Bessie Hartwell

by the American Sunday-School Union

Children who are called obedient children are often not so prompt in their obedience as they should be. Instead of doing directly as they are bidden, they stop to ask "Why?" and seem to wish some other reason for compliance with a command than the word of a parent. It is often proper to tell children why they should do or should not do certain things; but children should be careful to remember that they must obey, whether they know the reason of the requirement or not.

Bessie Hartwell is about eleven years old. She is generally a good child, but, like all others whom I have known, she has some faults. Although she always intends to obey, she does not always obey instantly. I will tell you a sad accident which befell her in consequence of this tardiness, and you will see it would have been much better for her if she had learned to be prompt.

She was travelling with an aunt on a steamboat. She was very happy, for she was going to visit her grandfather and grandmother, and she knew she should enjoy herself on the fine farm, scampering about over the fields, raking the new-mown hay, and riding on the top of the load.

Bessie always liked to go to the country. Her home was in the city, where she had only a small yard, not much larger than her grandmother's capacious kitchen, to play in, and that was surrounded by a high, close fence, so that she could see only the tiny patch of grass beneath and the beautiful blue sky above.

Children in the country do not know how to prize their freedom. If they could be penned up in the city for a few months, as Bessie was for the greater part of the year, they would learn to appreciate it, and they would look upon every tree and every blade of grass as a friend. The chirping of the crickets, the singing of the frogs, and the warbling of the birds would be thrice welcome music to them. No wonder Bessie was so happy when she thought of the wide lawn studded with trees, the orchard rich in apples and pears, the hills down which she and her sisters could run, and up whose steep sides they must scramble when the horn sounds for dinner. The country is rich in its treasures of happiness, and they are bestowed freely and profusely upon every one "who in the love of nature holds communion with her visible forms."

It was in the gray twilight of the morning that the steamboat arrived at the wharf. When they went home, Bessie was awakened, and was soon ready, with her travelling-bag on her arm, to leave the boat. Her aunt took her by the hand, to lead her across the gangway. They had but just stepped upon it, when she started forward to reach her uncle, who, with an infant in his arms, had just preceded her. Her aunt called to her to stop. She paid no attention, but passed rapidly on. A car, laden with baggage, was drawn across the gangway. It frightened her. She stepped quickly aside, and fell into the water.

Oh! the agony of that moment! Her uncle and aunt could not aid her. He besought the people near him to take the infant from his arms, that he might leap into the water to attempt the rescue of the child; but they would not do it. They held him back, that he might not expose himself to the danger of immediate death; for he could not swim, and of course he could not render the assistance which was needed. He and her aunt were both obliged to stand and look on, in unutterable anguish, while strangers attempted to save her.

Bessie fell in such a way that she did not sink under the water. Her clothes spread out, and buoyed her up like a life-preserver. A man let himself down as soon as possible; but the rope was not long enough for him to reach Bessie. He could only touch her with his foot. She took hold of it, and he slowly raised her till he grasped her bonnet. In this way they were both pulled up, and Bessie once more stood by the side of her aunt. How freely they all breathed once more, when the terrible suspense was ended, and she was safe!

Bessie seemed scarcely aware of the danger she had been in. She had been perfectly calm, and did not lose her presence of mind; and it was owing to this, probably, that she was so easily rescued. She tried to save her travelling-bag, but, as she told her aunt, she could not hold it any longer than she did.

It was wonderful that Bessie was not drowned. If she had not been supported by her clothes, she would have sunk beneath the water, and when she arose would very probably have come up under the boat, so that it would have been impossible to save her.

If Bessie had been in the habit of obeying so soon as she was spoken to, she would not have met with this fearful accident, and her uncle and aunt would have been spared the mental suffering they endured. I should think she never again would forget to obey at the first word from those who have the care of her.

I hope, dear children, you will profit as much by Bessie's accident as I trust she will; and that you will aim not only to be obedient, but promptly obedient. You may not suffer the same mishap that she did, even if you allow yourself to form the same habit; but it may lead you into as great danger, and even greater, for it may peril the purity and peace of your soul, and that is of far more consequence than the safety of your body.