Conscience and the China Figures

by Unknown

NLY that morning, Mother had said she was proud of her boy, and Hugh had felt he deserved her praise. He was very rarely naughty, and he loved to see his mother's face light up with joy, when she heard how pleased his teacher was with him. But, somehow, since the morning, all had changed. Mother had gone to town, and Hugh was wandering about the garden, looking miserable. 'I didn't mean to break it,' he kept muttering. 'Mother was so fond of that vase, with all those pretty china figures round it. It was stupid of that tall one to break its head in the fall. It is simply because it doesn't feel anything. If it could feel as I do, it would have taken more care—- spiteful thing!'

Hugh was not really so silly as you may imagine from this speech, and I am sure he felt half inclined to laugh at himself even then; but you see, he knew that he did not deserve his mother's praise any longer. Not that she ever gave too much importance to the fact of his having broken something, though she disliked carelessness and reproved him for it; and she certainly would be vexed at his having damaged the dainty porcelain vase. But you see there was something more. Hugh was not allowed to go into the library without special permission, and during mother's absence he had gone, just to look at a book of butterflies which Father had shown him one day. In pulling the book down, he had let another book fall on to the precious vase. Now the headless china shepherd was turned round so as to be on the shady side of the vase, and the head was in Hugh's pocket. And oh! how heavy it seemed, and what horrid lumps Hugh felt in his throat, and what a queer feeling at his heart! His conscience, you see, was very tender, and though he had been naughty, he was not really a naughty boy.

Well! a strange thing happened then. Father came home and went straight to the library. A few minutes later Hugh heard his father calling, 'Hugh! Hugh! Are you there? Please come here!'

Hugh went at once, pale and trembling, as he knew punishment inflicted by Father would probably be severe. 'My boy,' said Mr. Grey, as he opened the door, 'creep under that bookcase and see whether you can find the head of that china figure I have broken. I knocked against the vase, not knowing that its place had been changed. I did not hear the head fall, but it must have rolled away. If we find it at once, we will mend the figure, for Mother will be sorry to see it damaged. Now, don't look so dazed, boy. Hurry up and find the head.'

What an opportunity for Hugh to own up! But he did not take it.

Instead of undeceiving Father, 'Mother's brave boy,' of whom she was so proud, crawled under the bookcase, and in a moment the china head was in his father's hand. 'That's right,' said Mr. Grey, gladly. 'It's not broken badly. I will mend it nicely, and then ask Mother if she can see the place where it has been mended.'

Still Hugh said never a word.

At last, Hugh had fallen asleep. But his conscience was not asleep. Always wakeful, it was without doubt she who called into her service the figures on the vase, giving them, for the moment, life. There they were, stepping down from the vase and crowding round Hugh's bed, not with their usual smiles, but with frowns and threatening gestures.

'Shall I remain a headless trunk?' asked the damaged youth, indignantly; and Hugh was so terrified he did not even find it strange that the figure should talk without a tongue, and that though his father had mended it, it still had no head. 'He keeps mine in his pocket. Cut off his and give it me.'

'Why not?' asked the other figures, growing bigger and bigger as they drew nearer Hugh.

'Or turn him into a china shepherd and put him into my place,' continued the figure.

'Why not?' asked again the other figures. But one, a girl crowned with flowers, who on the vase had looked so sweet, began to pout, and exclaimed, 'No, please, I don't want a little coward near me. A boy who wants his mother's smiles and praise and love without deserving them at all! No, indeed.'

Hugh, who, just before, had been horrified at the idea of being turned into a china figure, was now distressed at not being thought fit even for that!

'Of course,' continued the girl, sarcastically, 'it was his father who knocked the head off. Of course, nobody will ever suspect that it was Hugh. Why should he tell? Why should he be punished? He is his mother's dear, brave, good boy. But don't let him come near us, though he is so fine outside.'

'Mother's dear, good, brave, darling boy!' giggled all the figures. 'Mother's loyal, courageous son!' And Hugh's shame knew no bounds.

'Don't, please,' he begged, humbly, in vain trying to restrain a sob. 'I don't mind being punished now. I will tell Mother I am not good. Please—please go away!'

'Yes! yes! we will go away,' answered they, still giggling. 'Why should we trouble about you? What does it matter, after all, if you grow up a careless, disobedient, untruthful boy? It's really not worth while troubling to punish you.'

'Of course,' went on the girl. 'Find your head, shepherd lad, and let's go.'

'Listen!' said one of the stately dames. 'Let's give a bit of good advice to his mother. Let us ask her to allow the boy to do as he likes. Why should she think so much of correcting his faults? He doesn't care to let her see him as he really is.'

'A capital idea!' exclaimed all the others.

'It's not!' exclaimed Hugh, jumping up in his bed. 'You shan't go! You shan't go! And my mother won't listen to you. I will throw my pillow at you and break you all, if you say that again. My mother shall punish me when I'm naughty.'

He did throw his pillow, and the figures vanished. In an instant he was wide awake, and wondering where the figures had gone: and then he knew that it was all a dream, and that his Conscience had been using the figures for her purpose. They had done her work well. The boy slipped quietly into Mother's room, and I think you can guess what happened there. I know that Mother is still proud of her little boy, because she still sees him just as he is.