Mary Catherine Crowley.

Apples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir online

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III.

For two or three days Mrs. Clayton suffered the oratory to remain as
the children had arranged it. They said their prayers there morning
and evening; and to Abby especially the ridges and patches in the
carpet, which now seemed to stare her out of countenance, the pink
vases, and the candelabra, were a constant reproach for her
disobedience. Larry, too, grew to hate the sight of them. He often
realized poignantly also that it is not well to be too easily
influenced by one's playmates; for if he happened to be late and ran
into the room and popped down on his knees in a hurry, he was almost
sure to start up again with an exclamation caused by the prick of one
of the numerous tacks which he had inadvertently left scattered over
the floor.

When the good mother thought that the admonition which she wished to
convey was sufficiently impressed, she had the carpet taken up,
repaired as much as possible, and properly laid. Then she hung soft
lace curtains at the window, draped the altar anew, took away the pink
vases, and put the finishing touches to the oratory. It was now a
lovely little retreat. Abby and Larry never tired of admiring it.
They went in and, out of the room many times during the day; and the
image of the Blessed Virgin, ever there to greet them, by its very
presence taught them sweet lessons of virtue. For who can look upon a
statue of Our Lady without being reminded of her motherly tenderness,
her purity and love; without finding, at least for a moment, his
thoughts borne upward, as the angels bore the body of the dead St.
Catherine, from amid the tumult of the world to the holy heights, the
very atmosphere of which is prayer and peace?

Whenever Abby felt cross or disagreeable, she hid herself in the
oratory until her ill-humor had passed. This was certainly a great
improvement upon her former habit, under such circumstances, of
provoking a quarrel with Larry, teasing Delia, and taxing her mother's
patience to the utmost. She liked to go there, too, in the afternoon
when she came in from play, when twilight crept on and deepened, and
the flame of the little altar lamp that her father had given her shone
like a tiny star amid the dusk of the quiet room. Larry liked it
better when, just after supper, the candles of the candelabra were all
lighted, and the family gathered around the shrine and said the Rosary
together.

To Abby belonged the welcome charge of keeping the oratory in order;
while Larry always managed to have a few flowers for his vase, even if
they were only dandelions or buttercups. He and his sister differed
about the placing of this offering.

"What a queer boy you are!" said Abby to him one day. "Your vase has a
pretty wild rose painted on it, yet you always set it with the plain
side out. Nobody'd know it was anything but a plain white vase. You
ought to put it round this way," she added, turning it so that the rose
would show.

"No, I won't!" protested Larry, twisting it back again. "The prettiest
side ought to be toward the Blessed Virgin."

"Oh - well - to be sure, in one way!" began Abby. "But, then, the shrine
is all for her, and this is only a statue. What difference does it
make which side of the vase is toward a statue? And it looks so funny
to see the wrong side turned to the front. Some day we'll be bringing
Annie Conwell and Jack Tyrrell, and some of mother's friends, up here;
and just think how they'll laugh when they see it."

Larry flushed, but he answered firmly: "I don't care! - the prettiest
side ought to be toward the Blessed Virgin."

"But it is only a statue!" persisted Abby, testily.

"Of course I know it is only a statue," replied her brother, raising
his voice a trifle; for she was really too provoking. "I know it just
as well as you do. But I think Our Lady in heaven understands that I
put the vase that way because I want to give her the best I have. And
I don't care whether any one laughs at it or not. That vase isn't here
so Annie Conwell or Jack Tyrrell or anybody else will think it looks
pretty, but only for the Blessed Virgin, - so there!"

Larry, having expressed himself with such warmth, subsided. Abby did
not venture to turn the vase again. She was vaguely conscious that she
had been a little too anxious to "show off" the oratory, and had
thought rather too much of what her friends would say in regard to her
arrangement of the altar.

It was about this time that Aunt Kitty and her little daughter Claire
came to stay a few days with the Claytons. Claire was only four years
old. She had light, fluffy curls and brown eyes, and was so dainty and
graceful that she seemed to Abby and Larry like a talking doll when she
was comparatively quiet, and a merry, roguish fairy when she romped
with them.

"How do you happen to have such lovely curls?" asked Abby of the
fascinating little creature.

"Oh, mamma puts every curl into a wee nightcap of its own when I go to
bed!" answered the child, with a playful shake of the head.

Larry thought this very droll. "Isn't she cunning?" he said. "But
what can she mean?"

"Your mother puts your hair into a nightcap!" cried Abby. "Those are
curl papers, I suppose."

"No, nightcaps," insisted the little one. "That's the right name."

The children puzzled over it for some time; but finally Aunt Kitty came
to the rescue, and explained that she rolled them on bits of muslin or
cotton, to give them the soft, pretty appearance which Abby so much
admired; because Claire's father liked her to have curls, and the poor
child's hair was naturally as straight as a pipe stem.

"Come and see our chapel, Claire," said Abby; the word oratory did not
yet come trippingly to her tongue.

Claire was delighted with the beautiful image, and behaved as
decorously as if she were in church. Afterward the children took her
to walk. They went into the park, in which there were many handsome
flower-pots, several fountains, and a number of fine pieces of marble
statuary. Claire seemed to be much impressed with the latter.

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed, pointing to them reverently. "Look at all the
Blessed Virgins!"

The children laughed. She stood looking at them with a little frown,
not having quite made up her mind whether to join in their mirth, or to
be vexed. When her mistake was explained to her, she said, with a pout:

"Well, if they are not Blessed Virgins, then I don't care about them,
and I'm going home."

The children had promptly sent a note to Father Dominic thanking him
for his appropriate May-Day gift. Each had a share in the composition
of this acknowledgment, but it had been carefully copied by Abby.
Later they had the satisfaction of showing him the oratory. While
Claire was with them, he happened to call again one evening just as the
young people were saying good-night.

"Larry," whispered Abby, when they went upstairs and she knelt with her
brother and cousin before the little altar, - "Larry, let's say our
prayers real loud, so Father Dominic will know how good we've got to be
since we've had the lovely statue."

"All right," said Larry, obediently.

They began, Abby leading off in clear, distinct accents, and Larry
following in a heavy alto; for his voice was unusually deep and
sonorous for such a little fellow. Baby Claire listened wonderingly.
Then, apparently making up her mind that the clamor was due to the
intensity of their fervor, she joined with her shrill treble, and
prayed with all her might and main.

To a certain extent, they succeeded in their object. The din of their
devotions soon penetrated to the library, where their friend Father
Dominic was chatting with Mr. and Mrs. Clayton. In a few moments the
latter stepped quietly into the lower hall.

"Abby!" she called, softly.

The little girl pretended not to hear, and kept on.

"Abby!" - there was a decision in the tone which was not to be trifled
with.

"What is it, mother?" she asked, with an assumption of innocence,
breaking off so suddenly as to startle her companions.

"Not so loud, dear. You can be heard distinctly in the library."

Abby and Larry snickered; Claire giggled without knowing why. Then
Abby applied herself with renewed earnestness and volubility to the
litany. She did not intend any disrespect: on the contrary, she meant
to be very devout. But she not only believed in the injunction "Let
your light shine before men," but felt that it behooved her to attract
Father Dominic's attention to the fact that it _was_ shining. Clearer
and higher rose her voice; deeper and louder sounded Larry's; more
shrilly piped Claire.

"Abby!" called Mrs. Clayton again, with grave displeasure. "That will
do. Children, go to your rooms at once."

The others stole off without another word, but Abby lingered a minute.
Father Dominic was going, and she could not resist the impulse to wait
and learn what impression their piety had made. Leaning over the
balusters, she saw him laughing in an amused manner. Then he said to
her mother:

"Tell Abby she has such a good, strong voice, I wish I could have her
read the prayers for the Sodality. She would surely be heard all over
the church."

He went away, and Abby crept upstairs with burning cheeks and an
unpleasant suspicion that she had made herself ridiculous.

Mrs. Clayton suspected that her little daughter had overheard the
message. She therefore spared the children any reference to the
subject. But the next time they met Father Dominic he alluded, as if
casually, to the devotions suitable for May, and then quite naturally
went on to speak of the virtues of the Blessed Virgin, especially of
her humility and love of retirement; saying how, although the Mother of
God, she was content to lead a humble, hidden life at Nazareth, with no
thought or wish to proclaim her goodness from the house-tops. The
lesson was gently and kindly given, but Abby was shrewd enough and
sufficiently well disposed to understand. She felt that she was indeed
learning a great deal during this Month of Mary.

About the middle of the month there was a stir of pleasurable
excitement at St. Mary's School.

"Suppose we get up a May drama among the younger pupils?" suggested
Marion Gaines, the leading spirit of the graduating class.

The proposition was received with enthusiasm, and Mother Rosalie was
applied to for permission.

"Yes," she answered, "you have my consent to your plan; but on one
condition - that you arrange the drama and drill the children
yourselves. It will be good practice for you in the art of
composition; and, by teaching others, you will prove whether or not you
have profited by Professor Willet's lessons in elocution."

The Graduates were delighted.

"That is just like Mother Rosalie," said Marion. "She is willing to
trust us, and leaves us to our own resources, so that if we succeed all
the credit will be ours. Now we must draw up a plan. Shall we decide
upon a plot, and then each work out a portion of it?"

"Oh, dear, I never could think of anything!" declared one.

"I should not know how to manage the dialogue. My characters would be
perfect sticks," added a second.

"I can't even write an interesting letter," lamented some one else.

"I respectfully suggest that Marion and Ellen be requested to compose
the drama," said the first speaker, with mock ceremony.

"I agree with all my heart!" cried one.

"And I," - "and I!" chimed in the others.

"It is a unanimous vote," continued their spokesman, turning to the
young ladies in question, with a low bow.

"But we shall have all the work," objected Marion.

"No: we will take a double share at the rehearsals, and they will be no
small part of the trouble."

"I'll do it if you will, Ellen," began Marion.

"I don't mind trying," agreed Ellen.

Thus the matter was settled.

"Let us first select the little girls to take part in our drama,"
Marion continued.

"There's Annie Conwell," said one.

"And Lucy Caryl," interposed another.

So they went on, till they had chosen ten or twelve little girls.

"As it is to be a May piece, of course we must have a Queen," said
Ellen.

"Yes; and let us have Abby Clayton for the Queen," rejoined Marion.
"Abby is passably good-looking and rather graceful; besides, she has a
clear, strong voice, and plenty of self-confidence. She would not be
apt to get flustered. Annie Conwell, now, is a dear child; but perhaps
she would be timid, and it would spoil the whole play if the Queen
should break down."

After school the little girls were invited into the Graduates'
class-room; and, although not a word of the drama had yet been written,
the principal parts were then and there assigned. Lucy Caryl was to
have the opening address, Annie as many lines as she would undertake,
and so on.

Abby was delighted to find that she was chosen for the most prominent
_role_. She ran all the way home, and skipped gaily into the house and
up to the sitting-room, where Mrs. Clayton was sewing.

"O mother!" she exclaimed, tossing off her hat and throwing her books
upon the table, "we are to have a lovely drama at our school, and I'm
to be the May-Queen!"



IV

"Just think, Larry!" said Abby to her brother, when he came home after
a game of ball, "I'm to be Queen of May!"

"You!" he cried, in a disdainful tone.

"Yes, indeed! And why not? I'm sure I don't see why you should look
so surprised. I've been chosen because I can speak and act the best in
our division."

"But the Blessed Virgin is Queen of May," objected Larry.

"Oh, of course!" Abby said. "But this will be only make believe, you
know. We are going to have a drama, and I'm to be Queen, - that is all."

"I should think you would not even want to play at taking away what
belongs to the Blessed Virgin," persisted Larry, doggedly. "She is the
Queen of May, and no one ought to pretend to be Queen besides."

"Oh, you silly boy! There is no use in trying to explain anything to
you!" cried Abby, losing patience.

For the next half hour she was not so talkative, however, and after a
while she stole away; for in spite of her petulance at Larry's words,
they had suggested a train of thought which made her want to be by
herself. She went up to the oratory and stayed there a long time, amid
the twilight shadows. Finally the ringing of the supper bell put an
end to her musings. She knelt a few minutes before the statue, and
then ran down to the dining-room. She was very quiet all the evening;
and, to Mrs. Clayton's surprise, the family heard no more of the May
drama.

The next day, at school, Abby waylaid Marion Gaines in one of the
corridors.

"I want to speak to you," she began.

"Well, what's the matter, Abby? What makes you so serious this
morning?" inquired Marion.

"Nothing - only I've been thinking about the May piece, and I want to
tell you that I'd rather not be Queen," faltered the little girl,

"You'd rather not be Queen!" repeated Marion, in astonishment. "Why
not? I thought you were delighted to be chosen."

"So I was - yesterday," the little girl hastened to say; for she would
not have Marion think she did not appreciate the compliment.

"Then what has caused you to change your mind so suddenly?" Marion went
on. "What a fickle child you are, to be sure!"

"It is not that," stammered poor Abby, a good deal confused;
"but - but - well, you know the Blessed Virgin is Queen of May, and it
seems as if we ought not even to play at having any other Queen."

Marion stared at her incredulously. "And so missy has a scruple about
it?" she said, smiling.

"No," returned Abby; "but my brother Larry thought so. And if it looks
that way even to a little boy like him, I think I would rather not
pretend to be Queen."

"A May piece without a Queen! Why, it would be like the play of Hamlet
with Hamlet left out!" declared Marion. "Did you not think that if you
declined the part we might give it to some one else?"

Abby colored and was silent. This had, indeed, been the hardest part
of the struggle with herself. But there was an element of the heroic
in her character. She never did anything by halves; like the little
girl so often quoted, "when she was good, she was very, _very_, good."

Marion stood a moment looking at her. "And do you really mean," she
said at length, "that you are ready to give up the _role_ you were so
delighted with yesterday, and the satisfaction of queening it over your
companions if only for an hour? - that you are willing to make the
sacrifice to honor the Blessed Virgin?"

With some embarrassment, Abby admitted that this was her motive.

A sudden thought occurred to Marion. "Then, Abby, you shall!" said
she. "I'll arrange it; but don't say a word about it to any one. Let
the girls think you are to be Queen, if they please. Why, missy," she
went on, becoming enthusiastic, "it is really a clever idea for our
drama. We shall have a lovely May piece, after all."

Marion hastened away, intent upon working out the new plan which her
quick fancy had already sketched in outline. To be sure, she and Ellen
had devised a different one, and agreed that each should write certain
scenes. Ellen had taken the first opportunity that morning to whisper
that she had devoted to the drama all the previous evening and an hour
before breakfast. Marion, indeed, had done the same.

"But it will not make any difference. We can change the lines a
little," she said to herself, after reading the manuscript, which Ellen
passed to her at the hour of German study, - a time they were allowed to
take for this particular composition.

Ellen, however, thought otherwise.

"What! another plan for the May piece!" she said, when Marion
mentioned the subject. "Why, see all I've written; and in rhyme, too!"

"But it can be altered without much trouble," explained her friend.

"No, it can't. You will only make a hodge-podge of my verses," she
answered, excitedly. "I do think, Marion, that once we agreed upon the
plan, you ought to have kept to it, instead of changing everything just
because of a notion of a little girl like Abby Clayton. Here I've been
working hard for nothing, - it was just a waste of time!"

Marion pleaded and reasoned, but without avail. Ellen's vanity was
wounded. She chose to imagine that her classmate, and sometimes rival,
did not care whether her lines were spoiled or not.

"No, no!" she reiterated. "I'll have nothing to do with your new plan.
You can get up the whole piece yourself."

"At least give me what you have written," urged Marion. "We are so
hurried, and the children ought to have their parts as soon as
possible."

But Ellen remained obdurate.

Marion consulted the others of the class, and, after some discussion,
they decided in favor of the later design. For the next few days she
devoted every spare moment to the work. By the end of the week she had
not only finished the portion she had been expected to write, but also
much of what Ellen was to have done; and the parts were distributed
among the children. There were still wanting, however, the opening
address and a dialogue, both of which Ellen had completed.

"Oh, dear," cried Marion, "that address of Ellen's is so pretty and
appropriate! If she would only let us have it! As we planned it
together, if I write one the principal ideas will be the same; and
then, likely as not, she will say I copied from hers. How shall I
manage?"

Ellen remained on her dignity. She would have nothing to do either
with Marion or the drama, and kept aloof from her classmates generally.

The intelligence had spread through the school that the two graduates
had differed over the May piece. The exact point in dispute was not
known, however: for Marion wished to keep her design a secret, and
Ellen would not condescend to explain. In fact, she did not clearly
understand it herself; for she had been too vexed at the proposal to
change the plan to listen to what Marion said upon the subject.

During this state of affairs poor Abby was very unhappy. She felt that
she was the cause of all the trouble; and it seemed hard that what she
had done with the best of intentions should have made so much
ill-feeling. This disastrous occurrence was followed by another, which
made her think herself a very unfortunate little girl.

As has already been explained, it was Larry's delight to keep always a
few fresh blossoms in his pretty vase before the beloved statue of the
Blessed Virgin. This he attended to himself, and no one ever
interfered with the vase. On the day referred to Abby had been
rehearsing with Marion, and thus it happened that they walked part of
the way home together. Marion stopped at a florist's stand and bought
a little bunch of arbutus.

"Here, put this on your altar," she said, giving it to Abby. She had
heard all about the oratory.

When the little girl reached the house Larry had not yet come in, and
the flowers had not been renewed that day.

"I'll surprise him," she said to herself. "How pleased he will be to
see this nice little bouquet!"

She took the vase, threw away the withered violets it contained,
replaced them with the May-flowers, and put it back. But, alas! being
taken up with admiring the delicate pink arbutus, and inhaling its
fragrance, she did not notice that she had set the vase in an unsteady
position. The next moment it tipped over, fell to the floor, and lay
shattered at the foot of the altar. Abby stood and gazed at it
hopelessly, too distressed even to gather up the fragments.

"Oh, what will Larry say!" she cried, wringing her hands. "He thought
so much of that vase! What shall I do?"

While she was thus lamenting she heard Larry's voice. He was coming
straight up to the oratory. In another minute he threw open the door;
he had a little cluster of buttercups in his hand, and was so intent
upon putting them in the vase that he was half-way across the room
before he noticed the broken pieces on the floor. When he did so, he
stopped and glared at his sister.

"O Larry," she stammered, contritely, "it was an accident! See!
Marion Gaines gave me those lovely May-flowers, and I thought you'd be
pleased to have them in your vase. Just as I went to put it back, it
fell over. I'm awfully sorry!"

Larry's eyes flashed angrily, and his face grew crimson.

"Abby Clayton," he broke out, "you are always meddling! Why can't you
let things that don't belong to you alone?"'

A storm of reproaches would no doubt have followed, but just then his
angry glance turned toward the statue. There stood the image of Our
Lady, so meek and beautiful and mild. And there, in a tiny frame at
the front of the altar, hung father Dominic's words of advice: "Try
every day to do some little thing to honor our Blessed Mother."

Larry paused suddenly; for his indignation almost choked him. But in
that moment of silence he had time to reflect. What should he do
to-day to honor the Blessed Virgin, now that his little vase was
broken? He looked again at the statue. The very sight of the sweet
face suggested gentler thoughts, and counselled kindness, meekness, and
forbearance.

"Well, Abby," he blurted out, "I suppose I'll have to forgive you; but,
oh, how I wish I were only six years old, so that I could cry!"

So saying, Larry laid the buttercups at the feet of Our Lady's statue,
and rushed from the room.

The next day it happened that Ellen discovered Abby in tears at the
window of the class-room. Ellen, although quick-tempered and
impulsive, was kind-hearted.

"What is the trouble now, child?" she asked, gently, taking Abby's hand
in hers.

"Oh," sobbed Abby, "I feel so dreadfully to think that you and Marion
don't speak to each other! And it's all my fault; because from
something I said to Marion she thought that, instead of taking one
among ourselves, it would be much nicer to choose the Blessed Virgin
for our May-Queen."

"And was that Marion Gaines' plan?" asked Ellen, in surprise.

"Why, yes! But surely she must have told you!" said the little girl.

"I see now that she tried to," replied Ellen, with a sigh at her own
impetuosity. "But I was too vexed to listen. I did not really
understand before. Dry your tears, Abby; I'll do my best to make
amends now. How foolish I've been!" she ejaculated, as Abby ran off in
gay spirits. "And how I must have disedified the other girls! I must
try to make up for it."

She found the verses she had written; and, on looking them over,
concluded that, after all, they needed only the change of a few words
here and there. Then she wrote a little note to Marion, as follows:


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Online LibraryMary Catherine CrowleyApples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir → online text (page 6 of 13)