A Family Picture
The scene is a domestic one; the season, winter; the time, night. Supper is cleared away, and the infant, held in papa's arm during the the meal, has been restored to her mother, to nestle, and smile, and sleep.
John and Charlotte, the elder two children, have drawn pictures on their slates. Alfred and Robert have romped and tussled upon the floor, by turns, shouting with laughter, or crying over short-lived hurts. Papa himself has settled with his glasses to read a paper, while Uncle Frank, weary with the bodily labors of the day, is half asleep in the corner, though with his eyes fixed upon Burns' Poems, and making a half-pretense of reading it.
All at once a simultaneous shout arises from the children; there is a throwing down of slates with a bang upon the table, and a rush for the possession of papa's knee. The shout is, "Papa, tell us some stories!" And it is clear from the general look of assurance and the happy little faces, both that this is a very common practice at this time of night, and that the practice is a highly pleasing one, if not to papa himself, at least to his little pets.
A squabble for the knee results, as usual, in favor of the youngest, by name Robert, by nature unthoughtful of others; and the other three content themselves with leaning full weight upon the shoulders and limbs of the beleaguered parent, weights that would crush an ox, but do not discompose a father, who rather looks as though he could hold four or five more.
"And now who shall pick the first story?"
"Sister — begin with her!"
"Well, what shall it be about?"
"A sailor," says John.
"A little girl," says sis.
"A panther," says Alf.
"A monkey," says Robert.
"A little girl it shall be, and so all of you listen with all your might.
"Once there was a little girl, about eight years old, named Mary. And there was a lady who was very kind to Mary, and made clothes for her and mended them when torn, and washed them when they needed it. And this lady never seemed tired of taking care of Mary. For when she was only a little baby the lady nursed her. When she was old enough to walk, the lady taught her to walk. She taught her to say her letters, and to read, and afterwards to write — to sew and to knit.
"She gave her a little garden and rose-bushes and flower-seeds to plant in it, and a little hoe to kill the weeds. She taught her how to sing hymns, and night and morning to kneel down at her side to ask God for His blessings. As soon as she got big enough, she sent her to school. She paid a great deal of money to the schoolmaster every session, and bought her a great many books.
"Now how do you think this little girl should have treated that kind, good lady?"
"She ought to do what she told her to do," says John.
"She ought to love her mighty good," says sis.
"I'd whip her if she wasn't," says Alf.
"Never cry a bit," says Rob.
"Well, now, as strange as it may sound to you, that little girl didn't always do what the kind lady told her, and she wasn't always obedient or good. Sometimes she was very naughty, sometimes she would tell lies, sometimes quarrel with others.
"Then this good, kind lady, instead of sending the bad girl off, would correct her for being naughty, and ask God to make her better: and then as soon as the little girl was sorry and would try to be good, the lady would kiss her and love her as well as ever. Now, wasn't that lady a most charming good lady?"
"Just as good as could be," says John.
"The best ever I heard of," says sis.
"I would have whipped her harder," muttered Alf.
By this time Rob had gone to sleep, and, of course, said nothing.
"At last this little girl was taken sick, oh, very sick indeed. She had the fever, and was as sick as she could be. Being sick made her very cross and bad. She would scream aloud at the least noise. She would refuse to take medicine, until they had to pour it down her throat. She lost her senses, and did not know anybody.
"But the good, kind lady, never got tired of watching over her, and taking care of her. For more than seven nights she never went to bed, but sat by the side of the sick little girl, from sunset to sunrise. She never got angry with her once. She would take her out of bed, and hold her in her arms. She mixed her medicines. She prayed to God a thousand times that the dear little girl might get well. Oh, she was a dear, good lady, don't you think so?"
"But did the little girl get well?" asked the three.
"No; poor little Mary died. After all the kind lady's care, after all her trouble, and watching, and everything — she died. They put her into a coffin and buried her. All the other folks soon forgot that there ever had been such a little girl as Mary. But the dear, good lady never forgot it. No, she never forgot little Mary. She kept all her clothes and her little doll. And she cried and mourned whenever she remembered little Mary. She was never happy again after Mary died. And when she died, which was about five years afterwards, she said she hoped she would find little Mary in Heaven. They buried that kind, good lady by little Mary's side.
Now, John, what do you think made that lady love Mary so well, and take so much care of her, and be sorry about her death?"
John does not know. He thinks she was a most excellent good woman, but it is very strange she should think so long about Mary after she was dead.
"And what do you say, Alf?"
Alf thinks Mary must have had a heap of money or something! Or else he don't know why the lady should care so much for her.
"And what says little sis to it?"
The little girl has a big tear in each eye; and there is a track down each cheek, where a number of them have chased each other. She glances towards her mother, whose eye meets hers, as if there was a mutual understanding between them. Then looking boldly up in the father's face, with the air of one who could solve the difficulty with ease, she answered,
"It was her mom! the dear, good lady was her mom!" And sure enough, little girl guessed it!