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Joanna H. (Joanna Hooe) Mathews.

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[Illustration]




[Illustration]




XI.

_A NIGHT OF IT._


SCARCELY was she there when she repented that she had come, until she
found out what became of the mouse; but she was too much offended with
Ruth to go back, and with some difficulty succeeded in taking off the
rest of her clothes without help, tears slowly dropping from her eyes
the while.

Poor Carrie! how miserable she did feel; and to her troubled little
mind there was no way out of her difficulties.

She would have confessed all, if there had seemed to be any one to
confess to; but, remembering Nellie's charge to Daisy and herself that
morning, it did not seem wise or right to tell mamma that there were
mice in the house when she might possibly escape the knowledge; she
was afraid to tell her father, for all Mr. Ransom's children stood a
good deal in awe of him; and she did not feel as if there would be much
satisfaction or relief in telling Nellie. Nellie could not know how to
advise her or tell her what to do. And yet - perhaps she could. Nellie
was such a wise, thoughtful, well-judging little girl.

Perhaps Carrie would not have put her thoughts into just such words;
but this was the feeling in her heart at this moment, and it was no
more than justice to Nellie. She knew she could depend on Nellie's
sympathy, however much shocked her sister might be at her naughtiness,
and she half believed that she could help her. How she wished now that
she had not been so pettish and disagreeable to her!

"Nellie wasn't cross at all, it was old me that was cross and hateful
and horrid; and I have been ever since I took the mice," she said to
herself, the tears rolling over her cheeks. "I wish she'd come up, and
I'd tell her I'm sorry; and if she asks me what's the matter, I b'lieve
I've a good mind to tell her. Oh dear! I wish I'd never seen those
mice. S'pose that one should run out of the nursery into mamma's room.
I wish the door was shut between her room and the nursery."

Then when she knelt down to say her prayers, and came to the words of
our Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation," she remembered how
Daisy had asked her what she would do if she "had a temptation;" and
she buried her face in the bed-clothes as if she wished to shut out the
remorseful recollection of how she had acted yesterday in that moment
of temptation; and more and more bitter became her self-reproaches as
she thought how sweetly Daisy had acted in the matter of the white
mice. Yes: Daisy had shown true love and tenderness for her mother; but
how far had she been from doing the same?

Perhaps never in all her little life had Carrie sent heavenward as true
and sincere a prayer as that she added to-night to her usual petitions:
"And lead me out of this temptation, and show me what to do, O God!"

Then when she was, with considerable trouble to herself, all ready for
bed, she lay down, but not without another anxious glance at the door
between her mother's room and the nursery. If she could but have that
door closed!

Having soothed the baby to sleep once more, Ruth brought her into her
mother's room, and put her into the cradle. This done, she passed on
into Carrie's room to see that all was right there, and the little
girl safely in bed. She did not speak, - perhaps she thought Carrie was
already asleep, - but moved quietly around, picking up the articles of
dress which her little charge had left strewn about, arranging the
windows and doors properly, and turning down the light.

Then she went away.

And now to have the door closed between her mother's room and the
closet which led into the nursery became the great desire of Carrie's
mind as she lay in her little bed, - closed so that the mouse should not
find its way through.

She did not dream that mousie had done that already, and hoped to be
able to close the door this way without attracting Ruth's attention.
Slipping from her bed, she went softly, so that Ruth might not hear
her, over her own floor, and through her mother's room to the closet
door, and stretching out her hand was about to push it to, when Ruth
caught sight of her through the closet door.

"What's the matter, child? What do you want?" she asked in much
surprise, coming forward.

"I want this door shut, and I'm going to have it, too," said Carrie,
preparing for battle at once, for she saw that Ruth would object.

"Well, what whim has taken you now?" said Ruth, pushing back the door.
"Indeed, and you can't have it shut till your mother comes up. How
would I hear the baby if it cries?"

Carrie persisted in her purpose. Ruth would have been firm, but finding
the child would not yield, and fearing to wake the baby once more if an
uproar were raised, she let her take her way, and immediately went down
with a complaint to Mrs. Ransom.

Papa heard as well as mamma, and took the matter into his own hands;
and scarcely had Carrie climbed into bed again, glorying, partly in
having attained her purpose, partly in the supposed victory over Ruth,
when papa appeared, and, with a few stern words to the wilful little
girl, set it open again, forbidding her to touch it, and leaving her in
a more unhappy state of mind than ever.

She lay there and cried till Nellie came up; Johnny accompanying her,
and each carrying a bird. No hooks were in readiness for hanging the
cages; and it was decided that, for to-night, they should be placed
upon chairs, Nellie's bird by her side of the bed, Carrie's by hers.

Carrie, whose heart and conscience were so uneasy, was very wakeful;
and, long after Nellie was asleep, she lay tossing restlessly from side
to side. Even after mamma came up to her room, she could not go to
sleep for a long while.

In the night, far into the night it seemed to her that it must be, she
was wakened by a sound at her side, - a rustling, scratching sound.

What could it be? Carrie was not so foolish as to be afraid of the
dark, indeed she was rather a brave child; but now she felt as if she
would have given any thing to have had a light in the room, to see what
made that strange sound.

She bore it as long as she could, then woke Nellie.

"What can it be, Nellie?" she whispered, as Nellie listened.

"I don't know: I'm afraid there's somebody here," said Nellie, in the
same tone, but very much alarmed.

"What shall we do?" said Carrie, clinging to her sister.

"'Thou shalt not steal,' 'Thou God seest me,' 'The way of transgressors
is hard,' if you are a robber," said Nellie, raising her voice as she
addressed the supposed intruder with all the Scripture texts she could
muster for the occasion, and which might be imagined to influence him.

No answer, but the rustling ceased for a moment, then began again; and
it was more than the children could bear.

"Papa! papa!" shrieked Nellie, "there's some one in our room! Please
come, do come, papa!" And Carrie joined her cries to her sister's.

Papa heard, and came; and so did mamma, very much startled.

"There's a noise, a robber, here, by my bed!" exclaimed Carrie all in a
flutter, though the noise had again ceased. Papa struck a light, there
was a faint rustle, a sound of some small body jumping or falling from
a height, and Mr. Ransom exclaimed, -

"A mouse! Nothing but a mouse in the bird's cage!"

If there had been a veritable robber there, doubtless Mrs. Ransom would
have stayed to confront him, and defend her children; but at the sound
of "a mouse," a harmless little mouse, she turned about, and ran back
to her own room, closing the door in no small haste. If the children
had not felt too much sympathy for her, they could have laughed to see
how she rushed away.

But Carrie did not feel like laughing, you may be sure, relieved though
she might have been to find that it was nothing worse than a mouse that
had caused her own and Nellie's alarm. I do not know but that she would
almost have preferred the "robber," or some wild monster, now that papa
was there to defend them, to the pretty, innocent little creature which
had been the real cause of the disturbance.

Mr. Ransom hunted about for the mouse, but all in vain: he had hidden
himself somewhere quite safely and was not to be found. The bird-cages
were put upon the mantel-piece where he could not reach them again,
for mousie had found the bird-seed an excellent supper, and Mr. Ransom
thought he might return to his repast.

Return he did in search of it, as soon as papa had gone and the room
was quiet once more; but this time the children knew what it was, and
although, when he found his supper placed beyond his reach, he made
considerable disturbance, they were not frightened. But they found it
impossible to sleep, such a noise did he make, tearing about over the
straw matting which covered the floor, nibbling now at this, now at
that, and altogether making himself as much of a nuisance as only a
mouse in one's bed-room at night can do.

At last he was quiet, and the two weary children were just sinking off
to sleep, when Nellie started up with, -

"Carrie! I do believe that mouse is in the bed!"

This was too much, not to be borne by any one, however much they might
like mice; and both Nellie and Carrie were speedily out of bed, the
former hastily turning up the light which papa had left burning for
their comfort.

Carrie was about to run to the door and call papa to come, but Nellie
stopped her.

"Don't, Carrie," she said: "it will just frighten mamma again. Let's
see if we can't find him. I'm not afraid of him, are you? Only, I don't
like to have him in the bed."

Rather enjoying the fun, Nellie pulled off the covers and pillows, and
even, exerting all her little strength, contrived to turn up one end of
the mattress; but this, even with Carrie's help, she found hard work,
and, nothing being discovered of the little nuisance, they were content
to believe that Nellie had been mistaken, to put on the bed-clothes as
well as they could, and lie down again.

But Carrie did not enjoy all this, if Nellie did. At another time
she, too, might have thought that it was "fun" to have such a good
and sufficient excuse for being up and busy when the clock was
striking - could it be? - yes, it was twelve o'clock, midnight! and she
and Nellie frisking there about the room, as wide awake as if it were
noon.

But there was a weight on Carrie's mind, she felt too guilty to enjoy
the novelty, and she was almost vexed at Nellie's glee over it. Oh
dear! how she did wish that she had never seen the mice, that "such
things as mice had never been made."

And when at last she fell into a troubled slumber, for they heard
nothing more of mousie, it was not the calm, peaceful sleep of her
sister who lay beside her, but filled with uncomfortable dreams, and
many a start and moan.

[Illustration]




[Illustration]




XII.

_AN ALARM._


NOR did she feel lighter-hearted in the morning, especially when Nellie
began to lament the too plain fact that there must be a good many mice
in the house, and that they seemed to have come so suddenly. First
discovered but two days ago in the store-room, and never seen or heard
before since the family had occupied this house, they now appeared to
be running wild, all over. It was very singular, certainly.

So thought Nellie, adding that mamma would now "have no peace of her
life," so long as the mice were free, and she should ask papa to buy a
lot of mouse-traps and set them in every room.

Carrie knew only too well how this had come about; but now that mamma
did know that there were mice in the house, she did not feel as if she
could confess that it was through her fault that they had been brought
upstairs. It seemed so horribly unkind, such a dreadful thing to have
done to mamma now.

So, although she was not cross and fretful as she had been last night,
she went about listlessly, and with a subdued and melancholy manner
that was worthy of Daisy herself when she was at the very lowest depths
of despondency, but with far better reason than Daisy usually had.

Even when Ruth, who felt a little grudge against her for her naughty
conduct of the last few days, snubbed her and pulled her about rather
more than was necessary when she was dressing her, Carrie bore it
meekly, not having spirit to answer back, and so softening the nurse by
her silent submission that she gave her a kindly pat on the shoulder,
saying that she saw she was "tired of being naughty and was going to be
good to-day." Which small encouragement Carrie received as she left the
nursery with as great a want of interest or animation as she had shown
for every thing that morning; and Ruth, shaking her head, privately
confided to baby her opinion that that child was "going to be sick, or
she never in the world would be so good."

When Mr. Ransom came down to breakfast, he said that Mamma would not
be down right away; but sent word that Nellie might "pour out" for her
this morning. She had had a restless, wakeful night, having been made
nervous and uncomfortable by the knowledge that a mouse was around, and
could not compose herself to sleep after the little excitement in the
children's room.

Were Carrie's troubles never coming to an end?

"Pouring out" was not new to Nellie, for she had made tea and coffee
for her father and brothers many a morning before when mamma was not
well enough to come downstairs; but still it was an important business,
and one to which she felt obliged to bend every energy, till all
were served according to their liking. Then she felt at leisure for
conversation, and for observing what was going on about the table.

"Are you not going to eat your breakfast, Carrie?" she asked, seeing
that her sister sat idly playing with her spoon, as if she had no
appetite.

"I'm not hungry," answered Carrie, not altogether pleased at having
notice drawn upon her.

"Did the mouse frighten your appetite away, Carrie?" asked Mr. Ransom,
looking at her.

"No, papa, - I - I think not. I'm not afraid of mice," said Carrie.

"But he frightened us very much before we knew what it was," said
Nellie; "and afterwards we thought he was in the bed, papa."

"What was it? Tell us all about it," said Johnny. "A mouse! Won't mamma
be in a taking, though?"

"Poor mamma!" said Nellie; and then she related the whole story,
seeming to think her own experience and Carrie's rather a good joke,
though she was sadly troubled about mamma's nervousness over the matter.

"That's worse than white mice," said Daisy, who had listened with wide
open eyes, in such intense interest that she quite forgot to eat her
breakfast.

"But that's awful for mamma," said Bob. "What will she do?"

"It is a great pity," said Mr. Ransom. "I had hoped mamma would not be
troubled in that way."

"They seem to be appearing all over the house at once," said Nellie,
"and only since day before yesterday when I found the first in the
store-room."

"Did you find one in the store-room too?" asked Johnny.

"Ever so many in a box; but Catherine killed them," said Nellie, never
doubting, of course, that she was stating the truth.

Carrie raised her downcast eyes in terror; but, to her relief, the
servant in waiting had left the breakfast-room for one moment, and
there was no contradiction of Nellie's words.

"Why, Cad?" said Johnny, "what ails you? you seem to take the mouse
almost as hard as mamma would. You needn't be afraid for your bird, if
that's it; for he was only after the seed."

Mr. Ransom looked at Carrie again.

"Don't be troubled, little daughter," he said. "Johnny is right: the
mice will not hurt your birds. But you are quite upset with being so
disturbed last night, are you not? Come here to papa."

Dreading questions which she would not care to answer, and wishing that
she could creep under the table, run out of the room, or hide herself
anywhere, Carrie was about to obey; but, before she could rise from her
chair, there was heard a commotion overhead, a smothered scream in
Mrs. Ransom's voice, a running and scuffling, and then Ruth calling to
her master to "come quick."

Mr. Ransom sprang from his chair, and rushed upstairs, followed by
every one of his boys and girls, fearing they knew not what, save that
something dreadful had happened.

Something dreadful, indeed, all the children thought, when, running
into mamma's room, she was seen, pale, with closed eyes and quite
senseless, lying back in the arms of Ruth; while the baby, resenting
being placed suddenly face downwards upon the bed, was shrieking with
all its little might.

The younger children, not unnaturally, thought that she was dead, and
were terrified half out of their senses; but Nellie had seen mamma in
a fainting fit before, and, though frightened, knew that she would
be better by and by. So she gave the best help she could by taking
up the screaming baby and hushing its cries, and encouraging her
sisters - although her own lips were trembling and eyes filling with
tears - with hopeful words.

"What happened? What caused this?" asked Mr. Ransom, when he had laid
his wife upon the couch, and was engaged with the assistance of the
servant women in restoring her.

"Indeed, sir, and it was just a mouse, nasty thing!" said Ruth. "I came
in with the baby to ask Mrs. Ransom for some ribbon for its sleeves,
and she went to the bureau drawer for them, and as she opened it what
did a mouse do but jump right out on her. 'Twas enough to scare a body
that wasn't afraid of mice; but, for her, it's no wonder it's half
killed her, poor dear! We're just getting overrun with mice. There!
she's coming to now. That's all right, dear lady!"

Carrie heard, saw mamma's eyes slowly unclosing and looking up at papa;
but oh! how white and very ill she looked still. She heard and ran,
anxious to shut out sight and hearing, - ran out of the room upstairs
to the garret, and, squeezing herself behind the old furniture in the
place where she had hidden the mice, sobbed and cried as if her heart
would break.

What if mamma was not dead, as she had thought at first: she might be
dying still, must be very ill to look like that, and she had done it.
It was all her fault.

[Illustration]




[Illustration]




XIII.

_AND LAST OF THE SUNBEAMS._


HOW long she stayed there she did not know, now crying, now ceasing,
and crouched there in a kind of dumb remorse and misery which would
have been a severe punishment for even a worse fault than that of which
she had been guilty. She wanted to come out and learn what was going
on downstairs, and yet she did not dare to: she felt as if she could
not bear to see that look upon mamma's face again. Then she would shed
more bitter tears. She imagined and wondered over many things. If mamma
died and went to heaven, would she know what she had done, and be so
grieved and displeased at her unkindness that she would love her no
longer? Were people in heaven ever troubled about the naughty things
their loved ones did or had done upon the earth?

So she sat all in a heap, behind the old chairs and tables, perplexing
her poor little brain, and racking her heart with all kind of imaginary
consequences to this morning's occurrence. By and by she heard the
servants calling her, but would not answer; then her father's voice,
but now she believed that he must know all; "it had come out in some
way," and she was afraid to face him and did not stir. Ruth opened the
door at the foot of the garret stairs and called her name, even came up
and looked about the open space, but did not see Carrie crouched in her
far corner, and the little girl never stirred till she was gone.

Next she heard Nellie calling her from the garden below, her voice
troubled and anxious.

"Carrie," she said, "Carrie, dear! where are you? Do answer if you can
hear me. Mamma is growing so troubled because we can't find you."

Here was a scrap of comfort. Mamma was at least alive enough to inquire
for, and be anxious about her. She crept to the window and looked down
to where Nellie stood, calling still, and turning her eyes in every
direction.

"Here I am, Nellie, I'll come down," she answered, ran down the stairs,
opened the door, and then, her courage failing her once more, stood
still and peeped out.

Papa stood at the door of mamma's room, and saw her at once. A pale,
tear-stained, miserable little face it was that met his eye, and
stirred his pity.

"My poor little woman!" he said, holding out his hand to her: "why, how
woe-begone you look. Have you been hiding because you were frightened
about mamma? That was not worth while, and mamma has been asking for
you, and every one looking for you this ever so long. Come and see
mamma, she is better now, and looks like herself again."

Carrie came forward, still with hesitating steps and hanging head; and
her father, taking her hand, led her into mamma's room.

Mrs. Ransom lay upon the sofa, looking very white still, but with a
smile upon her lips, and her eyes bright and life-like as usual; and
the timid glance which Carrie gave to her mother's face reassured her
very much.

Still she felt so guilty and conscious, such a longing to confess all,
and yet so ashamed and afraid to do it, that her manner remained as
confused and downcast as ever.

Nellie stood behind her mother, leaning over the head of the couch,
and looking troubled and anxious, but her face brightened when she saw
Carrie.

Daisy, with the most solemn of faces, was seated in a little chair
at mamma's feet, gazing silently at the pages of "Baxter's Saint's
Rest," held upside down. Not one word could Daisy read, she barely
knew her letters; but she had found Baxter in the little rack which
held mamma's books of devotional reading, her "prayers books," Daisy
called them; and believing any work she found there must be suitable
to the day, and the state of mind she considered it proper to maintain
while mamma was ill, she had possessed herself of it, and was now fully
persuaded that she was deriving great benefit from the contents thereof.

"So you ran away from mamma," said Mrs. Ransom, caressing Carrie's hand
as she buried her face in the sofa-pillows beside her mother's. "Did
she frighten you so? What a poor foolish mamma it is to be so startled
at such a harmless little thing as a mouse, is it not, dearie? I hope I
should not have been quite so foolish if I had been well and strong. My
poor Carrie!"

Worse and worse! Here was mamma blaming herself and pitying her! She
could say nothing, only nestle closer to her mother, and try to keep
back the sobs which were struggling to find way.

Mrs. Ransom was quite well again by afternoon, and able to join the
family at the dinner-table; but although the spirits of the other
children rose with her recovery, Carrie still continued dull and
dispirited.

She accompanied her father and Nellie to church in the afternoon.
Happening to turn his eyes towards her during the service, Mr. Ransom
saw her leaning her head listlessly against the back of the pew, while
her lips were quivering and tears slowly coursing one another down
her cheeks. He wondered what could cause it. There was nothing in the
sermon to touch her feelings, indeed she probably did not understand
one word of it. He drew her towards him, and passing his arm about her
let her rest her head against his shoulder where she cried quietly for
a few moments, and then, as if this had relieved her, dried her eyes
and sat up.

Carrie had taken a resolution, and the very taking of it had done her
good, and made her feel less guilty and unhappy. Papa was so kind and
good that she began to think that after all perhaps it would not be so
very hard to tell him all, and confess how naughty she had been. Even
if he punished her very much, the punishment could not be worse to bear
than this, she thought. She would tell him as soon as they reached
home, and she could find an opportunity to talk to him alone.

But alas for poor Carrie's hopes of unburdening her mind at once! On
the way home from church a gentleman joined her father and went to the
house with him, came in, stayed to tea, and actually remained all the
evening, even long after her bedtime and Nellie's.

Nor was this the last drop in Carrie's cup.

Daisy met them at the gate when they returned from church, brimming
over with excitement, which was speedily taken down when the strange
gentleman, laying his hand on her little round head, turned to her
father and said, -

"Your youngest son, Mr. Ransom?"

"My daughter, - another little daughter," said Mr. Ransom, quickly,
knowing Daisy's sensitiveness on this point; but the wound was given


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