Evangeline

ALL the children in Marian’s class were writing in their copy-books
“Knowledge is Power.” The pens squeaked and scratched and labored
across pages lighted by June sunshine. The little girls’ fingers were
sticky and boy hands were cramped. It was monotonous work. The “K” was
hard to make and the capital “P” was all flourishes.

Marian sighed, then raised her hand.

“What is it?” asked Miss Smith.

“Will you tell which one of us has the best looking page when we get
through with ‘Knowledge is Power’?”

Miss Smith consented and Marian, determined to conquer, grasped her pen
firmly and bent to the task. Two days later the page was finished and
seven copy-books were piled upon Miss Smith’s desk for inspection. At
first Miss Smith smiled as she examined the various assertions that
“Knowledge is Power,” then she grew serious.

“Did you try your best, children?” she asked, whereupon five girls and
two boys looked surprised and hurt.

“Well, then, I wonder what is the trouble?” continued Miss Smith. “I am
ashamed of your work, children, it seems as if you could do better.”

“Which is best?” demanded Marian. It made no difference how poor her
copy was if only it was better than the others. The child was sorry she
had asked the question when she knew the truth. “I think it is pretty
discouraging,” she said, “when you try your best and do the worst.”

“We will begin something new,” Miss Smith suggested. “Next week we will
write compositions on wild flowers and to the one who does the neatest
looking work, I will give the little copy of ‘Evangeline’ I have been
reading to you. It will make no difference whether the compositions are
long or short, but the penmanship must be good. Every one of you knows
the spring flowers for we have had them here in school and have talked
about them every day.”

“Will we have to write in our copy-books just the same?” asked Tommy
Perkins.

“No,” was the reply; “you may work on your compositions all the time we
usually write in the copy-books, and remember, it doesn’t make a bit of
difference how short your compositions are.”

That was exactly what Marian did not remember. At first she wrote:

“No flower is so pretty as the anemone that blooms on the windy hill.”

At recess she consulted Miss Smith. “Is that long enough?” she asked.

“Yes, that will do,” was the reply.

“Is it fair if I copy off her composition?” asked Tommy Perkins, “and
practice writing it? I can’t make up one.”

“That sentence will do as well as any other,” agreed Miss Smith. “I
simply wish you to write something you choose to do.”

Marian beamed upon Tommy. “I’ll copy it for you,” she said. “I don’t
really think anemones are the prettiest flowers, Tommy, but they are
easy to write; no ups or downs in the word if the flowers themselves do
dance like fairies all the day long.”

“I wish’t you’d write me a composition,” put in Frankie Bean.

“I will,” assented Marian, “after school calls, but now, come on out
and play.”

After recess, Marian passed Frankie a piece of paper upon which was
written this:

“Clover loves a sunny home.”

“That’s easy, Frankie, because ‘y’ is the only letter below the line.
You can say sun-kissed if you would rather keep it all above the
line. If I don’t get the book, may be you will. I hope you won’t be
disappointed, though. I would try if I were you. Something may happen
to me before next week, you never can tell.”

Monday and Tuesday Marian wrote compositions for the four girls to
copy. They were more particular than the boys had been and their
compositions were longer.

By the time Marian was ready to settle down to her sentence on the
anemone, she was tired of it and determined to write something new.
Soon she forgot all about penmanship and Friday afternoon found her
with a long composition to copy in an hour. Even then, after the first
moment of dismay, she forgot that neatness of work alone, would count.

Miss Virginia Smith read the composition aloud.

“_Wild Flowers, by Marian Lee._

“When you shut your eyes and think of wild flowers, you always want to
open them and fly to the hills and the woods. You wish you had wings
like the birds.

“In an old flower legend book that tells about things most folks don’t
know, I found out what you were always sure of before you knew it. The
anemones are fairy blossoms. The pink on the petals was painted by the
fairies and on rainy nights elves hide in the dainty blooms.

“Tulips are not wild, but how can I leave them out when the fairies
used them for cradles to rock their babies in.

“Some folks laugh at you when you hunt for four-leaved clover, but you
can never see the fairies without one nor go to the fairy kingdom.

“The old book says, too, that the bluebells ring at midnight to call
the fairies together. I believe it because I have seen bluebells and
have almost heard the music. I don’t believe they ever were witches’
thimbles.

“You most always get your feet wet when you go after marsh marigolds,
but it can’t be helped. They are yellow flowers and live where they can
hear the frogs all the time. I wonder if they ever get tired of frog
concerts. I never do, only I think it is mournful music after the sun
goes down. It makes you glad you are safe in the house.

“There is one lovely thing about another yellow flower. It is the
cinquefoil and you find it before the violets come if you know where to
look. On rainy days and in damp weather, the green leaves bend over and
cover the little yellow blossom. The cinquefoil plant must be afraid
its little darling will catch cold.

“If you ever feel cross, the best thing you can do is to go out where
the wild flowers grow. You will be sure to hear birds sing and you may
see a rabbit or a squirrel. Anyway, you will think thoughts that are
not cross.”

“Evangeline” was given to Tommy Perkins. He had practiced writing the
anemone sentence until his perfectly written words astonished Miss
Virginia Smith.

“I know my writing isn’t good,” admitted a little girl named Marian.
“Only see how it goes up-hill and down-hill and how funny the letters
are.”

MARIAN’S letters to her Uncle George were written on Sunday afternoons.
She wrote pages and pages about Miss Smith and the country school and
begged him not to come for her in August.

“I haven’t done anything better than any one else in school yet,” she
wrote, “but I am learning all kinds of things and having the best time
ever was. I want to go to the country school until I graduate. I’ll be
ready for college before you know it if you will only let me stay.

“I am good all the time because Mrs. Golding says so and Miss Ruth and
Miss Kate take me almost everywhere they go–when they drive to town,
circuses and things and I have lovely times every day.

“I would tell you who I play with only you would forget the names of so
many children. When I can’t find any one else I go to the mill to see
the miller’s boy. That isn’t much fun because the miller’s boy is half
foolish. His clothes are always covered with flour and he looks like
a little old miller himself. He jumps out at you when you don’t know
where he is and says ‘Boo!’ and scares you almost out of your wits, and
that makes his father laugh. I tried to teach him to read but I didn’t
have good luck. He read ‘I see the cat’ out of almanacs and everything.

“The old miser died last night, Uncle George, and I saw him in the
afternoon. Only think of it, I saw a man that died. After dinner I went
to see the miller’s boy and he wasn’t there. His father said he was
wandering along the river bank somewhere, so I stayed and talked to the
miller. Pretty soon the boy came back making crazy motions with his
arms and telling his father the old miser wanted to see him quick.

“I went outside and watched the big wheel of the mill when the boy and
his father went away, but it wasn’t any time before the boy came back
and said the old miser wanted to see me. Of course I went as fast as
I could go, and when I got to the hut, the miller asked me if I could
say any Bible verses, and if I could to say them quick because the old
miser wanted somebody to read the Bible quick–quick. I thought it was
queer, Uncle George, but I was glad I had learned so much out of the
Bible.

“The old miser was all in rags and I guess he didn’t feel well then,
because he was lying down on a queer old couch and he didn’t stir, but
I tell you he watched me. I didn’t want to go in the hut, so I stood
in the doorway where I could feel the sunshine all around me. Some
way I thought that wasn’t any time to ask questions, so I began the
Twenty-third Psalm right straight off. When I got to the end of that I
was going to say the first fourteen verses of John, but the old miser
raised one hand and said, ‘Again–again,’ but before I got any further
than ‘The valley of the shadow,’ he went to sleep looking at me and I
never saw his face so happy. It smoothed all out and looked different.
Poor old miser, the boys used to plague him. The miller motioned to
his boy and me to go away. I guess he was afraid Jakey would wake the
old miser. Of course I knew enough to keep still when a tired looking
old man dropped to sleep.

“I don’t know just when the old miser died, Uncle George, nobody talks
about it where I can hear a word. Mrs. Golding says when I grow up
I will be glad that I could repeat the Twenty-third Psalm to a poor
old man who hadn’t any friends. She says it isn’t true that he was a
miser, he was just an unfortunate old man. I wonder if he was anybody’s
grandfather? You never can tell.

“I am well acquainted with all the folks in the village, Uncle George,
and lots of times I go calling. There are some old folks here who never
step outside of their houses and they are glad to have callers. One old
blind woman knits all the time. She likes to be read to, real well. And
there is one woman, the shoemaker’s wife, that has six children that
bother her so when she tries to work; she says it does her good to see
me coming.

“Only think, Uncle George, how lonesome I will be when I get home where
I am not acquainted. The only sad thing that has happened here all
summer is that the miser died, and of course you know that might be
worse.

“I would like to be with Miss Smith more than I am but she studies
almost all the time. I don’t see what for because she knows everything,
even about the stars. She likes me a great deal but I guess nobody
knows it. You mustn’t have favorites when you are a school-teacher, she
told me so.

“You don’t know how hard it is, Uncle George, to do something better
than anybody else. You might think it would be easy, but somebody
always gets ahead of you in everything, you can’t even keep your desk
the cleanest. Some girls never bring in anything from the woods, so of
course they can keep dusted.

“I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed in

“Your loving niece,
“MARIAN LEE.”