Stitching and Teaching by E. G. C.

WILL had had the croup. Then the measles took possession of him, and lastly, the whooping-cough, finding him well swept and garnished, entered in, and shook and throttled him in a manner quite deplorable.

His convalescence, however, was relieved of its monotony by a headlong fall from a step ladder in the library, whereby he sprained his wrist, to say nothing of the mischief that he made, in his descent, amid the ink, books, and papers.

Treading on a pin in the sewing-room was another diversion in his favor, giving him, for a while, a daily looking forward to bandages and poultices, and an opportunity to weigh the advantages of obedience in case he should ever again wish, and be forbidden, to jump out of bed and run barefoot amid the dressmaker’s shreds in search of his top.

Now, all this is no uncommon experience for a small boy. I simply mention it by way of apology for introducing Will in an unamiable mood. One regrets to have one’s friends make an unfavorable first impression.

This was Will’s first morning at school since his recovery. He found that the boys had gone on in their Latin, had gone on in their French, leaving him far behind; they had got into decimals, and he way back pages; they had a new writing-master, and wrote with their faces turned a new way, to the great disgust of Will. They had had a botany excursion to Blue Hills, which he had lost. He was down at the foot of the class, and at the end of the morning he had made up his desperate mind to remain there forever. It was no use for a fellow to try to put through such a pile of back lessons.

He came stamping up stairs, kicked at the nursery door, slung in his bag of books, and stood on the threshold, pouting and glaring angrily at his sister Emily.

Emily sat in the window opposite, the sunlight sifting through the flickering ivy leaves on to her golden hair and fair sweet face. She was singing over her sewing as Will made his noisy entrance. She looked up at the scowling boy in the doorway, her pale cheeks flushing with surprise and then with pity.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, gently.

“Matter?” roared Will; “I guess you’d ask, if you knew how old ‘Crit’ had been cramming the fellows, and me nowhere. I’ll—run away to sea, or somewheres. I’m not going to stand it.”

Will bounced his hand down so hard on a tea-poy, two little terra cotta shepherdesses bounded up from it, knocked their heads together, and fell clattering to the floor.

“O, Will,” cried Emily, rising up with a scared face, and dropping her pretty work-basket, “don’t talk so. You are tired now, and everything troubles you, because you have been sick so long. By and by, when you are a little stronger, you will feel differently. Don’t think about the back lessons. Just try to be glad you are well enough to go to school again, and be with the boys.”

“O, don’t preach!” persisted Will, gruffly.

With the cloud still hanging over his handsome face, he shook himself away from the caressing hand which was laid upon his shoulder, as if to hold him back from running away to the great, pitiless sea.

“Asy! asy, now!”

This was Kathleen, the nurse, calling out in cautioning tones to Will, who had jerked against the tray she was carrying  causing the two saucers of strawberries to click together sharply, and the buttered rolls to slip over the edge of the plate.

“You’re tired with the school, poor craythur, an’ no wonder at that same. Larnin’s murtherin’, bad luck to it! I tried it mysel oncet, a moonth or so, avenin’s. It’s myself was watchin’ for ye, Master Will, and when ye came round the corner I had this bit sup arl ready for ye. ‘The crame—quick—Bridget!’ says I, and then I ran away up the two flights with it; and barrin’ the joggle you give it, it’s in foine, tip-top orther an’ priservation arl tegither, bless your little sowl!”

Kathleen set out the crisp little rolls and the great crimson berries in the most tempting way she could devise, and went off, bobbing her head with satisfaction to see the children place themselves at table, and partake of her well-timed lunch.

Will, as an atonement for the ungentle way in which he had come in upon his sister after school, offered her the nicest plate of berries, and insisted that she should take the crispiest roll. He suddenly remembered that Emily, too, had had whooping-cough and measles at the same time, and quite as badly as himself. But, then, she had not sprained her wrist or lamed her foot; so it was no wonder her temper had not suffered. Besides, it was expected of girls not to make a fuss.

In view of these last circumstances, he suppressed the apology he was about to make for his late unpleasant remarks.

“It never will do to give up too much to girls,” he reasoned, draining the last drop of cream from the pitcher.

“Your grandmamma is coming over from Brookline this afternoon in the carriage, to take the two of you home with her to spind the night.”

This was Kathleen back again at the nursery door, and wiping her face with her apron as she unburdened herself of this forgotten bit of news.

“You won’t run away to sea now,” besought Emily, with imploring eyes.

“Maybe I mightn’t,” shouted Will, tossing up his cap in glee at this unexpected prospect of fun.

It was now only the middle of the long summer day. Such a tiresome journey as the sun had to go before it rolled quite away in the west! Will longed to give it a push, and to hurry up the clock to strike five, the hour when they should be on their way to beautiful Brookline.

Impatient little Will! Emily kindly helped him to get through with the lagging time. At her suggestion, he played ball a while on the lawn, while from time to time she nodded encouragingly to him through the open window. By and by the ball bounded up into a spout, cuddling down among some soft old maple leaves, where Will could not see it. Thereupon Will came into the house in a great pet, storming about till he was persuaded to sit on the floor and paste pictures in his scrap-book.

This quiet occupation did not amuse him long. His fingers, his chin, his cheeks, his curls even soon became stiff with mucilage. Mucilage on his trouser knees, mucilage on his jacket elbows—in fact, mucilage everywhere on and around him.

Emily, after having, with great painstaking, washed her brother and all the surrounding furniture, proposed that he should study a Latin lesson. The book soon went down with a bang. “Because,” as Will sulkily explained to his sighing sister, “it made his head buzz.”

Emily gently suggested a French lesson as a corrective of this unpleasant “buzz.” The remedy soon proved to be a failure. The French book came down more noisily than the Latin book.

Emily laid aside her drawing in despair. It was such a relief to hear Kathleen’s heavy step in the entry, and to remember  it was time now for Will to be dressed for dinner!

Poor Kathleen had a thankless task before her. Master Will required a great deal of preparation. His curls were gummed and tangled; his fingers were inky, and suspiciously pitchy.

“You’ve been climbin’ unknownst up that pine tree again, an’ you a told not to?” questioned Kathleen, examining the fingers keenly.

“Hush up, and go ahead!” was Will’s rude answer.

“How can you speak so?” reproved Emily, turning round upon Will, while she tied back her hair with a band of blue ribbon.

“Fie, fie, sir!” cried displeased Kathleen, “going ahead” with great energy, her mouth pursed up in disapproval of Master Will’s manners, while she washed, and combed, and curled, and took off and put on his apparel.

“Where’s your stockings, Master Will,—the blue stripes?”

“Dunno.”

Will sat in a low chair, his stubby bare feet stuck out before him, and his two hands actively employed as fly-catchers. Suddenly he remembered having amused himself the day before in oiling his sled runners, using the striped stockings for wipers; but he did not trouble Kathleen just then with the tidings. The blue-striped stockings were not found. Then came a difficulty with his new boots.

“Aow! they pinch!”

“Where, sir?”

Master Will, not being able to say exactly where, was left to get used to the new boots as well as he could.

“Now see, here’s your new suit; an’ be careful with it, mind—careful as iver was. It’s me afternoon out; and if ye go tearin’ the cloos on ye, ye’ll jist mind thim yersel, or else go in tatthers wid yer grandmamma.”

This speech had no more wholesome effect on Will than to cause him to stick out his tongue at Emily, while Kathleen, standing behind him, arranged his buttons and his drapery generally.

“Now, if you could only be as good as you’re purty,” exclaimed Kathleen, wheeling Will suddenly round before his tongue was quite in place again, “you’d do well enough.”

With a few finishing touches to Emily’s sash ribbon, Kathleen went off to make her own gorgeous toilet for her afternoon out.

The dinner was next to be gotten through with. But that was not an unpleasant hour to Will. After dinner the children were permitted by their mother to amuse themselves under the shadow of the great elm behind the house. She knew that with Emily this permission simply meant liberty to sit quietly beneath the overhanging branches, gazing dreamily over the soft summer landscape, or listening to the sweet sounds that stirred the air around and above her. But with Will it might be more broadly interpreted into leave for frequent raids over fences and through bars for butterflies and beetles, or any luckless rover that strayed along. So she explained to her son in this wise:—

“Will, dear, remember that your grandmamma is coming for you, and you must not soil or tear your clothes by running about. Play quietly in the shade. The time will not be long now.”

“Yes, mum.”

Such implicit obedience as this “Yes, mum” implied! In fact, there was the promise in it of every one of the cardinal virtues.

The two children then went away through the long hall, whose doors stood wide open in the warm summer afternoon, and Will, dragging along the slower-footed Emily, hurried on to the elm tree.

 “Don’t pull so, Will; I shall drop my basket, and my spool and thimble will roll away.”

“What do you want to bother with work for this beautiful afternoon?” inquired Will, slackening his pace.

“I promised mamma I would try and finish it this week,” said Emily, “and I like to keep my word.”

“I thought the machine sewed.”

“So it does; but mamma says I must learn just the same as if there were no machines.”

“Well, I’m glad I’m not a girl, to sit pricking my fingers, and jabbing needles in and out all day.”

Patience was not one of Will’s virtues.

How lovely it was out under the elm! The sweet-scented grass was warm with the afternoon sun, and musical with the chirp and hum of its insect homes. The bees fluttered in and out over mamma’s rose garden, and all the air was filled with the delicate fragrance of the roses.

Emily, seated on the great gnarled elm roots, drank in all the sweet scents and sounds, her forgotten work-basket lying overturned in the grass before her. Will spread himself out at full length on the ground, and kept his eyes open for chippers and spiders, and all the busy little things that crept, or leaped, or flitted around him. Now and then the afternoon hush was broken by the faintly tinkling bells of a horse-car turning some distant corner, the rumbling of a heavy team going over the dusty turnpike, or the voices of the belfry clocks calling the hour to each other from the steeples of the neighboring city.

Master Will, however, soon became tired of this quiet. He scrambled up, and wandering away into the rose garden, lifted caressingly to his cheek the beautiful pink blossoms which leaned towards him from amid the green leaves. He was looking for a choice little bud to fasten in Emily’s hair; and when he found it, he came whistling out into the clear grassy spaces again, a little bird in a bough overhead tilting, and twittering, and eying him askance.

Will rushed up to Emily, and hung the bud in her ear; he rearranged it in the blue ribbon of her hair, so that it nodded sleepily over her nose; he dropped it, as if it were a tiny pink egg, in the soft golden moss of curls which he upturned on his sister’s head. Then he threw it away, and stamped on it; for Emily had drawn a book from her pocket, and deep in some fairy under-world story, was unmindful of his roses and his pains.

He ran recklessly away into the rose garden; he caught a bumblebee; he pursued a daddy long-leg with the watering-pot, going deeper and deeper all the time among the briery branches. The crashing of the stems caused Emily to come up from fairy-land a moment.

“Have a care, Will, dear. The roses have thorns. You may tear your nice jacket.”

Crash, crash! rip, rip! The rose trees are dragging at Will with their prickly fingers. With great effort he burst away from them, and rushed out, with no worse mischance than a rent in his trousers.

“Aw! aw! aw!”

All the little knolls seemed to take up Will’s sorrowful cry, and repeat it.

“You must not tear or soil your clothes.”

Every cricket in the grass seemed to be screaming these words of his mother, and here was her luckless son with two green spots on his stockings, and a grievous rent in his new pantaloons.

It was Kathleen’s afternoon out; she had warned him, and there was no help in that direction. He looked mournfully over his shoulder at the damages with a vague idea that he had perhaps some undeveloped capacity for mending.

Emily repairs Will's trousers

“You’ll see how nicely I’ll sew it.”

 “Couldn’t you pin it up nicely?” he inquired, in most insinuating tones, of Emily, whose eye just then met his.

Emily burst into a merry laugh.

Will was mute with indignation, and tingling to his finger’s ends, with this untimely mirth. His flashing eyes asked if this were a time for jesting.

“Come here, Willy, boy, and you’ll see how nicely I’ll sew it, not pin it. Never fret about it, dear; I will explain to mamma that you were really not so much in fault. It was only rather a mistake to get in so far among the bushes. If you had been chasing the cat, or turning somersets, she might, perhaps, be vexed; but poh! she will excuse this.”

Will, unseen by Emily, wiped away with his thumb one big tear after another out of the corner of his eye.

“She is a good sister, anyhow, and I am a mean fellow ever to get mad with her, and say rude things to her,” he said to himself, as Emily darned, and chatted, and bade him be of good cheer.

“My stockings, too, sister. There’s a great green grass stain on both of them, and grandmamma expects us to be so nice.”

Will coughed to choke down a sob.

“Perhaps you may have time to change them, Will. I will help you. But we must get the pantaloons all nicely done first.”

So this kind sister stitched, and taught unconsciously as she stitched, lessons of love and patience, lessons of cheerful helpfulness and sweet unselfishness, which Will never forgot.

More than once, in after life, when, in heedless pursuit of life’s roses, he had been wounded by its thorns, he remembered that sweet face of consolation, those dear hands held out to aid him, and all the sunshine and the song of that sweet summer afternoon, and fresh peace and hope came to him with the remembrance.

“It’s all finished now, the very last stitch; and now for the stockings. Let me see the spots.”

Will put his two heels firmly together, turned out his toes, pulled up his puffy pantaloons, and stooped his head and strained his eyes to look for them.

They were but little ones, after all, and a brisk rubbing with the handkerchief, and a judicious pulling down of the trouser bindings, almost concealed them. They were just in time with their repairs; for grandmamma’s yellow-wheeled carriage was coming up the avenue.