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- Two Festivals - 4/7 -
a law to me. I became, if possible, too sensitive to my own defects; it made me rather egotistical. It seemed as if my heart had become suddenly changed. I was, as it were, born again; a new life began in me.
One penance that I subjected myself to was to go and confess to my mother all my faults, even the most trifling. She feared that this continual self-reference would make me, as it did, an egotist, and she, one day, advised me to be satisfied with seeing my wrong doings and acknowledging them to myself, and to try to correct them without speaking of them to her. I begged her, with tears, to let me have my own way, for that telling her all helped me greatly; and I think, for a time, it did. The necessity of confiding all that is in our hearts, and all we do that is wrong, to a being whom we entirely respect and love, and in whose purity we confide, is a great check upon evil thoughts and evil deeds. One instance I well remember of the good effect of my confession. My mother insisted upon careful and neat habits in all things. She would not allow us to throw down our caps or bonnets. They must all be hung up on pegs in the hall, and each child had a peg of his or her own. As we often forgot the command, our mother, in order to remind us, made a law, one winter, that whoever broke the rule should, when the apples were distributed in the evening, have none. One day, all of us came in to supper in haste from play, and two out of four of us forgot to hang up their hats--my sister was one, and I the other. The footman picked up my hat, and hung it up in the right place. At the time of distributing the apples, my mother gave me a fine one, and said, "Alice never forgets her hat. No one forgets now but Jeannie. She is very careless, and must have no apple to-night." I was mean enough to take my apple and be silent; but I could not eat it. Still there seemed to be a spell over me; and, wretched as I was, I could not speak and confess before my brothers and sisters how false and shabby I had been. I went to my closet; and there, after a while, I resolved that, in the morning, I would tell the whole truth. I went to bed, but I could not go to sleep. As soon as I heard my mother coming to bed, I went to her bedside, confessed the truth to her, gave her my apple, and begged her to tell the children how mean I had been. My mother was as just as she was kind. "You must tell them yourself," she said. "You must confess your fault to your youngest sister with your own lips, and be willing to appear before her what you are. You must not ask me to save you this disgrace. It is that which will cure you. It is your just punishment." I did as she bade me, and this was my last sin of that kind.
I had another fault, and that was a great irritability of temper, and many and many an hour of solitude have I passed in that closet, looking out at the quiet pine trees, and listening to the soft sighing of the winds through their branches, till my heart has been softened, and the spirit of love and gentleness has returned. I remember one instance in particular of my conquest there of my foolish anger. I was in the habit, in warm weather, of learning all my lessons in my closet, particularly favorite pieces of poetry, which I wished to commit well to memory. There I recited them aloud. I found that the other children would often come and listen to me; this fretted me; I was very angry at it. I desired them not to do it, and not in an amiable manner; but they often forgot or disregarded my request. I could not, or thought I could not, command my temper whenever I found this out. One day I had been reciting Hamlet's soliloquy; and, just after I had repeated the last words, I heard William say in a pompous manner, "Toby or not Toby." I was very angry, foolish as it may seem to you, and burst open the door so suddenly and violently that I threw down my little sister who stood against it; and, instead of taking her up, I told her I was glad I had knocked her down; and then I was coward enough to strike my little brother. The cries of both children brought up my mother. By this time, I had come to my senses. I told her the story just as it was, and I felt very much ashamed.
My mother simply said to me, "I thought you were beginning to be a reasonable being, and had ceased to be a passionate coward. You know that William is not so strong as you, or you would not dare to strike him." Her words seemed to me very harsh then, but now I think they were just. All abuse of power, all cruelty to the weak, is truly cowardly and mean.
That day I punished myself severely. Some friends were to dine with us, friends whom I loved particularly to see; one of them was Jane Grey, my earliest and dearest friend; but I would not go down to dinner. When called, I sent a note to my mother, saying I should not come down, and wanted no dinner, and begging her not to send again for me, for it would be in vain. I heard the cheerful, merry voices of the family at dinner. I heard the birds singing in the trees near my window. I breathed in the sweet fragrance of the roses and the new hay. I saw the animals at a distance feeding quietly. The clear, deep-blue sky, as I gazed up at it from my window, looked so pure, so solemn, as if angels unseen might be hovering over the world. All, all but me was beautiful, and happy, and good. I was sinful, I was unhappy; I was, it seemed to me, a discord in the world. I hated myself for my bad temper, for it was some time before I had quite conquered it. At last, however, I did, and became gentle and happy in my chosen solitude, while others were enjoying themselves together.
In the middle of the afternoon, they all went out to walk. When Jeannie came up for her bonnet, she ran to my closet, and called out to me, "Dear Alice! mother told me not to come to you at dinner time; but we can't be happy without you. Jane says she can't play without you. Can't you come down? Do, Alice." "No," I replied. "Say nothing about me. I shall not see Jane to-day." After Jeannie left me, I could not quite keep the tears from my eyes. Pretty soon, my dear mother, who always thought people must suffer from hunger, came to me and brought me a nice piece of pudding she had saved for me, and said kindly to me, "Come, Alice, you have punished yourself enough; eat this pudding and come down stairs. You will not be so passionate again." I would not go down, but I ate the pudding. When our friends were all gone, I went down, and then I told Willie I was sorry for striking him. Whether it was that my partiality to Jane, which caused what I suffered that day to make a peculiarly deep impression on my mind, I know not; but, from that time, I acquired more self-command; and never did I forget that day in my closet.
I could tell you much more about my closet experiences, Frank, of what I have enjoyed and what I have suffered in it. There I went when my heart was too full of pain or pleasure to bear the eye of another. There have I prayed. There have I sent up thanksgivings. There have I wept bitter tears. A new page in its history will commence to-morrow, Frank. I hope, also, a new and fair page in the history of your mind, that inner, private apartment, on which only your own eye and the eye of Infinite Purity can rest. Begin to- morrow to write on that new page the history of conquered selfishness, of truth and purity, of devotion to duty, of a higher love for others, of obedience to the will of God; then this will be a truly happy New Year.
As I have told you, Frank, beforehand, what your New Year's gift is to be, I will tell Harry, if he pleases, what I have got for him."
"Tell it now, Mother. It is so pleasant here by the fire."
"You are to have a nice new desk, with a key to it, all your own."
"O, that's prime, Mother," said Harry; "and where shall I keep it"? "
"In my little writing room, if you like, Harry."
"Yes, Mother; and then I can talk a little now and then to you, I suppose."
"Sometimes, Harry; and I doubt not that Frank will let you come, now and then, to his closet. I don't want this closet to separate you; but, on the contrary, to be the means of making you better friends, because it will help Frank to be a better boy, and so always to set you a good example."
"It is rather hard, Mother, for a boy to set a good example. I don't think I ever did such a thing in my life."
"Mother," said Harry, "you told us that you had been translating a little story from a French book, to read to us some evening. We shall have time enough to-night, for you know you promised to let us sit up till the clock strikes twelve; so we can talk, and read, and tell stories too. There will be time enough for all, before Mr. Old Year goes out and Mr. New Year comes in."
Mrs. Chilton consented. Frank placed her little stand by her, with the German lamp upon it, in the way she liked to have it, and she read as follows:--
Near the coast of Northumberland, at a little distance from the land, you can just see rising up a group of little islands, rocks scattered without order, that grow in number at low water; you may count as many as twenty of them, whose sharp, menacing crests seem to defy the returning waves.
Nothing can be more desolate than the appearance of the little Farne Islands; formed of rocks barely covered with a thin vegetation, surrounded by precipices, they seem accessible only to sea birds, who take refuge there in the tempests.
The Island of Longstone is at the head of the group, and serves as a sort of vanguard, and is, perhaps, the most dangerous of all. A gloomy collection of black rocks, full of crevices worn by the action of the winds, the waters, and the tempests, it does not nourish a single plant; not an atom of soil adheres to its surface; it is naked and barren; its steep sides bristle with cockle shells which encrust the rock.
The interior is still more desolate than the exterior; it is a succession of black hillocks cut by narrow ravines into which the sea rushes, roaring and furious, at high tide, detaching from the rocks fragments which it grinds, rounds into pebbles, and deposits pell-mell with the mud and sea weed in some deep crevice, where it again will come to seek them in the storm, roll them over once more in its foam, and drag them off to its profound caverns.
While our feet were wounded by the rocks, above our heads hundreds of sea birds hovered screaming, and among them we discovered the sea-gull by its shrill and harsh scream.
Notwithstanding these horrors, this island is not a desert. At the
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