THE beams of the afternoon sun streamed gayly through the windows of Miss Harrow's school-room, and fell, like a crown of light, on the head of the young teacher, as she sat at her desk making copies for her pupils. It was writing afternoon, and on this particular occasion, that which was considered a high reward was to be given to the most diligent child.

Whoever showed the greatest interest, neatness and industry, was to be allowed to remain for a few hours after the closing of the school, in order to make a wreath of evergreen to decorate a certain picture in Miss Elinor's apartment. The Christmas holidays were near, and the little school-room had already received, at the willing hands of the children, a thorough dressing with laurel, pine, and hemlock-boughs. It had been for a week past the great delight of the pupils to weave, after school-hours, festoons for the whitewashed walls, and garlands for Miss Milly's desk.

Many were the regrets that the work was now almost over.

Miss Elinor's gentle ways had, from the first, made her a great favorite. There were never any rebellions, any doubtful conduct, in the few classes she undertook to hear recite in her sick- room. Her very infirmity endeared her to the hearts of her scholars.

This wreath for an engraving that hung at the foot of her bed, was the only Christmas-green Elinor desired to have placed in her apartment, and on that account, as well as from devotion to her personally, many pairs of little hands were eager to achieve the honor of the task. Very patient, therefore, were their youthful owners with their writing, this afternoon, — very exact were they to cross the t's, dot the i's, and avoid pens, as Melinda expressed it, " that scratched like sixty."

Miss Milly had done very wisely in holding out this reward, for never before had such attention and' such care been visible in the class. Nelly sat at her high desk, as busy and as excited to win as any child there. Her copy- book lay before her, and though she had not as yet reached beyond " pot-hooks and trammels," she was quite as likely to come off victor as those who wrote with ease and accuracy, because it was not a question of penmanship, but of neatness and industry, as I have already said; for the first quality, the books themselves were to speak; and Miss Milly's watchful eyes were the judges of the latter, as, from time to time, she raised them from her own writing and scanned the little group.

Scratch, scratch, scratch went the pens, and papers rustled, and fingers flew about their work till the hour being up, Miss Milly rang her bell as a signal for perfect silence.

"It is time to put away your pens, children," she said, in a clear voice; and at once they were laid aside.

Nelly was just placing her blotting paper between the leaves of her writing- book, when a sorrowful exclamation near her made her turn her head. This exclamation came from Melinda, who sat a few benches off. Her eyes were fixed with a look of most profound distress on a large blot which a drop of ink from her pen had just left in the centre of the day's copy. Her sleeve had accidentally swept over it too,—and there it was, a great, black disfigurement! And on this afternoon of all others! Melinda wrote a very pretty hand. She was an ambitious girl, and had done her very best, that she might win the prize. Nelly saw the tears rise in her eyes, and her cheeks flush with the bitterness of her disappointment.

"Oh, dear!" cried Lucy Rook, a little girl, who sat next; "Oh, dear! there"s a blot, Melindy!"

" Yes," was the answer; " I wonder if I could scratch it out, so that the page will look neatly again. Lucy, lend me your knife, will you? "

Mistress Lucy looked straight at Melinda, and laughed a little cruel, mocking laugh. In the rattle of papers and temporary confusion of the room, she thought herself unheard by the teacher.

" Who wouldn't play tag, yesterday, eh ? " asked Lucy. " Who spoiled the game; did you hear anybody say ? "

"Why, I did, I s'pose," spoke Melinda roughly; " and what of it?"

"I guess I want my knife, myself, that's all," was Lucy's reply. "I don't think I could conclude to lend it to-day," and she laughed again.

Nelly involuntarily put her hand in her pocket where lay a little penknife Nancy had given her, as a keepsake, a few weeks before. The thought flashed through her mind, "Shall I, or shall I not ? " and the next moment she reached over, and the little knife was glittering on Melinda's blotted copy. She did not speak, she only blushed, and smiled, and nodded pleasantly, to show her good-will. Melinda looked at her with a frowning brow. Then a better impulse seemed to prevail; she glanced gratefully back at Nelly, and taking up the penknife began to give some doleful scratches over the blot.

Presently, however, Miss Milly's command was heard from the desk: " All arms to be folded ! " Melinda, with a sigh, folded hers, and sat like a picture of despair. The books were then collected, and examined carefully, while the scholars began to prepare to go home. Nelly was quite ready, when she was startled by hearing Miss Milly pronounce her name to the school as the winner of the prize.

"I find," said Miss Harrow, "that almost every child has taken unusual pains to-day, in writing; and I am pleased to see it, I can assure you. Where all have been so careful, it is very difficult to find one who stands highest; Nelly Box, however, I think deserves the reward. Never, before, has she evinced such diligence and patience; hoping that she will always do as well in future, I give her permission to go up to Miss Elinor's room to begin the wreath, at once. Elinor will give you instructions, Nelly, and perhaps tell you some little story while you are busy with your task."

At first Nelly's face shone with delighted triumph, at the news of her success. But in a little while she began to realize that many of the pupils were sorely disappointed at this award not falling on themselves, and the thought dampened her ardor. She had reached the door to leave the room, when Miss Milly added:

"Melinda, I am glad to see that you, too, have been attentive and anxious to do well. If it were not for this huge blot, I should have given the palm to you."

"I couldn't help it," said Melinda, eagerly. "I was just folding it up, when it happened. I am as sorry as can be."

" Are you ? '" said Miss Milly, kindly.

" Yes," broke in Nelly, with honest warmth; " and it was an—an accident, as I think they call it, Miss Milly. The girls who saw it, say so. The ink just dropped right down, ker-splash."

Melinda held down her head and looked conscious.

" Well, then," said the good teacher, smiling at the "ker-splash," "if it was an accident, I think we will have two wreath-makers, instead of one. Melinda may go up-stairs with Nelly, if she wishes, and both are to be very quiet and orderly, for Miss Elinor is not quite as well as usual, to-day."

Melinda glanced towards Nelly, and was silent. She did not like to go, under such circumstances as these. She wished the honor of making the wreath, it is true, but she did not desire that distinction to be bestowed upon her as a favor. She felt galled too, that this very favor was accorded to her through Nelly Box's means, —little Nelly, whom, every day, she had been in the habit of cuffing about as though she were an animal of totally inferior condition. She happened to raise her eyes, however, and they fell on the glad, beaming face of this same Nelly Box, who stood- waiting for her. It was so evident that Nelly's good-will towards her was sincere, it was so plain that this little schoolmate of hers desired to be friends with her, and to forget and forgive all the unpleasantness of the past, that Melinda could not resist the good-impulse which impelled her onward. A feeling of shame and awkwardness was all that hindered her from accompanying Nelly up-stairs at once. She stood looking very foolish, her glance on the floor, and her fingers twitching at the upturned corner of her apron.

"Come, Melinda," said Miss Milly, in a gentle, but brisk tone; " don't keep Nelly waiting."

The young girl could resist no longer. She smiled, in spite of herself, a great, ear-to-ear, bashful, happy, half-ashamed smile, and followed Nelly slowly up-stairs to Miss Elinor's room, where they found her bolstered up in bed, as usual, and quite ready to give them instructions how to form her wreath. A sheet was already spread in the middle of the floor, and on this was a pile of evergreens.

" What, two! " said Miss Elinor, smiling, as they entered. "I am glad to see you both, although I expected but one. How is your mother, Melinda?"

"Better, ma'am," said Melinda; "she is coming to see you next week, if she is well enough. What shall we do first, Miss Elinor?"

The sick girl told the children how to begin, and, half sitting up in bed as she was, showed them how to tie together the fragments of evergreen with strings, so as to form the wreath. At first, the girls thought it hard work enough. The little sprays of hemlock would stand up, as Nelly termed it, "seven ways for Sunday," and all they could do did not bring them into shape.

Miss Elinor could not help them much more than to give directions. She lay looking at them from her bed, half amused, and entirely interested in the proceedings.

"Dear, dear!" said Melinda, after she had endeavored several times, quite patiently for her, to force a sprig to keep its place; "dear me, I don't think we can ever make this 'ere wreath look like anything but father's stump fences. Just see how that hemlock sticks out!"

"Well," said Miss Elinor, "I like to see stump fences, very muh indeed, Melinda. I think they are beautiful. The great roots look like the hands of giants, with the fingers stretched out to grasp something. So you see, I don't mind if you make my wreath look like them."

"Father says stump fences are the very best kind," remarked Melinda, knowingly.

"I guess not the very best, Melindy," "Nell ventured to say.

"Yes, they are," persisted Melinda, with. a toss of her head; "father says they last forever, — and he knows, for he has tried 'em! "

The young teacher smiled, and turned away her head.

" Did you ever see a church dressed with evergreens, Miss Elinor ? " asked one of the children.

"Often," said the sick girl; "not here, in the village, but in the city. I have not been able to attend church much since we have been here. They entwine garlands around the high pillars, and put wreaths of laurel over the arched windows. The reading-desk and pulpit have their share too, and above the altar is placed a beautiful-cross. Sometimes the font is filled with delicate white flowers, that are renewed each Sabbath as long as the evergreens are permitted to remain.

"I wish I could see a church looking like that," remarked Nelly, stopping in her work, and looking meditatively about her.

"Miss Elinor," said Melinda, "what do they mean when they say ' as poor as a church-mouse ? ' Why are church- mice poorer than house-mice ? "

" Because," was the reply, " in churches there are no nice pantries, filled with bread and meat, for the little plagues to feed upon. No stray crumbs lie on the floor,—no pans of milk are to be found at which to sip. So, you see, church- mice have a right to be considered poor."

"Well," said Melinda,"how funny I never thought of that before."

" Once," continued her teacher, " I saw an odd scene with a church-mouse. I'll tell you about it. I was visiting in the country, a great many miles from here; such a kind of country as you can have hut a faint idea of, unless you should see it yourself. It was out West. The houses there are not like those you have always been accustomed to see, but are built of the trunks of trees. They are called log cabins. The gaps, or holes, between these logs are filled with mud and moss, which keep out the rain in summer, and the wind and snow in win- ter."

"What do they do for windows ? " asked Nell.

"Some of them have none, others make an opening in the logs; a small shutter, hinged with stout leather, is its only protection in time of storms. Glass is too expensive to be used, for the peo- ple are very poor. Well, I was visiting once a family who lived in one of these log huts. It was somewhat better than its neighbors, certainly, and much larger, but it was not half as comforta- ble as the little house we are in. It was in October, and I remember as I lay awake in bed, at night, I felt the autumn wind whistle over me. It makes my nose cold to think of it," laughed Elinor. " When Sunday came, I was surprised to find that, although the church was five miles distant, no one thought of staying at home.

' What! ' said my uncle, ' do you think, Elinor, we are short-walk Christians? No indeed,—five miles through the woods is nothing to us when a good, sound, sermon, and a couple of beautiful hymns are at the end of it!'"

" It was your uncle, then, you were visiting?" questioned Melinda.

"Yes; he had moved out West some years before, bought a farm, and built himself a log cabin. He lives there now, and is fast making a fortune."

"Is he?" said Nell. "Did you go to the church, Miss Elinor, in the woods?"

"Yes; no one stayed at home. We had the dinner-table set before we started, which was early, on account of the distance. I think it was about half past eight o'clock in the morning (for we did not want to hurry), when uncle shut the cabin door, and saw "that everything was right."

" Didn't you lock it?" asked Melinda.

"Lock what?"

"The door."

"No. Not a man, woman, or child. thinks of locking doors, out in that wild country. Thieves don't seem to be found there, and everybody trusts his neighbor. If a tramper comes along, he is welcome to go in and help himself to whatever he wants. It is not an unusual thing on reaching home, after an absence of an hour or so, to find a poor, tired traveller, asleep in his chair, before the fire. Besides," said Miss Elinor, with a twinkle in her eyes, " there is another excellent reason why the farmers out there never think of locking their doors."

"Oh, I know!" cried Melinda; "I know!"

"Well, why is it?"

"They have no locks!" And the two children began to laugh as if they had never heard anything so funny in all their lives.

"I like that," said Nell, "I want to live in just such an honest country, and where they are good to poor travellers, too. That's the splendid part. I feel as if I wanted to settle there, this very minute. Well, Miss Elinor, don't forget about going to church."

" We got off the track so, I had nearly forgotten what my story is about," said Miss Elinor. "We started very early to go to church. Uncle had no wagon, so driving was out of the question, but he had a beautiful mare called 'Lady Lightfoot,' and an. old side-saddle, which my aunt had owned ever since she was a girl. It was settled that my aunt and I were to take turns riding on Lady Lightfoot, so that neither should get too fatigued. Uncle and cousin Robert were to walk, and Lightfoot's pretty little long-legged colt ambled in the rear. My aunt took the first ride, and I was talking quietly to uncle and Robert, when I saw, bounding along a rail fence at the side of the road, the old fat cat, Wildfire. Her name just suited her, for she was one of the most restless, proud, affectionate, daring cats I had ever seen.

"'Why!' I exclaimed; 'see Wildfire on the fence! she will get lost,—we must send her home.'

"'Lost, eh?' said Cousin Robert; 'I reckon not. If any one can lose Wildfire, I'll give him a treat in the strawberry patch next summer, and no mistake.'

"'But what shall we do?' I asked, 'we don't want her to go to church with us. Make her go home, Robert, do.'

"'Not a bit of it,' said Robert, laughing ; ' did you never see a cat go to meeting before ? Wildfire has attended regularly, every summer, for the last three years. She always follows us. The minister would not know how to preach without her.'

"' But,' said I, ' how it must look! a cat in church! A dog would not be so bad. But a cat! Go home, Wildfire I' and I took off my red shawl and shook it at her, and stamped my foot.

"Robert laughed again, and told me it was no use; that they had often tried to send her back, and sometimes had fastened her up, but that she almost always broke loose, and would come bounding after them, kicking her heels in the air, as though to show her utter defiance of any will but her own. When I shook my shawl at her, she just rose quietly up on her hind legs, and while her green eyes darted flames of anger, she ruffled her fur as cats do when attacked by dogs, indicating as plainly as possible that go she would; and go, indeed, she did. Robert saw I was mortified at the thought of walking to meeting incompany with a cat, and he told me I needn't be ashamed, because the churches out there were vastly different from those I had been; in the habit of attending. 'Women,' said he, 'who can't afford them, come without hats, and men, on hot days, walk up to their seats in their shirt-sleeves, with their house-dogs tagging after them. I counted ten dogs in meeting once. The animals seem to understand the necessity for good behavior, for they are as quiet as their masters; perhaps more so, sometimes. They lie down under the seats of their friends, and go to sleep, only opening their eyes and mouths now and then to snap at some flies, buzzing around their noses. Wildfire does the same. Our bench is near the door, and we could easily put her out if she did not behave as becomes a good, well- reared cat. If people didn't know that she followed us each Sunday, they would never, find it out from her behavior in meeting-time.'

"Seeing there was no help for it, and understanding there was no fear of mortification, I dismissed the thought of Wildfire from my mind. Shortly afterwards, my aunt dismounted to give me my turn. Cousin Robert helped me on, handed me the lines, and gently touching Lady Lightfoot with my twig-whip, I began to trot a little away from the party. The road was magnificent. None, my dear children, in our village can compare with it. The earth was smooth and hard, and but very little broken by wheels. Something in the character of the soil kept it generally in this condition. We had just entered the woods. Overhead the stately branches of old trees met and laced themselves together. It was like one long arbor. Scarcely any sunshine came through on the road, and when it did, the little wavy streaks looked like threads of gold. The morning was mild and cool, almost too cool for the few autumn birds that twittered their cheerful songs far and near. I was enjoying myself very much, when, suddenly, I heard a snorting noise just beside me. I could not imagine what it was. I looked down, and there — what do you think I saw?"

" Wildfire ! " cried the two children.

"Yes, it was Wildfire, on the full trot, snorting at me her delight in the race. I slackened my pace, and the cat and I walked peaceably all the rest of the way to the meeting-house.

"When we arrived there, I was as much surprised as amused at the scene which presented itself. The church was a, nice, neatly-painted building, in the midst of a small clearing."

" Clearing ? " said Nell.

"A clearing is a piece of ground from which the trees have been removed. One or two young oaks, however, were left in this instance, to serve as hitching posts, if any should be required, which was very seldom the case.

"Many of the farmers of the vicinity had arrived when we got there. They had unharnessed their animals and left them to graze around the meeting-house, a young colt accompanying almost every turn-out. At the first glance I thought the spot was full of colts, such a frisk- ing and whisking was going on around the entrance. One impertinent little thing even went so far as to poke its head in the door-way and take a survey of the congregation.

"Some of the families who attended there, came from ten to fifteen miles,— for the country was by no means thickly settled. A large dinner-basket, nicely packed under the "wagon-seat, showed which these families were.

All the people were more or less roughly dressed; none were attired in a way that looked like absolute poverty.

"Cousin Robert aided me to dismount, left Lady Lightfoot and her colt free to graze with the other animals, - and with aunt and uncle we went in the church. The walls were plaster, with no lime or wood-work to improve their appearance. Behind a pine desk at one end of sat the minister. A bunch of white pond-lilies, which some one had just given him, rested beside the Bible lying before him."

" And Wildfire,—where was Wildfire?" asked Nelly, with great eagerness.

"She followed us in, very demurely, and the moment that her favorite, Rob- ert, sat down, she curled herself in a round, soft ball at his feet, and went to sleep. I was soon so interested in the sermon that I forgot all about her. The minister's text seemed to have been suggested by his flowers. It was ' Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet, I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, 0 ye of little faith ?' The sermon was not well delivered, because of the lack of knowledge in the preacher, but it was pure and sound, and full of a true, tender, and loving regard for the welfare of that people in the wilderness. The heartiness with which all present joined in the closing hymn, proved that the effect of the discourse was a good one on the congregation. Just as the last note died away, my attention was suddenly attracted to a little moving object near the door. I looked twice before I could realize that it was a mouse. It peered about with its pretty, bright eyes, as if it were too frightened and bewildered to know what to do next. It was a little thing, and must have strayed unknowingly away from its companions.

" From a slow, stealthy sound, that came all at once from Cousin Robert's feet, I knew that Wildfire had seen it. too, and was preparing an attack. The minister was pronouncing the final benediction, however, and I did not dare to look around, for fear of attracting attention. Scarcely was the closing word uttered, when there was a sudden spring from the cat, and a shrill squeak on mousey's part. Proudly lashing her tail, like a panther, Wildfire laid her victim, in an instant, dead at her young master's feet, (we sat very near the door, I believe I told you,) gazing in his face with such an air of triumph, and such an anxious request for praise in her glittering eyes, that cousin Robert, very thoughtlessly, as it seemed to me, stooped and patted her head."

"Did she eat it?" asked Melinda.

"No," replied the sick girl, "she left it lying there, on the floor, and followed us unconcernedly out, as if there were not such a thing as a mouse in the world. She had. no desire to be left behind."

" Perhaps," said Melinda, " as it was a church-mouse, she thought it too poor to eat. I wish I had such a cat as Wildfire, Miss Elinor."

"And so do I," cried Nelly. "I'll teach my cat, Nancy, to be knowing, just like her. Look at the wreath, Miss Elinor! Hasn't it grown handsome while you were telling about Wildfire? It do'n't seem a bit like a stump fence now, does it?"

"It was, indeed, very beautiful. Miss Elinor raised herself on her elbow and said so, as she looked at it. All that it wanted now, she told them, .was a few scissors clips on the ends of the longest sprays, to make them even with the others.

Melinda leaned it against the wall, and clipped away with great care and precision. Nelly stood gazing at it lovingly and admiringly.

Before the children were quite ready to go home, Miss Milly came in and hung the precious wreath on a couple of nails which she drove for that purpose, over the picture, for which it was intended. It represented a little bare- footed gypsy-girl dancing a wild, fantastic dance, with her brown arms flung gracefully out, and mischief and innocent fun gloaming in her black eyes.

" Of all the engravings I have ever seen," said Miss Elinor, "this one is the best calculated for an evergreen frame. Thank you, dears, for making it. I hope each of you will pass a merry Christmas and a happy New Year."

As the two children went down the stairs together, Nelly said, "Isn't she good, Melindy?" Melinda was not accustomed to behave herself for so great a length of time; her stock of good conduct was now pretty nearly exhausted, so she answered rather sharply,

" Of course she is. I know that as well as you, without bein' told."

Nelly felt something choking her in her throat.

" I will not," she said firmly to herself, "I will not answer back. I'll do as Martin says, and make a friend of Melindy, if I can. She isn't so very bad, after all. Why, I do believe I rather like her." They gathered their books together in the school-room. Melinda opened the door first, to go.

"Well, good-bye," she said, gruffly, looking back at Nell.

"Good-bye," replied Nelly; and then she added, bravely, " Oh, Melindy, we needn't quarrel any more, need we ? I don't wish to, do you ? Let us be friends; come, shake hands."

Melinda turned very red, indeed. " I am not going to be forced to make friends with any one," she said, in a most forbidding voice.

She gave the school-door a terrific bang as she spoke, and darted off homeward.

But in that last rough action the final trace of the ill-will she bore Nelly disappeared forever.

The next morning, as the family were sitting at breakfast, there came a knock at the door. Comfort, hastily setting her dress to rights, went to answer it. There stood Melinda, her school-books in one hand, and in the other, two of the biggest and roundest and reddest apples she had been able to find in all her father's bins.

"Give them to Nelly, if you please," she said.

" And I declar'," added Comfort, when she came in and told the family, " the minit she spoke that ar' she ran off frightened like, and in a mos' drefful hurry."

From that day Melinda and Nelly were friends.


Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her 19th-century Girls' Series website; please do not use on other sites without permission

SPRING came again, and deepened slowly towards the summer. Leaves budded on the trees, herbs sprouted from the warm. earth, and birds sang in all the hedges.

"I am so glad!" said Nelly, "for I love the spring sunshine, and all the pleasant things that come with it."

When the weather grew mild, Nelly was as good as her word about raising chickens for the benefit of Comfort's nephew, the little slave. The eggs of the favorite hen were carefully put aside to accumulate, and as soon as she had done laying, and went about the barnyard clucking, with her feathers ruffled and her wings drooping, Nelly knew, with joy, that it was time to set her. So she filled the same nest in which the eggs had been laid, with clean, fresh straw, and placed them in it, ready for the bantam when Martin could catch her to put her on. They found that the hen needed no coaxing, but settled herself at once in the well-filled nest, giving at the same time an occasional cluck of high satisfaction. In three weeks from that time she came off with eleven chicks,- all safe and well. When she was put in her coop, under the big apple-tree by the fence, Nelly fed her with moistened Indian meal, every day. She thought it a pretty sight, when biddy minced up the food for her babies, and taught them how to drink out of the flower-pot saucer of water that stood within her reach.

Nelly seemed never to get tired of looking at her little snow-white pets. She felt that they were her own, and therefore she took a double interest in them.

When she was home from school, and lessons were studied for the next morning, she would go out to the apple-tree, and sit on the clean grass an hour or two, to watch every movement of the brood, and the solicitude of the caged mother when her offspring wandered too far away. One day in particular, as she sat there, the child's thoughts were busy with the future, her imagination pictured the time when full-grown, and more beautiful than any others, as she thought they were sure to become, her eleven chickens were to be sent to market.

" I hope," she said half aloud ; " I hope they will bring a good price, for Comfort's sake; I should not like to offer her anything less than five dollars. That is very little, I think, compared to all the trouble I have had night and morning to feed and take care of them."

She stopped a moment, and heaved a deep sigh, as she saw the little yellow dots flit back and forth through the long grass, some of them running now and then to nestle lovingly under the wings of the mother.

"Oh dear!" she went on; "I do believe I am getting to love my hen and chickens too much to part with them; every day I think more and more of them, and all the while they grow prettier and sweeter and tamer. I wish I could keep them and have the money too! Dear little chickies! Oh, Comfort, Comfort!"

She pronounced the last two words so ruefully, that her mother, who was passing along the garden-path, near the apple-tree, called out,-

"Well, Nelly dear, what is the matter with your precious Comfort, eh ? Has she met any great misfortune ? "

" No, ma'am," said Nelly; " I was only talking to myself about how hard it would be to sell the little chickens, even for dear Comfort's sake, when I love them so."

Mrs. Brooks drew near.

"Well, my child, that is a dilemma I have not thought of before. Perhaps, who knows, something will turn up to keep your darlings nearer home. When autumn comes, if I feel desperately in want of bantams, I may purchase your brood myself, - but I will not promise about it. In the meantime, don't get to loving them too much; and remember, that if you told Comfort you would give her the money, you must keep your word."

" Yes," said Nell, with another sigh; " there is just my trouble; I want to be honorable to Comfort, and kind to my- self too."

Mrs. Brooks passed on. She went into a little vegetable garden beyond, found what she wanted, and came back.

She paused again, and with the little girl, looked at the chickens.

"Nelly," she said, "it has just struck me that you have been a great deal in the kitchen with Comfort, lately, of evenings. Now, though I respect and love Comfort for many things, I want you to stay more with your father, and Martin, and myself, in the sitting-room."

"What?" Nelly cried, in innocent wonder ; " isn't Comfort good any longer ? "

Mrs. Brooks smiled.

" Yes, dear, Comfort's as good as ever. She tries to do her duty, and is a faithful old creature. She has many excellent qualities, but she is not educated nor refined, as I hope one day you will be. You are too young to be exposed to her influence constantly, proper as it may be in most respects. I want you to fill a different rank in life from Comfort's, Nelly."

Tears were in Nelly's eyes as she answered gravely,

" Yes, ma'am"

" Comfort is a servant, and you are my little daughter. I want you to be diligent, and cultivate a love of books. If you grow up in ignorance, you can never be esteemed a lady, even if you were as rich as an empress. I will give you the credit to say that you have improved very much since you have been with me, both in your conduct and in the language you use."

" Comfort told me I mustn't say 'br'iling fish,' as she did, because you did not! That was kind of her, wasn't it ? "

Mrs. Brooks felt her eyes moisten at this unexpected remark, more, perhaps, at the tone than at the words themselves. She saw that Nelly was deeply attached to Comfort, and she felt almost that she was wrong in seeking to withdraw the child from the grotesque attraction she had lately seemed to feel for her society. But duty was duty, and she was firm.

She stooped and imprinted a light kiss on Nelly's cheek.

" Yes," she said, " Comfort is very kind to you. But I do not wish you to spend more time with her when you are out of school than you do with the rest of the family. Remember not to hurt her feelings by repeating to her this conversation."

"Yes, ma'am," said Nelly; and then she added, " Comfort was going to show me how to write poetry, to-night, when she got through with her work. Couldn't I go in the kitchen for this one evening?"

" Comfort - teach - poetry ? " echoed Mrs. Brooks, with some dismay and amusement.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Well,-yes,-you may stay in the kitchen, if you like, for this once. Certainly, I have no objection to your learning to write poetry," and she walked away, laughing quietly.

Surely enough, when night fell, and Comfort, radiant in a showy, new, red cotton turban, sat down to her knitting, -her day's work over, everything in its place, and the kitchen-floor white with extreme cleanliness,-Nell came skipping into the room, pencil and paper in hand.

"You see," she said, as she arranged her writing materials on the table, and drew the solitary, tallow candle towards her; "you see, Comfort, school breaks up next week, and the spring vacation begins. It lasts a month, only think of it! Will not I have good times, eh? Johnny Bixby,-you know Johnny Bixby, Comfort ? well, he goes to his home in the city as soon as vacation commences, and as we may not see him. again, he wants each of the little girls to write him some poetry so that he can remember us by it; and that's the way I come to want to learn how."

"Oh," said Comfort, "I understand now. Johnny boards with those ar Harrowses, eh ? "

"Yes," said Nell; "and he's such a very quiet boy, you've no idea, Comfort"

"He's the fust quiet boy ever I heerd on, then," said Comfort. "Weel, what do you want to say to Johnny in your poetry? That's the first and important p'int; don't begin to write till you finds what you are a goin' to say."

" Oh, I want to tell him good-bye, and all that sort of thing, Comfort, and how I hope we will meet again. I've got the first line all written, that's some help isn't it ? Melindy's and my first lines are just alike, 'cause we made it up between us."

" How does it go?" asked Comfort, puffing at her pipe.

"This way," said Nelly, taking up her paper and reading:

" Our days of youth will soon be o'er."

"Well," said Comfort, after a moment's reflection, "I think that's very good. Now you must find something to rhyme with that ar word ' o'er.' "

Nelly bent over her papers, and seemed to be considering very hard indeed. Once she put forth her hand as if she were going to write, but drew it back again. Evidently she found writing poetry very difficult work. Comfort was looking at her, too, and that made her nervous, and even the solemn stare of the cat, Nancy, from the hearth, where she sat purring, added to her embarrassment.

" Oh, Comfort," she said, at last, with a deep sigh; " I can't! I wonder if Johnny Bixby would take as much trouble as this for me. Do tell me what rhymes with ' o'er,' Comfort ! "

"'O'er,' 'o'er,'" repeated Comfort, slowly; "why, tore, gnaw, boar, roar, and such like. Boar is very good."

"But I don't want 'roar' in poetry, Comfort," said Nelly, considerably ruffled; "I don't see how you can bring 'roar' in. I wonder if 'more' would not do."

She took up her pencil, and in a little while, with beaming eyes, read to her listener these lines:

" Our days of youth will soon be o'er,
In Harrows' school we'll meet no more."

"That's pretty fair, isn't it. Comfort?"

"'Pears like," was the answer that came from a cloud of smoke on the other side of the room. "I'm sorry the 'roar' couldn't come in, though. Don't disremember to say something nice about his writin' to tell yer if he gits safe home and so, and so."

"No," said Nell; "I'll not"-"forget" she meant to have added, but just then came a heavy knock on the kitchen-door that made both of them start.

Comfort opened it, and there stood a boy, nearly a man, in the dress of. a sailor. His hair was long and shaggy, his face was brown, and over his shoulder swung a small bundle on a stick.

He was not, however, as rough as he looked, for he took off his hat and said in a pleasant voice,

"Can you tell me where a widow by the name of Harrow lives in this neighborhood? I was directed this way, I think."

"Over yonder is the house," said Comfort, pointing out into the night. "And , the next time ' yer come, be keerful not to thump so hard. We are not used to it in this here part of the country."

Nelly heard the young man laugh as he walked down the path from the house and something in the sound brought Miss Milly to her mind. The more she thought of it, the more certain she became that the young man's voice was like her teacher's. She sat still a little while, thinking, and idly scratching her pencil back and forth. At length she said, quite forgetful of her writing,

" Comfort, didn't Mrs. Harrow's son run away to sea, ever so long ago ? "

This question, simple as it was, seemed to fill Comfort with sudden knowledge. She clapped her hands together joyfully.

" My stars I ef that don't beat all! I do b'lieve Sidney Harrow is come back again! "

She went to the door to look after him, hut his figure had long since vanished down the path. The gloom of night reigned, undisturbed, without. There was no sailor-boy to be seen.

" My stars! " said Comfort, again and again; " ef that was only Miss Milly's brother come back to help keer for the family, instead of runnin' off like a bad ongrateful feller, as he was, I'll be glad for one."

"And I'll be glad too," cried Nelly; "and then dear Miss Elinor need not teach, but can read books all day, if she likes, and be happy. Oh, kitty, kitty ! will not that be nice ? " and in the delight of her heart, the little girl caught up the cat from the hearth, and began to caress her in a joyful manner, that the sober puss must have considered rather indecorous, for she sat still in her lap, looking as grave as a judge, and never winked or purred once at her young mistress.

Here the clock struck nine.

"Dear, dear!" said Nelly; "and I haven't finished my poetry yet! and very soon I must go to bed." Back she went with renewed vigor. " What were you saying. Comfort, when that young man knocked ? Oh, I know,- to tell Johnny to write to me; I remember now. Don't you think it will seem strange to Johnny to be with his mother all the time, instead of sending her letters from school? eh, Comfort?"

But the old woman was lost in her thoughts and her smoking, and did not reply. Nelly bent over her paper, read, and re-read the two lines already accomplished, and after musing in some perplexity what should come next, asked,

" Comfort, what rhymes with B ? "

"Stingin' bee, Nell?"

"No, the letter B."

" Oh, that's it, is it ? Well, let me think. I haven't made poetry this ever so long. There's 'ragin' sea,'-how's that?" said Comfort, beginning to show symptoms of getting deeply interested. " Now take to 'flectin' on that ar, Nell."

Nell did reflect some time, but to no purpose. Some way she could not fit in Comfort's " ragin' sea." It was no use, it would not go! She wrote and erased, and erased and wrote, for a full quarter of an hour. After much anxious labor, she produced finally this verse, and bidding Comfort listen, read it aloud, in a very happy, triumphant way. Then she copied it neatly on a piece of paper, in a large, uneven, childish handwriting, which she had only lately acquired. It was now ready to be presented on the morrow.


Our days of youth will soon be o'er,
In Harrow's school we'll meet no more;
You'll write no more to Mrs. B.,
Oh then, dear Johnny, write to me!

" And now," said Nelly, as she folded up the precious paper, after having duly received Comfort's congratulations and praise,-"and now I'm going straight to tell mother about Sidney Harrow."

On to chapter 6

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