Miriam Coles Harris.

Roundhearts, and other stories online

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?pt a


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who are required to keep tlielr pfflces at the seat of
government, the Justices of the Supreme Court, the At-
torney-General and the Trustees of the Library.






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Rutledge," " Sutherlands," "St PhUip's," " Frank Warrington,
" Louie's Last Term at St Mary's," etc.





Entered according to Aft of Congress, in the year 1866, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the
Southern District of New York.

BHTXBBD according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by

In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.


tjis BOOK.





Chapter I * "

Chapter II 3'

ChapterJII 5 2

Chapter IV. . . . . . 63

Chapter V. . . ... .78



Chapter I 9

Chapter II I21






Jerry, interrogatively.*

" Yes t round/iearts"said Ap,
emphatically, as he swung
himself up on the fence beside
Jerry, and balanced his dinner-
kettle on the gate-post, having jam-
med the cover down in a way that did not
Iqok well for Jerry's hopes of sharing the-

contents. There was a pause, during which


Ap ate steadily and comfortably the round


brown cake, with its scalloped edges, that
he held in his hand, and during which Jerry
looked hungrily on, holding no cake of any
kind in his hand, and not having any imme- .
diate prospect of so holding any.

Poor little Jerry! It was nothing new
for*him to come breakfastless to school ; and
dinnerless, to watch the other children
empty their well-filled kettles, hardly throw-
ing him a crumb. His lazy, drunken aunt
was seldom out of bed when he started for
school; and though he always went down
into the cellar and tried to hunt up a crust
of bread or a scrap of meat to appease the
appetite that gnawed within, he very often
had no better luck than, we are told, old
Mother Hubbard had on that renowned
visit of hers to the cupboard.

Very bare was the cupboard generally
in Chary Wilson's old tumble-down house,


and very bare was the cellar where little
Jerry hunted hungrily for his breakfast.
Little fire there was in winter, and little food
in summer in that house; but of want, and
drunkenness, and profanity, and sin, there
was plenty. No one that knew the house
he came from could wonder that Jerry .Wil-
son looked half-starved and haggard, and
that his clothes hung ragged and tattered
about him. No one could wonder that he
was at the foot of the lowest class in 4 school,

and that he was the butt of his companions

for his stupidity and slowness. Though a
great many of these ill-cared-for and igno-
rant negro children who formed the Laurel
Hollow School had need of compassion
and kindness, none had so great need of
them as Jerry, and none perhaps received
less. There was something so dull and
lifeless about him that the children turned


away from him; and his intelligence was
not of an order to attract the attention of
the ladies and gentlemen who occasionally
visited the school, nor enlist the interest of
those who had the teaching of him. Poor
little Jerry !

Ap, on the contrary, was quite the show-
boy of the school bright, quick-witted,
and intelligent. His mother was the dairy-
woman at Squire Stoughtenborough's farm;
and being a thrifty, industrious woman, she
managed t> keep this, her only boy, well
dressed and respectable-looking, and her
little cottage in good repair, and her little
garden in good order. She had great
hopes for Absalom (familiarly known as
Ap), and often told him she meant to make
something worth having of him ; she said
he should have as much learning as any of
the white boys, and as good a chance to


get ahead as any lad in the village. Ap
took this in with much intelligence; and it
had the effect, in conjunction with his nice

clothes and smart way erf learning his les-

sons, of making him consider himself a

very important young person, and quite
the hero of the colored school.

AJrs. Rodman, the teacher, had perhaps
a different view of the matter.

The day on which Ap ate his round-
heart with so much relish on the gate-post,
and Jerry looked on with so much hun-
gry longing, was a bright, pleasant, sun-
shiny Friday in July. The trees and
lilac-bushes that surrounded the little
school-house were fresh and green, for
there had been a heavy shower the night
before, and nothing in all the country
round had as yet begun to look dried and
shrivelled. The fields were beautiful to


look at. The grass on the plot in front of


the door was quite as well-preserved as
grass in the neighborhood of school-houses
ever is. Twenty*four pair of emphatic

little feet trampling over it did not tend to
encourage it in an erect attitude; it lay
down irregularly and tangledly, but very
submissively, and was still very green. 4 At
present, Janey Martin, Clary Sanders, and
Lucy Richardson were rolling over it and
eating their bread and butter in quiet
enjoyment of the noonday intermission.

Mrs. Rodman, watching them all from
the school-room window, saw Jerry look
uneasily at them; but they were girls,
and girls laugh so hatefully when they do
laugh ! So Jerry didn't ask them for any
of their bread and butter, but watched Ap
as if all his hopes hung on him. Ap's
roundheart disappeared soon, and then


Ap unscrewed the lid of his kettle and
took out another; Jerry leaned anxiously

forward and looked into the 1 kettle too.

. f

After Ap took that one -out there were two
more whole ones left in it; he screwed the
lid down again and went on eating. He
couldn't be very hungry, Jerry thought ; he
had had the drumstick and wing of a
chicken, and a great slice of apple-pie,
before he began on the roundhearts. Just
at that moment several of the boys who
were playing horse down the road shouted
out to Ap to come and play ; he got down
from the gate, and cramming the round-
heart into his mouth, turned away and
was going towards them slowly, when Jerry
said hurriedly and huskily, and very low :
" I say, Ap, I wish you'd let me have a
bite o' one of them ; you don't want 'em '
all, you know?"


" Don't I, now?- I'd like to know why I
. don't ! And if I didn't, I wouldn't be any
ways likely to give 'em to such a good-
for-nothing loafer as you are. Bring your
own dinner if you're hungry; you shan't
have any o' mine."

Ap called this out in a loud tone so
loud indeed that the girls on the grass
heard it very plainly, and stopped talking
and listened; and Jerry dropped his eyes
in shame and turned his back upon them.
The boys down the road shouted again
for Ap; so kicking the gate open with
one foot, he -dashed through it, and leaving
his kettle still hanging on the post, he
ran at the top of his speed towards them.
After he joined them, their game led them
still further away, and they soon disappeared"
into the woods that skirted the road.

Jerry stood perfectly still for several


minutes after they were out of sight; he
was so wretched he did not want to follow
them, he was so weak and faint he did
not want to run, and so ashamed and
angry he did not want to go near any-
body. After a while he sat down on
the grass outside the fence, and began to
toss the pebbles that lay within his reach
from the path into the road.

Now, he hated Ap; he thought how
ugly, and mean, and stingy he was ; how,
if he was strong and big, he would catch
him by the throat and throw him down,
and kick him so ! Oh, till he was sore all
over. Hateful, mean, stingy ! And Jerry
ground his teeth and clenched his fist
" I hate him ; yes, I hate him."
For a long while he lay there, tossing
the pebbles or pulling up the grass beside
him ; the girls had finished their bread and


butter, and had gone off to play; he heard
their merry laughing voices half-way up
the hill behind the school-house ; the boys
were still in the woods down the road ; he
was quite alone. The wicked thoughts of
anger and revenge that had kept him com-
pany since Ap's insulting answer did not
go away; but other wicked thoughts crept
in to keep them company.

The kettle hung within his reach. What
was to hinder him from taking those two
cakes that were in it ? Who would know

he did it ? If Ap accused him, who could
prove he had done it ? There was nobody
within sight; nobody could prove it ; they
might think the girls had done it ; or very
likely Ap would never miss them.

And he was so hungry ! The smell of
the apple-pie had driven him almost wild ,
the sight of the roundhearts had made him


almost sick with longing. He shut his
eyes and turned his face down on the
grass, but he couldn't get rid of the
thought, he couldn't get the roundhearts
out of his eyes; turn whichever way he
would, shut them ever so tight, the nice,
soft, smooth, brown cakes would be before
him the craving, gnawing' hunger would
be clamoring within.

He must ; he would ; he didn't care.
He raised up on his elbow and looked
stealthily around. All was so still ; there
wasn't a soul in sight ; nobody would

know nobody would ever know.

Just at that moment something . stirred

the lilac-bushes behind him; he gave a
violent start, and looked guiltily around.
He felt hot with shame when he saw what
it was ; it was only Moll, the half-grown
black-and-white cat, that had been straying


around the Hollow all summer pelted by
the boys, kicked from the doors by the
women, teased and chased and mauled by
the girls. Jerry alone of all the children
never had worried or pelted her ; she had
often come mewing hungrily to the door
at night, and he had let her quietly in, and
kept her out of Chary's way, and let her
lick the unwashed frying-pan in the chim-
ney-corner, and dig greedily among the
pile of clam-shells and fish-bones that lay
upon the hearth ; and though such scraps
as were to. be found there, and an occa-
sional cold potato, and the freedom of the

cellar, were the only privileges that a resi-
dence at Chary Wilson's could afford her,
she seemed inclined -to embrace them, and,
as far as she could be said to live any-
where, lived there. She prowled around
the Hollow all day, however, and nobody


was ever surprised- to see her anywhere ;
so, after the first moment, Jerry was rjot
surprised to see her at his side.

Poor Moll! Was there ever such a
dismal ash-cat before ! She was nearly out
of kittenhbod, " tall for her age," gaunt
and meagre, with a hollow sinking in
about her sides that made one faint to look
at her ; and a hungry, wistful expression in
her eyes that made one positively uncom-
fortable. All the black in her coat looked
rusty and dirty; and for the white, there
is no chance of conveying its griminess.
But Jerry loved this cat. He liked to
have her . paws on his arm when he lay
curled up o.n his heap of straw in the gar-
ret at night, and to feel the regular motion
of her claws as she opened and shut them
on his sleeve, purring all the while. Jerry
often wondered if she purred all night.


He left her purring when he went to sleep ;

and when he woke up in the morning, he

always found her watching him and purr-

ing still.

" Poor old Moll ! " he said, looking down
at her, and forgetting for a moment all
about the roundhearts ; " Poor old Moll ! "

She purred intelligently and affection-
ately, and walked up and down beside him,
rubbing herself against his legs, and looking
up into his face with such a wistful look in
her great unhappy eyes.

" Oh, she's hungry ! I know poor puss
I know," and the tears rushed into his
eyes. Yes, he knew indeed. There was a
sympathy between him and Moll that there
was between him and no one else, human
or feline. That rush of tears weakened the
strength of the wicked thoughts. - He began
to know they were wicked; he began to


remember who it was that put wicked
thoughts in children's minds ; he, remem-
bered what his teacher had said about the
way to get rid of them. m He did not know
the Lord's Prayer very well ; he blundered
a good deal in it when it came round to
him in the Catechism, partly because he
did not understand the words .it was made
of, partly because all the children were
looking at him ; but the sense of the latter
part of it he had somehow got into his
head. It was only 'yesterday that Mrs.
Rodman had made him stand by her desk
and repeat it after her, and had told him
what " temptation " meant, and what it was
to "deliver," and what "evil" was. She
had put it all into very simple words, and
had said in conclusion :

"Jerry, that's the prayer you must say
when you feel wicked when you want to


do anything bad. It is the devil tries to
make you naughty ; but God will help you
lo be good if you say that prayer^with all
your heart."

So now that Jerry, lay there with his
hand on poor Moll's head, and the sense
of the wickedness he wanted to do so
strong in his heart, he vaguely realized that
this was temptation that this was a time
to pray. Not understanding them exactly
not fully "knowing what it all meant he
said the words over* half aloud, only wish-
ing to do right; dimly hoping that God
knew all about his trouble, and would help .
him if he said them. Educated and intel-
ligent children can hardly understand the
uncertainty and mistiness of poor Jerry's
ideas of right and wrong the simplicity of
his fears of God and trust in Him. Nothing
that other children learn had got into his


blundering, stupid, darkened little soul, but
the one ray of light that came from know-
ing that God loved him, and wouldn't let
anything bad happen to him as long as he
was good and did what was right. So just
to do right was what Jerry wanted to do,
and you may be sure God helped him,
through all his ignorance and stupidity.

" I won't ; no, no, Moll, I won't," he said.
" I know it's bad. I don't mean to. Come,
let's go away, Moll."

And grasping her very tightly under his
arm, he got up and walked hurriedly away,
with an expression almost of fear as he
glanced back for an instant at the shiny tin
kettle hanging on the gate-post. He gave
Moll such a clutch, as he caught the glitter
of it in the sunshine, -that the poor cat
uttered an involuntary mew of pain that
brought Jerry to his senses, and he put her


down on the ground quickly, and in an
apologetic manner. She seemed to be
afraid she'd hurt his feelings, for- she rubbed
herself against his legs affectionately, and
followed him closely as he went on.

He had just seated himself at the
school-house door when the bell^ rang.
He was very glad of it; it put the idea
of the roundhearts among the impossi-
bilities, and he went into the school-room
and took his seat at his end of the long
hard bench the youngest class occupied,
with a sigh of relief.

Friday afternoon was an exciting time
in the Laurel Hollow School; "the ladies"
always came then, and about three o'clock
Mrs. Rodman arranged them in two long
rows on each side of the room ; where, with
hands folded, - feet literally " toeing the
mark," and sharp black eyes rolling inqui-


sitively about, contrasting oddly with the
forced repose of the bodies they illumi-
nated, the young brigade awaited the
arrival of " the ladies." Mrs. Rodman, on
this afternoon, perceiving an unusually un-
governable tendency among them, walked
authoritatively up and down the line, a
slim little whip in her hand, with a view to
preserving the order she prided herself
upon, until the arrival of the ladies. Not
all the terrors of the Inquisition, however,
could have prevented the smothered but
universal exclamation of, " Here they
come ! " as a carriage stopped at the

" Children, will you be quiet ? " And
Mrs. Rodman waved her whip signifi-
cantly, at which they all subsided into
the quiet recommended; and you might
have heard the smallest pin ever manu-


factured fall upon the thickest carpet ever
woven, as Mrs. Danforth came up the
path to the school-room door.




'HE lady's plan was gene-
rally to have a sort of
review of the lessons of
the week, examining the
children upon what they had learn-
ed since she was there last ; then
she would hear them" say the Cate-
chism; and lastly, the hymns they knew
from the younger ones, and the Collect for
the week from the older. It is needless
to say the children tried to do their best,
and from nine o'clock Monday morning
looked forward with anxiety to Friday


afternoon. The rewards, of which this
very delightful lady was extremely lavish,
.were not the sole causes of their assiduity,
however. She was so kind and so good,
and looked so pretty in her soft muslin


dress, and straw-bonnet with its marvellous
bright ribbons, and came in such a fine
carriage, and drove away so fast, while
they all stood watching her, that it is my
belief, if she had not given any rewards
more tangible than that very sweet smile
of hers, and some gentle words of praise,
they would have tried very hard to win
them and to please her.

Occasionally she brought some of her
own children with her; and on this occasion
a small boy, keeping tight hold of her
dress, and showing a half-developed inten-
tion of hiding himself in its folds from all
those black eyes, followed her. Indeed,


little Larry was as much afraid of the
children as the children were afraid of him,
and very often came, and went away, with-
out exchanging anything more familiar
with t them than a great many shy and
curious glances.

After the usual examination, in which
Ap distinguished himself by rattling off all
the weights and measures in the table-
book two degrees faster than usual, and in
which poor Jerry did himself more dis-
credit than ever before by his hopeless
stupidity and alarm, the lady took her little
prayer-book out of her- pocket, and began
to hear them say the catechism. Very
well they knew it, certainly, as far as the
mere words went ; but whether they had at
all grasped the ideas that the words con-
veyed, seemed a question in her mind just
then, for she asked them very searching



and simple things about the Command-
ments, and did not get very satisfactory
replies in all cases. Then she asked them
to say the Lord's Prayer. Oh, of course
they all knew that, and they all knew
" what they desired of God in this prayer ;"
at least they all said it fast enough.

Indeed, the older ones answered tolera-
bly well most of the questions she put
them about this [ Mrs. Rodman had taken
an infinite amount of pains with them, and
they had at least reaped a little benefit
from her labors. But it happened that
when she said, " Now, children, you tell
me you pray God ' that it will please Him
to save and defend you in all dangers both
of soul and body, and that He will keep
you from all sin and wickedness, and from
your spiritual enemies, and from everlast-
ing death;' what words of the Lord's


Prayer mean this, do you say ? there
was an uncertain pause ; no one seemed
to know.

She looked around inquiringly. " Why,
children, can't you tell me that ? Can't you
tell me what words you must say when any
danger, either of soul or body, frightens
you ; when you want to do something bad ;
when the devil is tempting you ? Think

a minute ; can't any of you tell me what
words our Lord taught His people to

Another, pause, during which Ap and
the bigger boys looked rather ashamed, and
the little ones very much" puzzled. But
glancing down the double row of unsatis-
factory faces, the lady caught a gleam of
something like intelligence on Jerry's, and
an eager, stammering movement of his lips.

" Well, my little boy, speak. What is it? "


" Lead us not into temptation, but but
deliver us from evil," he repeated huskily
and slow.

" That's right," she said with a quiet
smile of approbation. She saw he was
miserably frightened at the sound of his
own voice and at the wondering eyes turned
upon him, so she did not ask him any
more questions or take any further notice
of him, but'she did not lose sight of or for-
get him ; there was something in his face
that had struck her with much pity.

The picture reward-card, of course, be-
longed to Ap; he had had decidedly the
best lessons ; but just as she was going, the
lady called Jerry to her, and opening her
purse, gave him a five-cent piece, with some
kind words of commendation. Poor Jerry
stood holding the bright little coin in his
hand, looking hopelessly dull and ungrateful-


"Jerry!" called out Mrs. Rodman, very
much shocked; " why don't you say ' thank

" Make a bow, stupid," whispered the
envious group of children in the rear, and
Ap tried to push him forward.

.But Jerryj perfectly stunned with it all,
could neither command a bow nor a " thank

" Oh, no matter this time," said the lady,
kindly. " He means * thank you,' I know.

The children gathered round him in an
eager group, almost too much engrossed
with his good fortune to watch the carriage
drive away; which it did, however, very
briskly. Jerry was entirely unsatisfactory
upon the question of how he was going to
spend it, and put the hand that held it
tight in his trousers' pocket, and snubbed
all invitations to go shares with sturdy re- '


solution. For he had made up his mind
very distinctly what to do', with his five-
pence; half of it in roundhearts, right
straight away, and half of it for something
to eat to-morrow morning a little bit of
taffy perhaps, some peanuts, and a bolivar.
He had never had more than a cent at a
time in all his life before, and the times in
which he had possessed even that sum he
could count up very shortly ; so it was no
wonder he felt giddy and almost sick with
excitement. It was his afternoon for clear-
ing up the school-room, however, so he had
to tie the fivepence up in a corner of the
grey rag he called his pocket-handkerchief,
and stuff it very low down in his pocket,
and take the broom and go to work. Mrs.
Rodman bade him good-by kindly, and
went away; and so, after a while, all the
children did, and he was left alone.


The school-room was generally lamen-
tably dirty on Friday afternoon, and poor
Jerry was nearly stifled with the clouds of
dust that rose from the application of his
broom. He was in a great hurry to be off
to the village for his roundhearts (which is
not to be wondered at, considering he had
not had a mouthful of food that day), but
he had a general idea of his duty in
regard to anything he had been entrusted
with, and he knew Ihe school-house had
been left in his charge ; so he worked
away patiently at it, swept it as well as he
could, and put the benches back in their
places, then dusted it rather clumsily, but
very faithfully ; and at the end of his per-
formances put away broom . and duster,

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Online LibraryMiriam Coles HarrisRoundhearts, and other stories → online text (page 1 of 6)