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A B C

From Ailenroc鈥檚 Book, by Cornelia Alexander

鈥淲here is Charles?鈥 said Mrs. Butler, as they gathered around the breakfast table. 鈥淗e is generally prompt at mealtime, if no other.鈥

鈥淚 think he was reading,鈥 Mr. Butler answered. 鈥淟ou., go and call him; perhaps he did not hear the bell;鈥 but as Lou. arose from her seat the clatter of boyish boots was heard, and in a moment Charles was in his place beside her.

鈥淚 got interested,鈥 he said, in a frank, offhand manner, 鈥渋n a little story鈥攐r incident, rather鈥攁bout Napoleon.鈥

鈥淎nd what did Napoleon do in this instance?鈥 said his father.

鈥淗e got in a passion and counted a hundred before speaking.鈥

鈥淧ooh! That was a great thing to do,鈥 said Mr. Butler; and he went on helping the twins, Essie and Earnest, who sat, in all the dignity of high chairs and bib aprons, opposite Charles and Lou.

鈥淚f that鈥檚 all it takes to make a Napoleon, I could be one myself,鈥 Lou. said, as she stirred her tea.

鈥淚鈥檒l bet you couldn鈥檛 do it,鈥 said her brother.

鈥淚鈥檒l bet I could,鈥 said Lou.

鈥淐ome, come!鈥 Mr. Butler interposed. 鈥淲e鈥檒l have no betting here; but I agree with Lou., Charles, that anybody can count a hundred before speaking, no matter how angry he may be.鈥

鈥淚f he did, though,鈥 Charles went on, 鈥渉e would not want to say the angry words.鈥

鈥淗e would have time for reflection then,鈥 said Mrs. Butler, 鈥渁nd it is likely that the angry words would be left unsaid.鈥

鈥淲hen I get mad,鈥 Charles said, 鈥淚 feel like saying ugly things. If I should say over the alphabet, I believe my ill temper would be gone.鈥

鈥淪uppose you imitate Napoleon so far, then,鈥 said his father. 鈥淩epeat the A B C鈥檚 when you get angry about anything.鈥

鈥淲ill you do it, Sis.?鈥 Charles asked, nudging Lou.

鈥淥f course I will,鈥 she answered, 鈥渢hough I don鈥檛 get mad like you, Charlie; you鈥檙e so much older.鈥

Lou. was but ten, while Charles had attained to the respectable age of thirteen years.

鈥淎ll right!鈥 he answered. 鈥淣ow, for to-day at least, if we feel cross and angry and mean generally, we are to repeat the A B C鈥檚 before speaking.鈥

鈥淏 C,鈥 said Essie, beating time with her spoon in one fat palm; and Earnest, as twin brother, echoed: 鈥淏 C.鈥 They had been learning their letters, but had not got very far into them.

鈥淏less their little hearts!鈥 cried the fond mother. 鈥淭hey shall say 鈥楤 C,鈥 too, just as often as they please;鈥 and the twins jumped up and down rapturously in the high chairs, and cried 鈥淏 C, B C,鈥 in chorus.

鈥淣ow, father,鈥 said Lou., 鈥渨e will let you and mother in, too, and we will all try it for to-day. If you get mad, will you repeat the A B C鈥檚 before speaking?鈥

鈥淲hy, yes, I can do it,鈥 said Mr. Butler, 鈥渂ut I don鈥檛 see the use.鈥

鈥淲ell, it will do no harm,鈥 Lou. insisted. 鈥淪ay, will you?鈥

鈥淵es, I will.鈥

鈥淲ill you, mother?鈥

鈥淵es, if I can think of it.鈥

鈥淥, we will remind you!鈥 they said.

After breakfast they all went to their duties. Lou. washed the dishes and tidied up the kitchen like a thrifty little housewife; Mrs. Butler made the beds, dusted, brushed, and gathered vegetables for dinner; Mr. Butler went to the wood shed and hammered and tinkered on a wagon bed; the twins found a good place to play in an ash bank; and Charles watered the mules and put them in pasture, and was the first to be tempted. Everybody knows how mean a mule is鈥攈ow they go down before and up behind, how tricky their heels are, how inquisitive they are, and how easily they get frightened, or pretend to be.

Old Beck was a mule, and she was mean; so when Charles took her to water, she backed and wouldn鈥檛 drink, then went up again and backed, and then, as he tried to lead her up, she slung her heavy jaw around and took him 鈥渨hack鈥 in the face.

Charles was furiously angry; the blood started from his nose, and the tears from his eyes. 鈥淵ou old鈥斺 he began, and I can鈥檛 tell what else he might have said; but he recollected his bargain made at breakfast, and, setting his teeth hard and gulping down a great knot in his throat, he began, 鈥淎 B C D E F G,鈥 etc., and鈥攍o!鈥攂y the time Z was reached he was about cooled off, and old Beck was quietly filling her sides with water. 鈥淎fter all, it is no use to bemean her,鈥 he said to himself; 鈥渟he wouldn鈥檛 understand me.鈥 So he bathed his face in the cool water and rode off to the pasture, feeling very cheerful and contented as old Beck ambled along at her best for his benefit.

Just before dinner Lou. ran out to get some chips for the stove, and discovered the twins busily engaged over an old bucket. She ran in with her chips, and said to her mother, 鈥淓ss. and Earn. are up to some meanness out yonder; I鈥檒l see what it is;鈥 then she ran out, and in a moment her mother heard a horrified scream and ran out, too.

Lou. stood, the picture of rage and despair, holding the remains of her lovely French doll, which she had fished out of the bucket of dirty water; while the little transgressors stood by, bewildered, shamefaced, and ready to cry.

鈥淥, my Angelina!鈥 sobbed Lou. 鈥淪he is ruined, she is ruined! O, the little wre鈥!鈥

鈥淎 B C, daughter,鈥 said her mother, gently. 鈥淩emember your A B C鈥檚.鈥

鈥淚 was to say them when I was mad,鈥 Lou. screamed, 鈥渁nd I鈥檓 hurt now! I never will love鈥斺

鈥淗ush, hush!鈥 said Mrs. Butler. 鈥淵ou are very angry, Lou.; don鈥檛 back out from your promise.鈥

鈥淎 B C,鈥 Lou. began, brokenly; and while going over the letters she noticed how sorry the little thing looked, how the tears were standing in Essie鈥檚 eyes, and that the little red lips of her brother were trembling. Before she got to Z she had said to herself, 鈥淭hey鈥檙e babies, and better than dolls, anyway;鈥 and she surprised her mother by smiling at her through the tears, and the twins ventured nearer with something like a promise, 鈥淒o so no m-o-o, no m-o-o;鈥 and Lou. kissed the little faces and forgave them, for they did not know any better. They knew their own faces needed washing, and, seeing Angelina, with her long curls, red cheeks, and round blue eyes, thought she needed it, too.

鈥淗ave we a Napoleon in our family?鈥 Mr. Butler inquired over the dinner table, smiling as he did so.

His wife smiled back as she replied: 鈥淵es; Lou. had a right hard trial this morning, and the A B C鈥檚 helped her over it wonderfully.鈥

鈥淎nd what about you, Charles?鈥 said his father.

鈥淐harles laughed; it all seemed funny to him now. 鈥淚 guess if Old Beck could talk, she would tell you about mashing a boy鈥檚 nose, and how the A B C鈥檚 flew till the passion was all gone.鈥

鈥淲ell,鈥 said Mr. Butler, 鈥測ou and I come in next, mother.鈥

Lou. washed up the dinner dishes, and as she was drying the plates 鈥渟lip鈥 went a rare old bit of China out of her hand and lay broken in tiny bits at her feet.

Mrs. Butler heard the crash and hurried in, to be struck dumb at the sight. Her dishes were not her 鈥渉ousehold gods鈥 exactly, but they held a very high place, and here lay the choicest bit of all鈥攐ne of her mother鈥檚 plates鈥攊n fragments.

A cloud gathered on Mrs. Butler鈥檚 brow and she opened her lips to speak, raising her hand at the same time for a blow, when Charlie鈥檚 merry voice rang out behind her: 鈥淎 B C, mother!鈥

There was no help for it. She remembered that Lou.鈥檚 doll was as dear to the child as the plate was to her, and she began the prescription, though she thought it would strangle her. As she went on she remembered that she had broken dishes when a child, but her dear, wise mother had never punished her for it. She seemed again to hear the gently voice saying: 鈥淚 do not wish a child of mine to tremble with fear and dread of me, but be careful, daughter, be careful.鈥 She finished, and Lou., crying quietly and dreading a whipping, was astonished when her mother said, 鈥淚 am very sorry, my dear, that it is broken, but it is too late to grieve over it now. In the future be more careful;鈥 and Lou. promised in her heart that she would be careful, and from that time on she was.

At the workbench that evening, Mr. Butler bethought himself of a stick of seasoned timber which had been lying around for some months; and now that he wanted it, it couldn鈥檛 be found. He looked around the edges of the yard, and, as Charles was not about to assist him, went to his wife.

鈥淢artha,鈥 he said, looking in upon her as she sat at work, 鈥渄o you know anything of that piece of split timber that has been thrown around for some time?鈥

Mrs. Butler did not reply for a moment. Mr. Butler鈥檚 temper was a thing to be dreaded, for it found expression in very unbecoming words at times, and trifling crosses made him furious; but she must tell the truth for the truth鈥檚 sake, and for Lou.鈥檚, who sat looking at her with wide-open eyes.

鈥淵es,鈥 she said, 鈥渋t had been lying around so long I did not think you would ever need it, and the other day when I was ironing I laid it on the fire. I am very sorry, but I thought it was useless.鈥

Mr. Butler鈥檚 brows contracted, his eyes gleamed under them with a baleful luster, and hot, hasty, passionate words leaped to his lips; but just then his legs, as he stood at the door, were encircled by chubby baby arms, and two piping baby voices cried 鈥淏 C, papa; B C,鈥 having heard 鈥淏 C鈥 discussed so much they thought it an absorbing topic to him. It wasn鈥檛, though鈥攏ot at that time; but his brow cleared somewhat as he looked down at the mottled cherub faces turned confidingly up to him; then he looked in at his wife, sitting half smiling, half tearful, and wholly fearful of an outburst, and at Lou., watching him with earnest eyes. Then the twins were taken up to cover his confusion, and he went over the alphabet as though saying it for their benefit, and then marched off, leaving the bad words unsaid.

鈥淎fter all,鈥 he muttered, as he went about his work, 鈥渋t was so full of dirt and grit it would most likely have ruined my tools; and I鈥檓 glad I didn鈥檛 say the words I started to say. If any man was to talk to me like I do to her sometimes, I鈥檇 punch his head for him, and I know it. A stick of timber鈥攑ooh!鈥 and Mr. Butler had not been so well pleased with himself in some time as he was for refraining from the bitter, bad words.

鈥淎ny more Napoleons in our family?鈥 Charles asked that night.

Lou. answered: 鈥淵es; I think father had about as bad a time this evening as I had this morning.鈥

Mr. Butler looked rather guilty, but he smiled over at his wife, and said: 鈥淚t is a harder job than I thought it was; but perhaps we have all learned that we can hold our tongues if we try, and although we may not repeat the A B C鈥檚 every time, we can refrain from saying bitter words.鈥

And the twins, looking very knowingly, jumped up in their high chairs, and, putting their curly heads together, whispered: 鈥淏 C, B C.鈥

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