The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
From Two Points of View.

By L. T. Meade,
Editor of "Atalanta."
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 379

Part III.

Bessie Douglas was one of those pertinacious children who when they take hold of an idea are loth to let it go. There are lots of such children in the world. They say, "Give -- give" so persistently that at last, out of very weariness, one does give.

Bessie, now raising her voice to a slightly fretful little whine, which was invariably the begging tone adopted by her and Silky, began to worry her mother about the beautiful Parisian frock which Helen Meadows had described to her. Bessie was determined to see the frock, and Mrs. Douglas had no peace until she promised to grant her darling's desire.

Then there was a brief respite, but soon the cry began once more --

"When can we go to the Meadowses, mother? Are we going today? Mother, I do want to see that frock so badly. Please take me today, -- do, mother, say yes, mother."

Mrs. Douglas was not particularly anxious to meet her friend. She felt quite certain that a lecture -- Mrs. Meadows never scolded -- was in store for her. She was a spirited little woman, in her way, and although she had a certain wholesome fear of her friend Helen Meadows, she saw no reason why she should submit to her lectures.

"It's all very well," thought Mrs. Douglas to herself; "I admire system in others, and certainly Helen has a beautifully-ordered home (sniff-sniff). How dusty and close this little house does seem today! And Helen's children are exceedingly good and obedient. Bessie, don't lounge up against me in that fashion -- don't do it, Bessie -- won't you hear when I speak to you? Come here, Silky. Your sash is untied again. Dear, dear, what a blessing life would be with a little discipline. Now what is it, Bessie? I declare you and Silky speak so loud I am half deafened."

Bessie had begun her usual whine.

"Mother, may we go to the Meadowses?" and this time Mrs. Douglas felt that, lecture or no lecture, she must comply to silence the lips of her troublesome child.

Accordingly, giving Silky in charge to the one house-servant, who certainly did not wish for her, Mrs. Douglas and her eldest daughter set forth. Bessie was dressed in a coat and hat of rich red-brown plush. The costume was too warm for the time of year, but Bessie had made up her mind to appear in nothing else; she had an idea that the jacket and hat became her vastly.

Mrs. Meadows was at home, and the visitors were shown into the cold and orderly drawing room.

After a short delay the hostess appeared, and Bessie, to her great delight, was allowed to go upstairs to visit the children in the school room. She came down by herself at the end of half an hour with a very flushed and triumphant face, and holding a small tight-looking brown paper parcel by a string.

Mrs. Douglas's face was also flushed, for she had been hearing some very plain words from Mrs. Meadows. These words had made the poor little woman cry, for she was extremely sensitive and "feeling." Mrs. Meadows, when she saw her friend's tears, felt some slight compunction; she remembered that Katie was poor and a widow, whereas she had lots of money, and was further blessed with a most kind and indulgent husband. She was bending forward to kiss her friend, and was saying in a cheerful tone:

"Well, dear, I must help you all I can," when Bessie swinging her parcel by its string entered the room.

"What have you got in that parcel, Bessie?" asker her parent at once.

Bessie flasher her bright eyes at Mrs. Meadows, colored violently, and answered in a glib though somewhat hurried voice:

"Helen gave me a doll, and a lot of dolls' clothes, and I'm taking them all home in this parcel to Silky."

At another time Mrs. Meadows would have thought it her duty to investigate for herself the contents of the parcel. But now she was feeling slightly compunctious about Mrs. Douglas. She therefore said in a gracious tone:

"It is one of my endeavors to make my children generous -- and I am glad that Helen is exercising self-denial. But," she could not help adding, "I should have thought, Bessie, that you were too old to play with dolls."

"These things are for Silky," said Bessie, still in that queer hurried voice.

A moment or two afterwards the Douglases took their departure, and Bessie danced and skipped all the way home.

As she was leaving the Meadowses' house Dick and Archie peeped at her from over the banisters, and Helen too sighed for some of Bessie's radiant beauty and pert manners.

When they reached home Mrs. Douglas asked her daughter if she had seen the frock.

"Oh yes, mother."

"And do you think we can copy it, my love?"

"Yes, mother, I'm sure we can."

"Well, it was very kind of Helen to give Silky that nice doll. We will look at it after tea."

"Yes, mother," repeated Bessie in a dubious voice.

She got very red, and seemed inclined to choke, but as Silky came clamoring for her next meal Mrs. Douglas said nothing further.

After tea Bessie put her arms round her mother's neck and kissed her several times.

"You're not going to be angry with me?" she said.

"What for, my sweet? Is mother ever angry with her Bessie?"

"But I did do it -- I was a coward, and I did it. I told a tarradiddle."

"A what, my child?"

"A tarradiddle. I don't call it by that ugly name. I had to, or poor Helen would have got into such hot water. Mother, mother, don't be angry -- mother, what is it?"

"You break my heart, Bessie. Bessie, I didn't think I could have a child who would be so awfully wicked."

Mrs. Douglas began to cry, and Bessie hung down her head, and pouted her full lips.

Mrs. Douglas cried more and more.

"I wish you wouldn't, mother," said her child at last in a fretful tone. "You irritate me when you cry in that sort of way, and don't speak. Now mother, stop crying, and I'll show you the terra."

"Bessie, I don't think you have a bit of heart or feeling. I'm sure I don't know who you take after, for your poor father was the soul of truth, and I wouldn't tell a lie for the world."

"Dear old pet mother, I didn't mean anything so very bad. Now I'll show you the terra."

"Bessie, do you know where people who tell lies go? Bessie put her fingers to her ears.

"Don't, mother, I won't listen, I won't."

But Mrs. Douglas, mildest of women, was roused at last.

"Mrs. Meadows has been speaking to me about you, Bessie, and she says I manage you very badly, and I -- I know I do. And I'm going -- to turn over a new leaf. I'm going to be -- severe with you, and to -- to punish you, my poor child. I am, Bessie, I am. It's my duty. Mrs. Meadows has pointed it out to me. I incurred an awful responsibility when I had you, my poor child, and I -- I must do my duty. Oh, Bessie, why did you tell a -- "

"A tarradiddle," replied the daughter. "Now mother, look here -- don't you agree with me that Mrs. Meadows is an old horror?"

"Bessie! one of my very oldest and dearest friends!"

"But still an old horror. And aren't her children afraid of her?"

"Well, yes, perhaps they are."

"And am I afraid of you?"

"No, my pet, how could you be?"

"That's just it, I couldn't be. You're such a dear, cosy, loving pet of a mother. I never told you a tarradiddle -- I didn't need to. Now look here -- here's the doll, and here are the doll's clothes!"

She whipped open the tightly-folded parcel, and disclosed the beautiful Parisian frock and its trimmings.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

That evening when the quiet hour had come to a conclusion Mrs. Meadows called Helen back, and kissing her, said in a tone which implied both approval and censure:

"It was kind of you to give one of your dolls, with the doll's clothes, to poor little Bessie Douglas, Helen. I daresay she will appreciate your present, as it is impossible for her mother to give her many toys. But another time, my love, just remember this -- ask mother's leave, first."

"Yes, dear mother," responded Helen. "She seemed so pleased, poor little thing," she continued.

"Quite right, my dear child, quite right. But generous impulses must be guided, and another time, ask mother. By the by, Helen, which of your dolls did you give away?

Helen hesitated, and a faint pink came into her delicate oval face.

"It was Miss Ruth Pinch," she said after a pause. "You know she had lost one of her eyes, and was not a very pretty doll. I thought you would not mind my giving Ruth Pinch away. She had got so dreadfully shabby."

Mrs. Meadows was silent for a moment. Helen stood, tall and slim, by her side. She was neither a brilliant nor a beautiful child; she possessed none of Bessie's piquant charm, but the mother thought with pride how nice she looked, how pure, how good.

"My darling is the soul of candor." she said to herself, "but I must not spoil her. I must nip all the little bits of worldliness and selfishness as they appear. Helen did not know that she was selfish when she gave away the doll that was no longer charming in her eyes. It is my duty to point this out to her."

"My love," she said gently, "we should not give that which costs us nothing. You are fond of your doll Antoinette, -- you do not care for Ruth Pinch. It would have been nobler, my dear daughter, to have presented Antoinette to your little friend, and kept Ruth Pinch for yourself. Now, my dear, no impatience when mother speaks," for Helen had turned away her head, with a quick and almost cross gesture. "You would doubtless have felt pain in parting with your beautiful doll Antoinette, but that pain would have been salutary. Now good night, my dear daughter."

"Good night, dear mother," answered Helen.

She bestowed a dutiful kiss, which was returned without any show of warmth, for Mrs. Meadows greatly disliked what she termed impulsive affection, and the little girl left the room, holding herself carefully and looking straight before her.

It so happened that an hour or two later Mrs. Meadows, who was devoting just then every moment of her spare time to working for a fancy bazaar, had occasion to go to the attic where the children kept their disused toys, their hopelessly torn books, and all their belongings which were not considered suitable to appear in the orderly school-room. She opened a trunk to search for some old tapestry which she was anxious to use up. She had to pull the truck a little out from the wall to get the lid to remain open, and as she did so, something came with a bump and a crash to the ground.

It was a doll which had been pushed a little way behind the trunk. Mrs. Meadows stooped and lifted it up. The doll was Ruth Pinch. There was no doubt whatever on the subject. Dolls have a strange habit of looking very much alike, but this doll's dress betrayed her. With her own hands Mrs. Meadows had made Ruth Pinch's neat costume. She had thought Dickens's gentle heroine a good example for her little daughters, and after reading about Ruth for the children's benefit had dressed a doll in the character for Helen.

She stood quite still now, holding the old doll at arms' length, looking intently at its battered face and its one eye. Her color changed as she gazed at it, and she felt a sharp quick pang of pain at her proud heart.

She thought for a few moments; then, putting the doll down, she when to her own room, and put on her walking things. The children were in bed, and it was her custom to go at this hour to wish them a goodnight blessing. She heard Rose calling her, but she made no response. Having finished her toilette, she went quickly downstairs, and out of the house.

In a few moments she had reached Mrs. Douglas's door. She rang the bell in her usual imperious fashion, and the little maid trembled when she opened the door to her.

"Is Mrs. Douglas within?"

"Yes, ma'am. Will you have the goodness to walk up to the drawing room, please ma'am. I'll turn on the gas, ma'am, and let missis know you has called, Mrs. Meadows."

"is your mistress in her dining room?"

"No, ma'am. She's upstairs along of Miss Bessie, who has been took with the screaming fits real awful. Missis has been a-laying into Miss Bessie, and she don't like it, and she did let on. Poor missis had been giving her sal volatile and peppermint drops since, and she's a bit more quiet like."

"Will you tell your mistress that I have called, and want to see her very specially," responded Mrs. Meadows in her most freezing voice. "No, I won't go up to the drawing-room; I'll wait in here. Let your mistress know at once that I have called, please."

A moment or two later poor Mrs. Douglas, her own eyes red with weeping, burst into the little dining-room where Mrs. Meadows had taken refuge.

"I know what you have come about, Helen," she said. "And I'm grieved as you are, and I've punished her, -- I've punished her well, my own child! And I can't do it again, -- it seems too cruel. Bessie is too sensitive. What's the matter Helen? Oh, I know you are too angry to speak to me."

"The doll!" gasped Mrs. Meadows, in a queer kind of stifled voice. "The doll, Ruth Pinch. Your little girl never brought it home."

"No, dear friend, it was the other thing. And it isn't injured, not really. For I'm having it ironed out in the kitchen."

"Having what ironed out, Katie?"

"The beautiful frock. Helen's lovely new frock. It won't be really injured. Ah, here you are, Rebecca," as the maid of all work, with a triumphant air flung open the door, and laid the lovely robe upon the sofa.

"There, ma'am," she said, in a tone trembling with pride. "Except for a smut or two, and just where the iron scorched the muslin in front, it's as good as ever. My word, ain't it lovely?" concluded the little maid with a gasp as she flew from the room.

Mrs. Douglas scarcely dared to look at her friend. Mrs. Meadows sat down opposite the Parisian frock, and did not speak. After a long time she said, in the same stricken queer voice:

"So both children -- my Helen and your Bessie -- have told lies today, Katie?"

"But Bessie never told a lie before," interrupted Mrs. Douglas, with a sudden show of spirit.

Mrs. Meadows raised her eyes slowly, and looked at her.

"And," continued Mrs. Douglas, her face flushing all over, "she told me that she and Helen only made up that dreadful story now because they were afraid of you."

"Afraid of me," said Mrs. Meadows.

Like many severe people, she had not the faintest idea that she inspired awe.

"Dreadfully afraid of you, Helen, and so am I, and so are your other children. Oh, dreadfully afraid. I pity your children, Helen; they are well trained, but they have no liberty. They are frightened, and they -- they stoop to lies, and my child, for the first time in her life, stooped to a lie also because of you. I won't defend Bessie, she is not obedient, and she's not a good child, and she has no sense of order or method, but she does love me, and she is truthful, at least she was truthful until today."

Here Mrs. Douglas sank down on the sofa, and burst into sobs and tears. And presently a remarkable thing happened -- Mrs. Meadows sat down near her, and cried also.

"The fact is this," she said after a long time, "we are both full of faults, I as well as you."

"Oh, yes, dear Helen," sobbed poor Katie Douglas.

"Shall we help each other?"

"I can't help you, Helen."

Mrs. Meadows was again silent for a long time. At last she said, with something of her old manner, but with a new gentleness in her tone,

"You shall teach me to show some of the deep love which I feel, and I will learn of you, Katie, to gain my children's confidence."

Soon afterwards Mrs. Meadows went away.

The next morning, when Helen awoke, her mother was standing by her bedside. The little girl slept in a tiny room by herself.

"Here is Ruth Pinch, Helen," said the mother.

"Mother," said the child. She trembled all over, and her face turned from pink to white. "I -- it was Bessie," she began.

"No, Helen," replied her mother. "Where much wrong has been done we won't waste time in laying the blame on others. You told me a lie last night."

"I -- I did, mother."

"I know all about it; I have brought your frock home; it is in its usual place in your wardrobe."

Helen's small hand lay outside the counterpane. Mrs. Meadows had now seated herself, and she laid her own hand over the little one.

"Mother," said the child, "how -- how gentle you are."

"I feel very sad, Helen."

"But are you dreadfully, dreadfully angry?"

"I am not angry at all."

"Not angry? I'll bear my punishment whatever it is if you're not angry, dear mother."

Then Mrs. Meadows said an astonishing thing.

"I am going to try a new plan with you, Helen; I am not going to punish you at all. I freely and absolutely forgive you. Get up, and come downstairs, my love."

"Mother, mother!" Helen's voice could not frame any more words. Her eyes grew round and big -- gradually great tears filled them.

"Mother!" she said again.

"Kiss me, my own child," said the mother.

The End

Typed by bhooma, Oct 2015