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E. How foolish that was!
Mrs. F. Yes; the girl had not the least presence of mind, and in consequence thereof, lost all recollection, and became entirely useless. But as soon as your aunt came up, she took the right method for preventing the mischief. The cap was too much on fire to be pulled off; so she snatched a quilt from the bed, and flung it round Mary's head, and thus stifled the flame.
E. Mary was a good deal burned, though.
Mrs. F. Yes, but it was very well that it was no worse. If the maid, however, had acted with any sense at first, no harm at all would have been done, except burning the cap. I remember a much more fatal example of the want of presence of mind. The mistress of a family was awakened by flames bursting into her chamber. She flew to the staircase; and in her confusion, instead of going up stairs to call her children, who slept together in the nursery overhead, and who might all have escaped by the top of the house, she ran down, and with much danger made way through the fire into the street. When there, the thought of her poor children rushed into her mind; but it was too late. The stairs had caught fire, so that nobody could get near them, and they were burned in their beds.
E. What a sad thing!
Mrs. F. Sad indeed! Now I will tell you of a different conduct. A lady was awakened by the crackling of fire, and saw it shining under her chamber floor. Her husband would immediately have opened the door; but she prevented him, since the smoke and flame would then have burst in upon them. The children slept in a room opening out of theirs. She went and awakened them; and tying together the sheets and blankets, she let down the children one by one. Last of all, she descended herself. A few minutes after, the floor fell in, and all the house was in flames.
E. What a happy escape!
Mrs. F. Yes; and with what cool self-possession it was managed! For mothers to love their children, and be willing
to run any hazards for them, is common; but love alone will not prompt what should be done in moments of danger and alarm. A lady, once, seeing her little boy climb up a high ladder, set up a violent scream, that frightened the child, so that he fell down, and was much hurt; whereas, if she had possessed command enough over herself to speak to him gently, he might have got down safely.
E. I am afraid I should do the same, if I should see one of my little brothers on a high ladder.
Mrs. F. Then you would not be doing a wise thing. The occasions which most try one's presence of mind are those in which the danger presses upon others as well as upon ourselves. Suppose a furious bull were to come upon you in the midst of a field. You could not possibly escape him by running, and attempting it would destroy your only chance of safety.
E. What would that be?
Mrs. F. I have a story for that too. The mother of that Mr. Day who wrote Sanford and Merton was distinguished, as he also was, for courage and presence of mind. When a young woman, she was one day walking in the fields with a companion, when they perceived a bull coming towards them, roaring and tossing about his horns in the most tremendous manner.
E. O, how I should have screamed!
Mrs. F. I dare say you would; and so did her companion. But she bade her walk away behind her as quietly as she could, while she herself stopped short, and faced the bull, eying him with a determined countenance. The bull, when he had come near, stopped also, pawing the ground and roaring. Few animals will attack one who steadily waits for them. In a few moments, she drew back some steps, still facing the bull. The bull followed; she stopped, and then he stopped. In this manner, she made good her retreat to the stile* over which her companion had before got. She then turned and sprang over
it, and got out of danger.
* Stile, a set of steps by which a hedge or fence is passed over.
E. That was bravely done, indeed! But I think very few women would have done as much.
Mrs. F. Such a degree of cool resolution, to be sure, is not common. But I have heard of a lady in the East Indies who showed at least as much. She was sitting out of doors with a party of pleasure, when they were aware of a huge tiger that had crept through a hedge near them, and was just ready to make his fatal spring. They were struck with the utmost consternation; but she, with an umbrella in her hand, turned to the tiger, and suddenly spread it full in his face. This unusual assault so terrified the beast, that, taking a prodigious leap, he sprang over the fence, and plunged out of sight into the neighboring thicket.
E. Well, that was the boldest thing I ever heard of.
Mrs. F. I can tell you of still another instance of courage and presence of mind shown by a lady, the great-grandmother of Miss Edgeworth, whose stories you are so fond of reading. She was living in Ireland, and once had occasion to go, at night, to a garret at the top of the house, for some gunpowder, which was kept there in a barrel. She was followed up stairs by an ignorant servant girl, who carried a bit of candle, without a candlestick, between her fingers. When Lady Edgeworth had taken what gunpowder she wanted, had locked the door, and was half way down stairs again, she observed that the girl had not her candle, and asked what she had done with it. The girl recollected and answered that she had left it sticking in the barrel of black salt! Lady Edgeworth bade her stand still, and instantly returned by herself to the room where the gunpowder was; found the candle as the girl had described; took it carefully out; and when she had reached the bottom of the stairs, fell on her knees, and thanked God for their deliverance.
E. I am afraid I could not have done what either of these ladies did.
Mrs. F. You are not likely, my dear child, to meet a tiger, or live in a house where a barrel of gunpowder is kept; but
in every one's life there are occasions in which presence of mind is important, and I hope you will always be able to meet them.
J. R. CHANDLER.
I FOLLOWED into a burying ground, in the suburbs of the city, a small train of persons, - not more than a dozen, — who had come to bury one of their acquaintance. The clergyman in attendance was leading a little boy by the hand, who seemed to be the only relative of the deceased.
I gathered with them round the grave; and when the plain coffin was lowered down, the child burst forth in uncontrollable grief. The little boy had no one left to whom he could look for affection, or who could address him in tones of parental kindness. The last of his kinsfolk was in the grave, and he was alone.
When the clamorous grief of the child had a little subsided, the clergyman addressed us with the customary exhortation to accept the monition, and be prepared; and turning to the child, he added,
"She is not to remain in this grave forever. As true as the grass, which is now chilled with the frost of the season, shall spring to greenness and life in a few months, so true shall your mother rise from that grave to another life a life of happiness, I hope."
The attendants then shovelled in the earth upon the coffin, and some one took little William, the child, by the hand, and led him forth from the lowly tenement of his mother.
Late in the ensuing spring, I was in the neighborhood of the same burying ground, and, seeing the gate open, I walked among the graves, for some time, reading the names of the dead; when, recollecting that I was near the grave of the poor widow, buried the previous autumn, I turned to see what had been done to preserve the memory of one so utterly destitute of earthly friends.
To my surprise, I found the most desirable of all memorials for a mother's sepulchre; little William was sitting near the head of the now, sunken grave, looking intently upon some green shoots that had come forth, with the warmth of spring, from the soil that covered his mother's coffin.
William started at my approach, and would have left the place. It was long before I could induce him to remain ; and, indeed, I did not win his confidence until I told him I was present when they buried his mother, and had marked his tears at the time.
"Then you heard the minister say that my mother would come up out of this grave," said William.
"It is true is it not?" asked he, in a tone of confidence. "I most firmly believe it," said I.
"Believe it!" said the child; "believe it! I thought you knew it. I know it."
"How do you know it, my dear?"
"The minister said that, as true as the grass would grow up, and the flowers bloom in spring, so true would my mother rise. I came a few days afterwards, and planted flower seeds on the grave. The grass came green in this burying ground long ago; and I watched every day for the flowers, and to-day they have come up too. See them breaking through the ground. By and by mother will come again."
A smile of exulting hope played on the features of the boy; and I felt pained at disturbing the faith and confidence with which he was animated. "But, my little child," said I, "it is not here that your mother will rise."
"Yes, here," said he, with emphasis: "here they placed her, and here I have come ever since the first blade of grass was green this year."
I looked round, and saw that the tiny feet of the child had trod out the herbage at the grave side, so constant had been his attendance. What a faithful watch-keeper! What mother would desire a richer monument than the form of her only son bending, tearful, but hoping, over her grave?