FictionForest

Chapter 11 – Sunday

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

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.

 

Leave a Reply