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The Backward Swing by A.L.O.E.

Charles Doe A.L.O.E.

“The Backward Swing” written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.), is about happiness and vanity.


What! can my darling say that she is not happy, when I thought that I had left her nothing to wish for?” was the gentle reproof of Lady Milicent Brooks, as she fondly stroked the long hair of her spoilt little girl.

“No; I’m not happy at all,” muttered Milly, pettishly, drawing back her head from the gentle caress of her mother.

“Why, you told me, my child, that if I would allow you to join the picnic party in Haylands Meadows, you would be happy as a queen. Is not your friend Nora May to be there?”

“Yes; she’s to be there,” replied Milly Brooks, looking more out of humor than before; “and that’s just the thing that vexes me. Nora is to wear her new jacket of sky-blue silk over a flounced scarlet skirt, and I have nothing to put on but the gray dress which I stained with the currants on Sunday. I’d rather not go to the picnic at all, than go in that horrid old gray!”

Had Lady Milicent been a sensible mother, she would have tried to laugh her silly little girl out of the folly of thinking that happiness could possibly depend on the color or fashion of a dress. She might have reminded Milly of the verse which shows how absurd it is to be vain of what we share with insects and flowers.

“The tulip and the butterfly
Appear in gayer coats than I;
Let me be dressed fine as I will,
Flowers, birds, and worms excel me still.”

But Lady Milicent was not a wise mother, nor a sensible woman. She was indeed fond of her only child, and used often to say that her greatest wish upon earth was to make Milly perfectly happy. Whether the lady went the right way to obtain this wish, by indulging a selfish girl in every idle whim, may be seen in my little story.

“And so my pet has set her heart on a sky-blue jacket and a flounced scarlet skirt,” said Lady Milicent Brooks. “Mamma can deny her darling nothing. Come and kiss me, sweet love, and I’ll promise that you shall go to the picnic party dressed in any way that you fancy. Will my Milly be happy then?”
Milly was sure that she must be happy, and kissed her indulgent mother, but quite forgot to thank her. It is to be feared that it is a common thing for spoilt children to be ungrateful.

The day for the picnic arrived. Decked out in all her gaudy finery, Milly came to bid her mother good-bye.

“Now, is my darling not happy?” asked Lady Milicent Brooks. But Milly’s face did not smile in return for the smile of her parent.

“My new boots pinch me, and the cuffs of this stupid jacket are so hot and tight, and the collar is ever so much too big!” cried the discontented child, hitching her shoulders, and pouting her lips as if she felt quite ill-used.

Lady Milicent Brooks sighed gently; her fond heart was disappointed. She had done all that she could to please a girl who would not be pleased. “She will be happy when she is once amongst her merry young companions,” thought the lady, as her daughter drove off in the carriage from her door.

And it seemed for a time—a very short time—as if Milly were happy indeed, as, with Nora and Lola and Harry May, she gambolled over the meadows, gay with buttercups, daisies, and clover. But it is as impossible to be long happy with an envious, selfish, discontented heart, as to be comfortable with a sharp nail galling one’s foot. The nail hurts just as much under a silken stocking as under one of coarse wool. Nora had a new crimson skipping-rope, and this was enough to make her silly companion envious and dull.

“I wish I had such a skipping-rope,” sighed Milly; “I’d show you how I can skip forwards or backwards, or cross the rope over my head. It is provoking that nurse never reminded me to bring my skipping-rope with me; but it is an ugly blue thing, not half so pretty as yours.”

“I’ll lend you mine,” said Nora, who was one of the best-tempered girls in the world.

Milly skipped and laughed, and for a few minutes really enjoyed the sport. Harry, quietly seated on the grass, watched her as the rope went round and round, while her long hair fluttered in the wind, and her scarlet flounces danced up and down as she jumped.

“I wonder how long Milly’s pleasure will last?” thought the boy. “Her spirits seem to me just like the girl swinging yonder under the tree. Give them a push and up they go, as if they would mount into the clouds; but there always comes the backward swing, and she who is laughing one moment is ready to cry at the next.”

Milly’s “backward swing” came soon enough. “This tires me so!” she cried, flinging the skipping-rope away, and throwing herself on the grass. “I wish the day were not so hot; there’s not a bit of shade in this meadow!”

Nora had gathered a quantity of wildflowers; with them she had made a beautiful wreath, which she had placed on the head of her sister Lola.

“I want to have a wreath like that!” cried the discontented Milly Brooks.

“There are some of my flowers left in Lola’s hat,” said Nora. “Harry, there’s a dear boy, twine a wreath for Milly; we wish her to be as happy as we are.”

“I don’t believe that all the flowers in the world would do that,” thought Harry; but, to please his kind little sister, he set about making the wreath. Harry was not long in finishing his work, and the flowers looked so pretty, that they won a smile even from Milly. But soon came “the backward swing.” Scarcely had the wreath been placed on her brow, when the girl started up with a scream.

“There!—see!—see!—there’s a horrid, horrid little spider dropped out on my dress! I’m sure the flowers are swarming with insects. Look!—look!—isn’t there something running over my neck?” and Milly dashed her wreath to the ground.

“All Milly’s wreaths have spiders in them,” thought Harry; “a discontented mind like hers will manage to spin its web among the loveliest flowers!”

The spider was taken away, no other insect could be discovered, but Milly’s pleasure in her wreath had quite gone away. She complained that she was thirsty and tired, and did her best by her murmurs to destroy the enjoyment felt by the rest of the party.

But now the time had come to prepare the picnic meal. A fire was lighted in a heap of dry sticks piled at the edge of the path. A kettle was suspended over the fire; fruit and cakes were handed round, and for a time all appeared merry and gay.

“Let’s have a song while the kettle is boiling,” said Nora.

“Let’s have a song!” cried the rest of the party.

“Harry, you are our piping bullfinch,” said Lola; “give us something that’s merry and funny.”

Harry did not wait to be asked twice; he sang a lively little song, which perhaps may not be new to some of my readers:—

How sulky Eliza appears,
Her face is as dark as a fog!
She has tumbled down o’er head and ears
Right into the Ill-temper Bog!

’Tis a horrible place that bog!
I never could bear to be in it;
And if I were you
I would struggle right through,
And be out of the mud in a minute!

On Good-temper Hill if we keep,
What sunshiny smiles will be ours!
If it sometimes be rugged and steep,
It is spangled all over with flowers.

But oh! that sad Ill-temper Bog,
I never could bear to be in it;
And if I were you
I would struggle right through,
And be out of the mud in a minute!

As brambles entangle the feet,
Little troubles our comforts may clog;
But sure the first thorn that we meet
Need not make us jump into the bog!

’Tis a terrible place that bog!
I never could bear to be in it;
And if I were you
I would struggle right through,
And be out of the mud in a minute!

Before the last notes of the chorus were over, the kettle was singing its own merry tune, while the white steam rose out of its spout.

“Now for a good cup of tea,” said one of the elder ladies, as she lifted the boiling kettle from the fire.

“Here is the tea to put into the pot, and here is the sugar to sweeten it,” cried Harry; “and here—no, where is the milk?” he added, looking round him to find it.

“Dear! dear! we’ve quite forgotten the milk!” exclaimed Nora. “But never mind that, we shall do very well without it.”

“You may, but I can’t!” cried Milly, looking disappointed and sulky. “How stupid it was to leave it behind! I never can drink my tea without having plenty of milk.”

“There’s ‘the backward swing’!” thought Harry.

“Let’s go to yon cottage at the side of the lane,” suggested Nora, “and try if we cannot get there a drop of milk for Milly.”

Off scampered Harry and his sister, and Milly, who was rather curious to see the inside of a cottage, was not long behind them. She came up with Harry and Nora just as their tap at the cottage door was answered by its being opened by a girl from within.

The scene was a novel one to Milly. Half-a-dozen children of various sizes, but all with shaggy hair, sunburnt faces, and clothes patched and worn, were seated at a deal table eating their noon day meal. It was a very different dinner from that to which Milly Brooks was accustomed to sit down every day, too often with peevish looks and a discontented spirit. The cottagers had a lump of bread on the table, and in a wooden bowl a mess of plain boiled rice. There was not a scrap of fish, flesh, or fowl to be seen in the place, and yet the little family looked quite contented and happy.

“Pray, could you kindly let us have a little milk?” said Nora May, speaking as politely to the poor girl as if she had been addressing a lady.

“Please, miss, we’ve never a drop,” replied the cottager, looking with surprise at the gaily-dressed visitors who stood at her door.

“It’s no great hardship for us to go without milk in our tea for once in a way,” remarked Harry, as he and his companions turned from the door. “I suspect that these poor children want a good many things which they never can get, and yet what merry grins were on their rough little faces.”

“Harry, such a famous thought has struck me!” cried Nora, her eyes sparkling with glee. “We’ve brought for our picnic more good things than we can possibly eat. We’ll ask if we may not carry off some to that cottage. Would it not be a treat to the ragged children to have pies and cakes with their bread, and fruit to eat with their bowl of boiled rice!”

“It would be jolly good fun for them,” cried Harry, “and almost as much for us.”

Nora’s kind plan was soon carried out. She and Harry returned to the cottage laden with good things, which made the poor hungry children open their eyes wide, and their mouths too, as soon as the pies, the cakes, and the fruit had been set before them. Milly, in her sky-blue jacket and scarlet skirt, stood at the door watching their eager, joyful faces, and when she glanced at Nora and Harry she saw all the cottagers’ pleasure reflected on theirs.

“How easily some people are made happy,” thought the poor spoilt little lady, as slowly she sauntered back to the party gathered near the fire, who were laughing and chatting over their milkless tea. Milly almost envied the little cottagers their power of enjoying; they had the sauce of hunger, they had the milk of content.

Harry and Nora followed, jumping and skipping over the grass, all the more able to relish their feast and their fun because they had cared for others, and let the poor have a share.

About an hour afterwards the picnic party broke up. Milly bade good-bye to her companions, and in her mother’s fine carriage drove quickly back to her home.

“Have you been happy, very happy, my darling?” asked Lady Milicent Brooks, as she welcomed her daughter back.

Milly gave no reply; she was tired and disappointed, and cared not to give an account of the day which had brought to her so little of the pleasure which she had expected.

I hope that none of my readers are like poor, spoilt Milly Brooks, or they will find, like her, that let the peevish and discontented be sent up ever so high on the airy way of pleasure, there always comes “the backward swing;” and the worst part of the matter is that that backward swing is pretty sure to land them, as it did poor Milly, right in the Ill-temper Bog!

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