Two Festivals by Eliza Lee Follen
May Morning and New Year's Eve.
It is the evening before the first of May, and the boys are looking forward to a May-day festival with the children in the neighborhood. Mrs. Chilton read aloud these beautiful lines of Milton:--
Now the bright morning star, Day's harbinger, Comes dancing from the east, and loads with her The flowery May, who from her green lap throws The yellow cowslip, and the pale primrose. Hail beauteous May that dost inspire Mirth, and youth, and warm desire; Woods and groves arc of thy dressing, Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing. Thus we salute thee with our early song, And welcome thee, and with thee long.
"How beautiful!" said Frank and Harry. "Suppose, Mother," said Harry, "it should rain, and hail, and snow to-morrow, for it looks like it now, and then you know we cannot go into the woods and gather flowers; and all our plans will be spoiled." "Why, then, my dear, we must enjoy May morning as the great poet did, after he lost his sight, with our mind's eye; and you must bear your disappointment patiently." "Easier said than done, Mother," said Harry. "Why, only think of all our preparations, and the beautiful wreath you made for Lizzy Evans, who is to be queen of the May, and how pretty she would look in it, and then think of the dinner in the woods, we all sitting round in a circle, and she and the king of the May in the midst of us, and Ned Brown playing on his flageolet; and then you know we are all to walk home in procession, and have a dance at his mother's after tea." "You will not lose your dance, Harry," said his mother, "if it should hail, and rain, and snow; but, on the contrary, enjoy it all the more, for then you will riot be fatigued by a long walk; and Lizzy can wear the wreath at any rate." "I don't care for the fatigue, Mother; I want to be in the woods and gather the flowers with my own hands, and smell them as I gather them in the fresh air, and hear the birds sing; and to scream as loud as I please, and kick up my heels, and not hear any one say, 'Don't make such a noise, Harry.' I guess Milton did not take as much pleasure in writing poetry about the spring after he became blind. But please read his May Song again, Mother." She read it again.
"I think he must have felt as glad when he wrote it," said Harry, "as I hope to feel tomorrow.--'Comes dancing from the east'--how beautiful it is! What a pity he ever lost his sight!" "Milton," said the mother, "made such a good use of his eyes while he could see, that he laid up stores of beautiful images, which he remembered when he could no longer use his bodily eyes. The poetry he wrote when he was blind shows the most accurate observation of the outward appearances of things, of shades of color, and of all those beauties which only sight could have taught him. It is worth while, boys, for you to imitate him in this, while you admire his poetry."
May morning came. It did not hail, or rain, or snow. The sun shone brightly. The birds seemed to know as well as the children that it was the first of May. The country village in which Mrs. Chilton lived was as noisy as a martin box, at break of day, when doubtless, though we poor wingless bipeds don't understand what the birds are chattering about, they are planning their work and their amusements for the day--and why not?
Soon after sunrise, all the children from far and near, dressed in their holiday clothes, with little baskets of provisions, all assembled on a little green before Mrs. Grey's house, and were ready to set out for the woods, about two miles distant. Ned Brown had his flageolet, and another boy had a drum. Lizzy Evans received the wreath which made her queen of the May, and Frank, being the tallest boy, was chosen king. And now off they all set, in high glee, happy as only children can be.
Mrs. Chilton, and the teacher of the village school had promised the children to join them at the dinner hour, which was twelve. Just about eleven, the clouds began to gather. Nevertheless, the ladies kept their promise, and set out for the wood. The threatened shower came up, and they took refuge in an old empty barn, where they had not been many minutes before all the children, one after the other, came dripping in, some laughing, some small ones crying. Soon, however, the laughers prevailed; and, after showing their flowers, of which they had collected many, they set themselves to work to spread out the dinner, in the most attractive way possible, and make what amends they could for the unlucky chance of the rain. An old milk stool was appropriated to the queen. It had not even the accustomed number of three legs to support it, so that the poor queen had to endure the anxiety of a tottering throne, and learned experimentally some of the pains of royalty. The king took possession of an old barrel that had lost both ends, and sitting astride upon it, Bacchus fashion he took his place by the side of the poor queen on her two-legged stool, upon which she was exercising all the art of balancing that she had acquired in one quarter at dancing school, hoping against hope that she might keep her dignity from rolling on the barn floor. Just as his May-majesty was fairly seated on the barrel, it, all at once, fell in, smash, and he was half covered with old hoops and slaves. Whereupon the queen laughed so immoderately as to lose her balance, and thus both rolled in the dust. In the mean time, the other children, who had no dignity to support, had spread their little repast on an old sledge. Mrs. Chilton, who had brought a table-cloth, assisted them. Dinner was now announced. The queen declared she could support her throne no longer, and she and the king, both forgetting their royalty, sat down with the others on the hay-strewn floor, and discussed apples, cake, &c., &c.
Unfortunately the rain lasted longer than the dinner; every scrap that was eatable of their provisions was consumed; and now the children all looked around with that peculiar, beseeching, half- discontented look, which is their wont to have on such occasions, as much as to say, "What shall we do next?" Grown people who have been much with children, know full well that there is no peace when such symptoms appear, under such circumstances, unless, before the king of misrule begins his reign, something is proposed of a composing tendency for turbulent spirits. Accordingly, Mrs. Chilton asked the children if they had ever heard of the Mayday ball which is given every year to the children in Washington. "No," was the answer. She said she had been at one, and she would tell all about it.
"It is held in a large public hall, decorated for the purpose. All the children in Washington and Georgetown are invited to attend; all have an equal right to go, ignorant and educated, poor and rich; no matter how poor, if the girls can get a neat white frock, and the boys a decent dress, they are all admitted; every one wears a wreath of flowers, or has a bouquet in his hand or bosom. The children assemble very early, and dance as much as they please, to the music of a fine band, and all partake of some simple refreshment, provided for them, before they return home. They number often over a thousand, and as they are all moving together to the music, they look like a dancing flower garden. I said all the children, rich and poor, in Washington. I wish it were so; but there are many poor children who are never invited to this festival. No one dresses one of them in a nice white frock on May morning, and puts a wreath of flowers on her head, and a nosegay in her hands, and says to her, 'Go, dance, sing, and rejoice with the other children in God's beautiful world.'"
"Why not?" asked the listening children.
"They are slaves--they are negroes!" replied Mrs. Chilton.
"It is a shame; it is wicked," cried Frank and Harry, and all the rest.
"When you are men and women," said Mrs. Chilton, "you may do much for the poor slaves. Remember them then, and do not forget them now. All can do something for them, even little children.
Now I will tell you a story that was related to me by a gentlemen who knew it to be true. I knew, he said, a little boy, who was one of the best little fellows that ever lived. He was gentle and kind to his companions, obedient to his parents, good to all. His home was in a small country village, but he was very fond of wandering into the neighboring fields, when his tasks were all over. There, if he saw a young bird that had fallen to the ground before it could fly, he would pick it up gently, and put it back in its nest. I have often seen him step aside, lest he should tread on an anthill, and thus destroy the industrious little creatures' habitation. If a child smaller than he was carrying a heavy bundle or basket, Harry would always offer to help him. Was any one hurt, or unhappy, Harry was quick to give aid and sympathy; ever ready to defend the weak, feared not the strong. For every harsh word, Harry gave a kind one in return. I have known him to carry more than half his breakfast to a little lame boy whose mother was very poor. Harry was brave and true; he would confess his own faults, he would hide those of others. He had a thirst for knowledge. He got all his lessons well at school, and he stood high in his class. But what he was particularly remarkable for, was his love of all beautiful things, and most especially of wild flowers. He would make wreaths of them and give them to his mother, and he was very fond of putting one on my study table, when he could contrive to place it there without my seeing him. Harry knew all the green nooks where the houstonia was to be found in the early spring, and it was he that ever brought me the beautiful gentian that opens its fringed petals in the middle of the chilly October day. On Sunday, and on all holidays, Harry always had a flower or a bit of green in the button-hole of his jacket. Every sunny window in his mother's house had an old teapot or broken pitcher in it, containing one of Harry's plants whose bright blossoms hid defects and infirmities. He also loved music passionately; he whistled so sweetly that it was a delight to hear him. Yet there was something in his notes that always went to your heart and made you sad, they were so mournful.
Often in the summer time, he would go, towards evening, into the fields and lie down in the long grass; and there he would look straight up into the clear deep blue sky, and whistle such plaintive tunes, that, beautiful as they were, it made your heart ache to hear them. You could not see him, and it seemed as if you were listening to the song of a spirit.
Alas! Harry was not happy; God's glorious world was all around him; his soul was tuned to the harmony of heaven, and yet his young heart ached; and tears--bitter, scalding tears--often ran down his smooth, round cheek, and then he would run and hide his head in his mother's lap, that blessed home for a troubled spirit.
One day, I discovered the cause of Harry's melancholy. I was returning from a walk, and saw him at a little brook that ran behind my house, washing his face and hands vehemently, and rubbing them very hard. I then remembered that I had often seen him there doing the same thing. "It seems to me, Harry," I said, "that your face and hands are clean now; why do you rub your face so violently?" "I am trying," he said, "to wash away this color. I can never be happy till I get rid of this color. If I wash me a great deal, will it not come off at last! The boys will not play with me; they do not love me because I am of this color; they are all white. Why, if God is good, did he not make me white?" And he wept bitterly. "Poor dear little boy!" I said, and took him in my arms and pressed him to my heart! "God is good; it is man that is cruel." The little fellow was soothed and strengthened by my sympathy, and the counsel I gave him.
Not long after this, it was May-day, and all the children of the village went out into the fields to gather flowers, to dress themselves for a little dance they were to have in the evening. Every boy and girl in the village, except Harry, was of the party. They set off early in the morning, and they ran gayly over hills and meadows, and hunted busily for flowers; but the spring had been cold, and they could not find many. They were returning home, wearied, and rather chilled and disheartened, when they saw Harry coming out of the woods with a large bunch of flowers in his hand. One of the boys called out to him, "Well, nigger, where did you get all your flowers?" Harry went on and made no answer. "Come, stop, darky," said the hard-hearted boy, "stop, and let's have your flowers; here's three cents for them." "I don't wish to sell them," said Harry; "they are all for my mother." "A nigger carry flowers to his mother! that's a good one! Come, boys, let's take them from him; they are as much our flowers as his; he has gathered more than his share; "and he approached Harry to seize his flowers.
"For shame, Tom, for shame!" cried out many of the children, and one of the larger boys came forward and stood by Harry. "Touch him if you dare, Tom. You have got to knock me down first." The cruel boy, who was, of course, a coward, fell back, and some of the little children gathered around Harry to look at the flowers. "Don't mind that naughty boy, Harry," said one little girl, and slid her little hand into his. Harry's anger was always conquered by one word of kindness. "Where did you get all your flowers?" asked the children. "I will show you," replied Harry, "if you will follow me." They all shouted, "Let's go, let's go; show us the way, Harry;" and off they set. Harry ran like a quail through bush and brier, and over rocks and stone walls, till he came to a hill covered with a wood. "On the other side of this hill," said he, "we shall find them." In a very few minutes the children were all there. There they saw a warm, sunny hollow; through it ran a little brook, and all around were massive rocks and pretty nooks; and there were the birds singing loudly, and there were cowslips, and anemones, and houstonias, and violets, and all in great profusion. The boy who had insulted Harry hung back ashamed. Harry quietly said to him, "Here, under this little tree, is a beautiful bed of violets, and there are anemones." Harry tasted of the pleasure of doing good for evil. The boy who had defended him walked by him, and talked kindly to him. "How good it was in you to show us the flowers!" said the little girl who had taken Harry's hand, and whose apron he had filled with flowers. How happy now was poor Harry!
All the children gathered that morning as many flowers as they desired. Some carried home only perishable earthly flowers in their hands; others, immortal flowers in their hearts. The village children went to their dance, and were very happy. Harry spent the rest of the day and the evening in his mother's cottage, alone with her, and amused himself with making wreaths of his flowers. But he said he had never passed so happy a May-day. A loving heart, like Una's beauty, 'can make a sunshine in a shady place.'"
The clouds had now passed away. One of the boys proposed to pass a vote of thanks to the old barn, for the hospitable shelter it had afforded during the shower. This was received and passed with acclamations. Frank and Lizzy, or rather the king and queen of the May, declared that they had no thanks to offer to the old barrel or the milk stool. It was too wet to go into the woods again; so they formed a procession, and with their flowers in their hands, and such music as they had, returned gayly home.
The children all enjoyed the dance in the evening; but there were some hearts there, young and merry as they were, that made a solemn vow never to forget those of whom they had heard that day,--"them that are in bonds."
It is New Year's eve. Frank and Harry are sitting with their mother by the pleasant fireside. The boys were full of chat, but their mother was looking fixedly into the fire, and had been silent for a long time. She was thinking of the past; they, of what was to come.
"Mother," said Harry, "will you tell me tonight what my new year's gift will be?"
"Don't speak to mother now," said Frank.
"O, because mother looks as if she did not want to talk."
"But mother told me that, if I would be silent till she had done reading, I might talk as much as I pleased to her."
"So I did, Harry," said his mother; "and now I am ready to hear you. What did you ask me?"
"Only, Mother, whether you meant I should know what my new year's gift is, before tomorrow morning."
"No, dear; I think you had better have it all new and fresh to- morrow; the surprise is a part of the pleasure of a new year's gift."
"What can it be? I know what I hope it is."
"What do you hope it will be, Harry?"
"I do hope it will be a magic lantern," said Harry, without a moment's hesitation. His mother made no answer.
"What do you wish for?" asked Harry.
"I don't know," said Frank; "there are so many things I wish for, that I hardly know what to say first."
"I wish," said their mother, "that I could grant all your wishes; that I could give you every good thing you desire; but my means, as you know, are limited. I am sorry, dear, that you have so many wishes ungratified."
"O Mother, it is not for such things as you can give that I most wish for. You are very kind to me, and give me more good things than you ought to give me; you are too generous to me. I wish for what no one can give me."
"We all have many such wishes, my dear child; but we must not think even these quite unattainable. There are few things that a reasonable being earnestly desires, that some day or other may not become his."
"Do you think so, Mother?"
"Yes, Frank; perhaps he may not attain them in this life, but I think the very desire is a prophecy, and even promise, that we shall at some stage of our being possess what we wish."
"I know what I shall wish, then," said Harry, "and keep wishing it as long as I live till I get it, though I am afraid I shall never have it. I'll tell you what my wish is, Frank, if you will tell me yours."
"Agreed, Harry," said Frank; "and you shall tell your wish first, and I last."
"I wish," said Harry, "that I had a flying horse that was perfectly gentle, and would go all over the world with me, and do just as I told him to, and never be tired; but I guess I never shall get one. Come, Frank, what do you wish?"
"I wish that I had a great deal of strength and courage, more than any one else, and was never afraid of any thing, and that I could do whatever was to be done, and become, at last, a great man, and do some good in the world. I don't want to sit still in a corner half of my life, and never use my faculties. Now, Mother, Harry and I have told our wishes; will you tell yours?"
"First," said the mother, "let me show you how near you may, even in this life, come to your wishes, and then I will tell mine. Harry will not continue to wish for a flying horse, because he will know he can never have it in this world; but his wish will change into a desire of travelling and seeing all that is beautiful and wonderful in God's glorious world, and then he will find his flying horse in a rail carriage or steamboat. And you, my dear Frank, if you continue to wish to be strong and brave, and truly great, will have, perhaps, more than you ask for; for, if you do not have a strong body, you will have a brave spirit, and you will be what is better than a strong man--a good, great man. True greatness does not depend upon physical strength; for instance, a brave and noble woman may be greater than a man."
"How is that, Mother?"
"Because, from the weakness of her body she has more obstacles to overcome. Her power arises from an inward strength that lasts long, and shines most brightly in the darkest hour of trial. Mere bodily strength, without this power of soul, is often cowardly and useless.
I will tell you a true story that I heard the other day, which will show you what I mean. Somewhere in the State of Maine there is a beautiful little lake, on the banks of which are a number of farms and pleasant dwelling houses. There are boats on the lake, and the people are in the habit of allowing the children to learn early the management of a boat; girls and boys together are allowed to go out on the lake, without any man to take charge of them. One day, a little party went out. They had been rowing about for some time, and gathering pond lilies, and waking up all the echoes in the surrounding woods with loud shouts, merry laughs, and happy songs. The children were in the middle of the lake, and were thinking of returning, when, by some accident, one of the boys fell overboard. A boy of fourteen years of age had the management of the boat; he was the principal oarsman. He was strong and active, and could swim, but he feared for his own life, and he immediately began to row for the shore to get help. In the mean time, the poor boy, who could not swim to the shore, and whose strength would be unequal to keep above water till they returned with help, would have been drowned. There were other boys in the boat, but it was a little girl, of ten years of age, who, immediately forgetting her weakness, became their leader and guide. She insisted that the boat should be turned back again, that the poor boy should not be left. I know not if she seized the oar, but if she did not, she prevailed with others to turn the boat round and come back again to the poor boy, who, seeing himself left by his companions, was giving himself up for lost. As soon as they came up to him again, the brave little girl asked the boy of fourteen years to keep the boat as steady as he could. Then she reached over the side of the boat, and told her companions to hold her fast by the legs. Soon she was able to reach the drowning boy. He was much bigger than she. She told him to put his arms round her neck. She then put her arms under his, and pulled him safely into the boat.
This girl was a small, delicate child. Now, dear Frank, who was the strong and brave one, the girl or the boy? Which would you rather be?"
"Of course, the girl, Mother. What a brave little soul she was!"
"So you see, Frank, that what is most truly desirable in your wish is within your reach, even now."
"She was a first rate girl," said Harry, "and the boy was a real coward for going away and leaving the poor fellow in the lake;" and he breathed a long breath, as if he had himself just come out of the water.
"Now, boys, to match that story of the little girl, I will tell you one of a sailor boy who was even braver and nobler than she. As a schooner was sailing near Montauk Point, Long Island, she was suddenly struck by a heavy gust of wind, upset, and instantly sunk. A vessel near by, which had seen the calamity, sent its boat to save from sinking any that had not gone to the bottom. On coming near where the schooner went down, they saw a little boy, twelve years old, floating on some wood, and went to take him off. As they approached him, he cried out, 'Never mind me; save the captain; he has a wife and six children. Both, however, were saved. Can we make any better resolution, my dear boys," said Mrs. Chilton, "to begin the New Year with, than that we will try to be as brave and self- forgetting as the little girl and boy I have been telling you about? And now, good night."
"Good night, old year, for the last time," said Harry; and they were soon asleep.
On New Year's morning, Harry found a large bag hanging to his bed post, containing a magic lantern; and Frank saw on his bureau a complete set of Miss Edgeworth's Works.
Again it is New Year's eve. Another year has passed happily over the home of Mrs. Chilton and her boys.
"To-morrow, dear Mother, is New Year's day," said Frank; "may we not, as we are one year older, sit up till the clock strikes twelve, and wish you a happy new year before we go to bed?"
"Yes, boys, if you can keep awake, you may sit up. Tell me, Frank, do you think you have gained as much this year as you ought to have gained? Ere long you will be a man."
"I think I have gained something," replied Frank. "I am at the head of my class in school. I am three inches taller, I am stronger, and I know a great deal more than I did last year."
"Is that all you have gained? Have you cured any of your faults? Can you command your temper any better? Are you any more disinterested? Are you more careful about the truth--in short, are you a better boy?"
"I cannot say, Mother; you know about that better than I."
"You expect a New Year's gift to-morrow, I presume, Frank."
"Yes, Mother, you always give us a New Year's gift, you know. Will you let us sit up till the clock strikes twelve to-night?"
Their mother promised that they should, and added, "I have been thinking of a New Year's gift for you, Frank, that I am not quite sure you will like. I will tell you what it is, and if you do not like it, you will say so honestly, I trust."
"What is it, Mother?"
"You know the little room I call my closet. It has a window in it, and contains some shelves with books on them. I propose to give you that closet, with all the books I shall leave in it, for your own. In it are a desk and a chair. From the window, you look directly, you know, upon the pine grove. In this little room, you may study and write and read and think also, as much as you please."
Frank could scarcely hear his mother finish, for delight at the thought. "All my own? the books, the desk, the nice old-fashioned chair and the closet itself? Why, Mother, I never should have believed you would have given it to me for my own. There is nothing I should like so well in the world. Shall I have the Shakespeare, and the Johnson, and the Classical Dictionary, and the Sir Charles Grandison, and all the old poets, and those French books in it, and the Homer and the Virgil too?"
"Yes, my son, I think I need not ask you to promise to lend them to me when I wish to borrow them. I have a great affection for this closet, Frank, and therefore I give it to you. If the walls could speak, they could tell you a great deal of your mother's history."
"I wish they could; I shall sit there a great deal, and I should like to hear all they have to say."
"As I have promised you to let you sit up till the new year comes in, I will tell you something now of what they would say. You know that this is the house in which I was born, so that this closet knew me from a child. Many a time, when I was a little girl, has my mother shut me up in it for refusing to obey her. It was gentle treatment shutting me up in this closet; had it not been called a punishment, I never should have thought it one. In summer time, the whispering of the wind through the pine trees rebuked my bad temper, and seemed to say, 'Hush, Alice! Peace! Be still.' I always came out better than I went into it. When I was nine years old, my father gave me this closet for my own use altogether. Many of the books that are in it now were in it then, and the same desk and chair stand there to this day. My father had just built on to his house the addition which gave him the library which I now use; his law books and papers, &c., required better accommodation; and, from that time, the closet became mine. He gave it to me, as I do to you, for a New Year's gift; and this is one reason why I love to give it to you for the same purpose. It is a very dear and sacred spot to me, Frank, this closet, and I think you will like to hear something of its history."
"Yes, indeed I shall, Mother," said Frank.
"When I first took possession of it," continued his mother, "I felt more grand, I fancy, than Queen Victoria did when she took possession of the throne of England, for she had anticipated her elevation, whereas I had never dreamed of mine. When I was a girl, children did not fare as they do now, and my father's liberality to me was an unusual thing. My father and mother both went up stairs with me on New Year's day, and led me into my little sanctum, which they had dressed with evergreens, and seated me in the three- cornered leather-bottomed chair, and told me that every thing in the closet was mine. Although it was winter, still the pine trees that you know come so near the window, and that now are old trees, looked beautiful, and to me it seemed a little paradise. 'Here,' said my mother, 'you were many a time shut up by me in order to make you a good girl. Now you are old enough to know yourself when it is the right time for you to be shut up here, in order that you may grow good. I advise you, at such times, to come here and stay till you have conquered the bad spirit, and can come out with a firm resolution to do better. I shall never put you in the closet again, but I shall trust, Alice, that you will put yourself in, at all proper times.' I well remember putting my arms around my mother's neck and kissing her for joy, but I said not a word. My heart was too full of love, and gratitude, and pleasure to speak. After my parents left me in the closet, in my own chair, now all my own, I sat still some minutes thinking what I should do with my great possession, how I should improve my great blessing. The thought of my mother's loving trust in me affected me very much. I resolved I would not disappoint her. I resolved that, whenever I found myself doing wrong, I would come to my closet, shut myself in, and pray there for strength to cure my faults. I then counted them all over as far as I knew them, and resolved to get rid of them all. I was too happy to think of the difficulty in the way of doing this, but my self-confidence was soon rebuked. After looking over all the books, and putting my fingers upon every thing in my little kingdom, and dancing up and down with delight, I followed my father and mother down stairs to see the presents for the other children. Such was my state of exaltation that when my little sister came, full of joy, to me, with her new doll, I turned contemptuously away from her, and sneered at it, and said, 'Who wants to look at a doll? My New Year's gift is the best; it is worth yours and the boys' all put together.' Never shall I forget the grieved, disappointed look of my little sister as she said, 'Why, Alice, I thought you would be so glad to see my doll,'--and never shall I forget the silent rebuke of my mother's gentle eye, as she looked at me sadly. I felt it all. I could not stand it. I ran up to my closet; I turned the key as I closed the door. I fell on my knees and poured forth to my Father in heaven the first TRUE prayer I ever remember to have uttered. I prayed for forgiveness of my unkindness, I prayed for strength to conquer my many faults.
That day I did not sin again. I played with Fanny's doll. I did all that I could to make every one happy. I took the children up to my closet, and tried to make them share in all my pleasures while I tried to enjoy theirs. I made amends for my fault. From that time, I began a religious self-scrutiny and censorship. I watched myself very carefully, and for every fault I did penance in my closet. When I shut myself up on account of wrong doing, I would not allow myself to read or do any thing but think of my fault. The words of my mother which had been uttered without much serious thought, were as a law to me. I became, if possible, too sensitive to my own defects; it made me rather egotistical. It seemed as if my heart had become suddenly changed. I was, as it were, born again; a new life began in me.
One penance that I subjected myself to was to go and confess to my mother all my faults, even the most trifling. She feared that this continual self-reference would make me, as it did, an egotist, and she, one day, advised me to be satisfied with seeing my wrong doings and acknowledging them to myself, and to try to correct them without speaking of them to her. I begged her, with tears, to let me have my own way, for that telling her all helped me greatly; and I think, for a time, it did. The necessity of confiding all that is in our hearts, and all we do that is wrong, to a being whom we entirely respect and love, and in whose purity we confide, is a great check upon evil thoughts and evil deeds. One instance I well remember of the good effect of my confession. My mother insisted upon careful and neat habits in all things. She would not allow us to throw down our caps or bonnets. They must all be hung up on pegs in the hall, and each child had a peg of his or her own. As we often forgot the command, our mother, in order to remind us, made a law, one winter, that whoever broke the rule should, when the apples were distributed in the evening, have none. One day, all of us came in to supper in haste from play, and two out of four of us forgot to hang up their hats--my sister was one, and I the other. The footman picked up my hat, and hung it up in the right place. At the time of distributing the apples, my mother gave me a fine one, and said, "Alice never forgets her hat. No one forgets now but Jeannie. She is very careless, and must have no apple to-night." I was mean enough to take my apple and be silent; but I could not eat it. Still there seemed to be a spell over me; and, wretched as I was, I could not speak and confess before my brothers and sisters how false and shabby I had been. I went to my closet; and there, after a while, I resolved that, in the morning, I would tell the whole truth. I went to bed, but I could not go to sleep. As soon as I heard my mother coming to bed, I went to her bedside, confessed the truth to her, gave her my apple, and begged her to tell the children how mean I had been. My mother was as just as she was kind. "You must tell them yourself," she said. "You must confess your fault to your youngest sister with your own lips, and be willing to appear before her what you are. You must not ask me to save you this disgrace. It is that which will cure you. It is your just punishment." I did as she bade me, and this was my last sin of that kind.
I had another fault, and that was a great irritability of temper, and many and many an hour of solitude have I passed in that closet, looking out at the quiet pine trees, and listening to the soft sighing of the winds through their branches, till my heart has been softened, and the spirit of love and gentleness has returned. I remember one instance in particular of my conquest there of my foolish anger. I was in the habit, in warm weather, of learning all my lessons in my closet, particularly favorite pieces of poetry, which I wished to commit well to memory. There I recited them aloud. I found that the other children would often come and listen to me; this fretted me; I was very angry at it. I desired them not to do it, and not in an amiable manner; but they often forgot or disregarded my request. I could not, or thought I could not, command my temper whenever I found this out. One day I had been reciting Hamlet's soliloquy; and, just after I had repeated the last words, I heard William say in a pompous manner, "Toby or not Toby." I was very angry, foolish as it may seem to you, and burst open the door so suddenly and violently that I threw down my little sister who stood against it; and, instead of taking her up, I told her I was glad I had knocked her down; and then I was coward enough to strike my little brother. The cries of both children brought up my mother. By this time, I had come to my senses. I told her the story just as it was, and I felt very much ashamed.
My mother simply said to me, "I thought you were beginning to be a reasonable being, and had ceased to be a passionate coward. You know that William is not so strong as you, or you would not dare to strike him." Her words seemed to me very harsh then, but now I think they were just. All abuse of power, all cruelty to the weak, is truly cowardly and mean.
That day I punished myself severely. Some friends were to dine with us, friends whom I loved particularly to see; one of them was Jane Grey, my earliest and dearest friend; but I would not go down to dinner. When called, I sent a note to my mother, saying I should not come down, and wanted no dinner, and begging her not to send again for me, for it would be in vain. I heard the cheerful, merry voices of the family at dinner. I heard the birds singing in the trees near my window. I breathed in the sweet fragrance of the roses and the new hay. I saw the animals at a distance feeding quietly. The clear, deep-blue sky, as I gazed up at it from my window, looked so pure, so solemn, as if angels unseen might be hovering over the world. All, all but me was beautiful, and happy, and good. I was sinful, I was unhappy; I was, it seemed to me, a discord in the world. I hated myself for my bad temper, for it was some time before I had quite conquered it. At last, however, I did, and became gentle and happy in my chosen solitude, while others were enjoying themselves together.
In the middle of the afternoon, they all went out to walk. When Jeannie came up for her bonnet, she ran to my closet, and called out to me, "Dear Alice! mother told me not to come to you at dinner time; but we can't be happy without you. Jane says she can't play without you. Can't you come down? Do, Alice." "No," I replied. "Say nothing about me. I shall not see Jane to-day." After Jeannie left me, I could not quite keep the tears from my eyes. Pretty soon, my dear mother, who always thought people must suffer from hunger, came to me and brought me a nice piece of pudding she had saved for me, and said kindly to me, "Come, Alice, you have punished yourself enough; eat this pudding and come down stairs. You will not be so passionate again." I would not go down, but I ate the pudding. When our friends were all gone, I went down, and then I told Willie I was sorry for striking him. Whether it was that my partiality to Jane, which caused what I suffered that day to make a peculiarly deep impression on my mind, I know not; but, from that time, I acquired more self-command; and never did I forget that day in my closet.
I could tell you much more about my closet experiences, Frank, of what I have enjoyed and what I have suffered in it. There I went when my heart was too full of pain or pleasure to bear the eye of another. There have I prayed. There have I sent up thanksgivings. There have I wept bitter tears. A new page in its history will commence to-morrow, Frank. I hope, also, a new and fair page in the history of your mind, that inner, private apartment, on which only your own eye and the eye of Infinite Purity can rest. Begin to- morrow to write on that new page the history of conquered selfishness, of truth and purity, of devotion to duty, of a higher love for others, of obedience to the will of God; then this will be a truly happy New Year.
As I have told you, Frank, beforehand, what your New Year's gift is to be, I will tell Harry, if he pleases, what I have got for him."
"Tell it now, Mother. It is so pleasant here by the fire."
"You are to have a nice new desk, with a key to it, all your own."
"O, that's prime, Mother," said Harry; "and where shall I keep it?"
"In my little writing room, if you like, Harry."
"Yes, Mother; and then I can talk a little now and then to you, I suppose."
"Sometimes, Harry; and I doubt not that Frank will let you come, now and then, to his closet. I don't want this closet to separate you; but, on the contrary, to be the means of making you better friends, because it will help Frank to be a better boy, and so always to set you a good example."
"It is rather hard, Mother, for a boy to set a good example. I don't think I ever did such a thing in my life."
"Mother," said Harry, "you told us that you had been translating a little story from a French book, to read to us some evening. We shall have time enough to-night, for you know you promised to let us sit up till the clock strikes twelve; so we can talk, and read, and tell stories too. There will be time enough for all, before Mr. Old Year goes out and Mr. New Year comes in."
Mrs. Chilton consented. Frank placed her little stand by her, with the German lamp upon it, in the way she liked to have it, and she read as follows:--