Plain Bernice by
Mrs. Cora Webber
The last stroke of the bell was dying away ere Bernice Dahl walked timidly
across the schoolroom floor, and sat down in the nearest empty seat.
"O, my, my!" whispered Myrtle Fling across the aisle to her chum. "She is
the plainest-looking girl I ever saw."
Elizabeth nodded her head very positively, and two or three others
exchanged knowing glances. A moment later a little piece of paper fluttered
down at Myrtle's feet from a desk top. On it was written: "She's so plain.
She's Rocky Mountainy?all ridges and hubbles."
Meanwhile Bernice sat very still, her great black eyes fixed on the
Have you ever held a frightened bird in your hand, and felt its heart beat?
That is the way Bernice's heart was going. She was a stranger. Her father
had moved to this place from a distant town, and she had walked to school
that morning with a pupil who lived on the same street, but who had
fluttered away into a little bevy of children almost as soon as she had
shown the new girl the cloak-room; and Bernice, naturally a bit diffident
and sensitive, felt very much alone.
This feeling was heightened when the bell struck, and one by one the pupils
filed past into the schoolroom, with only a rude stare or indifferent
glance, quite as if she were some specter on exhibition. When the last one
had passed her, she clasped and unclasped her hands nervously.
"It is because I am so homely!" she thought.
A month or more went by. Somehow Bernice and her schoolmates had not made
so much progress in getting acquainted as one would have thought. The new
girl was unobtrusive, attended strictly to her studies, and made few
demands on those about her; yet it was true that there was among them at
least an unacknowledged conspiracy to taboo her, or an understanding that
she was to be ignored almost completely. This Bernice attributed to her
looks. Ever since she could remember, she had been called "homely," "ugly,"
"plain," and similar epithets. Now, though she preserved a calm exterior,
she could not help being unhappy because she was thus slighted.
One Monday morning a little flurry of excitement was visible among the
pupils of the up-town grammar-school. Elizabeth Weston had announced a
party to come off later in the week, and several of them had been invited.
"Will you invite Bernice Dahl?" asked Myrtle, bending over her friend.
"I have been thinking about it," Elizabeth answered, slowly. "Miss Somers
says she has the best lessons of any one in her class, and then she was so
nice to Jimmy Flanders that day he sprained his arm. I have half a mind
to." And she really did.
That night when Bernice was telling her mother of the invitation she had
received, she said, doubtfully, "I think I shall not go."
"Why not?" was the reply. "It can do no good to stay away, and something
may be gained by going."
So it chanced that Bernice found herself at Elizabeth's home on the evening
of the party. Her hostess met her smilingly. "She is really glad that I
came," thought Bernice. And she felt her soul suddenly warm to life, just
as the thirsty earth brightens and glows and sends up little shoots of new
green at a patter of summer rain.
The long parlor was decorated in green and white. The bright lights, the
gay figures stirring beneath, and the shining faces, half of which were
strange to Bernice, formed a pretty picture, and the girl moved here and
there in the constantly shifting kaleidoscope with a freedom and happiness
she had not known since coming to the town.
At last she found herself, with the others, sitting very quiet and
listening to two girls playing a duet on the piano. Then one of them sang a
Scotch song. There was warmth and richness, the warbling of birds, the
melody of brooks, in the rendering, and Bernice heard a half-sigh close
"I wish I could sing! O, always I wanted to sing!"
Then for the first time she saw who sat there?a tall, handsome,
beautifully gowned girl whom she had noticed several times during the
evening, and to whom everybody seemed to defer. She had heard vaguely that
this was Elizabeth's cousin, and wondered if it was for her that Elizabeth
had given the party.
"And can't you?" she asked, evincing instant interest.
The girl turned toward her with a smile. "Not at all. Sometimes I used to
try when no one heard, and once when I was in the hammock with my brother's
little girl, I joined her in the song she was singing. She looked at me in
a minute with a rueful countenance, and said, 'Aunt Helen, I can't sing
when you are making such a noise!'" Bernice laughed. "I haven't tried much
since," the tall girl added.
"We have singing lessons at school twice a week," Bernice said, presently,
"but I like the every-day lessons better."
"Do you? I like mathematics, and sloyd, and a hammer and nails and saw.
Mama tells me I ought to be a carpenter."
"But you don't look like one," Bernice smiled, critically; and then
continued: "We began physical geography this term. It is so interesting.
And Miss Somers makes language beautiful; I can't help liking grammar!"
"I never understood it?it was always so blind!"
But Bernice was laughing again. The tall girl turned toward her
"I was thinking of what Johnny Weeks said down in the primary room the
other day," Bernice began in explanation. "The teacher asked him what 'cat'
was. I guess he was not paying attention. He looked all around, and finally
said he did not know. She told him it was a noun. 'Then,' he said, after
some deliberation, 'kitten must be a pronoun.'"
An hour afterward, all the lights but one in the house were out. Elizabeth
sat with her cousin talking over the events of the evening.
"And how do you like Bernice Dahl?" she asked, and lent an eager ear; for
Helen's word could make or mar things irretrievably.
"Like her? I have never liked any one better. Perhaps I would not have
noticed, had you not spoken particularly about her."
"Well?" said Elizabeth, as her cousin paused.
"She is all life and vivacity. I thought you said she was 'dummified.'"
"But she was. I never saw her like this before."
"Then something woke her. If any seemed ill at ease or lonely, she went to
them, and, behold, they chatted like magpies! I saw some of her schoolmates
look at her wonderingly, and at least one sneered, but I watched. She had
just one thought, and that was to make every one happy. You could have
spared any one of the girls better; in fact, any three of them."
Long after Helen had gone to sleep, Elizabeth lay thinking. "Jimmy
Flanders," she said, and counted off one finger; another followed, and then
another. After all, it was wonderful how many good deeds she could reckon
up, and all so quietly done. Strange she had never thought of them en masse
before. How could Bernice be gay among so many frowns and slights?
The next forenoon session of the grammar-school was well under way. Bernice
opened her history, and in it was a little slip of paper that she had used
as a book-mark since that first morning. An odd spirit seized her, and
almost before she knew it, she had gone up the aisle, and laid it on
Elizabeth's desk. The next instant she would have given much to withdraw
it. Elizabeth glanced down and flushed painfully. There it was: "She's so
plain. She's Rocky Mountainy?all ridges and hubbles." But Bernice was back
at her work again, evidently unruffled.
When the bell tapped for intermission, Elizabeth went to her. "Bernice, I
did write it. O, I am so ashamed!" and, bursting into tears, she hid her
face on Bernice's shoulder.
One of those smiles that somehow have the power of transforming the
harshest features, swept over the girl's face, and, picking up Elizabeth's
hand, she kissed it softly again and again. "I won't kiss her face," she
thought, "I am so homely!" but from that day she slipped into the queenly
place she had a right to occupy, and it was not long before every one
forgot her plainness.
And let me whisper you a secret, girls,?for even now Bernice does not seem
to know,?as she grew older, the rough lines mellowed and softened, the
short figure stretched upward, till she was beautiful as ever her dearest
wish had pictured. Was it not lovely spirit within, for Bernice was a
Christian, molding and modeling the clay into a fit dwelling-place for
itself? That is a beauty that never quite withers away. Its roots are
planted in the soul beautiful, and a beautiful soul can never die.
MRS. CORA WEBBER.
Say "Thank You"
I saw a needy one relieved,
And forth he went, and glad,
But not one word of gratitude
That lightened spirit had.
His benefactor, bent by cares,
Went wearily all day;
While him his kindnesses had served
Went careless on his way.
If you have given aught for me,
Ought not my voice return
One little word of graciousness?
O, breaking spirits yearn
Just for the human touch of love
To cheer the aching heart,
To brighten all the paths of toil,
And take away the smart!
Say "Thank you!" then. 'Tis small enough
Return for help bestowed
Say "Thank you!" You would spurn to slight
The smallest debt you owed;
But is not this a debt??Ah, more!
And honor, if true blue
Your loyal heart of rectitude,
Impels to say "Thank you!"
B. F. W. SOURS.