Mary Catherine Crowley.

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little avail to satisfy one's appetite.

Well, after wandering about, and shouting and hallooing till we were
tired, in the effort to attract the attention of any one who might
chance to be in the vicinity, we rested at the foot of a tree. Father
Friday recited some prayers, to which I made the responses. Then he
withdrew a little, and read his Office as serenely as if he were in the
garden of the convent; while I, weary and disheartened, threw myself on
the ground and tried again to determine by the sun where we were. I
must have fallen asleep; for the next thing I knew the sun was
considerably lower, and Father Friday was waiting to make another start.

"How strange," he kept repeating as we proceeded, "that we should be so
entirely astray in a wood only a few miles in extent, and within such a
short distance from home! It is most extraordinary. I cannot
understand it."

It was, indeed, singular; but I was too dispirited to speculate upon
the subject. Soldier though I prided myself upon being, and strong,
active fellow that I certainly was, Father Friday was as far ahead of
me in his endurance of the hardship of our position as in everything
else.

Dusk came, and we began to fear that we should have to remain where we
were all night. Again I climbed a tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of a
light somewhere. All was dark, however; and I was about to descend
when - surely there was a faint glimmer yonder! As the diver peers amid
the depths of the sea in search of buried jewels, so I eagerly looked
down among the green branches. Yes, now it became a ray, and probably
shone from some dwelling in the heart of the wood. I called the good
news to Father Friday.

"_Deo gratias_!" he exclaimed. "Where is it?"

"Over there," said I, pointing in the direction of the light.

I got to the ground as fast as I could, and we made our way toward it.
Soon we saw it plainly, glowing among the trees; and, following its
guidance, soon came to a cleared space, where stood a rude log cabin,
in front of which burned a fire of pine knots. Before it was a man of
the class which the darkies were wont to designate as "pore white
trash." He was a tall, gawky countryman, rawboned, with long, unkempt
hair. His homespun clothes were decidedly the worse for wear; his
trousers were tucked into the tops of his heavy cowhide boots, and
perched upon his head was the roughest of home-woven straw-hats.

At the sound of our footsteps he turned, and to say that he was
surprised at our appearance would but ill describe his amazement.
Father Friday speedily assured him that we were neither raiders nor
bush-rangers, but simply two very hungry wanderers who had been astray
in the woods all day.

"Wa-all now, strangers, them is raither hard lines," said the man,
good-naturedly. "Jest make yerselves ter home hyere ternight, an' in
the mornin' I'll put yer on the right road to A - - - . Lors, but yer
must a-had a march! Been purty much all over the woods, I
reckon. - Mirandy!" he continued, calling to some one inside the cabin.
"Mirandy!"

"I'm a-heedin', Josh. What's the matter?" inquired a _scrawny_,
sandy-haired woman, coming to the door, with her arms akimbo. "Mussy
me!" she ejaculated upon seeing us.

"Hyere's two folks as has got lost in this hyere forest, an' is plum
tired out an' powerful hongry," explained her husband.

"Mussy me!" she repeated, eyeing my blue coat askance, and regarding
Father Friday with suspicious wonder. She had never seen a uniform
like that long black cassock. To which side did he belong, Federal or
Confederate?

"Mirandy's Secesh, but I'm for the Union," explained Josh, with a wink
to us. "Sometimes we have as big a war as any one cyares ter see,
right hyere, on 'ccount of it. But, Lors, Mirandy, yer ain't a-goin'
ter quarrel with a man 'cause the color of his coat ain't ter yer
likin' when he ain't had a bite of vittles terday!"

"No, I ain't," answered the woman, stolidly. Glancing again at Father
Friday's kind face, she added, more graciously: "Wa-all, yer jest in
the nick of time; the hoe-cake's nyearly done, and we war about havin'
supper. Hey, Josh?"

"Sartain sure," said Josh, ushering us into the kitchen, which was the
principal room of the cabin, though a door at the side apparently led
into a smaller one adjoining. He made us sit down at the table, and
Mirandy placed the best her simple larder afforded before us.

As we went out by the fire again, our host said, with some
embarrassment: "Now, strangers, I know ye're fagged out, an' for sure
ye're welcome to the tiptop of everythin' we've got. But I'm blessed
if I can tell whar ye're a-goin' ter sleep ternight. We've company,
yer see, in the leetle room yonder; an' that's the only place we've got
ter offer, ordinar'ly."

Father Friday hastened to reassure him. "I propose to establish myself
outside by the fire. What could be better?" said he.

Father Friday, you remember, had the Blessed Sacrament with him; and I
knew that, weary as he was, he would pass the night in prayer.

"I am actually too tired to sleep now," I began. "But when I am
inclined to do so, what pleasanter resting-place could a soldier desire
than a bit of ground strewn with pine needles?"

"Wa-all, I allow I'm glad yer take it the right way," declared Josh;
then, growing loquacious, he continued: "Fact is, this is mighty
cur'ous company of ourn - "

"Josh, come hyere a minute, can't yer?" called Mirandy from within.

"Sartain," he answered, breaking off abruptly, and leaving us to
conjecture who the mysterious visitor might be.



II.

"Yes, I allow I'm right glad yer don't mind passin' the night out hyere
by the fire," said Josh, taking up the thread of the conversation again
upon his return, shortly after. "Wa-all, I was a-tellin' about this
queer company of ourn. Came unexpected, same as you did; 'peared all
of a sudden out of the woods. It's a leetle girl, sirs; says she's
twelve year old, but small of her age - nothin' but a child, though I
reckon life's used her hard, pore creetur! Yer should a-seen her when
she 'rived. Her shoes war most wore off with walkin', an' her purty
leetle feet all blistered an' sore. Mirandy 'marked to me arterward
that her gown war a good deal tore with comin' through the brambles,
though she'd tried to tidy it up some by pinnin' the rents together
with thorns. But, land sakes, I did not take notice of that: my eyes
were jest fastened on her peaked face. White as a ghost's, sirs; an'
her dull-lookin', big black eyes, that stared at us, yet didn't seem
ter see nothin'.

"Wa-all, that's the way the leetle one looked when she stepped out of
the shadders. Mirandy was totin' water from the spring yonder, an'
when she see her she jest dropped the bucket an' screamed - thought it
was a spook, yer know. I war a-pilin' wood on the fire, an' when the
girl saw me she shrank back a leetle; but when she ketched sight o'
Mirandy she 'peared to muster up courage, tuk a step forward, an' then
sank down all in a heap, with a kinder moan, right by the bench thar.
She 'peared miserable 'nough, I can tell yer: bein' all of a shiver an'
shake, with her teeth chatterin' like a monkey's.

"Mirandy stood off, thinkin' the creetur was wild or half-witted,
likely; but I says: 'Bullets an' bombshells, Mirandy' - escuse me,
gentlemen, but that's a good, strong-soundin' espression, that relieves
my feelin's good as a swear word, - bullets an' bombshells, woman, don't
yer see the girl's all broke up with the ague?' - 'Why, sur 'nough!'
cried she, a-comin' to her senses. 'I'd oughter known a chill with
half an eye; an' sartain this beats all I ever saw,' With that she
went over an' tuk the girl in her arms, an' sot her on the bench,
sayin', 'You pore honey, you! Whar'd you come from?' At this the
leetle one began to cry - tried to speak, then started to cry again.
'Wa-all, never mind a-talkin' about it now,' says Mirandy, settin' to
quiet her, an' pettin' an' soothin' her in a way that I wouldn't
a-believed of Mirandy if I hadn't a-seen it; for she hasn't had much to
tetch the soft spot in her heart sence our leetle Sallie died, which is
nigh onto eight year ago. 'Come, Josh,' she called ter me, 'jest you
carry this hyere child inter the house an' lay her on the bed. I
reckon she can have the leetle room, an' you can sleep in the kitchen
ternight.' - 'I'm agreeable,' answers I; so I picked her up (she war as
limp an' docile as could be), an' carried her in, an' put her down on
the bed. That was three weeks come Sunday, an' thar she's been ever
since."

Our host had finished his story, yet how much remained untold! All the
care and kindness which the stranger had received at the hands of these
good simple people was passed over in silence, as if not worth
mentioning.

Josh rose and went to the fire to relight his brier-wood pipe, which
had gone out during the recital.

"And is the little girl still very ill?" asked Father Friday, with
gentle concern.

"Yes; an' the trouble is, she gets wus an' wus," was the reply. "The
complaint's taken a new turn lately. She's been in a ragin' fever an'
kind of flighty most of the time. Yer see, she'd had a sight of
trouble afore she broke down, an' that's what's drivin' her distracted.
She'd lost her folks somewhar way down South, - got separated from them
in the hurly-burly of a flight from a captured town; an', childlike,
she set about travellin' afoot all over the land to find them. How she
got through the lines I can't make out, unless she got round 'em some
way, comin' through the woods. Anyway she's here, and likely never to
get any farther in her search, pore honey! But what's her name, or who
her people are, is more nor I can say; for, cur'ous as it seems, she
has plum forgotten these two things.

"Thar's another matter, too, that bothers us some. She keeps a-callin'
for somebody, an' beggin' an' prayin' us not to let her die without
somethin', in a way that would melt the heart of a rock. It makes me
grow hot an' then cold all in a minute, jest a-listenin' to her.
To-day she war plum out of her head, an' war goin' to get right up an'
go off through the woods after it herself. Mirandy had a terrible time
with her; an' it wasn't till she got all wore out from sheer weakness
that she quieted down an' fell asleep, jest a leetle before yer
'peared, strangers. What it is she keeps entreatin' an' beseechin' for
we never can make out, though I'd cut my hand off to get it for her,
she's sech a patient, grateful leetle soul. But" - Josh started up; a
sudden hope had dawned upon him as he looked across at Father Friday's
strong, kind face - "perhaps you could tell. Bullets an' bombshells,
that's a lucky idee! I'll go an' ask Mirandy about it."

That any one was ill or disquieted in mind was a sufficient appeal to
the sympathy and zeal of Father Friday. He put his hand to his breast
a moment, and I knew that he was praying for the soul so sorely tried.

In a few moments Josh returned, saying, "Mirandy says the leetle girl
is jest woke up, an' seems uncommon sensible an' clear-headed. Perhaps
if yer war ter ask her now, she could tell yer it all plain."

Father Friday rose, and I followed too, as the man led the way to the
little room, the door of which was immediately opened by his wife, who
motioned to us to enter. Never shall I forget the sight that greeted
my eyes. Upon the bed lay a childish form, with a small, refined face,
the pallor of which was intensified by contrast with the large dark
eyes, that now had a half startled, expectant, indescribable
expression. The sufferer had evidently reached the crisis of a
malarial fever; reason had returned unclouded; but from that strange,
bright look, I felt that there was no hope of recovery.

How shall I find words to portray what followed! The others waited
beside the door; but Father Friday advanced a few steps, then paused,
so as not to frighten her by approaching abruptly. As he stood there
in his cassock, with his hand raised in benediction, and wearing, as I
knew, the Blessed Sacrament upon his breast, I realized more fully than
ever before the grandeur of the priestly mission to humanity. The
girl's roving glance was arrested by the impressive figure; but how
little were any of us prepared for the effect upon her! The dark eyes
lighted up with joyful recognition, her cheek flushed, and with a glad
cry she started up, exclaiming, "Thank God, my prayer is granted! God
has sent a priest to me before I die!"

Had a miracle been wrought before us we could not have been more
astounded. Instinctively I fell upon my knees. Mirandy followed my
example; and Josh looked as if he would like to do so too, but was not
quite sure how to manage it.

Father Friday drew nearer.

"I knew you would come, Father," she continued, with a happy smile.
"This is what I have prayed for ever since I have been lying here. I
thought you would come to-day; for since early morning I have been
imploring the Blessed Virgin to obtain this favor for me."

She sank back on the pillow exhausted, but after a few minutes revived
once more.

It was apparent, however, that there was no time to be lost. I
beckoned Josh and his wife out into the kitchen, and left Father Friday
to hear her confession. Soon he recalled us. I have but to close my
eyes to see it all as if it were yesterday: the altar hastily arranged
upon a small deal table; the flickering tallow dips, the only light to
do homage to the divine Guest; the angelic expression of the dying girl
as she received the Holy Viaticum.

After that we all withdrew, Father Friday and I going out by the fire
again. He resumed his breviary, and I remained silently musing upon
all that had passed within the last hour. After a few moments he
paused, with, his finger and thumb between the leaves of the book, and
looked toward me. I hastened to avail of the opportunity to speak my
thoughts.

"This, then, is the meaning of our strange wandering in the woods all
day, Father," said I. "You were being providentially led from the path
and guided to the bedside of this poor girl, that she might not die
without the consolations of religion."

"I cannot but believe so," he replied, gravely. "We missionaries
witness strange things sometimes. And what wonder? Is not the mercy
of God as great, the intercession of Mary as powerful, as ever? To me
this incident is but another beautiful example of the efficacy of
prayer."

Before long Father Friday was again summoned within, and thus all night
he watched and prayed beside the resigned little sufferer, whose life
was slipping so fast away. In the grey of the early morning she died.

"Mussy me, I feel like I'd lost one of my own!" sobbed Mirandy.

"Yes, it's cur'ous how fond of her we grew; though she jest lay there
so uncomplainin', an' never took much notice of nothin'," said Josh,
drawing his brawny arm across his eyes.

An hour later he led the way before Father Friday and myself, and
conducted us to the bridle-path, which joined the turnpike several
miles below the town. By noon we were safely at home.

Two days after, however, I again accompanied Father Friday to the
forest, when, with blessing, the little wanderer was laid to rest among
the pines. One thing he had vainly tried to discover. Though during
that night her mind had been otherwise clear and collected, memory had
utterly failed upon one point: she could not remember her name. As we
knew none to put upon the rude cross which we placed to mark her grave,
Father Friday traced on the rough wood, with paint made by Josh from
burnt vine twigs, the simple inscription: "A Child of Mary."




HANGING MAY-BASKETS.

I.

"I am so glad May-day is coming!" exclaimed Ellen Moore. "What sport
we shall have hanging May-baskets!"

"What do you mean?" inquired Frances, who lived in Pennsylvania, but
had come to New England to visit her cousins.

"Never heard of May-baskets?" continued Ellen, in astonishment. "Do
you not celebrate the 1st of May in Ridgeville?"

"Of course. Sometimes we go picking wild flowers; and at St. Agnes'
Academy, where I go to school, they always have a lovely procession in
honor of the Blessed Virgin."

"We have one too, in the church," replied Ellen; "but hanging
May-baskets is another thing altogether - "

"That is where the fun and frolic come in," interrupted Joe, looking up
from the miniature boat which he was whittling out with his jackknife.

"You see," explained Ellen, "the afternoon before we make up a party,
and go on a long jaunt up hill and down dale, through the woods and
over the meadows, picking all the spring blossoms we can find.
Finally, we come home with what we have succeeded in getting, and put
them in water to keep fresh for the following day. Then what an
excitement there is hunting up baskets for them! Tiny ones are best,
because with them you can make the flowers go farther. Strawberry
baskets - the old-fashioned ones with a handle - are nice, especially if
you paint or gild them. Burr baskets are pretty too; and those made of
fir cones. Joe has a knack of putting such things together. He made
some elegant ones for me last year."

"Are you trying to kill two birds with one stone?" asked her brother,
with a laugh. "Your compliment is also a hint that you would like me
to do the same now, I suppose?"

"I never kill birds," rejoined Ellen, taking the literal meaning of his
words, for the purpose of chaffing him. "Nor do you; for you told me
the other day you did not understand how some boys could be so cruel."

"No, but you do not mind their being killed if you want their wings for
your hat," continued Joe, in a bantering tone.

"Not at all," said Ellen, triumphantly. "In future I am going to wear
only ribbons and artificial flowers on my _chapeau_. I have joined the
Society for the Prevention of the Destruction of the Native Birds of
America."

"Whew!" ejaculated Joe, with a prolonged whistle. "What a name! I
should think that by the time you got to the end of it you'd be so old
that you wouldn't care any more for feathers and fixings. I suppose it
is a good thing though," he went on, more seriously. "It is just as
cruel to kill birds for the sake of fashion as it is for the
satisfaction of practising with a sling; only you girls have somebody
to do it for you; and you don't think about it, because you can just
step into a store and buy the plumes - "

"But what about the May-baskets?" protested Frances, disappointed at
the digression.

"Oh, I forgot!" said Ellen. "Bright and early May-morning almost every
boy and girl in the village is up and away. The plan is to hang a
basket of wild flowers at the door of a friend, ring the bell or rattle
the latch, and then scamper off as fast as you can. You have to be
very spry so as to be back at home when your own baskets begin to
arrive; then you must be quick to run out and, if possible, catch the
friend who knocks, and thus find out whom to thank for the flowers."

"How delightful!" cried Frances, charmed at the prospect.

"It is so strange that you did not know about it!" added Ellen.

"Not at all," said Mrs. Moore, who had come out on the veranda where
the young folks were chatting, - Frances swinging in the hammock, Ellen
ensconced in a rustic chair with her fancy-work, and Joe leaning
against a post, and still busy whittling. "Not at all," repeated
Ellen's mother. "In America it is but little observed outside of the
Eastern States. This is one of the beautiful traditionary customs of
Catholic England, which even those austere Puritans, the Pilgrims,
could not entirely divest themselves of; though among them it lost its
former significance. Perhaps it was the gentle Rose Standish or fair
Priscilla, or some other winsome and good maiden of the early colonial
days, who transplanted to New England this poetic practice, sweet as
the fragrant pink and white blossoms of the trailing arbutus, which is
especially used to commemorate it. In Great Britain, though, it may
have originated in the observances of the festivals which ushered in
the spring. On the introduction of Christianity it was retained, and
continued up to within two or three hundred years, - no doubt as a
graceful manner of welcoming the Month of Our Lady. That it was
considered a means of honoring the Blessed Virgin, as well as of
expressing mutual kindness and good-will, we can see; since English
historians tell us that up to the sixteenth century it was usual to
adorn not only houses and gateways, but also the doors as well as the
interior of churches, with boughs and flowers; particularly the
entrances to shrines dedicated to the Mother of God."

"And the 1st of May will be the day after to-morrow!" remarked Frances,
coming back to the present.

"Yes. And to-morrow, right after school - that will be about three
o'clock, you know, - we shall start on our tramp," said Ellen. "As you
do not have to go to school, Frances, you will be able to prepare the
baskets during the morning. Come into the house with me now, and I'll
show you some which I have put away."



II.

The next afternoon many merry companies of young people explored the
country round about Hazelton in quest of May-flowers. That in which we
are interested numbered Frances, Ellen, her brother Joe, their little
sister Teresa, and their other cousins, Elsie and Will Grey.

"I generally have to join another band," Ellen confided to Frances, as
they walked along in advance of the rest; "because Joe does not usually
care to go. He is very good about making the baskets for me; but, as
he says, he 'don't take much stock in hanging them.' Yet, to-day he
seems to be as anxious to get a quantity of the prettiest flowers as
any one. Will comes now because Joe does. But Joe has some notion in
his head. I wish I could find out what it is!"

Frances speculated upon the subject a few minutes; but, not being able
to afford any help toward solving the riddle, she speedily forgot it in
the pleasure of rambling through the fields, so newly green that the
charm of novelty lingered like dew upon them; and among the lanes,
redolent with the perfume of the first cherry blossoms, - for the season
was uncommonly advanced.

Before long everybody began to notice how eager Joe was in his search.

"What are you going to do with all your posies?" queried Will,
twittingly.

"They must be for Frances," declared Elsie.

"Maybe he is going to give them to Aunt Anna Grey," ventured Teresa.

"Perhaps to mother," hazarded Ellen.

"Yes: some for mother," admitted Joe; "and the others for - don't you
wish you knew!" And Joe's eyes danced roguishly as he darted off to a
patch of violets.

"He has some project. What can it be?" soliloquized Ellen, looking
after him.

Joe, unconscious of her gaze, was bending over the little blue flowers,
and humming an air which the children had learned a few days before.

"That tune is so catchy I can't get it out of my mind," he remarked to
Will.

Suddenly Ellen started up. "I know!" she said to herself. Then for a
time she was silent, flitting to and fro with a smile upon her lips,
her thoughts as busy as her fingers. "Ha, Master Joe! I believe we'll
all try that plan!" she exclaimed at length, laughing at the idea of
the surprise in store for him. Presently she glanced toward Teresa and
Elsie, who were loitering under a tree, talking in a low tone. Ellen
laughed again. "Those two children are always having secrets about
nothing at all," mused she.

Ellen was a lively girl, and greatly enjoyed a joke. After a while,
when she discovered Elsie alone, she whispered something to her. The
little girl's brown eyes grew round with interest. She nodded once or
twice, murmuring, "Yes, yes!"

"And you must not breathe a word of it to anybody - not even to Teresa!"
said Ellen.

"Oh, no!" said Elsie, quite flattered that such a big girl should
confide in her.

Then - ah, merry Ellen! - did she not go herself and tell Teresa,
charging her also not to reveal it? Later she took occasion to say a
word to Frances upon the same topic.

"Splendid!" cried the latter. "I'll not speak of it, I promise you."

Finally, Ellen suggested the very same thing to Will, who chuckled,
looked at Joe, and asked:

"Are you sure you're on the right track?"

"You'll see if I'm not!" replied Ellen.

"Well, all I say is," he went on, condescendingly, "you've hit upon a
capital scheme; and you may bet your boots on it that I won't do
anything to spoil it."

The girl looked down at her strong but shapely shoes (she was a bit


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Online LibraryMary Catherine CrowleyApples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir → online text (page 12 of 13)