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Title: Little Bessie, the Careless Girl - or, Squirrels, Nuts, and Water-Cresses
Author: Franklin, Josephine
Language: English
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[Illustration: "They approached slowly, the little animal permitting
them to come quite close, and then the children saw that it was indeed
a squirrel."--p. 15.]



    THE MARTIN AND NELLY STORIES.


    LITTLE BESSIE, THE CARELESS GIRL,

    OR

    SQUIRRELS, NUTS, AND WATER-CRESSES.


    BY
    JOSEPHINE FRANKLIN,

    AUTHOR OF "NELLY AND HER FRIENDS," "NELLY'S FIRST
    SCHOOL-DAYS," "NELLY AND HER BOAT," ETC.


    BOSTON:
    PUBLISHED BY BROWN AND TAGGARD,
    25 AND 29 CORNHILL.
    1861.



    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.



LIST OF THE

"MARTIN AND NELLY STORIES."


       I. NELLY AND HER FRIENDS.
      II. NELLY'S FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS.
     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.
    GOING NUTTING     7

    CHAPTER II.
    THE RIDE HOME    27

    CHAPTER III.
    WATER-CRESSES    41

    CHAPTER IV.
    HUNGRY FISHES    68

    CHAPTER V.
    LOST             98

    CHAPTER VI.
    THE NEST        122



LITTLE BESSIE;

OR,

SQUIRRELS, NUTS, AND WATERCRESSES.



CHAPTER I.

GOING NUTTING.


BESSIE was the only child of a poor widow. The mother and daughter
lived alone together in a small house, about half a mile from Nelly's
home.

Bessie's father died when she was quite young, so young that she did
not remember him. There was a portrait of him, which her mother kept in
her top bureau drawer in her own room. Occasionally the little girl
was allowed to look at it. It made her feel very sad to do so, and the
tears rose in her eyes whenever she thought of what her mother must
have suffered in so great a loss. In the hard task which fell to that
mother of supporting herself and her child, she did not murmur. Before
her husband's death, she had lived in very comfortable circumstances,
but this did not unfit her to work for her living afterwards.

She gathered and sent fruit to market from her little place, she made
butter and sold it to whomever cared to buy, she knit stockings for
her neighbors' children, and, every winter, quilted to order at least
one dozen patchwork counterpanes, with wonderful yellow calico suns in
their centre. By these means she contrived to keep out of debt, and
amass a little sum besides. At the commencement of our story, however,
a severe fit of illness had so wasted her strength and devoured her
little means, that the poor widow felt very much discouraged. The
approach of winter filled her with dread, for she knew that it would be
to her a time of great suffering.

Still, feeble as she was, she managed to continue, but very
irregularly, Bessie's reading and writing lessons. Bessie was not a
promising scholar; she liked to do any thing in the world but study.
She would look longingly out of the window a dozen times in the course
of a single lesson, and when her mother reproved her by rapping her
rather smartly on the head with her thimble, Bessie would only laugh,
and say she guessed her skull must be thick, for the lesson _would not_
get through, and the thimble did not hurt a bit!

Bessie, and Nellie Brooks, of whom my readers have heard in the former
stories of this series, were very much attached to each other. Bessie
was younger than Nellie, but that did not stand in the way of their
affection. Nellie, imperfect as she was herself, used to try sometimes
to teach Bessie how to improve her wild ways. Bessie would listen and
listen, as grave as a cat watching a rat hole, but her little eyes
would twinkle in the midst of the reproof, and she would burst into a
merry shout, and say, "I do declare, Nell, it isn't any use at all to
talk to me about being any better. I'm like the little birds; they're
born to fly and sing, and I'm born to be horrid and naughty, and dance,
and cry, and laugh, just when I shouldn't,--there! I can't be good,
anyway. Sometimes I try, and mother looks as pleased as can be, and
all at once, before I know it, I flounder straight into mischief again."

One beautiful autumn day, Nellie and Bessie went nutting in the woods.
Each of the little girls had a basket on her arm, and Bessie had a bag
besides; for they had great hopes of coming home heavily loaded. It was
early in October. The leaves of the trees had begun to fall, but those
that remained were bright with many colors, the crimson of the maple
trees particularly, making the whole woods look gay. A soft, golden
mist, such as we only see at this season of the year, hung over every
thing, and veiled even the glitter of a little river which flowed past
the village and coursed onward to the ocean.

At first the children met with very little success. The first few
nut-trees they encountered had evidently been visited by some one
before. The marks of trampling feet were visible on the damp ground
beneath, and the branches had been stripped in such rude haste as to
take away both the leaves and the fruit.

"We'll meet better luck further back in the woods," said Nell; "this is
too near home. The village people can come here too easily for us to
expect to find any thing."

They walked further on in very good spirits, climbing over rocks when
they came to them, and swinging their empty baskets in time to snatches
of songs which they sang together. They had gone in this way about a
mile, when suddenly Bessie stopped, and fixed her eyes searchingly on
something near them in the grass.

"What is the matter?" said Nellie.

"Hush, hush!" said Bessie, softly, "don't speak for a minute till I
see! It's an animal!"

"A bear?" exclaimed Nellie, in some alarm, quite unmindful of Bessie's
request for silence, for Nelly was a little bit of a coward, and had
a firm belief in all woods being full of wild animals. As she spoke,
the noise seemed to startle whatever the creature was that Bessie was
watching, for it ran quickly among the dried leaves that strewed the
grass, and bounded on a high rock not far distant.

"There!" said Bessie, in a vexed tone, "you've frightened him away. We
might have tracked him to his hole if you had kept still."

"I was afraid it was a bear," said Nelly, half ashamed.

"A bear!" cried Bessie, in great scorn; "I'd like to see a bear in
_these_ woods."

"Would you? _I_ wouldn't," said Nelly.

"I mean--well--I mean there isn't a bear around here for hundreds of
miles. That was a squirrel you frightened away. Didn't he look funny
springing up there?"

"He's there now, looking at us. Don't you see his head sticking out of
that bush? What bright eyes he has."

Bessie found that it was so. There was the squirrel's head, twisted
oddly on one side, in order to get a good view of his disturbers. His
keen eyes were fixed anxiously on them, as though to discover the cause
of their intrusion. Presently he leaped on a branch of a shrub, and sat
staring solemnly at them.

"It can't be a squirrel," said Bessie, "after all; its tail is not half
bushy or long enough."

"It jumps like one," said Nellie, "and its eyes and ears are just like
a squirrel's too. See, it's gray and white!"

They approached slowly, the little animal permitting them to come quite
close, and then the children saw that it was indeed a squirrel, but
that its tail had, by some accident, been torn nearly half away.

"Perhaps it has been caught in a trap," suggested Nelly.

"Or in a branch of a tree," said Bessie. "Well, anyway, little Mr.
Squirrel, we shall know you again if we meet you."

"I should say," exclaimed Nelly, "that there must be plenty of nuts
somewhere near us, or that gray squirrel would not be likely to be
here."

The two girls now set about searching for a hickory nut-tree, quite
encouraged in the thought that their walk was to be rewarded at last.
Nelly was right in her conjecture. It was not long before they
recognized the well-known leaf of the species of tree of which they
were in quest. A small group of them stood together, not far distant,
and great was the delight of the children to find the ground beneath
well strewed with nuts, some of them lying quite free from their rough
outer shells, others only partially opened, while many of them were
still in the exact state in which they hung upon the tree. Of course
the former were preferred by the little nut gatherers, but it was found
that as these did not fill the bag and baskets, it was necessary to
shell some of the remainder. Accordingly, Bessie selected a large flat
stone, as the scene of operation, and providing herself with another
small one, as a hammer, she began pounding the unshelled nuts, and by
these means accumulated a second store; Nelly gathering them, and
making a pile beside her, ready to be denuded of their hard green
coverings.

"There," triumphantly said Nelly, after a little while; "that dear
little squirrel told the truth. Here is quite a pile of shells showing
the mark of his teeth. See, Bessie, he has nibbled away the sides of
all these, and eaten the meat. How neatly it is done, and what sharp
little fangs he must have!"

The bag and baskets were soon filled, and the two children turned
homeward. The day was a warm one for that season of the year, and their
burdens were very hard to carry on that account. Many a time they
paused on the path to put down the baskets and rest.

"I hope," said Nelly, "that when we get out to the open road, some
wagon will come along that will give us a lift. Who would have thought
that nuts could be so heavy? I am so warm and _so_ thirsty, I do not
know how to get along, and there isn't a single brook about here that
we can drink out of."

"I'll tell you how we will fix it," said Bessie. "I remember, last
year, when I came nutting, I saw a little house, a poor little
concern,--not half as nice as ours, and dear knows that is poor
enough,--standing in the edge of the wood, about half a mile below
where we are now. We can stop when we get there, and I will go in and
borrow a tin cup to drink out of the well."

"A half mile!" echoed Nelly, in a tone of weariness; "I don't believe
we shall get there in an hour, I am so very, very tired."

They walked on slowly, the peculiar heaviness of the warm October
day making each of them feel that to go nutting in such weather was
very hard work. At last the little house presented itself. It was a
poor place indeed. It was built of rough pine boards that had never
been painted. A dog lay sleeping before the door, the upper half of
which was open, and through which the sunshine poured into the room.
The house stood, as Bessie had said, on the edge of the wood, large,
fertile fields extending in the distance, on the opposite side from
that by which the children had approached it.

"You knock," said Bessie, getting struck with a fit of shyness, as the
two walked up the path to the door.

"No, _you_," said Nelly, "I don't know what to say."

The dog got up, stretched himself, and gave vent to a low growl, as he
surveyed the new comers.

"Good fellow, nice fellow," said Bessie, coaxingly, putting out her
hand towards him as she did so; but the good, nice fellow's growl
deepened into a loud, savage bay. The children stood still, irresolute
whether to retreat or not. Attracted by the noise, a pale, sickly girl
about fifteen years of age, came to the door, and leaning over the
lower half which was shut, seemed by looking at them to ask what they
wanted.

"Please," said Bessie, "would you mind lending me a tin dipper to drink
out of at your well?"

"Haven't got any well," said the girl; "but you can drink out of the
spring if you've a mind to. There it is, down by that log: it runs
right from under it. You'll find a mug lying 'long side. Do stop your
noise, Tiger."

The children set down their baskets, and moved towards the spring very
gladly. They found the mug, and each enjoyed a drink of the pure, cold
water. While doing so, they observed that near the little barn at the
rear of the house, a man was harnessing a sleek, comfortable looking
horse to a market wagon, laden with cabbages and potatoes. The man was
thin and white looking, and it seemed to the children as if the proper
place for him were his bed. He did not see the visitors, but went on
with his work. The girls having finished drinking, returned to the
front door, over which still leaned the sickly girl.

"Much obliged to you," said Nelly, "it's a beautiful spring; clear and
cold as ever I saw."

"'Tisn't healthy though," said the girl; "leastways, we think it's that
that brings us all down with the fever every spring and fall."

"The fever!" echoed Bessie, "what fever?"

"The fever'n nager," replied the girl. "Mother is in bed with it now,
and though father is getting ready to go to town to market, the shakin'
is on him right powerful. I'm the only one that keeps about, and that
is much as ever, too."

"What makes you drink it?" asked Bessie. "I wouldn't, if it made me so
sick."

"Have to," said the girl, "there is no other water hereabouts."

"Can't your father _move_?" said Nelly.

The girl shook her head.

"Wouldn't he _like_ to, if he could?" continued Nelly.

"I guess not," said the girl, "we mean to get used to it. We can't
afford to move. Father owns the place, and he has no chance to sell it.
The farm is good, too. We raise the best cabbages and potatoes around
here. Guess you've been nutting, haven't you?"

"Yes," said Bessie, with some pride, "we have those two baskets and
this bag _full_."

"Is it much fun?" asked the girl pleasantly.

"Splendid," said Bessie; "don't you ever try it?"

"No; I'm always too sick in nut season--have the shakes. But I do
believe I should like to some time. Are you two little girls going soon
again?"

"I don't know," said Bessie, "may be so. If we do, shan't we stop and
see if you are able to go along? Your house isn't much out of the way;
we can stop just as well as not."

The pale girl looked quite gratified at these words of Bessie, but said
that she didn't know whether the "shakes" would allow her.

"Well," said Bessie, "we will stop for you, anyway. My mother would
say, I am sure, that the walk would do you good. Good-by. I hope you
will all get better soon."

"Stop a moment," said the girl, "don't you live somewhere down by the
Brooks' farm?"

"Yes," said Nelly, "that is my home, and Bessie lives only a little way
beyond."

"I thought so," said the girl, smiling, "I think I've seen you when I
have been riding by with father. He's going that way, now: wouldn't you
like to get in the wagon with him? He will pass your house."

"Oh, I guess his load is heavy enough already," said Nelly.

"Nonsense," said the girl; "you just wait here, while I go ask him."

She darted off before they could detain her, and in a short time more,
the horse and wagon appeared round the corner of the house, the man
driving the fat horse (which, as far as the children could see, was the
only fat living creature on the place), and the girl walking at the
wagon side.

"There they are," the children heard her say, as she neared them.

The man smiled good naturedly, and bade Bessie and Nelly jump in. He
arranged a comfortable seat for them on the board on which he himself
sat.

"But isn't your load very heavy already, sir?" asked Nelly.

"Not a bit of it," said the farmer; "my horse will find it only a
trifle, compared to what we usually take. It isn't full market day
to-morrow is the reason. Jump in! jump in!"

The children needed no other bidding, but clambered up by the spokes of
the great wheels and seated themselves, one on each side of the farmer,
who took their nuts, and placed them safely back among his vegetables.

Then he cracked his whip, and called out, "Good-by, Dolly. I'll be home
about eleven o'clock to-night. Take good care of your mother."

The next moment the little girls were in the road, going homeward as
fast as the sleek horse could carry them.



CHAPTER II.

THE RIDE HOME.


"SO you've been nutting, eh?" said Mr. Dart (for that was the farmer's
name), looking first on one side of him and then on the other, where
his two companions sat.

"Yes, sir," said Nelly, "and we have had real good luck too. Only see
how full our baskets are."

"Dolly told me you were going to stop for her some time, to go nutting
with you," said the farmer, turning round as he spoke, and putting a
cabbage that was jolting out of the wagon back into its place. "I am
glad of that: I hope she will be able to accompany you. If you should
chance to come on one of her well days, I guess she will."

"Well days, sir?" asked Bessie.

"Yes; she has the fever'n nager pretty bad, and that brings her a sick
day and a well day, by turns. It's the natur' of the disease."

"What! sick _every_ other day!" cried Bessie;--"well, if that is not
too bad! And she seems so good too. Why, we owe this ride to her."

"Yes," said the farmer, "Dolly is a pretty good little girl. Never
had much trouble with Dolly in all her life. She's always willin' to
help round the house as much as she can, and now that her mother is
down with the nager, I couldn't get along without her, anyway. In the
summer time Dolly makes garden with the best of us. Many is the field
she's sowed with grain, after I've ploughed it up. Half of these ere
cabbages Dolly cut and put in the wagon herself. You see that little
basket back in the corner?"

The children looked back in the wagon, and there, sure enough, was a
small covered basket, jolting around among the potatoes.

"That's Dolly's water cresses," said Mr. Dart. "I haven't taken a load
to market for the last month without Dolly's basket of watercresses.
She gathers them herself, down in our meadow, where the ground is wet
and soft, and where they thrive like every thing. They seem to be
getting poor now, and I don't believe Doll will be able to pick many
more this year. Why, the money that girl has made off them cresses is
wonderful. I always hand it right over to her, and she puts it by to
save against a time of need. Cresses sell just like wildfire in our
market-place,--I mean, of course, fine ones like my Dolly's are in
their prime."

"Cresses," said Bessie, with growing interest, "do people really pay
money for _cresses_? Why, the field back of our house is full of 'em!
They have great, thick, green leaves, and they look as healthy as
possible."

"Do they?" said the farmer, smiling at her kindly; "well, then I can
just tell you your folks are fortunate. They ought to sell 'em and make
money out of them."

"I wish we could," said Bessie, clasping her hands at the thought, "how
glad mother would be if we could! Mother is sick, sir, and cannot do
all the work she used, to earn money."

"Ah," said the former, with a look of concern; "I am sorry to hear
that, my little girl. I know what it is to be sick, and have sick folks
about me. What's the matter? has she got the nager too?"

"No, sir," said Bessie, "we don't have that down our way. I don't know
what _does_ ail mother. She sort o' wastes away and grows thin and
pale."

"Like enough it's the nager," said the farmer; "there is nothing like
it for making a body thin and pale."

"That's Bessie's house," cried Nelly, as a sudden turn in the road
revealed their two homes, at the foot of the hill, "that white one with
the smoke curling out of the left hand chimney."

"And a nice little place it is too," said the farmer. "I pass right by
it almost every day, and sometimes in the middle of the night, when
all little girls are in their beds and asleep."

Bessie looked at the kind-hearted farmer, and wondered to herself what
could bring him so near her home in the nighttime. As her thoughts by
this time were pretty well filled with what he called the "nager,"
she concluded that it must be for the purpose of getting the doctor
for himself and his family. The farmer, however, who seemed fond of
talking, soon undeceived her.

"You see," he began, "that it is a very long drive from my house to
town, say eight miles, at the least, and when I start as I have to-day,
about sundown, it takes me, with a heavy load, generally, till half
past eight o'clock to get to the market. Well, then I unload, and sell
out to a regular customer I have, a man who keeps a stand of all sorts
of vegetables, and who generally buys them over night in this way. Then
I turn round and come back. It is often eleven o'clock when I reach
home and go to bed. Sometimes, again, according to the orders I have
from town, Dobbin and I start--"

"Dobbin?" interrupted Bessie, "is Dobbin the horse, sir?"

The farmer nodded smilingly, and continued, "Dobbin and I start at five
o'clock in the morning, and we go rattling into market, just in time to
have the things hurriedly sorted and in their places, before the buyers
begin to throng about the stalls. I stop there a while, but I get home
before noon, and Dolly always has my dinner ready to rest me, while
Dobbin eats his to rest _him_."

"I wish Dolly could go to our school," said Nelly, after a pause. "Miss
Milly, our teacher, is so good to us all. She lives in this little
house that we are passing."

The farmer looked round at the school-house, and Nelly thought she
heard him sigh as he did so. "Dolly is a smart girl, and a nice girl,"
said he, gravely, "but I am afraid her mother and I can't give her much
book larnin'. Wish I could: but times are hard and money scarce. Dolly
knows how to read and write, and I guess she will have to be content.
Her health isn't strong, either, and she couldn't stand study."

"Here we are, sir, this is our house," cried Nelly, as the wagon neared
the farm-house gate. "I'm very much obliged to you for my lift."

The farmer handed down her basket of nuts, and told her she was quite
welcome. Bessie called out good-by, and the farmer drove on again. A
short distance brought them to Bessie's house. As she in her turn was
getting down, Mr. Dart asked her if she had any objections to show him
the water-cress field of which she had spoken. Bessie was delighted to
do it, so Dobbin was tied to a tree, and the little girl led the way to
the back of the house.

"Does the field belong to your mother?" asked the farmer.

"Yes, sir," said Bessie, "this house and the garden and the wet meadow
where the watercresses grow, mother owns them all. She's sick now, as I
told you, sir, and oftentimes she lies in her bed and cries to think we
can't get on better in the world. I'd help her, if I could, but I don't
know any thing to do."

It did not take long to reach the wet meadow, as Bessie called it.
It lay only a stone's throw back of the house. It was called "wet,"
because a beautiful brook coursed through it, and moistened the ground
so much as to render it unprofitable for cultivation. The watercresses
had it all their own way. They grew wild over nearly the whole field,
and extended down to the very edge of the brook, and leaned their
beautiful bright leaves and graceful stems into the little stream, as
it flowed over the pebbles.

Bessie led the farmer to a large, flat stone, where they could stand
with dry feet and survey the scene. The sun was just setting; they
could see the glow in the west through the grove of trees that skirted
the outer edge of the field; the birds were just chirping their
mournful October songs, as they flew about, seeking for a shelter for
the coming night; the murmur of the brook added not a little to the
serenity of the hour.

The farmer stooped, and reaching his hand among the wet earth where the
cresses grew, plucked one, and tasted it.

"It is as fine as any I ever ate," said he, "and, as far as I see, your
mother's meadow is full of just such ones. The frost and the cold winds
have spoiled ours, but yours are protected by that hill back there, and
are first-rate."

"Do you think we could get money for them?" cried Bessie, jumping up
and down on the loose stone on which they stood, until it shook so as
almost to make her lose her balance and fall into the water; "do you
think people will _buy_ them?"

"Certainly," said the farmer, giving his lips a final smack over the
remnant of the cress, "certainly I do, and they are so clear from weeds
it will be no trouble to gather them. What is your name, little girl?"

"Bessie, sir, and my mother's name is that too. Wouldn't you like to
come in and see her for a moment, to tell her about the cresses?"

"Not to-day," said the farmer, shaking his head, and looking at the
sinking sun; "it grows late, and I have a long journey to go, but
I'll tell you what I _will_ do. I go to market again the day after
to-morrow, and I leave home at five o'clock in the morning, or
thereabouts. Now, I'm sorry to hear of your mother's troubles, and
I want to help her if I can. You tell her all I have said about the
cresses bringing a good price, and see if she has any objections to
your gathering a big basket full, and having it ready to send to market
when I pass by. I can take one for you just as well as not, three or
four times a week. Leave it just inside the gate, and I will get it,
for it will be too early for you to be up."

"Yes, sir," said Bessie, her face perfectly radiant with smiles; "how
good you are to take so much trouble--how good you are! I'll tell
mother all about you, be sure of that."

"And now I must be off," said the farmer, stepping from the flat stone
into the moist grass and picking his way as well as he could towards
the house, and thence to the gate. Bessie followed him to the road, and
watched him untie old Dobbin. The tears came in her eyes as she called
out,

"Good-by, sir, good-by."

The farmer turned, half smiled to see how grateful the poor child
looked, and said kindly,

"Good-by, Bessie."



CHAPTER III.

WATER-CRESSES.


BESSIE'S mother was both surprised and rejoiced to hear of the kindness
of the farmer. It seemed to her a great stroke of good fortune. The
little sum of money which she had saved in more prosperous days was
almost exhausted, and it had been a bitter thought to her to know, that
when this should be gone, they would have nothing. The little house in
which they lived could be sold, it is true, but the widow had always
looked upon it in the light of a _home_, and not as an article to be
disposed of for support.

A ready consent was given that Bessie should try what she could do with
the water-cresses. The little girl was delighted at the prospect, and
already she saw herself the future possessor of a great deal of money.

Her mother wanted her to gather the cresses the night previous to the
morning on which the farmer was expected, but in her enthusiasm, Bessie
insisted that they would be far fresher and nicer when they reached
market if she should do so at daybreak; and she promised faithfully to
rise in sufficient time to accomplish the feat.

"But, my child," said her mother, "it will not be light enough for you
to choose the best cresses, and the farmer may come before you get
through, and of course we could not ask him to wait. No, gather them
late in the afternoon, carefully select the poor ones, and the dead
leaves and grasses that may be mingled with them, and the rest put in
the oak pail and cover them with clean water. In the morning you can
rise as early as you please, and fasten them up securely in the large
basket, and be ready to give them to the farmer yourself, if you would
like to do so when he passes."

Bessie acknowledged that this was wisest. Accordingly, towards the
latter part of the day before the appointed morning, she provided
herself with a basket and the garden scissors, to go down to the brook
and begin her undertaking. Previous to doing so, however, she put her
head in her mother's room and called out with a gay laugh, "good-by,
mother, I am going to make a fortune for you yet, see if I don't!"

Her mother smiled, and when Bessie shut the door and jumped lightly
down the stairs, two at a time, she felt as though her child's courage
and hopefulness were really infusing courage and hopefulness into
herself.

[Illustration: "She was clipping at the cresses, when she heard some
one call her name."--p. 45.]

Singing at the top of her lungs, Bessie set to work. Never had she felt
as light-hearted and happy. She tucked up her calico dress a little
way, into the strings of her apron, in order to keep it out of the wet,
and drew off her shoes and stockings. Then arming herself with the
scissors, she cut vigorously among the cresses; taking care, however,
to choose only those that presented a fine appearance, for she was
determined that the first specimens the farmer took with him, should be
so fine as to attract the attention of the buyers, and thus induce them
to come again. A shrewd little business woman was Bessie! She had her
basket sitting on some stones near her, and when she moved further
up and down the brook, she was careful always to move that also. She
was singing away as loudly and heartily as she could, and clipping at
the cresses, when she heard some one call her name. She looked up, and
there stood a boy about fourteen years old, named Martin, who lived
on Nelly's father's farm. He looked as though he wanted very much to
laugh at the odd figure which Bessie cut; her sun-bonnet hanging by its
strings to her neck, her dress tucked up to the knees, a pair of shears
in one hand, an enormous basket in the other, and both of her bare feet
in the brook.

"Why, Bessie," said Martin, "what a noise you have been making! I
called you four or five times _real loud_, and I whistled too, and yet
you went on singing 'Old folks at home,' and 'Little drops of water,'
as though your ears were not made to hear any voice but your own!"

"That's 'cause I'm _so_ happy," said Bessie. "Why, Martin, I'm
beginning to earn my own living,--think of _that_. Isn't it fun
though?" and she splashed through the stream to have a nearer talk with
her visitor.

"Earning your living!" repeated Martin; "well, I should call playing in
the brook, as you seemed to be just now, any thing but that."

"Playing!" echoed Bessie, with some indignation, "I am a big girl of
nine now, and I am not going to play any more; I am going to _work_.
Don't you see these cresses?"

"Yes," said Martin, "but they're not good for much, are they?"

"Good!" laughed Bessie, capering about, quite unmindful of bare ankles,
"Good! I shouldn't wonder _much_ if they were. Why, Martin Wray, I'm to
sell 'em, and get _money_ for 'em--plenty of it--till my pockets are so
full that they cannot hold any more--there!"

"Money!" said Martin, "you don't mean to say people buy cresses? What
can they do with them?"

"Eat 'em," replied Bessie, promptly; "mother says rich folks buy them
to make into salads,--mustard, pepper, salt, vinegar, and all that sort
of thing, you know. Mother says they are just in their prime now."

Martin stooped and helped himself to a handful of the cresses. He did
not seem to like their flavor, but made wry faces over them.

"Dear, dear," he said, "how they bite! They will take my tongue off."

"That's the beauty of 'em," said Bessie, coolly, "that's a proof that
they are good. Mother says when they grow flat and insipid they don't
bring a fair price."

"But isn't this late in the year for them?" asked her visitor.

"No," was the answer; "this is just the best of the fall crop, and they
will last for a month or six weeks, and maybe all winter, if the season
is mild. May is the great spring month for them, and October the one
in the autumn. Mother told me she brushed the snow away from a little
patch last Christmas, and there they were just as fresh and green as
ever."

"And who are you going to sell them to?" asked Martin.

"A farmer," answered Bessie, "who lives up in the nutting woods has
promised to take them to market."

"Oh," said Martin, "that reminds me of what I came for. Nelly knew I
had to pass by here to-day with a letter, and she asked me to inquire
if you would go nutting with her and me to-morrow. She wants to stop
for another little girl too, I believe."

"Dolly?" said Bessie.

"I don't know," replied Martin, "what her name was. She said it was a
girl who had the fever and ague."

"That's Dolly!" cried Bessie, joyfully, "Dolly has it _awful_. Just
wait here a minute while I run ask mother if she can spare me."

She went skipping in the house, and in a short time her bare feet were
heard skipping out again.

"Yes," she cried, triumphantly waving her sun-bonnet, "mother told me
'yes.'"

Martin now said he must go on and deliver his letter, and Bessie bade
him good-by, and went back to her cresses. In a little while the basket
was filled with the very finest the brook afforded, and she carried
them in the house to place in water as her mother had directed.

The next morning, as the gray dawn came through the window of the room
where she and her mother slept, Bessie awoke suddenly, and before she
knew it she was sitting up in bed, drowsily rubbing her eyes. She had
borne so well on her mind the appointment with the farmer, that she had
awakened long before her usual time. She was a lazy girl generally,
and liked very much to lie luxuriously in bed and _think about_
getting up, without making an effort to do so. It was at least three
hours earlier than it was her habit to rise, yet she did not stop to
think of that, but bounded out and began her morning's ablution; her
mother having always striven to impress upon her the great fact that
"cleanliness is next to godliness." It was but a short time when,
leaving her mother, as she thought, soundly sleeping, Bessie crept
noiselessly as possible down the stairs that led to the kitchen, and
there carefully packed her cresses for market. When the basket was
full, she wrapped hastily a shawl around her, to protect her from the
chilly autumn air of the morning, and ran out to the gate to place it,
ready for the farmer, when he should come along in his wagon. She
stood on the cross bars of the gate, and looked eagerly up and down the
road, but she saw nothing as yet. The thought crossed her mind that
Mr. Dart might already have passed the house, and finding no basket
prepared for him, had driven on without it. But when she looked around,
and saw how early it still appeared, how the gray was not gone from the
sky, and the sun had not risen, nor the soft white morning mists yet
rolled away from the mountains that lay to the left of the village, she
was quite sure that she was not too late. She went back to the open
door sill of the kitchen, which, being built in a small wing, fronted
on the road, and sat down quietly on the sill. Presently she thought
she heard the rattle of wheels, and the snapping of a whip. She ran to
the gate, and looked in the direction from which it was to be expected
the farmer would come, and there he was, seated on top of a load of
turnips, trotting down the road as fast as old Dobbin could go, under
the circumstances. He saw Bessie, and shook his whip over his head as a
sort of salutation.

"Good morning," said Bessie, as soon as he was near enough to hear her
voice.

"Good morning," replied the farmer, holding Dobbin up, so as to stop.
"Well now, this looks something like! I guess you're most as smart as
my Dolly, who got up and fixed breakfast before I started. What does
mother say about the water-cresses, eh?"

"All right, sir," cried Bessie, joyfully, lugging into view the
basket, "and here they are, sir, all ready,--beauties, _every one_ of
'em."

The farmer raised the cover, looked in, and whistled.

"Yes," said he, "this is the pick of the whole lot, I guess. But you
haven't half big enough a basket. You must send more next time, for
the frost may come and nip them a little, before you sell enough to be
worth your while. Haven't you ever heard of making hay while the sun
shines, Bessie?"

He took the basket and packed it nicely among the turnips, so that it
would not jostle out with the movement of the wagon. As he did so,
Bessie's mother, with a shawl hastily thrown around her, opened the
window of her bedroom, and said sufficiently loud to be heard,

"Good morning, sir; I am afraid you are putting yourself to a great
deal of trouble for us."

"Not at all, ma'am," said the farmer, quite surprised at her sudden
apparition, and taking off his hat as he spoke; "on the contrary, it's
quite a pleasure."

"I am very much obliged to you, I am sure," said the widow, "and Bessie
is too. It is very kind of you to help us, poor people as we are, along
in the world."

"Well, ma'am," said the farmer with a smile, "as far as that goes, I'm
poor myself--poor enough, dear knows, and that's the very thing that
sometimes makes me feel for other poor folks, particularly poor _sick_
folks, for we 'most always have a spell of the nager at our house. But
I must be off. I'll stop, ma'am, as I come back, about noon, to tell
you what luck I have had with these ere cresses."

He was just going to drive on when Bessie said, "Oh, sir, I almost
forgot. Is to-day Dolly's _well_ day? Nelly and I thought of going
nutting with her."

"Yes," replied the farmer, "Doll is pretty smart to-day. Make no doubt
she can go. Good morning, ma'am, good morning, Bessie;" and he touched
up old Dobbin and trotted down the hill.

Bessie stood with the shawl over her head to watch the wagon as it
seemed to grow less and less in size, and finally was hid by a curve
of the road. Then she pulled to the gate to keep out stray cows from
the little garden which her mother prized so much, and reëntered the
kitchen.

She had a great many things to accomplish during the morning, because
now that her mother was sick a number of household duties devolved upon
her, with which she had nothing to do under ordinary circumstances.
But, keep herself as busy as she could, the time still hung heavily. It
seemed to her as if noon would never come. Her mother tried to hear her
say her lessons in the intervals, when she had to sit up, but Bessie
could not attend enough to repeat them well. She made many strange
mistakes.

The top of every page in her spelling-book was decorated with a picture
which illustrated whatever word stood at the head of the column. Thus,
_chandelier_, _work-box_, _bedstead_, were each represented in a pretty
engraving. I suppose this was done in order to excite the interest
of the scholar. Bessie's thoughts to-day were so far away with her
water-cresses, however, that she could think of nothing else. At the
head of her column for the morning was the word _ladle_, and at its
side was the picture of a stout servant girl, ladling out a plate of
soup from a tureen. The shape of the ladle so much resembled a skimmer
which Bessie had often seen in use in her mother's kitchen, that
with her thoughts following the farmer in his wagon, she spelled and
pronounced in this wise:

"L-a, skim, d-l-e, mer, _skimmer_!"

"My patience," said her mother, "what nonsense is that, Bessie, which
you are saying?"

"L-a, skim, d-l-e, mer, skimmer," gravely repeated Bessie, quite
unconscious of the droll mistake.

Her mother could not but laugh, but she asked her if such inattention
was kind to herself when she was so ill as scarcely to be able to
speak, much less to question over and over again a girl who did not
care whether she learned or not.

"But I _do_ care, mother," cried Bessie, coloring.

"Then why do you try me so? Take your book and study your spelling
properly."

Bessie did so, and this time, mastering her inclination to think of
other things, soon accomplished her task.

"It is not because you are a dull child," said her mother, "that you do
not learn, but because you are a careless one. The least thing comes
between you and your lessons. This morning, I suppose you are somewhat
to be excused, but I cannot express to you how you weary me, day after
day, by the same conduct."

These words filled Bessie with shame. She really loved her mother, and
there were few things she would not have done to please her. She did
not realize how simple thoughtlessness can pain and annoy those whom we
would not purposely wound.

"Well, mother," said Bessie, casting down her eyes, "I _do_ wish I was
good. Maybe I am not big enough yet, am I, mother?"

Her mother smiled, saying, "You are plenty big enough, and plenty old
enough too."

Bessie smiled too, and was happy to see that her mother was not as
vexed with her as she thought. She went up to her and gave her a
little shy kiss on her cheek.

"It is _such_ hard work to be good," she said, "and it does _so_ bother
me to be thinkin' of it all the time. Wouldn't it be nice if we could
be good without any trouble? When I am grown up I hope I'll be good,
anyway."

"Oh Bessie," said her mother, seriously, "do not wait till then. While
you are young is the time to break yourself of bad habits and slothful
ways. If you wait until you become a woman, they will have fastened
themselves upon you so that you cannot shake them off."

Just as Bessie's mother pronounced the last words, she heard a knock
on one of the outer doors. Bessie heard it too, and ran down stairs to
open it. It was now nearly time to expect Mr. Dart, and her heart beat
with delight at the anticipation of the news she was so soon to hear.

She opened the door, and saw, not the kind face of the farmer, but that
of a small, ungainly boy, who lived in the next house. He was a sickly,
spoiled child, and Bessie, never liking him much at the best of times,
found him now rather an unwelcome visitor.

"Our folks wants to know if your mother'll lend us some sugar," he
said, at the same time handing out a cracked tea-cup.

Bessie took the cup and invited the boy to go up and see her mother,
while she brought the sugar. She had just filled the cup even full,
when again she heard a knock. This time she felt sure it was the
farmer, and indeed when she flew to the door, there he stood, smiling
at her in the porch. One of his hands was extended towards her, and in
its palm she saw three bright silver coins!

"Take them, Bessie," he said, "they are your own. Them cresses o'
your'n were the best in market. I'm coming along to-morrow morning at
the same time, and if you like, you can have another lot for me. Here's
your basket, but it isn't half big enough, as I told you before."

Bessie stood holding the money in her hands, quite unable to utter a
word. Her first thought was to dash up stairs and tell her mother, her
next to run after the farmer and thank him. But he had already mounted
into his seat and Dobbin, very glad to know that his nose was turned
homeward, had taken the hint to start off at a pace that soon placed
his driver out of hearing.

"I am so sorry," said Bessie, gazing after the wagon in much the same
way as she had done in the morning. "Mother will say I forgot my
politeness _that_ time. And he so kind too!"

She ran in the house again, and in a moment was in her mother's room.

"Mother, mother," she cried, holding out the coins, "you can have every
thing you want now! See, here's money, plenty of it! I don't believe
I ever saw so much at once in all my life. How many goodies you shall
have to make you well!"

Her mother was lying partially dressed outside the bed-quilts, but she
rose up slowly to share Bessie's joy. Bessie put the money in her hands
and danced around the room like a wild girl, utterly regardless of the
fire-tongs that she whirled out of place, and a couple of chairs, which
she laid very neatly flat on their sides in the middle of the floor.
Then she flew at her mother and gave her two monstrous, _sounding_
kisses on each cheek. Her mother gave them right straight back to her,
and I can assure you Bessie wasn't at all sorry to have them returned.

"Why, Bessie," said the little boy, who had been a silent spectator all
this time, "what is the matter with you? You act real crazy."

"I _am_ crazy," said Bessie, good-humoredly, "just as crazy as can be.
This is my water-cress money. Didn't you know I can earn money for
mother? How much is there, mother?"

The widow spread out the three coins in her hand, and after a moment's
pause, said,

"Here are two twenty-five cent pieces, and a ten cent piece; that makes
just sixty cents."

Bessie sat perfectly still, and when her mother looked at her,
attracted by an unusual sound, she had her apron up to her eyes, crying
as peacefully as possible.

"Why, my foolish little girl," said her mother, "I can't have any tears
shed in this way. Jump up like a good child and get Nathan his sugar."

"I couldn't help it," sobbed Bessie, "I didn't know I was agoin' to
till I did."

"What are you thinking of doing with it all?" asked Nathan, eyeing the
money with some curiosity.

"Save it," answered Bessie, promptly, "till mother gets ready to use
it." She went to a table standing at the head of the bed, and from its
drawer she took out a large-sized Madeira nut, that had been given to
her by her uncle the previous Christmas. The two halves were joined
together by a steel hinge, and when a small spring was touched on the
opposite side, they opened. Bessie touched it now, and advancing to her
mother, said,

"Let's keep the money in this nut, mother, for a purse, until you want
to spend it."

Her mother dropped the silver in the open shell, and Bessie closed it
and replaced it in the drawer. Then she and Nathan went down to get the
sugar.



CHAPTER IV.

HUNGRY FISHES.


IT was about two o'clock when Bessie, basket in hand, started to go on
the nutting excursion which Nelly and Martin had planned for that day.

She scarcely liked to be absent long, for she knew her mother was not
quite as well as usual, and then, too, the water-cresses were to be
gathered and prepared for the next day's market. At all events she made
up her mind to get home early, long before the sun should set.

It was but a short walk of a half mile to Nelly's home; Martin and
Nelly were ready, so that no time was consumed in waiting.

It was even a more beautiful day than the one on which the previous
nutting had taken place. The woods were brighter colored than ever,
and the golden autumn mist seemed to cover every thing with beauty. It
hung in wreaths around the tops of the high trees, and swayed softly
back and forth when the breeze stirred it. The boats on the river could
scarcely be discerned through it, and the opposite shores were entirely
hidden.

"This is Dolly's _well_ day," said Bessie, "I asked her father and he
told me so."

"Martin says you are going to sell him some water-cresses," said Nelly;
"at least, I suppose he was the one; did you?"

"Yes," said Bessie; "that is, he sold them _for_ me, which is the same
thing you know. He brought me three _big_ pieces of money for them at
noon, and I put 'em in a nut-shell and shut 'em up."

"A nut-shell?" repeated Martin, "that is a funny bank, I think."

"It's a safe one," said Bessie, "and it will not break and keep the
money like some of those I have heard of in town. Just look at those
bitter-sweets, Nell, aren't they bright?"

"I mean to get some," cried Nelly, as she paused to admire the red
sprays of the berries that grew at the side of the short-cut path they
were pursuing. "I will take them home to mother to put in her winter
bouquets of dried grasses, that stand on the parlor mantle-shelf. They
will enliven them and make them much handsomer."

"Why not wait till we return?" said Martin; "you will have all the
trouble of carrying them to the woods and back again, and perhaps lose
them by the way."

"I know too much for that," said Nelly, laughing; "we may not come
back by this road, and then I should not get them at all. Last week I
lost some in the same way: I went out walking with Miss Milly over the
mountains, and we came to some beauties near Mulligan's little shanty.
We thought to save ourselves trouble by leaving them till we returned.
Something or other tempted us to strike into another path when we came
back, so that our bitter-sweets are on the top of the mountain yet."

"No," said Bessie, "I don't think they are. Did they grow over a big
rock, and were there plenty of sumach bushes between them and the path?"

"Yes," said Nelly, beginning to pull down the rich clusters of the
bitter-sweets, and breaking them off, one by one.

"Well," said Bessie, making a deep, mock courtesy, "I have the pleasure
of having those berries in my own bedroom at this blessed minute. I
went to Mulligan's on an errand of mother's, a few days ago, and I
brought them down the mountain with me."

"Her loss was your gain, wasn't it?" said Martin, as he aided Nelly to
gather the berries.

"I'll help too," said Bessie, "for I'm in a _dreadful_ hurry to get
back, Nelly. I have all my cresses to pick for market," and she too
broke off the bunches and laid them carefully in Nelly's basket.

"What!" said Nelly, "_more_ cresses, Bessie?"

"Yes," said Bessie, giving a joyful hop, and, as her mother called it,
cutting a caper; "and that isn't all, for Dolly's father wants lots and
lots _and_ lots more of 'em! Come, I guess you have plenty now, let's
go on."

Nelly consented to do so, but first Martin took out of his pocket a
handful of tangled twine, and with a piece of it tied the bitter-sweet
berries together by the stems, and suspended them in a bunch from her
apron strings, so that her basket might be ready for the nuts.

Martin was a farm boy who worked at Nelly's father's place. He was
a good, steady lad, and the two girls liked very much to have his
company in their excursions. It was not often, however, that he could
be spared, and the present occasion was, therefore, quite a holiday in
his estimation.

[Illustration: "Martin told the girls that if they would place
themselves with him on an old trunk of a tree, they would probably find
it to be a better position from which to throw their lines."--p. 93.]

When the children reached the little house near the wood, they were
surprised to see Dolly standing in the gateway quite equipped for the
ramble. She had a large basket on her arm, and a long hickory stick in
her hands. Nelly introduced Martin, who stood a little aloof when the
girls first met, and then Dolly asked them if they would not all come
in and rest, but the children thought that it was best not to do so.
Hearing voices, the farmer came to the door of the farm house to see
them off. He looked pleased to find Dolly with the little girls.

"That's right," he said, "I'm glad to have my Dolly tramping about like
other folks' children. It will do her good. But don't stay late: the
damp of the evening is very unwholesome for the nager."

"Oh, we are coming back long before night, sir," said Bessie,
cheerfully, "'cause I've got all my cresses to pick for to-morrow.
Mother and I are _so_ much obliged to you, I can't really _tell_ how
much!"

"Quite welcome, quite welcome," said Mr. Dart; "I'll be on the look-out
for another basket to-morrow then."

As the four children walked briskly along the path through the woods,
Nelly looked with some curiosity at Dolly's stick. She could not
imagine for what purpose it was intended. It was not very stout, nor
apparently very heavy; at the upper end it was a little curved. Dolly
seemed to use it for a staff, and several times helped herself over
some rough and stony places with it. When the walking was good she
carried it carelessly over her shoulder, with her basket swinging at
the crooked end.

A short time brought the party to the place where they had found
so many nuts only a day or two before. Much to their surprise and
mortification the trees which were lately so loaded, were now
perfectly bare. Some one had evidently been there during the time that
intervened, and had carried away the prize. There were several large
piles of the outer shells scattered about on the ground, but that was
all.

"What shall we do," asked Bessie, mournfully; "I don't think we can
find another such spot as this was in the whole woods. This clump of
trees was as full as it could be only the day before yesterday."

Dolly took her stick and poked among the branches to see if any
remained. She found about half a dozen, which she knocked down and put
in her basket.

"Now I know," said Nelly, "what Dolly brought that pole for,--to knock
down the nuts."

"Yes," said Dolly, surveying the stick in question with some pride,
"it is splendid for that. I call it my cherry-tree hook, and I use it
in cherry time to pull the branches towards me. But come, we must push
on and seek our fortunes. Haven't an _idee_ of goin' home without my
basket full."

"I give up, for one," said Bessie, despondently, "I don't think we can
find a thick place again."

"Never mind, Bessie," said Martin, with good-nature, "we'll find a
_thin_ one then. We'll do the best we can, you may be sure. Come,
girls, I'll lead the way. Let us follow this little footpath and see
where it will take us."

He spoke in an encouraging tone, and suiting the action to the word,
walked on ahead. The girls followed him in silence. The underbrush
through which the path led was very thick and high, and for a short
distance nothing could be discerned on either side. The thorns caught
into the clothing of the little party, and they found this by no
means an added pleasure. It was not long, however, before the track
broadened into a wide, open space, something similar to the one they
had just quitted, dotted here and there with trees, but, as fortune
would have it, none of them were nut trees. They were on the point of
penetrating still further towards the heart of the wood, when a loud
rustling among the dead branches and dried leaves of the path made the
children turn to discover what was the matter.

A joyful barking followed, and a rough-looking dog bounded out, and
began prancing about and leaping upon Dolly.

"Oh, it's only our old Tiger," she exclaimed; "down, Tige, down, sir!"

But Tiger was so delighted at having succeeded in finding his young
mistress, that he did not cease indulging in his various uncouth
gambols, until Dolly, stamping her foot and assuming an air of great
severity, bade him _be quiet_, or she would send him immediately home.
Tiger seemed to understand the threat, for he stopped barking and
instantly darted several hundred feet in advance of the party.

"He does that so that I cannot make him go back," cried Dolly, laughing
at the sagacity of her favorite; "I never tell him I will send him
home, but that he runs ahead so as to make it impossible for me to do
as I say."

They continued their wanderings for some distance further, but with
very poor success.

"I'll tell you what we can do," said Martin, with a laugh, as
exclamations of vexation and disappointment were heard from the girls;
"let's turn our nutting into a fishing excursion. Wouldn't it be nice
if we should each go home with a string of fish?"

"Fish!" cried Nelly, "what _do_ you mean, Martin?"

"I never heard of anybody catchin' fish in the woods!" said Dolly.
"There isn't a drop of water nearer than the pond the other side of
Morrison's hill."

"Well," said Martin, "I know there is not, but that is not so very far
off. I was just thinking of the shortest way to get there."

"I know every inch of the country," said Dolly, firmly, "and I'm _sure_
Morrison's pond is at least a good two mile from here."

"Oh, we can't walk _that_, Martin," cried Bessie; "we should all be
tired, and get home after dark besides."

"Now," said Martin, smiling, "I do not wish to contradict anybody, but
I am acquainted with a path, a rather rough one to be sure, that will
bring us, in about twenty minutes, to the edge of the pond. You know it
is not as far away as people think, the crooked, winding road making it
appear a long way off, when in reality it lies in a straight line only
about half a mile from the village."

"But if we conclude to go, we can't _fish_," said Dolly.

"Why not?" quietly asked Martin.

"We haven't a line or a hook among us," put forth Nelly, "at least I am
sure _I_ haven't."

"Well _I_ have," replied Martin, "provided you will not despise bent
pins for hooks, pieces of the twine that is left of that I tied your
bitter-sweet berries with for lines, a hickory stick like Dolly's for
a rod, and earth worms for bait. There now, haven't I furnished the
whole party with tackle? Come, don't let us go home without having
_something_ to take with us."

Dolly sat down on the stump of a tree and began to laugh.

"The idee," she said, "of going nutting and bringing home _fish_. Well,
I'm willing, for one, if it's only to find out the path. I thought I
knew all the ins and outs around here."

"And I'd like to go too," said Nelly.

"I should _like_ to go well enough," added Bessie, "if it wasn't that
I feel sure the extra walk will just bring me home too late for my
cresses. Mother is sick, too, and she cannot be left alone very long;
and Dolly, you know your father said you must not stay out late."

"Yes," said Dolly, "I know he did, and I don't mean to disobey, but it
can't be very late _yet_; I should think not more than half past three."

Martin looked up at the sun and then down to the shadows on the ground.

"No," said he, "it is not more than half past three. I am in the habit
of telling time by the sun, and I know it is not later than that. Come,
Bessie, three to one is the way the case stands. I guess you will be
home time enough."

Bessie stood irresolute. She wished to go fishing, and she wished to
return home. It was hard to choose. At last she said,

"It will be four at least when I get back. I must go."

"Then you break up the party," said Nelly, in a dissatisfied tone.

"And you spoil the pleasure," added Dolly, leaning on her stick and
looking at Bessie.

"And you send us all home with empty baskets when we might each have a
string of fish," continued Martin. "_Do_ stay!"

The children surrounded Bessie, and tried to persuade her. At length
she ceased to resist. She endeavored to assure herself that she was
acting right, but she felt uneasy as she did so, and the picture of
her mother, lying so long alone in her sick room, rose up to her mind.
Still the temptation was before her, and she yielded to it. The truth
was, that Bessie had great confidence in Martin, and when he said that
he thought there was plenty of time, she reasoned with herself that
he was a great deal older than she was, and probably knew best; so she
consented to join the fishing party. The moment she said "yes," Martin
exclaimed,

"This way then; follow me, all of you, and we will soon reach the
short-cut track. It is about here somewhere. Let us hurry so as to lose
no time."

The path was speedily found as he had said, and the children walked as
rapidly after him as the rough stones which lay in the way, and the
projecting branches of blackberry bushes would permit.

When they reached the pond, Martin took out the pocket knife which he
usually carried about him, and cut down four slender young trees which
he found growing between the pond and the public wagon-road at its
side. He gave these to Nelly and asked her if she would tie the strings
securely fast to the smallest ends, while he and Bessie overturned
stones in search of worms, and Dolly bent the points of the pins so as
to resemble hooks.

"Why will not my staff do for a pole?" asked Dolly, as she hammered at
the pins with a large pebble; "you said it would, Martin."

"That was before I saw these little trees," replied Martin. "The moment
I came upon them, growing here in a group among the bushes, I knew they
were just the things I wanted. They are thin and tapering, and your
stick is not."

"What difference does that make?" said Dolly; "a pole is only for the
purpose of casting the line out a good distance into the water, isn't
it?"

"That is one use for it," said Martin, "but not all. If a pole is
properly proportioned, that is, if it is the right size at the handle,
and tapers gradually to the point, the fisherman can feel the least
nibble, and know the exact moment when to draw up the line. If he could
not feel the movement, the fish might, in the struggles occasioned by
his pain, carry off bait and hook too."

"In our case that wouldn't be a great loss," laughed Dolly, and she
held up the pins, neatly bent into shape.

"Martin," said Bessie, in a low voice, as she stooped to raise a stone
at his side, "I guess I don't care to fish, after all."

Martin saw something was amiss. Instead of giving utterance to a rude
exclamation, or calling the attention of the others, he said in a kind
tone,

"Why, Bessie, what is the matter now? Don't you feel right?"

Bessie shook her head. Martin saw there were tears in her eyes.

"I am sorry I coaxed you," he said. "I feel now as if I had not behaved
as I ought."

"I never _did_ like to go fishing," said Bessie; "it _hurts_ me to see
the poor little things pant and flounder when they are brought up.
The moment I heard you speak of their struggling with the pain, I was
sorrier than ever that I had come, and that made me think of mother,
staying home alone with _her_ pain. I do believe I ought to go back at
once."

"But you cannot find the way," said Martin; "you have never been here
before."

"That is true," said Bessie, sighing. "Well, I do not wish to be a
spoil-pleasure. Don't mind me, then, but you and the others begin your
fishing, and if I see a wagon come by on the road that is going our
way, I can jump in. I need not stop your sport if I do that."

Martin looked perplexed.

"I hardly like you to try it," he said, "and yet I do not wish you to
stay against your will."

"Well," said Bessie, "I don't like to act _mean_, Martin. Go on fishing
for a little while, at all events. I can wait half an hour or so, I
suppose."

Nelly now called to Martin that the lines were ready, for Dolly had
just finished tying on the last pin. He gathered up the bait he had
found beneath the stones, and went towards the two other girls. He
thought, on consideration, that he might fish for a short time, while
waiting to see if a wagon approached on the road. If none did so within
the allotted half hour, he made up his mind to go home. He blamed
himself now for having changed the destination of the party.

"Here's my line," cried Dolly, holding it out at the end of her pole,
"and now all that I and the fishes wait for is a worm."

Martin fastened one on Dolly's pin, one on Nelly's likewise, and one on
the line he intended for himself.

"Come, Bessie," said Nelly, as she flung her line into the water, "come
try _your_ luck."

"Bessie does not care about fishing," said Martin kindly, "do not press
her if she does not wish it."

The pond was well stocked with a variety of small fishes, many of
which were considered good eating by the farmers in the neighborhood.
As scarcely any one ever took the trouble, however, to go after them,
they were hardly acquainted with hooks or lines, and they were,
consequently, all the more easily caught. Martin said he had never seen
such hungry fishes before. They snapped at the bait the moment it was
lowered to them, oftentimes carrying it entirely off, hook and all.

Once, and the children could scarcely believe it when they saw it, a
fish called a bull-head leaped at least an inch above the water and
tried to swallow the end of Dolly's line, which she was in the act of
raising, to replace the pin and worm which some of his greedy kindred
had just taken away.

Martin told the girls that if they would place themselves with him
on an old trunk of a tree that apparently had fallen years before
into the edge of the pond, they would probably find it to be a better
position from which to throw their lines than the shore on which they
had stood at first. "For," said he, "the larger fish do not like to
venture into such shallow water." The trunk, however, was covered with
moist moss, which made it very slippery, and Nelly came so near losing
her balance and falling in, as she walked up it, that she concluded
to remain where she was. Martin and Dolly did not meet with the same
difficulty, however, and very soon they discovered that the nibbles
were far more frequent than before. Martin kept a twig on which he
slipped the fish as soon as caught, and then hung it on a branch of
the moss-covered trunk. Bessie had begun to look on the proceedings
with interest, feeling almost as sorry as her companions as a ravenous
bull-head occasionally carried off the hooks, when she heard a noise
on the road as of wheels. She ran to the bushes which, divided it from
the pond, and putting her little face through, saw that the miller who
lived in the village was passing with three or four large sacks of
meal in a wagon drawn by a pair of horses. He was going the wrong way,
but the thought occurred to her to stop him and ask how long it would
be before he should return, and if he should do so by the same road.
The miller was a stout, good-natured looking man, with an old hat and
coat as white as his meal bags. He seemed astonished enough at seeing
Bessie's head pop so suddenly out of the bushes in that lonely place.

"Why, Bessie," said he, laughing, "if I hadn't been as bold as a lion,
perhaps I might have mistaken you for a mermaid that had just sprung
out of the pond to have a little private conversation with me. Yes,
I shall come back by this road. I have got to deliver my meal at the
first house on the left, and then I turn towards home again. Is that
your party that I catch a glimpse of on the pond?"

"Yes," said Bessie, "they're fishing. You wouldn't mind giving us a
ride as far as you go, Mr. Watson, would you?"

Mr. Watson laughed, and said no he wouldn't, and telling her he should
return in fifteen minutes, he drove on. Bessie hurried back to the
children and related her news. She was careful not to be so selfish as
to ask them to leave the pond to go with her, but she told them for
their own benefit that the miller was willing to take the whole party.
Enticing as the fishing was, the two girls were now far too tired to
desire to walk home when they could ride very nearly all the way.
Martin for his part would have liked to remain longer, but he saw that
it would be ungenerous to refuse to accompany them, even if it had been
early enough to do so, which it was not, for already the day was on
the wane. So it was decided to leave the pond.

Martin put Dolly's share of the fishes on a separate twig, and very
proud she was of them. She said she should fry them for her father's
breakfast the next morning, before he started for market. The fishing
poles were left lying near the old tree.

When the miller drove up to the place where Bessie had hailed him, he
found the children awaiting him. Dolly and Martin, fish in hand, Nelly
carrying her bitter-sweet berries, and Bessie with an empty basket, but
a light heart at the thought that now she should reach home in good
season to gather the cresses.



CHAPTER V.

LOST.


"I CAN'T find it," said Bessie, about a month after the fishing party.
"I have hunted high and low. I cannot find it anywhere."

Her mother, whose health was now greatly improving, was sitting in the
kitchen by the blazing fire, for the weather was gradually growing
colder, and the logs were piled up a little higher on the hearth, day
by day. She was busy finishing quilting a white counterpane for a
neighbor who employed her frequently to sew for her family. It was full
of quaint devices, stars and diamonds forming the border, while in the
centre was a wonderful little lamb in the act of performing some very
frisky gambols.

"Cannot find what?" demanded Bessie's mother.

"My Madeira nut!" exclaimed Bessie, in a tone of despair. "Oh, what
shall I do? what shall I do?"

Her mother stopped quilting and turned to look at her.

"Where did you put it last?" she asked. "Surely, Bessie, you ought to
remember that."

"I have never put it in but one spot," replied Bessie; "I left it in
the drawer of my little table. When you grew better, and the table
wasn't needed any more in your bedroom for you to stand your medicines
on, I got Nathan to help me take it up stairs in the garret, just
as you bade me, that day last week when he was here spending the
afternoon. I thought I would still keep the nut there, for I had grown
used to the place, and I liked to go to the drawer and pull it out to
look at it sometimes. Oh dear, oh dear!" and Bessie burst into tears.

"Perhaps you haven't searched well," said her mother; "come, I'll go up
stairs with you. I shouldn't wonder if it had got caught in the top of
the drawer. I have heard of such things. I lost a handkerchief that way
myself once."

"But," sobbed Bessie, "it couldn't get caught like that without being
broken, because it was so thin shelled, and then I should have seen
some of the pieces; or the money would have fallen back into the
drawer, and I would have found _that_."

"How much was in it?" asked her mother. "There could not have been a
great deal more than the very first silver Mr. Dart brought you for the
cresses, for the rest we have spent from time to time as fast as it was
received. I was sorry enough to do it too."

"I wasn't," said Bessie, brightening up a little through her tears, "I
was glad and thankful, mother, to have it to spend. If it had not been
for the cresses, what would have become of us all the while you were so
sick?"

"God always provides for the poor and needy," said her mother gravely,
"and I am certain that He who knows even when sparrows fall would not
let us suffer. If this help had not sprung up for us through Mr. Dart,
something else would have presented itself. Come, now, let us go to the
garret and look for the money."

Bessie darted ahead of her mother as they went up the stairs, with a
bound and a spring that brought her to the head of the flight when her
mother was on the second step. She was young and agile, and besides she
was greatly excited and in haste to begin the search. She did not gain
any thing by her speed, however, for she had to wait at the landing
until her mother had toiled slowly up.

"Now let us look at the drawer," said her mother, when, after pausing
a moment to breathe, she moved towards the table. It was a poor little
shaky thing, and of a very dilapidated appearance. It was not to be
wondered at that as soon as her recovery made its presence unnecessary
in her room, she had banished it to the garret whence it had been
brought.

"You see there is no trace of it," said Bessie, mournfully, as she
watched her mother remove the articles the drawer contained one by one.

No, it was not there indeed.

Bessie pulled out the drawer, and even took the trouble to examine the
aperture which contained it, but all was in vain.

"It is certainly very strange," said her mother. "I do not see how, if
it were really in this drawer, it could have got out without help."

"Nor I either," added Bessie, half laughing at the idea of a nut
walking off of itself. "Oh, if I could only find it! I do not mind the
nut so much, although dear uncle James gave it to me last Christmas, as
I do the money, for you know, mother, I asked you if I might not keep
it forever, that is as long as I lived, to remember Mr. Dart's kindness
by, and to show, when I grew up, as my first earnings. Oh, I was so
proud of those three pieces of silver!"

"What were they?" asked her mother, looking over the contents of the
drawer again.

"_Don't you remember?_" exclaimed Bessie, in a tone of great surprise,
as though it were really remarkable to have forgotten. "Don't you
remember? There were two twenty-five cent pieces and a ten cent piece!"
and Bessie broke into fresh weeping again.

"Don't cry about it, Bessie," said her mother, "you know crying cannot
bring them back."

"I wouldn't care," said the little girl, "if it had been _yesterday's_
money, but it was the first, _the very first_ I ever earned of myself,
and I meant to save it always!"

"I think I can tell you exactly how it happened, my child. Just look at
the untidy appearance of your drawer. There are scraps in it of a great
many things that ought not to be there. Here is a broken slate, your
worn-out work-basket, your summer sun-bonnet, empty bottles, spools of
cotton, and last but not least, about a quart of hickory nuts,--a nice
array, I am sure."

Bessie hung her head. She was ashamed to have her disorderly ways
remarked. A want of neatness was her greatest fault.

"I was just going to clear it up to-morrow," she murmured, twitching
rather uneasily at her apron strings.

"Oh, my little girl, that 'just going' of yours is one of the saddest
things I can hear you say. You are always '_just going_,' and yet the
time seldom comes that you do as you intend. You are full of good
intentions that you are either too lazy or too thoughtless ever to
fulfil. If I did not watch over you very sharply, every thing you
have would be like this miserable looking drawer, a complete mass of
disorder."

"Oh, I hope not!" cried Bessie, quite appalled at the news.

"Now," continued her mother, "I can trace the losing of your money back
to your want of neatness. In all probability, when you came to this
drawer some time to get a few of your hickory nuts, you have caught
up the Madeira among the others, carried it down stairs, and left the
whole pile lying as you often do, somewhere around the garden till
you feel in the humor for cracking them. I want to know, in the first
place, why your hickory nuts were ever put in this drawer among your
books and spools of cotton."

Bessie had been growing warmer and warmer while her mother was
speaking, until it seemed to her as though the tips of her ears were
on fire. Conviction forced itself upon her mind that her Madeira nut
must have gone in the way her mother described, for she remembered
distinctly having often taken two or three handfuls of nuts and
carried them in her apron down to the garden, leaving them lying
carelessly about her favorite resorts, under the old apple-tree for
instance, or on the big flat stone by the brook. She had many just such
idle, unsystematic ways of managing. She felt she was in the wrong, so
she scarcely knew how to defend herself.

"I don't know why I put the nuts there, mother," she said, "unless it
was to get them out of the way. They are those that are left of the
basket full I found in the woods by Mr. Dart's farm, one day when Nelly
and I went there together."

"When _will_ you learn neatness, Bessie?"

"I don't know," sobbed Bessie, "never, I 'spect. Seems to me I grow
worse and worse. I don't believe I shall be half as good when I am ten
as I am now when I'm only nine. I wish I had never gone nutting, and
then this would not have happened."

"No," said her mother, smiling, "it never would, for then in all
probability you would not have met and become friendly with our good
Mr. Dart. Don't make rash wishes, my little Bess, because you are
vexed."

"Oh, now I know," cried Bessie, as if struck with a sudden idea, "I put
the nuts in that drawer, mother, for _safety_. Before that they were
lying spread out to dry on the floor, over by that barrel. I remember
thinking that they were thinning out pretty fast, and that the rats
must have carried some away. I thought that if I put them in the
drawer they would last until I used them up."

"Well," said her mother, "that betters the case a little; but still I
must insist that you could have found many more appropriate places. If
you had put them in the barrel it would have been far better than among
your spools, and I do not know but that it would have been quite as
safe."

Bessie's mother went up to the barrel in question, as she spoke, and
scarcely knowing what she was doing, shoved it a little with her foot.
It was empty, and yielded easily. This change in its position brought
to view the space between it and the wall, and there, what did Bessie
and her mother see but a nice little pile of hickory nut-shells!

Bessie uttered an exclamation and sprang forward. She took up two or
three, and found that a hole had been neatly nibbled in each and the
meat subtracted.

"I told you so," she said sorrowfully, letting the shells drop slowly
back to the pile; "now I know why my nuts disappeared so fast. I
thought at first that Nathan must have helped himself to a few, when
he has been here. He often runs up stairs to get something or other to
play with, when he stays the whole afternoon, and I guessed the nuts
had tempted him. Poor Nathan! I ought to have known better."

Bessie's mother stooped and examined every shell in the pile.

"Perhaps," said she, "master rat has carried off the Madeira too."

"Oh, I hope so," cried the little girl; "do you see any of the pieces
of it, mother? He could not harm the money you know, and that is what I
care most about getting back."

"It is not here," said her mother, rising, "but perhaps we shall hear
something of it yet. I want you to put on your sun-bonnet and look
carefully about the garden. Take an hour, or two hours if necessary,
but do it thoroughly. I must go down stairs now to my sewing."

Bessie found it very tedious, sad work searching for her lost
treasure that afternoon. She went to each of her favorite haunts, and
examined them with great minuteness, but no trace of the nut was to
be discovered. One thing seemed to her as very strange, however, and
that was, that of all the small supplies of nuts which she had lately
carried down to the garden, and of which she did not remember even to
have cracked a single one, not so much as a fragment of a shell was
now to be found. Only the day before she had left a little strawberry
basket half filled, on the big stone by the brook, to which the reader
remembers she once led Mr. Dart to survey the cresses. She had meant
to sit there and crack and pick them out at once, at her leisure, but
something attracting her attention as usual, she did not do so, but
deserted both basket and nuts. The basket was there still, but to her
surprise, it was quite empty. It lay on its side near where she had
left it. No mark of any one having been there was to be seen in the
muddy grass.

Bessie took up the basket and gazed at it in silent astonishment. What
could it mean? Who would help themselves to her nuts in this way? and
why was the basket not carried off also? She was still sitting on the
stone thinking the whole singular affair over, when she heard Nathan
call to her from the next house, where he lived. She looked up, and
there he was leaning over the fence. She had just been thinking of him,
and it made her feel unpleasantly to see him.

"Bess," cried he, "what do you think? father is going to give me a ride
to town to-morrow."

Bessie scarcely heard him as she rose, and holding up her empty basket,
said reproachfully,--

"Oh, Nathan, how could you climb over the fence and take my nuts?"

"Nuts!" echoed Nathan, "what nuts? I don't know any thing about your
nuts."

"Somebody does," said Bessie, "for this basket was half full yesterday,
and now it is empty. I left it here on the stone all night."

"I never saw it," said Nathan; "that's mighty pretty of you to accuse a
fellow of stealing. You had better be a little careful."

"I didn't say you _stole_, Nathan, I only--"

"Who cares for your old nuts?" interrupted Nathan, "they're not worth
the carrying off. Next thing you'll be saying I meddle with your
cresses."

"No," said Bessie, a little sadly, "I shouldn't say that. There are
only two or three baskets-full of nice ones left, and by next week Mr.
Dart will have taken them all to market. I don't _care_ about my nuts,
Nathan, it isn't that, but I should like to know who took them."

"Well, _I_ didn't, anyhow," said Nathan, "and since you are so cross
about it, I shan't stay to talk to you."

He clambered down from the fence and walked away whistling, with his
hands in his pockets.

Some way, Bessie felt a presentiment that Nathan knew more than he said
about the nuts. She concluded to go in and ask her mother if it could
possibly be that he had taken the missing money.

Her mother listened in silence to all she had to utter on the subject.
Bessie told her that Nathan was aware, and had been aware from the
beginning, where the Madeira nut was kept. She said he was present
when she first put it in the drawer, which was indeed true, as the
reader knows, and that often since, they had looked at it together.

"My dear," said her mother, when Bessie concluded, "I do not see that
you have any thing more than _conjecture_ on which to found your
suspicions. It is very wrong to act on conjecture only."

"But everybody thinks Nat is a bad boy," said Bessie eagerly; "the
neighbors say he will do almost any thing. Only last Sunday he pinned
the minister's coat tails to the shade of the church window, as he
stood talking to Deacon Danbury, after meeting was over. When the
minister went to walk off, down came the shade on his head and smashed
his new hat. _I_ think that a boy who will do that would take things
that do not belong to him."

"Perhaps he might," said her mother quietly.

"Well, shall I ask him about it," demanded Bessie.

"My dear child," said her mother gravely, "your ideas of justice
are one-sided. The world would not thrive if every one acted on the
principles you seem to advocate. Many an honest man might be imprisoned
as a thief if people should take mere _conjecture_ for proof of guilt,
while at the same time, many a thief would pass for an honest man. In
law, all persons are supposed innocent, until they are _proved_ guilty.
You did not _see_ Nathan take any thing belonging to you, nor do you
know any one who did. It would be the height of cruelty then, to
accuse him without absolute proof."

"Yes," said Bessie, "but suppose he _did_ take the nut after all."

"Then," said her mother, "we can only leave the case to that Judge who
doeth all things well. It is better for us to suppose him innocent even
while he may be guilty, than to suppose him guilty when he is innocent."

"I wish I _knew_," said Bessie, as she took up her shears and basket to
go out to get the cresses for the next day's market.

"The cold weather will soon put a stop to the cresses, I am afraid,"
remarked her mother, after a pause.

"Yes," said Bessie, "Mr. Dart says they are getting poor now; they do
not grow fast after cutting, any more, on account of the frost."

"Never mind," said her mother cheerfully, "in the spring, which after
all is not so _very_ far off, they will become fine again, and then you
can begin to sell as fast as ever. If I am well then, as I hope and
trust I shall be, we must not touch a penny of your money, Bessie. It
shall all be saved to send you regularly to Miss Milly's school, and
buy books for you to learn out of, and perhaps, who knows, there will
be something left to put in the bank besides. This fall the cresses
have fed our poor, suffering bodies, but next spring, if nothing
happens, they shall feed my Bessie's mind."

"School!" cried Bessie, dropping both the basket and the scissors
in her delight, "shall I _really_ go to school? And all through the
water-cresses? Why, we never thought our dear little brook would make
us so rich, did we, mother?"



CHAPTER VI.

THE NEST.


ONE clear and cold morning in winter, as Bessie was passing along the
road that led by Nelly's home, she heard Martin call her from the barn
where he was at work. He saw her passing and beckoned to her to come
to him. Bessie had the singular habit which most children possess of
stopping to ask why she was summoned, when at the same time she fully
intended to answer the call in person. So she stood still, and in a
loud voice cried,

"Mar-TIN, what _is_ it? What do you want of me?"

"Come and see!" replied Martin, "I've something nice to show you!" and
then he resumed his place at the hay-cutting machine, at which he had
been busy when he espied her. He was mincing the hay for the cattle to
eat.

Bessie still stood irresolute. She meant to come, but she desired her
curiosity to be gratified before she did so.

"Mar-TIN?"

"Well?"

"Can't you tell me _now_ what it is?"

"No," replied Martin, going on with his hay chopping; "I guess you will
have to come and see for yourself. It almost splits my throat to be
calling out to you so."

"I think you might tell me," said Bessie, opening the gate and walking
towards him; "you could have done it in half the time that you have
been talking about it. Mercy! have you cut all that pile of hay this
morning?"

[Illustration: "A couple of white sheep came running eagerly up to
Martin's outstretched hand."--p. 125.]

"Yes," said Martin; "it's for the horses. I sprinkle a little water on
it, and they like it a great deal better than when it is dry and uncut.
It's healthier for them too."

"I am glad I don't live on it," said Bessie. "I should be like the
horse that his master fed on shavings,--just as I got used to it I
should die."

"Very likely," said Martin, laughing. "Come, and I'll show you what I
spoke about." Bessie followed him as he led the way across the yard to
the part of the barn where the large folding-doors were situated. They
were wide open, and the clear winter sunshine streamed on the floor. An
old wagon and a ladder were placed across this opening, so that no
one could come in or go out without climbing over.

"What is this for?" asked Bessie. "This wagon don't belong here,
Martin. I never saw it here before."

"That's to keep the cows out," said Martin, smiling. "We have treasures
in this part of the barn that it would not do for the cattle to get at.
Here Nanny, here Jinny!"

A pattering of little hoofs was heard on the wooden floor, and a couple
of white sheep came running eagerly up to Martin's outstretched hand.
They rubbed themselves against it, and showed in various other ways how
glad they were to see him.

"Aren't they pretty?" said Bessie admiringly. "Come here, Nanny."

But Nanny would not touch Bessie's hand, and backed up the barn,
shaking her head at the sight of it, and kicking her delicate little
heels in the air.

"They don't know you yet," said Martin, "but they are very tame, and
would soon become acquainted if you were with them every day as I am.
We have had them two weeks, and already they let me play with them.
They are cossets."

"_Cossets_, Martin?"

"Yes; that means the pets of the flock. The cosset lamb means the pet
lamb."

"Pet is a prettier word than cosset," said Bessie; "I should never call
them that. I do wish mother had two such nice sheep. But why do you
keep them shut up here?"

"You haven't seen all yet," said Martin, smiling; "just creep through
this place and round by these wheels, and we will go in and find out
why the cows are kept out and the sheep kept in."

Martin helped Bessie through the obstructions, and led her to the
back of the barn where, nestled in a heap of clean hay that was
piled against the opposite folding doors, she saw a little bundle of
something white, in which she could just detect two small, glittering
eyes.

"It's a lamb," cried Bessie, skipping about as if she were one herself.

"Two of 'em," said Martin. "Only look here!" and he pulled apart
the loose whisps of hay, and there lay revealed two of the fattest,
whitest, and prettiest lambs that ever were seen. They did not seem to
like being admired, but gave utterance to a little sharp cry very much
like a baby's. Hearing it, one of the sheep trotted up, and pushing
between them and Martin, quietly began to lick them.

"That's their mother," said Martin. "They are twins, and only two days
old. The other old sheep is a twin of this old one, and they are so
fond of each other that we cannot keep them separate. At first we were
afraid the aunty would injure the young ones, and we shut her out in
the barn-yard, but she came and stood at the door, there by the wagon,
and cried so piteously that Mr. Brooks told me she might stay in with
her sister and her baby nieces. We could not bear to hear her bleat
so."

"Don't she bite or tread on them?" asked Bessie.

"No," said Martin, "I think she is very tender with them. This morning
one of the men threw a handful of hay accidentally in a lamb's face,
and when it tried to push it off but couldn't, what does old aunty do
but walk up and eat it away, every whisp. I thought that was quite
bright of her, and kind too. On the whole I think they are a happy
family."

"Does Nelly like 'em?" asked Bessie, as she patted the head of the one
Martin called the "aunty."

"Yes," said Martin, "she thinks they are the handsomest animals on the
place. They grow fonder of her every day."

"I hope her father don't mean to have them killed," remarked Bessie, a
little sadly.

"No indeed," cried Martin, "he bought them for pets, and to look pretty
running about the meadow in the summer time. He says they are too tame
and loving to be killed. I shouldn't like to think of such a thing, I
am sure. There,--do see old Moolly poking her head over the wagon! How
she does want to come in! She always was our pet before, and I suppose
it makes her a little jealous. Poor Moolly,--good little Moolly."

Martin picked up a corn-cob and rubbed the cow's ears. She stood quite
still to let him do it, and when he stopped she stretched out her head
for more and looked at him as if she had not had half her share.

"Are the little lambs named?" asked Bessie, as she got up from the hay
to go.

"No," said Martin; "Nelly's father told her she might call them any
thing she wanted, but she thinks they are such funny little long-legged
things that she cannot find names pretty enough. When they grow
stronger they will frisk about and be full of play."

"I mean to run over to the house to see her and ask her about it," said
Bessie. "I am real glad you called me, Martin, to look at them."

Martin went back to his hay-cutting, and Bessie bade him good-by, and
skipped along the path to the house. Bessie always skipped instead of
walking or running, when she was particularly pleased with any thing.
On knocking at the farm-house door, she was told to her great sorrow
that Nelly was not within, but when she heard that she had just started
to pay a visit to herself, that sorrow was changed to joy, and she
turned to go home with a very light heart and a pair of very brisk feet.

"Perhaps I can overtake her," she said to herself; but go as fast as
she could, she saw nothing of Nelly on the road. When she reached home,
she was so warm with the exercise that it seemed to her as though the
day were a very mild one indeed. As she pushed open the door of the
kitchen, her eyes were so bright and her cheeks so red from her little
run, that her mother looked up from her work and asked what she had
been doing.

"Only racing down the hill to find Nelly," panted Bessie, sinking into
a chair as she spoke. "Isn't she here? I didn't overtake her."

"No," replied her mother, "Nelly has been here and gone. She was sorry
you were out."

"Gone!" echoed Bessie. "Well, if that is not too bad! Mrs. Brooks said
she had just started. I am so sorry. Did she tell you which way she was
going?"

"No," said her mother, "she did not, but she said perhaps she would
stop on her way back. Come, take off your hat and shawl and hang them
up, and then begin hemming one of these towels. I am in a great hurry
to get them done. They are Mrs. Raynor's, and I promised to send them
home to-morrow."

Bessie loved to romp and play much better than to sew, and these words
of her mother's did not consequently fill her with satisfaction. She
knew, however, that by sewing their living was to be gained, so she
choked down the fretful words that rose to her lips. She felt that it
was hard enough for her mother to work, without having her repinings to
endure also. The glow and cheerful effect of her walk, however, faded
away as she slowly untied her hood, and hung it with her shawl on a peg
behind the door. She was deeply disappointed at Nelly's absence.

"I wish she would have waited a little while," she said; "I don't see
her so often now the winter has set in, that I can afford to miss her.
Mother, have you seen my thimble?"

"What!" said her mother, "lost _again_, Bessie? What shall I do with
this careless girl? There is my old one, you can use that for a little
while."

"Oh, now I remember," cried Bessie, springing up, "I left it in the
garret, in the drawer of the old table, the last time I was there. I'll
get it, and be down again in a moment."

She opened the door at the foot of the stairs, and ran quickly up them.
She did not notice that she left the door wide open, and that the cold
air rushed into the warm kitchen, nor did she know that her mother,
sighing, was obliged to rise from her work and shut it after her.

On went Bessie, and turning the landing, began the second flight, two
steps at a time, as usual. She was very lightfooted, and owing to her
disappointment about Nelly, she did not feel quite gay enough to hum
the little tunes which she generally did when going about the house,
so that altogether she scarcely made any noise. Perhaps it was owing
to this that, as she reached the head of the garret stairs, she saw
something run across the floor, evidently alarmed at her unexpected
appearance. She stood still for a moment, hardly knowing what it was,
and not wishing to go any further in the fear of frightening it away
before she could get a good look at it. She decided at once, however,
from its size, that it was not a rat, for it was far too large. It had
taken refuge behind some old furniture in a corner, and in the hope
that if she kept perfectly still, it would venture out again, she sat
down on the top step, and fixed her eyes intently on the spot where she
had beheld it disappear. She had remained thus but a short time when
she heard hasty footsteps coming from the kitchen, and a voice that
she recognized as that of Nelly, called her name. She did not answer,
for she wanted to unravel the mystery, whatever it might be, and when
Nelly, still calling, followed her up to the stairs on which she sat,
she put her finger on her lip by way of enjoining silence, and beckoned
to her to come to her. Nelly understood in a moment, and slipping off
her heavy winter walking shoes, crept up and sat down beside her.

"Hush!" whispered Bessie, "don't make a sound. There is some sort of a
little animal concealed behind that old fire-board, and I want to see
it come out."

She spoke so low that Nelly had difficulty in getting at the sense
of what she said, but when she did, she nodded slightly, and the two
little girls began the watch together.

They sat there a long, long time.

Once or twice they thought they heard a movement behind the fire-board,
but they saw nothing. At last, just as they were becoming very weary of
remaining so long in the cold, Nelly caught sight of a small pointed
nose, projecting from one side of the board. As this nose moved slowly
forward, a pair of bright little eyes came into view also, rolling
restlessly about, as if seeking to espy danger. It was with difficulty
the children could repress the exclamations that were on their lips,
but with an effort they did so, and remained just as quiet as before.
Encouraged by the dead stillness, the animal advanced still further
from its retreat, peering all the while about it. Its body, as near
as they could see, was spotted gray and white, and so were its pretty
ears, which were long, and in constant motion. It ran cautiously from
its place of concealment, and at last, with a graceful, hurried spring,
landed on the top of Bessie's table. Arrived there, it sat down and
looked about it again. The children did not move. The drawer of the
table, as usual, was partially open, according to Bessie's careless
habit, and the little creature put its mites of paws carefully in the
crack, bringing them out again almost immediately with a nut, at which
at once it commenced to nibble. It was an odd sight as it sat there
on its hind legs, holding the nut in its front paws, and twisting and
turning it from side to side in order to find a good place to plant
its sharp teeth. Nelly glanced at Bessie and longed to burst into a
laugh, but Bessie signified to her by a movement of her eye-brows and
lips that she must not. It was plain enough by this time that the
little thief was a squirrel. Bessie was quite bewildered at the thought
that it had been able to get in the house without her or her mother's
knowledge. She did not know that the race to which the animal belonged
is proverbial for its cunning, and that often it steals a way into the
habitations of men for no other purpose than to find seeds and grains
on which to live.

Some accidental movement which Bessie made, at length startled the
squirrel from its sense of security. It leaped lightly from the table
to the floor, and disappeared behind some loose blocks of wood, near
the fire-board. As it did so, Nelly saw that part of its tail was
missing, looking as if torn off at about half its length.

"Bessie!" she exclaimed eagerly, as her companion made a dart for the
blocks of wood, "Bessie, as sure as you're alive, that's the same
squirrel we saw in the woods, the day we went nutting."

"I know it," cried Bessie; "at least I am as sure as I can be, for
that one was like this, spotted white and gray, and each of them had
only a part of a tail. To think of the little thing being so hungry
as to come after my nuts! If I can only find its hole, I'll feed it
regularly every day."

"What _could_ bring it so far from the woods?" cried Nelly, laughing.
"I never heard of any thing more strange, even in a book."

"You stay here and watch if it comes out again," said Bessie, "and I'll
run tell mother. Perhaps she can help find its hiding-place."

Nelly went with her as far as the foot of the stairs to get her shoes,
for her feet were now growing very cold. Then she returned to the
garret, but nothing more had been seen of the squirrel when Bessie
appeared with her mother.

"It was here, just here, that it went out of sight," cried Bessie;
"somewhere by these blocks and this old fire-board."

Her mother laughed, and said if there were nothing worse than a
squirrel in the house, she should be glad.

"We must look," she added, "and perhaps we can discover its nest; that
is, if it has one here, for, Bessie, it has just occurred to me that
this is the way your Madeira nut disappeared. If we can find the nest
we may find your money too," and she began to move out the furniture
from the wall.

At the mention of the Madeira nut, Bessie colored deeply, and really
seemed struck with true shame.

"Oh, mother," she said, "to think that I have never, all this while,
cleaned out that drawer! Some of the nuts are still in it, and the
other things too, just as they were that day when I lost my money. I
have meant to clear it out so many times!"

Her mother turned and looked at her sorrowfully.

"Bessie," she said, "I have for years done all I could do, to make
a careful, neat little girl, out of a careless, untidy one. I am
beginning now to leave you to yourself, hoping that time will help
you to see yourself as others see you. I have noticed often that your
drawer remained in the same condition, but I did not speak of it."

"Oh, mother," cried Bessie, frightened, "don't leave me to myself,
_don't_. I shall never learn to be good at all, that way. Oh, don't
give me up yet."

"My poor child," said her mother, "if you will only _try_, so that I
can _see_ you trying, my confidence in you will come back, but not
otherwise. I want something more than empty promises. You forget them
as soon as you make them."

"But I will try, I will _really_ try _this_ time," said Bessie with
tears in her eyes. "I'm _lazy_, mother, I'm _real_ lazy, but I am not
as bad as I might be. I'll clean the drawer just as soon as we look for
the nest, _sure_."

"Well," said her mother, half smiling at the little girl's doleful
tone, "well, I will give you this one more chance. We will take the
drawer for a new starting point. Come, Nelly, let us search now for the
squirrel's hole. It must be somewhere about here, for it would never
come up by the stairs, I think."

They began a thorough hunt, lifting up every light article in the
out-garret, where they were, and dragging the more ponderous furniture
from their places. It was a sort of store-away place for things not in
every-day use, and therefore it took some time to examine every thing.
An occasional pile of nibbled nut-shells was all that was brought to
light.

"Well," said Nelly, laughing, as she looked under the last article, a
little broken chair belonging to Bessie. "Well, I don't see but that
Madame Squirrel has escaped us. I can't meet with a trace of her, for
my part, beyond these nut-shells."

"Nor I either," wofully added Bessie.

"Yet how could it have run away from us, since we can find no hole in
the floor, and Nelly did not see it run into any of these other rooms?"
asked Bessie's mother.

"Perhaps it is hidden in the furniture itself," remarked Nelly.

"Stop a moment," said Bessie's mother, as Nelly began to pull out the
drawers of an old bureau, "here are some crossbeams in the wall by the
fire-board, that look very much as though a set of sharp teeth had
nibbled a hole in them,--yes, it is so! Well, I think we've tracked the
squirrel now! The place is such a little way from the floor, that it
could jump in and scamper off through the walls, before any one could
molest it. Perhaps it is far away in the woods, laughing at us, at this
minute."

The children drew near the beams in question, with strong curiosity. It
was indeed as Bessie's mother said; there were the marks of teeth in
the wood, and just where the beams joined was a hole quite large enough
for a squirrel to pass through.

"It is the same one we saw in the woods, I know it is," said Nelly,
"but what should bring it here?"

"Perhaps, in time, we can tame it; that is if we have not already
frightened it away. _May_ I try to tame it, mother?"

"Yes," said her mother. "I think Bunny will make a pretty pet. We can
strew a few grains of corn, or a few nuts about its hole every day,
until it learns to regard us as its friends; but a little girl that
I know must get into the good habit of putting her things in their
proper places, and shutting her table drawers _tight_, or it will
continue to help itself to more valuable things, and make itself a
plague to us. I do not doubt that Bunny has your money in its nest at
this minute. It thought, probably, that it was carrying off a good,
sound nut."

"Yes," said Bessie, "and I dare say it was it that ran off with those
in my basket, and all the others in the garden. Poor, dear Nathan! I
must tell him about it, and ask him to forget my cross words. One of my
Sunday-school hymns says, 'Kind words can never die.' I wonder if the
unkind words live forever too. Do they, mother?"

"I hope not," was the answer, "but many an unkind word leaves a sting
in the mind of the person to whom it is said, long after the one who
uttered it has entirely forgotten it. I don't believe Nathan, for
instance, will soon cease to remember that you asked him why he took
your nuts. You acted too impulsively."

"Too _what_, mother?" asked Bessie, curiously.

"Too _impulsively_. That is, you did not wait to consider the matter,
but spoke out just as you felt, as soon as you saw him. You must
certainly ask him to excuse you. If you are always very gentle to him
in future, perhaps your offence will be forgotten. There is no end to
the soothing effect of those 'kind words that never die!'"

"He was cross enough with _me_ about it," said Bessie, reflectively.
"I think a few kind words would not hurt _him_ to say."

"We have nothing to do with Nathan as to that," said her mother. "If he
chooses to be ill-tempered, it is his own business, while it is ours to
bear it from him patiently. It is only by such means that we can teach
him how wrong he is."

"I think that is pretty hard to do," said Bessie, shaking her head,
"don't you, Nelly? _I_ always want to answer right straight back."

"And if you do," said her mother, "you will find that you invariably
make the case worse than before. A noble poet, whose works you may read
when you are older, has said, 'Be silent and endure!' and experience
will prove to you both, that this silence and this endurance is the
true key to happiness. Now, run down stairs, Bessie, and bring me up
the little saw. The idea has just come to me, to saw away some of the
board at the side of these beams. That will give us a good view of what
is going on in the wall, and will not hurt its appearance much, either."

Bessie soon reappeared with the saw, which, as it was small, her
mother had no difficulty in handling. She took it from her and began
operations at once, inserting the sharp end of it in a crevice in the
wood, and moving it gradually across the grain, until the end of the
board fell on the floor, where the sawdust already lay.

"Oh, let me see!" cried Bessie, in wild delight at this exposure of the
squirrel's haunt. And

"Oh, let _me_ see _too_!" cried Nelly.

But Bessie's mother said she thought she had better take a peep first,
so she lowered her eyes to the aperture and looked in. It was dark,
and her eyes, accustomed to the sun-light, at first could distinguish
nothing. Gradually, however, she found that she could see a little way
around the hole with great distinctness, and it was not long before a
small heap of rags, apparently, attracted her attention on one of the
corner beams.

"What is it, mother? what do you find?" cried Bessie, as her mother put
in her hand to feel what this heap could be. Something warm met the
touch of her fingers, and she drew back, slightly startled.

On examining further, she found that this was indeed the animal's nest,
and that these soft, warm objects, curled up in it so nicely, were
probably her little young ones.

"There!" she said, laughing, "come see, children, what I have found!
Here is the squirrel's nest, and two of her little babies!"

The girls peered eagerly through the hole at these newly discovered
treasures.

"The darlings!" cried Bessie, "we can surely tame these little
creatures, mother, they are so young. It will be no trouble at all."

"We must not take them from the nest," replied her mother. "If we
can tame them by kindness, and by gradually accustoming them to our
harmless visits, I am very willing to make pets of them."

"Oh, how pleasant that will be," exclaimed Bessie, in an ecstasy. "Do
look, Nelly, at their pretty eyes. I don't know but that I shall be
just as well satisfied with my two little squirrels as you are with
your two lambs."

As she spoke, she put in her hand to touch the tiny animals on the
head, and smooth them softly, but something at the side of the nest
suddenly arrested her attention, and she did not do so.

"Oh, mother," she cried, "I do believe here is my Madeira nut, among
this rubbish and empty hickory shells about the nest. I do believe
it,--I do believe it! It _looks_ like it, I am positive of that. It
seems whole, too. I don't think it has been nibbled at all! How glad I
am!"

"Can you reach it?" asked her mother; "if you can, do so."

Bessie made what she called "a long arm," and in a moment more she
seized the nut and brought it into open daylight.

"Oh, mother," she said, dancing around the garret joyfully, "it _is_ my
nut! Here is a little place in the side where the squirrel has bitten,
and you can see the money right through it! She found that there was
nothing good to eat in it, so she stopped just in time not to spoil it
entirely. I am so glad--I am so glad!"


THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. The varied hyphenation of
"watercress" and "water-cress" was retained.

Page 20, "lewer" changed to "lower" (the lower half which)





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