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An Apronful of Water Cresses by Margaret Eytinge




Cissy Mount came down to the gurgling, sparkling little brook at the foot of the hill, where Frank Hillborn and his brother Dave were gathering water-cresses.

"I'm going to Fairview, Frank," she said, "and came to ask you if you would look in on mother by-and-by, and see if she needs anything."

"Of course I will," said Frank. "But you're not going to walk to Fairview, Cissy? That's a long tramp for a girl."

"Yes, I am," she replied. "There's no other way I can go. Nobody that I know ever drives down there. Mother wants me to try and get her some sewing to do. You know there are five or six big stores there, and mother can sew and knit beautifully. I wish I had time to pick some wild flowers to take with me. Town-people like wild flowers."

"A good many of them like something fresh and green to eat better than they do wild flowers," said Frank; "so you just take along some of these water-cresses. Aren't they beauties? They're the first we've gathered this spring, and I hope they'll bring you luck."

"But I have no basket," said Cissy.

"Carry them in your apron. They won't hurt;" and as she held it up, he heaped it full of moist green bunches.

"That's just like you, Frank Hillborn," said Dave, when the girl had gone. "What's the good of our owning the only water-cress brook for miles if you're going to give 'em away to everybody that comes along?"

"Everybody that comes along?" repeated Frank, with a cheery laugh. "I've only given a basketful to Ezra Lee—he lent us his fishing-line when we lost ours—and an apronful to Cissy Mount. Poor Cissy! Guess there's hard times at her house since her father was killed on the railroad and her mother got lame. And you know she's going to ask for work, and it most always puts folks in good-humor if you carry 'em something nice."

"All right," said Dave; "but don't you give away any more, for we want to make five dollars out of 'em this season, anyhow."

Cissy Mount walked bravely on mile after mile, until half of her journey had been accomplished. Then she stopped and looked around for a place where she might rest awhile. A pleasant little lane, on either side of which stood a row of tall cedar-trees, branched off from the main road. Into this lane she turned, and sat down on the grass near the side gate of a fine garden. And as she sat there peeping through a hole in the hedge at some lovely beds of hyacinths and tulips, radiant in the sunshine, a queer-looking little old gentleman, with no hat on, but having a wonderful quantity of brown hair, came scolding down the garden path, followed by a man carrying a camp-chair. The old gentleman as he talked grew more and more excited, and at last, to Cissy's great astonishment, grasped the abundant brown locks, lifted them completely off his head, waved them in the air an instant, and then gravely replaced them. As he came near, the child could hear what he was saying: "I sent word from Europe when this place was bought that if there were no water-cress stream upon it, one was to be made at once. That's a year ago."

"Beg pardon, sir," said the man, humbly, "but I did my best, sir. It isn't my fault, sir. Sometimes you can't make water-cresses grow, all you can do, sir."

"And what's to be done with the puddle—for it's nothing but a puddle, though a big one—that you've disfigured my grounds with?" asked the old gentleman.

"Miss Grace says it will be a capital place for raising water-lilies, sir," said the man.

"Oh, indeed! Very fine. But I can't eat water-lilies. There's no pepper about them, and it's the pepper I want."

"Perhaps I can find some cresses for sale somewhere near, sir. Shall I go and look, sir?"

"No," snarled the master. "By the time you came back with them, if you got them, ten chances to one I shouldn't want them. When I want things, I want them at once. Yes, I'd give five dollars for some fresh water-cresses this very minute;" and he again seized his wig and flourished it in the air.

With trembling fingers Cissy opened the gate, and walked in. The servant-man placed the camp-chair on the ground. The old gentleman sat down in it, first hanging his hair on the back, leaving his head as smooth and shining as an ivory ball, looked at the intruder with keen black eyes, and asked, sharply, "Well, what do you want?"

"To give you these water-cresses," she said, with a smile, holding up her apron. "They were gathered only a short time ago, and my apron's quite clean, sir."

"Bless me!" exclaimed the old gentleman, "what a wonderful coincidence! and"—taking a bunch and beginning to eat them—"what fine water-cresses! And I suppose you expect that five dollars, for of course you heard what I said."

"No, sir," said Cissy, shyly, "I never thought of the money. I know you only said that as people often say things. I'm glad to give them to you, sir, because you wanted them so much."

The old gentleman burst into a loud laugh, put on his wig, and asked her name. And then by degrees he got the whole story from her—the death of the father, the accident that lamed the mother, the gift of the cresses from Frank Hillborn, and the five miles yet to go in search of work. "And what was your mother's name before she was married?" was his last question.

"Prudence Kelly, sir."

"Prudence Kelly! I knew it!" he shouted, springing from his chair. And then, in a still louder voice, he called, "Grace! Grace!" and a pretty young lady came running toward him. "I've found your old nurse, my dear, your faithful old nurse that we have lost sight of for years. This is her daughter. And she is in want. Take the carriage and go to her at once. What a blessing that I got up in a scolding humor this morning, and wanted water-cresses! Go with Grace, Cecilia my child, and when you get home, give this five-dollar bill to your friend Frank, and tell him it isn't the first time a little act of kindness has brought luck."