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Two Pictures by T. S. Arthur

 

Two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, the oldest but six years of age, came in from school one evening, later than usual by half an hour. Both their eyes were red with weeping, and their cheeks wet with tears. Their father, Mr. Warren, who had come home from his business earlier than usual, had been waiting some time for their return, and wondering why they stayed so late. They were his only children, and he loved them most tenderly. They had, a few weeks before, been entered at a school kept by a lady in the neighborhood—not so much for what they would learn, as to give occupation to their active minds.

"Why, Anna! Willy!" exclaimed Mr. Warren, as the children came in, "what's the matter? Why have you stayed so late?"

Anna lifted her tearful eyes to her father's face, and her lip curled and quivered. But she could not answer his question.

Mr. Warren took the grieving child in his arms, and as he drew her to his bosom, said to Willy, who was the oldest—

"What has made you so late, dear?"

"Miss Roberts kept us in," sobbed Willy.

"Kept you in!" returned Mr. Warren, in surprise. "How came that?"

"Because we laughed," answered the child, still sobbing and weeping.

"What made you laugh?"

"One of the boys made funny faces."

"And did you laugh too, dear?" asked the father of Anna.

"Yes, papa. But I couldn't help it. And Miss Roberts scolded so, and said she was going to whip us."

"And was that all you did?"

"Yes, indeed, papa," said Willy.

"I'll see Miss Roberts about it," fell angrily from the lips of Mr. Warren. "It's the last time you appear in her school. A cruel-minded woman!"

And then the father soothed his grieving little ones with affectionate words and caresses.

"Dear little angels!" said Mr. Warren to his wife, shortly afterwards, "that any one could have the heart to punish them for a sudden outburst of joyous feelings! And Anna in particular, a mere babe as she is, I can't get over it. To think of her being kept in for a long half hour, under punishment, after all the other children had gone home. It was cruel. Miss Roberts shall hear from me on the subject."

"I don't know, dear, that I would say any thing about it," remarked the mother, who was less excited about the matter, "I don't think she meant to be severe. She, doubtless, forgot that they were so very young."

"She'd no business to forget it. I've no idea of my children being used after this fashion. The boy that made them laugh should have been kept in, if any punishment had to be inflicted. But it's the way with cruel-minded people. The weakest are always chosen as objects of their dislike."

"I am sure you take this little matter too much to heart," urged the mother. "Miss Roberts must have order in her school, and even the youngest must conform to this order. I do not think the punishment so severe. She had to do something to make them remember their fault, and restrain their feelings in future; and she could hardly have done less. It is not too young for them to learn obedience in any position where they are introduced."

But the over fond and tender father could see no reason for the punishment his little ones had received; and would not consent to let them go again to the school of Miss Roberts. To him they were earth's most precious things. They were tender flowers; and he was troubled if ever the winds blew roughly upon them.

Seven years have passed. Let us visit the home of Mr. Warren and look at him among his children. No; we will not enter this pleasant house—he moved away long ago. Can this be the home of Mr. Warren! Yes. Small, poor, and comfortless as it is! Ah! there have been sad changes.

Let us enter. Can that be Warren? That wretched looking creature—with swollen, disfigured face and soiled garments—who sits, half stupid, near the window? A little flaxen-haired child is playing on the floor. It is not Anna. No; seven years have changed her from the fairylike little creature she was when her father became outraged at her punishment in Miss Roberts' school! Poor Anna! That was light as the thistle down to what she has since received from the hands of her father. The child on the floor is beautiful, even in her tattered clothes. She has been playing for some time. Now her father calls to her in a rough, grumbling voice.

"Kate! You, Kate, I say!"

Little Kate, not five years old, leaves her play and goes up to where her parent is sitting.

"Go and get me a drink of water," said he in a harsh tone of authority.

Kate takes a tin cup from a table and goes to the hydrant in the yard. So pleased is she in seeing the water run, that she forgets her errand. Three or four times she fills the cup, and then pours forth its contents, dipping her tiny feet in the stream that is made. In the midst of her sport, she hears an angry call, and remembering the errand upon which she has been sent, hurriedly fills her cup again and bears it to her father. She is frightened as she comes in and sees his face; this confuses her; her foot catches in something as she approaches, and she falls over, spilling the cup of water on his clothes. Angrily he catches her up, and, cruel in his passion, strikes her three or four heavy blows.

"Now take that cup and get me some water!" he cries, in a loud voice, "and if you are not here with it in a minute, I'll beat the life half out of you! I'll teach you to mind when your spoken to, I will! There! Off with you!"

Little Kate, smarting from pain, and trembling with fear, lifts the cup and hurries away to perform her errand. She drops it twice from her unsteady hands ere she is able to convey it, filled with water, to her parent, who takes it with such a threatening look from his eyes, that the child shrinks away from him, and goes from the room in fear.

An hour passes, and the light of day begins to fade.

Evening comes slowly on, and at length the darkness closes in. But twice since morning has Warren been from the house, and then it was to get something to drink. The door at length opens quietly, and a, little girl enters. Her face is thin and drooping, and wears a look of patient suffering.

"You're late, Anna," says the mother, kindly.

"Yes, ma'am. We had to stay later for our money. Mr. Davis was away from the store, and I was afraid I would have to come home without it. Here it is."

Mrs. Warren took the money.

"Only a dollar!" There was disappointment in her tones as she said this.

"Yes, ma'am, that is all," replied Anna, in a troubled voice. "I spoiled some work, and Mr. Davis said I should pay for it, and so he took half a dollar from my wages."

"Spoiled your work!" spoke up the father, who had been listening. "That's more of your abominable carelessness!"

"Indeed, father; I couldn't help it," said Anna, "one of the girls—"

"Hush up, will you! I want none of your lying excuses. I know you! It was done on purpose, I have not the least doubt."

Anna caught her breath, like one suddenly deprived of air. Tears rushed to her eyes and commenced falling over her cheeks, while her bosom rose and fell convulsively.

"Come, now! None of that!" said the cruel father sternly. "Stop your crying instantly, or I will give you something to cry for! A pretty state of things, indeed, when every word must be answered by a fit of crying!"

The poor child choked down her feelings as best she could, turning as she did so from her father; that he might not see the still remaining traces of her grief which it was impossible at once to hide.

Not a single dollar had the idle, drunken father earned during the week, that he had not expended in self-indulgence; and yet, in his brutality, he could roughly chide this little girl, yet too young for the taskmaster, because she had lost half a dollar of her week's earnings through an accident, the very nature of which he would not hear explained. So grieved was the poor child at this unkindness, that when supper was on the table she shrunk away from the room.

"Come, Anna, to your supper," called the mother.

"I don't wish any thing to eat," replied the child, in a faint voice.

"Oh, yes; come and get something."

"Let her alone!" growls the father. "I never humor sulky children. She doesn't deserve any supper."

The mother sighs. While the husband eats greedily, consuming, himself, more than half that is on the table, she takes but a few mouthfuls, and swallows them with difficulty.

After supper, Willy, who is just thirteen, and who has already been bound out as an apprentice to a trade, comes home. He has a tale of suffering to tell. For some fault his master has beaten him until the large purple welts lie in meshes across his back from his shoulders to his hips.

"How comes all this?" asks Mr. Warren. There is not the smallest sign of sympathy in his voice.

Willy relates the cause, and tells it truly. He was something to blame, but his fault needed not the correction of stripes even lightly applied.

"Served you right!" said the father, when the story was ended. "No business to have acted so. Do as you are told, and mind your work, and you'll escape flogging. Otherwise, I don't care how often you get it. You've been spoiled at home, and it'll do you good to toe the mark. Did your master know you were coming home to-night?"

"No, sir," replied the boy, with trembling lips, and a choking voice.

"Then what did you come for? To get pitied? Do right and you'll need no pity."

"Oh, James, don't speak so to the child!" said Mrs. Warren, unable to keep silence.

This was answered by an angry look.

"You must go back to your master, boy," said the father, after a pause. "When you wish to come home, ask his consent."

"He doesn't object to my coming home," said Willy, his voice still quivering.

"Go back, I tell you! Take your hat, there, and go back. Don't come here any more with your tales!"

The boy glanced towards his mother, and read pity and sympathy in her countenance, but she did not countermand the order; for she knew that if she did so, a scene of violence would follow.

"Ask to come home in the morning," said she to her boy, as she held his hand tightly in hers at the door. He gave her a look of tender thankfulness, and then went forth into the darkness, feeling so sad and wretched that he could not repress his tears.

Seven years. And was only this time required to effect such a change! Ah! rum is a demon! How quickly does it transform the tender husband and parent into a cruel beast! Look upon these two pictures, ye who tarry long at the wine! Look at them, but do not say they are overdrawn! They have in them only the sober hues and subdued colors of truth.

 
 
 

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