Mary Catherine Crowley.

Apples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir online

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"DEAR MARION: - I did not realize until today what you wanted to do
about the May piece. If my verses would be of any use at this late
hour, you are welcome to them. I should like to do all I can to help
now, to make up for lost time."

"ELLEN."


Marion gladly accepted the overtures of peace. The May drama was duly
finished, the rehearsals went on smoothly, and on the last day of the
Month of Mary the performance took place.

It had been rumored in the school that Abby was not to be Queen, and
there was much speculation as to which of the little girls had been
selected instead. As the drama progressed, and the plan was unfolded,
the audience was taken completely by surprise. Everyone had been eager
to see the May-Queen; but there was a general murmur of appreciation
when, at the close, the curtain rose upon a beautiful tableau; a shrine
glittering with many lights, in the midst of which was enthroned a
lovely image of Our Lady, at whose feet the children laid their crowns
of flowers - a crown to honor each transcendent virtue, - and paid their
homage to their beautiful Queen of May.

A few days later Father Dominic called at the Claytons.

"Well, children," he asked, incidentally, "have you done anything to
please the Blessed Virgin during the past month?"

Abby and Larry were silent, but their mother kindly answered:

"I think they have tried, Father Dominic. And as for your lovely
May-Day gift, the presence of the statue seems to have drawn down a
blessing upon the house."




TILDEREE.

I.

Quite happy indeed was the home of Tilderee Prentiss, though it was
only a rough log house on a ranch, away out in Indian Territory. Her
father was employed by the owner of the ranch. He had, however, a
small tract of land for himself, and owned three horses and several
cows. Her mother's duties included the management of a small dairy and
poultry yard, the products of which were readily sold at the military
post some miles distant.

There were two other children: Peter, thirteen years old; and Joanna,
or Joan as she was called, who had just passed her eleventh birthday.
They took care of the fowl, and were proud when at the end of the week
they could bring to their mother a large basket of eggs to carry to the
Fort.

The only one of the family who could afford to do nothing was
six-year-old Tilderee, though they thought she did a good deal - that
is, all except Joan; for she seemed to make everybody's else burden
lighter by her merriness, her droll sayings, and sweet, loving little
ways.

Yet she was continually getting into mischief; and to see her trotting
to and fro, eager to be of use, but always lending a little hindering
hand to everything, one would hardly consider her a help. "How should
I ever get on without the child!" her mother would often exclaim; while
at the same moment Tilderee might be dragging at her gown and
interfering with her work at every step.

How frequently Mrs. Prentiss laughed, though with tears in her eyes, as
she thought of the time when Tilderee, a toddling baby, was nearly
drowned by tumbling head-foremost into a pailful of foaming milk, and
no one would have known and rushed to save her but for the barking of
the little terrier Fudge! Then there was the scar still to be found
beneath the soft ringlets upon her white forehead, a reminder of the
day when she tried to pull the spotted calf's tail. How frightened
"papa" was at the discovery that his mischievous daughter had been at
his ammunition chest, played dolls with the cartridges, and complained
that gunpowder did not make as good mud pies as "common dirt!"

Peter and Joan could add their story, too. Peter might tell, for
instance, how Tilderee and Fudge, the companion of most of her pranks,
frightened off the shy prairie-dogs he was trying to tame; saying they
had no right to come there pretending to be dogs when they were only
big red squirrels, which indeed they greatly resembled. Still he was
very fond of his little sister. He liked to pet and romp with her, to
carry her on his back and caper around like the friskiest of ponies.
When he paused for breath she patted his sun-burned cheek with her
dimpled hand, saying, in her cooing voice, "Good brother Pippin!" which
was her nickname for him. Then he forgot that she delighted to tease
him, - that her favorite pastime was to chase the young chicks and cause
a tremendous flutter in the poultry yard; and how vexed he had been
when she let his mustang out of the enclosure, "because," she said,
"Twinkling Hoofs needs a bit of fun and a scamper as well as anybody;
and he was trying to open the gate with his nose." It took two days to
find the mustang and coax him back again. Tilderee was penitent for
fully ten minutes after this escapade; but she endeavored to console
herself and Peter by declaring, "I know, Pippin, that the Indians must
have Twinkling Hoofs by this time. And he's so pretty they'll keep him
for a chief to ride; a big, fat chief, with a gay blanket and a feather
headdress, and red and blue paint on his face. Won't Twinkling Hoofs
be s'prised at all that? But never mind, Pippin; papa will let you
ride the old grey horse!"

No one knew better than Joan, however, just how tantalizing Tilderee
could be, - how she dallied in the morning playing hide-and-seek,
refusing to have her face washed and her tangled hair brushed into
shining curls; this, too, when Joan was in the greatest hurry to go and
give the fluffy chicks and the grave old fowl their breakfast. It was
very well for Peter to say, "What should we do without Tilderee?" If
she bothered him he could take his rifle and go shooting with Abe, the
old scout; or jump upon Twinkling Hoofs and gallop all over the ranch.
How would he like the midget to tag after him all day, to have the care
of her when mother went to the Fort to sell the butter and eggs?
"Indeed I could get on very well without the little plague," Joan
sometimes grumbled - "just for a _teenty_ bit of a while," she generally
added, hastily; for she really loved her little sister dearly. Joan
tried hard to be patient, but she had a quick temper, and occasionally
forgot her good resolutions. This happened one day when her mother had
gone to dispose of the dairy products. The provocation was certainly
great.

Joan had a lovely French doll - the only French doll in the Territory,
and probably the most beautiful one to be found within many hundred
miles. Mrs. Miller, the wife of one of the officers at the Fort,
brought it to her from Chicago; and the little girl regarded it as more
precious than all the family possessions combined. What, then, was her
consternation this morning to see Fudge dash around the corner of the
house dangling the fair Angelina by the blue silk dress, which he held
between his teeth, and Tilderee following in wild pursuit! Joan rushed
out and rescued her treasure; but, alas! it was in a sadly dilapidated
condition. She picked up a stick and started after the dog, but
Tilderee interfered.

"Oh, please, dear Joan!" she cried, holding her back by the apron
strings. "Fudge isn't the most to blame. I took Angelina. I s'pose
he pulled off the wig and broke the arm, but I pushed the eyes in;
didn't mean to, though - was only trying to make them open and shut.
Tilderee's so sorry, Joan!"

The explanation ended with a contrite sob and what Mr. Prentiss called
"a sun shower." But the sight of the child's tears, instead of
appeasing, only irritated Joan the more. Giving her a smart shake, she
said excitedly:

"Tilderee Prentiss, you're a naughty, naughty girl! I wish you didn't
live here. I wish mother had let you go with the lady at the Fort who
wanted to adopt you. I wish I hadn't any little sister at all!"

Tilderee stopped crying, and stood gazing at the angry girl in
astonishment; then, swallowing a queer lump that came in her throat,
she drew herself up with a baby dignity which would have been funny but
for the pathetic expression of her sweet face, as she lisped slowly:
"Very well. P'rhaps some day Tilderee'll go away and never come back
again!"

She turned and went into the house, with Fudge at her heels. As he
passed Joan his tail, which had drooped in shame at his conduct,
erected itself defiantly, and he uttered a growl of protest.

Joan remained disconsolately hugging and weeping over the ill-fated
Angelina. But, somehow, she did not feel any better for having yielded
to her anger. "Tilderee deserved a good scolding," she said to herself
over and over again. Still there was a weight upon her heart, not
caused by the ruin of the doll; for, notwithstanding all the excuses
she could muster, her conscience reproached her for those unkind,
bitter words. After a while, remembering that she had been cautioned
not to let Tilderee out of her sight, she started to look for her. The
culprit was soon discovered in the corner of the kitchen cupboard,
which she called-her "cubby-house," engaged in lecturing Fudge for
running away with Angelina.

"Never meddle with what does not belong to you!" she said, laying down
the law with her mite of a forefinger; and, to make her words more
impressive, giving him an occasional tap on the nose. He listened
dutifully, as if he were the sole transgressor; but interrupted the
homily now and then by lapping the hand of his little mistress with his
tiny red tongue, as a token of the perfect understanding between them.

When they looked up and saw Joan, both glanced at her deprecatingly,
but quite ready to assume a defensive attitude. Ashamed of having
allowed her indignation to carry her so far, she was, however, inclined
to be conciliatory; and therefore, with an effort, managed to say, as
if nothing had happened:

"Come, Tilderee! Watch at the window for father, while I get dinner
ready."

Tilderee at once sprang to her feet gaily, threw her arms around Joan's
waist, and held up her rosy mouth for the kiss of mutual forgiveness,
Fudge wriggling and wagging his tail.

Joan now busied herself about the mid-day meal, for which her mother
had made the principal preparation before setting out. She said
nothing about the tragedy of the morning when her father came in,
partly because she felt that nobody could appreciate the depth of her
grief but mother, and because she had made up her mind not to complain
of Tilderee, - a conclusion which she secretly felt entitled her to rank
as a heroine. But Tilderee related the occurrence herself as soon as
her mother returned.

"Fudge and me broke Joan's beauty doll. We didn't mean to, and we're
awful sorry, - honest and true we are!"

"But that will not mend Angelina," said Mrs. Prentiss, gravely.

Tilderee hung her head. She now realized for the first time, that no
matter how grieved we are, we can not always repair the wrong we have
done. The mother, though a plain, uneducated woman, had plenty of good
sense, and did her best to train her children well. She now talked
very seriously to her little daughter, and Tilderee promised to be less
meddlesome and more obedient in the future.

"Fudge and me wants to be good," she said, penitently; "but we forgets.
P'rhaps if we were other folks, and our names were something else
'sides Tilderee and Fudge, we might be better."

"I'm afraid Fudge is a hard case," sighed her mother, restraining a
smile; "and I should not like to see my little girl changed into any
one else. But I expect we ought to call you as you were christened,
and that is Matilda. It is a saint's name, you know; and you can pray
to your name saint to help you."

The little lass was delighted to have the question settled in this
manner, and from that time strove to insist upon her proper title. But
it was not easy to drop the pet name, and Tilderee she was oftenest
called, till long after the date of this story. For several days she
tried very hard to be good; she said her prayers night and morning with
special earnestness, always closing with: "Please, God, take care of
Tilderee, and keep her and Fudge out of mischief."

Joan, on her part, endeavored to be more gentle with her little sister;
for, while every day she lamented the fate of the doll, she could not
think of it without feeling a trifle uncomfortable about the way she
had spoken to Tilderee.

The two little girls were not allowed to go beyond the enclosure which
surrounded the house, unless accompanied by their father or mother.
The few Indians in the vicinity had hitherto been peaceable and
friendly; but it was considered well to be cautious, and the country
was too sparsely settled to render it safe for one to wander about
alone. When Mrs. Prentiss, mounted on the old grey horse, rode to the
Fort to sell her butter and eggs, Peter went with her on Twinkling
Hoofs; and each took the precaution to carry a pistol for self-defence
in case of attack.

This being the state of affairs, great was the alarm of all one day as
it became evident that Tilderee was missing. The ranch was a scene of
intense excitement when, after an exploration of the neighborhood, the
child was not found. The news spread like a prairie fire. The
settlers for miles around joined the party which set out to continue
the search. The poor mother was frantic. The father went about
helplessly, like a man dazed by a terrible blow. Peter galloped wildly
to and fro upon Twinkling Hoofs, without an idea where he was going.
Joan cried as though her heart would break.

Fudge had disappeared also. Had he gone with Tilderee? There was a
grain of comfort in the suggestion; yet, even so, what could a poor
baby do, astray and with no other defender? Evening came, and still
there was no trace of the child. All through the night they continued
to seek her, guided by the light of the stars and the glimmer of their
pine torches. But in vain.



II.

On that memorable day, shortly after dinner, if mother had not been so
absorbed by the discovery that certain wee, blundering fingers had
sprinkled sugar instead of salt over her new batch of butter; or if
Joan, instead of going for the third time since morning to the lowest
drawer of the deal clothes-press which contained the family wardrobe,
to take an aggrieved look at Angelina, - if either had glanced out of
the doorway, she would have seen a diminutive figure tripping down the
trail in happy unconcern, with Fudge gambolling along in front.

Tilderee did not mean to be disobedient: she had no intention of
running away; but it was so easy to forget that she had passed the
bounds which love had set for her, when the May breezes, like eager
playmates, seemed to beset her to frolic with them, catching at her
frock, tip-tilting her pretty print sunbonnet (the one with the tiny
pink roses scattered over a blue ground), ruffling her chestnut curls,
and whisking her little plaid shawl awry. A patch of yellow wild
flowers by the way appeared all at once endowed with wings, as from
their midst arose a flight of golden butterflies. What fun to chase
them! Fudge thought so too, and a merry pursuit followed. Tired and
out of breath, Tilderee paused at last. Fudge returned with a bound to
her side, and stood panting and wagging his tail, as if to ask: "Well,
what shall we play next?" They were now half a mile from home, but
neither turned to look back.

"Fudge, I'm going to pick a lovely bouquet for mother," Tilderee
confided to him, patting his shaggy head. He sniffed his approval, and
trotted after her as she flitted hither and thither culling the bright
blossoms. Now she left the lowlands called the prairie, and climbed
Sunset Hill in search of prettier posies. Beyond this rocky knoll was
an oak wood, from the direction of which came the noise of running
water. At the sound Tilderee remembered that she was thirsty. "There
must be a brook in yonder," she said. "Come, Fudge, let us go and
see." Trampling among the brambles, the little girl pushed on, and soon
came to a small stream dashing along over a stony course. Forming an
oak leaf into a cup, as she had often seen Joan do, Tilderee dipped it
into the clear current; and by this means, and the sips between times
which she took up in the hollow of her hand, succeeded in obtaining a
refreshing drink; while from the opposite bank Fudge put down his head
and took his share with less ceremony.

Tilderee chose a seat upon a log and rested. To amuse herself she
broke off pieces of the underbrush and began to strip them of their
leaves. "To make horsewhips, you know," she explained, with a teasing
glance at Fudge. He understood very well, and shrank away a trifle;
but the next minute the baby hands caressed his rough coat, and she
added lovingly: "No, no, Fudge! Nobody shall touch such a good dog!"
Throwing aside the sticks, she tried to weave the leaves into garlands,
as Joan had taught her. The attempt was hardly a success. As the
wreath with which Fudge submitted to be crowned speedily fell apart,
she concluded that, instead of making a chain for herself, it would be
nicer to carry the oak twig for a sun-shade. At present, however, she
laid it carefully on the ground beside her flowers, and proceeded to
play in the stream, with bits of bark for boats. Fudge enjoyed this
too for a while, but soon he grew restless.

All at once the child became aware that the woods had grown darker; the
sunlight no longer glanced in among the green boughs; through the
foliage she caught a glimpse of the western sky, which was flecked with
flame and beryl and amber. Next she realized that it must be a great
while since dinner. With the sense of hunger came a feeling of dismay.
Where was she, and how should she get home? "It must be most supper
time, Fudge," she said, choking down a sob. The little dog looked up
into her face with affectionate concern, and thrust his cold nose into
her hand, as if to say encouragingly: "Trust me, and I will lead you
back." He began to sniff the ground; and, having found the scent,
endeavored to prevail upon his young mistress to follow his guidance.
But Tilderee was sure that she knew best. "No, Fudge," she called;
"not that way. This is the right path, I'm sure. Come quick!" Vainly
the sagacious animal used all his dumb arts to induce her to rely upon
him; vainly he crouched and whined, and begged her to go _his_ way.
Tilderee obstinately stumbled on in the opposite direction. Fudge laid
down and watched her despairingly for a few moments; then, with a sigh
almost like that of a human being, he sprang after her. If actions
speak louder than words, could he have said more plainly: "Well, if you
_will_ get lost, I must go with you to take care of you?"

They wandered on, far beyond the source of the stream, emerged from the
wood, and strayed along the side of a deep gorge or canon. At every
step the surroundings grew wilder, the way more rocky and precipitous.
If she had been older, what terrors would have affrighted the child!
An appalling dread of the Indians, fear of the wild cattle of the
wilderness, the apprehension of countless dangers. But in her baby
innocence, Tilderee knew nothing of these perils. She only felt that
she was weary and chilled, and faint for want of food. "Oh Fudge, if
we could only get home to mother!" she moaned. "Tilderee's so tired
and sleepy, and it will be dark night soon." At the thought she threw
herself on the ground and began to cry bitterly.

Fudge looked disconsolate. A second he stood irresolute and
distressed, but presently drew nearer, and, with unobtrusive sympathy,
licked away the salt tears that rolled down her chubby cheeks. Then he
roused himself, as if he comprehended that something must be done, and
ran to and fro, barking with all his might, and poking about with his
nose to the earth. At length he came upon a nook under a projecting
rock, which seemed to promise a slight shelter from the cold night air.
Perhaps it was the instinct of self-preservation which led him to
attract the attention of his helpless companion to it. Several times
he returned to her, looked beseechingly into her face, then ran back to
the rock.

"You want me to go in there, Fudge?" she faltered at last, noticing his
antics. "Well, I will. P'rhaps it'll be warmer. And I'm afraid
nobody'll come now till morning."

Dispirited, Tilderee dragged herself to the refuge he had found. "I
'xpect it's time for night prayers," she said, with a tremor in her
voice; "and I always say them with mother or Joan." Now she knelt upon
the damp mould, made the Sign of the Cross, and, clasping her
brier-scratched hands, repeated the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" more
devoutly than ever before. When she came to the special little
petition at the close, "Please, God, take care of Tilderee, and keep
her and Fudge out of mischief," she broke down again, and, weeping
convulsively, threw her arms around the neck of her obstreperous but
loyal playmate and friend, exclaiming, "Oh Fudge! if we ever get safe
home we'll never be naughty again, will we?"

Yet exhausted nature stills even the cry of grief and penitence.
Tilderee, moreover, felt wonderfully comforted by her prayer. To the
pure heart of a child Heaven is ever "close by." From her rude asylum
under the cliff the little wanderer looked across at the sky. It was
clear and bright with myriad stars. Suddenly one flashed across the
broad expanse, blazed from the very zenith, and sped with incredible
velocity down, down, till it disappeared in the depths of the ravine.
"Ah," said she, with eyes still fixed upon the spot whence had gleamed
the meteor, "p'rhaps it was an angel flying down to me! I won't be
afraid, 'cause I know God will take care of me." Drawing the small
plaid shawl from her shoulders, she spread it over herself like a
blanket; sparing a corner for Fudge, however, who stationed himself
upon it, prepared to ward off all dangers from his charge. And thus
she fell asleep, cheered by the presence and warmed by the breath of
the faithful little dog, her sole protector, humanly speaking, in that
lonely wilderness.

* * * * *

During the long night, while the searching party was scouring the
country, Mrs. Prentiss remained at home, keeping a bright light in the
window, a fire on the kitchen hearth, the kettle on the crane, and
everything ready to gladden and revive her darling in case, as she
persisted in hoping, the dear little rover should, with the aid of
fudge, find her way back of her own accord. How many times she started
up, thinking she heard the patter of childish feet! How many times she
rushed to the door at some sound which to her eager heart seemed like a
cry of "Mother!" But Joan, who now kept as close to her as Tilderee
was accustomed to do, would murmur sadly, after they had listened a
while: "It is only the wind or the call of a bird." At which the
unhappy woman, with a great effort to be calm, would sigh: "Let us say
the Rosary again." Joan, whose face was stained with tears, and her
eyes swollen and red from weeping, responded as best she could between
her sobs.

Poor Joan learned in those hours what a terrible punishment is that of
remorse. Amid all her thoughts of Tilderee one scene was ever before
her: the picture of a rosy culprit, with tangled curls and beseeching
eyes, grieved at the mischief she had done, and stammering, "I'm so
sorry, Joan!" And then herself, as she snatched up the doll and
answered harshly: "You naughty girl! I wish you didn't live here! I
wish I hadn't any little sister at all!" Well, her wish had come true:
Tilderee was gone. Perhaps she would never live in the log house
again. There was no "little plague" to vex or bother Joan now. The
lighter chores, which were her part of the housework, could be finished
twice as soon, and afterward she would have plenty of time to do as she
liked: to play with and sew for Angelina, for instance. Angelina! - how
she hated the very name! She never wanted even to see the doll again.
Tilderee might get up a "make-believe" funeral, and bury it under the
white rosebush. Yes, that would be the prettiest spot; and for old
affection's sake the thing should be done properly if she came back,
- ah, _if_! And then Joan would put her head down upon the table or a
chair, whichever happened to be near, or hide her face in the folds of
her apron, and cry: "What _shall_ I do without Tilderee! Oh, if God
will only give her back to us, I will never say a cross or angry word
again!"

Dawn brought no news of the lost child, and the dreary night of
suspense was succeeded by a day of anguish. At intervals the seekers


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Online LibraryMary Catherine CrowleyApples, Ripe and Rosy, Sir → online text (page 7 of 13)