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Bessie Bradford's Prize by Joanna H. Mathews

Part 4 out of 4

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don't mean to be. Such an unmothery mother don't deserve any respect,
and I'm not going to give it to her."

"Hush!" said Maggie, as they reached the door of Lena's room.

Lily's strong impression that Lena was unhappy because of her
inability to compete for the prize was strengthened when she saw her,
and the other children were inclined to agree with her, for Lena
seemed so little disposed to talk upon the subject that they were all
convinced that it was a disagreeable one to her. The only voluntary
allusion she made to it was when Maggie bade her good-by with the
promise of a return after the matter had been decided; then she drew
her down to her and whispered, "I hope you will have it, Maggie, I
hope you will."

Maggie smoothed her cheek, smiled, and said:

"Thank you, dear; but I would rather have you well so that we may
have our fair. The doctor says he thinks you will soon be well enough
to come to it, and we are only waiting for that now."

Then the little party left with a renewed promise to return and let
her know how the day had turned, and took their way to Miss Ashton's.

All the "Cheeryble Sisters," save Lena Neville and Gracie Howard,
were present, each one full of eager expectancy, although there was
scarcely a doubt in any mind who would be the winner.

It had been impossible to induce Gracie to take any part or to show
any interest in the competition, and she had resolutely refused to
come with the rest of her classmates this morning, and there was no
obligation upon her to do so, as it was now holiday time and this was
something outside of the regular school duties.

Mr. Ashton, fond as he was of giving prizes and of stimulating the
emulation of his niece's pupils, was content to bring matters to a
speedy conclusion when the time arrived, and never detained the
little girls long or kept them in suspense by tiresome speeches.

So now in a few words he praised them for their earnest and faithful
efforts; said that he had been treated to a perusal of many of the
compositions written during the last term in order that he might
himself have an opportunity of judging whether Miss Ashton's verdict
were just, and that he had been both surprised and gratified to
observe the improvement made by almost every member of the class.

"But," he said in conclusion, "in comparing the compositions written
at the commencement of the term of trial and those last submitted to
Miss Ashton, I had, from my own unbiassed judgment, and before I had
learned the choice of your teacher, decided that the one best
entitled to the prize and the bestowal of this art education is Miss
Bessie Bradford."

"Excuse me, sir; you mean _Maggie_ Bradford," said Bessie, in
her own quiet, demure little way, still unable to shake off her
conviction that Maggie and no one but Maggie must be the winner, and
believing that Mr. Ashton had merely mistaken the name of the

"No," said Mr. Ashton, smiling at her, "while giving all due credit
to your sister Maggie's compositions, which I have read with much
pleasure, I still repeat that no little girl in the class has made
such manifest improvement as yourself, and to you both your teacher
and myself award the prize."

"Thank you, sir," said Bessie, simply, but with a sparkle in her eye
and a flush of pleased surprise rising to her cheek, "thank you very
much. But, Miss Ashton"--turning to her teacher, "do you not think
that if Lena had been able to try with the rest of us all the time,
she would have been the one to gain this prize?"

Miss Ashton smiled kindly at her.

"Well, yes, Bessie," she said, with some seeming reluctance; "since
you ask me so plainly, I must say that had Lena been able to continue
in competition with the rest, I think she would have distanced every
one. I never saw such rapid improvement as she was making; her whole
heart seemed to be in it. My uncle was astonished at her progress in
that short time."

"Then," said Bessie, rising, "I think she ought to have the prize.
Please excuse me, sir,"--quaintly--"for saying _ought_ to you
and Miss Ashton, but it was not Lena's fault that she could not go on
trying with the rest of us, but only because she was so very brave
and unselfish in the fire. And if she improved so much in that time,
she would have improved a great deal more; and I think the prize
ought to be given to her. I am very glad you liked my compositions,
sir, but it would be a great deal more prize for me if Lena had it.
Please let her, Mr. Ashton. She has a very good and excellent reason,
too, for wanting it so much; it is so that her father and mother will
think Miss Ashton the best teacher that ever was, and let her stay
with her a very long time."

In her earnestness to carry her point she had forgotten that she was
saying so much; and she now stood looking from Mr. Ashton to his
niece, quite unembarrassed, but evidently set in this purpose.

Mr. Ashton looked at her, then turned to his niece; there was a
moment's whispered conversation between them, and then the gentleman
addressed himself to the class.

"What do you all say?" he asked. "Do you all agree that since Lena
Neville has been providentially prevented from continuing her
efforts, and since she made so much improvement while she was able to
enter the lists, that Bessie shall be permitted to resign this reward
to her, and that she shall be the one to name the candidate for my

"Yes, sir; yes, sir," came without one dissenting voice from the
young group.

"Then you shall have the pleasure of telling this to Lena, Bessie,"
said Mr. Ashton. "You have certainly fairly earned that right."

"And," said Bessie, looking round upon her classmates, "if everybody
will be so kind as not to tell Lena that she was not chosen first. It
would be quite true, would it not, to say that she had done so well
at the first that we all thought it fair for her to have it?"

"It shall be as you say," said Mr. Ashton; then continued, "we all
bind ourselves, do we not, to do as Bessie wishes and to keep this
little transaction a secret among ourselves, making no mention to
Lena Neville that the prize was not awarded to her in the first

"Unless she asks any questions; but I do not think she will," said
conscientious Bessie.

Miss Ashton came over to her with her eyes very suspiciously shining,
and stooping down kissed Bessie, saying, "You blessed child!" while
Maggie, always readily moved to tears or smiles, as befitted the
occasion, put her arms about Bessie's neck, and grasping her
teacher's skirts with the other hand and laying her head against her,
began to cry softly.

But sentiment and Lily Norris could not long exist in the same
atmosphere, and she now exclaimed:

"How I wish we were all boys just for ten minutes, so we could give
three cheers and a tiger for Bessie and three more for Lena. I
suppose it wouldn't do, would it, Miss Ashton?"

"Hardly for little girls," said Miss Ashton, although she herself
looked very much as if she were ready to lead a round of applause.

"Well, we can clap, anyway," said Lily, "that's girly enough," and
she forthwith set the example, which was speedily followed by the
rest, Mr. Ashton himself joining in from his post at his niece's

"I'd like to give thirty-three groans for Mrs. Neville," said Lily,
in an undertone, "but I suppose we couldn't."

There was little doubt that the whole class were even better pleased
to have the decision given in favor of Lena than they had been for
Bessie, favorite though she was, so strongly had their sympathies
been aroused for the former.

Imagine the surprise and delight of Lena when the news was brought to
her by her jubilant little friends. She could hardly believe it,
hardly believe that in spite of her enforced absence from school, in
spite of her inability to hand in her compositions for so many weeks,
she had been the one to receive this much coveted opportunity, and
that she was not only free to bestow it upon her own little
country-woman, but that her own credit would redound to that of Miss

Of how Gladys received the gift--for her parents set aside all
Harley's objections to her doing so--of how she became warm friends
with nearly all of our "Cheeryble Sisters," and of what came of that
may be read later on in "Maggie Bradford's Fair."

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