeling from his flinty heart?" Then, reproaching herself for the
rebellious feeling, she would murmur a prayer for strength and patience.
The partition between the two houses was thin. She and Bernard could
frequently hear the old man moving about his dreary apartments, or going
up or down the stairs leading to the cellar. "Old Willis is counting his
money-bags again, I guess!" Bernard would say lightly, as the familiar
shuffling to and fro caught his ear; while his mother, to banish the
shadow of envious discontent, quietly told a decade of her Rosary.
The conversation anent the subject of the coal kept recurring to her mind
with odd persistency. Repeatedly of late she had awakened in the night
and heard the miser stumbling around; several times she was almost
certain he was in her cellar, and--yes, surely, _at the
coal_,--purloining it piece by piece, probably. Then just as, fully
aroused, she awaited further proof, the noise would cease, and she would
conclude she must have been mistaken. At last, however, it would seem
that her suspicions were confirmed.
On this occasion Mrs. Farrell had not retired at the usual hour. It was
after midnight, yet she was still occupied in a rather hopeless effort to
patch Jack's only pair of trousers; for he evinced as remarkable an
ability to wear out clothes as any son of a millionaire. The work was
tedious and progressed slowly, for her fingers were stiff and the effort
of sewing painful. Finally it was finished. With a sigh of relief she
rested a moment in her chair. Just then the silence was broken by a
peculiar sound, like the cautious shifting of a board. That it proceeded
from the cellar was beyond question. A singular rattling followed. She
rose, went into the hall and listened. Yes, there was no delusion about
it: somebody was at the coal,--that coal which, she remembered bitterly,
was now but a small heap in the bin. That the culprit was Stingy Willis
there could be little doubt.
Bernard had fallen asleep on the sofa an hour or more before. His mother
stole to his side, and in a low voice called him. He stirred uneasily.
She called again, whereupon he opened his eyes and stared at her in
"Hark!" she whispered, signalling to him not to speak.
Once more came the noise, now more distinct and definable. The heartless
intruder had become daring; the click of a shovel was discernible; he was
evidently helping himself liberally.
Bernard looked at his mother in perplexity and surprise.
"Stingy Willis?" he interrogated.
"And at the coal, by Jove!" he exclaimed, suddenly realizing the
situation, and now wide awake.
He started up, and presently was creeping down the stairs to the kitchen.
Mrs. Farrell heard him open the cellar door with the least possible
creak. She knew he was on the steps which led below, but he made no
further sound. She had no other clue to his movements, and could only
distinguish the rumble of the coal. She waited, expecting momentarily
that it would cease, dreading the altercation which would follow, and
regretting she had aroused her son.
"He is quick-tempered," she soliloquized. "What if words should lead to
blows,--if he should strike the old man! How foolish I was to let him go
The suspense was ominous. What was the boy going to do? Why all this
delay? Why did he not promptly confront the fellow and order him to be
gone? In reality, only a few minutes had elapsed since she first heard
the noise, but it seemed a quarter of an hour even since he left her.
Should she go down herself, or call out to him? While she hesitated
Bernard suddenly reappeared. She leaned over the banisters to question
him; but, with a gesture imploring her to be silent, the astonished boy
said, hardly above his breath: "Mother, come here!"
Cautiously she descended to the entry. He led her through the kitchen to
the cellar steps. All the time the shovelling continued. Whispering
"Don't be afraid," Bernard blew out the candle he carried, and, taking
her hand, added: "Look!"
From the corner of the cellar in which the coal-bin was situated came the
light of a lantern. Crouching down, Mrs. Farrell could see that it
proceeded from a hole in the wall which separated the two houses. There
was no one upon her premises, after all; but at the other side of the
partition was Stingy Willis, sure enough! Through the opening she could
just catch a glimpse of his grey head and thin, sharp features.
Trembling with indignation, she peered forward to get a better view.
Yes, there was Stingy Willis certainly; but--oh, for the charity, the
neighborliness which "thinketh no evil!"--he was shovelling coal from his
own _into_ the Farrells' bin! As this fact dawned upon her she felt as
if she would like to go through the floor for shame. Drawing back
abruptly, she groped her way to the kitchen, and sank into a chair, quite
overcome by emotion. Bernard, having relighted the candle, stood gazing
at her with an abashed air. In a moment or two the shovelling ceased,
and they could hear the old man, totally unconscious of the witnesses to
his good deed, slowly ascending to his cheerless rooms again.
Stingy Willis alone had discovered their need. With a delicacy which
respected their reticence, and shrank from an offer of aid which might
offend, he had hit upon this means of helping them. Clearly, he had been
thus surreptitiously supplying them with fuel for weeks,--a little at a
time, to avoid discovery. And Mrs. Farrell, in her anxiety and
preoccupation, had not realized that, with the steady inroads made upon
it, a ton of coal could not possibly last so long.
"That, of all people, Stingy Willis should be the one to come to our
assistance!" exclaimed the widow.
"And to think he is not _Stingy_ Willis at all! That is the most
wonderful part of it!" responded Bernard.
"Often lately," continued the former, "when I happened to meet him going
in or out, I fancied that his keen old eyes darted a penetrating glance
at me; and the fear that they would detect the poverty we were trying to
hide so irritated me that sometimes I even pretended not to hear his
"Well, he's a right jolly fellow!" cried Bernard, enthusiastically,
His mother smiled. The adjective was ludicrously inappropriate, but she
understood Bernard's meaning, and appreciated his feelings as he went on:
"Yes, I'll never let anybody say a word against him in my hearing after
this, and I'll declare I have proof positive that he's no miser."
"He is a noble-hearted man certainly," said Mrs. Farrell. "I wish we
knew more about him. But, for one thing, Bernard, this experience has
taught us to beware of rash judgments; to look for the jewels, not the
flaws, in the character of our neighbor."
"Yes, indeed, mother," replied the youth, decidedly. "You may be sure
that in future I'll try to see what is best in everyone."
The next morning Mrs. Farrell went about her work in a more hopeful mood.
Bernard started for the office in better spirits than usual, humming
snatches of a song, a few words of which kept running in his mind all day:
"God rules, and thou shall have more sun
When clouds their perfect work have done."
That afternoon Mr. Crosswell, the head of the firm, who seemed suddenly
to have become aware that something was wrong, said to him:
"My lad, how is it that your mother has not been doing the extra
type-writing lately? I find a great deal of it has been given to some
"She has been sick with rheumatism, sir," answered the boy; "and her
fingers are so stiff that she cannot work the machine."
"Tut! tut!" cried the lawyer, half annoyed. "You should have told me
this before. If she is ill, she must need many little luxuries" (he
refrained from saying _necessaries_). "She must let me pay her in
advance. Here are twenty-five dollars. Tell her not to hesitate to use
the money, for she can make up for it in work later. I was, you know, a
martyr to rheumatism last winter, but young Dr. Sullivan cured me. I'll
send him round to see her; and, remember, there will be no expense to you
"I don't know how to thank you, sir!" stammered Bernard, gratefully.
Then he hurried home to tell his mother all that had happened, and to put
into her hands the bank-notes, for which she could find such ready use.
Doctor Sullivan called to see Mrs. Farrell the following day,
"Why," said he, "this is a very simple case! You would not have been
troubled so long but for want of the proper remedies."
He left her a prescription, which wrought such wonders that in a
fortnight she was able to resume her occupation.
From this time also Mr. Crosswell gave Bernard many opportunities by
which he earned a small sum in addition to his weekly salary, and soon
the Farrells were in comfortable circumstances again.
By degrees they became better acquainted with old Willis; but it was not
till he began to be regarded, and to consider himself, as an intimate
friend of the family that Bernard's mother ventured to tell him they knew
of his kind deed done in secret,--a revelation which caused him much
confusion. Bernard had discovered long before that their eccentric
neighbor, far from being a parsimonious hoarder of untold wealth, was, in
fact, almost a poor man. He possessed a life-interest in the house in
which he dwelt, and the income of a certain investment left to him by the
will of a former employer in acknowledgment of faithful service. It was
a small amount, intended merely to insure his support; but, in spite of
his age, he still worked for a livelihood, distributing the annuity in
charity. The noble-hearted old man stinted himself that he might be
generous to the sick, the suffering, the needy; for the "miser's gold"
was only a treasure of golden deeds.
THAT RED SILK FROCK.
You could not help liking little Annie Conwell; she was so gentle, and
had a half shy, half roguish manner, which was very winning. And,
then, she was so pretty to look at, with her pink cheeks, soft blue
eyes, and light, wavy hair. Though held up as a model child, like most
people, including even good little girls, she was fond of her own way;
and if she set her heart upon having anything, she wanted it without
delay--right then and there. And she usually got it as soon as
possible; for Mr. Conwell was one of the kindest of fathers, and if
Annie had cried for the moon he would have been distressed because he
could not obtain it for her; while, as the two older children, Walter
and Josephine, were away at boarding-school, Mrs. Conwell, in her
loneliness at their absence, was perhaps more indulgent toward her
little daughter than she would otherwise have been.
Annie's great friend was Lucy Caryl. Lucy lived upon the next block;
and every day when going to school Annie called for her, or Lucy ran
down to see if Annie was ready. Regularly Mrs. Conwell said:
"Remember, Annie, I want you to come straight from school, and not stop
at the Caryls'. If you want to go and play with Lucy afterward, I have
no objection, but you _must_ come home first."
"Yes, um," was the docile answer she invariably made.
But, strange as it may seem, although Annie Conwell was considered
clever and bright enough in general, and often stood head of her class,
she seemed to have a wretched memory in regard to this parting
injunction of her mother, or else there were ostensibly many good
reasons for making exceptions to the rule. When, as sometimes
happened, she entered the house some two hours after school was
dismissed, and threw down her books upon the sitting-room table, Mrs.
Conwell reproachfully looked up from her sewing and asked: "What time
is it, dear?"
And Annie, after a startled glance at the clock, either stammered, "O
mother, I forgot!" or else rattled off an unsatisfactory excuse.
"Very well!" was the frequent warning. "If you stay at Lucy Caryl's
without permission, you must remain indoors on Saturday as a punishment
for your disobedience."
Nevertheless, when the end of the week came, Annie usually managed to
escape the threatened penalty. For Saturday is a busy day in the
domestic world; and Mrs. Conwell was one of the fine, old-fashioned
housekeepers--now, unfortunately, somewhat out of date--who looked well
after the ways of her household, which was in consequence pervaded by
an atmosphere of comfort and prosperity.
One especial holiday, however, she surprised the little maid by saying,
"Annie, I have told you over and over again that you must come directly
home from school, and yet for several days you have not made your
appearance until nearly dusk. I am going down town now, and I forbid
you to go out to play until I return. For a great girl, going on ten
years of age, you are too heedless. Something must be done about it."
Annie reddened, buried her cheeks in the fur of her mother's sable muff
with which she was toying, and gave a sidelong glance at Mrs. Conwell's
face. The study of it assured her that there was no use in "begging
off" this time; so she silently laid down the muff and walked to the
Mrs. Conwell, after clasping her handsome fur collar--or tippet, as it
was called--over the velvet mantle which was the fashion in those days,
and surveying in the mirror the nodding plumes of her bonnet of royal
purple hue, took up the muff and went away.
"A great girl!" grumbled Annie, as she watched the lady out of sight.
"She always says that when she is displeased. 'Going on ten years of
age!' It is true, of course; but, then, I was only nine last month.
At other times, when persons ask me how old I am, if I answer 'Most
ten,' mother is sure to laugh and say, 'Annie's just past nine.' It
makes me so mad!"
There was no use in standing idly thinking about it though, especially
as nothing of interest was occurring in the street just then; so Annie
turned away and began to wonder what she should do to amuse herself.
In the "best china closet" was a delicious cake. She had discovered
that the key of the inner cupboard, where it was locked up, was kept in
the blue vase on the dining-room mantel. She had been several times
"just to take a peep at the cake," she said to herself. Mrs. Conwell
had also looked at it occasionally, and it had no appearance of having
been interfered with. Yet, somehow, there was a big hole scooped in
the middle of it from the under side. The discovery must be made some
day, and then matters would not be so pleasant for the meddler; but, in
the meantime, this morning Annie concluded to try "just a crumb" of the
cake, to make sure it was not getting stale.
Having satisfied herself upon that point, and being at a loss for
occupation, she thought she would see what was going on out of doors
now. (If some little girls kept account of the minutes they spend in
looking out of the window, how astonished they would be at the result!)
At present the first person Annie saw was Lucy Caryl, who from the
opposite sidewalk was making frantic efforts to attract her attention.
"Come into my house and play with me," Lucy spelled with her fingers in
the deaf and dumb alphabet.
Annie raised the sash. "I can't, Lucy!" she called. "Mother said I
must stay in the house."
"Oh, do come--just for a little while!" teased naughty Lucy. "Your
mother will never know. She has gone away down town: I saw her take
the car. We'll watch the corner; when we see her coming, you can run
around by the yard and slip in at the gate before she reaches the front
The inducement was strong. Annie pretended to herself that she did not
understand the uneasy feeling in her heart, which told her she was not
doing right. The servants were down in the kitchen, and would not miss
her. She ran for her cloak and hood--little girls wore good, warm
hoods in those days,--and in a few moments was scurrying along the
sidewalk with Lucy.
The Caryls lived in a spacious brown stone house, which exteriorly was
precisely like the residence of the Conwells. The interior, however,
was very different. Contrasted with the brightness of Annie's home, it
presented an appearance of cheerless and somewhat dingy grandeur. The
parlors, now seldom used, were furnished in snuff-colored damask, a
trifle faded; the curtains, of the same heavy material, had a stuffy
look, and made one long to throw open the window to get a breath of
fresh air. The walls were adorned with remarkable tapestries in great
gilt frames, testimonials to the industry of Mrs. Caryl during her
girlhood. Here and there, too, hung elaborate souvenirs of departed
members of the family, in the shape of memorial crosses and wreaths of
waxed flowers, also massively framed. They were very imposing; but
Annie had a nervous horror of them, and invariably hurried past that
The little girls usually played together in a small room adjoining the
sitting-room. They had by no means the run of the house. Annie,
indeed, felt a certain awe of Lucy's mother, who was stern and severe
"I'm sure I shouldn't care to go to the Caryls', except that Lucy is so
seldom allowed to come to see me," she often declared.
On this particular afternoon Mrs. Caryl had also gone out.
"My Aunt Mollie sent me some lovely clothes for my doll," said Lucy.
"The box is up on the top story. Come with me to get it."
Remembering the "funeral flowers," as Annie called them, she had an
idea that Lucy's mother kept similar or even more uncanny treasures
stored away "on the top story," which her imagination invested with an
air of mystery. So she hesitated.
"Come!" repeated Lucy, who forthwith tripped on ahead, and looked over
the baluster to see why she did not follow.
Annie hesitated no longer, but started up the steps. Just at that
moment a peculiar sound, like the clanging of a chain, followed by a
strange, rustling noise, came from one of the rooms above. A foolish
terror seized upon her.
"O gracious! what's that?" she panted; and, turning, would have fled
down the stairs again, had not Lucy sprung toward her and caught her
"It's nothing, goosie!" said she, "except Jim. He's been a naughty
boy, and is tied up in the front room. Ma thought she'd try that plan
so he could not slip out to go skating. I suppose I ought to have told
you, though. Maybe you thought we had a crazy person up here."
Annie forced herself to laugh. Reassured in a measure, and still more
curious, she ventured to go on. When she reached the upper hall, she
saw that the door of the front room was open, and, looking in, beheld a
comical spectacle. Fastened by a stout rope to one of the high posts
of an old-fashioned bedstead was a rollicking urchin of about eight
years of age, who seemed to be having a very good time, notwithstanding
his captivity. Upon his shoes were a pair of iron clamps resembling
spurs, such as were used for skates. It was the clank of these against
the brass balls, of which there was one at the top of each post, which
made the sound that had so frightened Annie.
"Hello!" he called out as he caught sight of her. And, fascinated by
the novelty of the situation, she stood a moment watching his antics,
which were similar to those of a monkey upon a pole. Again and again
he climbed the post, indulged in various acrobatic performances upon
the foot-board, and then turned a double somersault right into the
centre of the great feather-bed. And all the while his villainous
little iron-bound heels made woful work, leaving countless dents and
scratches upon the fine old mahogany, and catching in the meshes of the
handsome knitted counterpane.
"You'd better stop that!" Lucy called to him.
In response to her advice, he clambered over and seated himself upon
"Oh! oh!" she expostulated in alarm, lest the shelf should fall beneath
As that catastrophe did not occur, he coolly shifted his position, made
a teasing grimace at her, and when she turned away slipped down and
resumed his gymnastic exercises.
There was nothing else on the top story to excite Annie's surprise, but
she was glad when Lucy secured the box and led the way downstairs.
"When the little friends were again in their accustomed play corner,
Lucy, with much satisfaction, displayed her present.
"Your Aunt Mollie must be awful nice!" exclaimed Annie. "How lucky you
are! Three more dresses for your doll! Clementina has not had any new
clothes for a long time. I think that red silk dress is the prettiest,
"I haven't quite decided," answered Lucy. "Christabel looks lovely in
it; but I think the blue one is perhaps even more becoming."
They tried the various costumes upon Lucy's doll, and admired the
effect of each in turn.
"Still, I like the red silk dress best," said Annie.
"It would just suit Clementina, wouldn't it?" suggested Lucy.
"Yes," sighed Annie, taking up the little frock, and imagining she saw
her own doll attired in its gorgeousness. After regarding it enviously
for a few moments, she said: "Say, Lucy, give it to me, won't you?"
"Why, the idea!" cried Lucy, aghast at the audacity of the proposal.
"I think you might," pouted Annie. "You hardly ever give me anything,
although you are my dearest friend. I made you a present of
Clementina's second best hat for Christabel, and only yesterday I gave
you that sweet bead ring you asked me for."
These unanswerable arguments were lost upon Lucy, however. She
snatched away the tiny frock, and both little girls sulked a while.
"Lucy's real mean!" said Annie to herself. "She ought to give it to
me,--she knows she ought! Oh, dear, I want it awfully! She owes me
something for what I've given her.--I am going home," she announced
"Oh, no!" protested Lucy, aroused to the sense of her duties as
hostess. "Let us put away the dolls and read. There is a splendid new
story this week in the _Young Folks' Magazine_."
Taking Annie's silence for assent, she packed Christabel and her
belongings away again, and went to get the book. Annie waited
sullenly. Then, as her friend did not come back immediately, she began
"Lucy need not have been in such a hurry to whisk her things into the
box," she complained. "To look at the red dress won't spoil it, I
suppose. I _will_ have another look at it, anyhow!"
She raised the cover of the box and took out the dainty dress. Still
Lucy did not return. A temptation came to Annie. Why not keep the
pretty red silk frock? Lucy would not miss it at once; afterward she
would think she had mislaid it. She would never suspect the truth.
Annie breathed hard. If she had quickly put the showy bit of trumpery
back into the box and banished the covetous wish, all would have been
well; but instead, she stood deliberating and turning the little dress
over and over in her hands. Meantime a hospitable thought had occurred
to Lucy. She remembered that there was a new supply of apples in the
pantry, and had gone to get one for Annie and one for herself. On her
way through the dining-room she happened to look out of the window.
"Goodness gracious!" she exclaimed; for there was Mrs. Conwell getting
out of the car at the corner!
At Lucy's call of, "Annie, here comes your mother!" Annie started,
hesitated, glanced at the box, and, alas! crammed the red silk frock
into her pocket. Then she caught up her cloak and hood, and rushed
down the stairs. Lucy ran to open the yard gate for her, and thrust
the apple into her hand as she passed.
Flurried and short of breath, she reached home just as Mrs. Conwell
rang the door-bell. She did not hasten as usual to greet her mother;
but, hurrying to her own little room, shut herself in, and sat down on
the bed to recover from her confusion.
It happened that the cook claimed Mrs. Conwell's attention in regard to
some domestic matter, and thus she did not at once inquire for her
little daughter, supposing that the child was contentedly occupied.
Annie, therefore, had some time in which to collect her thoughts. As
her excitement gradually died away, she found that, instead of feeling
the satisfaction she expected in having spent the afternoon as she
pleased and yet escaped discovery, she was restless and unhappy. Upon
her neat dressing-table lay the apple which Lucy had given her. It was
ripe and rosy, but she felt that a bite of it would choke her. Above
the head of the bed hung a picture of the Madonna with the Divine
Child. Obeying a sudden impulse, she jumped up and turned it inward to
the wall. Ah, Annie, what a coward a guilty conscience can make of the
bravest among us!
Glancing cautiously around, as if the very walls had eyes and could
reveal what they saw, she drew from her pocket the red silk frock. She
sat and gazed at it as if in a dream. It was as pretty as ever, yet it
no longer gave her pleasure. She did not dare to try it on Clementina;
she wanted to hide it away in some corner where no one would ever find
it. Tiny as it was, she felt that it could never be successfully
concealed; Remorse would point it out wherever it was secreted. Annie
began to realize what she had done. She had stolen! She, proud Annie
Conwell, who held her head so high, whom half the girls at school
envied, had taken what did not belong to her! How her cheeks burned!
She wondered if it had been found out yet. What would Lucy say? Would
she tell all the girls, and would they avoid her, and whisper together
when she was around, saying, "Look out for Annie Conwell! She is not
to be trusted."
She covered her face with her hands, and burst into tears. And all the
while a low voice kept whispering in her heart with relentless
persistency, till human respect gave way to higher motives. She
glanced up at the picture, turned it around again with a feeling of
compunction, and, humbled and contrite, sank on her knees in a little
heap upon the floor.
A few moments afterward her mother's step sounded in the hall. When
one finds a little girl's cloak flung on the baluster, stumbles over a
hood on the stairs, and picks up an odd mitten somewhere else, the
evidences are strong that the owner has come home in a hurry. Mrs.
Conwell had, therefore, discovered Annie's disobedience. She threw
open the door, intending to rebuke her severely; but the sight of the
child's flushed and tear-stained face checked the chiding words upon
"What is the matter, Annie?" she inquired, somewhat sternly.
"O mother, please don't scold me! I'm unhappy enough already,"
faltered Annie, beginning to cry again.
Then, as the burden of her miserable little secret had become
unendurable, she told the whole story. Mrs. Conwell looked pained and
grave, but her manner was very gentle as she said:
"Of course, the first thing for you to do is to return what you have
Annie gave a little nervous shudder. "What! go and tell Lucy I stole
her doll's red silk dress?" she exclaimed. "How could I ever!"
"I do not say it is necessary to do that," answered her mother; "but
you are certainly obliged to restore it. I should advise you to take
it back without delay, and have the struggle over."
She went away, and left the little girl to reflect upon the matter.
But the more Annie debated with herself, the more difficulty she had in
coming to a decision. Finally she started up, exclaiming,
"The longer I think about it the harder it seems. I'll just _do it_
She picked up the dress, darted down the stairs, hurriedly prepared to
go out, and in a few moments was hastening down the block to the
Caryls'. Lucy saw her coming, and met her at the door.
"Did you get a scolding? Was your mother very much displeased?" she
asked; for she perceived immediately that Annie had been crying, and
misinterpreted the cause of her tears.
"Oh, no!--well, I suppose she was," hesitated Annie. "But she did not
"How did she happen to let you come down here again?" continued Lucy,
leading the way to the sitting-room.
Annie cast a quick glance at the table. The box which contained
Christabel and her wardrobe was no longer there. It was useless, then,
to hope for a chance to quietly slip the red dress into it again.
Lucy repeated the question, wondering what had set her playmate's
"I'm not going to stay," began Annie.
Lucy's clear eyes met hers inquiringly. To her uneasy conscience they
seemed to accuse her and to demand the admission of her fault. Her
cheeks grew crimson; and, as a person in a burning building ventures a
perilous leap in the hope of escape, so Annie, finding her present
position intolerable, stammered out the truth.
"I only came to bring back something. Don't be vexed, will you, at
what I'm going to tell you? I took that red silk dress home with me;
but here it is, and I'm sorry, Lucy,--indeed I am!"
A variety of expressions flitted across Lucy's face as she listened.
Incredulity, surprise, and indignation were depicted there. Annie had
stated the case as mildly as possible, but Lucy understood. After the
first surprise, however, she began to comprehend dimly that it must
have required a good deal of moral courage thus openly to bring back
the little dress. She was conscious of a new respect for Annie, who
stood there so abashed. For a few moments there was an awkward pause;
then she managed to say:
"Oh, that is all right! Of course I should have been vexed if you had
not brought it back, because I should have missed it as soon as I
opened the box. I was mean about it, anyway. I might have let you
take it to try on Clementina. Here, I'll give it to you now, to make
up for being stingy."
Annie shook her head, and refused to take the once coveted gift from
her companion's outstretched hand.
"Then I'll lend it to you for ever and ever," continued Lucy,
"No, I don't want it now," answered Annie. "Good-bye!"
"Will you go to walk with me to-morrow after Sunday-school?" urged
Lucy, as she followed her to the door.
"P'rhaps!" replied her little friend, hastening away.
The inquiry brought her a feeling of relief, however. Lucy evidently
had no thought of "cutting" her acquaintance. The sense of having done
right made her heart light and happy as she ran home. The experience
had taught her that one must learn to see many pretty things without
wishing to possess them; and also that small acts of disobedience and a
habit of meddling may lead further than one at first intends.
Annie became a lovely woman, a devoted daughter, a most
self-sacrificing character, and one scrupulously exact in her dealings
with others; but she never forgot "that red silk frock."
"A LESSON WITH A SEQUEL."
"How strange that any one should be so superstitious!" said Emily
Mahon. Rosemary Beckett had been telling a group of girls of the
ridiculous practices of an old negro woman employed by her mother as a
"People must be very ignorant to believe such things," declared Anna
"Yet," observed Miss Graham, closing the new magazine which she had
been looking over, "it is surprising how many persons, who ought to
know better, are addicted to certain superstitions, and cannot be made
to see that it is not only foolish but wrong to yield to them."
"Well," began Rosemary, "I am happy to say that is not a failing of
"I think everything of the kind is nonsensical," added Kate Parsons.
"I'm not a bit superstitious either," volunteered Emily.
"Nor I," interposed Anna.
"I despise such absurdities," continued May Johnston.
"My dear girls," laughed Miss Graham, "I'll venture to say that each
one of you has a pet superstition, which influences you more or less,
and which you ought to overcome."
This assertion was met by a chorus of indignant protests.
"Why, Cousin Irene!" cried Emily.
"O, Miss Graham, how _can_ you think so!"
"The very idea!" etc., etc., chimed in the others.
Everybody liked Miss Irene Graham. She lived with her cousins, the
Mahons, and supported herself by giving lessons to young girls who for
various reasons did not attend a regular school. Her classes were
popular, not only because she was bright and clever, and had the
faculty of imparting what she knew; but because, as parents soon
discovered, she taught her pupils good, sound common-sense, as well as
"the shallower knowledge of books." Cousin Irene had not forgotten how
she used to think and feel when she herself was a young girl, and
therefore she was able to look at the world from a girl's point of
view, to sympathize with her dreams and undertakings. She did not look
for very wise heads upon young shoulders; but when she found that her
pupils had foolish notions, or did not behave sensibly, she tried to
make them see this for themselves; and we all know from experience that
what we learn in that way produces the most lasting impression.
The girls now gathered around her were members of the literature class,
which met on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at the Mahons'. As they
considered themselves accomplished and highly cultivated for their
years, it was mortifying to be accused of being so unenlightened as to
believe in omens.
"No, I haven't a particle of superstition," repeated Rosemary,
decidedly. "There's one thing I won't do, though. I won't give or
accept a present of anything sharp--a knife or scissors, or even a
pin,--because, the saying is, it cuts friendship. I've found it so,
too. I gave Clara Hayes a silver hair-pin at Christmas, and a few
weeks after we quarrelled."
"There is the fault, popping up like a Jack-in-the box!" said Miss
Irene. "But, if I remember, Clara was a new acquaintance of yours in
the holidays, and you and she were inseparable. The ardor of such
extravagant friendship soon cools. Before long you concluded you did
not like her so well as at first; then came the disagreement. But is
it not silly to say the pin had anything to do with the matter? Would
it not have been the same if you had given her a book or a picture?"
"If I'm walking in the street with a friend, I'm always careful never
to let any person or thing come between us," admitted Kate Parsons.
"It's a sure sign that you'll be disappointed--"
"Oh, it will be all right if you remember to say 'Bread and butter!'"
interrupted Anna, eagerly.
They all laughed; but Miss Irene saw by the tell-tale faces of several
that they clung to this childish practice.
"We used to do so in play when we were little girls," said Emily,
apologetically; "and I suppose it became a habit."
"The other day," Miss Graham went on, "I heard a young lady say: 'If
you are setting out upon a journey, or even a walk, and have to go back
to the house for anything, be sure you sit down before starting off
again.' It is bad luck not to do so.'"
"Yes, we are very particular about that!" cried Rosemary, impulsively,
as her companions did not contradict the avowal; it was evident that
she knew what she was talking about.
The conversation turned to other subjects. Presently Anna and Rosemary
were planning an excursion to a neighboring town.
"To visit Elizabeth Harris, who was at the convent with us last year,"
explained the latter. "Suppose we go to-morrow?"
"I have an engagement with the dentist," was the doleful reply.
"Well, the day after?"
"Let me see," mused Anna. "Oh, no!" she added, hastily. "I could not
start on a journey or begin any work on a Friday; it would not be
lucky, you know!" Then she flushed and looked toward Miss Irene, who
shook her head significantly and wrote in her note-book, "Superstitious
practice No. 4."
As it was Emily's birthday, the girls had been invited to stay for
luncheon. Emily now led the way to the dining-room, where a pretty
table was spread. Everything was as dainty as good taste and handsome
auxiliaries could make it: the snowy damask, fine glass, and old family
silver; the small crystal bowls filled with chrysanthemums, and at each
plate a tiny bouquet.
Mr. Mahon was down town at his business, but there stood Mrs. Mahon, so
kind and affable; and the boys and girls of the family were waiting to
take their seats. The party paused, while, according to the good
old-fashioned custom (now too often neglected), grace was said; and
Cousin Irene, contemplating the bright faces and pleasant surroundings,
thought she had seldom seen a more attractive picture. But now she
noticed that May, after a quick look around, appeared startled and
anxious. The next moment the foolish girl exclaimed:
"O Mrs. Mahon, there are thirteen of us here! You do not like to have
thirteen persons at your table, do you? Pardon me, but I'm so nervous
A shadow of annoyance flitted across Mrs. Mahon's motherly countenance,
but she answered gently: "My dear, I never pay any attention to the
superstition. Still a hostess will not insist upon making a guest
uncomfortable. Tom," she continued, addressing her youngest son, "you
will oblige me by taking your luncheon afterward."
Tom scowled at May, flung himself out of his chair, mumbled something
about "stuff and nonsense;" and, avoiding his mother's reproving
glance, went off in no amiable humor.
May was embarrassed, especially as she felt Miss Irene's grave eyes
fixed upon her. But Mrs. Mahon was too courteous to allow any one to
remain disconcerted at her hospitable board. With ready tact she
managed that the little incident should seem speedily forgotten. After
a momentary awkwardness the girls began to chatter merrily again, and
harmony was restored.
On their return to the drawing-room, May whispered to Miss Graham: "I
hope Mrs. Mahon will excuse me for calling her attention to the number
at table. I did not mean to be rude, and I suppose it is silly to be
so superstitious; but, indeed, I can not help it."
"Do not say that, dear; because you can help it if you wish," was the
gentle reply, "Mrs. Mahon understood, I am sure, that you did not
intend to be impolite; but I know she must have felt regret that you
should give way to such folly." Then, turning to the others, Miss
Irene continued: "Well, girls, considering the revelations of this
morning, perhaps you will admit that you have, after all, a fair share
"I'm afraid so," acknowledged Rosemary; and no one demurred.
"Do you know how these superstitions originated, Miss Graham?" asked
Anna, who was of an inquiring mind.
"Many of them are very ancient," replied Cousin Irene. "That which
predicts that the gift of anything sharp cuts friendship probably dates
back farther than the days of Rome and Greece, and is almost as old as
the dagger itself. No doubt it originated in an age of frequent wars
and quarrels, when for a warrior to put a weapon in the hands of a
companion was perhaps to find it forthwith turned against himself. In
those days of strife also, when men were more ready in action than in
the turning of phrases, and so much was expressed by symbolism, the
offering of a sword or dagger was frequently in itself a challenge, and
a declaration of enmity. Thus, you see, that what was a natural
inference in other times is meaningless in ours. The adage which
advises the person obliged to turn back in his journey to be careful to
sit down before setting out anew, was at first simply a metaphorical
way of saying that having made a false start toward the accomplishment
of any duty, it is well to begin again at the beginning. The custom
which restrained comrades in arms, or friends walking or journeying
together, from allowing anything to come between them, had also a
figurative import. It was a dramatic manner of declaring, 'Nothing
shall ever part us,--no ill-will nor strife, not even this accidental
barrier, shall interrupt our friendly intercourse.' In the times, too,
when there were few laws but that of might, when danger often lurked by
the wayside, it was always well for a traveller to keep close to his
companion, and not to separate from him without necessity.
"Many other superstitions, as well, have a symbolical origin. But the
nineteenth century does not deal with such picturesque methods of
expression. We pride ourselves upon saying in so many words just what
we mean; therefore much of the poetic imagery of other days has no
significance in ours. And is it not symbolism without sense which
constitutes one of the phases of superstition? As for your
bread-and-butter exorcism, Anna, I presume it was simply the expression
of a hope that nothing might interfere between hungry folk and their
dinner. This is, indeed, but a bit of juvenile nonsense; just as
children will 'make believe' that some dire mishap will befall one who
steps on the cracks of a flagged sidewalk; and so on through a score of
funny conceits and games, innocent enough as child's play, but hardly
worthy of sensible girls in their teens.
"You know, the practice of refraining from beginning a journey or
undertaking on Friday," continued Miss Irene, "arose from a religious
observance of the day upon which Our Lord was crucified. As the early
Christians were accustomed to devote this day to meditation and prayer,
it followed that few went abroad at that time, or set about new
temporal ventures. Superstition early perverted the import of this
pious custom. As on that day Satan marshalled all the powers of evil
against the Son of God, so, said the soothsayers, he would beset with
misfortune and danger the path of those who set forth on a Friday. As
regards the case in point, since we do not go into retreat once a week,
I presume Anna and Rosemary have not this reason for refusing to visit
their young friend on Friday."
There was a general laugh, after which Miss Irene went on:
"For the rest, we know God's loving providence carefully watches over
us at all times, and constantly preserves us from countless dangers;
that nothing can betide us without His permission, and that He blesses
the work of every day if we ask Him. Far from being influenced by the
common superstition with regard to Friday, it would seem as if we
should piously prefer to begin an undertaking (and in this spirit seek
a special blessing on the work thus commenced) on the day of the week
which commemorates that most fortunate of all days for us, on which was
consummated the great act of Redemption.
"The superstition with reference to thirteen at table dates from the
Last Supper, of which Our Lord partook with His twelve Apostles on the
eve of His crucifixion. Hence the saying that of thirteen persons who
sit down together to a repast, one will soon die. I think it was
originally the custom to avoid having thirteen at the festive or family
board, not so much from this notion, as to express a horror of the
treachery of Judas. Such would be, for instance, the chivalrous spirit
of the Crusaders. We can understand how, in feudal times, a knight
would consider it an affront to his fellows to bid them to a banquet
spread for thirteen. In those days, when a feast was so apt to end in
a fray,--when by perfidy the enemy so often entered at the castle gate
while the company were at table, and frequently a chief was slain ere
he could rise from his place,--the circumstance would point an analogy
which it has not with us, suggesting not merely mortality but betrayal;
a breach of all the laws of hospitality; impending death by violence.
Since we can not live forever, among every assemblage of individuals
there is likely to be one at least whose life may be nearly at its
close. The more persons present, the greater the probability;
therefore there is really a greater fatality in the numbers fourteen,
twenty, thirty, than in thirteen.
"But to return to the point from which we started--no, Emily, it is not
necessary to sit down. You will observe that many persons who declare
emphatically that they are not superstitious, are nevertheless
influenced by old-time sayings and practices; some of which, though
perhaps beautiful originally, have now lost all significance; others
which are simply relics of paganism. Men are often as irrational in
this respect as women; and, notice this well, you will find
superstition much more common among non-Catholics than among Catholics.
As we have seen, however, some of us do not realize that what we are
pleased to call certain harmless eccentricities, are very like the
superstitious practices forbidden by the First Commandment."
Kate and Emily were not giving to this little homily the attention it
deserved. They had begun to trifle as girls are wont to do. Catching
at the tiny bisque cupid that hung from the chandelier, Emily
sportively sent it flying toward Kate, who swung it back again. Thus
they kept it flitting to and fro, faster and faster. Finally, Emily
hit it with a jerk. The cord by which it was suspended snapped; the
dainty bit of bric-a-brac sped across the room, and, striking with full
force against a mirror in a quaint old secretary that had belonged to
Mr. Mahon's uncle, shivered the glass to pieces. Instantly every trace
of color fled from her face, and she stood appalled, gazing at the
mischief she had done. There was, of course, an exclamation from her
companions, who remained staring at her, and appeared almost as
disturbed as herself.
Cousin Irene went over and patted her on the shoulder, saying, "Do not
be so distressed, child. I know you are sorry to have damaged the old
secretary, which we value so much for its associations. But there is
no need of being so troubled. We can have a new mirror put in."
"It is not only that," faltered the silly girl; "but to break a
looking-glass! You know it is a sure sign that a great misfortune will
befall us--that there will probably be a death in the family before
"Oh, but such sayings don't always come true! There are often
exceptions," interposed Kate, anxious to say something consolatory, and
heartily wishing they had let the little cupid alone.
"Too bad; for it really is dreadfully unlucky to have such a thing
happen!" sighed Rosemary, with less tact.
"I know it," murmured May.
"Yes, indeed," added Anna.
Miss Graham drew back astonished. "Young ladies, I am ashamed of you!"
she said, reproachfully, and went out of the room.
There were a few moments of discomfiture, and presently the girls
concluded, one after another, that it was time to be going home.
Left alone, Emily approached the secretary and examined the ruined
mirror. It was cracked like an egg-shell,--"smashed to smithereens,"
Tom said in telling the story later; but only one or two bits had
fallen out. Idly attempting to fit these into place again, Emily
caught sight of what she supposed was a sheet of note-paper, that had
apparently made its way in between the back of the mirror and the frame.
"An old letter of grandpa's, probably," she said aloud, taking hold of
the corner to draw it out. It stuck fast; but a second effort released
it, amid a shower of splintered glass; and to her amazement she found
in her possession a time-stained document that had a mysteriously legal
air. Trembling with excitement she unfolded it, and, without stopping
to think that it might not be for her eyes, began to read the queer
writing, which was somewhat difficult to decipher:
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Amen. I, Bernard Mahon, being of sound and disposing mind, do hereby
declare this to be my last will and testament."
"Uncle Bernard's will!" gasped Emily. "It must be the one father
always said uncle told him about, but which never could be found.
Perhaps he slipped it in here for safe-keeping." Eagerly she scanned
it, crying at last, "Yes, yes! Hurrah! O Cousin Irene!" she called
out, hearing the latter's step in the hall.
When Miss Graham entered Emily was waltzing around the room, waving the
document ecstatically. "See what I've found!" she cried, darting
toward her with an impulsive caress.
Cousin Irene took the paper, and, as she perused it, became, though in
a less demonstrative fashion, as agitated as Emily. "Your father!" she
Mr. Mahon had come into the house and was now in the little study,
which he called his den. Cousin Irene and Emily almost flew thither,
and a few minutes later his voice, with a glad ring in it, was heard
calling first his wife and then the children to tell them the joyful
The will so long sought, so strangely brought to light, made a great
change in the family fortunes. By it Bryan, the old man's son, who was
unmarried and dissipated, was entitled to merely a certain income and
life-interest in the estate, which upon his demise was to go to the
testator's nephew William (Mr. Mahon) and Cousin Irene. In fact,
however, at his father's death, Bryan, as no will was discovered, had
entered into full possession of the property; and when within a year
his own career was suddenly cut short, it was learned that he had
bequeathed nothing to his relatives but a few family heirlooms.
"I did not grudge Bryan what he had while he lived," said Mr. Mahon;
"but when, after the poor fellow was drowned, we heard that he had left
all his money to found a library for 'the Preservation of the Records
of Sport and Sportsmen,' I did feel that, with my boys and girls to
provide for and educate, I could have made a better use of it. And
Cousin Irene would have been saved a good deal of hard work if she
could have obtained her share at the time. Thank God it is all right
now, and the library with the long name will have to wait for another
The girls of the literature class soon heard of their friends' good
fortune, and were not slow in offering their congratulations.
One day, some two years after, when Anna and Rosemary happened to call
at the Mahons', a chance reference was made to the discovery of the
will. "Only think," exclaimed Rosemary, "how much came about through
the spoiling of that mirror! Emily, you surely can never again believe
it unlucky to break a looking-glass?"
"No, indeed!" replied Emily, thinking of the uninterrupted happiness
and prosperity which the family had enjoyed since then.
"It was a fortunate accident for us," said Cousin Irene; "but I should
not advise any one to go around smashing all the looking-glasses in his
or her house, hoping for a similar result. It certainly would be an
unlucky sign for the person who had to meet the bill for repairs."
"Miss Graham, how do you suppose this superstition originated?" asked
Anna, as eager for information as ever. After a general laugh at her
expense, Cousin Irene said:
"The first mirrors, you must remember, were the forest pools and
mountain tarns. As the hunter stooped to one of these to slake his
thirst, if perchance so much as a shadow should break the reflection of
his own image in its tranquil depths, he had reason to fear that danger
and perhaps death were at hand; for often in some such dark mirror a
victim caught the first glimpse of his enemy, who had been waiting in
ambush and was now stealing upon him from behind; or of the wild beast
making ready to leap upon him. But the popular augury that the mere
fact of breaking a looking-glass portends death, is, you must see,
senseless and absurd. And so, as I think you have become convinced,
are all superstitions. It is true we sometimes remark coincidences,
and are inclined to make much of them; without noting, on the contrary,
how many times the same supposed omens and signs come to nought. When
God wills to send us some special happiness or trial, be assured He
makes use of no such means to prepare us for it; since He directs our
lives not by chance, but by His all-wise and loving Providence."
UNCLE TOM'S STORY.
Some pine logs burned brightly upon the andirons in the wide,
old-fashioned chimney; and the Tyrrell children were comfortably seated
around the fire, roasting chestnuts and telling stories.
"Come, Uncle Tom, it is your turn!" cried Pollie, breaking in upon the
reverie of their mother's brother, who, seated in the old red
arm-chair, was gazing abstractedly at the cheery flames.
"Yes, please let us have something about the war," put in Rob.
"But everybody has been telling war stories for the last twenty-five
years. Do you not think we have had enough of them?" said the
"One never tires of hearing of deeds of bravery," answered Rob,
"Or of romantic adventures," added Pollie.
Uncle Tom looked amused; but, after some hesitation, said; "Well, I
will tell you an incident recalled by this pine-wood fire. It may seem
extraordinary; but, having witnessed it myself, I can vouch for its
truth. You consider me an old soldier; yet, though I wore the blue
uniform for more than a year and saw some fighting, I was only a youth
of eighteen when the war closed; and, in spite of my boyish anxiety to
distinguish myself and become a hero, I probably would never have
attained even to the rank of orderly, had it not come about in the
Our regiment was stationed at A------, not far from the seat of war.
Near our quarters was a Catholic church, attended by the ------
Fathers. I early made the acquaintance of one of them, who was
popularly known as Father _Friday_, this being the nearest approach to
the pronunciation of his peculiar German name to which the majority of
the people could arrive. In him I recognized my ideal of a Christian
gentleman, and as such I still revere his memory.
He was one of the handsomest men I ever saw--tall and of splendid
physique, with light brown hair, blue eyes, and a complexion naturally
fair, but bronzed by the sun. Though in reality he was as humble and
unassuming as any lay-brother in his community, his bearing was simply
He could not have helped it any more than he could help the impress of
nobility upon his fine features. The youngsters used to enjoy seeing
him pass the contribution box in church at special collections. It
must have been "an act" (as you convent girls say, Pollie). He would
move along in his superb manner, looking right over the heads of the
congregation, and disdaining to cast a glance at the "filthy lucre"
that was being heaped up in the box which from obedience he carried.
What were silver and gold, let alone the cheap paper currency of the
times, to him, who had given up wealth and princely rank to become a
religious! Yet, in fact, they were a great deal, since they meant help
for the needy--a church built, a hospital for the sick poor. In this
sense none appreciated more the value of money.
Father Friday was accustomed to travel about the country for miles,
hunting up those of his flock who, from the unsettled state of affairs,
either could not or would not come into the town to church. Like the
typical missionary, from necessity he always walked; though, in my
youthful enthusiasm, I used to think how grandly he would look upon a
charger and in the uniform of a general. In his old cassock, and
wearing a hat either of plain brown straw or black felt, according to
the season, he was as intrepid as a general, however; and went about
alone as serenely as if the times were most peaceful. Our colonel
often remonstrated with him for doing so, and finally insisted upon
appointing an orderly to attend him. Father Friday at first declined;
but upon hearing that the duty had been assigned to me, he in the end
assented--partly, I suppose, to keep me from bad company and out of
mischief. Many a pleasant tramp I had with him; for he would beguile
the way with anecdotes and jokes, and bits of information upon geology,
botany, the birds of that section--everything likely to interest a boy.
What wonder that I regarded a day with him as a genuine holiday?
One October afternoon he said: "To-morrow morning, Captain Tom" (the
title was a pleasantry of his),--"to-morrow morning I shall be glad of
your company. I am going some five miles back into the country to
visit an invalid."
"Very well, Father," I answered. "I shall be ready."
Accordingly, the next day, at the appointed hour, I joined him at the
gate of the convent, and we set out--this time in silence, for he
carried the Blessed Sacrament. At first our course was through the
open plain; but later it led, for perhaps a mile, across a corner of
the pine forest, which extended all along the ridge and shut the valley
in from the rest of the world. We entered the wood confidently, and
for half an hour followed the windings of the path, which gradually
became less defined. After a while it began to appear that we were
making but little headway.
Father Friday stopped. "Does it not seem to you that we are merely
going round and round, Tom?" he asked.
I assented gloomily.
"Have you a compass?"
I shook my head.
"Nor have I," he added. "I did not think of bringing one, being so
sure of the way. How could we have turned from it so inadvertently?
Well, we must calculate by the sun. The point for which we are bound
is in a southerly direction."
Having taken our bearings, we retraced our steps a short distance, then
pushed forward for an hour or more, without coming out upon the
bridle-path which we expected to find. Another hour passed; the sun
was getting high. Father Friday paused again.
"What time is it?" he inquired.
I looked at the little silver watch my mother gave me when I left home.
"Nine o'clock!" I answered, with a start.
"How unfortunate!" he exclaimed. "There is now no use in pressing on
farther. We should arrive too late at our destination. We may as well
rest a little, and then try to find our way home. It is unaccountable
that I should have missed the way so stupidly."
But it was one thing to order a retreat, as we soldiers would call it,
and quite another to go back by the route we had come. We followed
first one track and then another; but the underbrush grew thicker and
thicker, and at length the conviction was forced upon us that we were
completely astray. I climbed a tree--it was no easy task, as any one
who has ever attempted to climb a pine will agree. I got up some
distance, after a fashion; but the branches were so thick and the trees
so close together that there was nothing to be discerned, except that I
was surrounded by what seemed miles of green boughs, which swayed in
the breeze, making me think of the waves of an emerald sea.
I scrambled down and submitted my discouraging report. The sun was now
overhead: it must therefore be noon. We began to feel that even a
frugal meal would be welcome. I had managed to get a cup of coffee
before leaving my quarters; but Father Friday, I suspected, had taken
nothing. We succeeded in finding some berries here and there; and,
farther on, a spring of water. However, this primitive fare was of
little avail to satisfy one's appetite.
Well, after wandering about, and shouting and hallooing till we were
tired, in the effort to attract the attention of any one who might
chance to be in the vicinity, we rested at the foot of a tree. Father
Friday recited some prayers, to which I made the responses. Then he
withdrew a little, and read his Office as serenely as if he were in the
garden of the convent; while I, weary and disheartened, threw myself on
the ground and tried again to determine by the sun where we were. I
must have fallen asleep; for the next thing I knew the sun was
considerably lower, and Father Friday was waiting to make another start.
"How strange," he kept repeating as we proceeded, "that we should be so
entirely astray in a wood only a few miles in extent, and within such a
short distance from home! It is most extraordinary. I cannot
It was, indeed, singular; but I was too dispirited to speculate upon
the subject. Soldier though I prided myself upon being, and strong,
active fellow that I certainly was, Father Friday was as far ahead of
me in his endurance of the hardship of our position as in everything
Dusk came, and we began to fear that we should have to remain where we
were all night. Again I climbed a tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of a
light somewhere. All was dark, however; and I was about to descend
when--surely there was a faint glimmer yonder! As the diver peers amid
the depths of the sea in search of buried jewels, so I eagerly looked
down among the green branches. Yes, now it became a ray, and probably
shone from some dwelling in the heart of the wood. I called the good
news to Father Friday.
"_Deo gratias_!" he exclaimed. "Where is it?"
"Over there," said I, pointing in the direction of the light.
I got to the ground as fast as I could, and we made our way toward it.
Soon we saw it plainly, glowing among the trees; and, following its
guidance, soon came to a cleared space, where stood a rude log cabin,
in front of which burned a fire of pine knots. Before it was a man of
the class which the darkies were wont to designate as "pore white
trash." He was a tall, gawky countryman, rawboned, with long, unkempt
hair. His homespun clothes were decidedly the worse for wear; his
trousers were tucked into the tops of his heavy cowhide boots, and
perched upon his head was the roughest of home-woven straw-hats.
At the sound of our footsteps he turned, and to say that he was
surprised at our appearance would but ill describe his amazement.
Father Friday speedily assured him that we were neither raiders nor
bush-rangers, but simply two very hungry wanderers who had been astray
in the woods all day.
"Wa-all now, strangers, them is raither hard lines," said the man,
good-naturedly. "Jest make yerselves ter home hyere ternight, an' in
the mornin' I'll put yer on the right road to A------. Lors, but yer
must a-had a march! Been purty much all over the woods, I
reckon.--Mirandy!" he continued, calling to some one inside the cabin.
"I'm a-heedin', Josh. What's the matter?" inquired a _scrawny_,
sandy-haired woman, coming to the door, with her arms akimbo. "Mussy
me!" she ejaculated upon seeing us.
"Hyere's two folks as has got lost in this hyere forest, an' is plum
tired out an' powerful hongry," explained her husband.
"Mussy me!" she repeated, eyeing my blue coat askance, and regarding
Father Friday with suspicious wonder. She had never seen a uniform
like that long black cassock. To which side did he belong, Federal or
"Mirandy's Secesh, but I'm for the Union," explained Josh, with a wink
to us. "Sometimes we have as big a war as any one cyares ter see,
right hyere, on 'ccount of it. But, Lors, Mirandy, yer ain't a-goin'
ter quarrel with a man 'cause the color of his coat ain't ter yer
likin' when he ain't had a bite of vittles terday!"
"No, I ain't," answered the woman, stolidly. Glancing again at Father
Friday's kind face, she added, more graciously: "Wa-all, yer jest in
the nick of time; the hoe-cake's nyearly done, and we war about havin'
supper. Hey, Josh?"
"Sartain sure," said Josh, ushering us into the kitchen, which was the
principal room of the cabin, though a door at the side apparently led
into a smaller one adjoining. He made us sit down at the table, and
Mirandy placed the best her simple larder afforded before us.
As we went out by the fire again, our host said, with some
embarrassment: "Now, strangers, I know ye're fagged out, an' for sure
ye're welcome to the tiptop of everythin' we've got. But I'm blessed
if I can tell whar ye're a-goin' ter sleep ternight. We've company,
yer see, in the leetle room yonder; an' that's the only place we've got
ter offer, ordinar'ly."
Father Friday hastened to reassure him. "I propose to establish myself
outside by the fire. What could be better?" said he.
Father Friday, you remember, had the Blessed Sacrament with him; and I
knew that, weary as he was, he would pass the night in prayer.
"I am actually too tired to sleep now," I began. "But when I am
inclined to do so, what pleasanter resting-place could a soldier desire
than a bit of ground strewn with pine needles?"
"Wa-all, I allow I'm glad yer take it the right way," declared Josh;
then, growing loquacious, he continued: "Fact is, this is mighty
cur'ous company of ourn--"
"Josh, come hyere a minute, can't yer?" called Mirandy from within.
"Sartain," he answered, breaking off abruptly, and leaving us to
conjecture who the mysterious visitor might be.
"Yes, I allow I'm right glad yer don't mind passin' the night out hyere
by the fire," said Josh, taking up the thread of the conversation again
upon his return, shortly after. "Wa-all, I was a-tellin' about this
queer company of ourn. Came unexpected, same as you did; 'peared all
of a sudden out of the woods. It's a leetle girl, sirs; says she's
twelve year old, but small of her age--nothin' but a child, though I
reckon life's used her hard, pore creetur! Yer should a-seen her when
she 'rived. Her shoes war most wore off with walkin', an' her purty
leetle feet all blistered an' sore. Mirandy 'marked to me arterward
that her gown war a good deal tore with comin' through the brambles,
though she'd tried to tidy it up some by pinnin' the rents together
with thorns. But, land sakes, I did not take notice of that: my eyes
were jest fastened on her peaked face. White as a ghost's, sirs; an'
her dull-lookin', big black eyes, that stared at us, yet didn't seem
ter see nothin'.
"Wa-all, that's the way the leetle one looked when she stepped out of
the shadders. Mirandy was totin' water from the spring yonder, an'
when she see her she jest dropped the bucket an' screamed--thought it
was a spook, yer know. I war a-pilin' wood on the fire, an' when the
girl saw me she shrank back a leetle; but when she ketched sight o'
Mirandy she 'peared to muster up courage, tuk a step forward, an' then
sank down all in a heap, with a kinder moan, right by the bench thar.
She 'peared miserable 'nough, I can tell yer: bein' all of a shiver an'
shake, with her teeth chatterin' like a monkey's.
"Mirandy stood off, thinkin' the creetur was wild or half-witted,
likely; but I says: 'Bullets an' bombshells, Mirandy'--escuse me,
gentlemen, but that's a good, strong-soundin' espression, that relieves
my feelin's good as a swear word,--bullets an' bombshells, woman, don't
yer see the girl's all broke up with the ague?'--'Why, sur 'nough!'
cried she, a-comin' to her senses. 'I'd oughter known a chill with
half an eye; an' sartain this beats all I ever saw,' With that she
went over an' tuk the girl in her arms, an' sot her on the bench,
sayin', 'You pore honey, you! Whar'd you come from?' At this the
leetle one began to cry--tried to speak, then started to cry again.
'Wa-all, never mind a-talkin' about it now,' says Mirandy, settin' to
quiet her, an' pettin' an' soothin' her in a way that I wouldn't
a-believed of Mirandy if I hadn't a-seen it; for she hasn't had much to
tetch the soft spot in her heart sence our leetle Sallie died, which is
nigh onto eight year ago. 'Come, Josh,' she called ter me, 'jest you
carry this hyere child inter the house an' lay her on the bed. I
reckon she can have the leetle room, an' you can sleep in the kitchen
ternight.'--'I'm agreeable,' answers I; so I picked her up (she war as
limp an' docile as could be), an' carried her in, an' put her down on
the bed. That was three weeks come Sunday, an' thar she's been ever
Our host had finished his story, yet how much remained untold! All the
care and kindness which the stranger had received at the hands of these
good simple people was passed over in silence, as if not worth
Josh rose and went to the fire to relight his brier-wood pipe, which
had gone out during the recital.
"And is the little girl still very ill?" asked Father Friday, with
"Yes; an' the trouble is, she gets wus an' wus," was the reply. "The
complaint's taken a new turn lately. She's been in a ragin' fever an'
kind of flighty most of the time. Yer see, she'd had a sight of
trouble afore she broke down, an' that's what's drivin' her distracted.
She'd lost her folks somewhar way down South,--got separated from them
in the hurly-burly of a flight from a captured town; an', childlike,
she set about travellin' afoot all over the land to find them. How she
got through the lines I can't make out, unless she got round 'em some
way, comin' through the woods. Anyway she's here, and likely never to
get any farther in her search, pore honey! But what's her name, or who
her people are, is more nor I can say; for, cur'ous as it seems, she
has plum forgotten these two things.
"Thar's another matter, too, that bothers us some. She keeps a-callin'
for somebody, an' beggin' an' prayin' us not to let her die without
somethin', in a way that would melt the heart of a rock. It makes me
grow hot an' then cold all in a minute, jest a-listenin' to her.
To-day she war plum out of her head, an' war goin' to get right up an'
go off through the woods after it herself. Mirandy had a terrible time
with her; an' it wasn't till she got all wore out from sheer weakness
that she quieted down an' fell asleep, jest a leetle before yer
'peared, strangers. What it is she keeps entreatin' an' beseechin' for
we never can make out, though I'd cut my hand off to get it for her,
she's sech a patient, grateful leetle soul. But"--Josh started up; a
sudden hope had dawned upon him as he looked across at Father Friday's
strong, kind face--"perhaps you could tell. Bullets an' bombshells,
that's a lucky idee! I'll go an' ask Mirandy about it."
That any one was ill or disquieted in mind was a sufficient appeal to
the sympathy and zeal of Father Friday. He put his hand to his breast
a moment, and I knew that he was praying for the soul so sorely tried.
In a few moments Josh returned, saying, "Mirandy says the leetle girl
is jest woke up, an' seems uncommon sensible an' clear-headed. Perhaps
if yer war ter ask her now, she could tell yer it all plain."
Father Friday rose, and I followed too, as the man led the way to the
little room, the door of which was immediately opened by his wife, who
motioned to us to enter. Never shall I forget the sight that greeted
my eyes. Upon the bed lay a childish form, with a small, refined face,
the pallor of which was intensified by contrast with the large dark
eyes, that now had a half startled, expectant, indescribable
expression. The sufferer had evidently reached the crisis of a
malarial fever; reason had returned unclouded; but from that strange,
bright look, I felt that there was no hope of recovery.
How shall I find words to portray what followed! The others waited
beside the door; but Father Friday advanced a few steps, then paused,
so as not to frighten her by approaching abruptly. As he stood there
in his cassock, with his hand raised in benediction, and wearing, as I
knew, the Blessed Sacrament upon his breast, I realized more fully than
ever before the grandeur of the priestly mission to humanity. The
girl's roving glance was arrested by the impressive figure; but how
little were any of us prepared for the effect upon her! The dark eyes
lighted up with joyful recognition, her cheek flushed, and with a glad
cry she started up, exclaiming, "Thank God, my prayer is granted! God
has sent a priest to me before I die!"
Had a miracle been wrought before us we could not have been more
astounded. Instinctively I fell upon my knees. Mirandy followed my
example; and Josh looked as if he would like to do so too, but was not
quite sure how to manage it.
Father Friday drew nearer.
"I knew you would come, Father," she continued, with a happy smile.
"This is what I have prayed for ever since I have been lying here. I
thought you would come to-day; for since early morning I have been
imploring the Blessed Virgin to obtain this favor for me."
She sank back on the pillow exhausted, but after a few minutes revived
It was apparent, however, that there was no time to be lost. I
beckoned Josh and his wife out into the kitchen, and left Father Friday
to hear her confession. Soon he recalled us. I have but to close my
eyes to see it all as if it were yesterday: the altar hastily arranged
upon a small deal table; the flickering tallow dips, the only light to
do homage to the divine Guest; the angelic expression of the dying girl
as she received the Holy Viaticum.
After that we all withdrew, Father Friday and I going out by the fire
again. He resumed his breviary, and I remained silently musing upon
all that had passed within the last hour. After a few moments he
paused, with, his finger and thumb between the leaves of the book, and
looked toward me. I hastened to avail of the opportunity to speak my
"This, then, is the meaning of our strange wandering in the woods all
day, Father," said I. "You were being providentially led from the path
and guided to the bedside of this poor girl, that she might not die
without the consolations of religion."
"I cannot but believe so," he replied, gravely. "We missionaries
witness strange things sometimes. And what wonder? Is not the mercy
of God as great, the intercession of Mary as powerful, as ever? To me
this incident is but another beautiful example of the efficacy of
Before long Father Friday was again summoned within, and thus all night
he watched and prayed beside the resigned little sufferer, whose life
was slipping so fast away. In the grey of the early morning she died.
"Mussy me, I feel like I'd lost one of my own!" sobbed Mirandy.
"Yes, it's cur'ous how fond of her we grew; though she jest lay there
so uncomplainin', an' never took much notice of nothin'," said Josh,
drawing his brawny arm across his eyes.
An hour later he led the way before Father Friday and myself, and
conducted us to the bridle-path, which joined the turnpike several
miles below the town. By noon we were safely at home.
Two days after, however, I again accompanied Father Friday to the
forest, when, with blessing, the little wanderer was laid to rest among
the pines. One thing he had vainly tried to discover. Though during
that night her mind had been otherwise clear and collected, memory had
utterly failed upon one point: she could not remember her name. As we
knew none to put upon the rude cross which we placed to mark her grave,
Father Friday traced on the rough wood, with paint made by Josh from
burnt vine twigs, the simple inscription: "A Child of Mary."
"I am so glad May-day is coming!" exclaimed Ellen Moore. "What sport
we shall have hanging May-baskets!"
"What do you mean?" inquired Frances, who lived in Pennsylvania, but
had come to New England to visit her cousins.
"Never heard of May-baskets?" continued Ellen, in astonishment. "Do
you not celebrate the 1st of May in Ridgeville?"
"Of course. Sometimes we go picking wild flowers; and at St. Agnes'
Academy, where I go to school, they always have a lovely procession in
honor of the Blessed Virgin."
"We have one too, in the church," replied Ellen; "but hanging
May-baskets is another thing altogether--"
"That is where the fun and frolic come in," interrupted Joe, looking up
from the miniature boat which he was whittling out with his jackknife.
"You see," explained Ellen, "the afternoon before we make up a party,
and go on a long jaunt up hill and down dale, through the woods and
over the meadows, picking all the spring blossoms we can find.
Finally, we come home with what we have succeeded in getting, and put
them in water to keep fresh for the following day. Then what an
excitement there is hunting up baskets for them! Tiny ones are best,
because with them you can make the flowers go farther. Strawberry
baskets--the old-fashioned ones with a handle--are nice, especially if
you paint or gild them. Burr baskets are pretty too; and those made of
fir cones. Joe has a knack of putting such things together. He made
some elegant ones for me last year."
"Are you trying to kill two birds with one stone?" asked her brother,
with a laugh. "Your compliment is also a hint that you would like me
to do the same now, I suppose?"
"I never kill birds," rejoined Ellen, taking the literal meaning of his
words, for the purpose of chaffing him. "Nor do you; for you told me
the other day you did not understand how some boys could be so cruel."
"No, but you do not mind their being killed if you want their wings for
your hat," continued Joe, in a bantering tone.
"Not at all," said Ellen, triumphantly. "In future I am going to wear
only ribbons and artificial flowers on my _chapeau_. I have joined the
Society for the Prevention of the Destruction of the Native Birds of
"Whew!" ejaculated Joe, with a prolonged whistle. "What a name! I
should think that by the time you got to the end of it you'd be so old
that you wouldn't care any more for feathers and fixings. I suppose it
is a good thing though," he went on, more seriously. "It is just as
cruel to kill birds for the sake of fashion as it is for the
satisfaction of practising with a sling; only you girls have somebody
to do it for you; and you don't think about it, because you can just
step into a store and buy the plumes--"
"But what about the May-baskets?" protested Frances, disappointed at
"Oh, I forgot!" said Ellen. "Bright and early May-morning almost every
boy and girl in the village is up and away. The plan is to hang a
basket of wild flowers at the door of a friend, ring the bell or rattle
the latch, and then scamper off as fast as you can. You have to be
very spry so as to be back at home when your own baskets begin to
arrive; then you must be quick to run out and, if possible, catch the
friend who knocks, and thus find out whom to thank for the flowers."
"How delightful!" cried Frances, charmed at the prospect.
"It is so strange that you did not know about it!" added Ellen.
"Not at all," said Mrs. Moore, who had come out on the veranda where
the young folks were chatting,--Frances swinging in the hammock, Ellen
ensconced in a rustic chair with her fancy-work, and Joe leaning
against a post, and still busy whittling. "Not at all," repeated
Ellen's mother. "In America it is but little observed outside of the
Eastern States. This is one of the beautiful traditionary customs of
Catholic England, which even those austere Puritans, the Pilgrims,
could not entirely divest themselves of; though among them it lost its
former significance. Perhaps it was the gentle Rose Standish or fair
Priscilla, or some other winsome and good maiden of the early colonial
days, who transplanted to New England this poetic practice, sweet as
the fragrant pink and white blossoms of the trailing arbutus, which is
especially used to commemorate it. In Great Britain, though, it may
have originated in the observances of the festivals which ushered in
the spring. On the introduction of Christianity it was retained, and
continued up to within two or three hundred years,--no doubt as a
graceful manner of welcoming the Month of Our Lady. That it was
considered a means of honoring the Blessed Virgin, as well as of
expressing mutual kindness and good-will, we can see; since English
historians tell us that up to the sixteenth century it was usual to
adorn not only houses and gateways, but also the doors as well as the
interior of churches, with boughs and flowers; particularly the
entrances to shrines dedicated to the Mother of God."
"And the 1st of May will be the day after to-morrow!" remarked Frances,
coming back to the present.
"Yes. And to-morrow, right after school--that will be about three
o'clock, you know,--we shall start on our tramp," said Ellen. "As you
do not have to go to school, Frances, you will be able to prepare the
baskets during the morning. Come into the house with me now, and I'll
show you some which I have put away."
The next afternoon many merry companies of young people explored the
country round about Hazelton in quest of May-flowers. That in which we
are interested numbered Frances, Ellen, her brother Joe, their little
sister Teresa, and their other cousins, Elsie and Will Grey.
"I generally have to join another band," Ellen confided to Frances, as
they walked along in advance of the rest; "because Joe does not usually
care to go. He is very good about making the baskets for me; but, as
he says, he 'don't take much stock in hanging them.' Yet, to-day he
seems to be as anxious to get a quantity of the prettiest flowers as
any one. Will comes now because Joe does. But Joe has some notion in
his head. I wish I could find out what it is!"
Frances speculated upon the subject a few minutes; but, not being able
to afford any help toward solving the riddle, she speedily forgot it in
the pleasure of rambling through the fields, so newly green that the
charm of novelty lingered like dew upon them; and among the lanes,
redolent with the perfume of the first cherry blossoms,--for the season
was uncommonly advanced.
Before long everybody began to notice how eager Joe was in his search.
"What are you going to do with all your posies?" queried Will,
"They must be for Frances," declared Elsie.
"Maybe he is going to give them to Aunt Anna Grey," ventured Teresa.
"Perhaps to mother," hazarded Ellen.
"Yes: some for mother," admitted Joe; "and the others for--don't you
wish you knew!" And Joe's eyes danced roguishly as he darted off to a
patch of violets.
"He has some project. What can it be?" soliloquized Ellen, looking
Joe, unconscious of her gaze, was bending over the little blue flowers,
and humming an air which the children had learned a few days before.
"That tune is so catchy I can't get it out of my mind," he remarked to
Suddenly Ellen started up. "I know!" she said to herself. Then for a
time she was silent, flitting to and fro with a smile upon her lips,
her thoughts as busy as her fingers. "Ha, Master Joe! I believe we'll
all try that plan!" she exclaimed at length, laughing at the idea of
the surprise in store for him. Presently she glanced toward Teresa and
Elsie, who were loitering under a tree, talking in a low tone. Ellen
laughed again. "Those two children are always having secrets about
nothing at all," mused she.
Ellen was a lively girl, and greatly enjoyed a joke. After a while,
when she discovered Elsie alone, she whispered something to her. The
little girl's brown eyes grew round with interest. She nodded once or
twice, murmuring, "Yes, yes!"