The three stories below are from Virginia Townsend's short story collection Amy Deane and Other Stories (Street & Smith, n.d.). (The American Antiquarian Society shows an 1862 edition published by James Miller.) Their original publication has not been traced, but the tone strongly suggests they may first have appeared in religious periodicals, for all are heavily didactic and sentimental. In A Moral Tale: Children's Fiction and American Culture, 1820-1860 (Archon, 1975), Anne Scott MacLeod characterized the new trend in juvenile fiction from ca1845-1860 as one displaying "heightened emotionalism" often involving "[t]he resolution of problems through emotional crisis" (132-33); she notes that "melodrama and sentimentality . . . saturated much of the literature of the 1850s" (156). These traits are also evident in Townsend's stories in Amy Deane.
The second story reprinted here, "White Rose," employs several elements found in other tales in the collection: the use of a flower as a plot device, childhood death, the contrast between rich and poor children, and an endorsement of benevolent treatment for the latter. The other two stories ("Thursday Afternoon" and "The Lost Canary") both include a carnary named Carol (though not the same canary) and a child who errs, then, after an emotionally-charged scene, repents and reforms. The illustration accompanying "The Lost Canary" also provides an example of the economics of reprint publishing. i.e., the publisher's use of a convenient illustration rather than one specifically created for the story -- or even an accurate one.
And Other Stories
VIRGINIA F. TOWNSEND
NEW YORK AND LONDON
STREET AND SMITH, PUBLISHERS
" Now, Wealthy, you will not forget ?" " No, surely, I shall not forget." It is very strange, but sitting here this afternoon, I seem to hear those words, just as plainly as I hear the sheep- bells tinkling in the green meadows opposite my window; and yet I know they are trailing down to me through the sunshine and shadow of half a score of years. We stood by the little narrow river that wound like a dark selvedge through the fields-Cousin Millie and I. It was in the mellow of the year, the beautiful Indian summer, and a rich fragrance came up from the hedges and wood hollows, where the flowers and the grasses were turning into graves. We did not live far apart-my Cousin Millie and I-and never allowed more than two or three days to intervene, without our seeing each other.
She was very, very dear to me, with one of those pure, fair faces that " hang on the chapel walls of the old world." Her eyes were blue as the skies, out of which the stars blossom in summer, and her hair was the color of yellow tulip bells. Altogether, she reminded one of a lily, that fairest, sweetest, purest of God's flowers! We had been passing the day together, and I accompanied her half way home. I remembered afterwards that she grew strangely silent before we reached the bridge which crossed the river, and that there was a look of weariness in the dark, blue eyes she lifted up to me at parting, from under their long, golden lashes. "And, Wealthy, yon will bring Carol ? You know how I love to bear him sing."
"Yes, Millie, I will certainly bring Carol. and oh, shan't we have a glorious time, going out into the lot and swinging from the lowest branches of the apple-trees, and hearing the 'russets' tumble about us, when the wind shakes through the boughs!" " Yes, Wealthy, we shall have a nice time, but I must be going now. Ugh I how cold the wind blows !" I wondered how she could think that soft, balmy wind, that strayed through her long yellow curls, tenderly as the white fingers of her mother, "cold." But she kissed me, and so we parted. Ah, me I if I had known that, never by the river, or through the old orchard, or among the long, dark meadow grass, would Millie Lee and I wander any more!
"Thursday afternoon" came. It was a day wild with winds that shook the leaves in gusts of crimson and yellow from the trees, and gloomy with clouds of pallid gray, that hung thick over the* skies. I stood at the window and looked out on the earth and clouds with a shudder. " I am sure I cannot go to Millie's to-day," I murmured to myself. "It's half a mile down there, and such a cold, gloomy, desolate day; we could not have a bit of fun. It'll kill Carol, too. I'm afraid to take him out in this wind. But then there's Millie, and she'll be so disappointed. Well, I'll go to-morrow, and she'll be glad enough to see me then, to make up for my not going to-day.
So I resolved to stay at home; but all this time a low voice in my heart was whispering- " You had better go, Wealthy,--you had better
go, Wealthy!" If I had but heeded it! Ah, me I if I had heeded it!
Well, the next day came, mild and balmy, and in the early afternoon I took my canary in his gilded cage and went down to Millie's.
Her mother met me at the door, and her eyes were red with weeping, and her face was very sad.
"What is the matter, Aunt Jane?" I asked, with a sudden coldness creeping about my heart.
" Millie is very, very ill," she said. " She was taken yesterday with the scarlet fever. We did not' imagine how sick she was, for she sat very quietly before the fire; only raising her head once in a while to ask if you had come; we would have sent for you, my dear child, had we known"- "Oh, can't I see her?-can't I see her?" I cried very eagerly, bursting into tears. They led me into her room. Could those flushed cheeks, and the heavy, sunken eyes be Millie Lee's ?
She reached out her little white arms, and drew down my head to the pillow. " Oh, Wealthy, how I did long for you all yesterday afternoon !" she said. " I was too sick to talk,
but I listened, and my heart jumped every time the door opened, and when my head ached so, I thought how Carol would charm it away I"
" Oh Millie, why didn't you send for me ?" I asked, with the tears dripping fast on her hot forehead. "I thought they would think it so strange," and then her head sank back on the pillow, and she made that weary, restless moan that tells so plainly of suffering.
And every word she had spoken had struck sharply into my heart. Two days more she lingered with us, and then the lily was broken, and Millie went to "our Father who is in Heaven," where the birds sing through endless Junes their sweet songs of Heaven; and I, who was "left behind," have never forgiven myself for the selfish indolence that kept me at home that " Thursday afternoon."
" Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," remembering that now is all the time we have to work; for the future belongs unto God.
THE WHITE ROSE.
SHE was a sweet child, little Enna Willis, and her face shone like some rare old picture out of its wealth of golden hair, and her young widowed mother folded her to her heart, and blessed the Great Father that Enna's eyes and hair were like those that had lain, ever since the early June, under the white shroud plaits.
" Look, mamma, its leaves are beginning to unfold, and it will be entirely opened by New Year's night, so that I can wear it at Helen's party," and Enna lifted her fair eager face from the flower, whose snowy petals were just breaking through their shade of green. That Winter rose-bush was a gift from Enna's father, and it was his last cue. No wonder the child loved it.
" Yes, darling, you shall wear it, twined right here in this bunch of curls," and the small fingers lifted the bright tresses tenderly from Enna's forehead, while the mother's pensive features-as she stood there by the side of her-reflected somewhat of the light in her child's.
Every day, every hour, Enna watched it as a miser watches his gold. Every day the large creamy looking petals curled outwards, and lay in exquisite contrast with the world of green leaves, amid which the flower's beautiful life was opening.
" Do you want to come in and see my rose, little boy ?"
Enna was returning from school that after- noon, when her eyes first rested upon the child. He was standing before the window, in whose embrasure her mother had placed the exotic, that the pale winter sunbeams might give it a brief visit. The boy's great mournful eyes were fastened eagerly on the large blossom, for it was now only two days before New Year's. His clothes were much worn, and patched with many colors, but Enna did not mind that,- she only saw the eager light in those large brown eyes.
" Then you love flowers, do you, my child ?" said Enna's mother in her soft tones, as they all three stood before the plant.
" Oh! yes, ma'am; but not so well as Mary does. I was thinking when I stood out there on the pavement, looking at it, if Mary could only see it!"
" Who is Mary ? Can't you bring her here?" asked Enna eagerly.
" No!" said the boy, shaking his head mournfully. "Mary is my sister, and she is sick. Mamma says she cannot live much longer, and at night, in her dreams, she moans about the white roses that grew so thick in the low meadows, just west of where we used to live. They were just like those, and Mary used to weave wreaths of them, every May. Oh! dear, if she could only see it!"
"Mamma," whispered Enna, while her blue eyes were moist with tears, and she pulled her mother's dress, " please give the rose to the little boy for his sick sister; I do not want it now."
" My dear child," and the mother's tremulous lips dropped to Enna's forehead, "God will reward you for this."
" Do you mean it, ma'am ? do you really mean that I shall take this to Mary?" questioned the child, while his deep eyes grew radiant with joy, as Mrs. Willis placed the precious branch in his hand. "O! how glad she will be," and at the thought of his sister's great delight, the little heart gave way, and the tears dashed over the boy's brown lashes.
It was New Year's night. Very beautiful looked Enna Willis in her pink dress and shining hair, amid which her mother's tasteful fingers had twined a few green leaves, as she put up her little ripe lips for a parting kiss, befor [sic] she started for her schoolmate's soiree.
At that moment the door opened, and the little stranger boy entered. His face was very white, as he glided up to Mrs. Willis, and said, " Mary is dying, and she has sent for the little girl who gave her the white rose. Please, ma'am, may she come, and will you. come with her?"
"I've brought them, Mary ! I've brought them!" cried the boy eagerly, as he ushered his guests into the chamber, where the light flickered with a strange, wan smile over the bare walls and the old chairs. A pale, grief-worn woman tottered forward, and led them toward a low bed in one corner. The sick child lifted her head. It was a very beautiful one, with its brown hair, and blue eyes, but the death chill was on it. " Come nearer," she said faintly, "for somehow my eyes are growing blind," and the little cold fingers closed round Enna's. " I held it all day, and at night I went to sleep with it in my hands. Yesterday the leaves dropped away, but an angel came to me and said, ' Don't cry for the rose, Mary; in a little while you shall come with me and gather fairer ones. O! I see them ! I see them!' " and the light surged once more into those blue eyes, and lighted up the rigid features with exceeding glory. "They are growing there, thousands and thousands of them, by a great shining river, and the angel stands there, and its white robe flows in great whining billows to its feet. Mother, Charley, good-by! Little girl, for that white rose you gave me, I will weave you a crown of those that blossom up there. They are larger and fairer, and I will have it ready when you come, and you shall wear it in that bright world."
The brown head sank back, the light went out from those blue eyes, and Mary had gone to braid Enna's rose wreath in the great meadow lands of heaven!
THE LOST CANARY.
"Now, Weston, my little boy, don't touch the cage while mamma is gone." And the sweet-voiced lady pushed away the bright curls from the child's forehead, and kissed it with such tenderness, you would have known she was his mother.
" No, mamma, I'll only listen to Carol's singing," looking up with a smile from the illustrated volume of Robinson Crusoe, over which his curly head had been bowed for the last two hours. And so Mrs. Platt left the room, and the only life within it was the boy and the bird. Both were quiet for a long time; the willow shadows swept coolly against the open windows, or brushed up and down the palm-leaved paper hangings, while the bird was curled up in a corner of his cage, and the boy on a corner of the carpet.
Weston Platt was an only child, and it was not strange that the parents loved their beautiful, brown-haired boy, with a love that was almost idolatry.
Weston had an ardent, impulsive, generous nature, and Mrs. Platt, though perhaps an over fond, was a judicious and Christian mother.
"Carol," the canary, whose large wire cage hung near the window, was the pet of the whole household, as his songs were its morning and evening music; but the bird was doubly dear to Mrs. Platt, because he was the gift of her youngest brother, just before he left her for California.
" Hurrah ! I've finished you up at last," suddenly broke out Weston, as he tossed the elegantly bound volume into an arm-chair. "I shan't read any more this morning, that's certain ; Carol, you lazy little bird, wake up here, and sing one of your sweetest songs !" And he darted off to the cage, giving it a slight blow, which sent it vibrating backward and forward, and started up Carol from his slumbers.
The bird shook its bright yellow wings, and blinked at Weston with its soft brown eyes.
But the boy hummed a tune, and Carol soon caught the contagion. Its clear, sweet warbling flowed up and down the room, and out among the willow boughs, and Weston leaned his head against the window frame, and listened quietly, for the boy had an unusual love for music.
At last Carol ceased, and Weston put up his face close to the wires. "Come here, birdie," he said, coaxingly, "and let me smooth your yellow plumes."
But Carol was shy, and hopped up on the topmost bars of his cage, or stuck his bill into the china trough of seed, and Weston could not reach him, though he pushed his fingers through the bars.
His hand was on the door fastenings, when he remembered his promise to his mother. He paused. " No matter, you need only push the door the least bit ajar," whispered the soft voice of the tempter, in the heart of Weston Platt.
Alas! little children, I love to write for you the good, rather than the evil, but the truth must be told always, and Weston Platt did listen to that soft voice, and slowly, very slowly, he turned the fastenings.
At first he did not leave the door ajar more than half an inch, but Carol still hovered closely in the other corner of the cage, and Weston could not push his hand through the aperture.
In his excitement he opened the door wider than he intended, in order to reach the bird. His fingers had almost closed over that bright quivering heap in the corner, when there was a wild, quick fluttering of wings, and Carol was out of the cage door, out into the room, out through the open window, before Weston could speak.
He was a little child, just the age, I suppose, of a great many boys and girls who will read this story, and as the memory of his disobedience to his mother, and the thought of her sorrow at the loss of her bird, came over him, he sank down upon the floor, and the sobs swelled into his throat, and the tears through his fingers.
"Oh, dear I how I wish I had left Carol alone!" thought the boy. "Mamma will be home in a little while, and what will she say when she finds Carol is gone! I shall be afraid to meet her, I'm sure I shall; and then to have to tell her I disobeyed her, and opened the cage door! I didn't mean to, only just a little bit, so I could smooth down his feathers. I wish I could run away and hide myself." And a fresh break of sobs concluded the sentence.
But it was too late to execute his wish, for at that moment Weston heard his mother's steps on the stairs. " Why, what is the matter with my little boy?" she asked very eagerly, as he lifted up his tear-stained face, on her entrance. Weston pointed to the window, " Carol's gone," he sobbed.
Mrs. Platt sprang toward the cage with a low cry, and saw in a moment that its occupant was flown. Her face was very pale, and her voice very stern, as she turned toward Weston. " Have you disobeyed me, and opened the cage?" Mrs. Platt had never spoken to her son in that tone before.
It frightened him, and again the tempted took advantage of his little coward heart, and placed a lie on the boy's lips.
" No, mamma, he flew out without my knowing any thing about it."
" Is it possible I didn't fasten the door when I hung it up! My dear bird-William's precious gift! Perhaps John can find him," and Mrs. Platt hurried out of the room, and down to the gardener, leaving her boy alone, with such a weight. Oh, little children! do you know what it is to have a lie crushing on and burning into the heart!
Weston Platt knew what it was, for he carried it through all that long dark day, and at night, when Jane carried him to bed, he could not kneel down and say his evening prayer to the Great Father, because of the lie that stood like a black cloud between them.
It was a long time before he fell asleep, but he did at last, and dreamed a strange dream; one that he never forgot.
He thought he was dead, and that the shining-faced angels had carried his spirit up to the pearl-gates of heaven. Very softly on the boy's ear broke the murmur of the everlasting fountains, and he heard the hallelujahs of the redeemed rising over the purple hills.
The angels would have opened the gates and borne Weston in, but one, more glorious than the rest, stood there, and the robe that was rolled about him seemed like the mist clouds oiled over the mountains in summer. He looked on Weston with his grave sweet face, and then opened a book, and there on its shining page the boy saw the lie written that he had told that day.
How it stained the bright beauty of the book, with its golden clasps and purple covers, and what a shudder struck through the boy's frame as the angel said, with a voice clear and solemn as the blasts of a trumpet, " He that speaketh a lie cannot have a part in the kingdom of Heaven."
Poor Weston! He longed to seize the book, and tear out that dreadful page that stood against him, but be could not.
He burst-into tears of remorse, and cried out to the angels who stood with folded wings, looking very sorrowful about him, " What can I do?"
And they answered all together, with voices like a sudden outbreak of organ music, "Thy tears of repentance shall wash out the stain in thy life-book, 0 child of earth! Go back, and acknowledge thy sin, and when we come again for thee, it shall not be written therein.
So Weston awoke, and the May moon was looking serenely through the window, and winding its silver fingers through his bed curtains.
A moment later he heard his mother's feet on the staircase, for it was late, and she was going to her room for the night.
He rose up and followed her softly. He saw her put down the lamp, and then he rushed in. "Mamma! mamma!" he cried, "I have told a lie to-day. It was I that opened the cage, and let Carol out; but oh ! I have been very sorry for it."
And then, before his mother could speak, he told her how it was he allowed the bird to escape, and how a great burning weight had lain on his heart since he told the lie; and how he could not pray to the Good Father at night, and of the dream that had come to him while he had slept that evening.
Mrs. Platt drew Weston into her lap, without speaking a word, and her tears dropped fast into his curls, as his head lay on her bosom. At last she knelt down with him, and thanked God that her little boy had repented of the great evil he had done.
The lost bird was never found, but another Carol now sings in the gilded cage that hangs by the window, where the willow-boughs sweep all day.
But Weston Platt never looks at that cage without thinking of THE LOST CANARY, and these words are a blessed text written in his heart by the white hands of the angels.
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Commentary c2003 Deidre Johnson. Stories scanned for 19th-Century Girls' Series webpage. Please do not use on other pages without permission.