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“Bless you, my darling !” said her mother; “ you are a comfort to me; but I couldn't let your little legs go all that way twice. Get the kettle to boil quick, and after tea I'll go, and you shall run along with me.”
All this time Alice pretended to be learning her lessons, but in fact she was very unhappy. She felt jealous of her sister, but yet was too proud to offer to go herself. She kept quieting her conscience by thinking "I know I ought to learn my home lessons. Can anybody say that's wrong? And yet how could I, if I had to drag the barrow all that way?” But she knew in her heart, that if she got up half an hour earlier the next morning, she would be able to learn them all the same.
Her mother and Bessie went off; but one of Alice's home lessons was the verse, “ Children, obey your parents in the Lord,” and she found it rather difficult to persuade herself that she had not disobeyed hers.
“If mother had told me I must go,” she eaid to herself, “of course I should; but she didn't, so I reckon I have not disobeyed her. And then we are told to obey them in the Lord, and teacher says that means when they order us to do right things; now certainly it's wrong not to learn my home lessons and to keep top of my class.” But Alice was too clever a girl not to know that she was saying to herself “peace, peace, when there was no peace,” for she felt very uncomfortable.
In two hours her mother got home, but she looked very ill, turned quite white, and would have fallen if Alice had not caught her. Bessie called in their neighbour, Mrs. Smith, who bathed her head with vinegar, put her feet in hot water, and got her to bed; but when her husband found her there he said:
“Why, mother, how is this? I left you quite hearty this morning. What ever have you been doing?”
“Doing!” said Mrs. Smith; “this is what it is, she has been a killing herself with standing at the tub all day, to get those clothes washed for Franklin’s, and then to think of her wheeling them all the way up there. No wonder she was took bad !”
“But why didn't she send Alice with them ?” said her father.
Poor Alice! She had rather have wheeled twenty barrows than have felt as frightened as she did lest her mother should tell her father what had passed. But Mrs. Wilson was very loving and forgiving, and she only answered, “Oh, never mind ! 1 wanted to go, and took Bessie. I'm all right now, and only want a good sleep.” But she was not all right really, and after a bad night the doctor was sent for. He said she was very ill from over exertion, and must remain quietly in bed for at least a foztnight.
“ Then,” said her father, “ Alice must stay at home, to nurse you and do for us.”
“Oh don't, please !” said Mrs. Wilson; “ Alice will fret after her school, and she gets on there so fast. Besides, Bessie is fifty times more use ; let me have Bessie, father.”
Wilson said he would think about it, and he did think, and came to the conclusion that school could
not be the right place for Alice, if it made her so useless at home.
When he and Alice were alone after tea, he said :
“My girl, your mother is very badly, and you will be wanted at home for a bit to do for her and us too, I'm thinking."
“Would not Bessie do as well, or better, father ? She is so backward at school it cannot matter to her to be away; but I shall lose so many places in my class.”
“ Ally, dear,” said her father, “you think ever so much about your class and your learning, and I am very glad you are so clever at your books, if you make good use of them ; but if being top at school makes you neglectful and saucy to that mother of yours lying up stairs, I had rather you had never known your letters. You have more to learn of such a mother, than you could teach her through a long summer's day, I can tell you. See how all her life she has thought nothing of herself, only to do her duty to God and man; and now I'll not see her neglected. So mind my words: the day may be coming when your heart will feel very sore if you let her want for anything that you can do for her.” And then fear of the terrible calamity that he saw approaching, made him cry like a child.
Alice cried too, for many reasons; but she was touched and frightened, and really wished to do all she could; but she was beyond everything surprised to find, that, with all her endeavours, she was a wretchedly bad nurse, and little Bessie an excellent one. It was Bessie that, when once shown how to make a poultice, could always do it to perfection.
She had long ago made excellent gruel and broth. It was Bessie who knew on which shelf the medicine bottle stood. It was Bessie who always read and remembered the directions on the bottle. She was 80 quiet and gentle; never saying an unnecessary word, or asking an unnecessary question ; never in the way, but never out of the way—all her thoughts fixed on her mother.
Alice could not understand how it all was, or why she was so unhandy and forgetful, while she could do long division sums, the whole length of her slate, without a mistake. But she was clever ; and she was not an unfeeling or thoughtless girl ; and at last the truth dawned upon her. She had all her life been selfish, and a selfish person never can be of the least use as a nurse. It was not so bad a sort of selfishness as love of eating, or dress, or any of the common forms of self-indulgence, but still it was of herself and her own advancement in the three R's, as they are called, that she thought from morning till night.
She never entered into other persons' feelings, or had any sympathy for those who lost the prizes that she won. It was not till she felt likely to lose her mother, that she found out how entirely the comfort and well-doing of the family depended upon that mother on whom she had looked down; and then, too, she discovered how much more able stupid slow Bessie would be to supply her place, than her clever self. She had time for all these thoughts for, during six weeks, Mrs. Wilson lay in almost a hopeless state, and the reflection of the share Alice had had in bringing on her illness was almost more than she could bear. She recovered at last, to find her eldest daughter a different person, humble, and thoughtful, and affectionate, and though not neglecting her home lessons, always making much more effort to do her home duties.
THE WOMAN AND THE BIRD.
BY ONE OF THE AUTHORS OF “CHILD-WORLD.”
A story you've never heard,—
Whose life was saved by a bird ;-
With nothing to make life sweet,
And never enough to eat.
Walking for work to the village,
And wearily home again,
Putting a bird to pain.
To get her dinner that day;
And gave her one sixpence away.