Part 4 out of 6
least knowing why.
"No, dear. I was listening and thinking what a pretty little story one
could make out of your fairy living alone down there, and only
known by her perfume."
"Tell it, Mamma. It is time for our story, and that would be a nice
one, I guess," said Jack, who was as fond of stories as when he sat
in his mother's lap and chuckled over the hero of the beanstalk.
"We don't have fairy tales on Sunday, you know," began Jill
"Call it a parable, and have a moral to it, then it will be all right,"
put in Frank, as he shut his big book, having found what he
"I like stories about saints, and the good and wonderful things they
did," said Jill, who enjoyed the wise and interesting bits Mrs.
Minot often found for her in grown-up books, for Jill had
thoughtful times, and asked questions which showed that she was
growing fast in mind if not in body.
"This is a true story; but I will disguise it a little, and call it 'The
Miracle of Saint Lucy,'" began Mrs. Minot, seeing a way to tell her
good news and amuse the children likewise.
Frank retired to the easy-chair, that he might sleep if the tale
should prove too childish for him. Jill settled herself among her
cushions, and Jack lay flat upon the rug, with his feet up, so that he
could admire his red slippers and rest his knee, which ached.
"Once upon a time there was a queen who had two princes."
"Wasn't there a princess?" asked Jack, interested at once.
"No; and it was a great sorrow to the queen that she had no little
daughter, for the sons were growing up, and she was often very
"Like Snowdrop's mother," whispered Jill.
"Now, don't keep interrupting, children, or we never shall get on,"
said Frank, more anxious to hear about the boys that were than the
girl that was not.
"One day, when the princes were out--ahem! we'll say
hunting--they found a little damsel lying on the snow, half dead
with cold, they thought. She was the child of a poor woman who
lived in the forest--a wild little thing, always dancing and singing
about; as hard to catch as a squirrel, and so fearless she would
climb the highest trees, leap broad brooks, or jump off the steep
rocks to show her courage. The boys carried her home to the
palace, and the queen was glad to have her. She had fallen and hurt
herself, so she lay in bed week after week, with her mother to take
care of her--"
"That's you," whispered Jack, throwing the white carnation at Jill,
and she threw back the red one, with her finger on her lips, for the
tale was very interesting now.
"She did not suffer much after a time, but she scolded and cried,
and could not be resigned, because she was a prisoner. The queen
tried to help her, but she could not do much; the princes were kind,
but they had their books and plays, and were away a good deal.
Some friends she had came often to see her, but still she beat her
wings against the bars, like a wild bird in a cage, and soon her
spirits were all gone, and it was sad to see her."
"Where was your Saint Lucy? I thought it was about her," asked
Jack, who did not like to have Jill's past troubles dwelt upon,
since his were not.
"She is coming. Saints are not born--they are made after many
trials and tribulations," answered his mother, looking at the fire as
if it helped her to spin her little story. "Well, the poor child used to
sing sometimes to while away the long hours--sad songs mostly,
and one among them which the queen taught her was 'Sweet
"This she used to sing a great deal after a while, never dreaming
that Patience was an angel who could hear and obey. But it was so;
and one night, when the girl had lulled herself to sleep with that
song, the angel came. Nobody saw the lovely spirit with tender
eyes, and a voice that was like balm. No one heard the rustle of
wings as she hovered over the little bed and touched the lips, the
eyes, the hands of the sleeper, and then flew away, leaving three
gifts behind. The girl did not know why, but after that night the
songs grew gayer, there seemed to be more sunshine everywhere
her eyes looked, and her hands were never tired of helping others
in various pretty, useful, or pleasant ways. Slowly the wild bird
ceased to beat against the bars, but sat in its cage and made music
for all in the palace, till the queen could not do without it, the poor
mother cheered up, and the princes called the girl their
"Was that the miracle?" asked Jack, forgetting all about his
slippers, as he watched Jill's eyes brighten and the color come up
in her white cheeks.
"That was the miracle, and Patience can work far greater ones if
you will let her."
"And the girl's name was Lucy?"
"Yes; they did not call her a saint then, but she was trying to be as
cheerful as a certain good woman she had heard of, and so the
queen had that name for her, though she did not let her know it for
a long time."
"That's not bad for a Sunday story, but there might have been more
about the princes, seems to me," was Frank's criticism, as Jill lay
very still, trying to hide her face behind the carnation, for she had
no words to tell how touched and pleased she was to find that her
little efforts to be good had been seen, remembered, and now
rewarded in this way.
"There is more."
"Then the story isn't done?" cried Jack.
"Oh dear, no; the most interesting things are to come, if you can
wait for them."
"Yes, I see, this is the moral part. Now keep still, and let us have
the rest," commanded Frank, while the others composed themselves
for the sequel, suspecting that it was rather nice, because Mamma's
sober face changed, and her eyes laughed as they looked at the fire.
"The elder prince was very fond of driving dragons, for the people
of that country used these fiery monsters as horses."
"And got run away with, didn't he?" laughed Jack, adding, with
great interest, "What did the other fellow do?"
"He went about fighting other people's battles, helping the poor,
and trying to do good. But he lacked judgment, so he often got into
trouble, and was in such a hurry that he did not always stop to find
out the wisest way. As when he gave away his best coat to a beggar
boy, instead of the old one which he intended to give."
"I say, that isn't fair, mother! Neither of them was new, and the boy
needed the best more than I did, and I wore the old one all winter,
didn't I?" asked Jack, who had rather exulted over Frank, and was
now taken down himself.
"Yes, you did, my dear; and it was not an easy thing for my
dandiprat to do. Now listen, and I'll tell you how they both learned
to be wiser. The elder prince soon found that the big dragons were
too much for him, and set about training his own little one, who
now and then ran away with him. Its name was Will, a good servant,
but a bad master; so he learned to control it, and in time this
gave him great power over himself, and fitted him to be a king
"Thank you, mother; I'll remember my part of the moral. Now give
Jack his," said Frank, who liked the dragon episode, as he had been
wrestling with his own of late, and found it hard to manage.
"He had a fine example before him in a friend, and he followed it
more reasonably till he grew able to use wisely one of the best and
noblest gifts of God--benevolence."
"Now tell about the girl. Was there more to that part of the story?"
asked Jack, well pleased with his moral, as it took Ed in likewise.
"That is the best of all, but it seems as if I never should get to it.
After Patience made Lucy sweet and cheerful, she began to have a
curious power over those about her, and to work little miracles
herself, though she did not know it. The queen learned to love her
so dearly she could not let her go; she cheered up all her friends
when they came with their small troubles; the princes found bright
eyes, willing hands, and a kind heart always at their service, and
felt, without quite knowing why, that it was good for them to have
a gentle little creature to care for; so they softened their rough
manners, loud voices, and careless ways, for her sake, and when it
was proposed to take her away to her own home they could not
give her up, but said she must stay longer, didn't they?"
"I'd like to see them saying anything else," said Frank, while Jack
sat up to demand fiercely,--
"Who talks about taking Jill away?"
"Lucy's mother thought she ought to go, and said so, but the queen
told her how much good it did them all to have her there, and
begged the dear woman to let her little cottage and come and be
housekeeper in the palace, for the queen was getting lazy, and
liked to sit and read, and talk and sew with Lucy, better than to
look after things."
"And she said she would?" cried Jill, clasping her hands in her
anxiety, for she had learned to love her cage now.
"Yes." Mrs. Minot had no time to say more, for one of the red
slippers flew up in the air, and Jack had to clap both hands over his
mouth to suppress the "hurrah!" that nearly escaped. Frank said,
"That's good!" and nodded with his most cordial smile at Jill who
pulled herself up with cheeks now as rosy as the red carnation, and
a little catch in her breath as she said to herself,--
"It's too lovely to be true."
"That's a first-rate end to a very good story," began Jack, with
grave decision, as he put on his slipper and sat up to pat Jill's hand,
wishing it was not quite so like a little claw.
"That's not the end;" and Mamma's eyes laughed more than ever as
three astonished faces turned to her, and three voices cried out,--
"The very best of all. You must know that, while Lucy was busy
for others, she was not forgotten, and when she was expecting to
lie on her bed through the summer, plans were being made for all
sorts of pleasant changes. First of all, she was to have a nice little
brace to support the back which was growing better every day;
then, as the warm weather came on, she was to go out, or lie on the
piazza; and by and by, when school was done, she was to go with
the queen and the princes for a month or two down to the sea-side,
where fresh air and salt water were to build her up in the most
delightful way. There, now! isn't that the best ending of all?" and
Mamma paused to read her answer in the bright faces of two of the
listeners, for Jill hid hers in the pillow, and lay quite still, as if it
was too much for her.
"That will be regularly splendid! I'll row you all about--boating is
so much easier than riding, and I like it on salt water," said
Frank, going to sit on the arm of the sofa, quite excited by the
charms of the new plan.
"And I'll teach you to swim, and roll you over the beach, and get
sea-weed and shells, and no end of nice things, and we'll all come
home as strong as lions," added Jack, scrambling up as if about to
set off at once.
"The doctor says you have been doing finely of late, and the brace
will come to-morrow, and the first really mild day you are to have
a breath of fresh air. Won't that be good?" asked Mrs. Minot,
hoping her story had not been too interesting.
"Is she crying?" said Jack, much concerned as he patted the pillow
in his most soothing way, while Frank lifted one curl after another
to see what was hidden underneath.
Not tears, for two eyes sparkled behind the fingers, then the hands
came down like clouds from before the sun, and Jill's face shone
out so bright and happy it did one's heart good to see it.
"I'm not crying," she said with a laugh which was fuller of blithe
music than any song she sung. "But it was so splendid, it sort of
took my breath away for a minute. I thought I wasn't any better,
and never should be, and I made up my mind I wouldn't ask, it
would be so hard for any one to tell me so. Now I see why the
doctor made me stand up, and told me to get my baskets ready to
go a-Maying. I thought he was in fun; did he really mean I could
go?" asked Jill, expecting too much, for a word of encouragement
made her as hopeful as she had been despondent before.
"No, dear, not so soon as that. It will be months, probably, before
you can walk and run, as you used to; but they will soon pass. You
needn't mind about May-day; it is always too cold for flowers, and
you will find more here among your own plants, than on the hills,
to fill your baskets," answered Mrs. Minot, hastening to suggest
something pleasant to beguile the time of probation.
"I can wait. Months are not years, and if I'm truly getting well,
everything will seem beautiful and easy to me," said Jill, laying
herself down again, with the patient look she had learned to wear,
and gathering up the scattered carnations to enjoy their spicy
breath, as if the fairies hidden there had taught her some of their
"Dear little girl, it has been a long, hard trial for you, but it is
coming to an end, and I think you will find that it has not been
time wasted, I don't want you to be a saint quite yet, but I am sure
a gentler Jill will rise up from that sofa than the one who lay down
there in December."
"How could I help growing better, when you were so good to me?"
cried Jill, putting up both arms, as Mrs. Minot went to take Frank's
place, and he retired to the fire, there to stand surveying the scene
with calm approval.
"You have done quite as much for us; so we are even. I proved that
to your mother, and she is going to let the little house and take care
of the big one for me, while I borrow you to keep me happy and
make the boys gentle and kind. That is the bargain, and we get the
best of it," said Mrs. Minot, looking well pleased, while Jack
added, "That's so!" and Frank observed with an air of conviction,
"We couldn't get on without Jill, possibly."
"Can I do all that? I didn't know I was of any use. I only tried to be
good and grateful, for there didn't seem to be anything else I could
do," said Jill, wondering why they were all so fond of her.
"No real trying is ever in vain. It is like the spring rain, and flowers
are sure to follow in good time. The three gifts Patience gave Saint
Lucy were courage, cheerfulness, and love, and with these one can
work the sweetest miracles in the world, as you see," and Mrs.
Minot pointed to the pretty room and its happy inmates.
"Am I really the least bit like that good Lucinda? I tried to be, but I
didn't think I was," asked Jill softly.
"You are very like her in all ways but one. _She_ did not get well,
and _you_ will."
A short answer, but it satisfied Jill to her heart's core, and that
night, when she lay in bed, she thought to herself: "How curious it
is that I've been a sort of missionary without knowing it! They all
love and thank me, and won't let me go, so I suppose I must have
done something, but I don't know what, except trying to be good
That was the secret, and Jill found it out just when it was most
grateful as a reward for past efforts, most helpful as an
encouragement toward the constant well-doing which can make
even a little girl a joy and comfort to all who know and love her.
Up at Merry's
"Now fly round, child, and get your sweeping done up smart and
"I shall want you to help me about the baking, by and by."
"Roxy is cleaning the cellar-closets, so you'll have to get the
vegetables ready for dinner. Father wants a boiled dish, and I shall
be so busy I can't see to it."
A cheerful voice gave the three answers, but it cost Merry an effort
to keep it so, for she had certain little plans of her own which
made the work before her unusually distasteful. Saturday always
was a trying day, for, though she liked to see rooms in order, she
hated to sweep, as no speck escaped Mrs. Grant's eye, and only the
good old-fashioned broom, wielded by a pair of strong arms, was
allowed. Baking was another trial: she loved good bread and
delicate pastry, but did not enjoy burning her face over a hot stove,
daubing her hands with dough, or spending hours rolling out
cookies for the boys; while a "boiled dinner" was her especial
horror, as it was not elegant, and the washing of vegetables was a
job she always shirked when she could.
However, having made up her mind to do her work without
complaint, she ran upstairs to put on her dust-cap, trying to look as
if sweeping was the joy of her life.
"It is such a lovely day, I did want to rake my garden, and have a
walk with Molly, and finish my book so I can get another," she
said with a sigh, as she leaned out of the open window for a breath
of the unusually mild air.
Down in the ten-acre lot the boys were carting and spreading loam;
out in the barn her father was getting his plows ready; over the hill
rose the smoke of the distant factory, and the river that turned the
wheels was gliding through the meadows, where soon the blackbirds
would be singing. Old Bess pawed the ground, eager to be off; the
gray hens were scratching busily all about the yard; even the green
things in the garden were pushing through the brown earth, softened
by April rains, and there was a shimmer of sunshine over the wide
landscape that made every familiar object beautiful with hints of
spring, and the activity it brings.
Something made the old nursery hymn come into Merry's head,
and humming to herself,
"In works of labor or of skill
I would be busy too,"
she tied on her cap, shouldered her broom, and fell to work so
energetically that she soon swept her way through the chambers,
down the front stairs to the parlor door, leaving freshness and
order behind her as she went.
She always groaned when she entered that apartment, and got out
of it again as soon as possible, for it was, like most country
parlors, a prim and chilly place, with little beauty and no comfort.
Black horse-hair furniture, very slippery and hard, stood against
the wall; the table had its gift books, albums, worsted mat and ugly
lamp; the mantel-piece its china vases, pink shells, and clock that
never went; the gay carpet was kept distressingly bright by closed
shutters six days out of the seven, and a general air of go-to-
meeting solemnity pervaded the room. Merry longed to make it
pretty and pleasant, but her mother would allow of no change
there, so the girl gave up her dreams of rugs and hangings, fine
pictures and tasteful ornaments, and dutifully aired, dusted, and
shut up this awful apartment once a week, privately resolving that,
if she ever had a parlor of her own, it should not be as dismal as a
The dining-room was a very different place, for here Merry had
been allowed to do as she liked, yet so gradual had been the
change, that she would have found it difficult to tell how it came
about. It seemed to begin with the flowers, for her father kept his
word about the "posy pots," and got enough to make quite a little
conservatory in the bay-window, which was sufficiently large for
three rows all round, and hanging-baskets overhead. Being
discouraged by her first failure, Merry gave up trying to have
things nice everywhere, and contented herself with making that
one nook so pretty that the boys called it her "bower." Even busy
Mrs. Grant owned that plants were not so messy as she expected,
and the farmer was never tired of watching "little daughter" as she
sat at work there, with her low chair and table full of books.
The lamp helped, also, for Merry set up her own, and kept it so
well trimmed that it burned clear and bright, shining on the green
arch of ivy overhead, and on the nasturtium vines framing the old
glass, and peeping at their gay little faces, and at the pretty young
girl, so pleasantly that first her father came to read his paper by it,
then her mother slipped in to rest on the lounge in the corner, and
finally the boys hovered about the door as if the "settin'-room" had
grown more attractive than the kitchen.
But the open fire did more than anything else to win and hold them
all, as it seldom fails to do when the black demon of an airtight
stove is banished from the hearth. After the room was cleaned till
it shone, Merry begged to have the brass andirons put in, and
offered to keep them as bright as gold if her mother would
consent. So the great logs were kindled, and the flames went
dancing up the chimney as if glad to be set free from their prison.
It changed the whole room like magic, and no one could resist
the desire to enjoy its cheery comfort. The farmer's three-cornered
leathern chair soon stood on one side, and mother's rocker on the
other, as they toasted their feet and dozed or chatted in the pleasant
The boys' slippers were always ready on the hearth; and when the
big boots were once off, they naturally settled down about the
table, where the tall lamp, with its pretty shade of pressed autumn
leaves, burned brightly, and the books and papers lay ready to their
hands instead of being tucked out of sight in the closet. They were
beginning to see that "Merry's notions" had some sense in them,
since they were made comfortable, and good-naturedly took some
pains to please her in various ways. Tom brushed his hair and
washed his hands nicely before he came to table. Dick tried to
lower his boisterous laughter, and Harry never smoked in the
sitting-room. Even Roxy expressed her pleasure in seeing "things
kind of spruced up," and Merry's gentle treatment of the
hard-working drudge won her heart entirely.
The girl was thinking of these changes as she watered her flowers,
dusted the furniture, and laid the fire ready for kindling; and, when
all was done, she stood a minute to enjoy the pleasant room, full of
spring sunshine, fresh air, and exquisite order. It seemed to give
her heart for more distasteful labors, and she fell to work at the
pies as cheerfully as if she liked it.
Mrs. Grant was flying about the kitchen, getting the loaves of
brown and white bread ready for the big oven. Roxy's voice came
up from the cellar singing "Bounding Billows," with a swashing
and scrubbing accompaniment which suggested that she was
actually enjoying a "life on the ocean wave." Merry, in her neat
cap and apron, stood smiling over her work as she deftly rolled and
clipped, filled and covered, finding a certain sort of pleasure in
doing it well, and adding interest to it by crimping the crust,
making pretty devices with strips of paste and star-shaped
prickings of the fork.
"Good-will giveth skill," says the proverb, and even particular Mrs.
Grant was satisfied when she paused to examine the pastry with
her experienced eye.
"You are a handy child and a credit to your bringing up, though I
do say it. Those are as pretty pies as I'd wish to eat, if they bake
well, and there's no reason why they shouldn't."
"May I make some tarts or rabbits of these bits? The boys like
them, and I enjoy modelling this sort of thing," said Merry, who
was trying to mould a bird, as she had seen Ralph do with clay to
amuse Jill while the bust was going on.
"No, dear; there's no time for knick-knacks to-day. The beets ought
to be on this minute. Run and get 'em, and be sure you scrape the
Poor Merry put away the delicate task she was just beginning to
like, and taking a pan went down cellar, wishing vegetables could
be grown without earth, for she hated to put her hands in dirty
water. A word of praise to Roxy made that grateful scrubber leave
her work to poke about in the root-cellar, choosing "sech as was
pretty much of a muchness, else they wouldn't bile even;" so Merry
was spared that part of the job, and went up to scrape and wash
without complaint, since it was for father. She was repaid at noon
by the relish with which he enjoyed his dinner, for Merry tried to
make even a boiled dish pretty by arranging the beets, carrots,
turnips, and potatoes in contrasting colors, with the beef hidden
under the cabbage leaves.
"Now, I'll rest and read for an hour, then I'll rake my garden, or run
down town to see Molly and get some seeds," she thought to
herself, as she put away the spoons and glasses, which she liked to
wash, that they might always be clear and bright.
"If you've done all your own mending, there's a heap of socks to be
looked over. Then I'll show you about darning the tablecloths. I do
hate to have a stitch of work left over till Monday," said Mrs.
Grant, who never took naps, and prided herself on sitting down to
her needle at 3 P.M. every day.
"Yes, mother;" and Merry went slowly upstairs, feeling that a part
of Saturday ought to be a holiday after books and work all the
week. As she braided up her hair, her eye fell upon the reflection
of her own face in the glass. Not a happy nor a pretty one just then,
and Merry was so unaccustomed to seeing any other, that
involuntarily the frown smoothed itself out, the eyes lost their
weary look, the drooping lips curved into a smile, and, leaning her
elbows on the bureau, she shook her head at herself, saying, half
aloud, as she glanced at Ivanhoe lying near,--
"You needn't look so cross and ugly just because you can't have
what you want. Sweeping, baking, and darning are not so bad as
being plagued with lovers and carried off and burnt at the stake, so
I won't envy poor Rebecca her jewels and curls and romantic
times, but make the best of my own."
Then she laughed, and the bright face came back into the mirror,
looking like an old friend, and Merry went on dressing with care,
for she took pleasure in her own little charms, and felt a sense of
comfort in knowing that she could always have one pretty thing to
look at if she kept her own face serene and sweet. It certainly
looked so as it bent over the pile of big socks half an hour later,
and brightened with each that was laid aside. Her mother saw it,
and, guessing why such wistful glances went from clock to
window, kindly shortened the task of table-cloth darning by doing
a good bit herself, before putting it into Merry's hands.
She was a good and loving mother in spite of her strict ways, and
knew that it was better for her romantic daughter to be learning all
the housewifery lessons she could teach her, than to be reading
novels, writing verses, or philandering about with her head full of
girlish fancies, quite innocent in themselves, but not the stuff to
live on. So she wisely taught the hands that preferred to pick
flowers, trim up rooms and mould birds, to work well with needle,
broom, and rolling-pin; put a receipt-book before the eyes that
loved to laugh and weep over tender tales, and kept the young head
and heart safe and happy with wholesome duties, useful studies,
and such harmless pleasures as girls should love, instead of letting
them waste their freshness in vague longings, idle dreams, and
But it was often hard to thwart the docile child, and lately she had
seemed to be growing up so fast that her mother began to feel a
new sort of tenderness for this sweet daughter, who was almost
ready to take upon herself the cares, as well as triumphs and
delights, of maidenhood. Something in the droop of the brown
head, and the quick motion of the busy hand with a little burn on
it, made it difficult for Mrs. Grant to keep Merry at work that day,
and her eye watched the clock almost as impatiently as the girl's,
for she liked to see the young face brighten when the hour of
"What next?" asked Merry, as the last stitch was set, and she
stifled a sigh on hearing the clock strike four, for the sun was
getting low, and the lovely afternoon going fast.
"One more job, if you are not too tired for it. I want the receipt for
diet drink Miss Dawes promised me; would you like to run down
and get it for me, dear?"
"Yes, mother!" and that answer was as blithe as a robin's chirp, for
that was just where Merry wanted to go.
Away went thimble and scissors, and in five minutes away went
Merry, skipping down the hill without a care in the world, for a
happy heart sat singing within, and everything seemed full of
She had a capital time with Molly, called on Jill, did her shopping
in the village, and had just turned to walk up the hill, when Ralph
Evans came tramping along behind her, looking so pleased and
proud about something that she could not help asking what it was,
for they were great friends, and Merry thought that to be an artist
was the most glorious career a man could choose.
"I know you've got some good news," she said, looking up at him
as he touched his hat and fell into step with her, seeming more
contented than before.
"I have, and was just coming up to tell you, for I was sure you
would be glad. It is only a hope, a chance, but it is so splendid I
feel as if I must shout and dance, or fly over a fence or two, to let
"Do tell me, quick; have you got an order?" asked Merry, full of
interest at once, for artistic vicissitudes were very romantic, and
she liked to hear about them.
"I may go abroad in the autumn."
"Oh, how lovely!"
"Isn't it? David German is going to spend a year in Rome, to finish
a statue, and wants me to go along. Grandma is willing, as cousin
Maria wants her for a long visit, so everything looks promising and
I really think I may go."
"Won't it cost a great deal?" asked Merry, who, in spite of her little
elegancies, had a good deal of her thrifty mother's common sense.
"Yes; and I've got to earn it. But I can--I know I can, for I've saved
some, and I shall work like ten beavers all summer. I won't borrow
if I can help it, but I know someone who would lend me five
hundred if I wanted it;" and Ralph looked as eager and secure as if
the earning of twice that sum was a mere trifle when all the
longing of his life was put into his daily tasks.
"I wish I had it to give you. It must be so splendid to feel that you
can do great things if you only have the chance. And to travel, and
see all the lovely pictures and statues, and people and places in
Italy. How happy you must be!" and Merry's eyes had the wistful
look they always wore when she dreamed dreams of the world she
loved to live in.
"I am--so happy that I'm afraid it never will happen. If I do go, I'll
write and tell you all about the fine sights, and how I get on.
Would you like me to?" asked Ralph, beginning enthusiastically
and ending rather bashfully, for he admired Merry very much, and
was not quite sure how this proposal would be received.
"Indeed I should! I'd feel so grand to have letters from Paris and
Rome, and you'd have so much to tell it would be almost as good
as going myself," she said, looking off into the daffodil sky, as they
paused a minute on the hill-top to get breath, for both had walked
as fast as they talked.
"And will you answer the letters?" asked Ralph, watching the
innocent face, which looked unusually kind and beautiful to him in
that soft light.
"Why, yes; I'd love to, only I shall not have anything interesting to
say. What can I write about?" and Merry smiled as she thought
how dull her letters would sound after the exciting details his
would doubtless give.
"Write about yourself, and all the rest of the people I know.
Grandma will be gone, and I shall want to hear how you get on."
Ralph looked very anxious indeed to hear, and Merry promised she
would tell all about the other people, adding, as she turned from
the evening peace and loveliness to the house, whence came the
clatter of milk-pans and the smell of cooking,--
"I never should have anything very nice to tell about myself, for I
don't do interesting things as you do, and you wouldn't care to hear
about school, and sewing, and messing round at home."
Merry gave a disdainful little sniff at the savory perfume of ham
which saluted them, and paused with her hand on the gate, as if
she found it pleasanter out there than in the house. Ralph seemed
to agree with her, for, leaning on the gate, he lingered to say, with
real sympathy in his tone and something else in his face, "Yes, I
should; so you write and tell me all about it. I didn't know you
had any worries, for you always seemed like one of the happiest
people in the world, with so many to pet and care for you,
and plenty of money, and nothing very hard or hateful to do. You'd
think you were well off if you knew as much about poverty and
work and never getting what you want, as I do."
"You bear your worries so well that nobody knows you have them.
I ought not to complain, and I won't, for I do have all I need. I'm so
glad you are going to get what you want at last;" and Merry held
out her hand to say good-night, with so much pleasure in her face
that Ralph could not make up his mind to go just yet.
"I shall have to scratch round in a lively way before I do get it, for
David says a fellow can't live on less than four or five hundred a
year, even living as poor artists have to, in garrets and on crusts. I
don't mind as long as Grandma is all right. She is away to-night, or
I should not be here," he added, as if some excuse was necessary.
Merry needed no hint, for her tender heart was touched by the
vision of her friend in a garret, and she suddenly rejoiced that there
was ham and eggs for supper, so that he might be well fed once, at
least, before he went away to feed on artistic crusts.
"Being here, come in and spend the evening. The boys will like to
hear the news, and so will father. Do, now."
It was impossible to refuse the invitation he had been longing for,
and in they went to the great delight of Roxy, who instantly retired
to the pantry, smiling significantly, and brought out the most
elaborate pie in honor of the occasion. Merry touched up the table,
and put a little vase of flowers in the middle to redeem the
vulgarity of doughnuts. Of course the boys upset it, but as there
was company nothing was said, and Ralph devoured his supper
with the appetite of a hungry boy, while watching Merry eat bread
and cream out of an old-fashioned silver porringer, and thinking it
the sweetest sight he ever beheld.
Then the young people gathered about the table, full of the new
plans, and the elders listened as they rested after the week's work.
A pleasant evening, for they all liked Ralph, but as the parents
watched Merry sitting among the great lads like a little queen
among her subjects, half unconscious as yet of the power in her
hands, they nodded to one another, and then shook their heads as if
"I'm afraid the time is coming, mother."
"No danger as long as she don't know it, father."
At nine the boys went off to the barn, the farmer to wind up the
eight-day clock, and the housewife to see how the baked beans and
Indian pudding for to-morrow were getting on in the oven. Ralph
took up his hat to go, saying as he looked at the shade on the tall
"What a good light that gives! I can see it as I go home every night,
and it burns up here like a beacon. I always look for it, and it
hardly ever fails to be burning. Sort of cheers up the way, you
know, when I'm tired or low in my mind."
"Then I'm very glad I got it. I liked the shape, but the boys laughed
at it as they did at my bulrushes in a ginger-jar over there. I'd been
reading about 'household art,' and I thought I'd try a little,"
answered Merry, laughing at her own whims.
"You've got a better sort of household art, I think, for you make
people happy and places pretty, without fussing over it. This room
is ever so much improved every time I come, though I hardly see
what it is except the flowers," said Ralph, looking from the girl to
the tall calla that bent its white cup above her as if to pour its dew
upon her head.
"Isn't that lovely? I tried to draw it--the shape was so graceful I
wanted to keep it. But I couldn't. Isn't it a pity such beautiful things
won't last forever?" and Merry looked regretfully at the half-faded
one that grew beside the fresh blossom.
"I can keep it for you. It would look well in plaster. May I?" asked
"Thank you, I should like that very much. Take the real one as a
model--please do; there are more coming, and this will brighten up
your room for a day or two."
As she spoke, Merry cut the stem, and, adding two or three of the
great green leaves, put the handsome flower in his hand with so
much good-will that he felt as if he had received a very precious
gift. Then he said good-night so gratefully that Merry's hand quite
tingled with the grasp of his, and went away, often looking
backward through the darkness to where the light burned brightly
on the hill-top--the beacon kindled by an unconscious Hero for a
young Leander swimming gallantly against wind and tide toward
the goal of his ambition.
Down at Molly's
"Now, my dears, I've something very curious to tell you, so listen
quietly and then I'll give you your dinners," said Molly, addressing
the nine cats who came trooping after her as she went into the
shed-chamber with a bowl of milk and a plate of scraps in her
hands. She had taught them to behave well at meals, so, though
their eyes glared and their tails quivered with impatience, they
obeyed; and when she put the food on a high shelf and retired to
the big basket, the four old cats sat demurely down before her,
while the five kits scrambled after her and tumbled into her lap, as
if hoping to hasten the desired feast by their innocent gambols.
Granny, Tobias, Mortification, and Molasses were the elders.
Granny, a gray old puss, was the mother and grandmother of all the
rest. Tobias was her eldest son, and Mortification his brother, so
named because he had lost his tail, which affliction depressed his
spirits and cast a blight over his young life. Molasses was a yellow
cat, the mamma of four of the kits, the fifth being Granny's latest
darling. Toddlekins, the little aunt, was the image of her mother,
and very sedate even at that early age; Miss Muffet, so called from
her dread of spiders, was a timid black and white kit; Beauty, a
pretty Maltese, with a serene little face and pink nose; Ragbag, a
funny thing, every color that a cat could be; and Scamp, who well
deserved his name, for he was the plague of Miss Bat's life, and
Molly's especial pet.
He was now perched on her shoulder, and, as she talked, kept
peeping into her face or biting her ear in the most impertinent way,
while the others sprawled in her lap or promenaded round the
"My friends, something very remarkable has happened: Miss Bat is
cleaning house!" and, having made this announcement, Molly
leaned back to see how the cats received it, for she insisted that
they understood all she said to them.
Tobias stared, Mortification lay down as if it was too much for
him, Molasses beat her tail on the floor as if whipping a dusty
carpet, and Granny began to purr approvingly. The giddy kits paid
no attention, as they did not know what house-cleaning meant,
happy little dears!
"I thought you'd like it, Granny, for you are a decent cat, and know
what is proper," continued Molly, leaning down to stroke the old
puss, who blinked affectionately at her. "I can't imagine what put it
into Miss Bat's head. I never said a word, and gave up groaning
over the clutter, as I couldn't mend it. I just took care of Boo and
myself, and left her to be as untidy as she pleased, and she is a
Here Scamp put his paw on her lips because he saw them moving,
but it seemed as if it was to check the disrespectful word just
"Well, I won't call names; but what shall I do when I see
everything in confusion, and she won't let me clear up?" asked
Molly, looking round at Scamp, who promptly put the little paw on
her eyelid, as if the roll of the blue ball underneath amused him.
"Shut my eyes to it, you mean? I do all I can, but it is hard, when I
wish to be nice, and do try; don't I?" asked Molly. But Scamp was
ready for her, and began to comb her hair with both paws as he
stood on his hind legs to work so busily that Molly laughed and
pulled him down, saying, as she cuddled the sly kit.
"You sharp little thing! I know my hair is not neat now, for I've
been chasing Boo round the garden to wash him for school. Then
Miss Bat threw the parlor carpet out of the window, and I was so
surprised I had to run and tell you. Now, what had we better do
The cats all winked at her, but no one had any advice to offer,
except Tobias, who walked to the shelf, and, looking up, uttered a
deep, suggestive yowl, which said as plainly as words, "Dinner
first and discussion afterward."
"Very well, don't scramble," said Molly, getting up to feed her
pets. First the kits, who rushed at the bowl and thrust their heads
in, lapping as if for a wager; then the cats, who each went to one of
the four piles of scraps laid round at intervals and placidly ate their
meat; while Molly retired to the basket, to ponder over the
phenomena taking place in the house.
She could not imagine what had started the old lady. It was not the
example of her neighbors, who had beaten carpets and scrubbed
paint every spring for years without exciting her to any greater
exertion than cleaning a few windows and having a man to clear
away the rubbish displayed when the snow melted. Molly never
guessed that her own efforts were at the bottom of the change, or
knew that a few words not meant for her ear had shamed Miss Bat
into action. Coming home from prayer-meeting one dark night, she
trotted along behind two old ladies who were gossiping in loud
voices, as one was rather deaf, and Miss Bat was both pleased and
troubled to hear herself unduly praised.
"I always said Sister Dawes meant well; but she's getting into
years, and the care of two children is a good deal for her, with her
cooking and her rheumatiz. I don't deny she did neglect 'em for a
spell, but she does well by 'em now, and I wouldn't wish to see
"You've no idee how improved Molly is. She came in to see my
girls, and brought her sewing-work, shirts for the boy, and done it
as neat and capable as you'd wish to see. She always was a smart
child, but dreadful careless," said the other old lady, evidently
much impressed by the change in harum-scarum Molly Loo.
"Being over to Mis Minot's so much has been good for her, and up
to Mis Grant's. Girls catch neat ways as quick as they do untidy
ones, and them wild little tykes often turn out smart women."
"Sister Dawes _has_ done well by them children, and I hope Mr.
Bemis sees it. He ought to give her something comfortable to live
on when she can't do for him any longer. He can well afford it."
"I haven't a doubt he will. He's a lavish man when he starts to do a
thing, but dreadful unobserving, else he'd have seen to matters long
ago. Them children was town-talk last fall, and I used to feel as if
it was my bounden duty to speak to Miss Dawes. But I never did,
fearing I might speak too plain, and hurt her feelings."
"You've spoken plain enough now, and I'm beholden to you,
though you'll never know it," said Miss Bat to herself, as she
slipped into her own gate, while the gossips trudged on quite
unconscious of the listener behind them.
Miss Bat was a worthy old soul in the main, only, like so many of
us, she needed rousing up to her duty. She had got the rousing
now, and it did her good, for she could not bear to be praised when
she had not deserved it. She had watched Molly's efforts with lazy
interest, and when the girl gave up meddling with her affairs, as
she called the housekeeping, Miss Bat ceased to oppose her, and
let her scrub Boo, mend clothes, and brush her hair as much as she
liked. So Molly had worked along without any help from her,
running in to Mrs. Pecq for advice, to Merry for comfort, or Mrs.
Minot for the higher kind of help one often needs so much. Now
Miss Bat found that she was getting the credit and the praise
belonging to other people, and it stirred her up to try and deserve a
part at least.
"Molly don't want any help about her work or the boy: it's too late
for that; but if this house don't get a spring cleaning that will make
it shine, my name ain't Bathsheba Dawes," said the old lady, as she
put away her bonnet that night, and laid energetic plans for a grand
revolution, inspired thereto not only by shame, but by the hint that
"Mr. Bemis was a lavish man," as no one knew better than she.
Molly's amazement next day at seeing carpets fly out of window,
ancient cobwebs come down, and long-undisturbed closets routed
out to the great dismay of moths and mice, has been already
confided to the cats, and as she sat there watching them lap and
gnaw, she said to herself,--
"I don't understand it, but as she never says much to me about my
affairs, I won't take any notice till she gets through, then I'll admire
everything all I can. It is so pleasant to be praised after you've been
She might well say that, for she got very little herself, and her
trials had been many, her efforts not always successful, and her
reward seemed a long way off. Poor Boo could have sympathized
with her, for he had suffered much persecution from his small
schoolmates when he appeared with large gray patches on the little
brown trousers, where he had worn them out coasting down those
too fascinating steps. As he could not see the patches himself, he
fancied them invisible, and came home much afflicted by the jeers
of his friends. Then Molly tried to make him a new pair out of a
sack of her own; but she cut both sides for the same leg, so one
was wrong side out. Fondly hoping no one would observe it, she
sewed bright buttons wherever they could be put, and sent
confiding Boo away in a pair of blue trousers, which were absurdly
hunchy behind and buttony before. He came home heart-broken
and muddy, having been accidentally tipped into a mud-puddle by
two bad boys who felt that such tailoring was an insult to mankind.
That roused Molly's spirit, and she begged her father to take the
boy and have him properly fitted out, as he was old enough now to
be well-dressed, and she wouldn't have him tormented. His
attention being called to the trousers, Mr. Bemis had a good laugh
over them, and then got Boo a suit which caused him to be the
admired of all observers, and to feel as proud as a little peacock.
Cheered by this success, Molly undertook a set of small shirts, and
stitched away bravely, though her own summer clothes were in a
sad state, and for the first time in her life she cared about what she
"I must ask Merry, and may be father will let me go with her and
her mother when they do their shopping, instead of leaving it to
Miss Bat, who dresses me like an old woman. Merry knows what
is pretty and becoming: I don't," thought Molly, meditating in the
bushel basket, with her eyes on her snuff-colored gown and the
dark purple bow at the end of the long braid Muffet had been
Molly was beginning to see that even so small a matter as the
choice of colors made a difference in one's appearance, and to
wonder why Merry always took such pains to have a blue tie for
the gray dress, a rosy one for the brown, and gloves that matched
her bonnet ribbons. Merry never wore a locket outside her sack, a
gay bow in her hair and soiled cuffs, a smart hat and the braid
worn off her skirts. She was exquisitely neat and simple, yet
always looked well-dressed and pretty; for her love of beauty
taught her what all girls should learn as soon as they begin to care
for appearances--that neatness and simplicity are their best
ornaments, that good habits are better than fine clothes, and the
most elegant manners are the kindest.
All these thoughts were dancing through Molly's head, and when
she left her cats, after a general romp in which even decorous
Granny allowed her family to play leap-frog over her respectable
back, she had made up her mind not to have yellow ribbons on her
summer hat if she got a pink muslin as she had planned, but to
finish off Boo's last shirt before she went shopping with Merry.
It rained that evening, and Mr. Bemis had a headache, so he threw
himself down upon the lounge after tea for a nap, with his silk
handkerchief spread over his face. He did get a nap, and when he
waked he lay for a time drowsily listening to the patter of the rain,
and another sound which was even more soothing. Putting back a
corner of the handkerchief to learn what it was, he saw Molly
sitting by the fire with Boo in her lap, rocking and humming as she
warmed his little bare feet, having learned to guard against croup
by attending to the damp shoes and socks before going to bed. Boo
lay with his round face turned up to hers, stroking her cheek while
the sleepy blue eyes blinked lovingly at her as she sang her lullaby
with a motherly patience sweet to see. They made a pretty little
picture, and Mr. Bemis looked at it with pleasure, having a leisure
moment in which to discover, as all parents do sooner or later, that
his children were growing up.
"Molly is getting to be quite a woman, and very like her mother,"
thought papa, wiping the eye that peeped, for he had been fond of
the pretty wife who died when Boo was born. "Sad loss to them,
poor things! But Miss Bat seems to have done well by them. Molly
is much improved, and the boy looks finely. She's a good soul,
after all;" and Mr. Bemis began to think he had been hasty when
he half made up his mind to get a new housekeeper, feeling that
burnt steak, weak coffee, and ragged wristbands were sure signs
that Miss Bat's days of usefulness were over.
Molly was singing the lullaby her mother used to sing to her, and
her father listened to it silently till Boo was carried away too
sleepy for anything but bed. When she came back she sat down to
her work, fancying her father still asleep. She had a crimson bow
at her throat and one on the newly braided hair, her cuffs were
clean, and a white apron hid the shabbiness of the old dress. She
looked like a thrifty little housewife as she sat with her basket
beside her full of neat white rolls, her spools set forth, and a new
pair of scissors shining on the table. There was a sort of charm in
watching the busy needle flash to and fro, the anxious pucker of
the forehead as she looked to see if the stitches were even, and the
expression of intense relief upon her face as she surveyed the
finished button-hole with girlish satisfaction. Her father was wide
awake and looking at her, thinking, as he did so,--
"Really the old lady has worked well to change my tomboy into
that nice little girl: I wonder how she did it." Then he gave a yawn,
pulled off the handkerchief, and said aloud, "What are you making,
Molly?" for it struck him that sewing was a new amusement.
"Shirts for Boo, sir. Four, and this is the last," she answered, with
pardonable pride, as she held it up and nodded toward the pile in
"Isn't that a new notion? I thought Miss Bat did the sewing," said
Mr. Bemis, as he smiled at the funny little garment, it looked so
like Boo himself.
"No, sir; only yours. I do mine and Boo's. At least, I'm learning
how, and Mrs. Pecq says I get on nicely," answered Molly,
threading her needle and making a knot in her most capable way.
"I suppose it is time you did learn, for you are getting to be a great
girl, and all women should know how to make and mend. You
must take a stitch for me now and then: Miss Bat's eyes are not
what they were, I find;" and Mr. Bemis looked at his frayed
wristband, as if he particularly felt the need of a stitch just then.
"I'd love to, and I guess I could. I can mend gloves; Merry taught
me, so I'd better begin on them, if you have any," said Molly, much
pleased at being able to do anything for her father, and still more
so at being asked.
"There's something to start with;" and he threw her a pair, with
nearly every finger ripped.
Molly shook her head over them, but got out her gray silk and fell
to work, glad to show how well she could sew.
"What are you smiling about?" asked her father, after a little pause,
for his head felt better, and it amused him to question Molly.
"I was thinking about my summer clothes. I must get them before
long, and I'd like to go with Mrs. Grant and learn how to shop, if
you are willing."
"I thought Miss Bat did that for you."
"She always has, but she gets ugly, cheap things that I don't like. I
think I am old enough to choose myself, if there is someone to tell
me about prices and the goodness of the stuff. Merry does; and she
is only a few months older than I am."
"How old are you, child?" asked her father, feeling as if he had lost
"Fifteen in August;" and Molly looked very proud of the fact.
"So you are! Bless my heart, how the time goes! Well, get what
you please; if I'm to have a young lady here, I'd like to have her
prettily dressed. It won't offend Miss Bat, will it?"
Molly's eyes sparkled, but she gave a little shrug as she answered,
"She won't care. She never troubles herself about me if I let her
"Hey? what? Not trouble herself? If _she_ doesn't, who does?" and
Mr. Bemis sat up as if this discovery was more surprising than the
"I take care of myself and Boo, and she looks after you. The house
goes any way."
"I should think so! I nearly broke my neck over the parlor sofa in
the hall to-night. What is it there for?"
Molly laughed. "That's the joke, sir, Miss Bat is cleaning house,
and I'm sure it needs cleaning, for it is years since it was properly
done. I thought you might have told her to."
"I've said nothing. Don't like house-cleaning well enough to
suggest it. I did think the hall was rather dirty when I dropped my
coat and took it up covered with lint. Is she going to upset the
whole place?" asked Mr. Bemis, looking alarmed at the prospect.
"I hope so, for I really am ashamed when people come, to have
them see the dust and cobwebs, and old carpets and dirty
windows," said Molly, with a sigh, though she never had cared a
bit till lately.
"Why don't you dust round a little, then? No time to spare from the
books and play?"
"I tried, father, but Miss Bat didn't like it, and it was too hard for
me alone. If things were once in nice order, I think I could keep
them so; for I do want to be neat, and I'm learning as fast as I can."
"It is high time someone took hold, if matters are left as you say.
I've just been thinking what a clever woman Miss Bat was, to make
such a tidy little girl out of what I used to hear called the greatest
tomboy in town, and wondering what I could give the old lady.
Now I find _you_ are the one to be thanked, and it is a very pleasant
surprise to me."
"Give her the present, please; I'm satisfied, if you like what I've
done. It isn't much, and I didn't know as you would ever observe
any difference. But I did try, and now I guess I'm really getting
on," said Molly, sewing away with a bright color in her cheeks, for
she, too, found it a pleasant surprise to be praised after many
failures and few successes.
"You certainly are, my dear. I'll wait till the house-cleaning is over,
and then, if we are all alive, I'll see about Miss Bat's reward.
Meantime, you go with Mrs. Grant and get whatever you and the
boy need, and send the bills to me;" and Mr. Bemis lighted a cigar,
as if that matter was settled.
"Oh, thank you, sir! That will be splendid. Merry always has pretty
things, and I know you will like me when I get fixed," said Molly,
smoothing down her apron, with a little air.
"Seems to me you look very well as you are. Isn't that a pretty
enough frock?" asked Mr. Bemis, quite unconscious that his own
unusual interest in his daughter's affairs made her look so bright
"This? Why, father, I've worn it all winter, and it's _frightfully_
ugly, and almost in rags. I asked you for a new one a month ago, and
you said you'd 'see about it'; but you didn't, so I patched this up
as well as I could;" and Molly showed her elbows, feeling that such
masculine blindness as this deserved a mild reproof.
"Too bad! Well, go and get half a dozen pretty muslin and
gingham things, and be as gay as a butterfly, to make up for it,"
laughed her father, really touched by the patches and Molly's
resignation to the unreliable "I'll see about it," which he recognized
as a household word.
Molly clapped her hands, old gloves and all, exclaiming, with
girlish delight, "How nice it will seem to have a plenty of new,
neat dresses all at once, and be like other girls! Miss Bat always
talks about economy, and has no more taste than a--caterpillar."
Molly meant to say "cat," but remembering her pets, spared them
"I think I can afford to dress my girl as well as Grant does his. Get
a new hat and coat, child, and any little notions you fancy. Miss
Bat's economy isn't the sort I like;" and Mr. Bemis looked at his
wristbands again, as if he could sympathize with Molly's elbows.
"At this rate, I shall have more clothes than I know what to do
with, after being a rag-bag," thought the girl, in great glee, as she
bravely stitched away at the worst glove, while her father smoked
silently for a while, feeling that several little matters had escaped
his eye which he really ought to "see about."
Presently he went to his desk, but not to bury himself in business
papers, as usual, for, after rummaging in several drawers, he took
out a small bunch of keys, and sat looking at them with an
expression only seen on his face when he looked up at the portrait
of a dark-eyed woman hanging in his room. He was a very busy
man, but he had a tender place in his heart for his children; and
when a look, a few words, a moment's reflection, called his
attention to the fact that his little girl was growing up, he found
both pride and pleasure in the thought that this young daughter was
trying to fill her mother's place, and be a comfort to him, if he
would let her.
"Molly, my dear, here is something for you," he said; and when she
stood beside him, added, as he put the keys into her hand, keeping
both in his own for a minute,--
"Those are the keys to your mother's things. I always meant you to
have them, when you were old enough to use or care for them. I
think you'll fancy this better than any other present, for you are a
good child, and very like her."
Something seemed to get into his throat there, and Molly put her
arm round his neck, saying, with a little choke in her own voice,
"Thank you, father, I'd rather have this than anything else in the
world, and I'll try to be more like her every day, for your sake."
He kissed her, then said, as he began to stir his papers about, "I
must write some letters. Run off to bed, child. Good-night, my
Seeing that he wanted to be alone, Molly slipped away, feeling that
she had received a very precious gift; for she remembered the dear,
dead mother, and had often longed to possess the relics laid away
in the one room where order reigned and Miss Bat had no power to
meddle. As she slowly undressed, she was not thinking of the
pretty new gowns in which she was to be "as gay as a butterfly,"
but of the half-worn garments waiting for her hands to unfold with
a tender touch; and when she fell asleep, with the keys under her
pillow and her arms round Boo, a few happy tears on her cheeks
seemed to show that, in trying to do the duty which lay nearest her,
she had earned a very sweet reward.
So the little missionaries succeeded better in their second attempt
than in their first; for, though still very far from being perfect girls,
each was slowly learning, in her own way, one of the three lessons
all are the better for knowing--that cheerfulness can change
misfortune into love and friends; that in ordering one's self aright
one helps others to do the same; and that the power of finding
beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.
Spring was late that year, but to Jill it seemed the loveliest she had
ever known, for hope was growing green and strong in her own
little heart, and all the world looked beautiful. With the help of the
brace she could sit up for a short time every day, and when the air
was mild enough she was warmly wrapped and allowed to look out
at the open window into the garden, where the gold and purple
crocuses were coming bravely up, and the snowdrops nodded their
delicate heads as if calling to her,--
"Good day, little sister, come out and play with us, for winter is
over and spring is here."
"I wish I could!" thought Jill, as the soft wind kissed a tinge of
color into her pale cheeks. "Never mind, they have been shut up in
a darker place than I for months, and had no fun at all; I won't fret,
but think about July and the seashore while I work."
The job now in hand was May baskets, for it was the custom of the
children to hang them on the doors of their friends the night before
May-day; and the girls had agreed to supply baskets if the boys
would hunt for flowers, much the harder task of the two. Jill had
more leisure as well as taste and skill than the other girls, so she
amused herself with making a goodly store of pretty baskets of all
shapes, sizes, and colors, quite confident that they would be filled,
though not a flower had shown its head except a few hardy
dandelions, and here and there a small cluster of saxifrage.
The violets would not open their blue eyes till the sunshine was
warmer, the columbines refused to dance with the boisterous east
wind, the ferns kept themselves rolled up in their brown flannel
jackets, and little Hepatica, with many another spring beauty, hid
away in the woods, afraid to venture out, in spite of the eager
welcome awaiting them. But the birds had come, punctual as ever,
and the bluejays were screaming in the orchard, robins were
perking up their heads and tails as they went house-hunting, purple
finches in their little red hoods were feasting on the spruce buds,
and the faithful chip birds chirped gayly on the grapevine trellis
where they had lived all winter, warming their little gray breasts
against the southern side of the house when the sun shone, and
hiding under the evergreen boughs when the snow fell.
"That tree is a sort of bird's hotel," said Jill, looking out at the tall
spruce before her window, every spray now tipped with a soft
green. "They all go there to sleep and eat, and it has room for
every one. It is green when other trees die, the wind can't break it,
and the snow only makes it look prettier. It sings to me, and nods
as if it knew I loved it."
"We might call it 'The Holly Tree Inn,' as some of the cheap
eating-houses for poor people are called in the city, as my holly
bush grows at its foot for a sign. You can be the landlady, and feed
your feathery customers every day, till the hard times are over,"
said Mrs. Minot, glad to see the child's enjoyment of the outer
world from which she had been shut so long.
Jill liked the fancy, and gladly strewed crumbs on the window
ledge for the chippies, who came confidingly to eat almost from
her hand. She threw out grain for the handsome jays, the jaunty
robins, and the neighbors' doves, who came with soft flight to trip
about on their pink feet, arching their shining necks as they cooed
and pecked. Carrots and cabbage-leaves also flew out of the
window for the marauding gray rabbit, last of all Jack's half-dozen,
who led him a weary life of it because they would _not_ stay in the
Bunny-house, but undermined the garden with their burrows, ate
the neighbors' plants, and refused to be caught till all but one ran
away, to Jack's great relief. This old fellow camped out for the
winter, and seemed to get on very well among the cats and the
hens, who shared their stores with him, and he might be seen at all
hours of the day and night scampering about the place, or kicking
up his heels by moonlight, for he was a desperate poacher.
Jill took great delight in her pretty pensioners, who soon learned to
love "The Holly Tree Inn," and to feel that the Bird Room held a
caged comrade; for, when it was too cold or wet to open the
windows, the doves came and tapped at the pane, the chippies sat
on the ledge in plump little bunches as if she were their sunshine,
the jays called her in their shrill voices to ring the dinner-bell, and
the robins tilted on the spruce boughs where lunch was always to
The first of May came on Sunday, so all the celebrating must be
done on Saturday, which happily proved fair, though too chilly for
muslin gowns, paper garlands, and picnics on damp grass. Being a
holiday, the boys decided to devote the morning to ball and the
afternoon to the flower hunt, while the girls finished the baskets;
and in the evening our particular seven were to meet at the Minots
to fill them, ready for the closing frolic of hanging on
door-handles, ringing bells, and running away.
"Now I must do my Maying, for there will be no more sunshine,
and I want to pick my flowers before it is dark. Come, Mammy,
you go too," said Jill, as the last sunbeams shone in at the western
window where her hyacinths stood that no fostering ray might be
It was rather pathetic to see the once merry girl who used to be the
life of the wood-parties now carefully lifting herself from the
couch, and, leaning on her mother's strong arm, slowly take the
half-dozen steps that made up her little expedition. But she was
happy, and stood smiling out at old Bun skipping down the walk,
the gold-edged clouds that drew apart so that a sunbeam might
give her a good-night kiss as she gathered her long-cherished
daisies, primroses, and hyacinths to fill the pretty basket in her
"Who is it for, my dearie?" asked her mother, standing behind her
as a prop, while the thin fingers did their work so willingly that
not a flower was left.
"For My Lady, of course. Who else would I give my posies to,
when I love them so well?" answered Jill, who thought no name
too fine for their best friend.
"I fancied it would be for Master Jack," said her mother, wishing
the excursion to be a cheerful one.
"I've another for him, but _she_ must have the prettiest. He is going
to hang it for me, and ring and run away, and she won't know who
it's from till she sees this. She will remember it, for I've been
turning and tending it ever so long, to make it bloom to-day. Isn't it
a beauty?" and Jill held up her finest hyacinth, which seemed to
ring its pale pink bells as if glad to carry its sweet message from a
grateful little heart.
"Indeed it is; and you are right to give your best to her. Come away
now, you must not stand any longer. Come and rest while I fetch a
dish to put the flowers in till you want them;" and Mrs. Pecq
turned her round with her small Maying safely done.
"I didn't think I'd ever be able to do even so much, and here I am
walking and sitting up, and going to drive some day. Isn't it nice
that I'm not to be a poor Lucinda after all?" and Jill drew a long
sigh of relief that six months instead of twenty years would
probably be the end of her captivity.
"Yes, thank Heaven! I don't think I _could_ have borne that;" and
the mother took Jill in her arms as if she were a baby, holding her
close for a minute, and laying her down with a tender kiss that
made the arms cling about her neck as her little girl returned it
heartily, for all sorts of new, sweet feelings seemed to be budding
in both, born of great joy and thankfulness.
Then Mrs. Pecq hurried away to see about tea for the hungry boys,
and Jill watched the pleasant twilight deepen as she lay singing to
herself one of the songs her friend taught her because it fitted her
"A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air,
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there:
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee!
"Naught have I else to do;
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please
Doth listen to my song,
He caught and bound my wandering wing,
But still He bends to hear me sing."
"Now we are ready for you, so bring on your flowers," said Molly
to the boys, as she and Merry added their store of baskets to the
gay show Jill had set forth on the long table ready for the evening's
"They wouldn't let me see one, but I guess they have had good
luck, they look so jolly," answered Jill, looking at Gus, Frank, and
Jack, who stood laughing, each with a large basket in his hands.
"Fair to middling. Just look in and see;" with which cheerful
remark Gus tipped up his basket and displayed a few bits of green
at the bottom.
"I did better. Now, don't all scream at once over these beauties;"
and Frank shook out some evergreen sprigs, half a dozen
saxifrages, and two or three forlorn violets with hardly any stems.
"I don't brag, but here's the best of all the three," chuckled Jack,
producing a bunch of feathery carrot-tops, with a few half-shut
dandelions trying to look brave and gay.
"Oh, boys, is that all?"
"What _shall_ we do?"
"We've only a few house-flowers, and all those baskets to fill,"
cried the girls, in despair; for Merry's contribution had been small,
and Molly had only a handful of artificial flowers "to fill up," she
"It isn't our fault: it is the late spring. We can't make flowers, can
we?" asked Frank, in a tone of calm resignation.
"Couldn't you buy some, then?" said Molly, smoothing her
crumpled morning-glories, with a sigh.
"Who ever heard of a fellow having any money left the last day of
the month?" demanded Gus, severely.
"Or girls either. I spent all mine in ribbon and paper for my
baskets, and now they are of no use. It's a shame!" lamented Jill,
while Merry began to thin out her full baskets to fill the empty
"Hold on!" cried Frank, relenting. "Now, Jack, make their minds
easy before they begin to weep and wail."
"Left the box outside. You tell while I go for it;" and Jack bolted,
as if afraid the young ladies might be too demonstrative when the
tale was told.
"Tell away," said Frank, modestly passing the story along to Gus,
who made short work of it.
"We rampaged all over the country, and got only that small mess
of greens. Knew you'd be disgusted, and sat down to see what we
could do. Then Jack piped up, and said he'd show us a place where
we could get a plenty. 'Come on,' said we, and after leading us a
nice tramp, he brought us out at Morse's greenhouse. So we got
a few on tick, as we had but four cents among us, and there
you are. Pretty clever of the little chap, wasn't it?"
A chorus of delight greeted Jack as he popped his head in, was
promptly seized by his elders and walked up to the table, where the
box was opened, displaying gay posies enough to fill most of the
baskets if distributed with great economy and much green.
"You are the dearest boy that ever was!" began Jill, with her nose
luxuriously buried in the box, though the flowers were more
remarkable for color than perfume.
"No, I'm not; there's a much dearer one coming upstairs now, and
he's got something that will make you howl for joy," said Jack,
ignoring his own prowess as Ed came in with a bigger box, looking
as if he had done nothing but go a Maying all his days.
"Don't believe it!" cried Jill, hugging her own treasure jealously.
"It's only another joke. I won't look," said Molly, still struggling to
make her cambric roses bloom again.
"I know what it is! Oh, how sweet!" added Merry, sniffing, as Ed
set the box before her, saying pleasantly,--
"You shall see first, because you had faith."
Up went the cover, and a whiff of the freshest fragrance regaled
the seven eager noses bent to inhale it, as a general murmur of
pleasure greeted the nest of great, rosy mayflowers that lay before
"The dear things, how lovely they are!" and Merry looked as if
greeting her cousins, so blooming and sweet was her own face.
Molly pushed her dingy garlands away, ashamed of such poor
attempts beside these perfect works of nature, and Jill stretched
out her hand involuntarily, as she said, forgetting her exotics,
"Give me just one to smell of, it is so woodsy and delicious."
"Here you are, plenty for all. Real Pilgrim Fathers, right from
Plymouth. One of our fellows lives there, and I told him to bring
me a good lot; so he did, and you can do what you like with them,"
explained Ed, passing round bunches and shaking the rest in a
mossy pile upon the table.
"Ed always gets ahead of us in doing the right thing at the right
time. Hope you've got some first-class baskets ready for him," said
Gus, refreshing the Washingtonian nose with a pink blossom or
"Not much danger of _his_ being forgotten," answered Molly; and
every one laughed, for Ed was much beloved by all the girls, and
his door-steps always bloomed like a flower-bed on May eve.
"Now we must fly round and fill up. Come, boys, sort out the green
and hand us the flowers as we want them. Then we must direct
them, and, by the time that is done, you can go and leave them,"
said Jill, setting all to work.
"Ed must choose his baskets first. These are ours; but any of those
you can have;" and Molly pointed to a detachment of gay baskets,
set apart from those already partly filled.
Ed chose a blue one, and Merry filled it with the rosiest
may-flowers, knowing that it was to hang on Mabel's door-handle.
The others did the same, and the pretty work went on, with much
fun, till all were filled, and ready for the names or notes.
"Let us have poetry, as we can't get wild flowers. That will be
rather fine," proposed Jill, who liked jingles.
All had had some practice at the game parties, and pencils went
briskly for a few minutes, while silence reigned, as the poets
racked their brains for rhymes, and stared at the blooming array
before them for inspiration.
"Oh, dear! I can't find a word to rhyme to 'geranium,'" sighed
Molly, pulling her braid, as if to pump the well of her fancy dry.
"Cranium," said Frank, who was getting on bravely with "Annette"
"That is elegant!" and Molly scribbled away in great glee, for her
poems were always funny ones.
"How do you spell _anemoly_--the wild flower, I mean?" asked Jill,
who was trying to compose a very appropriate piece for her best
basket, and found it easier to feel love and gratitude than to put
them into verse.
"Anemone; do spell it properly, or you'll get laughed at," answered
Gus, wildly struggling to make his lines express great ardor,
without being "too spoony," as he expressed it.
"No, I shouldn't. This person never laughs at other persons'
mistakes, as some persons do," replied Jill, with dignity.
Jack was desperately chewing his pencil, for he could not get on at
all; but Ed had evidently prepared his poem, for his paper was half
full already, and Merry was smiling as she wrote a friendly line or
two for Ralph's basket, as she feared he would be forgotten, and
knew he loved kindness even more than he did beauty.
"Now let's read them," proposed Molly, who loved to laugh even at
The boys politely declined, and scrambled their notes into the
chosen baskets in great haste; but the girls were less bashful. Jill
was invited to begin, and gave her little piece, with the pink
hyacinth basket before her, to illustrate her poem.
"TO MY LADY
"There are no flowers in the fields,
No green leaves on the tree,
No columbines, no violets,
No sweet anemone.
So I have gathered from my pots
All that I have to fill
The basket that I hang to-night,
With heaps of love from Jill."
"That's perfectly sweet! Mine isn't; but I meant it to be funny," said
Molly, as if there could be any doubt about the following ditty:--
Here is a whiff
Of beautiful spring flowers;
The big red rose
Is for your nose,
As toward the sky it towers.
"Oh, do not frown
Upon this crown
Of green pinks and blue geranium
But think of me
When this you see,
And put it on your cranium."
"O Molly, you will never hear the last of that if Grif gets it," said
Jill, as the applause subsided, for the boys pronounced it "tip-top."
"Don't care, he gets the worst of it any way, for there is a pin in that
rose, and if he goes to smell the mayflowers underneath he will
find a thorn to pay for the tack he put in my rubber boot. I know he
will play me some joke to-night, and I mean to be first if I can,"
answered Molly, settling the artificial wreath round the
orange-colored canoe which held her effusion.
"Now, Merry, read yours: you always have sweet poems;" and Jill
folded her hands to listen with pleasure to something sentimental.
"I can't read the poems in some of mine, because they are for you;
but this little verse you can hear, if you like: I'm going to give that
basket to Ralph. He said he should hang one for his grandmother,
and I thought that was so nice of him, I'd love to surprise him with
one all to himself. He's always so good to us;" and Merry looked so
innocently earnest that no one smiled at her kind thought or the
unconscious paraphrase she had made of a famous stanza in her
own "little verse."
"To one who teaches me
The sweetness and the beauty
Of doing faithfully
And cheerfully my duty."
"He will like that, and know who sent it, for none of us have pretty
pink paper but you, or write such an elegant hand," said Molly,
admiring the delicate white basket shaped like a lily, with the
flowers inside and the note hidden among them, all daintily tied up
with the palest blush-colored ribbon.
"Well, that's no harm. He likes pretty things as much as I do, and I
made my basket like a flower because I gave him one of my callas,
he admired the shape so much;" and Merry smiled as she remembered
how pleased Ralph looked as he went away carrying the lovely thing.
"I think it would be a good plan to hang some baskets on the doors
of other people who don't expect or often have any. I'll do it if you
can spare some of these, we have so many. Give me only one, and
let the others go to old Mrs. Tucker, and the little Irish girl who
has been sick so long, and lame Neddy, and Daddy Munson. It
would please and surprise them so. Will we?" asked Ed, in that
persuasive voice of his.
All agreed at once, and several people were made very happy by a
bit of spring left at their doors by the May elves who haunted the
town that night playing all sorts of pranks. Such a twanging of
bells and rapping of knockers; such a scampering of feet in the
dark; such droll collisions as boys came racing round corners, or
girls ran into one another's arms as they crept up and down steps
on the sly; such laughing, whistling, flying about of flowers and
friendly feeling--it was almost a pity that May-day did not come
Molly got home late, and found that Grif had been before her, after
all; for she stumbled over a market-basket at her door, and on
taking it in found a mammoth nosegay of purple and white
cabbages, her favorite vegetable. Even Miss Bat laughed at the
funny sight, and Molly resolved to get Ralph to carve her a
bouquet out of carrots, beets, and turnips for next time, as Grif
would never think of that.
Merry ran up the garden-walk alone, for Frank left her at the gate,
and was fumbling for the latch when she felt something hanging
there. Opening the door carefully, she found it gay with offerings
from her mates; and among them was one long quiver-shaped
basket of birch bark, with something heavy under the green leaves
that lay at the top. Lifting these, a slender bas-relief of a calla lily
in plaster appeared, with this couplet slipped into the blue cord by
which it was to hang:--
"That mercy you to others show
That Mercy Grant to me."
"How lovely! and this one will never fade, but always be a
pleasure hanging there. Now, I really have something beautiful all
my own," said Merry to herself as she ran up to hang the pretty
thing on the dark wainscot of her room, where the graceful curve
of its pointed leaves and the depth of its white cup would be a joy
to her eyes as long as they lasted.
"I wonder what that means," and Merry read over the lines again,
while a soft color came into her cheeks and a little smile of girlish
pleasure began to dimple round her lips; for she was so romantic,
this touch of sentiment showed her that her friendship was more
valued than she dreamed. But she only said, "How glad I am I
remembered him, and how surprised he will be to see mayflowers
in return for the lily."
He was, and worked away more happily and bravely for the
thought of the little friend whose eyes would daily fall on the
white flower which always reminded him of her.
"Hi there! Bell's rung! Get up, lazy-bones!" called Frank from his
room as the clock struck six one bright morning, and a great
creaking and stamping proclaimed that he was astir.
"All right, I'm coming," responded a drowsy voice, and Jack turned
over as if to obey; but there the effort ended, and he was off again,
for growing lads are hard to rouse, as many a mother knows to her
Frank made a beginning on his own toilet, and then took a look at
his brother, for the stillness was suspicious.
"I thought so! He told me to wake him, and I guess this will do it;"
and, filling his great sponge with water, Frank stalked into the next
room and stood over the unconscious victim like a stern
executioner, glad to unite business with pleasure in this agreeable
A woman would have relented and tried some milder means, for
when his broad shoulders and stout limbs were hidden, Jack
looked very young and innocent in his sleep. Even Frank paused a
moment to look at the round, rosy face, the curly eyelashes,
half-open mouth, and the peaceful expression of a dreaming baby.
"I _must_ do it, or he won't be ready for breakfast," said the Spartan
brother, and down came the sponge, cold, wet, and choky, as it
was briskly rubbed to and fro regardless of every obstacle.
"Come, I say! That's not fair! Leave me alone!" sputtered Jack,
hitting out so vigorously that the sponge flew across the room, and
Frank fell back to laugh at the indignant sufferer.
"I promised to wake you, and you believe in keeping promises, so
I'm doing my best to get you up."
"Well, you needn't pour a quart of water down a fellow's neck, and
rub his nose off, need you? I'm awake, so take your old sponge and
go along," growled Jack, with one eye open and a mighty gape.
"See that you keep so, then, or I'll come and give you another sort
of a rouser," said Frank, retiring well-pleased with his success.
"I shall have one good stretch, if I like. It is strengthening to the
muscles, and I'm as stiff as a board with all that football
yesterday," murmured Jack, lying down for one delicious moment.
He shut the open eye to enjoy it thoroughly, and forgot the stretch
altogether, for the bed was warm, the pillow soft, and a
half-finished dream still hung about his drowsy brain. Who does
not know the fatal charm of that stolen moment--for once yield to
it, and one is lost.
Jack was miles away "in the twinkling of a bedpost," and the
pleasing dream seemed about to return, when a ruthless hand tore
off the clothes, swept him out of bed, and he really did awake to
find himself standing in the middle of his bath-pan with both
windows open, and Frank about to pour a pail of water over him.
"Hold on! Yah, how cold the water is! Why, I thought I _was_ up;"
and, hopping out, Jack rubbed his eyes and looked about with such
a genuine surprise that Frank put down the pail, feeling that the
deluge would not be needed this time.
"You are now, and I'll see that you keep so," he said, as he stripped
the bed and carried off the pillows.
"I don't care. What a jolly day!" and Jack took a little promenade
to finish the rousing process.
"You'd better hurry up, or you won't get your chores done before
breakfast. No time for a 'go as you please' now," said Frank; and
both boys laughed, for it was an old joke of theirs, and rather
Going up to bed one night expecting to find Jack asleep, Frank
discovered him tramping round and round the room airily attired in
a towel, and so dizzy with his brisk revolutions that as his brother
looked he tumbled over and lay panting like a fallen gladiator.
"What on earth are you about?"
"Playing Rowell. Walking for the belt, and I've got it too," laughed
Jack, pointing to an old gilt chandelier chain hanging on the
"You little noodle, you'd better revolve into bed before you lose
your head entirely. I never saw such a fellow for taking himself off
"Well, if I didn't exercise, do you suppose I should be able to do
that--or that?" cried Jack, turning a somersault and striking a fine
attitude as he came up, flattering himself that he was the model of
a youthful athlete.
"You look more like a clothes-pin than a Hercules," was the
crushing reply of this unsympathetic brother, and Jack meekly
retired with a bad headache.
"I don't do such silly things now: I'm as broad across the shoulders
as you are, and twice as strong on my pins, thanks to my
gymnastics. Bet you a cent I'll be dressed first, though you have got
the start," said Jack, knowing that Frank always had a protracted
wrestle with his collar-buttons, which gave his adversary a great
advantage over him.
"Done!" answered Frank, and at it they went. A wild scramble was
heard in Jack's room, and a steady tramp in the other as Frank
worked away at the stiff collar and the unaccommodating button
till every finger ached. A clashing of boots followed, while Jack
whistled "Polly Hopkins," and Frank declaimed in his deepest
"Arma virumque cano, Trojae qui primus ab oris Italiam, fato
profugus, Laviniaque venit litora."
Hair-brushes came next, and here Frank got ahead, for Jack's thick
crop would stand straight up on the crown, and only a good
wetting and a steady brush would make it lie down.
"Play away, No. 2," called out Frank as he put on his vest, while
Jack was still at it with a pair of the stiffest brushes procurable for
"Hold hard, No. 11, and don't forget your teeth," answered Jack,
who had done his.
Frank took a hasty rub and whisked on his coat, while Jack was
picking up the various treasures which had flown out of his
pockets as he caught up his roundabout.
"Ready! I'll trouble you for a cent, sonny;" and Frank held out his
hand as he appeared equipped for the day.
"You haven't hung up your night-gown, nor aired the bed, nor
opened the windows. That's part of the dressing; mother said so.
I've got you there, for you did all that for me, except this," and Jack
threw his gown over a chair with a triumphant flourish as Frank
turned back to leave his room in the order which they had been
taught was one of the signs of a good bringing-up in boys as well
"Ready! I'll trouble _you_ for a cent, old man;" and Jack held out his
hand, with a chuckle.
He got the money and a good clap beside; then they retired to the
shed to black their boots, after which Frank filled the woodboxes
and Jack split kindlings, till the daily allowance was ready. Both
went at their lessons for half an hour, Jack scowling over his
algebra in the sofa corner, while Frank, with his elbows on and his
legs round the little stand which held his books, seemed to be
having a wrestling-match with Herodotus.
When the bell rang they were glad to drop the lessons and fall
upon their breakfast with the appetite of wolves, especially Jack,
who sequestered oatmeal and milk with such rapidity that one
would have thought he had a leathern bag hidden somewhere to
slip it into, like his famous namesake when he breakfasted with the
"I declare I don't see what he does with it! He really ought not to
'gobble' so, mother," said Frank, who was eating with great
deliberation and propriety.
"Never you mind, old quiddle. I'm so hungry I could tuck away a
bushel," answered Jack, emptying a glass of milk and holding out
his plate for more mush, regardless of his white moustache.
"Temperance in all things is wise, in speech as well as eating and
drinking--remember that, boys," said Mamma from behind the urn.
"That reminds me! We promised to do the 'Observer' this week,
and here it is Tuesday and I haven't done a thing: have you?" asked
"Never thought of it. We must look up some bits at noon instead of
playing. Dare say Jill has got some: she always saves all she finds
"I have one or two good items, and can do any copying there may
be. But I think if you undertake the paper you should give some
time and labor to make it good," said Mamma, who was used to
this state of affairs, and often edited the little sheet read every
week at the Lodge. The boys seldom missed going, but the busy
lady was often unable to be there, so helped with the paper as her
share of the labor.
"Yes, we ought, but somehow we don't seem to get up much steam
about it lately. If more people belonged, and we could have a
grand time now and then, it would be jolly;" and Jack sighed
at the lack of interest felt by outsiders in the loyal little Lodge
which went on year after year kept up by the faithful few.
"I remember when in this very town we used to have a Cold Water
Army, and in the summer turn out with processions, banners, and
bands of music to march about, and end with a picnic, songs, and
speeches in some grove or hall. Nearly all the children belonged to
it, and the parents also, and we had fine times here twenty-five or
thirty years ago."
"It didn't do much good, seems to me, for people still drink, and
we haven't a decent hotel in the place," said Frank, as his mother
sat looking out of the window as if she saw again the pleasant sight
of old and young working together against the great enemy of
home peace and safety.
"Oh yes, it did, my dear; for to this day many of those children are
true to their pledge. One little girl was, I am sure, and now has two
big boys to fight for the reform she has upheld all her life. The
town is better than it was in those days, and if we each do our part
faithfully, it will improve yet more. Every boy and girl who joins is
one gained, perhaps, and your example is the best temperance
lecture you can give. Hold fast, and don't mind if it isn't 'jolly':
it is _right_, and that should be enough for us."
Mamma spoke warmly, for she heartily believed in young people's
guarding against this dangerous vice before it became a
temptation, and hoped her boys would never break the pledge they
had taken; for, young as they were, they were old enough to see its
worth, feel its wisdom, and pride themselves on the promise which
was fast growing into a principle. Jack's face brightened as he
listened, and Frank said, with the steady look which made his face
"It shall be. Now I'll tell you what I was going to keep as a surprise
till to-night, for I wanted to have my secret as well as other folks.
Ed and I went up to see Bob, Sunday, and he said he'd join the
Lodge, if they'd have him. I'm going to propose him to-night."
"Good! good!" cried Jack, joyfully, and Mrs. Minot clapped her
hands, for every new member was rejoiced over by the good
people, who were not discouraged by ridicule, indifference, or
"We've got him now, for no one will object, and it is just the thing
for him. He wants to belong somewhere, he says, and he'll enjoy
the fun, and the good things will help him, and we will look after
him. The Captain was so pleased, and you ought to have seen Ed's
face when Bob said, 'I'm ready, if you'll have me.'"
Frank's own face was beaming, and Jack forgot to "gobble," he was
so interested in the new convert, while Mamma said, as she threw
down her napkin and took up the newspaper,--
"We must not forget our 'Observer,' but have a good one tonight in
honor of the occasion. There may be something here. Come home
early at noon, and I'll help you get your paper ready."
"I'll be here, but if you want Frank, you'd better tell him not to
dawdle over Annette's gate half an hour," began Jack, who could
not resist teasing his dignified brother about one of the few foolish
things he was fond of doing.
"Do you want your nose pulled?" demanded Frank, who never
would stand joking on that tender point from his brother.
"No, I don't; and if I did, you couldn't do it;" with which taunt he
was off and Frank after him, having made a futile dive at the
impertinent little nose which was turned up at him and his
"Boys, boys, not through the parlor!" implored Mamma, resigned
to skirmishes, but trembling for her piano legs as the four stout
boots pranced about the table and then went thundering down the
hall, through the kitchen where the fat cook cheered them on, and
Mary, the maid, tried to head off Frank as Jack rushed out into the
garden. But the pursuer ducked under her arm and gave chase with
all speed. Then there was a glorious race all over the place; for
both were good runners, and, being as full of spring vigor as frisky
calves, they did astonishing things in the way of leaping fences,
dodging round corners, and making good time down the wide
But Jack's leg was not quite strong yet, and he felt that his round
nose was in danger of a vengeful tweak as his breath began to give
out and Frank's long arms drew nearer and nearer to the threatened
feature. Just when he was about to give up and meet his fate like a
man, old Bunny, who had been much excited by the race, came
scampering across the path with such a droll skip into the air and
shake of the hind legs that Frank had to dodge to avoid stepping on
him, and to laugh in spite of himself. This momentary check gave
Jack a chance to bolt up the back stairs and take refuge in the Bird
Room, from the window of which Jill had been watching the race
with great interest.
No romping was allowed there, so a truce was made by locking
little fingers, and both sat down to get their breath.
"I am to go on the piazza, for an hour, by and by, Doctor said.
Would you mind carrying me down before you go to school, you
do it so nicely, I'm not a bit afraid," said Jill, as eager for the little
change as if it had been a long and varied journey.
"Yes, indeed! Come on, Princess," answered Jack, glad to see her
so well and happy.
The boys made an arm-chair, and away she went, for a pleasant
day downstairs. She thanked Frank with a posy for his buttonhole,
well knowing that it would soon pass into other hands, and he
departed to join Annette. Having told Jill about Bob, and set her to
work on the "Observer," Jack kissed his mother, and went
whistling down the street, a gay little bachelor, with a nod and
smile for all he met, and no turned-up hat or jaunty turban bobbing
along beside him to delay his steps or trouble his peace of mind.
At noon they worked on their paper, which was a collection of
items, cut from other papers, concerning temperance, a few
anecdotes, a bit of poetry, a story, and, if possible, an original
article by the editor. Many hands make light work, and nothing
remained but a little copying, which Jill promised to do before
night. So the boys had time for a game of football after school in
the afternoon, which they much enjoyed. As they sat resting on the