Little Footmarks in the Snow

by Grace Greenwood

It was at a rectory, in the South of England, that two young children, a boy and a girl, were looking out of a nursery window, on Christmas morning,—the morning of the first snow. The girl, who was about seven years old, was a beautiful, simple-hearted, amiable child, the daughter of English parents, residing in India. Some months previous to this winter morning she had been sent to England, on account of her delicate health, and confided to the care of her mother's sister, Mrs. Graham, the Rector's wife. Her name was Margaret Pelham; but she was called Meggie and Meg, Peggy and Peg, and various other odd nicknames by her English cousins.

Little Margaret's chief playmate at the Rectory was her cousin Archie, a boy only two years older than herself, but feeling ever so much bigger and wiser; for he was an only son, a clever and rather conceited young gentleman. He was good-natured, and loved his cousin; but he loved better to tease and hoax her. Having lived all her little life in India, Meggie was exceedingly ignorant of customs and things in her new home, and was continually making laughable mistakes, and asking the most absurd questions. This "greenness," as he called it, gave Archie immense delight, and he was never tired of mystifying and hoaxing the sweet-tempered little girl, who never resented his quizzings and practical jokes. Of course it never occurred to the silly boy that he was just as ignorant about India as Meggie was about England.

This morning, the children being left for a time alone in the nursery, he was having a rare time at his favorite amusement. Meggie had never before seen snow, and was full of innocent wonder and admiration. "O Cousin Archie!" she said, "the pretty white clouds we saw yesterday all fell down in the night! Did you hear the noise?"

"Clouds!" cried Archie, with a snort of contemptuous laughter; "why, you poor little Hindoo, that's snow, and it came down so slow and soft that nobody heard it."

"O, is that snow?" said Meggie, laughing good-humoredly at her own ignorance. "How beautiful it is! so soft and white. It looks just like my little dovey's feathers. I think, Archie, the angels' beds must be made out of snow, aren't they?"

"O yes, of course, it would be so warm and comfortable, you know."

"Yes, it looks nice and warm. I think God must send it down to keep things from dying of cold. He puts the grass and flowers to bed so, don't He?" said simple and wise little Meggie.

Archie could not stand this. He shouted and clapped his hands, and even rolled on the carpet in an ecstasy of boyish fun, crying out, "O, how jolly green! how jolly green!"

"What?" said Meggie, "I don't see anything green. All is white, as far as I can see. The trees and bushes look as though they had night-gowns and night-caps on. How pretty the snow is, how clean and soft! I should like to run about in it, wouldn't you, Archie?"

"O yes, it's prime fun," replied the mischievous boy, "but it's no rarity to me. I 'm used to it, you know. But you would delight in it, especially with bare feet. That way it is jolly, better than wading in a brook. Suppose you try it, Peg?"

It required little urging to persuade the simple child to take off her shoes and stockings and run down with her cousin to the great hall door. She threw on her little cloak, for she said to herself, "The wind may blow cold, for all the warm snow on the ground."

The children met no one on their way. Archie, with some difficulty, opened the door, then said, "Now, Peg, run quick, away out into the pretty snow, and see how nice it feels, just like down."

Meggie did as she was bid, and Archie slammed the door after her, and bolted it, laughing uproariously. You may be sure the poor little girl soon found how cruelly she had been hoaxed, and ran back again. She knocked at the door, crying, "O Cousin Archie, do let me in! The snow isn't nice at all; it's so cold it freezes my feet. Do, do let me in."

But Archie only laughed and danced like a young savage for a minute longer, then seemed to be trying to open the door, and called out in some trouble that he could not move the bolt. Little Meggie sat down on the door-step and waited patiently till she was almost frozen. At last, after getting nearly exhausted in tugging at the heavy bolt, Archie succeeded in shoving it back. He found his little cousin so benumbed that he was obliged to carry her in his arms all the way to the nursery. Then he sat her down by the fire, chafed her hands and feet, and put on her stockings and shoes, saying many times, "I am sorry, Meggie, dear; I am so sorry!"

"O, never mind, it was only a joke," said Meggie, and tried to smile, though she suffered a great deal more than Archie knew of.

But Meggie's troubles were only begun. When they went down to breakfast, Mrs. Graham, who had seen from the parlor window the tracks of little bare feet in the snow, questioned the children about them. Meggie owned up at once that she had run out barefoot in the snow, because it looked so soft and nice, but said not a word about Archie's having prompted her to the foolish act; and I really blush to say that Archie himself was not frank and brave enough to acknowledge his fault. The fact is, he was afraid of his father, who was a stern and godly man, and had small mercy for the sins of little folks. Both the Rector and his wife reproved Meggie for her thoughtlessness, and the gentle little girl shed some silent tears; but, after all, I think Archie, who sat trying to gulp down his breakfast with a bold face, suffered the most. All day long he was unusually kind to his cousin, and she soon got over her sadness, and was as merry and loving as ever.

The next morning, when the nursery-maid came to awake Archie, she told him that his cousin had been taken very ill in the night,—so ill that they had had to send for the doctor, who feared that she might never get well. She had taken a violent cold, some way, he said.

Archie hurried on his clothes, and ran down to the nursery. He found his mother sitting by Meggie's little bed, looking very sad and anxious. He stole up to his cousin, and taking her little hand, hot with fever, bent down and kissed it, with a burst of bitter tears, sobbing out, "O Meggie, forgive me, do, do forgive me!"

"Forgive you for what, Archie?" asked Mrs. Graham.

"For being cruel and cowardly, mamma. It was I who sent Meggie out into the snow, bare-foot, and then was afraid to take my share of the blame. I was so miserable all day. I came near owning it when you kissed me good night, but papa looked so solemn, I could n't. I did n't say my prayers; I felt too mean to pray."

"God forgive you, my son!" said Mrs. Graham, somewhat sternly; but little Meggie murmured, in a sweet, faint voice, "O Cousin Archie, why did you tell? Maybe I would have died, and nobody but us would ever have known anything about it."

Meggie did not die, however. She got well after a long illness,—quite well. But this was the last of Archie's hoaxing.