If; or, Bessie Green's Holiday

IT seems absurd to say so, and at first sight almost impossible, that that one little word of only two letters could have so much power, and yet there is no doubt that the constant use of “if” spoilt Bessie Green’s holiday and took away from it all the enjoyment and pleasure which she imagined a long summer day spent in the country would give. How she had thought about it and looked forward to it for weeks beforehand! Her parents were poor, hardworking people who rarely left home, and so the very idea of a treat like this was delightful, and she scarcely slept the night before, so afraid was she of not being ready in time. I cannot tell you how often she got up in the course of the night, either to see what o’clock it was or to look out of the window and wonder whether it was going to be a fine or a wet day, but it seemed to her as if morning would never come. However, long before six she was up and dressed, and with one last good-bye to her mother through the kitchen door was off to the station. And very soon the train went speeding away from the smoky streets of the city toward the green fields and shady lanes of the country.

Now, if Bessie Green had been as wise as her companions, she would have done as they did—looked out of the window and admired all she saw passing by, and so have begun the enjoyment of the day; for to eyes unaccustomed to such scenes even the cows and sheep grazing in the meadows or the horses galloping off across the fields frightened by the train were all new and amusing sights. But our foolish little friend, instead of doing this, began to look first at her own dress and then at her neighbors’, and thereby she grew discontented: “If I only had a felt hat with a red feather in it, like Mary Jones’, instead of this straw one with a plain bit of blue ribbon round it, how I should like it! and if mother would buy me a smart muslin frock, such as Emma Smith wears, how much better it would be than the cotton frocks she always gets for me!” And she pouted and frowned and looked so miserable that her schoolfellows would have wondered what was the matter if they had noticed her, but they were so busy thinking of other things that they never saw there was anything amiss. Happy children! They had resolved to enjoy themselves, and they did so from morning till night, while unhappy little Bessie let discontent creep in, and so her holiday—that day she had looked forward to so much—was, as I said before, spoilt.

Ah! I fear there are many people in this world, both young and old, who do as Bessie did: instead of being contented with the state of life in which God has placed them, and doing their best to make themselves and others happy, they let this little word “if” creep in on every occasion, and in too many cases spoil not one day only, but their whole lives.

Bessie leans around the edge of the door


But to return to our story. The train went speeding along, miles and miles  away from London, with its millions of people and houses and hot, dusty streets and courts, where almost the only green leaves were the cabbages on the costermongers’ trucks, out into the pure, fresh, breezy country, where houses were as scarce as trees in the city, and the cornfields stretched away and away, till bounded in the far distance by sloping heathery hills. And what a shout of pleasure arose from the two hundred throats of our little travellers when at length they stopped at a roadside station and exchanged the train for a shady lane leading to a park, the kind owner of which had placed it at their disposal for the day! Now ought not Bessie to have begun at last to enjoy herself? No; foolish Bessie had seen a carriage at the station, and envied the ladies who got into it: “If I had a carriage and horses, how much pleasanter it would be driving up this lane, instead of walking as I am obliged to do now!” And so she went along at such a slow, sulky pace that she was far behind when the lodge gates were reached, and was almost shut out when the children and teachers were admitted into the park. And as they had shouted for joy at sight of the shady lanes, how much more did they shout when they saw the beautiful spot in which for a whole long day they were to amuse themselves! There were meadows covered with hay—not such hay as is seen in stables, brown and hard and stiff, but soft, green and grassy-looking, smelling sweetly, and just the thing to roll about in and cover one another up with; then there was a nice level cricket-ground, and all ready for the boys to begin a game; there were shady trees under which to sit and listen to the birds’ songs, and woody dells and valleys full of ferns and wild flowers; ponds on which swans swam about and came on swiftly and silently through the water in hopes of food, and little streams trickling along with a murmuring noise between the rushes and yellow flags which grew on their banks. Certainly this was a delightful spot to be in; and when in the midst of the beautiful park they saw the house and gardens—a house so large that it seemed a palace in the eyes of the children, while the gardens were filled with flowers of every color—they shouted again, all except Bessie, who of course began again to envy: “Oh, what a splendid house! If I could only live there, I am sure I should never be unhappy again; if I could stay here and not go back to London; if—”

But at this point her grumbling came to a sudden stop, for at a given signal all the children, who had been racing over the grass, formed into line and marched straight up to the house to make their bows and curtseys to the kind lady and gentleman who lived there, and who had come out into the porch with her own little girls and boys to welcome the visitors. Of course Bessie found something fresh to be discontented at: “If I were one of that lady’s little girls, I should be dressed as nicely as she is, and then, if I liked to play about here all day long, I could do so.”

And in this way she went on all the day. After going to the house and listening to a few words from the owner, and in return singing one of their prettiest songs, the children were sent off to play, and in a few minutes they  were scattered in all directions, amusing themselves in different ways; and though Bessie joined in many games, yet that one word “if” was in her mind the whole time, and she did not play as merrily as usual. Dinner came, and the children, called together by a bugle, sat down in a tent; but though the fare provided was better than Bessie was accustomed to, even on a Sunday, yet this spirit of discontent had so possessed her that it was only because she was very hungry that she ate what was given her, all the time wondering what the people who lived at the great house were eating for their dinner, and thinking over and over again, “If I had the chickens and other good things which they are sure to have, I should like it much better than this mutton and cherry pie.”

Oh, Bessie, Bessie! when you are older and know more of the world, you will discover that living in a grand house and having good things to eat do not make people happier; they in their turn may be as discontented as you are, and be always wishing they had something else which does not belong to them, and that word “if” may be as frequently in their mouths as in yours.

But now the dinner is over, and the merry troop have dispersed again—the boys eager to return to their game of cricket, and the girls to haymaking and swinging under the trees or other modes of spending the hours of this pleasant day; and judging by the laughter and shouts of joy, all are as happy as it is possible to be—indeed, it is a surprise to many when the bugle calls them once more together for tea, and they find that even a summer’s day must come to an end at last, and that within two hours they will all be starting once more on their homeward journey. Very quickly did most of the children drink up the fragrant tea and the delicious milk, for they wanted to have a last look at the places where they had spent the day and picked wild flowers or made hay. Bessie was among the foremost of these; for now that she was going away so soon from it, she grew yet more discontented, and that little word “if” was used more than ever as she went about, not, as the others did, just to say good-bye to the fields and woods, but to look at them again and wish they were hers.

I need not stop to tell you of the evening journey, for it was like the morning one, excepting that now the hopes of a pleasant day had been fulfilled, and the children talked of what they had done, instead of what they intended to do. Bessie Green wondered, as she heard them talking, how it was that they all seemed so much happier than she did, and how it was that the longed-for holiday had not been altogether a day of enjoyment. When she arrived at home, she had very little to say about what she had done or seen; but as she has since then been more contented, we must suppose that her wondering has had some effect, and that she is beginning to see what made the day so different to her and to her companions; in which case we may hope that the next time she goes into the country she will not spoil her holiday by the too frequent use of the word “if.”