Little Rie And The Rosebuds, a small blessing of joy, is plucked from harm on a cold and blustery evening. Soon she begins to flourish with a warm flush of contentment and love. Although a wild rosebud in need of nurturing must be handled with care, for there are many thorny spikes. Which can catch you unaware—a twist of a tale born from an act of kindness. There is nothing better than to learn from someone else’s experience or wisdom, a short— but pleasant storey soon unfolds. An excellent tale for all ages, for how often do we forget our past experiences.
The original short narrative is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow. An English author and poet and was first published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few changes, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
Before you come to the open heath, the last house is a grey, cheerless looking place in winter. Though in summer it looks pleasant and gay, for it is nearly covered with china roses.
There are a good many trees in the front garden and some thick laurustinus shrubs. On one side of the porch is the kitchen casement; on the other side, the parlour windows. All through the summer, rose leaves drift in whenever these are open and, even as late as November, rosebuds tap against the glass whenever the blustering gale comes round from the heath, as if appealing to the inmates to take them in and shelter them from the wind and the rain.
The inmates are a mistress and a maid. The former is a widow, but her late husband saved money in his trade and has left her a comfortable annuity. The latter is not very fair nor very wise, but, as her mistress says, her honesty makes up for want of wit, and she has a kind heart, though it be a foolish one.
One dreary November afternoon, when the sky was piled up with cold, white clouds, and the gusty wind shook every pool in the gravel walk into ripples, the mistress came into the kitchen. She sat at a table, stoning raisins for a cake, while the maid kneaded dough for the said cake in a pan on the window seat.
Suddenly a shadow darkened the window, and mistress and maid raising their eyes, saw a dark, determined-looking woman standing outside offering matches for sale; she held a tiny child about five years of age by the hand. The little creature peered with childish interest into the kitchen, and she also pushed forward her bundle of matches; but they were perfectly wet, and so was the dimpled hand that held them, for rain was streaming from every portion of her tattered garments.
‘No; go away; we don’t want any matches,’ said the mistress, but the woman still stood before the window with a forbidding, not to say menacing, aspect.
‘The woman’s boots and clothes are very good,’ said Sally, the maid, ‘but it’s pitiful to see the poor child’s bare feet and rags; she looks hungry, too.’
‘Well, Sally, you may give her something to eat, then,’ said the mistress.
Sally rose with alacrity, and rubbing the flour from her arms, ran hastily to a little pantry, from which she presently returned with a piece of cold pudding. She opened the casement and held it out to the child, who took it with evident delight and began to eat it at once. Then the dripping pair moved away, and the mistress and maid thought no more of them, but went on with their occupation, while the short day began to close in the sooner, for the driving clouds and pouring rain, and the windows in the little stone house began to glow with the cheerful light of the fires.
In the pauses of the wind and rain, Sally once thought she heard a light footfall, but she did not see anyone in the garden. However, if anyone did come in then and wander round the laurustinus bushes and sit down in the little porch, that person must have seen all that went on that rainy night in the cheerful little parlour and kitchen.
They must have seen the white-washed walls of the kitchen glowing with a more and more ruddy reflection from the flames, and the little door open in the face of the cuckoo clock, and the cuckoo stall briskly out and sing, and dart in again; and must have seen Sally bustling about, cutting bread and butter, setting out tea-things, and putting on her clean apron; then the person by simply turning could have seen the mistress, in her afternoon gown and cap, sitting in her pretty parlour, the walls all covered with roses, and the carpet gay with bright flowers.
It grew quite dark. Sally sat, making a round of toast at the fire. Just as she turned the toast upon the fork, a little child stole as silently as a shadow from the porch, and pressed her cheek against the glass, and wondered whether there was any more of that nice cold pudding in the cupboard, and looked at the lazy cat as she came and rubbed herself against Sally’s gown. But presently the wind came round again, and dashed the rosebuds so hard against the casement, that she was frightened. It seemed as if they rapped on purpose to let people know she was there, and she crept back to the porch and once more cowered down in its most sheltered corner.
She was very wet, but she did not mind that so much as might have been expected; she did not mind being out in the dark either, for she was well accustomed to it; but she was very tired, they had walked so far that day; and every minute she looked out into the garden and listened, and wondered why her mammy did not come, for she was alone.
After they had left that house in the afternoon, they had walked far out on to the great heath and had sat down, and then her mammy had said to her, ‘Now, child, you may go back, do you hear?’ and she had risen and said, ‘Yes, mammy, where am I to go back to?’ ‘It don’t much signify,’ her mammy had answered; ‘you may go back to that little house where they gave us the pudding, and I shall be sure to come soon; I’m a-coming directly.’ ‘And shall you be sure to find me, mammy?’ she had asked, and then her mammy was angry and said, ‘Set off directly when I bid you; I shall find you fast enough when I want you.’
So she had set off as fast as she could, but it was a long way, and a long while before she reached the porch, and then she was so tired she thought she should have cried if there had not been a little bench to sit down on.
She called this woman her mammy, but she had a birth mother a long way off, of whom this one had hired her, because when they went out begging, her little appealing face made people charitable. What wonder, since the birth mother could so give her up, that the pretended one should desert her if she no longer needed her!
But she did not know her desolate condition. She only thought what a long, long time her mammy was in, coming, and she crept out of the porch again to see the mistress sitting at work, now and then stooping to pat a dog that lay basking on the rug at her feet. What a soft rug it was!
The beggar child wished she was a pet dog, that she might lie there in the light and warmth, but once more, the wind swung a branch or rosebud against the glass, and she withdrew to her comfortless shelter, longing for the time when her mammy was to fetch her.
And then two more dreary hours passed over her head; sometimes she cried a little, and sometimes she dozed and woke up chilled and trembling; sometimes she took courage, and wandered about among the laurustinus bushes, so fearful was she lest her mammy should miss her; then she went back again and cried, and was so tired she did not know what she should do if she had to wait much longer. At last, her little head sunk quietly down upon her knees, and the wind, and the rain, and the darkness were forgotten.
She was sound asleep, but after a long time, she dreamed that someone shook her and spoke to her, but she could not open her eyes, and then that little dog began to bark at her, and she was so frightened that she cried bitterly in her sleep. Someone (not her mammy) was lifting her and carrying her away, and giving her something so hot and so nice to drink that she was amazed and could open her eyes and sit up; there was the cuckoo clock, and the little dog; he really was barking at her, but the warm fire was shining on her, and Sally the maid was pulling off her wet clothes, and telling her not to be frightened, and she should have some supper.
Poor little outcast! They dried her trembling limbs and wrapped her in a blanket, but she was so faint and sleepy that she could hardly hold up her head, even while they gave her some supper, but presently fell asleep on Sally’s knee over the comfortable fire.
‘Well, Sally,’ said the mistress, ‘I can only say that this is the strangest thing I ever heard talk on.’
‘And so it is, ma’am. Please, what am I to do now with the little dear?’ said Sally, simpering.
‘I suppose we must keep her for the night; make up a little bed on three chairs, and I must go upstairs and look out some clothes for her out of the bundle I made up to give away at Christmas.’
So the mistress went upstairs, and then Sally made the little bed and prepared a warm bath to refresh the aching limbs of the poor little wanderer; and then she combed her pretty hair, and carried her, already asleep, to the little bed on three chairs.
The next morning, when the mistress came down into the kitchen, she saw her baby-guest sitting on a low wooden stool, nursing the cat. Her dark hair was neatly brushed, and her face was as clean as Sally’s care could make it. She watched with an inquisitive interest the various preparations for a comfortable breakfast. Her features expressed a kind of innocent shrewdness, but she was evidently in great awe both of mistress and maid, though, when unobserved, she was never tired of admiring her new checked pinafore and smoothing out her spotted print frock with her hands. ‘Shall I give her some bread and milk, ma’am?’ asked Sally.
‘Certainly,’ said the mistress, ‘and after breakfast, I shall consider what is to be done with her.’
So the little thing had a good breakfast: and all the morning the mistress sat considering; but at dinnertime, it appeared that she had not considered to much purpose, for when Sally came into the parlour to lay the cloth, and asked, ‘Am I to give the little dear some dinner, ma’am?’ she answered again, ‘Certainly, Sally, and I must consider what is to be done; I’ve not been able to make up my mind. How has she behaved?’
‘Been as good as gold,’ answered Sally, with a somewhat silly smile; ‘she saw me dusting about, and I gave her a duster, and she dusted too, and then stood on the stool and see me making the pie, and never touched a thing. O, she’s a toward little thing.’
After dinner, it began to rain, and then the wind got up, and the rosebuds rattled and knocked again at the casement. A little before tea-time, the mistress felt so lonely that she came into the kitchen for company, and there she saw Sally sitting before the fire, making toast, and the child on a chair beside her, with a small piece of bread on a fork.
‘She’s toasting herself a bit of bread for her tea,’ said Sally, ‘leastways, if you mean to give her her tea, ma’am.’
‘Certainly,’ said the mistress once more. ‘Dear me, how cheerful it looks!—doesn’t it, Sally? A child seems always to make a place cheerful. Yes, I shall give her her tea if she is good.’
If to be quiet is to be good, never was a better child; and certainly never was a happier one.
‘Have you considered anything yet, ma’am?’ Sally asked.
‘Why, no, I can’t, Sally, just yet; it’s so wet, she must sleep here tonight,’ replied the mistress. ‘I’ll think of it tomorrow.’
But tomorrow, the mistress still said, ‘I’ll think of it tomorrow,’ and so it came to pass that at the end of a month, the child was still there. She had grown plump and rosy, though still extremely shy and quiet, which was in her favour; for mistress and maid finding so little trouble, and such a constant source of amusement and occupation, had gradually dropped all consideration as to what they were to do with her, and thought of nothing less than letting her go away at all.
She called herself little Rie and said she come from a big place, but that was all that questioning could draw from her, excepting the repeated declaration that she did not want to go back to her mammy.
How happy she was in the pretty kitchen, with Sally, nursing the cat, listening to the tapping rosebuds, sitting on the little stool to eat her simple fare, going to the shop with Sally, and creeping softly into the parlour to peep at the dog, or carry a message or a plate of biscuits to the mistress!
She was very happy, indeed, at first, but soon there began to mingle a great deal of fear with her reverence for the mistress. She had been brought up with no habits of order, with no schooling, and now she was to be taught and trained; and every day, when she was sent into the parlour, with a nicely washed face and smooth hair, to say her lesson, and hem a duster, she became shyer and shyer.
‘The poor child’s been used to such a roving life,’ said Sally, ‘that she don’t take as kindly as might be to her books. She doesn’t learn as easily as other children.’
‘And that’s the very reason why I’m so particular,’ replied the mistress. ‘I wonder, Sally, to hear you talk as if you wished her to be excused.’
‘I don’t know as I do wish that,’ said Sally humbly, for she had a great idea of her mistress’s good sense, ‘but, ma’am, she’s such a little one, and you see, we often want to excuse ourselves.’
The mistress was a severe person, and though she heartily loved little Rie and did not mind what trouble she took with her, she could not bear that the child should see any fondness in her manner, lest, as she said, ‘she should take advantage.’ What she had told her once she expected her to remember; and, above all, she could not bear deception; for she was very upright herself, and expected others to be so too.
But poor little Rie had been used to hard usage, and it was some time before she could be taught that she must speak the truth and confess her faults, whatever might be the consequences. Deceit, once taught to a young child by fear, is not easily eradicated, and Sally thought nothing but kindness could do it; but then Sally had such a foolish way with her, and was all for kindness and making excuses for people, not sufficiently considering what was just, and not being willing to condemn anybody without such a deal of consideration, that the mistress felt she could not take her opinion at all.
‘Please, ma’am, she will speak out if she’s not afraid,’ Sally would say when little Rie had cried herself to sleep after being punished for some childish deceit.
‘Not afraid!’ the mistress would repeat. ‘How you talk, Sally! I punish her for making her afraid of doing anything else but speak out.’
‘But, ma’am, consider her bringing up,’ said Sally, ‘and don’t look for too much at first.’
‘Too much!’ repeated the mistress; ‘don’t I give her everything, and haven’t I a right to look for obedience and truth in return?’
‘Surely,’ said Sally, ‘and I hope you’ll have them, ma’am.’
‘I hope so,’ replied the mistress; but the very next day, little Rie got into trouble again, for she was told to hold out her pinafore while the mistress counted apples into it for a pudding; the pinafore was not half full when the mistress was called away, and then little Rie, left alone, looking at all the bright, rosy apples, lying in rows on the low shelf, found the temptation too great for her, and bit one of them, which she hastily returned to its place. When the mistress came back and found the little culprit, with cheeks suffused with crimson and head hanging down, she easily discovered what had happened; and then, despite her promises that she would be good, she was summarily punished and put to bed.
‘She is but a child,’ said Sally.
‘She’s a naughty child,’ said the mistress, ‘and it is just she should be punished.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Sally ventured to say, ‘only somehow, if you’re angry when you do it, won’t she think you don’t love her?’
‘Dear me, Sally, how foolish you are! I don’t want her to think I love her when she’s naughty, but only when she’s good.’
‘O, don’t you, ma’am?’ replied Sally doubtfully. ‘Well, ma’am, no doubt, but you know best.’
‘I must be just,’ continued the mistress; ‘she shall be indulged when she’s good, but I shall never overlook it when she’s naughty.’
The mistress was as good as her word; and as little Rie was often naughty in her childish way, it followed that she was often punished; till once seeing her dear Sally crying, after the mistress had been more than usually angry, she climbed up her knee, and made many protestations that she would never be naughty any more and make Sally cry.
Poor little Rie, she had her troubles; but she loved Sally dearly; and perhaps, child as she was, she had sometimes, when the rain was pouring down, and the wind howling outside, a dim perception that she had been saved from a dreary, toilsome, and evil life. It was strangely better to sit with Sally in the cheerful kitchen, and hear the rosebuds tapping, than to wander down and down those ever-lengthening roads, cold, hungry, and neglected.
But discipline, though it may be harsh, does not fail to produce a certain good result. Little Rie understood very soon that she was never to be punished unless she was naughty; that was, at least, something learned, as it had been by no means the experience of her infantine life. It was a great thing to know that she was never to be punished excepting when she had done wrong, and this, once learned, she did wrong much seldomer and, as they hoped, had also learned to speak the truth.
And now she had been very good for a long time; and, by consequence, she was very happy, and the time passed rapidly, till all the snow had melted away and the garden was full of crocuses and snow-drops; it seemed only a few days, and they were over, and she could watch the rosebuds coming out; and then it seemed a very little time longer before Sally was constantly telling her to pick the rose-leaves up and throw them out, when they drifted in at the window.
At last, one day, one sorrowful day, the mistress came into the kitchen to make a raisin pudding, while she sent Sally and little Rie to the shop, and during their absence, she twisted up some few raisins in a paper and laid them on the dresser, intending to give them to the child when she came in.
But Sally came in very late; and when she laid a rabbit, and a plate of butter, and papers of sugar, rice, and tea on the table, and then proceeded to count out eggs and produce apples and other good things, the mistress forgot the raisins, and pushed back her flour, and all her apparatus, to make room for the groceries. Sally was not a good accountant, and she had scarcely made out the price of each article and produced the change when some friends came to see the mistress, and she washed her hands and went into the parlour.
When they were gone, she remembered her intended present and came back into the kitchen. She moved every parcel and every dish, searched the dresser, and looked on the floor. The paper of raisins was not to be found—it was gone.
‘Come here, little Rie,’ she said gravely; ‘did you see a paper of raisins on the table when you came home?’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ said the child, whose two small hands were tightly clasped behind her.
‘And do you know what has become of them?’
‘No, I don’t, I sure I don’t,’ replied the child, and her delicate neck and face became suffused with crimson.
‘O, my dear!’ exclaimed Sally, ‘if she’ll speak the truth, I know missis won’t be so angry with her. O, she will speak the truth, I know.’
‘I did, I did,’ cried the child, with an outbreak of passionate tears.
Sally, upon this, searched the floor and tables, and nothing could be more clear than that the raisins were not there. Alas! They could not doubt that she had eaten them. She had been left alone in the kitchen for a few minutes. Sally herself admitted that they could not have gone without hands.
‘Now, if you will speak the truth,’ said the mistress, gravely, ‘and confess that you took those raisins’—
‘I didn’t,’ repeated the child, now too much in a passion for caring what she said; ‘I don’t want the nasty raisins, and I won’t have them.’
‘O, this will never do,’ said the mistress; ‘Sally, I really must correct her!’ ‘Will she tell it all?’ said Sally, once more stooping over the child, for she had flung herself on the floor and was sobbing and screaming. But no, little Rie would only struggle and fight her away, till, at another bidding, she went with a sorrowful heart to fetch the rod. When she came back, she found the child in such a passion that she ventured no remonstrance, though she still hurriedly looked about with the vague hope that she might have spoken the truth after all.
Poor little Rie! she was very naughty. Sally was the more grieved because lately, she had always spoken the truth. Still, now, when an hour after her punishment, the mistress came in again and offered to forgive her on condition of her speaking the truth, she sullenly walked into the corner and sobbed and would not say a word.
‘Then, Sally, you must go these errands by yourself,’ said the mistress. ‘I meant to have let her go with you, but now she must stay here, by herself.’ Little Rie looked up as she went away and saw that she was very stern and angry. O, how little either of them thought that they should never look one another in the face again!
Sally went away. It was a lovely afternoon, and the kitchen door leading into the back garden was open. Little Rie at first was very disconsolate, but soon the light spirits of childhood began to assert themselves, and she began to play, though very quietly, and with an occasional sob.
Till at last, O, woeful mischance, she knocked down a cheese plate! It fell clattering upon the floor and broke into fifty pieces; one moment, she stood aghast! Then her terrified fancy feigned a step upon the stairs; she darted through the open door and rushed down the garden. Where she should go to escape the anger of the mistress, she scarcely knew; but she came to the garden wicket, it led into a lane; she opened it, shut it behind her, and with it shut the door upon home and hope. Shut upon all that had kept her from beggary and wretchedness. From a vagrant life, from contact with everything evil and vicious, and ignorance of everything good.
She ran away, and no one knew what became of her. There was a man who said, some time afterwards, that he had met her that night about sundown, wandering over the moor. He had not asked her many questions because he thought some of her friends might be near at hand. Over time, many rumours got about respecting her, but nothing was ever known. Little Rie ‘was not;’ she had vanished from her place like a dream.
O, weary nights, when Sally was alone by the fire, and thought of her pretty companion, and cried. Then she started up and opened the door, to find for the fiftieth time. That it was only the tapping rosebud that she had heard against the casement! O, weary nights, when the mistress lamented over her and forgave all her childish faults. She wondered to find how much she had loved her and could not rest in the wind for thinking of her shelterless head. Thinking of the rain when on the night when she first took her in, and could not rest in her bed. Dreaming of a desolate child wandering up and down, with no one to take her by the hand or lead her towards heaven!
And yet, the mistress did not reproach herself. She had done well to take the child; few would have done as much, and she had done well to punish her; it was just and right that she should suffer for her faults.
But weeks after, when poor Sally’s simple heart was getting used to miss the child, the mistress came into the kitchen and took down a little covered jar full of caraway seeds, from a shelf over the dresser; she looked in, and a mist seemed to rise and shut out the sunshine without and within, for there lay the paper of raisins; in an instant she knew it again, and knew that in her hurry and confusion, she herself must have thrown it in. Yes, that little jar had been standing beside her. Then into it, she must have pushed or dropped the raisins, and afterwards, with her own hand, she must have set the jar upon the shelf above to be out of her way.
Miserable, aching pain! How hard it was to have it so often in her heart, and by slow degrees to grow into the knowledge, that even a just punishment may become unjust. Unless it is administered in the spirit of love! But hers had not been a just punishment. Alas! she had not possessed herself of any certain knowledge of the fault; she, herself, had outraged that sense of truth and justice which she had been in so much—pain to implant; and now there was no means of making restitution.
But let us not judge her, for in this world of uncertain knowledge and concealed motives, how few of us there are not equally at fault! It is not the effect of one particular act of injustice that should impress us with so much regret as the habit of too great a suddenness or harshness in judging. How difficult it is for us to estimate the many ways in which we may be mistaken! When shall we learn to keep the knowledge always present with us, that often kindness is our best uprightness, and our truest justice is mercy?
Original short story by Jean Ingelow
Retold by A Moffat
Illustrations by justanemotion.com
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