" LET'S MAKE FRIENDS ! "
THE beams of the afternoon sun
streamed gayly through the windows of
Miss Harrow's school-room, and fell, like
a crown of light, on the head of the
young teacher, as she sat at her desk
making copies for her pupils. It was
writing afternoon, and on this particular
occasion, that which was considered a
high reward was to be given to the
most diligent child.
Whoever showed the greatest interest,
neatness and industry, was to be allowed to
remain for a few hours after the closing
of the school, in order to make a wreath
of evergreen to decorate a certain picture in Miss Elinor's apartment. The
Christmas holidays were near, and the
little school-room had already received,
at the willing hands of the children, a
thorough dressing with laurel, pine, and
hemlock-boughs. It had been for a
week past the great delight of the pupils to weave, after school-hours, festoons
for the whitewashed walls, and garlands
for Miss Milly's desk.
Many were the regrets that the work
was now almost over.
Miss Elinor's gentle ways had, from
the first, made her a great favorite.
There were never any rebellions, any
doubtful conduct, in the few classes she
undertook to hear recite in her sick-
room. Her very infirmity endeared her
to the hearts of her scholars.
This wreath for an engraving that
hung at the foot of her bed, was the
only Christmas-green Elinor desired to
have placed in her apartment, and on
that account, as well as from devotion
to her personally, many pairs of little
hands were eager to achieve the honor
of the task. Very patient, therefore,
were their youthful owners with their
writing, this afternoon, — very exact
were they to cross the t's, dot the i's,
and avoid pens, as Melinda expressed it,
" that scratched like sixty."
Miss Milly had done very wisely in
holding out this reward, for never before had such attention and' such care
been visible in the class. Nelly sat at
her high desk, as busy and as excited
to win as any child there. Her copy-
book lay before her, and though she had
not as yet reached beyond " pot-hooks
and trammels," she was quite as likely
to come off victor as those who wrote
with ease and accuracy, because it was
not a question of penmanship, but of
neatness and industry, as I have already
said; for the first quality, the books
themselves were to speak; and Miss
Milly's watchful eyes were the judges
of the latter, as, from time to time, she
raised them from her own writing and
scanned the little group.
Scratch, scratch, scratch went the pens,
and papers rustled, and fingers flew about
their work till the hour being up, Miss
Milly rang her bell as a signal for perfect silence.
"It is time to put away your pens,
children," she said, in a clear voice; and
at once they were laid aside.
Nelly was just placing her blotting
paper between the leaves of her writing-
book, when a sorrowful exclamation near
her made her turn her head. This exclamation came from Melinda, who sat a
few benches off. Her eyes were fixed
with a look of most profound distress
on a large blot which a drop of ink
from her pen had just left in the centre
of the day's copy. Her sleeve had accidentally swept over it too,—and there
it was, a great, black disfigurement!
And on this afternoon of all others!
Melinda wrote a very pretty hand. She
was an ambitious girl, and had done her
very best, that she might win the prize.
Nelly saw the tears rise in her eyes,
and her cheeks flush with the bitterness
of her disappointment.
"Oh, dear!" cried Lucy Rook, a little
girl, who sat next; "Oh, dear! there"s a
" Yes," was the answer; " I wonder if
I could scratch it out, so that the page
will look neatly again. Lucy, lend me
your knife, will you? "
Mistress Lucy looked straight at Melinda, and laughed a little cruel, mocking laugh. In the rattle of papers and
temporary confusion of the room, she
thought herself unheard by the teacher.
" Who wouldn't play tag, yesterday,
eh ? " asked Lucy. " Who spoiled the
game; did you hear anybody say ? "
"Why, I did, I s'pose," spoke Melinda
roughly; " and what of it?"
"I guess I want my knife, myself,
that's all," was Lucy's reply. "I don't
think I could conclude to lend it to-day," and she laughed again.
Nelly involuntarily put her hand in
her pocket where lay a little penknife
Nancy had given her, as a keepsake,
a few weeks before. The thought flashed
through her mind, "Shall I, or shall I
not ? " and the next moment she reached
over, and the little knife was glittering
on Melinda's blotted copy. She did not
speak, she only blushed, and smiled,
and nodded pleasantly, to show her
good-will. Melinda looked at her with
a frowning brow. Then a better impulse
seemed to prevail; she glanced gratefully back at Nelly, and taking up the
penknife began to give some doleful
scratches over the blot.
Presently, however, Miss Milly's command was heard from the desk:
" All arms to be folded ! " Melinda,
with a sigh, folded hers, and sat like a
picture of despair. The books were then
collected, and examined carefully, while
the scholars began to prepare to go
home. Nelly was quite ready, when
she was startled by hearing Miss Milly
pronounce her name to the school as
the winner of the prize.
"I find," said Miss Harrow, "that almost every child has taken unusual
pains to-day, in writing; and I am
pleased to see it, I can assure you.
Where all have been so careful, it is
very difficult to find one who stands
highest; Nelly Box, however, I think
deserves the reward. Never, before, has
she evinced such diligence and patience;
hoping that she will always do as well
in future, I give her permission to
go up to Miss Elinor's room to begin
the wreath, at once. Elinor will give
you instructions, Nelly, and perhaps tell
you some little story while you are busy
with your task."
At first Nelly's face shone with delighted triumph, at the news of her success.
But in a little while she began to realize that many of the pupils were sorely
disappointed at this award not falling on
themselves, and the thought dampened
her ardor. She had reached the door to
leave the room, when Miss Milly added:
"Melinda, I am glad to see that you,
too, have been attentive and anxious to
do well. If it were not for this huge
blot, I should have given the palm to
"I couldn't help it," said Melinda, eagerly. "I was just folding it up, when
it happened. I am as sorry as can
" Are you ? '" said Miss Milly, kindly.
" Yes," broke in Nelly, with honest
warmth; " and it was an—an accident, as
I think they call it, Miss Milly. The
girls who saw it, say so. The ink just
dropped right down, ker-splash."
Melinda held down her head and
" Well, then," said the good teacher,
smiling at the "ker-splash," "if it was
an accident, I think we will have two
wreath-makers, instead of one. Melinda
may go up-stairs with Nelly, if she
wishes, and both are to be very quiet
and orderly, for Miss Elinor is not quite
as well as usual, to-day."
Melinda glanced towards Nelly, and was
silent. She did not like to go, under
such circumstances as these. She wished
the honor of making the wreath, it is true,
but she did not desire that distinction to
be bestowed upon her as a favor. She felt
galled too, that this very favor was accorded to her through Nelly Box's means,
—little Nelly, whom, every day, she had
been in the habit of cuffing about as
though she were an animal of totally inferior condition. She happened to raise her
eyes, however, and they fell on the glad,
beaming face of this same Nelly Box,
who stood- waiting for her. It was so
evident that Nelly's good-will towards her
was sincere, it was so plain that this little
schoolmate of hers desired to be friends
with her, and to forget and forgive all
the unpleasantness of the past, that Melinda could not resist the good-impulse
which impelled her onward. A feeling
of shame and awkwardness was all that
hindered her from accompanying Nelly
up-stairs at once. She stood looking
very foolish, her glance on the floor,
and her fingers twitching at the upturned corner of her apron.
"Come, Melinda," said Miss Milly, in
a gentle, but brisk tone; " don't keep
The young girl could resist no longer.
She smiled, in spite of herself, a great,
ear-to-ear, bashful, happy, half-ashamed
smile, and followed Nelly slowly up-stairs
to Miss Elinor's room, where they found
her bolstered up in bed, as usual, and
quite ready to give them instructions
how to form her wreath. A sheet was
already spread in the middle of the floor,
and on this was a pile of evergreens.
" What, two! " said Miss Elinor, smiling, as they entered. "I am glad to
see you both, although I expected but
one. How is your mother, Melinda?"
"Better, ma'am," said Melinda; "she is
coming to see you next week, if she is
well enough. What shall we do first,
The sick girl told the children how to
begin, and, half sitting up in bed as she
was, showed them how to tie together
the fragments of evergreen with strings,
so as to form the wreath. At first, the
girls thought it hard work enough. The
little sprays of hemlock would stand up,
as Nelly termed it, "seven ways for
Sunday," and all they could do did not
bring them into shape.
Miss Elinor could not help them much
more than to give directions. She lay
looking at them from her bed, half
amused, and entirely interested in the
"Dear, dear!" said Melinda, after she
had endeavored several times, quite patiently for her, to force a sprig to keep
its place; "dear me, I don't think we
can ever make this 'ere wreath look like
anything but father's stump fences. Just
see how that hemlock sticks out!"
"Well," said Miss Elinor, "I like to
see stump fences, very muh indeed,
Melinda. I think they are beautiful.
The great roots look like the hands of
giants, with the fingers stretched out to
grasp something. So you see, I don't
mind if you make my wreath look like
"Father says stump fences are the
very best kind," remarked Melinda,
"I guess not the very best, Melindy,"
"Nell ventured to say.
"Yes, they are," persisted Melinda,
with. a toss of her head; "father says
they last forever, — and he knows, for he
has tried 'em! "
The young teacher smiled, and turned
away her head.
" Did you ever see a church dressed
with evergreens, Miss Elinor ? " asked
one of the children.
"Often," said the sick girl; "not here,
in the village, but in the city. I have
not been able to attend church much
since we have been here. They entwine garlands around the high pillars,
and put wreaths of laurel over the
arched windows. The reading-desk and
pulpit have their share too, and above
the altar is placed a beautiful-cross.
Sometimes the font is filled with delicate
white flowers, that are renewed each
Sabbath as long as the evergreens are
permitted to remain.
"I wish I could see a church looking
like that," remarked Nelly, stopping in
her work, and looking meditatively about
"Miss Elinor," said Melinda, "what
do they mean when they say ' as poor
as a church-mouse ? ' Why are church-
mice poorer than house-mice ? "
" Because," was the reply, " in churches
there are no nice pantries, filled with
bread and meat, for the little plagues to
feed upon. No stray crumbs lie on the
floor,—no pans of milk are to be found
at which to sip. So, you see, church-
mice have a right to be considered
"Well," said Melinda,"how funny I
never thought of that before."
" Once," continued her teacher, " I saw
an odd scene with a church-mouse. I'll
tell you about it. I was visiting in the
country, a great many miles from here;
such a kind of country as you can have
hut a faint idea of, unless you should
see it yourself. It was out West. The
houses there are not like those you have
always been accustomed to see, but are
built of the trunks of trees. They are
called log cabins. The gaps, or holes,
between these logs are filled with mud
and moss, which keep out the rain in
summer, and the wind and snow in win-
"What do they do for windows ? "
"Some of them have none, others
make an opening in the logs; a small
shutter, hinged with stout leather, is its
only protection in time of storms. Glass
is too expensive to be used, for the peo-
ple are very poor. Well, I was visiting
once a family who lived in one of
these log huts. It was somewhat better
than its neighbors, certainly, and much
larger, but it was not half as comforta-
ble as the little house we are in. It
was in October, and I remember as I
lay awake in bed, at night, I felt the
autumn wind whistle over me. It
makes my nose cold to think of it,"
laughed Elinor. " When Sunday came,
I was surprised to find that, although
the church was five miles distant, no
one thought of staying at home.
' What! ' said my uncle, ' do you
think, Elinor, we are short-walk Christians? No indeed,—five miles through
the woods is nothing to us when a
good, sound, sermon, and a couple of
beautiful hymns are at the end of
" It was your uncle, then, you were
visiting?" questioned Melinda.
"Yes; he had moved out West some
years before, bought a farm, and built
himself a log cabin. He lives there
now, and is fast making a fortune."
"Is he?" said Nell. "Did you go to
the church, Miss Elinor, in the woods?"
"Yes; no one stayed at home. We
had the dinner-table set before we
started, which was early, on account of
the distance. I think it was about half
past eight o'clock in the morning (for
we did not want to hurry), when uncle
shut the cabin door, and saw "that everything was right."
" Didn't you lock it?" asked Melinda.
"No. Not a man, woman, or child.
thinks of locking doors, out in that wild
country. Thieves don't seem to be
found there, and everybody trusts his
neighbor. If a tramper comes along, he
is welcome to go in and help himself
to whatever he wants. It is not an unusual thing on reaching home, after
an absence of an hour or so, to find a
poor, tired traveller, asleep in his chair,
before the fire. Besides," said Miss
Elinor, with a twinkle in her eyes,
" there is another excellent reason why
the farmers out there never think of
locking their doors."
"Oh, I know!" cried Melinda; "I
"Well, why is it?"
"They have no locks!" And the two
children began to laugh as if they had
never heard anything so funny in all
"I like that," said Nell, "I want to
live in just such an honest country, and
where they are good to poor travellers,
too. That's the splendid part. I feel as
if I wanted to settle there, this very
minute. Well, Miss Elinor, don't forget
about going to church."
" We got off the track so, I had nearly forgotten what my story is about,"
said Miss Elinor. "We started very early to go to church. Uncle had no wagon, so driving was out of the question,
but he had a beautiful mare called 'Lady
Lightfoot,' and an. old side-saddle, which
my aunt had owned ever since she was
a girl. It was settled that my aunt and
I were to take turns riding on Lady
Lightfoot, so that neither should get too
fatigued. Uncle and cousin Robert were
to walk, and Lightfoot's pretty little
long-legged colt ambled in the rear.
My aunt took the first ride, and I was
talking quietly to uncle and Robert,
when I saw, bounding along a rail fence
at the side of the road, the old fat cat,
Wildfire. Her name just suited her, for
she was one of the most restless, proud,
affectionate, daring cats I had ever seen.
"'Why!' I exclaimed; 'see Wildfire on
the fence! she will get lost,—we must
send her home.'
"'Lost, eh?' said Cousin Robert; 'I
reckon not. If any one can lose Wildfire, I'll give him a treat in the strawberry patch next summer, and no mistake.'
"'But what shall we do?' I asked,
'we don't want her to go to church
with us. Make her go home, Robert,
"'Not a bit of it,' said Robert, laughing ; ' did you never see a cat go to
meeting before ? Wildfire has attended
regularly, every summer, for the last
three years. She always follows us. The
minister would not know how to preach
"' But,' said I, ' how it must look! a
cat in church! A dog would not be
so bad. But a cat! Go home, Wildfire I'
and I took off my red shawl and shook
it at her, and stamped my foot.
"Robert laughed again, and told me it
was no use; that they had often tried
to send her back, and sometimes had
fastened her up, but that she almost always broke loose, and would come
bounding after them, kicking her heels
in the air, as though to show her utter
defiance of any will but her own. When
I shook my shawl at her, she just rose
quietly up on her hind legs, and while
her green eyes darted flames of anger,
she ruffled her fur as cats do when attacked by dogs, indicating as plainly as
possible that go she would; and go, indeed, she did. Robert saw I was mortified at the thought of walking to meeting incompany with a cat, and he told
me I needn't be ashamed, because the
churches out there were vastly different
from those I had been; in the habit of
attending. 'Women,' said he, 'who
can't afford them, come without hats,
and men, on hot days, walk up to their
seats in their shirt-sleeves, with their
house-dogs tagging after them. I counted ten dogs in meeting once. The animals seem to understand the necessity
for good behavior, for they are as quiet
as their masters; perhaps more so, sometimes. They lie down under the seats
of their friends, and go to sleep, only
opening their eyes and mouths now
and then to snap at some flies, buzzing
around their noses. Wildfire does the
same. Our bench is near the door, and
we could easily put her out if she did
not behave as becomes a good, well-
reared cat. If people didn't know that
she followed us each Sunday, they
would never, find it out from her behavior in meeting-time.'
"Seeing there was no help for it, and
understanding there was no fear of mortification, I dismissed the thought of
Wildfire from my mind. Shortly afterwards, my aunt dismounted to give me
my turn. Cousin Robert helped me on,
handed me the lines, and gently touching Lady Lightfoot with my twig-whip,
I began to trot a little away from the
party. The road was magnificent. None,
my dear children, in our village can
compare with it. The earth was smooth
and hard, and but very little broken by
wheels. Something in the character of the
soil kept it generally in this condition.
We had just entered the woods. Overhead
the stately branches of old trees met and
laced themselves together. It was like
one long arbor. Scarcely any sunshine
came through on the road, and when it
did, the little wavy streaks looked like
threads of gold. The morning was mild
and cool, almost too cool for the few
autumn birds that twittered their cheerful songs far and near. I was enjoying
myself very much, when, suddenly, I
heard a snorting noise just beside me.
I could not imagine what it was. I
looked down, and there — what do you
think I saw?"
" Wildfire ! " cried the two children.
"Yes, it was Wildfire, on the full trot,
snorting at me her delight in the race.
I slackened my pace, and the cat and I
walked peaceably all the rest of the
way to the meeting-house.
"When we arrived there, I was as
much surprised as amused at the scene
which presented itself. The church was
a, nice, neatly-painted building, in the
midst of a small clearing."
" Clearing ? " said Nell.
"A clearing is a piece of ground from
which the trees have been removed.
One or two young oaks, however, were
left in this instance, to serve as hitching
posts, if any should be required, which
was very seldom the case.
"Many of the farmers of the vicinity
had arrived when we got there. They
had unharnessed their animals and left
them to graze around the meeting-house,
a young colt accompanying almost every
turn-out. At the first glance I thought
the spot was full of colts, such a frisk-
ing and whisking was going on around
the entrance. One impertinent little
thing even went so far as to poke its
head in the door-way and take a survey
of the congregation.
"Some of the families who attended
there, came from ten to fifteen miles,—
for the country was by no means thickly
settled. A large dinner-basket, nicely
packed under the "wagon-seat, showed
which these families were.
All the people were more or less
roughly dressed; none were attired in a
way that looked like absolute poverty.
"Cousin Robert aided me to dismount,
left Lady Lightfoot and her colt free to
graze with the other animals, - and with
aunt and uncle we went in the church.
The walls were plaster, with no lime
or wood-work to improve their appearance. Behind a pine desk at one end
of the.room sat the minister. A bunch
of white pond-lilies, which some one had
just given him, rested beside the Bible
lying before him."
" And Wildfire,—where was Wildfire?"
asked Nelly, with great eagerness.
"She followed us in, very demurely,
and the moment that her favorite, Rob-
ert, sat down, she curled herself in a
round, soft ball at his feet, and went to
sleep. I was soon so interested in the
sermon that I forgot all about her. The
minister's text seemed to have been suggested by his flowers. It was ' Consider
the lilies of the field, how they grow,
they toil not, neither do they spin; and
yet, I say unto you, that even Solomon
in all his glory was not arrayed like one
of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe
the grass of the field, which to-day is,
and to-morrow is cast into the oven,
shall he not much more clothe you, 0
ye of little faith ?' The sermon was
not well delivered, because of the lack
of knowledge in the preacher, but it was
pure and sound, and full of a true, tender,
and loving regard for the welfare of that
people in the wilderness. The heartiness
with which all present joined in the
closing hymn, proved that the effect of
the discourse was a good one on the
congregation. Just as the last note died
away, my attention was suddenly attracted to a little moving object near
the door. I looked twice before I could
realize that it was a mouse. It peered
about with its pretty, bright eyes, as if
it were too frightened and bewildered to
know what to do next. It was a little
thing, and must have strayed unknowingly away from its companions.
" From a slow, stealthy sound, that
came all at once from Cousin Robert's
feet, I knew that Wildfire had seen it.
too, and was preparing an attack. The
minister was pronouncing the final benediction, however, and I did not dare to
look around, for fear of attracting attention. Scarcely was the closing word
uttered, when there was a sudden spring
from the cat, and a shrill squeak on
mousey's part. Proudly lashing her tail,
like a panther, Wildfire laid her victim,
in an instant, dead at her young master's feet, (we sat very near the door,
I believe I told you,) gazing in his face
with such an air of triumph, and such
an anxious request for praise in her
glittering eyes, that cousin Robert, very
thoughtlessly, as it seemed to me,
stooped and patted her head."
"Did she eat it?" asked Melinda.
"No," replied the sick girl, "she left
it lying there, on the floor, and followed us unconcernedly out, as if there
were not such a thing as a mouse in
the world. She had. no desire to be
" Perhaps," said Melinda, " as it was a
church-mouse, she thought it too poor
to eat. I wish I had such a cat as
Wildfire, Miss Elinor."
"And so do I," cried Nelly. "I'll teach
my cat, Nancy, to be knowing, just like
her. Look at the wreath, Miss Elinor!
Hasn't it grown handsome while you
were telling about Wildfire? It do'n't
seem a bit like a stump fence now, does
"It was, indeed, very beautiful. Miss
Elinor raised herself on her elbow and
said so, as she looked at it. All that it
wanted now, she told them, .was a few
scissors clips on the ends of the longest
sprays, to make them even with the
Melinda leaned it against the wall,
and clipped away with great care and
precision. Nelly stood gazing at it lovingly and admiringly.
Before the children were quite ready
to go home, Miss Milly came in and
hung the precious wreath on a couple
of nails which she drove for that purpose, over the picture, for which it was
intended. It represented a little bare-
footed gypsy-girl dancing a wild, fantastic dance, with her brown arms flung
gracefully out, and mischief and innocent
fun gloaming in her black eyes.
" Of all the engravings I have ever
seen," said Miss Elinor, "this one is the
best calculated for an evergreen frame.
Thank you, dears, for making it. I hope
each of you will pass a merry Christmas
and a happy New Year."
As the two children went down the
stairs together, Nelly said,
"Isn't she good, Melindy?"
Melinda was not accustomed to behave
herself for so great a length of time; her
stock of good conduct was now pretty
nearly exhausted, so she answered rather
" Of course she is. I know that as
well as you, without bein' told."
Nelly felt something choking her in
" I will not," she said firmly to herself,
"I will not answer back. I'll do as Martin says, and make a friend of Melindy,
if I can. She isn't so very bad, after
all. Why, I do believe I rather like her."
They gathered their books together in
the school-room. Melinda opened the
door first, to go.
"Well, good-bye," she said, gruffly, looking back at Nell.
"Good-bye," replied Nelly; and then she
added, bravely, " Oh, Melindy, we needn't
quarrel any more, need we ? I don't
wish to, do you ? Let us be friends;
come, shake hands."
Melinda turned very red, indeed.
" I am not going to be forced to make
friends with any one," she said, in a most
She gave the school-door a terrific
bang as she spoke, and darted off homeward.
But in that last rough action the final trace of the ill-will she bore Nelly
The next morning, as the family were
sitting at breakfast, there came a knock
at the door. Comfort, hastily setting
her dress to rights, went to answer it.
There stood Melinda, her school-books in
one hand, and in the other, two of the
biggest and roundest and reddest apples
she had been able to find in all her father's bins.
"Give them to Nelly, if you please,"
" And I declar'," added Comfort, when
she came in and told the family, " the
minit she spoke that ar' she ran off
frightened like, and in a mos' drefful
From that day Melinda and Nelly
CHICKENS AND " POETRY."
Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her
19th-century Girls' Series website;
please do not use on other sites without permission
SPRING came again, and deepened slowly towards the summer. Leaves budded on the trees, herbs sprouted from the warm. earth, and birds sang in all the hedges.
"I am so glad!" said Nelly, "for I love the spring sunshine, and all the pleasant things that come with it."
When the weather grew mild, Nelly was as good as her word about raising chickens for the benefit of Comfort's nephew, the little slave. The eggs of the favorite hen were carefully put aside to accumulate, and as soon as she had done laying, and went about the barnyard clucking, with her feathers ruffled and her wings drooping, Nelly knew, with joy, that it was time to set her. So she filled the same nest in which the eggs had been laid, with clean, fresh straw, and placed them in it, ready for the bantam when Martin could catch her to put her on. They found that the hen needed no coaxing, but settled herself at once in the well-filled nest, giving at the same time an occasional cluck of high satisfaction. In three weeks from that time she came off with eleven chicks,- all safe and well. When she was put in her coop, under the big apple-tree by the fence, Nelly fed her with moistened Indian meal, every day. She thought it a pretty sight, when biddy minced up the food for her babies, and taught them how to drink out of the flower-pot saucer of water that stood within her reach.
Nelly seemed never to get tired of looking at her little snow-white pets. She felt that they were her own, and therefore she took a double interest in them.
When she was home from school, and lessons were studied for the next morning, she would go out to the apple-tree, and sit on the clean grass an hour or two, to watch every movement of the brood, and the solicitude of the caged mother when her offspring wandered too far away. One day in particular, as she sat there, the child's thoughts were busy with the future, her imagination pictured the time when full-grown, and more beautiful than any others, as she thought they were sure to become, her eleven chickens were to be sent to market.
" I hope," she said half aloud ; " I hope they will bring a good price, for Comfort's sake; I should not like to offer her anything less than five dollars. That is very little, I think, compared to all the trouble I have had night and morning to feed and take care of them."
She stopped a moment, and heaved a deep sigh, as she saw the little yellow dots flit back and forth through the long grass, some of them running now and then to nestle lovingly under the wings of the mother.
"Oh dear!" she went on; "I do believe I am getting to love my hen and chickens too much to part with them; every day I think more and more of them, and all the while they grow prettier and sweeter and tamer. I wish I could keep them and have the money too! Dear little chickies! Oh, Comfort, Comfort!"
She pronounced the last two words so ruefully, that her mother, who was passing along the garden-path, near the apple-tree, called out,-
"Well, Nelly dear, what is the matter with your precious Comfort, eh ? Has she met any great misfortune ? "
" No, ma'am," said Nelly; " I was only talking to myself about how hard it would be to sell the little chickens, even for dear Comfort's sake, when I love them so."
Mrs. Brooks drew near.
"Well, my child, that is a dilemma I have not thought of before. Perhaps, who knows, something will turn up to keep your darlings nearer home. When autumn comes, if I feel desperately in want of bantams, I may purchase your brood myself, - but I will not promise about it. In the meantime, don't get to loving them too much; and remember, that if you told Comfort you would give her the money, you must keep your word."
" Yes," said Nell, with another sigh; " there is just my trouble; I want to be honorable to Comfort, and kind to my- self too."
Mrs. Brooks passed on. She went into a little vegetable garden beyond, found what she wanted, and came back.
She paused again, and with the little girl, looked at the chickens.
"Nelly," she said, "it has just struck me that you have been a great deal in the kitchen with Comfort, lately, of evenings. Now, though I respect and love Comfort for many things, I want you to stay more with your father, and Martin, and myself, in the sitting-room."
"What?" Nelly cried, in innocent wonder ; " isn't Comfort good any longer ? "
Mrs. Brooks smiled.
" Yes, dear, Comfort's as good as ever. She tries to do her duty, and is a faithful old creature. She has many excellent qualities, but she is not educated nor refined, as I hope one day you will be. You are too young to be exposed to her influence constantly, proper as it may be in most respects. I want you to fill a different rank in life from Comfort's, Nelly."
Tears were in Nelly's eyes as she answered gravely,
" Yes, ma'am"
" Comfort is a servant, and you are my little daughter. I want you to be diligent, and cultivate a love of books. If you grow up in ignorance, you can never be esteemed a lady, even if you were as rich as an empress. I will give you the credit to say that you have improved very much since you have been with me, both in your conduct and in the language you use."
" Comfort told me I mustn't say 'br'iling fish,' as she did, because you did not! That was kind of her, wasn't it ? "
Mrs. Brooks felt her eyes moisten at this unexpected remark, more, perhaps, at the tone than at the words themselves. She saw that Nelly was deeply attached to Comfort, and she felt almost that she was wrong in seeking to withdraw the child from the grotesque attraction she had lately seemed to feel for her society. But duty was duty, and she was firm.
She stooped and imprinted a light kiss on Nelly's cheek.
" Yes," she said, " Comfort is very kind to you. But I do not wish you to spend more time with her when you are out of school than you do with the rest of the family. Remember not to hurt her feelings by repeating to her this conversation."
"Yes, ma'am," said Nelly; and then she added, " Comfort was going to show me how to write poetry, to-night, when she got through with her work. Couldn't I go in the kitchen for this one evening?"
" Comfort - teach - poetry ? " echoed Mrs. Brooks, with some dismay and amusement.
"Well,-yes,-you may stay in the kitchen, if you like, for this once. Certainly, I have no objection to your learning to write poetry," and she walked away, laughing quietly.
Surely enough, when night fell, and Comfort, radiant in a showy, new, red cotton turban, sat down to her knitting, -her day's work over, everything in its place, and the kitchen-floor white with extreme cleanliness,-Nell came skipping into the room, pencil and paper in hand.
"You see," she said, as she arranged her writing materials on the table, and drew the solitary, tallow candle towards her; "you see, Comfort, school breaks up next week, and the spring vacation begins. It lasts a month, only think of it! Will not I have good times, eh? Johnny Bixby,-you know Johnny Bixby, Comfort ? well, he goes to his home in the city as soon as vacation commences, and as we may not see him. again, he wants each of the little girls to write him some poetry so that he can remember us by it; and that's the way I come to want to learn how."
"Oh," said Comfort, "I understand now. Johnny boards with those ar Harrowses, eh ? "
"Yes," said Nell; "and he's such a very quiet boy, you've no idea, Comfort"
"He's the fust quiet boy ever I heerd on, then," said Comfort. "Weel, what do you want to say to Johnny in your poetry? That's the first and important p'int; don't begin to write till you finds what you are a goin' to say."
" Oh, I want to tell him good-bye, and all that sort of thing, Comfort, and how I hope we will meet again. I've got the first line all written, that's some help isn't it ? Melindy's and my first lines are just alike, 'cause we made it up between us."
" How does it go?" asked Comfort, puffing at her pipe.
"This way," said Nelly, taking up her paper and reading:
" Our days of youth will soon be o'er."
"Well," said Comfort, after a moment's reflection, "I think that's very good. Now you must find something to rhyme with that ar word ' o'er.' "
Nelly bent over her papers, and seemed to be considering very hard indeed. Once she put forth her hand as if she were going to write, but drew it back again. Evidently she found writing poetry very difficult work. Comfort was looking at her, too, and that made her nervous, and even the solemn stare of the cat, Nancy, from the hearth, where she sat purring, added to her embarrassment.
" Oh, Comfort," she said, at last, with a deep sigh; " I can't! I wonder if Johnny Bixby would take as much trouble as this for me. Do tell me what rhymes with ' o'er,' Comfort ! "
"'O'er,' 'o'er,'" repeated Comfort, slowly; "why, tore, gnaw, boar, roar, and such like. Boar is very good."
"But I don't want 'roar' in poetry, Comfort," said Nelly, considerably ruffled; "I don't see how you can bring 'roar' in. I wonder if 'more' would not do."
She took up her pencil, and in a little while, with beaming eyes, read to her listener these lines:
" Our days of youth will soon be o'er,
In Harrows' school we'll meet no more."
"That's pretty fair, isn't it. Comfort?"
"'Pears like," was the answer that came from a cloud of smoke on the other side of the room. "I'm sorry the 'roar' couldn't come in, though. Don't disremember to say something nice about his writin' to tell yer if he gits safe home and so, and so."
"No," said Nell; "I'll not"-"forget" she meant to have added, but just then came a heavy knock on the kitchen-door that made both of them start.
Comfort opened it, and there stood a boy, nearly a man, in the dress of. a sailor. His hair was long and shaggy, his face was brown, and over his shoulder swung a small bundle on a stick.
He was not, however, as rough as he looked, for he took off his hat and said in a pleasant voice,
"Can you tell me where a widow by the name of Harrow lives in this neighborhood? I was directed this way, I think."
"Over yonder is the house," said Comfort, pointing out into the night. "And , the next time ' yer come, be keerful not to thump so hard. We are not used to it in this here part of the country."
Nelly heard the young man laugh as he walked down the path from the house and something in the sound brought Miss Milly to her mind. The more she thought of it, the more certain she became that the young man's voice was like her teacher's. She sat still a little while, thinking, and idly scratching her pencil back and forth. At length she said, quite forgetful of her writing,
" Comfort, didn't Mrs. Harrow's son run away to sea, ever so long ago ? "
This question, simple as it was, seemed to fill Comfort with sudden knowledge. She clapped her hands together joyfully.
" My stars I ef that don't beat all! I do b'lieve Sidney Harrow is come back again! "
She went to the door to look after him, hut his figure had long since vanished down the path. The gloom of night reigned, undisturbed, without. There was no sailor-boy to be seen.
" My stars! " said Comfort, again and again; " ef that was only Miss Milly's brother come back to help keer for the family, instead of runnin' off like a bad ongrateful feller, as he was, I'll be glad for one."
"And I'll be glad too," cried Nelly; "and then dear Miss Elinor need not teach, but can read books all day, if she likes, and be happy. Oh, kitty, kitty ! will not that be nice ? " and in the delight of her heart, the little girl caught up the cat from the hearth, and began to caress her in a joyful manner, that the sober puss must have considered rather indecorous, for she sat still in her lap, looking as grave as a judge, and never winked or purred once at her young mistress.
Here the clock struck nine.
"Dear, dear!" said Nelly; "and I haven't finished my poetry yet! and very soon I must go to bed." Back she went with renewed vigor. " What were you saying. Comfort, when that young man knocked ? Oh, I know,- to tell Johnny to write to me; I remember now. Don't you think it will seem strange to Johnny to be with his mother all the time, instead of sending her letters from school? eh, Comfort?"
But the old woman was lost in her thoughts and her smoking, and did not reply. Nelly bent over her paper, read, and re-read the two lines already accomplished, and after musing in some perplexity what should come next, asked,
" Comfort, what rhymes with B ? "
"Stingin' bee, Nell?"
"No, the letter B."
" Oh, that's it, is it ? Well, let me think. I haven't made poetry this ever so long. There's 'ragin' sea,'-how's that?" said Comfort, beginning to show symptoms of getting deeply interested. " Now take to 'flectin' on that ar, Nell."
Nell did reflect some time, but to no purpose. Some way she could not fit in Comfort's " ragin' sea." It was no use, it would not go! She wrote and erased, and erased and wrote, for a full quarter of an hour. After much anxious labor, she produced finally this verse, and bidding Comfort listen, read it aloud, in a very happy, triumphant way. Then she copied it neatly on a piece of paper, in a large, uneven, childish handwriting, which she had only lately acquired. It was now ready to be presented on the morrow.
TO JOHNNY BIXBY.
Our days of youth will soon be o'er,
In Harrow's school we'll meet no more;
You'll write no more to Mrs. B.,
Oh then, dear Johnny, write to me!
" And now," said Nelly, as she folded up the precious paper, after having duly received Comfort's congratulations and praise,-"and now I'm going straight to tell mother about Sidney Harrow."
On to chapter 6
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