The Picture Cleaners

by Unknown

'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, gravely.

'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.'

'What nonsense!'

'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 pictures."

 "Soon the two little mischief-makers were busy at work on the pictures."

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.