Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott
Chapter XI. Sunday
Mrs. Moss woke Ben with a kiss next morning, for her heart yearned over the fatherless lad as if he had been her own, and she had no other way of showing her sympathy. Ben had forgotten his troubles in sleep; but the memory of them returned as soon as he opened his eyes, heavy with the tears they had shed. He did not cry any more, but felt strange and lonely till he called Sancho and told him all about it, for he was shy even with kind Mrs. Moss, and glad when she went away.
Sancho seemed to understand that his master was in trouble, and listened to the sad little story with gurgles of interest, whines of condolence, and intelligent barks whenever the word "daddy " was uttered. He was only a brute, but his dumb affection comforted the boy more than any words; for Sanch had known and loved "father" almost as long and well as his son, and that seemed to draw them closely together, now they were left alone.
"We must put on mourning, old feller. It's the proper thing, and there's nobody else to do it now," said Ben, as he dressed, remembering how all the company wore bits of crape somewhere about them at 'Melia's funeral.
It was a real sacrifice of boyish vanity to take the blue ribbon with its silver anchors off the new hat, and replace it with the dingy black band from the old one; but Ben was quite sincere in doing this, though doubtless his theatrical life made him think of the effect more than other lads would have done. He could find nothing in his limited wardrobe with which to decorate Sanch except a black cambric pocket. It was already half torn out of his trousers with the weight of nails, pebbles, and other light trifles; so he gave it a final wrench and tied it into the dog's collar, saying to himself, as he put away his treasures, with a sigh,--
"One pocket is enough; I sha'n't want anything but a han'k'chi'f to-day."
Fortunately, that article of dress was clean, for he had but one; and, with this somewhat ostentatiously drooping from the solitary pocket, the serious hat upon his head, the new shoes creaking mournfully, and Sanch gravely following, much impressed with his black bow, the chief mourner descended, feeling that he had done his best to show respect to the dead.
Mrs. Moss's eyes filled as she saw the rusty band, and guessed why it was there; but she found it difficult to repress a smile when she beheld the cambric symbol of woe on the dog's neck. Not a word was said to disturb the boy's comfort in these poor attempts, however; and he went out to do his chores, conscious that he was an object of interest to his friends, especially so to Bab and Betty, who, having been told of Ben's loss, now regarded him with a sort of pitying awe very grateful to his feelings.
"I want you to drive me to church by-and-by. It is going to be pretty warm, and Thorny is hardly strong enough to venture yet," said Miss Celia, when Ben ran over after breakfast to see if she had any thing for him to do; for he considered her his mistress now, though he was not to take possession of his new quarters till the morrow.
"Yes, 'm, I'd like to, if I look well enough," answered Ben, pleased to be asked, but impressed with the idea that people had to be very fine on such occasions.
"You will do very well when I have given you a touch. God doesn't mind our clothes, Ben, and the poor are as welcome as the rich to him. You have not been much, have you?" asked Miss Celia, anxious to help the boy, and not quite sure how to begin.
"No, 'm; our folks didn't hardly ever go, and father was so tired he used to rest Sundays, or go off in the woods with me."
A little quaver came into Ben's voice as he spoke, and a sudden motion made his hat-brim hide his eyes, for the thought of the happy times that would never come any more was almost too much for him.
"That was a pleasant way to rest. I often do so, and we will go to the grove this afternoon and try it. But I have to go to church in the morning,; it seems to start me right for the week; and if one has a sorrow that is the place where one can always find comfort. Will you come and try it, Ben, dear?"
"I'd do any thing to please you," muttered Ben, without looking up; for, though he felt her kindness to the bottom of his heart, he did wish that no one would talk about father for a little while; it was so hard to keep from crying, and he hated to be a baby.
Miss Celia seemed to understand, for the next thing she said, in a very cheerful tone, was, "See what a pretty sight that is. When I was a little girl I used to think spiders spun cloth for the fairies, and spread it on the grass to bleach."
Ben stopped digging a hole in the ground with his toe, and looked up, to see a lovely cobweb like a wheel, circle within circle, spun across a corner of the arch over the gate. Tiny drops glittered on every thread as the light shone through the gossamer curtain, and a soft breath of air made it tremble as if about to blow it away.
"It's mighty pretty, but it will fly off. just as the others did. I never saw such a chap as that spider is. He keeps on spinning a new one every day, for they always get broke. and he don't seem to be discouraged a mite," said Ben, glad to change the subject, as she knew he would be.
"That is the way he gets his living. he spins his web and waits for his daily bread, -- or fly, rather; and it always comes, I fancy. By-and-by you will see that pretty trap full of insects, and Mr. Spider will lay up his provisions for the day. After that he doesn't care how soon his fine web blows away."
"I know him; he's a handsome feller, all black and yellow, and lives up in that corner where the shiny sort of hole is. He dives down the minute I touch the gate, but comes up after I've kept still a minute. I like to watch him. But he must hate me, for I took away a nice green fly and some little millers one day."
"Did you ever hear the story of Bruce and his spider? Most children know and like that," said Miss Celia, seeing that he seemed interested.
"No, 'm ; I don't know ever so many things most children do," answered Ben, soberly; for, since he had been among his new friends, he had often felt his own deficiencies.
"Ah, but you also know many things which they do not. Half the boys in town would give a great deal to be able to ride and run and leap as you do; and even the oldest are not as capable of taking care of themselves as you are. Your active life has done much in some ways to make a man of you; but in other ways it was bad, as I think you begin to see. Now, suppose you try to forget the harmful part, and remember only the good, while learning to be more like our boys, who go to school and church, and fit themselves to become industrious, honest men." Ben had been looking straight up in Miss Celia's face as she spoke, feeling that every word was true, though he could not have expressed it if he had tried; and, when she paused, with her bright eyes inquiringly fixed on his, he answered heartily,--
"I'd like to stay here and be respectable; for, since I came, I've found out that folks don't think much of circus riders, though they like to go and see 'em. I didn't use to care about school and such things, but I do now; and I guess he'd like it better than to have me knockin' round that way without him to look after me."
"I know he would; so we will try, Benny. I dare say it will seem dull and hard at first, after the gay sort of life you have led, and you will miss the excitement. But it was not good for you, and we will do our best to find something safer. Don't be discouraged; and, when things trouble you, come to me as Thorny does, and I'll try to straighten them out for you. I've got two boys now, and I want to do my duty by both."
Before Ben had time for more than a grateful look, a tumbled head appeared at an upper window, and a sleepy voice drawled out, --
"Celia! I can't find a bit of a shoe-string, and I wish you'd come and do my neck-tie."
"Lazy boy, come down here, and bring one of your black ties with you. Shoe-strings are in the little brown bag on my bureau," called back Miss Celia; adding, with a laugh, as the tumbled head disappeared mumbling something about "bothering old bags", "Thorny has been half spoiled since he was ill. You mustn't mind his fidgets and dawdling ways. He'll get over them soon, and then I know you two will be good friends."
Ben had his doubts about that, but resolved to do his best for her sake; so, when Master Thorny presently appeared, with a careless "How are you, Ben?" that young person answered respectfully, -- "Very well, thank you," though his nod was as condescending as his new master's; because he felt that a boy who could ride bareback and turn a double somersault in the air ought not to "knuckle under" to a fellow who had not the strength of a pussy-cat.
"Sailor's knot, please; keeps better so," said Thorny, holding up his chin to have a blue-silk scarf tied to suit him, for he was already beginning to be something of a dandy.
"You ought to wear red till you get more color, dear;" and his sister rubbed her blooming cheek against his pale one, as if to lend him some of her own roses.
"Men don't care how they look," said Thorny, squirming out of her hold, for he hated to be "cuddled" before people.
"Oh, don't they? Here 's a vain boy who brushes his hair a dozen times a day, and quiddles over his collar till he is so tired he can hardly stand," laughed Miss Celia, with a little tweak of his ear.
"I should like to know what this is for?" demanded Thorny, in a dignified tone, presenting a black tie.
"For my other boy. He is going to church with me," and Miss Celia tied a second knot for this young gentleman, with a smile that seemed to brighten up even the rusty hat-band.
"Well, I like that--" began Thorny, in a tone that contradicted his words.
A look from his sister reminded him of what she had told him half an hour ago, and he stopped short, understanding now why she was "extra good to the little tramp."
"So do I, for you are of no use as a driver yet, and I don't like to fasten Lita when I have my best gloves on," said Miss Celia, in a tone that rather nettled Master Thorny.
"Is Ben going to black my boots before he goes? with a glance at the new shoes which caused them to creak uneasily.
"No; he is going to black mine, if he will be so kind. You won't need boots for a week yet, so we won't waste any time over them. You will find every thing in the shed, Ben; and at ten you may go for Lita."
With that, Miss Celia walked her brother off to the diningroom, and Ben retired to vent his ire in such energetic demonstrations with the blacking-brush that the little boots shone splendidly.
He thought he had never seen any thing as pretty as his mistress when, an hour later, she came out of the house in her white shawl and bonnet, holding a book and a late lily-of-the-valley in the pearl-colored gloves, which he hardly dared to touch as he helped her into the carriage. He had seen a good many fine ladies in his life; and those he had known had been very gay in the colors of their hats and gowns, very fond of cheap jewelry, and much given to feathers, lace, and furbelows; so it rather puzzled him to discover why Miss Celia looked so sweet and elegant in such a simple suit. He did not then know that the charm was in the woman, not the clothes; or that merely living near such a person would do more to give him gentle manners, good principles, and pure thoughts, than almost any other training he could have had. But he was conscious that it was pleasant to be there, neatly dressed, in good company, and going to church like a respectable boy. Somehow, the lonely feeling got better as be rolled along between green fields, with the June sunshine brightening every thing, a restful quiet in the air, and a friend beside him who sat silently looking out at the lovely world with what he afterward learned to call her "Sunday face," -- a soft, happy look, as if all the work and weariness of the past week were forgotten, and she was ready to begin afresh when this blessed day was over.
"Well, child, what is it?" she asked, catching his eye as he stole a shy glance at her, one of many which she had not seen.
"I was only thinking, you looked as if --"
"As if what? Don't be afraid," she said, for Ben paused and fumbled at the reins, feeling half ashamed to tell his fancy.
"You were saying prayers," he added, wishing she had not caught him.
"So I was. Don't you, when you are happy?
"No,'m. I'm glad, but I don't say any thing."
"Words are not needed; but they help, sometimes, if they are sincere and sweet. Did you never learn any prayers, Ben?"
"Only 'Now I lay me.' Grandma taught me that when I was a little mite of a boy."
"I will teach you another, the best that was ever made, because it says all we need ask."
"Our folks wasn't very pious; they didn't have time, I s'pose."
"I wonder if you know just what it means to be pious?"
"Goin' to church, and readin' the Bible, and sayin' prayers and hymns, ain't it?"
"Those things are a part of it; but being kind and cheerful, doing one's duty, helping others, and loving God, is the best way to show that we are pious in the true sense of the word."
"Then you are!" and Ben looked as if her acts had been a better definition than her words.
"I try to be, but I very often fail; so every Sunday I make new resolutions, and work hard to keep them through the week. That is a great help, as you will find when you begin to try it."
"Do you think if I said in meetin', ' I won't ever swear any more,' that I wouldn't do it again?" asked Ben, soberly; for that was his besetting sin just now.
"I'm afraid we can't get rid of our faults quite so easily; I wish we could: but I do believe that if you keep saying that, and trying to stop, you will cure the habit sooner than you think."
"I never did swear very bad, and I didn't mind much till I came here; but Bab and Betty looked so scared when I said 'damn,' and Mrs. Moss scolded me so, I tried to leave off. It's dreadful hard, though, when I get mad. 'Hang it!' don't seem half so good if I want to let off steam."
"Thorny used to 'confound!' every thing, so I proposed that he should whistle instead; and now he sometimes pipes up so suddenly and shrilly that it makes me jump. How would that do, instead of swearing?" proposed Miss Celia, not the least surprised at the habit of profanity, which the boy could hardly help learning among his former associates.
Ben laughed, and promised to try it, feeling a mischievous satisfaction at the prospect of out-whistling Master Thorny, as he knew he should; for the objectionable words rose to his lips a dozen times a day.
The Ben was ringing as they drove into town; and, by the time Lita was comfortably settled in her shed, people were coming up from all quarters to cluster around the steps of the old meeting-house like bees about a hive. Accustomed to a tent, where people kept their hats on, Ben forgot all about his, and was going down the aisle covered, when a gentle hand took it off, and Miss Celia whispered, as she gave it to him, --
"This is a holy place; remember that, and uncover at the door."
Much abashed, Ben followed to the pew, where the Squire and his wife soon joined them.
"Glad to see him here," said the old gentleman with an approving nod, as he recognized the boy and remembered his loss.
"Hope he won't nestle round in meeting-time," whispered Mrs. Allen, composing herself in the corner with much rustling of black silk.
"I'll take care that he doesn't disturb you," answered Miss Celia, pushing a stool under the short legs, and drawing a palm-leaf fan within reach.
Ben gave an inward sigh at the prospect before him; for an hour's captivity to an active lad is hard to bear, and he really did want to behave well. So he folded his arms and sat like a statue, with nothing moving but his eyes. They rolled to and fro, up and down, from the high red pulpit to the worn hymnbooks in the rack, recognizing two little faces under blue-ribboned hats in a distant pew, and finding it impossible to restrain a momentary twinkle in return for the solemn wink Billy Barton bestowed upon him across the aisle. Ten minutes of this decorous demeanor made it absolutely necessary for him to stir; so he unfolded his arms and crossed his legs as cautiously as a mouse moves in the presence of a cat; for Mrs. Allen's eye was on him, and he knew by experience that it was a very sharp one.
The music which presently began was a great relief to him, for under cover of it he could wag his foot and no one heard the creak thereof; and when they stood up to sing, he was so sure that all the boys were looking at him, he was glad to sit down again. The good old minister read the sixteenth chapter of Samuel, and then proceeded to preach a long and somewhat dull sermon. Ben listened with all his ears, for he was interested in the young shepherd, "ruddy and of a beautiful countenance," who was chosen to be Saul's armor-bearer. He wanted to hear more about him, and how he got on, and whether the evil spirits troubled Saul again after David had harped them out. But nothing more came; and the old gentleman droned on about other things till poor Ben felt that he must either go to sleep like the Squire, or tip the stool over by accident, since "nestling" was forbidden, and relief of some sort he must have.
Mrs. Allen gave him a peppermint, and he dutifully ate it, though it was so hot it made his eyes water. Then she fanned him, to his great annoyance, for it blew his hair about; and the pride of his life was to have his head as smooth and shiny as black satin. An irrepressible sigh of weariness attracted Miss Celia's attention at last; for, though she seemed to be listening devoutly, her thoughts had flown over the sea, with tender prayers for one whom she loved even more than David did his Jonathan. She guessed the trouble in a minute, and had provided for it, knowing by experience that few small boys can keep quiet through sermon-time. Finding a certain place in the little book she had brought, she put it into his hands, with the whisper, "Read if you are tired."
Ben clutched the book and gladly obeyed, though the title, "Scripture Narratives," did not look very inviting. Then his eye fell on the picture of a slender youth cutting a large man's head off, while many people stood looking on.
"Jack, the giant-killer," thought Ben, and turned the page to see the words "David and Goliath", which was enough to set him to reading the story with great interest; for here was the shepherd boy turned into a hero. No more fidgets now; the sermon was no longer heard, the fan flapped unfelt, and Billy Barton's spirited sketches in the hymnbook were vainly held up for admiration. Ben was quite absorbed in the stirring history of King David, told in a way that fitted it for children's reading, and illustrated with fine pictures which charmed the boy's eye.
Sermon and story ended at the same time; and, while he listened to the prayer, Ben felt as if he understood now what Miss Celia meant by saying that words helped when they were well chosen and sincere. Several petitions seemed as if especially intended for him; and he repeated them to himself that he might remember them, they sounded so sweet and comfortable heard for the first time just when he most needed comfort. Miss Celia saw a new expression in the boy's face as she glanced down at him, and heard a little humming at her side when all stood up to sing the cheerful hymn with which they were dismissed.
"How do you like church?" asked the young lady, as they drove away.
"First-rate!" answered Ben, heartily.
"Especially the sermon?"
Ben laughed, and said, with an affectionate glance at the little book in her lap,--
"I couldn't understand it; but that story was just elegant. There's more; and I'd admire to read 'em, if I could."
"I'm glad you like them; and we will keep the rest for another sermon-time. Thorny used to do so, and always called this his 'pew book.' I don't expect you to understand much that you hear yet awhile; but it is good to be there, and after reading these stories you will be more interested when you hear the names of the people mentioned here."
"Yes, 'm. Wasn't David a fine feller? I liked all about the kid and the corn and the ten cheeses, and killin' the lion and bear, and slingin' old Goliath dead first shot. I want to know about Joseph next time, for I saw a gang of robbers puttin' him in a hole, and it looked real interesting."
Miss Celia could not help smiling at Ben's way of telling things; but she was pleased to see that he was attracted by the music and the stories, and resolved to make church-going so pleasant that he would learn to love it for its own sake.
"Now, you have tried my way this morning, and we will try yours this afternoon. Come over about four and help me roll Thorny down to the grove. I am going to put one of the hammocks there, because the smell of the pines is good for him, and you can talk or read or amuse yourselves in any quiet way you like."
"Can I take Sanch along? He doesn't like to be left, and felt real bad because I shut him up, for fear he'd follow and come walkin' into meetin' to find me."
"Yes, indeed; let the clever Bow-wow have a good time and enjoy Sunday as much as I want my boys to."
Quite content with this arrangement, Ben went home to dinner, which he made very lively by recounting Billy Barton's ingenious devices to beguile the tedium of sermon time. He said nothing of his conversation with Miss Celia, because he had not quite made up his mind whether he liked it or not; it was so new and serious, he felt as if he had better lay it by, to think over a good deal before he could understand all about it. But he had time to get dismal again, and long for four o'clock; because he had nothing to do except whittle. Mrs. Moss went to take a nap; Bab and Betty sat demurely on their bench reading Sunday books; no boys were allowed to come and play; even the hens retired under the currant-bushes, and the cock stood among them, clucking drowsily, as if reading them a sermon.
"Dreadful slow day!" thought Ben; and, retiring to the recesses of his own room, he read over the two letters which seemed already old to him. Now that the first shock was over, he could not make it true that his father was dead, and he gave up trying; for he was an honest boy, and felt that it was foolish to pretend to be more unhappy than he really was. So he put away his letters, took the black pocket off Sanch's neck, and allowed himself to whistle softly as he packed up his possessions, ready to move next day, with few regrets and many bright anticipations for the future.
"Thorny, I want you to be good to Ben, and amuse him in some quiet way this afternoon. I must stay and see the Morrises, who are coming over; but you can go to the grove and have a pleasant time," said Miss Celia to her brother.
"Not much fun in talking to that horsey fellow. I'm sorry for him, but I can't do anything to amuse him," objected Thorny, pulling himself up from the sofa with a great yawn.
You can be very agreeable when you like; and Ben has had enough of me for this time. To-morrow he will have his work, and do very well; but we must try to help him through to-day, because he doesn't know what to do with himself. Besides, it is just the time to make a good impression on him, while grief for his father softens him, and gives us a chance. I like him, and I'm sure he wants to do well; so it is our duty to help him, as there seems to be no one else."
"Here goes, then! Where is he?" and Thorny stood up, won by his sister's sweet earnestness, but very doubtful of his own success with the "horsey fellow."
"Waiting with the chair. Randa has gone on with the hammock. Be a dear boy, and I'll do as much for you some day."
"Don't see how you can be a dear boy. You're the best sister that ever was; so I'lllove all the scallywags you ask me to."
With a laugh and a kiss, Thorny shambled off to ascend his chariot, good-humoredly saluting his pusher, whom he found sitting on the high rail behind, with his feet on Sanch.
"Drive on, Benjamin. I don't know the way, so I can't direct. Don't spill me out, -- that's all I've got to say."
"All right, sir," -- and away Ben trundled down the long walk that led through the orchard to a little grove of seven pines.
A pleasant spot; for a soft rustle filled the air, a brown carpet of pine needles, with fallen cones for a pattern, lay under foot; and over the tops of the tall brakes that fringed the knoll one had glimpses of hill and valley, farm-houses and winding river, like a silver ribbon through the low, green meadows.
"A regular summer house!" said Thorny, surveying it with approval. "What's the matter, Randa? Won't it do?" he asked, as the stout maid dropped her arms with a puff, after vainly trying to throw the hammock rope over a branch.
"That end went up beautiful, but this one won't; the branches is so high, I can't reach 'em; and I'm no hand at flinging ropes round."
"I'll fix it;" and Ben went up the pine like a squirrel, tied a stout knot, and swung himself down again before Thorny could get out of the chair.
"My patience, what a spry boy!" exclaimed Randa, admiringly.
"That 's nothing; you ought to see me shin up a smooth tent-pole," said Ben, rubbing the pitch off his hands, with a boastful wag of the head.
"You can go, Randa. just hand me my cushion and books, Ben; then you can sit in the chair while I talk to you," commanded Thorny, tumbling into the hammock.
"What's he goin' to say to me?" wondered Ben to himself, as he sat down with Sanch sprawling among the wheels.
"Now, Ben, I think you'd better learn a hymn; I always used to when I was a little chap, and it is a good thing to do Sundays," began the new teacher, with a patronizing air, which ruffled his pupil as much as the opprobrious term "little chap."
"I'll be -- whew -- if I do! " whistled Ben, stopping an oath just in time.
"It is not polite to whistle in company," said Thorny, with great dignity.
"Miss Celia told me to. I'll say 'confound it,' if you like that better," answered Ben, as a sly smile twinkled in his eyes.
"Oh, I see! She 's told you about it? Well, then, if you want to please her, you'll learn a hymn right off. Come, now, she wants me to be clever to you, and I'd like to do it; but if you get peppery, how can I?"
Thorny spoke in a hearty, blunt way, which suited Ben much better than the other, and he responded pleasantly, --
"If you won't be grand I won't be peppery. Nobody is going to boss me but Miss Celia; so I'll learn hymns if she wants me to."
"'In the soft season of thy youth' is a good one to begin with. I learned it when I was six. Nice thing; better have it." And Thorny offered the book like a patriarch addressing an infant.
Ben surveyed the yellow page with small favor, for the long s in the old-fashioned printing bewildered him; and when he came to the last two lines, he could not resist reading them wrong, --
"The earth affords no lovelier fight Than a religious youth."
"I don't believe I could ever get that into my head straight. Haven't you got a plain one any where round?" he asked, turning over the leaves with some anxiety.
"Look at the end, and see if there isn't a piece of poetry pasted in. You learn that, and see how funny Celia will look when you say it to her. She wrote it when she was a girl, and somebody had it printed for other children. I like it best, myself."
Pleased by the prospect of a little fun to cheer his virtuous task, Ben whisked over the leaves, and read with interest the lines Miss Celia had written in her girlhood:
"MY KINGDOM A little kingdom I possess, Where thoughts and feelings dwell; And very hard I find the task Of governing it well. For passion tempts and troubles me, A wayward will misleads, And selfishness its shadow casts On all my words and deeds. "How can I learn to rule myself, To be the child I should, -- Honest and brave, -- nor ever tire Of trying to be good? How can I keep a sunny soul To shine along life's way? How can I tune my little heart To sweetly sing all day? "Dear Father, help me With the love That casteth out my fear! Teach me to lean on thee, and feel That thou art very near; That no temptation is unseen, No childish grief too small, Since Thou, with patience infinite, Doth soothe and comfort all. "I do not ask for any crown, But that which all may will Nor seek to conquer any world Except the one within. Be then my guide until I find, Led by a tender hand, Thy happy kingdom in myself, And dare to take command."
"I like that!" said Ben, emphatically, when he had read the little hymn. "I understand it, and I'll learn it right away. Don't see how she could make it all come out so nice and pretty."
"Celia can do any thing!" and Thorny gave an all-embracing wave of the hand, which forcibly expressed his firm belief in his sister's boundless powers.
"I made some poetry once. Bab and Betty thought it was first-rate, I didn't," said Ben, moved to confidence by the discovery of Miss Celia's poetic skill.
"Say it," commanded Thorny, adding with tact, I can't make any to save my life, -- never could but I'm fond of it."
"Chevalita, Pretty cretr, I do love her Like a brother; Just to ride Is my delight, For she does not Kick or bite,"
recited Ben, with modest pride, for his first attempt had been inspired by sincere affection, and pronounced "lovely" by the admiring girls.
"Very good! You must say them to Celia, too. She likes to hear Lita praised. You and she and that little Barlow boy ought to try for a prize, as the poets did in Athens. I'll tell you all about it some time. Now, you peg away at your hymn."
Cheered by Thorny's commendation, Ben fell to work at his new task, squirming about in the chair as if the process of getting words into his memory was a very painful one. But he had quick wits, and had often learned comic songs; so he soon was able to repeat the four verses without mistake, much to his own and Thorny's satisfaction.
"Now we'll talk," said the well-pleased preceptor; and talk they did, one swinging in the hammock, the other rolling about on the pine-needles, as they related their experiences boy fashion. Ben's were the most exciting; but Thorny's were not without interest, for he had lived abroad for several years, and could tell all sorts of droll stories of the countries he had seen.
Busied with friends, Miss Celia could not help wondering how the lads got on; and, when the tea-Ben rang, waited a little anxiously for their return, knowing that she could tell at a glance if they had enjoyed themselves.
"All goes well so far," she thought, as she watched their approach with a smile; for Sancho sat bolt upright in the chair which Ben pushed, while Thorny strolled beside him, leaning on a stout cane newly cut. Both boys were talking busily, and Thorny laughed from time to time, as if his comrade's chat was very amusing.
"See what a jolly cane Ben cut for me! He's great fun if you don't stroke him the wrong way", said the elder lad, flourishing his staff as they came up.
"What have you been doing down there? You look so merry, I suspect mischief," asked Miss Celia, surveying them front the steps.
"We've been as good as gold. I talked, and Ben learned a hymn to please you. Come, young man, say your piece," said Thorny, with an expression of virtuous content.
Taking off his hat, Ben soberly obeyed, much enjoying the quick color that came up in Miss Celia's face as she listened, and feeling as if well repaid for the labor of learning by the pleased look with which She said, as he ended with a bow, --
"I feel very proud to think you chose that, and to hear you say it as if it meant something to you. I was only fourteen when I wrote it; but it came right out of my heart, and did me good. I hope it may help you a little."
Ben murmured that he guessed it would; but felt too shy to talk about such things before Thorny, so hastily retired to put the chair away, and the others went in to tea. But later in the evening, when Miss Celia was singing like a nightingale, the boy slipped away from sleepy Bab and Betty to stand by the syringa bush and listen, with his heart full of new thoughts and happy feelings; for never before had he spent a Sunday like this. And when he went to bed, instead of saying "Now I lay me," he repeated the third verse of Miss Celia's hymn; for that was his favorite, because his longing for the father whom he had seen made it seem sweet and natural now to love and lean, without fear upon the Father whom he had not seen.