Everything was very fresh and beautiful one morning in May, as if God had just made the world. The new grass had begun to grow, and the fields were dotted over with short, golden-topped dandelions.
The three Parlin children had come to their grandmother’s much earlier in the season than usual; and now on this bright Sabbath morning they were going to church.
Dotty Dimple, otherwise Alice, thought the fields looked like her Aunt Maria’s green velvet toilet-cushion stuck full of pins. The spiders had spread their gauzy webs over the grass, and the dew upon them sparkled in the sunshine like jewels. “Such nice tablecloths as they would have made for the fairies,” thought Dotty, “if there only were any fairies.”
“The world is ever so much handsomer than it was a week ago,” said Prudy, pointing towards the far-off hills. “I’d like to be on that mountain, and just put my hand out and touch the sky.”
“That largest pick,” said Dotty, “is Mount Blue. It’s covered with blueberries, and that’s why it’s so blue.”
“Jennie Vance told me,” said Dotty; “and she ought to know, for her father is the judge.”
By this time the children had reached the church, and were waiting on the steps for the rest of the family. It was pleasant to watch the people coming from up and down the street, looking so neat and peaceful. But when Jennie Vance drew near with her new summer silk and the elegant feather in her hat, Dotty’s heart gave a quick double beat, half admiration, half envy. Jennie’s black eyes were shining with vanity, and her nicely gaitered feet tripped daintily up the steps.
“How d’ye do?” said she, carelessly, to Dotty, and swept by her like a little ship under full sail.
Dotty’s brow darkened. Just now it seemed to her one of the greatest trials in the whole world that the dress she wore had been made over from one of Prudy’s. It was a fine white organdie with a little pink sprig, but there was a darn in the skirt. Then there was no feather in her hat, and no breastpin at her throat.
Poor Dotty! She did not hear much of the sermon, but sat very quiet, counting the nails in the pews and the pipes in the organ, and watching old Mr. Gordon, who had a red silk kerchief spread over his head to guard it against the draught from the window. She listened a little to the prayers, it is true, because she knew it was wrong to let her thoughts wander when Mr. Preston was speaking to God.
When the services were over, and she was going to her Sabbath school class, she passed Jennie Vance in the aisle.
“Where are you going, Jennie?” said she.
“Going home. My mamma says I needn’t stay to say my lessons and miss a warm dinner.”
Jennie said this with such a toss of the head that Dotty longed to reply in a cutting manner.
“It isn’t polite to have warm dinners on Sunday, Jennie Vance! But you said your father had a step-wife, and perhaps she doesn’t know!”
“I didn’t say my papa had a step-wife, Dotty Dimple.”
But this was all Jennie had time to retort, for Dotty now entered the pew where her class were to sit. Miss Preston was the teacher, and it was her custom to have each of her little pupils repeat a half dozen verses or so, which she explained to them in a very clear manner. The children did not always understand her, however; and you shall see hereafter how Dotty’s queer little brain grew befogged. The last clause of one of her verses to-day was this:—
“The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.”
“Suppose,” said Miss Preston, “there were two little girls living in a beautiful house, with everything nice to eat and wear, and there should come a poor man in rags, and beg for charity. One of the little girls is so sorry for him that she runs to her mamma and asks, as a favor, to be allowed to give him some of her Christmas money. The other little girl shakes her head, and says, ‘O, sister what makes you do so? But if you do it I must.’ Then she pours out half her money for the beggar, but scowls all the while.—Which is the ‘cheerful giver?'”
“The first little girl. O, of course, Miss Preston.” Then Dotty fell to thinking:—
“I don’t have much to give away but just pieces of oranges; but I don’t scowl when I do it. I’m a great deal more ‘cheerful’ than Jennie Vance; for I never saw her give away anything but a thimble after the pig had chewed it. ‘There, take it, Lu Piper,’ said she, ‘for it pinches, and I don’t want it.’ I shouldn’t think that was very cheerful, I am sure.”
Thus Dotty treasured up the lesson for the sake of her friend. It was really surprising how anxious she was that Jennie should always do right.
Now it happened that before the week was out a man came to Mr. Parlin’s back door begging. Dotty wondered if it might not be the same man Miss Preston had mentioned, only he was in another suit of clothes. She and Jennie were swinging, with Katie between them, and Susy and Prudy were playing croquet. They all ran to see what the man wanted. He was not ragged, and if it had not been for the green shade over his eyes and the crooked walking-stick in his hand, the children would not have thought of his being a beggar. He was a very fleshy man, and the walk seemed to have taken away his breath.
“Little maidens,” said he, in gentle tones, “have you anything to give a poor tired wayfarer?”
There was no answer, for the children did not know what to say. But the man seemed to know what to do; he seated himself on the door-step, and wiped his face with a cotton handkerchief. Little Katie, the girl with flying hair, who was sometimes called ‘Flyaway,’ looked at him with surprise as he puffed at every breath.
“When um breeves,” said she to Dotty, “seems’s um whissils.”
“Come here, little maiden,” said the beggar, pointing to Dotty; “you are the handsomest of all, and you may take this document of mine. It will tell you that I am a man of great sorrows.”
Dotty, very much flattered, took the paper from his hands. It was greasy and crumpled, looking as if it had been lying beside bread and butter in a dirty pocket. She gave it to Susy, for she could not read it herself. It was written by one of the “selectmen” of a far-away town, and asked all kind people to take pity on the bearer, who was described as “a poor woman with a family of children.” Susy laughed, and pointed out the word “woman” to Prudy.
“I will carry it in to my grandmother,” said Susy; and she entered the house, followed by all the children.
“Who knows but he’s a griller?” said Jennie.
“Lem me see paper,” cried Katie, snatching at it, and holding it up to her left ear.
“O, dear!” sighed she, in a grieved tone; “it won’t talk to me, Susy. I don’t hear nuffin ‘tall.”
“She’s a cunning baby, so she is,” said Dotty. “She s’poses writing talks to people; she thinks that’s the way they read it.”
Grandmamma Parlin thought the man was probably an impostor. She went herself and talked with him; but, when she came back, instead of searching the closets for old garments, as Dotty had expected, she seated herself at her sewing, and did not offer to bestow a single copper on the beggar.
“Susy,” said she, “he says he is hungry, and I cannot turn him away without food. You may spread some bread and butter, with ham between the slices, and carry out to him.”
“What makes her so cruel?” whispered Dotty.
“O, Grandma knows best,” replied Prudy. “She never is cruel.”
“What makes you put on so much butter?” said Jennie Vance; “I wouldn’t give him a single thing but cold beans.”
Dotty, whose Sunday school lesson was all the while ringing in her ears, looked at the judge’s daughter severely.
“Would you pour cold beans into anybody’s hands, Vance? Once my mamma gave some preserves to a beggar,—quince preserves,—she did.”
“I’m going to give him some money,” continued Dotty, defiantly; “just as cheerfully as ever I can.”
“O, yes, because he called you the handsomest.”
“No, Jennie ; because I am not stingy.”
“Um isn’t stinchy,” echoed Katie.
“I’ve got some Christmas money here. I earned it by picking pins off the floor, six for a cent. It took a great while, Jennie, but I wouldn’t be selfish, like some little girls.”
“Now, little sister,” said Prudy, taking Dotty one side, “don’t give your money to this man. You’ll be sorry by and by.”
But there was a stubborn look in Dotty’s eyes, and she marched off to her money-box as fast as she could go. When she returned with the pieces of scrip, which amounted in all to fifteen cents, the children were grouped about the beggar, who sat upon the door-step, the plate of sandwiches before him.
“Here’s some money, sir, for your sick children,” cried Dotty, with an air of importance.
“Blessings on your pretty face,” replied the man, eagerly.
Dotty cast a triumphant glance at Jennie.
“Ahem! This is better than nothing,” added the beggar, in a different tone, after he had counted the money. “And now haven’t any of the rest of you little maidens something to give a poor old wayfarer that’s been in the wars and stove himself up for his country?”
There was no reply from any one of the little girls, even tender Prudy. And as Dotty saw her precious scrip swallowed up in that dreadfully dingy wallet, it suddenly occurred to her that she had not done such a very wise thing, after all.
“Why don’t you eat your luncheon, sir?” said Jennie Vance; for the man, after taking up the slices of bread and looking at them had put them down again with an air of disdain.
“I thought, by the looks of the house, that Christians lived here,” said he, shaking his head slowly. “Haven’t you a piece of apple pie, or a cup custard, to give a poor man that’s been in prison for you in the south country? Not so much as a cup of coffee or a slice of beefsteak? No. I see how it is,” he added, wiping his face and rising with an effort; “you are selfish, good-for-nothing creeters, the whole of you. Here I’ve been wasting my time, and all I get for it is just dog’s victuals, and enough scrip to light my pipe.”
With this he began to walk off, puffing. Dotty longed to run after him and call out, “Please, sir, give me back my money.” But it was too late; and summoning all her pride, she managed to crush down the tears.
“Tell the people in this house that I shake off the dust of my feet against them,” wheezed the stranger, indignantly. “The dust of my feet—do you hear?”
“What a wicked, disagreeable old thing!” murmured Jennie Vance.
“Dish-gwee-bly old fing!” cried “Flyaway,” nodding her head till her hair danced like little tufts of corn-silk.
“I’m glad I didn’t give him any of my money,” said Jennie, loftily.
“So am I,” returned Susy.
Prudy said nothing.
“Have you any more Christmas money left, Dotty,” said Jennie, twirling her gold ring on her finger.
“O, yes, ever so much at home. And I shall soon have more,” added Dotty, with a great effort to be cheerful; “for people are always dropping pins.”
“I’ve got any quantity of scrip,” pursued Jennie; “and I don’t have to work for it, either.”
Categories: English Literature