The Picture Cleaners
'Oh, dear! I do wish Mother and Father were back again. It is horrid to
be without them,' exclaimed Sydney.
'Just horrid!' echoed Ella.
'They will be so pleased with you when they do come,' observed Millie,
their elder sister, sarcastically.
'Oh!' said Syd, cheerfully, 'they know we can't be like dolls in a
shop-window. And we have really been good these days, haven't we, Ella?'
'Rather!' agreed she, emphatically.
'You were pulling each other's hair half an hour ago,' went on Millie,
and, longing to finish her story in peace, she rose, frowning, and left
the room, saying, 'The nicest game to play at would be that of being
quiet, good children, instead of troublesome little monkeys. I wonder
you never try it.'
The two, left alone, looked at each other, and burst into a merry laugh.
'What a funny game!' exclaimed Sydney. 'Shall we try it?'
'I don't know how to,' answered Ella gravely.
It did present some difficulty, almost as much, indeed, as being really
good, and the children silently reflected for some moments.
'We must sit perfectly still with folded hands, looking as stiff as
pokers,' said Syd at last.
'But sometimes good children can do nice things,' observed Ella,
'I wonder what?' said Syd, doubtfully.
'Well!—Well! sometimes, for instance, they give pleasant surprises.'
'Ella, you're a brick!' exclaimed her brother admiringly. 'That's a
splendid idea! Now let's think what surprise we can prepare for Father
and Mother when they arrive this evening.'
'Let's tidy the nursery,' proposed Ella.
'Too great a surprise,' Millie would have observed, had she been there
to hear. 'Too stupid,' exclaimed Sydney instead. 'Anybody can do that.'
'Let's learn a bit of poetry to recite when they come.'
'Let's pretend to be other people's children, and when Father and Mother
are sorry, let's tell them it's not true.' This was a great stretch of
imagination for Ella, but Syd shook his head. 'They would never believe
it,' said he. Then there was silence for a moment, and light came.
'I've got it! I've got it!' shouted Syd, starting up excitedly. 'Let's
brighten up those old pictures in the gallery for them. We have time to
paint at least two of them before dark. Dingy old things! One of them is
older than our great-great-great-grandmother, and she's never been
touched, I believe. It's a shame to neglect old people like that. Hurry
up, Ella. Get out the paints; the oil ones.'
"Soon the two little mischief-makers were busy at work on
The girl eagerly obeyed, and soon the two little mischief-makers were
busy at work on the old family pictures. They could not understand the
value or the beauty of the mellow browns and dark colours of the
portraits, and they only acted with the intention of giving their
parents a pleasant surprise. But they forgot that it is possible to do
much harm through heedlessness and ignorant haste as well as wilfully.
But how happy they were! 'The old lady, now she's got some pink in her
checks, and wears such a lovely sky-blue gown, is almost as nice as
mother when she's going to a party,' said Ella, admiringly, 'but I am
not pleased with the gentleman yet. Can't we make him smarter, Syd?'
'Let's cut a button-hole in the picture, and stick a nice carnation in
his coat. Be quick, Ella.'
There could be no doubt about the surprise. Never were parents more
taken aback than Ella's and Syd's, when they saw the wonderful
transformation made in their ancestors. Mother gasped some inarticulate
words, but Father simply remained speechless and aghast, for several of
the valuable old pictures were badly damaged, and the children's
heedless behaviour meant a serious loss to him.
'Surprises are not pleasant things at all,' sobbed Ella, shortly
afterwards, in bed.
'That beastly game!' growled Syd, hiding his face in the pillow, ashamed
of the tears he could not restrain. 'I knew nothing nice could come of
it. It's just like Millie to let us get into a scrape.'
Perhaps he was unjust, but Millie was not particularly happy either. It
was tiresome to have to look after wild children, and much more amusing
to read; but now the story-book was locked away, and Mother did not seem
to think that Millie had even played at being good. So that this
'pleasant surprise' had only one good result, and that was not the one
which was expected. All three children learnt that it was much better to
be good than simply to play at it.