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Joanna H. (Joanna Hooe) Mathews.

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"Are you going back to that horrid writing?" asked Carrie, as Nellie
took her seat at the table again.

"I am going back to my writing," answered Nellie, dryly.

Carrie looked, as she felt, disgusted. Papa and mamma had gone out on
the piazza; but mamma would not let her be in the evening air, and she
wanted amusement within; and here was Nellie going back to that "horrid
writing," which had occupied her so much for the last three days.

Nellie had plainly neither time nor thought to bestow upon her; and she
wandered restlessly and discontentedly about the room, fretting for
"something to do."

But a few minutes had passed when a loud thump sounded overhead; and a
shriek followed, which rang through the house. There was no mistaking
the cause: Daisy had fallen out of bed, as Daisy was apt to do unless
she were carefully guarded against it; and the catastrophe was one
of such frequent occurrence, and Daisy so seldom received injury
therefrom, that none of the family were much alarmed, save her mother.

Mrs. Ransom ran upstairs, followed quickly by Nellie and Carrie, and
more slowly by her husband, who hoped and believed that Daisy had had
her usual good fortune, and accomplished her gymnastics without severe
injury to herself.

It proved otherwise this time, however; for, although not seriously
hurt, Daisy had a great bump on her forehead, which was fast swelling
and turning black, and a scratch upon her arm; and she was disposed to
make much of her wounds and bruises, and to consider herself a greatly
afflicted martyr.

How did it happen? Daisy should have been fastened in her little bed,
so that she could not fall out.

"Nellie," said Mrs. Ransom, as she held the sobbing child upon her lap
and bathed the aching little head with warm water and arnica, - "Nellie,
did you fasten up the side of the crib after you had put Daisy in bed?"

"No, mamma, I don't believe I did," said conscience-stricken Nellie. "I
don't quite remember, but I am afraid I did not."

"And why didn't you? You know she always rolls out, if it is not done,"
said her mother.

"I - I suppose I did not remember, mamma. I was thinking about something
else; and I was in such a hurry to go downstairs again. I am so sorry!"

And she laid her hand penitently on that of Daisy, who was regarding
her with an injured air, as one who was the cause of her misfortunes.

"Yes, I am afraid that was it, Nellie," said Mrs. Ransom. "Your mind
was so taken up with something else that you could not give proper
attention to your little sister. I am sorry I did not come myself to
put her to bed."

It was the second time that day that Nellie might have been helpful to
her mother, but she had only brought trouble upon her.

She stood silent and mortified.

Mr. Ransom took Daisy from her mother and laid her back in her crib,
taking care that she was perfectly secured this time; then went
downstairs. But Daisy was not to be consoled, unless mamma sat beside
her and held her hand till she went to sleep; so Mrs. Ransom remained
with her, dismissing Carrie also to bed.

Nellie assisted her to undress, making very sure that nothing was
forgotten this time, and then returned to see if her mother was ready
to go downstairs. But Daisy was most persistently wide awake; her fall
had roused her from her first sleep very thoroughly; and she found it
so pleasant to have mamma sitting there beside her that she had no mind
to let herself float off to the land of dreams, but kept constantly
exciting herself with such remarks as -

"Mamma, the's a lot of tadpoles in the little pond." - "Mamma, the's
lots of niggers in Newport; oh! I forgot, you told me not to say
niggers; I mean colored, black people." - "Mamma, when I'm big I'll
buy you a gold satin dress." Or suddenly rousing just as her mother
thought she was dropping off to sleep, and putting the startling
question, "Mamma, if I was a bear, would you be my mamma?" and mamma
unhappily replying "No," she immediately set up a dismal howl, which
took some time to quiet.

Finding this to be the state of affairs, and warned by her mother's
uplifted finger not to come in the room, Nellie went downstairs again,
meaning to return to her former occupation. But, to her surprise, the
Bible, which she remembered leaving open, was closed and laid aside,
her papers all gone.

"Why," she said, "who has meddled with my things, I wonder?"

"I put them all away, Nellie," said her father.

"I am going to write more, papa."

"Not to-night. Put on your hat and come out with me for a little walk,"
said Mr. Ransom.

Nellie might have felt vexed at this decided interference with her
work; but the pleasure of a moonlight walk with papa quite made up for
it, and she was speedily ready, and her hand in his.

Mr. Ransom led her down upon the beach, Nellie half expecting all the
time some reproof for the neglect which had caused so much trouble; but
her father uttered none, talking cheerfully and pleasantly on other
subjects.

It was a beautiful evening. The gentle waves, shimmering and glancing
in the moonlight, broke softly on the beach with a soothing, sleepy
sound; and the cool salt breeze which swept over them came pleasantly
to Nellie's flushed, hot cheeks and throbbing head. She and her father
had the beach pretty much to themselves at this hour; and, finding a
broad, flat stone which offered a good resting-place, they sat down
upon it, and watched the waves as they curled and rippled playfully
upon the white sands.

"Now," thought Nellie, when they were seated side by side, - "now,
surely, papa is going to find fault with me; and no wonder if he does.
Twice to-day I've made such trouble for mamma, when I never meant to do
a thing! I don't see what ailed me to-day. It has been a horrid day,
and every thing has gone wrong."

And Nellie really did not know, or perhaps I should say had not
considered, what it was that had made every thing go wrong with her for
the greater part of the day.

But no; again she was pleasantly disappointed. Papa talked on as
before, and called her attention to the white sails of a ship gleaming
far off in the silver moonlight, and told her an interesting story of a
shipwreck he had once witnessed on this coast.

As they were on their way home, however, and when they had nearly
reached the house, Mr. Ransom said, -

"Nellie, what is this you are so busy with, my daughter?"

"What, my writing do you mean, papa?" asked Nellie, looking up at him.

"Yes, some Bible lesson, is it not?"

"Not just a lesson, papa," answered Nellie. "Miss Ashton gave us three
or four subjects to study over a little this summer, if we chose, and
to find as many texts about as we could; but it is not a lesson, for we
need not do it unless we like, and have plenty of time."

"Then it is not a task she set you?" said Mr. Ransom.

"Oh, no, papa! not at all. She said she thought it would be a good plan
for us to read a little history every day, or to take any other lesson
our mammas liked, but she did not even first speak of this of herself;
for Gracie Howard asked her to give us some subjects to hunt up texts
about, and then Miss Ashton said it would be a good plan for us to
spend a little time at that if we liked, and she gave us four subjects.
She said it would help to make us familiar with the Bible."

"Yes," said Mr. Ransom musingly, and as if he had not heeded, if indeed
he had heard, the last sentence of her speech.

"And I have such a long list, papa," continued Nellie, "that is, on
the first subject; and on the second I have a good many, too, but I am
not through with that. I had very few the day before yesterday; but
then, you know, Maggie Bradford came to see me, and she is doing it,
too, and she had so many more than I had that I felt quite ashamed.
Then the same afternoon I had a letter from Gracie Howard, and she told
me she had more than a hundred on the first, and nearly a hundred on
the second; so I felt I must hurry up, or maybe all the others would be
ahead of me. I've been busy all day to-day finding texts, and copying
them."

"Is that all you have done to-day?" asked Mr. Ransom.

Nellie cannot gather from his tone whether he approves or not; but
it seems to her quite impossible that he should not consider her
occupation most praiseworthy.

"Oh, no, papa!" she answered. "I have done several things besides. I
read nearly twenty pages of my history twice over, and learned every
one of the dates; then I studied a page of Speller and Definer, and a
lesson in my French Phrase-book, and did four sums, and said '7 times'
and '9 times' in the multiplication table, each four times over. 7's
and 9's are the hardest to remember, so I say those the oftenest. I did
all those lessons and half an hour's sewing before I went to my texts;
but I've been busy with those almost ever since."

"And you have had no walk, no play, all day?" questioned Mr. Ransom.

Nellie was not satisfied with her father's tone now; it did not by any
means express approbation.

"I have not played any, papa, but I had some exercise; for all the time
I was learning my French phrases, I was rolling the baby's wagon around
the gravel walk."

"And it was pretty much the same thing yesterday, was it not?" said Mr.
Ransom.

"Well, yes, papa," rather faintly.

"Nellie," said her father, "did you ever hear the old couplet, 'All
work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'?"

"Yes, papa," answered Nellie, half laughing, half reluctantly, as she
began to fear that her father intended to interfere with her plans for
study. "But am I 'a dull boy'?"

"Neither 'dull' nor a 'boy,'" answered her father, playfully shaking
the little hand in his. "But I fear there is danger of the former,
Nellie, if you go on taking so much 'work' and no 'play.' Miss Ashton
did not desire all this, if I understand you, my dear."

"Oh, no, papa! I was just doing it of myself. Miss Ashton only said,
if our papas and mammas did not object, she thought it would be wiser
for us to have a little lesson or reading every day. But you see,
papa" - Nellie hesitated, and then came to a full stop.

"Well?" said her father, encouragingly.

"Papa, I seem to be so far behind all the girls of my age in our class.
It makes me feel ashamed, and as if I must do all I could to catch up
with them."

"I do not know," said Mr. Ransom. "It seems to me that a little girl
who keeps the head of her spelling, history, and geography classes for
at least a fair share of the time, and who has taken more than one
prize for composition and steady, orderly conduct, has no need to feel
ashamed before her school-fellows."

"Well, no, papa - but - but - somehow I am not so quick as the others. I
generally know my lessons, and do keep my place in the classes about as
well as any one; but it takes me a great deal longer than it does most
of the others. Gracie Howard can learn in half the time that I can; so
can Laura Middleton, Maggie Bradford, and 'most all the girls as old as
I am, whom I know."

"And probably they know them and remember them no better than my
Nellie," said her father.

Mr. Ransom was not afraid of making his little daughter conceited or
careless by over-praise; she had not sufficient confidence in herself
or her own powers, and needed all the encouragement that could be given
to her. Too much humility, rather than too little, was Nellie's snare.

"Yes, papa," she answered. "I suppose I do _remember_ as well as any of
the rest, and I seldom miss in my lessons; but I don't see why it is
that often when Miss Ashton asks us some question about a lesson that
has gone before, or about something that I know quite well, the words
do not seem to come to me very quick, and one of the others will answer
before I can. Miss Ashton is very good about that, papa, and sometimes
it seems as if she knew I was going to answer; for she will say,
'Nellie, you know that, do you not, my dear?' and make the others wait
till I can speak. But, papa, even then it makes me feel horridly, for
it seems as if I was stupid not to be quick as the others, and I can't
bear to have them waiting for me to find my words. So I want to study
all I can, even out of school and in vacation."

Nellie's voice shook, and her father saw in the moonlight that the eyes
she raised to him were full of tears.

"And you think that all this extra study is going to help you, my
little girl?" he said.

"Why, yes, I thought it would, papa. I want to learn a great deal, for,
oh, I would so like to be quick and clever, to study as fast and answer
as well as Maggie, Gracie, or Lily! Please don't think I am vexed if
the other children go above me in my classes, or that I am jealous,
papa; I don't mean to be, but I would like to be very wise, and to know
a great deal."

"I certainly shall not think you are envious of your schoolmates and
playfellows, my daughter, however far they may outstrip you, and papa
can feel for you in your want of readiness and quickness of speech, for
he is troubled sometimes in the same way himself; but, Nellie, this
is a misfortune rather than a fault, and, though you would do well to
correct it as far as you can, I do not know that you are taking the
right way; and I am sure, my dear, that you have plainer and nearer
duties just now."

"You say that, papa, because I was disobliging to Carrie this
afternoon, and careless with dear little Daisy to-night, and I know it
serves me right; but do you think it is not a very great duty for me to
improve myself all I can?"

"Certainly, Nellie, I think it your duty to make the most of your
advantages, and that you should try to improve yourself as much as you
can at proper times and in proper places; but I do not think it wise or
right that my little girl should spend the time that she needs for rest
or play in what is to her hard work and study. My child, you are doing
now four times as much as you should do, while at the same time you are
forgetting or neglecting the little every-day duties that fall to you.
Is it not so?"

"I dare say you think so, papa, after to-day," answered Nellie, with
quivering voice; "but I can try not to let myself be so taken up again
with my lessons, and then there will be no harm in it, will there?"

"Have you felt very well, quite like yourself, during the last few
days, Nellie?"

"Well, no, sir," said Nellie, reluctantly. "Not quite. I feel rather
tired every morning when I wake up, and my head aches a good deal 'most
all the time. And - and - I _don't_ feel quite like myself, for I feel
cross and hateful, and I don't think I usually am very cross, papa."

"And the harder you work, the worse you feel; is it not so?"

"Well, I don't know, papa; but you do not think study makes my head
ache, or makes me cross, do you?"

"Certainly I do, dear; too much study, too much work, which may make
Nell a dull girl, if she does not take care. Your little mind has
become over-tired, Nellie; so has your little body; and health and even
temper must suffer."

"I'll try not to be cross or careless again, papa," said Nellie,
humbly. "And there is no need for me to play if I do not choose, is
there?"

"Who gave you your health and good spirits, Nellie?"

"Why, God, papa!"

"And do you think it right, then, for you to do any thing which
destroys or injures either?"

"No, papa," more slowly still, as she saw his meaning.

They had been standing for the last few moments at the foot of the
piazza steps, where mamma sat awaiting them; and now, stooping to kiss
his thoughtful, sensible little daughter, Mr. Ransom said, -

"We have had talk enough for to-night, Nellie; and it is past your
bed-time. Think over what we have said, and to-morrow I will talk
to you again. Put texts and lessons quite out of your head for the
present, and go to sleep as soon as you can. Good-night, my child."

Nellie bade him good-night, and, kissing her mother also, obeyed, going
quietly and thoughtfully upstairs. That was nothing new for Nellie; but
her mother's anxious ear did not fail to notice that, spite of the walk
and talk with papa, her foot had not its usual spring and lightness.

[Illustration]




[Illustration]




III.

_NELLIE A HOUSEKEEPER._


MR. RANSOM acted wisely in leaving what he had said to work its own
effect on his little girl. Nellie was such a sensible, thoughtful
child - almost too thoughtful and quiet for her years - that she was
sure to think it all over, to consider what was right, and, when
she had decided that, to resolve to do what she believed to be her
duty. She was honest with herself too, not making excuses for her own
shortcomings when she saw them, or trying to believe that what she
wished was the right thing to do because she wished it. If she saw
clearly that it was wrong, wrong for _her_, a temptation and a snare,
though it might be right in other circumstances, she would be sure to
put it from her, hard as it might be.

And her father thought that it would be easier for her to resolve of
her own accord to give up some of the tasks on which her heart was set
than it would be to do so at his command. It is generally pleasanter to
believe that we are guided by our own will and resolution than by that
of another.

Mr. Ransom was right. Nellie did indeed think over in all seriousness
the conversation she had had with her father; even more, she went
back in her own mind over past weeks and months, and acknowledged to
herself that for some time she had found every thing but study irksome
and troublesome to her, that lately even this had lost its pleasure,
though she would persevere and felt irritated and troubled at the
least interruption to the tasks she set herself. She was forced to see
that she did not feel "like herself" either in mind or body; that
after hours of study her head ached and throbbed, she was weary and
cross, finding every thing a burden, and having no wish or energy for
play or exercise. It had been especially so for the last two or three
days, ever since she had worked so hard over her "Bible subjects;" and
honestly, though unwillingly, with many tears, Nellie made up her mind
to do what she saw to be right, and give up at least a portion of the
tasks she had undertaken.

"For I do see I'm growing cross and hateful," she said to herself. "I
can't bear to have the children come and ask me to play, or to do any
little favor for them, and I don't like it very much whenever mamma
wants me to help her. I know I _felt_ provoked when she asked me to
roll the baby's wagon this morning, though I don't think I let her see
it. I believe I don't feel so happy or so good, or even so well, as
I used to do, and I don't know - I'm afraid it is so much reading and
studying makes it so. I think I'll have to make up my mind not to know
as much, or to be so quick and clever as Maggie, and Gracie, and some
of the others."

But this was a hard resolve for Nellie, and she fell to sleep in no
happy frame of mind.

She slept later than usual the next morning, for her mother,
remembering how dull and languid she had seemed, would not let her
be awakened; and Mrs. Ransom and the children were just finishing
breakfast when she came downstairs.

"Why, where's papa?" asked Nellie, seeing his place was vacant.

"A telegram came this morning which called him to town very
unexpectedly," said her mother. "He went in and kissed you as you lay
asleep, and left his love and good-by for you, and told me to tell you
he hoped to see his own old Nellie back when he comes home in a week's
time."

Nellie knew what that meant, but she was sorry that papa had
gone, - sorry, not only that he should have been obliged to leave home
sooner than he had expected, but also that she could not now talk more
with him on the matter of her studies.

However, there was her dear mother: she would listen to her, and give
her all the advice and help she needed.

The children asked permission to leave the table, which was granted;
but Mrs. Ransom herself sat still while Nellie took her breakfast,
talking cheerily to her, and trying to tempt her very indifferent
appetite by offering a little bit of this or that.

"Nellie," said her mother, when they were alone, "I was thinking of
asking you how you would like to be my little housekeeper."

"Your housekeeper, mamma!" echoed Nellie, pausing in the act of
buttering her biscuit, and looking at her mother with surprise.

"Yes," answered Mrs. Ransom, "or rather suppose we should be
housekeeper together, you being feet and hands, and I being the head.
Is that a fair division, think you?"

Nellie colored and laughed.

"Why, yes; but do you think I could, mamma?"

"I think there are a hundred little things you might do if you would
like," said her mother. "I'll give you the keys, and you may make
the store-room and sideboard your especial charge, keeping them in
perfect order, giving out what is needed, seeing that the sugar-bowls,
tea-caddy, cracker-basket, and so forth, are kept full, taking my
orders to the cook, and other little things which will be a great help
to me, and which will give you some useful lessons. What do you say?"

"Why, I'd like it ever so much, mamma, but" -

"Well, but what?" said Mrs. Ransom, as Nellie hesitated.

"Mamma, I think I'm rather stupid about such things, and I might make
you trouble sometimes."

"Not _stupid_, Nellie; and, if you are willing to learn, I shall be
willing to put up with a little trouble now and then, and to excuse
mistakes. If you undertake it, I believe you will be faithful and
painstaking, as you are about every thing, and that you can really be a
great help to me. Will you try it for a week, and see how you like it?
By the time that papa comes home again, you will be accustomed to it,
and he will not be apt to suffer from the little slips you may make at
first."

"Yes, indeed, mamma; and, if you are not tired of such a funny
housekeeper as I shall make, I don't think I shall be tired of doing
it. Mamma, _do_ you think I could learn to make some cake? those
ginger-snaps papa likes?"

"I do not doubt it," said Mrs. Ransom, smiling back into the face that
was eager and bright enough now.

"Mamma," said Nellie, "did papa tell you what we were talking about
last evening while we were out walking?"

"Yes, dear, he did; and he said he thought our Nellie had sense enough
to see what she ought to do, and courage and strength of mind enough to
make any sacrifice she felt to be right."

"Courage, mamma?"

"Yes, dear, it often needs much courage - what is called moral
courage - to resolve to do what we feel to be a duty, especially if it
calls for any sacrifice of our pride or vanity, or of the desire to
appear well in the eyes of others."

Nellie knew that she was thinking of such a sacrifice, and it was
rather a consolation to have mamma speaking of it in this way.

"Moral courage" sounded very fine.

But she sat silent, slowly eating her omelet and biscuit, and feeling
that she had not quite made up her mind how far the sacrifice must go,
or how much of her work she should decide to give up. But one thing she
had fully resolved, - that her studies should no longer interfere with
what papa called "nearer and plainer duties," or cause needless injury
to her health and temper. She would help mamma, play with the children,
walk and run as other little girls of her age did, and try hard to put
from her all rebellious and impatient feelings at not being quite so
clever as some among her schoolmates.

"Mamma," she said, after another pause, during which she had finished
her breakfast, - "mamma, how much do you think it would be wise for me
to study every day?"

"Well," said Mrs. Ransom slowly, and as if she knew that she was about
to give advice that would not be quite agreeable, "if you wish to know
what I think _wisest_, I should say give up study altogether for at
least a fortnight."

"For a whole fortnight, two weeks, mamma?" echoed Nellie, in dismay.
She had expected that her mother would say she might well study two
hours a day, hoped for three, wished that it might be four, and had
resolved to be content with the allowance proposed; but to give up her
books altogether for two weeks! "It seems such a waste of time for such
a great girl as me, mamma," she added.

"Well, my great girl of ten years, suppose we say one week then," said
Mrs. Ransom playfully. "Keep on with your practising as usual, and with
your half-hour of sewing these with your new housekeeping duties will
take up a good part of the morning without much 'waste of time,' I
think; the rest of the day I would give entirely to play and amusement.


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