Mary Catherine Crowley.

Apples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir online

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generous to the sick, the suffering, the needy; for the "miser's gold"
was only a treasure of golden deeds.




THAT RED SILK FROCK.

I.

You could not help liking little Annie Conwell; she was so gentle, and
had a half shy, half roguish manner, which was very winning. And,
then, she was so pretty to look at, with her pink cheeks, soft blue
eyes, and light, wavy hair. Though held up as a model child, like most
people, including even good little girls, she was fond of her own way;
and if she set her heart upon having anything, she wanted it without
delay - right then and there. And she usually got it as soon as
possible; for Mr. Conwell was one of the kindest of fathers, and if
Annie had cried for the moon he would have been distressed because he
could not obtain it for her; while, as the two older children, Walter
and Josephine, were away at boarding-school, Mrs. Conwell, in her
loneliness at their absence, was perhaps more indulgent toward her
little daughter than she would otherwise have been.

Annie's great friend was Lucy Caryl. Lucy lived upon the next block;
and every day when going to school Annie called for her, or Lucy ran
down to see if Annie was ready. Regularly Mrs. Conwell said:
"Remember, Annie, I want you to come straight from school, and not stop
at the Caryls'. If you want to go and play with Lucy afterward, I have
no objection, but you _must_ come home first."

"Yes, um," was the docile answer she invariably made.

But, strange as it may seem, although Annie Conwell was considered
clever and bright enough in general, and often stood head of her class,
she seemed to have a wretched memory in regard to this parting
injunction of her mother, or else there were ostensibly many good
reasons for making exceptions to the rule. When, as sometimes
happened, she entered the house some two hours after school was
dismissed, and threw down her books upon the sitting-room table, Mrs.
Conwell reproachfully looked up from her sewing and asked: "What time
is it, dear?"

And Annie, after a startled glance at the clock, either stammered, "O
mother, I forgot!" or else rattled off an unsatisfactory excuse.

"Very well!" was the frequent warning. "If you stay at Lucy Caryl's
without permission, you must remain indoors on Saturday as a punishment
for your disobedience."

Nevertheless, when the end of the week came, Annie usually managed to
escape the threatened penalty. For Saturday is a busy day in the
domestic world; and Mrs. Conwell was one of the fine, old-fashioned
housekeepers - now, unfortunately, somewhat out of date - who looked well
after the ways of her household, which was in consequence pervaded by
an atmosphere of comfort and prosperity.

One especial holiday, however, she surprised the little maid by saying,

"Annie, I have told you over and over again that you must come directly
home from school, and yet for several days you have not made your
appearance until nearly dusk. I am going down town now, and I forbid
you to go out to play until I return. For a great girl, going on ten
years of age, you are too heedless. Something must be done about it."

Annie reddened, buried her cheeks in the fur of her mother's sable muff
with which she was toying, and gave a sidelong glance at Mrs. Conwell's
face. The study of it assured her that there was no use in "begging
off" this time; so she silently laid down the muff and walked to the
window.

Mrs. Conwell, after clasping her handsome fur collar - or tippet, as it
was called - over the velvet mantle which was the fashion in those days,
and surveying in the mirror the nodding plumes of her bonnet of royal
purple hue, took up the muff and went away.

"A great girl!" grumbled Annie, as she watched the lady out of sight.
"She always says that when she is displeased. 'Going on ten years of
age!' It is true, of course; but, then, I was only nine last month.
At other times, when persons ask me how old I am, if I answer 'Most
ten,' mother is sure to laugh and say, 'Annie's just past nine.' It
makes me so mad!"

There was no use in standing idly thinking about it though, especially
as nothing of interest was occurring in the street just then; so Annie
turned away and began to wonder what she should do to amuse herself.
In the "best china closet" was a delicious cake. She had discovered
that the key of the inner cupboard, where it was locked up, was kept in
the blue vase on the dining-room mantel. She had been several times
"just to take a peep at the cake," she said to herself. Mrs. Conwell
had also looked at it occasionally, and it had no appearance of having
been interfered with. Yet, somehow, there was a big hole scooped in
the middle of it from the under side. The discovery must be made some
day, and then matters would not be so pleasant for the meddler; but, in
the meantime, this morning Annie concluded to try "just a crumb" of the
cake, to make sure it was not getting stale.

Having satisfied herself upon that point, and being at a loss for
occupation, she thought she would see what was going on out of doors
now. (If some little girls kept account of the minutes they spend in
looking out of the window, how astonished they would be at the result!)
At present the first person Annie saw was Lucy Caryl, who from the
opposite sidewalk was making frantic efforts to attract her attention.

"Come into my house and play with me," Lucy spelled with her fingers in
the deaf and dumb alphabet.

Annie raised the sash. "I can't, Lucy!" she called. "Mother said I
must stay in the house."

"Oh, do come - just for a little while!" teased naughty Lucy. "Your
mother will never know. She has gone away down town: I saw her take
the car. We'll watch the corner; when we see her coming, you can run
around by the yard and slip in at the gate before she reaches the front
door."

The inducement was strong. Annie pretended to herself that she did not
understand the uneasy feeling in her heart, which told her she was not
doing right. The servants were down in the kitchen, and would not miss
her. She ran for her cloak and hood - little girls wore good, warm
hoods in those days, - and in a few moments was scurrying along the
sidewalk with Lucy.

The Caryls lived in a spacious brown stone house, which exteriorly was
precisely like the residence of the Conwells. The interior, however,
was very different. Contrasted with the brightness of Annie's home, it
presented an appearance of cheerless and somewhat dingy grandeur. The
parlors, now seldom used, were furnished in snuff-colored damask, a
trifle faded; the curtains, of the same heavy material, had a stuffy
look, and made one long to throw open the window to get a breath of
fresh air. The walls were adorned with remarkable tapestries in great
gilt frames, testimonials to the industry of Mrs. Caryl during her
girlhood. Here and there, too, hung elaborate souvenirs of departed
members of the family, in the shape of memorial crosses and wreaths of
waxed flowers, also massively framed. They were very imposing; but
Annie had a nervous horror of them, and invariably hurried past that
parlor door.

The little girls usually played together in a small room adjoining the
sitting-room. They had by no means the run of the house. Annie,
indeed, felt a certain awe of Lucy's mother, who was stern and severe
with children.

"I'm sure I shouldn't care to go to the Caryls', except that Lucy is so
seldom allowed to come to see me," she often declared.

On this particular afternoon Mrs. Caryl had also gone out.

"My Aunt Mollie sent me some lovely clothes for my doll," said Lucy.
"The box is up on the top story. Come with me to get it."

Remembering the "funeral flowers," as Annie called them, she had an
idea that Lucy's mother kept similar or even more uncanny treasures
stored away "on the top story," which her imagination invested with an
air of mystery. So she hesitated.

"Come!" repeated Lucy, who forthwith tripped on ahead, and looked over
the baluster to see why she did not follow.

Annie hesitated no longer, but started up the steps. Just at that
moment a peculiar sound, like the clanging of a chain, followed by a
strange, rustling noise, came from one of the rooms above. A foolish
terror seized upon her.

"O gracious! what's that?" she panted; and, turning, would have fled
down the stairs again, had not Lucy sprung toward her and caught her
dress.

"It's nothing, goosie!" said she, "except Jim. He's been a naughty
boy, and is tied up in the front room. Ma thought she'd try that plan
so he could not slip out to go skating. I suppose I ought to have told
you, though. Maybe you thought we had a crazy person up here."

Annie forced herself to laugh. Reassured in a measure, and still more
curious, she ventured to go on. When she reached the upper hall, she
saw that the door of the front room was open, and, looking in, beheld a
comical spectacle. Fastened by a stout rope to one of the high posts
of an old-fashioned bedstead was a rollicking urchin of about eight
years of age, who seemed to be having a very good time, notwithstanding
his captivity. Upon his shoes were a pair of iron clamps resembling
spurs, such as were used for skates. It was the clank of these against
the brass balls, of which there was one at the top of each post, which
made the sound that had so frightened Annie.

"Hello!" he called out as he caught sight of her. And, fascinated by
the novelty of the situation, she stood a moment watching his antics,
which were similar to those of a monkey upon a pole. Again and again
he climbed the post, indulged in various acrobatic performances upon
the foot-board, and then turned a double somersault right into the
centre of the great feather-bed. And all the while his villainous
little iron-bound heels made woful work, leaving countless dents and
scratches upon the fine old mahogany, and catching in the meshes of the
handsome knitted counterpane.

"You'd better stop that!" Lucy called to him.

In response to her advice, he clambered over and seated himself upon
the mantel.

"Oh! oh!" she expostulated in alarm, lest the shelf should fall beneath
his weight.

As that catastrophe did not occur, he coolly shifted his position, made
a teasing grimace at her, and when she turned away slipped down and
resumed his gymnastic exercises.

There was nothing else on the top story to excite Annie's surprise, but
she was glad when Lucy secured the box and led the way downstairs.



II.

"When the little friends were again in their accustomed play corner,
Lucy, with much satisfaction, displayed her present.

"Your Aunt Mollie must be awful nice!" exclaimed Annie. "How lucky you
are! Three more dresses for your doll! Clementina has not had any new
clothes for a long time. I think that red silk dress is the prettiest,
don't you?"

"I haven't quite decided," answered Lucy. "Christabel looks lovely in
it; but I think the blue one is perhaps even more becoming."

They tried the various costumes upon Lucy's doll, and admired the
effect of each in turn.

"Still, I like the red silk dress best," said Annie.

"It would just suit Clementina, wouldn't it?" suggested Lucy.

"Yes," sighed Annie, taking up the little frock, and imagining she saw
her own doll attired in its gorgeousness. After regarding it enviously
for a few moments, she said: "Say, Lucy, give it to me, won't you?"

"Why, the idea!" cried Lucy, aghast at the audacity of the proposal.

"I think you might," pouted Annie. "You hardly ever give me anything,
although you are my dearest friend. I made you a present of
Clementina's second best hat for Christabel, and only yesterday I gave
you that sweet bead ring you asked me for."

These unanswerable arguments were lost upon Lucy, however. She
snatched away the tiny frock, and both little girls sulked a while.

"Lucy's real mean!" said Annie to herself. "She ought to give it to
me, - she knows she ought! Oh, dear, I want it awfully! She owes me
something for what I've given her. - I am going home," she announced
aloud.

"Oh, no!" protested Lucy, aroused to the sense of her duties as
hostess. "Let us put away the dolls and read. There is a splendid new
story this week in the _Young Folks' Magazine_."

Taking Annie's silence for assent, she packed Christabel and her
belongings away again, and went to get the book. Annie waited
sullenly. Then, as her friend did not come back immediately, she began
to fidget.

"Lucy need not have been in such a hurry to whisk her things into the
box," she complained. "To look at the red dress won't spoil it, I
suppose. I _will_ have another look at it, anyhow!"

She raised the cover of the box and took out the dainty dress. Still
Lucy did not return. A temptation came to Annie. Why not keep the
pretty red silk frock? Lucy would not miss it at once; afterward she
would think she had mislaid it. She would never suspect the truth.
Annie breathed hard. If she had quickly put the showy bit of trumpery
back into the box and banished the covetous wish, all would have been
well; but instead, she stood deliberating and turning the little dress
over and over in her hands. Meantime a hospitable thought had occurred
to Lucy. She remembered that there was a new supply of apples in the
pantry, and had gone to get one for Annie and one for herself. On her
way through the dining-room she happened to look out of the window.

"Goodness gracious!" she exclaimed; for there was Mrs. Conwell getting
out of the car at the corner!

At Lucy's call of, "Annie, here comes your mother!" Annie started,
hesitated, glanced at the box, and, alas! crammed the red silk frock
into her pocket. Then she caught up her cloak and hood, and rushed
down the stairs. Lucy ran to open the yard gate for her, and thrust
the apple into her hand as she passed.

Flurried and short of breath, she reached home just as Mrs. Conwell
rang the door-bell. She did not hasten as usual to greet her mother;
but, hurrying to her own little room, shut herself in, and sat down on
the bed to recover from her confusion.

It happened that the cook claimed Mrs. Conwell's attention in regard to
some domestic matter, and thus she did not at once inquire for her
little daughter, supposing that the child was contentedly occupied.
Annie, therefore, had some time in which to collect her thoughts. As
her excitement gradually died away, she found that, instead of feeling
the satisfaction she expected in having spent the afternoon as she
pleased and yet escaped discovery, she was restless and unhappy. Upon
her neat dressing-table lay the apple which Lucy had given her. It was
ripe and rosy, but she felt that a bite of it would choke her. Above
the head of the bed hung a picture of the Madonna with the Divine
Child. Obeying a sudden impulse, she jumped up and turned it inward to
the wall. Ah, Annie, what a coward a guilty conscience can make of the
bravest among us!

Glancing cautiously around, as if the very walls had eyes and could
reveal what they saw, she drew from her pocket the red silk frock. She
sat and gazed at it as if in a dream. It was as pretty as ever, yet it
no longer gave her pleasure. She did not dare to try it on Clementina;
she wanted to hide it away in some corner where no one would ever find
it. Tiny as it was, she felt that it could never be successfully
concealed; Remorse would point it out wherever it was secreted. Annie
began to realize what she had done. She had stolen! She, proud Annie
Conwell, who held her head so high, whom half the girls at school
envied, had taken what did not belong to her! How her cheeks burned!
She wondered if it had been found out yet. What would Lucy say? Would
she tell all the girls, and would they avoid her, and whisper together
when she was around, saying, "Look out for Annie Conwell! She is not
to be trusted."

She covered her face with her hands, and burst into tears. And all the
while a low voice kept whispering in her heart with relentless
persistency, till human respect gave way to higher motives. She
glanced up at the picture, turned it around again with a feeling of
compunction, and, humbled and contrite, sank on her knees in a little
heap upon the floor.

A few moments afterward her mother's step sounded in the hall. When
one finds a little girl's cloak flung on the baluster, stumbles over a
hood on the stairs, and picks up an odd mitten somewhere else, the
evidences are strong that the owner has come home in a hurry. Mrs.
Conwell had, therefore, discovered Annie's disobedience. She threw
open the door, intending to rebuke her severely; but the sight of the
child's flushed and tear-stained face checked the chiding words upon
her lips.

"What is the matter, Annie?" she inquired, somewhat sternly.

"O mother, please don't scold me! I'm unhappy enough already,"
faltered Annie, beginning to cry again.

Then, as the burden of her miserable little secret had become
unendurable, she told the whole story. Mrs. Conwell looked pained and
grave, but her manner was very gentle as she said:

"Of course, the first thing for you to do is to return what you have
unjustly taken."

Annie gave a little nervous shudder. "What! go and tell Lucy I stole
her doll's red silk dress?" she exclaimed. "How could I ever!"

"I do not say it is necessary to do that," answered her mother; "but
you are certainly obliged to restore it. I should advise you to take
it back without delay, and have the struggle over."

She went away, and left the little girl to reflect upon the matter.
But the more Annie debated with herself, the more difficulty she had in
coming to a decision. Finally she started up, exclaiming,

"The longer I think about it the harder it seems. I'll just _do it_
right off."

She picked up the dress, darted down the stairs, hurriedly prepared to
go out, and in a few moments was hastening down the block to the
Caryls'. Lucy saw her coming, and met her at the door.

"Did you get a scolding? Was your mother very much displeased?" she
asked; for she perceived immediately that Annie had been crying, and
misinterpreted the cause of her tears.

"Oh, no! - well, I suppose she was," hesitated Annie. "But she did not
say much."

"How did she happen to let you come down here again?" continued Lucy,
leading the way to the sitting-room.

Annie cast a quick glance at the table. The box which contained
Christabel and her wardrobe was no longer there. It was useless, then,
to hope for a chance to quietly slip the red dress into it again.

Lucy repeated the question, wondering what had set her playmate's
thoughts a-wool-gathering.

"I'm not going to stay," began Annie.

Lucy's clear eyes met hers inquiringly. To her uneasy conscience they
seemed to accuse her and to demand the admission of her fault. Her
cheeks grew crimson; and, as a person in a burning building ventures a
perilous leap in the hope of escape, so Annie, finding her present
position intolerable, stammered out the truth.

"I only came to bring back something. Don't be vexed, will you, at
what I'm going to tell you? I took that red silk dress home with me;
but here it is, and I'm sorry, Lucy, - indeed I am!"

A variety of expressions flitted across Lucy's face as she listened.
Incredulity, surprise, and indignation were depicted there. Annie had
stated the case as mildly as possible, but Lucy understood. After the
first surprise, however, she began to comprehend dimly that it must
have required a good deal of moral courage thus openly to bring back
the little dress. She was conscious of a new respect for Annie, who
stood there so abashed. For a few moments there was an awkward pause;
then she managed to say:

"Oh, that is all right! Of course I should have been vexed if you had
not brought it back, because I should have missed it as soon as I
opened the box. I was mean about it, anyway. I might have let you
take it to try on Clementina. Here, I'll give it to you now, to make
up for being stingy."

Annie shook her head, and refused to take the once coveted gift from
her companion's outstretched hand.

"Then I'll lend it to you for ever and ever," continued Lucy,
impulsively.

"No, I don't want it now," answered Annie. "Good-bye!"

"Will you go to walk with me to-morrow after Sunday-school?" urged
Lucy, as she followed her to the door.

"P'rhaps!" replied her little friend, hastening away.

The inquiry brought her a feeling of relief, however. Lucy evidently
had no thought of "cutting" her acquaintance. The sense of having done
right made her heart light and happy as she ran home. The experience
had taught her that one must learn to see many pretty things without
wishing to possess them; and also that small acts of disobedience and a
habit of meddling may lead further than one at first intends.

Annie became a lovely woman, a devoted daughter, a most
self-sacrificing character, and one scrupulously exact in her dealings
with others; but she never forgot "that red silk frock."




"A LESSON WITH A SEQUEL."

"How strange that any one should be so superstitious!" said Emily
Mahon. Rosemary Beckett had been telling a group of girls of the
ridiculous practices of an old negro woman employed by her mother as a
laundress.

"People must be very ignorant to believe such things," declared Anna
Shaw, disdainfully.

"Yet," observed Miss Graham, closing the new magazine which she had
been looking over, "it is surprising how many persons, who ought to
know better, are addicted to certain superstitions, and cannot be made
to see that it is not only foolish but wrong to yield to them."

"Well," began Rosemary, "I am happy to say that is not a failing of
mine."

"I think everything of the kind is nonsensical," added Kate Parsons.

"I'm not a bit superstitious either," volunteered Emily.

"Nor I," interposed Anna.

"I despise such absurdities," continued May Johnston.

"My dear girls," laughed Miss Graham, "I'll venture to say that each
one of you has a pet superstition, which influences you more or less,
and which you ought to overcome."

This assertion was met by a chorus of indignant protests.

"Why, Cousin Irene!" cried Emily.

"O, Miss Graham, how _can_ you think so!"

"The very idea!" etc., etc., chimed in the others.

Everybody liked Miss Irene Graham. She lived with her cousins, the
Mahons, and supported herself by giving lessons to young girls who for
various reasons did not attend a regular school. Her classes were
popular, not only because she was bright and clever, and had the
faculty of imparting what she knew; but because, as parents soon
discovered, she taught her pupils good, sound common-sense, as well as
"the shallower knowledge of books." Cousin Irene had not forgotten how
she used to think and feel when she herself was a young girl, and
therefore she was able to look at the world from a girl's point of
view, to sympathize with her dreams and undertakings. She did not look
for very wise heads upon young shoulders; but when she found that her
pupils had foolish notions, or did not behave sensibly, she tried to
make them see this for themselves; and we all know from experience that
what we learn in that way produces the most lasting impression.

The girls now gathered around her were members of the literature class,
which met on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at the Mahons'. As they
considered themselves accomplished and highly cultivated for their
years, it was mortifying to be accused of being so unenlightened as to
believe in omens.

"No, I haven't a particle of superstition," repeated Rosemary,
decidedly. "There's one thing I won't do, though. I won't give or
accept a present of anything sharp - a knife or scissors, or even a
pin, - because, the saying is, it cuts friendship. I've found it so,
too. I gave Clara Hayes a silver hair-pin at Christmas, and a few
weeks after we quarrelled."

"There is the fault, popping up like a Jack-in-the box!" said Miss
Irene. "But, if I remember, Clara was a new acquaintance of yours in
the holidays, and you and she were inseparable. The ardor of such
extravagant friendship soon cools. Before long you concluded you did
not like her so well as at first; then came the disagreement. But is
it not silly to say the pin had anything to do with the matter? Would
it not have been the same if you had given her a book or a picture?"

"If I'm walking in the street with a friend, I'm always careful never
to let any person or thing come between us," admitted Kate Parsons.
"It's a sure sign that you'll be disappointed - "


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Online LibraryMary Catherine CrowleyApples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir → online text (page 10 of 13)