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´╗┐Title: Nelly's First Schooldays
Author: Franklin, Josephine
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nelly's First Schooldays" ***

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[Illustration: CHICKENS AND "POETRY." Page 111.]



THE MARTIN AND NELLY STORIES.

NELLY'S FIRST SCHOOLDAYS.

  BY
  JOSEPHINE FRANKLIN.
  AUTHOR OF "NELLY AND HER FRIENDS."

  BOSTON:
  FRED'K A. BROWN & CO., PUBLISHERS,
  29 CORNHILL.
  1862.



  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1860, by

  BROWN AND TAGGARD,

  In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of
  Massachusetts.

  RIVERSIDE, CAMBRIDGE:
  STEREOTYPED AND PRINTED BY
  H. O. HOUGHTON AND COMPANY.



LIST OF THE

"MARTIN AND NELLY STORIES."


     I. NELLY AND HER FRIENDS.
    II. NELLY'S FIRST SCHOOLDAYS.
   III. NELLY AND HER BOAT.
    IV. LITTLE BESSIE.
     V. NELLY'S VISIT.
    VI. ZELMA.
   VII. MARTIN.
  VIII. COUSIN REGULUS.
    IX. MARTIN AND NELLY.
     X. MARTIN ON THE MOUNTAIN.
    XI. MARTIN AND THE MILLER.
   XII. TROUTING, OR GYPSYING IN THE WOODS.



CONTENTS.


                           PAGE

  CHAPTER I.
  MILLY                       7

  CHAPTER II.
  "MELINDY"                  25

  CHAPTER III.
  COMFORT'S NEFFY            51

  CHAPTER IV.
  "LET'S MAKE FRIENDS!"      72

  CHAPTER V.
  CHICKENS AND "POETRY"     109

  CHAPTER VI.
  GETTING LOST              129



NELLY'S FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS.



CHAPTER I.

MILLY.


Not very far from Nelly's home, stood a small, time-worn, wooden house.

It was not a pleasant object at which to look. A few vines that had
been trained over one of the front windows, and a stunted currant-bush
which stood by the door, were the only green things within the broken
fence. In summer, the cottage looked bald and hot, from its complete
exposure to the sun (no trees grew near to shade it), and in winter,
the rough winds rattled freely around its unprotected walls.

In this house lived a family by the name of Harrow. It consisted of the
widowed mother, a woman who had once moved in a far higher sphere of
life, and her two daughters, Milly and Elinor. There was a son, too,
people said, but he did not live at home, having had the ingratitude,
some time before the Harrows moved to the village, to desert his home
and run away to sea.

Mrs. Harrow and her children were very poor. No one knew but themselves
how hard they found it to get work enough to earn their daily bread.
The neighbors, among whom they were much respected, had long supposed
from many outward signs that the family had no means to spare, but
they were far from conjecturing that often, the mild, patient-looking
Mrs. Harrow, and her two gentle girls, were losing their strength from
actual famine. The little money they had, came to them through their
own exertions; their needle-work was celebrated far and near for its
delicacy and exquisite finish. In that small neighborhood, however, the
sewing which was brought to them to undertake, did not amount to much,
and the prices, too, were low, and provision-rates very high.

At last, just as despair was dawning on the household, Elinor, the
eldest daughter, heard of a situation as domestic in the family of a
farmer, who lived over the mountains, near Nancy's old home. The poor
girl's pride was dreadfully wounded at the thought of applying for
such a place, she a lady born and bred, but necessity knew no law,
and a few days only elapsed before pretty Miss Elinor was located at
the farm as a servant. It was a hard trial; mournful tears forced
themselves from her eyes whenever she gave herself time to think about
such a state of affairs.

The farmer was a poor, hard-working, painstaking man, and his wife was
quite as thrifty and industrious, so that between them they managed to
lay by a little money, every year, in the Savings Bank.

When Elinor came to them, the bustling farmer's wife could not realize
that the tall, pale, elegant-looking creature was not quite as able to
rub and scrub from morning to night as she was herself. She did not
take into consideration that the girl was unaccustomed to much hard
labor, and that her frame was not equal to the burdens that were put
upon it.

The consequence was that when Elinor went to her room at night, she was
too completely worn out to sleep, and in the mornings, rose feeling
sick and weary. She did not complain, however, but went about her
duties day after day, growing gradually more pale and feeble, and
storing in her system the seeds of future disease.

When the farmer's wife saw her moving slowly around her tidy, spotless
kitchen, she thought her a lazy girl, and often told her so in a loud,
sharp tone, that was a very great trial to hear patiently, which
Elinor always did, and then set about working more steadily than ever.

So the weeks went on, till, one morning, the maid of all work was
missing from her place. She had been seized with a sickness, that had
long been secretly hanging over her, and now she could not rise from
her bed.

Martin, a boy who lived at Mr. Brooks', told Nelly that Miss Elinor
fell at her post like a sentinel wounded on duty.

When the doctor came, he informed the farmer and his wife that their
servant had lost the use of her limbs, through an affection of the
spine, which had been brought on by lifting too heavy burdens, and she
was indeed as unable to move hand or foot to help herself as a baby
could be. Her mind, however, was not impaired. The farmer thought it
would have been fortunate if it had been, for she seemed to suffer such
terrible mental anguish about her misfortune, and the new care and
misery she was bringing on her mother and sister.

The farmer took her home in his wagon, a confirmed cripple. Her mother
and Milly helped him to carry her up to her old bedroom, and there she
lay, suffering but little pain, it is true, but at the time of our
story, having no hope of recovery.

The days were very long to Elinor now. She despised herself for ever
having repined at fate before. What was all she had endured previously,
to this trial? There was no light work of any kind, not even sewing,
which she could do, as she lay on her bed, and this made the time seem
longer. She was forced to be idle from daylight till dark. She could
have read, it is true, but she had no books, and to buy any was an
extravagance, of which, with the scanty means of the family, she did
not allow herself to dream.

The neighbors were shocked to hear of Elinor's misfortune. They visited
her, and at first, sent her little delicacies to tempt her appetite,
but by and by, although they pitied her as much as ever, they forgot
her in the events of their own domestic circles.

One very cold winter night Milly came into Mrs. Brooks's kitchen, and
asked Comfort, a colored woman who worked for the family, where her
mistress was. Comfort promptly led the way to the sitting-room, where
grouped coseyly around the centre-table were the different members of
the farmer's family. A bright fire blazed on the hearth, and the woolen
curtains were tightly drawn to keep out the winds that whistled around
the farm-house.

At the sight of this picture of comfort, Milly's pretty lips quivered.
She took kind-hearted Mrs. Brooks aside.

"Dear Mrs. Brooks," said Milly, "I _must_ say it; we are starving!
Elinor lies dying with cold and hunger, in her bed. Mother has not
tasted a mouthful since yesterday, and she is so proud she would not
let me beg. What _are_ we to do? I have run over here to ask your
sympathy and aid, for we have not one friend to whom we feel as though
we might apply."

Tears gathered in Milly's eyes.

"And pray," said the farmer's wife, "what do you consider _me_, Milly,
if not a friend? You ought not to have delayed so long in this matter.
I feel really hurt. Why did you not come to me before?"

She led the way into the kitchen that the young girl's sad tale might
not draw upon her too close attention from the children.

Milly Harrow sank upon a seat, before the fire on the hearth, and wept
such bitter, heart-breaking tears as it is to be hoped no one who reads
her story has ever known. She was a gentle, refined, well-educated girl
of twenty, and had met much more sorrow than happiness.

"Milly," said the farmer's wife kindly, and advancing as she spoke,
from the open door of the pantry, "come here to the table and see how a
bit of this roast fowl tastes. And try this glass of currant wine,--you
need not be afraid of it, it is home-made. While you are busy with it,
I'll get a little basket ready, and put on my cloak to run over with
you when you go back."

Milly blushed crimson. It was difficult to her to learn the hard
lessons of poverty. Nevertheless, she ate some bread and cold chicken,
and was quite ready to praise the delicate wine for the grateful warmth
it sent thrilling throughout her frame.

When she had finished, Mrs. Brooks was ready to accompany her, and
Comfort too, having received private instructions, stood with her
shawl over her head, and a large basket of wood in her hand.

So they set out together, Milly leading the way, the snow crunching
under their feet, along the path.

In a short time, a bright fire was burning in patient Elinor's room,
while the remains of a little feast on a table in the centre, showed
that the family suffered no longer from the pangs of actual starvation.

Elinor was bolstered up in bed, looking like a wan, despairing woman
of fifty, instead of a girl of twenty-two. Care and sickness had aged
her before her time. A faint, sweet flush was dawning on her cheeks
to-night, however, for she was not now enduring hunger, and Mrs. Brooks
sat there by the cheerfully blazing hearth with her mother and sister,
and talked hope into all their hearts.

"I tell you what it is, Mrs. Harrow," said the farmer's wife, in a
pleasant, hearty tone, "we must set this Milly of yours to work. Things
ought not to go on this way with your family any longer."

"Work!" echoed Milly, a little bitterly. "I've seen the time, dear Mrs.
Brooks, when I would have given anything for a month's work. Only tell
me something to do, and see how grateful I shall be."

"Well," said the farmer's wife, "the darkest hour is just before day,
Milly; who knows but that yours is now over, and dawn is coming. I have
been thinking about your opening a school."

Mrs. Harrow clasped her hands eagerly.

"Oh, if she could! oh, if she could!" she cried. "But who would think
of sending their children to us, when there are already two or three
other schools in the village?"

"Miss Felix is just giving hers up, and is going to the city," said
Mrs. Brooks. "I know it to be a fact, because I went to see her about
taking Nelly last week. That will be quite an opening. I can go to her
to-morrow, get a list of her pupils, and call on the parents to secure
their good-will, if you say so, Milly."

Milly could scarcely answer for sobbing. At last she said in a broken
voice, "dear, dear Mrs. Brooks, this is more than I have any reason to
hope. How can I ever repay you for your kindness?"

"By taking good care of Nelly when I send her to you as your first
pupil," was the cheerful reply. "And now let me see what are your
accommodations. You must have our Martin for a day or two, to knock you
together some long benches with backs, and Comfort can help you cover
and cushion them with some old green baize that I have in the garret.
What room can you give to the use of the schoolmistress, Mrs. Harrow?"

"Well," said the old lady, smiling for the first time in a month, "the
front room, down-stairs, is best, I think, because it opens directly
on the road. I can take the furniture out, (what there is of it!) and
clean it up like a June pink, in a day or two."

"The carpet is rather shabby and threadbare," suggested Milly. "And
little pegged shoes will soon spoil it completely," added Mrs. Brooks.
"I should say a better plan will be to take it up entirely. A clean
board floor, nicely swept and sanded every morning, is plenty good
enough. What books have you, Milly?"

"All my old school-books, and brother's, and Elinor's too," said the
young girl. "That will do to begin on till the pupils purchase their
own."

"I could teach French," put forth Elinor's voice from the bed,--"that
is, if it would answer for the class to come up here. You know, mother,
I used to speak it fluently when I was at Madame Thibault's. Don't you
think I might try? My voice and my patience are strong, if _I_ am not;"
and she smiled, oh, such a smile! It brought tears into the eyes of
all in that poor, little, desolate apartment.

"Try!" said the farmer's wife; "why, Elinor, that is just the thing for
you! You may count _me_ as one in your class. It was only yesterday I
was regretting having no opportunity to practise what little of the
language I know already. We must arrange your room a little, Ellie, and
have everything looking spruce, and Frenchified, eh?"

At this Elinor herself began to cry.

"You are so, s-o-o g-o-o-o-d," she exclaimed.

"Good! Not at all!" said Mrs. Brooks; and by way of proving how far
from good she was really, she hopped up like a bird, and was at the
bedside in a minute, smoothing out the pillows and kissing Elinor's
pale forehead.

"I'll take my first lesson to-morrow afternoon," she said, "if you have
no objections; and your kind mother here, can begin to profit herself
at once by your labor, and send over to our meal-bag and dairy as often
as she pleases."



CHAPTER II.

"MELINDY."


Mrs. Brooks fulfilled her promise, and so faithfully did she work
in the good cause, that a dozen little pupils were engaged for Miss
Milly's school before preparations were fairly made to open it. These
did not take long, however, as Miss Felix, the teacher, who was going
away, sent to Mrs. Harrow's house two long forms of desks and benches,
with her compliments and best wishes to Milly for her future success.

Milly fairly began to dance around the room, in the new joy of her
heart, on receiving this, to her, valuable present.

"Everybody," she said, "must not be so kind to us, or I shall have a
sickness brought on by too much happiness."

Poor Milly! she had so long had a "sorrow-sickness," that the present
good fortune was almost too much to endure.

For a week she went about cleaning, and sweeping, and dusting, and
making ready generally, for the great event, the opening of her school.
Singing as gayly as a lark, she moved furniture up-stairs and down,
and debated over and over again upon the best arrangement for effect.
The front room was to be especially devoted to the use of her class.
The carpet was removed, and thoughtful Miss Felix's desks and benches
placed in it, along the walls. Mrs. Brooks sent an old white muslin
dress to be made into window-curtains, and Martin spent a whole day in
forming a little platform out of boards, on which, when covered with
green baize, the teacher's table and chair were to rest.

Even Elinor's sick-chamber assumed a different aspect. One day,
when Mr. Brooks was in the village on business, he stepped into a
paper-hanger's, and chose a cheap, but pretty paper for the lime-washed
wall. It was very cheerful-looking, being formed of alternate stripes
of white and rose-color; "for," said the farmer, when he reached home,
"I warrant Miss Elinor grows tired of seeing the same cracks in the
plaster, year in and year out. She must have something new and gay,
like this, that will help to keep her spirits up!"

Mrs. Harrow and the farmer's wife pasted this paper on the walls
themselves, with a little assistance from Nelly, who stood ready to
lift benches, hand the scissors back and forth, and give any other
slight aid of which she was capable.

The house was only one-story high, with a garret, so Elinor's room
had a slanting roof and a dormer window. Mrs. Brooks said it would be
a great improvement, if the striped paper were pasted on the ceiling
too, and joined in the peak with a wood-colored border resembling a
heavy cord or rope. This made the place look, when it was done, like
a pink canvas tent. The change was wonderful. An imitation of a pair
of tassels of the same color and style as the rope border, which the
paper-hanger, hearing of the design, sent to the house as a present to
Miss Elinor, when pasted carefully at each end of the peak, against the
wall, made the illusion perfect.

Elinor said she lived in the Tent of Kindness.

The neighbors who came in to inspect all these preparations, said
Elinor's was the very prettiest dormer-room they had ever seen. There
was enough left of the old dress to curtain the single window, which
being done, everything was at last pronounced to be in a state of
readiness.

And now we must go back to Nelly, who, I suppose, some of my readers
remember, is the adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Brooks. Nelly had
known much sorrow in her short life, as will be seen on reference
to the little story called "NELLY AND HER FRIENDS." She had
never experienced what it was to be loved by father and mother till
now; and when the farmer and his wife began to teach her to call them
by those sacred titles, she felt herself a very happy little girl. She
was delighted at the prospect of attending school. She had never been
to one, and, therefore, perhaps, the novelty of the thing was half the
attraction.

When the important day arrived, and the child found herself seated in
the class-room with twelve or fourteen other little folks, she was
filled with awe and dismay, so much so, that she scarcely dared turn
around to take a good look at her next neighbor, a girl of twelve, in
the shy dread that she might be caught in the act, which circumstance
would, doubtless, have occasioned her much confusion.

Miss Harrow did not give her pupils any lessons to learn this first
morning. She said, as no one had books, it should be a day of pleasure
and not of work, and on the morrow they would begin to study in earnest.

So, during the whole morning, the children drew funny little pictures
on slips of paper, which were handed them for the purpose of amusing
them; and in the afternoon, the teacher made them pull their benches
close to the fire, in cosy rows, while she told them stories.

As, with the deepest interest, Nelly gravely listened, she came to the
conclusion that this was just the best school of which she had ever
heard, everything was _so_ pleasant.

There was a little dark-haired boy in a blue jacket, who sat near, and
who whittled her pencil, oh _so_ sharp, every time she blunted it! She
told Comfort, in confidence, when she went home, that this little boy's
pictures were quite as good as any Martin could make. He drew ships
under full sail, oh, beautiful! and as for those men, squaring off
to fight, up in the corner of the paper, they made you think at once
of Uz and Buz the two roosters, that quarrelled every morning in the
barnyard, about which should have the most corn.

In a week or two, however, Nelly's rapture abated somewhat; and one day
she came home with her books in her hands, and threw herself on one of
the chairs in the kitchen, crying heartily.

"Heyday," cried Comfort, looking up from the fire, over which she was
broiling a fish. "Heyday, what ar's the matter now?"

"O Comfort," cried Nelly, "she struck me, she struck me, before them
all!"

"What!" cried Comfort, standing erect with surprise. "Miss Nelly's been
for whippin' a'ready? Why, Nelly, shame, shame! Dis yer conduct is
oncommon bad of yer."

"It wasn't Miss Harrow, at all," said Nelly, reddening; "it was that
horrid, old thing, Melindy."

"Oh, Melindy," echoed Comfort, in a tone of relief.

"Yes," continued Nelly, "she tries to get me to laugh in school, every
day. She makes eyes at me, big, round ones, _so_, Comfort."

Comfort chuckled.

"I don't wonder yer laugh, if she does that way, chile."

"But that isn't all," added Nelly indignantly. "She chews paper-balls,
and sends them over the room, right at the tip of my nose. Sometimes
they stick there a second or so, till I can put up my hand; and then
the scholars giggle-like. Oh, you've no idea, Comfort, what an awful
girl Melindy is. She punches me, too."

"Punches, Nelly?"

"Yes, and to-day, when school was out, she gave me _such_ a
whack,--right in my ribs; shall I show you how, Comfort?"

"No, thank yer," answered the old woman, laughing. She had a cause for
being good-humored that day. "But why whack such a little critter as
you be, Nell?"

"Oh," said Nelly, hesitating, "_she_ knows."

Something in her manner made Comfort suspicious. She sat down and
called Nelly to her. Taking hold of both her hands, she looked her full
in the eyes.

"Speak the truff," she said; "didn't yer whack Melindy _fust_?"

"Yes," said Nell, with a curious mixture of honesty and triumph, "I
did, Comfort; I gave her a _good_ one, _I tell you_! I didn't stop to
think about what I was doin' till I felt her whackin' o' _me_ back
again."

"Then she sarved yer right," said the old colored woman, going back to
her fish, "and I hope she'll treat yer so every time yer begin the
aggrawation."

"But she snowballed _me_ first, and called out that I was nobody's
child, and was taken out of the streets, and such like. I couldn't
stand _that_, anyhow. I _had_ to whack her, Comfort."

"No you hadn't," said Comfort, sternly, and at the same time
gesticulating earnestly with the fish-fork. "It wasn't your part to do
any punishin', whatsomever. Leastways, no punishment but one."

"And what's that?" demanded Nelly, making large A's and O's in the
steam that had settled on the windows. Here Martin suddenly put down a
big newspaper he had been reading in a corner, and which had hidden him
entirely from view.

"Have you so soon forgotten your old rule of good for evil, Nell?" he
asked. "Don't you know that is what Comfort means?"

Comfort nodded at him approvingly.

"But Melindy is ugly, _powerful_ ugly, Martin," said Nell, coloring,
"and anyway she _will_ knock all us little girls. It's born in her. I
think she must have been meant for an Indian, that pulls the hair off
your head, like mother told us about. Doing good to Melindy is just of
no account at all."

"Did you ever try it?" asked Martin.

"Well, no-o. You see I could tell it was of no use. And Miss Harrow,
she stands Melindy on a chair with a paper cap on her head, every day,
at dinner-time."

"Poor girl," said Martin, "I am sorry for her."

"I'm not," said Nell, promptly, "it keeps her from mischief, you know."

Martin was silent.

Comfort began to sing a tune over her fish, interrupting herself at
times with a low, quaint laugh, as though particularly well pleased
with some thought.

"What's the matter, Comfort?" asked Nelly.

"Oh, nuthin'," was the answer; "I guess I'm not very miserable to-day,
that's all;" and off she went in a chuckle again.

"Nelly," said Martin, after another grave pause, "you used to be a
better girl than you are now. Last summer, about the time Marm Lizy
died, you tried ever so hard to be good, and you improved very much
indeed."

"I know it," said Nell, a little sadly, "and I would be good now, if
it wasn't for Melindy Porter. Ever since I've been to school I've felt
hard and wicked. She torments and worries me so, that I think sometimes
there's no use in tryin' to be good at all. I do and say wrong things,
just when I don't mean to, all along o' Melindy."

"If you and Melindy were friends, you wouldn't feel so, would you?"

"I s'pose not, but who wants to be friends with anybody like _that_?"
was the ready retort.

"Still, you would rather be friends than enemies, Nell, wouldn't you?
You would prefer that this little girl"--

"Big one, ever so big," interrupted Nelly, quickly.

"You would prefer that this big girl, then, should bear you no malice,
even if you didn't like her, and she didn't like you. Isn't it so?"

"Well, yes. I would like to have her stop pinchin' and pullin' the
hairs of all o' us little ones. That's what I'd like, Martin."

"That's easy done, Nelly," said Martin in a confident tone.

"Easy, Martin? How easy?"

"_Be kind to her._ Show her that you bear her no ill feeling."

"But I _do bear her ill feeling_, Martin! What's the good of fibbing
about it to her? I can't go to her and say, 'Melindy, I like you ever
so much,' when all the time I despise her like poison, can I? I am sure
that wouldn't be right."

"No," broke in Comfort, "that ar wouldn't be right, Martin, for
sartain."

Martin looked a little puzzled.

"But, Comfort," he said at length, "I don't want her to speak
pleasantly to Melindy till she _feels_ pleasantly. _That's_ the thing.
I wouldn't have Nell _act_ an untruth, a bit more than I'd have her
tell one. But I _do_ want her to try to _feel_ like givin' Melindy a
little good for her evil."

Martin said this with such a pleading, earnest look, smiling coaxingly
on Nelly as he spoke, that, for the moment, the heart of the little
girl was softened.

"Well, Martin," she said, "you are _always_ preachin' ar'n't you? But
it's nice preachin' and I don't hate it a bit. Some day, when I get
real, _awful_ good, you'll leave off, won't you? I'll think about
Melindy, and may-be I can screw my courage up to not mind bein' cracked
at by her."

"Pray for them that uses yer spitefully," said Comfort with solemnity.

Nelly seemed struck by this.

"What, pray for Melindy?" she asked meditatingly.

"Chil'en," said the old woman, "don't never forget that ar mighty
sayin'. Yer may be kind and such like to yer enemys, but if yer don't
take time to _pray_ for his poor ole soul's salvation, you might as
well not do nuthin'. That's the truff, the Gospil truff."

"Well," said Nell with a deep sigh, "I'll pray for Melindy then, and
for that bad, little Johnny Williams, too, to-night when I go to bed;
but I shall have, oh, Comfort, _such_ hard work to _mean_ it, _here_!"
and her hands were pressed for an instant over her breast.

The next morning, just as Nelly was starting for school, Martin drew
her, mysteriously, aside.

"Which hand will you have, Nell?" he asked, holding both behind him.

"This one," she said, eagerly, touching the right hand, in which she
had caught a side glimpse of something glittering like burnished gold.

Martin smilingly extended towards her a small, oval box, covered with a
beautiful golden paper.

"How very, very lovely," cried Nell, opening it.

"It is yours," said Martin, "but only yours to give away. I want you to
do something with it."

"Can't I keep it? Who must I give it to?"

"Melindy!"

"Oh, Martin, I can't, I just can't,--there!"

"Then you don't wish to make her good, Nell! You want her to be cruel
and wicked and hard as long as she lives!"

"Oh no, no, I don't wish that _now_. I _prayed_ for her last night."
The last sentence was added in a very low tone.

"You refuse then?"

She looked at him, sighed, and turned away.

Martin put his box in his pocket, and walked off in the direction of
the barn.

At dinner-time, Nelly came home quite radiant. Lessons had gone
smoothly. Miss Harrow had praised her for industry at her books,
"and, would you believe it, Martin," she added in an accent of high
satisfaction, "Melinda didn't make but two faces at me all the whole
morning! Wasn't that nice? They were pretty bad ones, though,--bad
enough to last! She screwed her nose all up, this way! Well, if you'll
give me the box now, I'll take it to her this afternoon. I don't feel
hard against Melindy at all, now."

Martin brought it to her after dinner, with great alacrity; and Nell
walked very slowly to school with it in her hands, opening and shutting
the lid a dozen times along the road, and eyeing it in an admiring,
fascinated way, as though she would have no objection in the world to
retain possession of it herself.

It was a hard effort to offer it to Melinda. So pretty a box she had
never seen before.

"I mean to ask Martin," she thought, "if he cannot find me another just
like it."

Near the door of Mrs. Harrow's little house, Nelly encountered her
tormentor, quite unexpectedly. She was standing outside, talking in a
loud, boisterous way to two or three of the other children. Melinda was
a tall, rather good-looking girl, of about fourteen years of age. She
was attired in a great deal of gaudy finery, but was far from being
neat or clean in appearance. At the present time, a large, freshly-torn
hole in her dress, showed that in the interval between schools, she had
been exercising her warlike propensities, and had come off, whether
victor or not, a little the worse for wear. Her quilted red silk hood
was now cocked fiercely over her eyes, in a very prophetic way. Nelly
knew from that, as soon as she saw her, that she was in a bad frame of
mind.

Not daring to speak to her then, Nelly was quietly proceeding towards
the door of the school, when with one or two tremendous strides,
Melinda met her face to face.

"How did you like the big thumping I gave you yesterday?" she asked,
with a grim smile.

Nelly walked on very fast, trying to keep from saying anything at all,
in the fear that her indignation might express itself too plainly.

"Why don't you speak up?" cried Melinda.

Still Nelly went on in silence. Melinda walked mockingly side by side
with her, burlesquing her walk and serious face. At last, irritated
beyond control, Melinda put out suddenly one of her feet, and
deliberately tripped up her little schoolmate, who, before she could
even cry out, found herself lying flat on her nose, on the snow.

The attack was made so abruptly, that Nelly had no time to see what
was coming. Confused, stunned, angry, and hurt, she raised herself
slowly to her knees and looked around her. There was at first, a dull,
bruised feeling, about her head, but this passed away. Something in
the deadly whiteness of her face made Melinda look a little alarmed,
as she stood leaning against the wall, ready to continue the battle,
if occasion required any efforts of the kind; but knowing well, in the
depths of her cowardly heart, that, as the largest and strongest child
at school, her victims could not, personally, revenge themselves upon
her, to any very great extent. Looking her companion in the eyes, like
a hunter keeping a wild animal at bay, Nelly staggered to her feet.
She had meant to be so good that day! And this was the encouragement
she received! Truly, the influence of Melinda on Nelly's character
was most pernicious. All the evil in her nature seemed aroused by the
association. Tears, not resulting from physical pain, but from the
great effort she still made to control her temper, rose to her eyes,
as she saw a sneering smile on Melinda's countenance. Till now she
had striven to bear Martin's advice in mind; but as this sneering
smile broke into an ill-natured laugh, Nelly's self-control gave way.
Her face burned. She tossed the little golden gift, with disdainful
roughness, at her persecutor's feet, and said, in a gruff, and by no
means conciliating voice,--

"There's a box for you, Melindy. And Martin says I mustn't hate you any
more. But I do, worse than ever! There!"

Melinda gave a contemptuous snort. She walked up to the little gilt
box, set her coarse, pegged shoe upon it, and quietly ground it to
pieces. Then, without another word, she pushed open the school-room
door, entered, and banged it to again, in poor Nelly's red and angry
face. The child leaned against the house and cried quietly, but almost
despairingly.

"I wanted to be good," she sobbed; "I wanted to be good so much, but
she will not let me!"



CHAPTER III.

COMFORT'S NEFFY.


"Comfort," said Nell, that night, leaning her head on her hand, and
looking at the old woman sideways out of one eye, as she had seen the
snowbirds do when they picked up the crumbs every morning around the
kitchen door, "Comfort, can't you tell me what you were laughing about
yesterday afternoon, when you were br'iling of the fish for tea?"

"Yes," said Comfort, "I think I can."

Nelly sat waiting to hear the expected revelation, yet none came.
Comfort was busy with her pipe. She paused every now and then to puff
out great misty wreaths of bluish-gray smoke, but she didn't condescend
to utter one word.

"Comfort," said Nelly, getting impatient, "why don't you tell me, then,
Comfort?"

"Tell yer what, chile?"

"What you said you would."

"I never said I _would_; I said I _could_. Be more petik'lar with yer
'spressions, Nelly. And 'sides that, yer hadn't oughter say '_br'iling_
fish.' Missus don't. Leave such words to cullu'd passons, like me."

"Well, but tell me," persisted Nelly, smilingly, brimming with the
curiosity she could not restrain. "I know it was something good,
because you don't often laugh, Comfort."

"No," said Comfort, "that ar's a fact. I don't 'prove of little bits
o' stingy laughs, every now and then. I likes one good guffaw and done
with it."

"Well," said Nelly, "go on. Tell me about it."

"Yer see," said Comfort, taking her pipe from between her lips, and
giving a sudden whirl to the smoke issuing from them, "Yer see, Nelly,
I was laughin' 'bout my neffy."

"Your neffy, Comfort? What's that?"

"Lor! do tell! Don't yer know what a neffy is _yet_? I didn't 'spect
yer to know much when yer was Marm Lizy's gal, but now, when Mrs.
Brooks has adopted of yer, and sent yer to school to be edicated, we
look for better things. Don't know what a neffy is, eh?"

"No," said Nelly, looking somewhat disturbed. "Tell me, Comfort. Is it
something that grows?"

"Grows!" screamed Comfort, bursting into a laugh that certainly was
not a stingy one; "Grows! Goodness! hear this yere chile! Ho, ho, ho!
I--b'lieve--I shall--crack my poor ole sides! Grows! Oh my!"

"You mustn't laugh so, Comfort," said Nelly, with dignity, "you make me
feel,--well, leastways, you make me feel real bad."

"Oh dear, dear," mumbled the old woman in a faint voice. "That does
beat all! Why, see here, Nelly,--s'pose now, I had a sister once, and
that ar sister got married and had a little boy, what ought he to call
_me_, eh?"

"Why, his Aunt Comfort, to be sure," was the reply.

"And I ought to call him neffy John, or Johnny, for short, oughtn't I?
Well, it was 'bout my neffy Johnny I was laughin' yesterday. Now I'll
tell yer how it was, sence I've done laughin' 'bout him to-day,--oh
my! You see, Johnny is a slave down South, ever so far off, on a rice
plantation."

"_Slave?_" repeated Nelly, with growing interest; "what's _slave_,
Comfort?"

"Oh, somethin' that grows," answered Comfort, chuckling. "A slave is
a black man, woman, or chile that has a marster. This _marse_, as we
call him, can sell the slave to anybody for a lot o' money, and the
poor slave, as has been a t'ilin', strivin' soul all his days, can say
nuthin' ag'in' it. It's the _law_, yer see."

"Comfort," said Nelly, "stop a minute. Do you think that is a right
law?"

"No," said Comfort, "I can't say as I does. Some marsters are good, and
some, on the contrary, are oncommon bad. Now my little neffy has a good
'un. Ever sence his poor mammy's death, I've been savin' and savin',
and t'ilin' and t'ilin', to buy Johnny and bring him North, 'cause I
set a good deal on him. This ere good marse of his agreed to let me buy
him, when he was nuffin' but a baby; and he's been keepin' of him for
me all this yere long time."

"I'm glad I'm not Johnny," said Nell, earnestly; "If bein' a slave is
getting bought and sold like a cow or a dog, a slave is just what I
don't want to be. Hasn't Johnny any relations down there, Comfort?"

The old woman shook her head.

"I'm the only one of his kin in the 'varsel world."

"Poor little fellow!" said Nelly meditating; "I don't wonder you want
to buy him. How old is he?"

"Twelve year."

"And you've got enough money, Comfort?"

A bright smile beamed suddenly all over that dark face.

"Ho!" she cried, "that ar's just what I was laughin' at yesterday.
I want only a leetle more, and 'deed, my neffy will have no marse
ag'in,--only a missus, and that'll be _me_, thank the Lord!"

The old colored woman tossed her apron over her head, and from the odd
puffing noises that immediately began to sound from behind it, Nelly
supposed she was weeping. She thought she must have been mistaken,
however, the next moment, for Comfort pulled down the apron a little
savagely, as though ashamed of having indulged in such a luxury as a
private groan or two, and in a stern voice bade Nelly go up in her
(Comfort's) room, feel under the bolster, on the side nearest the wall,
and bring down to her the foot of a stocking which she would find there.

"And don't let the grass grow under yer feet, neither," said Comfort,
by way of a parting benediction, as the child softly closed the door.
It was reopened almost immediately, and Nelly's smiling face appeared.

"I say, Comfort."

"Well chile, what now?"

"I'm real, _real_ sorry for that little neffy of yours you've been
tellin' me about. And, Comfort, when he comes I'll be as good to him
as I can. I was thinkin' I would knit a pair of gray, woollen stockings
to have ready for him, shall I? How big is he?"

"'Bout your size," replied Comfort. "The notion of them stockings is
quite nice. I'm much obleeged to yer, Nelly."

Nelly looked delighted, and started to go up-stairs once more. In about
a minute and a half, her face was peering into the kitchen again.

"Comfort, I guess I'll knit a red binding at the top of the stockings,
to look handsome, shall I?"

"Why, yes," said Comfort, mightily pleased; "that will make 'em smart,
won't it?"

"A red yarn binding," continued the little girl, "knit on after the
stocking is toed off,--a binding full of little scallops and such like!"

"Laws, chile," said Comfort, benignantly, "I sorter think yer might
stop short of them scallops. Neffy won't be anxious about scallops, I
reckon, seein' as how he has only wored nater's stockings so far, with
no petik'lar bindin' at all, that I knows on. Come, now, mind yerself
and run up-stairs. I can't be wastin' all my time, a-waitin'."

Nelly shut the door, and went singing up-stairs, two at once, while the
old woman employed her valuable time in smoking her pipe.

In a short time eager, young footsteps were heard dancing along the
entry, and into the room came Nelly, looking as happy as though for her
there existed no ill-natured schoolmate in all the world.

"Here it is!" she said, holding triumphantly up the foot of an old
stocking, ragged at the edges, but scrupulously clean,--the same in
fact, from which Comfort had once given her a small gift of money;
"here it is, Comfort; but didn't I have a powerful hunt for it! I
dived under the bolster and under the mattrass,--at the foot,--at
the head,--at the sides,--and then I found it on the sacking. Hear
how it jingles! What fun it must be to earn money, Comfort! Do look
at my hair,--if I haven't got it full of feathers, poking among your
pillows!" Sure enough, starting up all over her curls were gray and
white downy particles.

"Laws sakes," exclaimed Comfort, helping her to pick them off, "that
ar hole must a broke loose ag'in in my bolster! I can sew it up every
Saturday night, and sure as I'm livin', it bursts ag'in Monday mornin'."

"That's 'cause your brain is too heavy; you've got too many thoughts in
it, perhaps," laughed Martin, who entered at that moment, and began to
stamp the snow from his feet on the kitchen doormat.

"O Martin," cried Nell, "see how rich Comfort is! She has saved that
fat stocking full of money, to buy her neffy."

"Buy her neffy!" repeated Martin, unbuttoning his overcoat.

"Yes, he's a slave, you know."

"No," said the boy, "I don't know, Nelly; I never even heard of neffy
before."

"Oh, his _name_ isn't neffy, Martin. Oh, no, not at all," said the
little girl, with an air of importance. "He is called John, and Comfort
is going to buy him, and I am to begin a pair of stockings for him
to-morrow."

Comfort held up her bag half full.

"This yere is my money-box," she said, overflowing with satisfaction.

"_Box!_" repeated Nell. "Why, it is not a _box_ at all, Comfort. It's
the foot of a worn-out stocking."

The old woman turned upon her a little grimly, "Stockin' or no stockin'
I _calls_ it my money-box, and that's enough. Box it is."

"That's funny," said Nelly; "I don't see much good in calling a
stocking a box as long as it is a stocking."

"Well, I does," said Comfort, sharply; and with some of the old
ill-temper she once used to vent so largely on Nell, she snatched up
the bag, and giving it a toss upon a pantry shelf, slammed the door
with a mighty noise.

For a little while silence descended on the group. It was an
uncomfortable silence. No one in the room felt happy or at ease. Of
such power is a single ill-natured expression!

Comfort was restless, because her conscience reproached her, while
at the same time Nelly was experiencing secret remorse for having
irritated her by thoughtless words. Perhaps Martin Wray was more
distressed than either of his companions, at what had taken place. His
was naturally a peaceable disposition, and he could not bear to witness
scenes of discord. The sight of his pleasant face saddened, did not
tend to make little Nell feel happier. She longed to have him reprove
her, or exhort her, as he so often did, to better behavior; but Martin
sat in his chair by the fire, sorrowful and mute.

Nothing was heard but the hissing of the burning wood on the wide
hearth, and the whistling sounds and muffled roars of the wind without.

It was too much to bear this any longer. Nelly got up with a long,
penitent face, and hovered rather wistfully around the chair where
Comfort sat, still smoking her pipe. The old domestic had taken
advantage of the fact of her eyes being half closed, to pretend that
she did not see the little figure standing at her side, on account of
just going off into a most delightful doze. She even went so far as
to get up a gentle, extempore fit of snoring, but Nelly was not to be
deceived.

"Comfort," she said, in a mild, quiet voice.

No answer, excepting three exceedingly distinct snores.

"Com_fort_," was repeated, in a louder tone.

"WHAT!!" growled the old woman, opening her eyes so suddenly
that the child started back. Comfort began to laugh, however, so Nell
felt no fear of having disturbed her in reality.

"I am sorry I said that wasn't your money-box, Comfort. I didn't mean
to contradict, or such like. It was all along o' my contrary temper,
and if you'll forgive me, I'll try not to act so again."

The old colored woman appeared a little confused.

"'Deed, honey," she said, "yer haven't done nuthin' wrong; it's all
_me_. I dunno what gits into me sometimes. Well, now, hand me that ar
plaguey stocking, and I'll let you and Martin count my money."

Nelly smiled, looked delighted at being restored to favor, and flew to
the pantry.

The bag was on too high a shelf for her to reach, however, and she had
got the poker and was in the act of violently punching and hooking it
down, as she best could, her eyes and cheeks bright with the exertion,
when Martin--the sadness quite gone from his face--advanced to help
her. Comfort took the bag from him, and with a grand flourish,
emptied it on the vacant table. The flourish was a little _too_ grand,
however, and much more effective than Comfort had intended. The shining
silver dollars, with which the stocking was partially filled, fell
helter-skelter on the table, and many of them rolled jingling and
glittering over the floor.

Nelly laughed and scrambled after them, Martin shouted and tumbled down
on hands and knees to help find them, while the owner, quite dismayed,
stood still and did nothing.

"'Deed, 'deed!" she said; "how could I be so keerless? But there's
thirty of 'em, and thirty I'll find."

Before the children knew what she was about, she seized the broom and
began to sweep the rag-carpet with great nervous dashes, that had no
other effect than to raise a tremendous dust.

[Illustration: "Comfort relinquished the broom at this, and began to
count." Page 69]

"Stop!" cried Martin; "don't sweep, please, Comfort; Nelly and I will
find them for you. That dust just goes into our eyes and blinds us. If
you are sure there were thirty, it is easy enough to search till we
make up the number."

Comfort relinquished the broom at this, and began to count; as fast as
the children found any of the coins they dropped them into her lap.

"Twenty-six, twenty-seven," she said, at length; "three more, and we've
got all the little shiners back."

"Here's two," cried Martin, "behind the dust-pan."

"And here's the thirtieth," exclaimed Nelly, "sticking out from under
your shoe, Comfort! How funny!"

And so, laughing, the children saw Comfort's money-box bulge again to
its original size.

"That ar's only my last five months' wages. Mrs. Brooks paid me
yesterday," said the old woman, proudly, as she tied the stocking
together with a piece of yellow, time-stained tape. "I've got three
hundred jes' like 'em in a bank in the city; and when with a little
extry t'ilin' and savin', I git in all, three hundred and fifty, my
neffy will never be a slave no more!"

Here the kind voice of Mrs. Brooks was heard calling the children into
the sitting-room.

"Good-night, Comfort," said Martin; "I wish _I_ had thirty dollars; yet
I do not envy you yours, one bit,--no, not one bit!"

"Yes," added Nell, rising to go, "and _I_ don't envy either, but I
wouldn't mind owning another stocking just like that. And, Comfort, I
am going to ask mother to let me set all the eggs of my white bantam
hen, early in the spring; and I'll _sell_ the chickens and give you the
money to help buy your neffy."



CHAPTER IV.

"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 blot, Melindy!"

"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 you."

"I couldn't help it," said Melinda, eagerly. "I was just folding it up,
when it happened. I am as sorry as can be."

"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 looked conscious.

"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 Nelly waiting."

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, Miss Elinor?"

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 proceedings.

"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 much
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 them."

"Father says stump fences are the very best kind," remarked Melinda,
knowingly.

"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 her.

"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
poor."

"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 but 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 winter."

"What do they do for windows?" asked Nell.

"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 people 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 comfortable 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!'"

"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.

"Lock what?"

"The door."

"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 know!"

"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 their lives.

"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, do.'

"'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 without her.'

"'But,' said I, 'how it must look! a cat in church! A dog would not be
so bad. But a cat! Go home, Wildfire!' 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 in
company 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 frisking 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,
Robert, 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, O 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 left behind."

"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 don't seem a bit
like a stump fence now, does it?"

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 others.

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 gleaming
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 sharply,

"Of course she is. I know that as well as you, without bein' told."

Nelly felt something choking her in her throat.

"_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 forbidding voice.

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 disappeared forever.

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," she said.

"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 hurry."

From that day Melinda and Nelly were friends.



CHAPTER V.

CHICKENS AND "POETRY."


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 myself 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.

"Yes, ma'am."

"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. Roar 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 'ere 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! 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, but 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."



CHAPTER VI.

GETTING LOST.


The next day, when Nelly went to school with her verse-paper in her
hand, all ready for presentation, she found the children talking
together in little groups, in tones of great surprise and delighted
satisfaction.

Melinda, now grown kind and loving to Nelly, as a consequence of that
little girl's own patience and affectionate effort, came forward at
once to tell the news.

"Only think!" she said; "Mrs. Harrow's son, Sidney, has come home, and
oh, Miss Milly and Miss Elinor are _so_ glad!"

"And so am I," cried Nelly; "if ever there was good luck, that is."

"I am not so sure about that," said Melinda, with a sage, grown-up air;
for she liked to seem like a woman, and often told her companions,
"dear knows, if _she_ wasn't big enough to be thought one, she would
like to know who _was_!"

"Why, isn't Mr. Sidney a nice young man, Melindy?" asked Nelly, in
bewilderment.

"Hush!" said Melinda, drawing her into a corner; "don't talk so loud.
You see, he's come home as poor as he went, and folks are afraid that
he will go on just as he did before,--that is, spend all his own
earnings and plenty of his mother's, too."

"Dear, dear!" said Nelly; "that will be hard for Miss Milly."

"Anyway," continued Melinda, wisely, "we can hope for the best, you
know. Miss Milly is so glad to have him back, that she came into
this 'ere school-room, this very morning, and told the scholars she
was going to take them all on a picnic, to-morrow, up yonder, on Mr.
Bradish's mountain. We are to ask our mothers if we can go, and then
come here with our dinners in our baskets, and set off together as soon
as the grass dries. Fun, isn't it?"

Nelly's eyes danced.

"A picnic! well, if that isn't nice! I hope Comfort will put something
real good in my basket, to-morrow." Then she added, thoughtfully, "I
wonder if Martin might not go, too?"

"I'll ask," said Melinda; and up she went to Miss Milly, who at that
moment entered.

Little Johnny Bixby, a boy of ten, now came up to wish Nell
good-morning, and talk about the picnic. Nelly gave him her poetry, and
he read it, and said,

"It's splendid, Nelly; I'll show it to mother as soon as I get home."

The next day came. The skies were clear, but the wind was high, and
swayed the branches of the trees around the farm-house, and swept the
long, wet grass to and fro.

"Is it going to storm?" asked Nelly, anxiously, of Martin, as
immediately after breakfast they stood together in the door-way and
looked forth.

"No," said Martin; "I think it will not storm, but the breeze will be a
pretty stiff one all day. Perhaps Miss Milly will postpone the picnic."

"Oh, dear!" cried Nelly; "I hope not. What! put it off after Comfort
has baked us that great, bouncing sponge-cake, Martin?"

Martin was going too, for Miss Milly had sent him an invitation, and
Mr. Brooks had granted him, very willingly, a holiday. He had only to
help milk the cows early in the morning, and then he was free to follow
his pleasure till sundown. He was dressed now in his Sunday suit; his
hair was combed smoothly over his forehead, and his best cloth cap was
in his hands. Altogether he looked so tidy, so good, so happy, that
when Mr. Brooks came in the room, he asked Comfort, with a smile, if
she didn't think a lad of about the age of Martin ought to have at
least a dime of spending money, when he went to picnics. On Comfort's
saying heartily, without taking one single instant for reflection,
"Yes, Sir," the farmer put his hand in his pocket, drew out a new and
bright quarter of a dollar, and dropped it in Martin's cap. Martin
tried to return it, but Mr. Brooks would not hear to any such thing,
but shouldered his hoe and went off, whistling, into the garden.

"I'll tell you what to do with it," said Nelly, in a confidential
whisper; "buy round hearts; they're four for a penny. Only think of
four times twenty-five round hearts! How much is that, Martin?"

Martin laughed, and said he guessed he would not invest in round
hearts, for Comfort's cake was so large.

"So _monstrous_ large," put in Nelly, dividing a glance of affection
between Comfort and the cake.

"Yes," continued Martin; "it is so _monstrous_ that it ought to last,
at least, two whole days."

The farmer's wife came in just then, and told them she would pack the
dinner-basket herself, to see that everything was right, and that it
was full enough, for she said she had heard somebody remark that good
appetites were sure to go along on picnics. Nelly and Martin stood by
and looked at her as she unfolded a clean white towel, and outspread
it in the basket, so that the ends hung over the sides. After this
she took some thin pieces of cold beef and put them between slices of
bread and butter, and these she packed away first. Now came Comfort's
sponge-cake, cut in quarters, and as many little lady-apples as
remained from the winter's store,--for it was late in the spring. A cup
to drink out of the mountain streams was also added, and the towel-ends
were nicely folded over the whole and pinned together.

A happy pair they were, when they set out,--Martin carrying the
provisions, and Nelly singing and making flying skips beside him. When
they reached the school-house, nearly all the children were assembled.
Miss Milly was there, and her brother too, a handsome young lad, of
about eighteen, with a very brown, sunburnt face. Nelly knew him, the
moment she saw him, to be the same person she had seen before. They
were not to start for an hour yet, for, high as the wind had been, and
was, the grass was still glittering with dew. The little road-side
brooks were furrowed into white-crested waves, and the school-house
creaked and moaned with the gusts that blew against it.

"I am almost afraid to venture taking the children out," said
Miss Milly; but upon hearing this, such a clamor of good-humored
expostulation arose, and so many sorrowful "oh's," and "oh dear me's,"
resounded through the room, that Sidney Harrow, as any other boy would
have done, begged his sister to have mercy and never mind the wind.

In a little while the party started. Mr. Bradish's mountain, the
proposed scene of the picnic, was distant about one mile from the
school-house. The route to it lay through a long, shady lane that
gradually wound towards the woods, and lost itself at last amid
the huge, gray rocks and dense shade of the hill-top itself. It was
spring-time, and the grass was very green, and delicate wild flowers
starred all the road-side. Here and there, in the crevice of a mossy
stone, grew a tuft of wild pinks, nodding against a group of scarlet
columbines, while, wherever the ground afforded unusual moisture, blue
violets thrust up their graceful heads in thick masses.

"Hurrah!" cried Johnny Bixby, as they reached the summit of the
mountain; "Hurrah! here we are at last. The picnic's begun!"

Miss Milly said the children might stray around together for some time
before it would be the dinner-hour, and they might gather as many wild
flowers as they wished, to decorate the picnic grounds. All the girls
set to work, and such a crowd of violets, anemones, wild buckwheat,
and pinks as was soon piled around Miss Milly's feet, was a sight
to behold. While Sidney Harrow with Martin and the rest of the boys
were fishing in a little stream that ran over the mountain, about one
quarter of a mile distant, Miss Milly's party tied bouquets to the
branches of the trees, and hung garlands on the bushes, around the
spot where they were to dine. The wind died away, the birds sung out
merrily, and the air grew soft and warm, so that, after all, there
was no fear of little folks taking cold. The brook where Sidney and
Martin led the boys was not a very deep one, and therefore it was not
dangerous, but it was celebrated for miles around for its fish. A
large, overhanging rock, under the shade of a tree, served, as Martin
said, for a "roosting-place," and from it they found the bites so
frequent that quite a little string of fish was made, and hung on some
dead roots that projected from the bank.

"What a wild place this is," said Martin, looking around him, as he
drew in his line for the fourth time.

"Yes," said Sidney; "it is. That is the best of it. I wouldn't give a
fig for it if it wasn't. Look at that cow coming to drink. I wonder
where she hails from! How she looks at us!"

The cow did indeed regard them with a long stare of astonishment, and
then, scarcely tasting the water, she plunged, bellowing, into the
woods again.

"She is frightened," said Martin; "that's old Duchess, one of Mr.
Bradish's cows. He turns them out with their calves every summer, to
take care of themselves till fall."

"Why, is the pasture good enough for that, up here on this mountain?"
asked Sidney, baiting his hook.

"Yes," replied Martin; "I think so; it's rather rough, but cows are
mighty knowin', and pick out the best. Besides, they have their
freedom, and they thrive on that as much as anything. Then the calves
are so well grown in the fall by these means, that when farmers, who
put them out, go to drive them home to winter-quarters, they hardly
know their own again."

"There, she's coming back!" cried a little boy; "and a whole lot with
her!"

Martin looked where the crashing of boughs told of the approach, and
saw about a dozen cows, headed by Duchess, making for that part of
the stream where they were fishing. Some half-grown calves scampered
at their heels, in a frightened way, that showed they were not much
accustomed to the sight of human beings.

"Poor Duchess! Good Duchess!" said Martin, in a kind tone; but Duchess
tossed up her nice, brown nose, and snorted at him.

"She don't like the looks of us, that's flat," said Sidney, with a
little alarm that made Martin smile; "I'm sure I don't like _her_
appearance one bit. Suppose she should horn us!" And he jumped hastily
up from the rock.

"What!" said Martin; "you, a sailor, who know what it is to face
death on the ocean, every day of your life, and yet afraid of a cow!
Besides, she hasn't a horn to her head! Just look at her. She has
nothing but two little, miserable stumps!"

Sidney came back again, for he had retreated a step or two, under the
trees, and looked somewhat ashamed.

"What's the use of jumpin'?" said Johnny Bixby, in a big, pompous
tone, that he meant to be very courageous and manly; "Duchess is only
frightened at seeing us. This is her drinking-place, may be."

"Oh!" said Sidney; "of course _I_ am not afraid;" but his lips turned
blue as Duchess made a sudden move, half-way across the stream, and
then stood still, and roared again.

"She's a little scared at us, that's all," said Martin; "she'll get
used to the sight of us pretty soon."

"After she's made the water muddy and spoiled the fishing," said
Sidney, in an ill-natured tone.

Martin took off his shoes and stockings, rolled up his trousers, and
waded slowly across the brook towards the herd of cattle, holding
out his hand and speaking to one or two of the animals by name, in a
coaxing, petting way:

"Come here, Spotty,--come here, good little White Sue,--come here, my
poor old Duchess!"

The cows stood and looked at him, very quietly. The one he called Sue,
was small, and entirely white, with the exception of a bright red star
on her forehead; she was a very pretty creature. She seemed to remember
having seen Martin before, for presently she marched slowly up to
him and sniffed his hand, while staring at him from head to foot. The
boy scratched her ears, as he had often done before upon passing Mr.
Bradish's barnyard; she appeared to be pleased, and rubbed her head
against his shoulder.

"Softly, there, Susie," said Martin; "I don't like that. That's my
Sunday go-to-meeting coat."

He stepped back as he spoke, and the abrupt movement alarmed the whole
troop. White Sue gave a loud bellow, and dashed abruptly across the
stream into the woods on the other side,--her companions hurriedly
following, splashing the water over themselves and their calves as they
did so.

Sidney Harrow dropped his pole, and with a half-shriek, ran in the
opposite direction, towards the picnic ground.

As the fishing at that place was now over, on account of the
disturbance of the water, Martin told the boys they had better join the
rest of the party; so they gathered up the fish and bait, and left the
spot, Martin carrying the rod of the brave sailor in addition to his
own.

They found Miss Milly building a fire in a small clearing, where it
would not scorch the trees. Sidney was with her. As he saw the boys
approach he got down on his knees and began to blow the flame into a
blaze, and puffed and panted so hard at his work, that he could not
even get his breath to say "thank you," when Martin remarked, "Here is
your rod, Sidney. You left it on the rock. I'll lean it against this
maple, till you are ready to take charge of it."

"I am glad you have come," said Miss Milly to the group of boys; "for
we are getting magnificent appetites, and I wanted Sidney and Martin to
roast the clams."

"Clams!" cried Martin; "that was what made Sidney's load so heavy,
then, coming up the hill. How I like roasted clams!"

Miss Milly showed him Sidney's empty basket, and told him that she and
Melinda had prepared a compact bed of the clams on the ground, and that
they had then placed over them a quantity of dry branches, ready to
kindle when Sidney should come with the matches, which he carried in
his pocket, and had brought for the purpose.

The tablecloth was already spread on a flat rock near at hand, and the
little girls were still busy arranging the contents of their baskets
upon it, for, by general consent, they were to dine together that day,
and share with each other the eatables that had been provided for the
excursion.

Martin reached down his and Nelly's basket, from a high limb where he
had hung it for safety, and Comfort's big cake, which Mrs. Brooks had
cut in quarters, was fitted together and placed in the centre of the
cloth for the chief ornament.

"Will not Comfort feel proud when she hears it?" whispered Nelly to
Martin, as she passed him with her hands full of knives and forks.

The fire was soon blazing and sputtering over the clams, and in a
short time Sidney pronounced them cooked. With branches of trees, the
boys then drew the burning fragments away, and scattered the red coals
till the bed of baked clams presented itself. Miss Milly tried one and
found it was just in a fine state to eat, and then the children were
told that all was ready.

Armed with plates, pieces of bread and butter, and knives and forks,
they drew near, and the talking and laughing that ensued, as each
opened the hot shells, for his or herself, made a merry scene of it.

There were enough for all, and to spare; and when they left the
clam-bed, still smoking and smouldering, to assemble around
"table-rock," as Melinda called it, where the daintier part of the
feast was spread, Martin said he had never tasted such finely roasted
clams in his life.

"I expect," said Miss Milly, "that the charm lies in our appetites."

"Yes," said Johnny Bixby, taking an enormous bite of cake, and, to
Nelly's great horror, speaking with his mouth full--"yes, I think goin'
on picnics and such like, is real hungry work."

This speech was received with a shout of approbation; and, on Sidney
remarking that he thought that Johnny should be made the orator of the
occasion, the children laughed again, and quite as heartily as though
they fully understood what _orator_ meant.

When the dinner was over, and the larger girls began to gather up the
fragments, and restore plates and spoons to their owners, the rest
prepared for a ramble. Miss Milly said they must not go far, nor stay
long, and, promising to obey, the children set out together.

As soon as they were separated from the others, which happened
insensibly, Johnny Bixby gave Nelly, with whom he was walking, a very
animated account of Sidney Harrow's behavior at the fishing-ground.

"Afraid of cows!" said Nell; "well, that beats all I ever heard. I am
afraid that Sidney will not help Miss Milly along much. Come, show me
where you fished, Johnny, will you?"

Johnny led the way, and in a little while he and Nelly stood on the
very rock from which the boys had dropped their lines in the morning.
The moss upon it was trodden under foot, and it was quite wet where
the fish had been hauled in.

"I wonder if this is a creek," said Nell, looking up and down the brook
with an admiring gaze; "Marm Lizy used often to tell me of a creek
where she rowed a boat, when she was young."

"Marm Lizy?" asked Johnny; "who's that, Nell?"

Nelly turned very red, and was silent. She remembered, like a flash of
lightning, that John was a stranger in the village, his home being in
the adjacent city, and that therefore he had, perhaps, never heard the
story of her degraded childhood. Pride rose up and made her deceitful.

"Marm Lizy!" she repeated, carelessly; "oh, I don't know; somebody or
other who used to live in the village. What's that, Johnny, flopping
about in the grass?"

She pointed to the rock-side, where, as Johnny soon saw, a decided
"flopping" was indeed going on.

"A fish! a fish!" cried the boy, catching it and holding it up in both
hands, so that Nell could look at it; "I'll take it to Martin to put on
the string with the rest. It must have floundered off."

"Oh, let us put it back," cried Nelly; "poor Mr. Fish! I think you
would really like to try your hand at swimming again."

"Fin, you mean," laughed John; "fishes don't have hands that ever _I_
heard tell. Shall I let it go?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Nell; "but wait till I get down from the rock so
that I can see it swim away." She clambered down, and soon stood by
Johnny's side on the long grass that grew close to the brook's edge,
and mingled with the little white bubbles on its surface. Johnny
stooped, and, holding the fish, put his hands under the water. The
moment the poor, tortured thing felt the touch of its native element,
it gave a start and would have darted away.

"Oh, Johnny!" exclaimed Nell; "don't tease it so cruelly. Please let it
go."

Johnny lifted up his hands, and instantly the fish swam off so swiftly
that they could scarcely see which way it went. At last Nelly espied it
under the shadow of the rock, puffing its little sides in and out, and
looking at them with its keen, bright eyes, in a very frightened way.

[Illustration: "Johnny lifted up his hands, and instantly the fish
swam off." Page 154.]

"Poor fish!" said Johnny; "swim away, and remember not to nibble at
boy's hooks again. A worm is a very good thing for you when it isn't at
the end of a piece of string."

The fish gazed at him a little longer, then seeming to take his advice,
darted from the rock to where the water was deeper and darker, and was
soon lost to sight.

"That's the place Sidney's cows came from," said Johnny, pointing
to the opposite side of the stream, where the bushes were torn and
trodden, and marks of hoofs were in the mud and grass.

"Let us take off our shoes and stockings and wade over and follow their
track, to see where it leads," cried Nelly; and, suiting the action to
the word, the two children soon found themselves bare-footed,--Nell
tying her boots to dangle one from each of her apron-strings, and
Johnny carrying his in his hands. Nell got her feet in first, but drew
back, saying it was cold; so Johnny dashed over, splashing his little
bare legs, and leaving a muddy track all across the brook.

"There," said he, somewhat boastfully, "that's the way! I am glad I'm
not afraid like girls."

Nelly did not like this treatment, and she was about giving a hasty and
angry answer, when, sobered by the recollection of the deep fault she
had already committed, by her late untruth, she only said,--

"Sidney was afraid of _cows_!" and waded slowly and silently through
the water.

They found the path to be quite a well-worn one. It was evidently
that by which the cows were in the habit of coming to drink. It was
pretty, too, and very wild. In a little while, as they left the brook
farther and farther behind them, the walking became dry and very good,
so that they resumed their shoes, but not their stockings,--Johnny
stating that he hated the latter, and would rather "scratch himself to
pieces" on the blackberry thorns than put them on again. The shade was
very pleasant. Once or twice they paused to rest on the large stones
which were scattered here and there through the path, but this was not
for any great length of time; they wandered on and on, taking no note
of time, nor of their prolonged absence from their companions, but
enjoying every thing they saw, and wishing all the days in the year
were like this one.

The openings in the trees were very few; they were penetrating,
although they did not know it, into the very heart of the wood. Once,
and once only, they caught a glimpse, through the branches, of a small
clearing. Half-burned stumps still showed themselves amid the rank
grass. On the top of an elevation, at one side of this clearing, a
horse was quietly grazing. As he moved, Johnny saw he was lame, and
from this the children judged that, like the cows, he was turned out to
pasture for the summer. As Nelly parted the bushes to look at him, he
gave a frightened start, and began to paw the grass. He still stood on
the little hill, in beautiful relief against the soft blue of the sky,
the rising breeze of the coming sunset blowing his long, black mane and
tail gracefully in the air as the children turned away to pursue their
journey. The cow-path soon branched into others more winding and narrow
than the one they had just quitted. The time since dinner had passed so
rapidly and happily, that they did not dream night was coming, or that
they had strayed too far away from their companions. The wild flowers
grew so thickly, and the mosses were of such surprising softness and
length, that it was scarcely any wonder they forgot their teacher's
parting injunction.

When night at last really began to approach, and Nelly looked anxiously
around at the gathering twilight in the woods, Johnny said it was
nothing but the natural shadows of the trees, and so they concluded
to go on a little farther to gather a few of the laurel blossoms they
saw growing amid their shining green leaves, a short distance beyond.
When they had reached this spot, and captured the desired treasures,
Nelly saw with dismay, that the path ended abruptly against the side
of an immense rock, quite as large, she thought, as the whole of the
farm-house at home.

"Nell!" said Johnny, suddenly; "I believe we are lost! How to find our
way back again over these long paths we have been walking through all
the afternoon, I am sure I do not know."

"And I am so tired now, I can hardly stir," said Nelly, in a
complaining tone; "and night is near, as I told you before."

Johnny looked around without answering. He saw that there was no help
for it; they must return the way they came, long as it was, or stay in
the woods all night.

"Come, Nelly," he said, "we must go back on the same path, if we can."

It was getting quite dusky. They took each other by the hand and
trudged along. One by one the flowers dropped from Nelly's full apron,
to the ground, and at length her weary fingers unclasped, and the apron
itself resumed its proper position. Everybody knows how easy it is to
lose one's way, and what a difficult thing it is to find it again. Our
wanderers discovered it to be so. They got upon a wrong path that led
them into soft, wet ground, where, the first thing they knew, they were
up to their ankles in mud; and when they had extricated themselves as
well as they could, and struck out boldly for home, confident that they
were now making a direct short-cut for it, they found themselves, in
a little while, on the same path, at the foot of the same large rock
where they were before.

This was a little too much for the patience of the two picnickers.
Johnny looked at Nell gravely.

"Don't!" he said, "don't, Nelly dear!"

"Don't what?" asked Nelly, dropping down where she stood, so completely
exhausted as to be glad of a moment's rest.

"Don't cry. You look just like it. All girls cry, you know."

[Illustration: "They saw then, that this huge rock was on the very
summit of the mountain." Page 163.]

"Do they?" asked Nell, absently looking about her. Then she asked, with
energy, "Johnny, do you know what I think we ought to do? We must climb
this big mountain of a rock, some way, and see what there is on the
other side of it. Maybe we are near home."

"I guess not," said Johnny; "but I can climb it if you can."

After thinking the case over, they clasped hands once more, and began
the ascent. They had to sit down several times, to rest, on the way.
The sharp points of the rock and the narrow crevices which they
mounted, hurt their tired feet.

At last they reached the top, and found themselves in comparative
daylight, because they were now out of the woods. They saw then, that
this huge rock was on the very summit of the mountain on which the
picnic had taken place. They beheld from it, distinctly, their homes
in the valley beneath. The rock was entirely free from foliage, and
nothing obscured the splendor of the landscape below. The sun had just
set red and misty in the west, shedding his parting glow over the
peaceful village and the scattered farm-houses, on its outskirts.

No wonder the two children were overcome by fatigue,--they had been
gradually, but unconsciously ascending the hill the whole afternoon.

They stood there now, hand in hand, looking down upon their far-off
homes.

"Are you afraid, Nell?" asked her companion, in a low voice.

"No," said Nell; "not now, that we are out of those dark woods;
besides, I have thought of a plan to make them see us from below. Look
here."

She put her hand in her pocket and drew forth a match.

"Sidney Harrow dropped this when he was kindling the fire, and I
thought of Comfort's savin' ways and picked it up. Can you guess what I
am going to do? We must get together some brush-wood, and make a fine
blaze that they will see in the village."

"And even if they don't come to bring us home," said Johnny, "it will
keep us warm till morning, and then we can find our own way. But we
must go down the rock to get the wood. Oh dear! I don't think much of
picnics, do you, Nell?"

Very soon a fire burned on the top of the rock, and notwithstanding
their fatigue, the children kept it in a broad blaze. As the last
bright cloud of sunset faded away, the flames spread boldly into the
night air, a signal of distress to those who were safely housed in the
farm-houses beneath.

Having got the fire well going, and a large stock of wood on hand to
feed it, the weary, dispirited children sat down to rest, beside it.

Neither spoke for a long time. They listened intently for the expected
aid, yet nothing but the dreary hoot of the owls met their ears,
mingled with the moan of the wind, which now being steadily increasing,
blew the flames high in the air.

Nelly got up to poke the coals with a branch she kept for that purpose,
and when she had done so, she stood leaning upon it and looking
sorrowfully into the valley, where she saw lights twinkling from
windows.

"Johnny," she said, softly, "do you believe anybody can be _perfectly_
good in this world?"

"Yes," said Johnny, carelessly, "I s'pose so, if a fellow tries hard
enough. I guess it's pretty tough work though, don't you?"

"The more _I_ try, the worse I seem to be; at least,--well, you see,
the worse I _feel_ myself to be."

"We've neither of us been very good to-day, Nell. Miss Milly told us
not to go far, nor to stay long, and I believe we've gone as far as we
could, and I'm sure we've stayed a deal longer than we want to,--_I_
have. Are you afraid _now_, Nell?"

"God takes care of us, always," said little Nell, solemnly, still
leaning on her branch and crossing her feet. "Comfort tells me that,
and mother reminds me of it when she hears me say my prayers on going
to bed."

"Do you believe it? Does He see us _now_?" questioned her companion,
raising himself on his elbow and gazing at her as she stood between him
and the bright fire.

"I believe it," was the reverent answer. "Dear Johnny, let us not
forget our prayers to-night, if we stay up here."

There was another long, long pause.

"Johnny?"

"Well, Nell."

"I was wicked to you to-day. I was proud, and told you I didn't know
who Marm Lizy was, when you asked me. That wasn't true, and now I'm
sorry."

"Well, who was she, Nell?"

Tears of repentance for her own sin, and likewise of sorrow at the
recollection of poor Marm Lizy's misspent life, rose to Nelly's eyes,
and glittered on her cheeks in the red firelight, like rubies. Johnny
looked at her with redoubled interest.

"Marm Lizy," said Nell, getting through her self-imposed confession
with a little difficulty, "Marm Lizy was a--a--a sort of mother to me.
She wasn't good to me, and I wasn't good to her. She beat me sometimes,
and--and I didn't know any better than to hate her. I wouldn't do so
_now_, I think. I should be sorry for her."

"Where is Marm Lizy now, Nelly?"

The boy did not know what remembrances that simple question awoke.

Nelly did not answer, but crouched down by the fire, and buried her
face in her hands.

After a long interval she started up again.

She heard shouts, faint at first, but gradually growing nearer.

She and Johnny set up a long, loud, eager cry in return, that woke a
dozen mountain echoes. Then dogs barked, lanterns gleamed through the
dark woods, the shouts burst forth again, and many voices were heard
calling them by name!

The fire had done its work. The LOST were FOUND at
last, for in a short time Nelly was clasped in her father's arms.

So terminated the picnic.


THE END.



Transcriber's Note:

Spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been retained as in the
original publication except as follows:

  Page 36
  fish-fork. It wasn't your _changed to_
  fish-fork. "It wasn't your

  Page 54
  I--'blieve--I shall--crack _changed to_
  I--b'lieve--I shall--crack

  Nelly,--'spose now, I had _changed to_
  Nelly,--s'pose now, I had

  Page 55
  growing interest; what's _slave_ _changed to_
  growing interest; "what's _slave_

  Page 63
  little grimly, "stockin' or no stockin' _changed to_
  little grimly, "Stockin' or no stockin'

  Page 87
  evergreens are permitted to remain. _changed to_
  evergreens are permitted to remain."

  Page 89
  'What!' said my uncle _changed to_
  "'What!' said my uncle

  Page 100
  All the people were more _changed to_
  "All the people were more

  Page 104
  It do'n't seem a bit _changed to_
  It don't? seem a bit

  Page 162
  patience of the two picnicers _changed to_
  patience of the two picnickers





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