Gateway to the Classics: Rollo at Play by Jacob Abbott
Rollo at Play by  Jacob Abbott

The Freshet

THE story that Rollo and his cousin Lucy began to read together, in the back entry, looking out towards the garden, that rainy day when they were disappointed of the excursion up the mountain, commenced as follows:—

Maria and the Caravan

Maria Wilton lives in the pretty white house which stands just at the entrance of the wood, where the children find the blackberries so thick in the berrying season. It is not as large or elegant a house as many that we pass on a walk through the village; but yet, with its neatly-painted front and blooming little garden, its appearance is quite as inviting as that of many a more splendid mansion. Certain it is, at least, that there is not a more pleasant or happy dwelling in the town. Neatness and good order regulate all the arrangements of the family, and where such is the case, it is almost needless to add that peace and harmony characterize the intercourse of the inmates. It is seldom that confusion or uproar, or disputes or contentions, are known among the Wiltons.

But it was of Maria that I was intending to speak more particularly,—her kind, and yielding, and conciliating manners towards her brothers and sisters. Maria was not the oldest of the children; she was not quite nine, and her sister Harriet was as much as eleven, and her brother George still older. And yet her influence did more to maintain peace and good feeling in the family group, than would have been believed by a person who had not observed her. In every case where only her own wishes or inclinations were concerned, Maria was ready to give up to George or Harriet; because, as she said, they were older than herself; and again, she was quite as ready to yield to little Susan and Willy, because they were younger. Her brothers and sisters, in their turn, were far less apt to contend for any privilege or advantage, than they would have been, if she had shown herself more tenacious of her own rights.

Mr. Wilton used occasionally to go into the city, a few miles distant, upon business. He usually went in a chaise, taking one of the children with him. The excursion was to them a very pleasant one, and all anticipated, with a great deal of pleasure, their respective turns to ride with their father. It happened that the day when it fell to Maria's turn, was to be the close of an exhibition of animals, which had been for a short time in the city. Maria's eye brightened with pleasure as her father mentioned this circumstance at the dinner table, and inquired if she would like to visit the caravan.

"O, father!" exclaimed George, eagerly, as he laid down his knife and fork; "a caravan!—Mayn't I go?"

"You cannot both go," replied his father; "and I believe it is Maria's turn to go into town with me."

"Well," said George, "but I don't believe Maria would care any thing about seeing it;" and his eye glanced eagerly from his father to Maria, and then from Maria to his father again.

"How is it, Maria?" said Mr. Wilton; "have you no wish to visit the caravan?"

Maria did not answer directly, while yet her countenance showed very plainly what her wishes really were. "Is there an elephant  there, father?" she, at length, rather hesitatingly inquired.

"There probably is," replied her father.

"An elephant!"  repeated George with something of a sneer; "who has not seen an elephant? I would not give a farthing to go, if there was nothing better than an elephant to be seen."

"What should  you care so much to see?" inquired Mr. Wilton.

"Why, I would give any thing to see a leopard or a camel."

"A leopard or a camel!" repeated his father in the same tone in which George had made his rude speech; "I am sure I wouldn't give a farthing to see either a camel or a leopard."

"No," said George, "because you have seen them both; but I  never did."

"Neither has Maria seen an elephant," returned Mr. Wilton; "so what is the difference?"

George looked a little mortified at the overthrow of his argument. But still his eagerness for the gratification was not to be repressed.—"I shouldn't think a girl  need to care about going to see a parcel of wild beasts," he remarked, rather petulantly, as he gave his chair a push, upon rising from the table.

"O, George, George." expostulated his father, "I did not think you were either a selfish or a sullen boy."

"No, father, and he is not," said Maria, approaching her father, and taking his hand; "but he wants to go very much, and I do not care so much  about it; so he may go, and I will stay at home."

"You are a good girl," said her father; "but I shall not consent to any such injustice; so go and get ready as quick as possible."

"But, father, I had really a great deal rather that George should go," insisted Maria.

"But I cannot think that George would really, on the whole, prefer to take your place," said Mr. Wilton, turning to George.

"No, sir," replied George, who—restored by this time to a sense of propriety and justice—was standing ready to speak for himself. "No, sir; Maria is very kind; but I do not wish to take her place; I am very sorry indeed that I said any thing about it. I certainly shall not consent to take your place, Maria," he said, perceiving that she was ready to entreat still further.

"O! but I do wish you would," said Maria. But just here her mother interposed. "If Maria would really prefer to give up her place to her brother," said Mrs. Wilton, "I certainly shall like the arrangement very much, for I am to be particularly engaged this afternoon, and, as Harriet is to be absent, I shall be very glad of some of Maria's assistance in taking care of the baby."

"O! well," said Maria, brightening up, "then I am sure I will not go: so run, George, for father is almost ready to start."

Thus the matter was amicably settled. George went with his father, and Maria remained at home to help take care of little Willy.

Maria loved her little brother very much, and she never seemed tired of taking care of him, even when he was ever so fretful or restless. She would leave her play, at any moment, to run and rock the baby, or to hold him in her lap; for, even if she felt inclined, at any time, to be a little out of patience for a moment, she would recollect how many hours she had herself been nursed, by night and by day, and she was glad of an opportunity to relieve her mother of some of her care and fatigue. Her cousin, Ellen Weston, called, one afternoon, to ask her to accompany a party of little girls, who were going to gather berries in the wood near Maria's house. It happened that Maria had been left with the care of Willy, just as her cousin called; and it happened, too, that Willy was that afternoon unusually fretful and difficult to please. If Maria left him for a moment, or if she did not hold him exactly in the posture which suited him, or if she had not precisely the thing ready which he wanted at the moment, he would act just as all babies of nine or ten months sometimes take it into their heads to act. With all her patience and good-humor, she hardly knew how to manage him; and especially after having been obliged to reject so agreeable an invitation as the one her cousin brought, she found her task a little irksome.

She could hardly repress an occasional expression of impatience, as she tried in vain to please the wayward little fellow. But her patience and good-humor were very soon restored; and as she reflected that she was doing her mother a great deal of good, by staying at home with Willy, she felt quite willing to dismiss all thoughts of the berrying expedition. The girls, however, did not forget her. It was proposed by one of the party, when Ellen had stated the reason why Maria could not join them, that each should contribute some portion of her berries to be carried to her on their way home. All agreed very readily to the plan, and each took pains to select the largest and the ripest of her berries for Maria's basket. The gratification afforded Maria by this little token of kind remembrance, more than compensated for the self-denial which she had practised. It is almost always the case when persons cheerfully submit to any privation, for the sake of other persons, or because it is duty, that they are amply rewarded for it. They enjoy, at least, the consciousness of doing right, which is one of the very highest sources of pleasure. Maria would, at any time, have been satisfied with only this reward; but it very often happened, very unexpectedly, that something more was in store for her. This was the case upon the time when she gave up her ride, and her visit to the caravan, for the sake of her brother. I have not said that it was absolutely Maria's duty to yield to her brother, in this case: perhaps it would have been perfectly right for her to have maintained her own claims; and yet there is no doubt that she felt a great deal happier for the sacrifice she had made.

But we were going to speak of some further reward that her amiable behavior, in this instance, procured her. As her father opened a package which he had brought on his return, he silently placed in her hands a beautiful copy of a newly-published work, upon the fly-leaf of which she found written—"Maria Wilton—a reward for her kind and obliging manners towards her brothers and sisters."

Small Craft

WHEN they had finished the story, Lucy shut the book, saying, "Maria was a good girl, was not she, Rollo?"

"Yes," said Rollo, "she was an excellent girl. I would have done just so; would not you, Lucy?"

"I ought to, I know," said Lucy, "but perhaps I should not."

"I should, I am sure," said Rollo.

Lucy was a polite girl, and she did not contradict Rollo, though she recollected how much selfishness he had shown that morning, and it did not seem to her very likely that he would have been willing to make any very great sacrifice to oblige others.

"My father says we cannot tell what we should do until we are tried," said Lucy.

"Well, I know  I should have been willing to stay at home, if I had been Maria," replied Rollo.

"But, only think, that would be preferring another person's pleasure rather than your own."

"Well, I should  prefer another person's pleasure rather than my own."

Rollo was beginning to get a little excited and vexed. People who boast of excellences which they do not possess, are very apt to be unreasonable and angry when any body seems to doubt whether their boastings are true. He was thus going on, insisting upon it that he should have acted as Maria had done, and was just saying that he should prefer another person's pleasure rather than his own, when Jonas came into the entry from the kitchen, with an armful of wood, which he was carrying into the parlor.

"When is it, Rollo," said Jonas, "that you prefer another person's pleasure to your own?"

"Always," said Rollo, with an air of self-conceit and consequence.

Jonas smiled, and went on with his wood.

It is always better for boys to be modest and humble-minded. They appear ridiculous to others when they are boasting what great  things they can do; and when they boast what good  things they do, they are very likely to be just on the eve of doing exactly the opposite.

In a moment Jonas came back out of the parlor, and said, as he passed through,


Goes but little ways;"

a short piece of versification which all boys and girls would do well to remember.

Now it happened that, all this time, Rollo's mother was sitting in a little bedroom, which had a door opening into the entry where Lucy and Rollo had been reading, and she heard all the conversation. She knew that though Rollo was generally a good boy, and was willing to know his faults, and often endeavored to correct them, still that he was, like all other boys, prone to selfishness and to vanity, and she thought that she must take some way to show him clearly what the truth really was, about his disinterestedness.

In a few minutes, therefore, she went out of the room, and took from the store closet an apple and a pear. They were both good, but the pear was particularly fine. It was large, mellow, and juicy. She then went back to her seat, and called, "Rollo."

Rollo came running to her.

"Here," said she, "is an apple and a pear for you."

"Is one for me and one for Lucy?" said he.

"That is just as you please. I give them both to you. You may do what you choose with them."

Rollo took the fruit, much pleased, and walked slowly back, hesitating what to do. He thought he must certainly give one to Lucy, and as he had just been boasting that he preferred another's pleasure to his own, he was ashamed to offer her the apple; and yet he wanted the pear very much himself.

If he had had a little more time, he would have hit upon a plan which would have removed all the difficulty at once, by dividing both the apple and the pear, and giving to Lucy half of each. But he did not think of this. In fact his mother knew that, as he was going directly bark to Lucy, he would not have much time to think but must act according to the spontaneous impulse of his heart.

But though he did not think of dividing the apple and the pear, he happened to hit upon a plan, which occurred to him just as he was going back into the entry, that he thought would do.

He held the fruit behind him; the apple in one hand, and the pear in the other. Lucy saw him coming, and said,

"What have you got, Rollo?"

"Which will you have, right hand or left?" said he in reply.


Rollo held forward his right hand, and, lo! it was the pear. But he could not bear to part with it, and he brought forward the other, and said,

"No, you may have the apple."

"No," said Lucy; "the pear is fairly mine; you asked me which I would have, and I said the right."

"But I want the pear," said Rollo; "you may have the apple. Mother gave them both to me."

"I want the pear too," said Lucy; "it is mine, and you must give it to me."

Just then a voice called from the bedroom,


"What, mother?" said Rollo.

"I want you both to come here."

Rollo and Lucy would both have been ashamed of their contention, were it not that the pear looked so very rich and tempting, that they were both very eager to have it.

"What is the difficulty?" said Rollo's mother, as soon as they stood before her.

"Why, Lucy wants the pear," said Rollo, "and you gave them both to me, and said I might do as I pleased with them. I am willing to give her the apple."

"Yes, but he offered me my choice," said Lucy, "right hand or left, and I chose the right, and now he ought to give it to me."

"And are you willing that I should decide it?" said the lady.

"Yes, mother," and "Yes, aunt," said Rollo and Lucy together.

"You have both done wrong; not very  wrong, but a little wrong; and I think neither ought to have the whole of the pear. So I shall divide the pear and the apple both between you; and I will tell you how you have done wrong.

"You, Rollo, by asking her which she would have, implied that you would leave it to chance to decide, and that you would let her have her fair chance. Then you ought to have submitted to the result. If she had chosen the left hand, she ought to have been content. If she had got the apple, you would have had the credit of giving her an equal chance with you, and she ought therefore to have had the full benefit of the chance.

"And then you, Lucy, did wrong, for, although Rollo asked you to choose, he did not actually promise  you your choice, and as he was under no obligation to give you either, you ought not to have insisted upon his fulfilling his implied  promise. Is it not so?"

The children both saw and admitted that it was.

"The best way, I think," she continued, "would have been for you, Rollo, to have given the pear  to Lucy, as she was your visitor, and a young lady too. Then she would have given you half in eating it. However, you were not very much in the wrong, either of you. It was a sort of a doubtful case. But I hope you see from it, Rollo, what I wanted to teach you, that you are no more inclined to prefer other persons' pleasure to your own, than other children are. Remember Jonas's couplet hereafter. I think it is a very good one. Now go and get a knife, and cut the fruit; and see, it does not rain but little; you can go and get your pea-pods now."

Away went the children out into the kitchen after a knife. Rollo wanted to cut the apple and the pear himself, and Lucy made no objection; and we must do him the justice to say that he gave rather the largest half of each to Lucy. They then went out into the shed, Rollo taking with him a dipper of water to wash his feet when he came back from the garden. Rollo then took off his shoes, and gave Lucy his share of the fruit, to keep for him, and then sallied forth into the yard, holding the umbrella over his head, as a few drops of rain were still falling.

He waded into the little pond at the garden gate, and then turned round to look at Lucy and laugh. He began, too, to caper about in the water, but Lucy told him to take care, or he would fall down, and they could not wash his clothes, as they could his feet, with their dipper of water.

So he went carefully forward till he came to the peas, and gathered as many as he wanted, and then returned.

As he was coming back, he saw Jonas in the barn. Jonas called out to him to ask what he had got.

"I have been to get some pea-pods," said he, "to make boats with."

"Where are you going to sail them?" said Jonas.

"O, in this little pond, when it is done raining."

"But you had better have a little pond now, in the shed."

"How can we?" said Rollo.

"You might have it in a milk-pan."

"So we can. Could you come and get it for us?"

"Yes, in a few minutes—by the time you get your boats made."

Rollo and Lucy were much pleased with this, and they sat down, one on each side of the milk-pan pond, and sailed their boats a long time. He cut small pieces of the apple and of the pear for cargo, and Rollo put in the stem of the pear for the captain of his boat. Each one was good-humored and obliging, and the time passed away very pleasantly, until it was near dinner-time. When they came in to dinner, they observed that it was raining again very fast.

The Principles of Order

"FATHER," said Rollo, at the dinner-table, "do you think it will rain all the afternoon?"

"It looks like it," replied his father, "but why? Do you not enjoy yourselves in the house?"

"O yes, sir," said Rollo, "we have had a fine time this morning; but Lucy and I thought that, if it did not rain this afternoon, we might go out in the garden a little."

"It may clear up towards night; but, if it does, I think it would be better to go down to the brook and see the freshet, than to go into the garden."

"The freshet? Will there be a freshet, do you think?"

"Yes, if it rains this afternoon as fast as it does now, I think the brook will be quite high towards night."

Rollo was much pleased to hear this. He told Lucy, after dinner, that the brook looked magnificently in a freshet; that the banks were brimming full, and the water poured along in a great torrent, foaming and dashing against the logs and rocks.

"Then, besides, Lucy," said he, "we can carry down our little boats and set them a sailing. How they will whirl and plunge along down the stream!"

Lucy liked the idea of seeing the freshet, too, very much; though she said she was afraid it would be too wet for her to go. Rollo told her never to fear, for his father would contrive some way to get her down there safely, and they both went to the back entry door again, looking out, and wishing now that it would rain faster and faster, as they did before dinner that it would cease to rain.

"But," said Lucy, "what if it should not stop raining at all, to-night?"

"O, it will," said Rollo, "I know it will. Besides, if it should not, we can go down to-morrow morning, you know, and then there will be a bigger freshet. O how full the brook will be by to-morrow morning!"

And Rollo clapped his hands, and capered with delight.

"Yes," said Lucy, soberly, "but I must go home to-night."

"Must you?" said Rollo. "So you must. I did not think of that."

"But I think," continued he, "that it will certainly clear up to-night. I will go and ask father if he does not think so too."

They both went together back into the parlor to ask the question.

"I cannot tell, my children, whether it will or not. I see no indications, one way or the other. I think you had better forget all about it, and go to doing something else; for if you spend all the afternoon in watching the sky, and trying to guess whether it will clear up or not, you cannot enjoy yourselves, and may be sadly disappointed at last."

"Why, we cannot help thinking of it, father."

"You cannot, if you stand there at the back door, doing nothing else; but, if you engage in some other employment, you will soon forget all about it."

"What do you think we had better do?" said Lucy.

"I think you had better go up and put your room and your desk all in order, Rollo; Lucy can help you."

"But, father, I have put it in order a great many times, and it always gets out of order again very soon, and I cannot keep it neat."

"That is partly because you do not put it in order right. You do not understand the principles of order."

"What are the principles of order?" said Lucy.

"There are a good many. I will tell you some of them, and then you may go and apply them in arranging Rollo's things.

"One principle is to have the things that are most frequently used in the most accessible place, so that they can be taken out and returned to their proper places easily.

"Another good principle for you is to distinguish between the things which you wish to use, and those you only wish to preserve. The former ought to be in sight, and near at hand. The latter may be packed away more out of view.

"Another principle is to avoid having your desk and room encumbered with things of little or no value, as stones you have picked up, and papers, and sticks. The place to keep such things is in the barn or shed, not in your private room.

"Then you must arrange your things systematically, putting things of the same nature together. Once I looked into your desk after you had put it in order, and I found that, in the back side of it, you had piled up hooks, and white paper, and pictures, and a slate, and a pocket-book or two, all together. You thought they were in order, because they were in a pile. Now, they ought to have been separated and arranged; all the white paper by itself in front, where you can easily get it to use; the pictures all by themselves in a portfolio; and the books should be arranged, not in a pile, but in a row, on their edges, so that you can get out any one without disturbing the others. Those are some of the principles of order."

"Well, come, Rollo," said Lucy, "let us go and see your things, and try to put them in order, right."

Rollo went, but, as he left the room, he turned round to ask his father if he would not come with them, and just show them a little about it. His father said he could not come very well then, but if they would try and do as well as they could, he would come and look over their work after it was done, and tell them whether it was right or not.

Rollo and Lucy went up into Rollo's room, and, true enough, they found not a little confusion there. But they went to work, and soon became very much interested in their employment. A great many of the things were new to Lucy, and as they went on arranging them, they often stopped to talk and play. In this way several hours passed along very pleasantly; and when, at last, they had got them nearly arranged, Rollo went to the window to throw out some old stones that he concluded not to keep any longer, when he exclaimed aloud,

"O, Lucy, Lucy, come here quick."

Lucy ran. Rollo pointed out to the western horizon, and said, "See there!"

There was a broad band of bright golden sky all along the western horizon—clear and beautiful, and extending each way as far as they could see. The dark clouds overhead reached down to the edge of this clear sky, where they hung in a fringe of gold, and the dazzling rays of the sun were just peeping under it. The rain had ceased.


Rollo and Lucy gazed at it a moment, and then ran down stairs as fast as they could go, calling out,

"It is clearing away! It is clearing away! Father, it is clearing away. We can go and see the freshet."

Clearing Up

THEY went out upon the steps to look at the sky. A few drops of rain were still falling, but the clouds appeared to be breaking in several places, and the tract of golden sky in the west was rising and extending. The air was calm, and the golden rays of the sun shone upon the fields and trees, and upon the glittering drops that hung from the leaves and branches. Rollo and Lucy both said it was beautiful.

They went in and urged their father to go with them down to the brook to see the freshet, but he said they must wait till after tea. "It is too wet to go now," said he.

"But, father," said Rollo, "I do not think it will be any better after tea. The ground cannot dry in half an hour."

"No," said his father; "but the water will run off of the paths a great deal, so that we can get along much better."

"Well, but then it will run off from the brook a great deal too, and the freshet will not be so high."

"It is a little different with the brook," his father replied, "for that is very long, and the water comes a great way, from among the hills. Now, while we are taking tea, the water will be running into the brook back among the hills, faster than it will run away here, so that it will grow higher and higher for some hours."

Rollo had no more to say, but he was impatient to go. He and Lucy went out and stood on the steps again. The clouds were breaking up and flying away in all directions, and large patches of clear blue sky appeared every where, giving promise of a beautiful evening.

"Hark!" said Rollo; "what is that?"

Lucy listened. It was a sort of roaring sound down in the woods. Rollo at first thought it was a bear growling.

"Do you think it is a bear?" said he to Lucy, with a look of some concern.

"A bear!—no," said Lucy, laughing. "That is not the way a bear growls. It is the freshet."

"The freshet!" said Rollo.

"Yes; it is the water roaring along the brook."

Rollo listened, and he immediately perceived that it was the sound of water, and he jumped and capered with delight, at thinking how fine a sight it must be.

At the tea-table Rollo's father explained the plan he had formed for their going. He said it was rather a difficult thing to go and see a freshet without getting wet—especially for a girl. He and Rollo, he said, could put on their good thick boots, but Lucy had none suitable for such a walk, as it would probably be very wet and muddy in some places.

"What shall we do then?" said Rollo.

"I believe I shall let Jonas go down and draw Lucy in his wagon," said his father. "How should you like that, Lucy?"

Lucy said she should like it very well, and after tea they went out to the garden-yard door, where they found Jonas with his wagon all ready. This wagon was one which Jonas had made to draw Rollo upon. It was plain and simple, but strong and convenient, and perfectly safe. They helped Lucy into it, and she sat down on the little seat. Rollo, with his hoots on, took hold behind to push, and Jonas drew. Rollo's father walked behind, and thus they set off to view the freshet.

They moved along carefully through the yard, and then turned by the gate and went into the field. The path led them by the garden fence for some distance, and they went along very pleasantly for a time, until at length they came to a large pool of water covering the whole path. There were high banks on each side, so that the wagon could not turn out.

"What shall we do now?" said Rollo.

"I can go right through it," said Jonas; "it is not deep."

"And we can go along on the bank, by the side," said Rollo.

"Very well." said his father, "if you are not afraid, Lucy."

Lucy did feel a little afraid at first, but she knew that if her uncle was willing that she should go, there could not be any danger; so she made no objection. Besides, she knew that, as Jonas was to walk along before her, she could see how deep it was, and there could not be any deep places without his finding it out before the wagon went into them.

Jonas was barefoot, and did not mind wetting his feet; so he waded in, drawing the wagon after him. It was about up to his ankles all the way. Lucy looked over the side of the wagon, and felt a little fear as she saw the wheels half under water; but they went safely through.


Going to see the Freshet.

Presently they began to descend a path which led them into the woods. They heard the roaring of the water, which grew louder and louder as they drew nigh, and then Rollo suddenly stopped and said,

"Why, father, it is raining here in the woods now."

Lucy listened, and they heard the drops of rain falling upon the ground all around them; and yet, looking up, they saw that the sky was almost perfectly clear. Presently they thought that this was only the drops falling off from the leaves of the trees.

Rollo said he meant to see if it was so, and he ran out of the path, and took hold of a slender tree with a large top of branches and leaves, and, looking up to see if any drops would come down, he gave it a good shake; and, true enough, down came a perfect shower of drops all into his face and eyes. At first he was astonished at such an unexpected shower-bath, but he concluded, on the whole, to laugh, and not cry about it; and he came back wiping his face, and looking comically enough. All the party laughed a little at his mishap, and then went on.

In a few minutes more, they came in sight of the foaming brook. The water was very high; in some places, the banks were overflowed, and the current swept along furiously, dashing against the rocks, and whirling round the projecting points.

The children stopped, and gazed upon the scene a little while, and then Rollo said he was going to sail his boats, which he had brought in his pocket.

Just then Jonas saw a plank which was lying partly on the bank and partly in the water, a little up the stream. It had been placed across the brook some distance above, for a bridge; but the freshet had brought it away, and it had drifted down to where it then was.

Jonas said he would find a place for Lucy to stand upon with it. So he went and pushed off this plank, and let it float down to where the children were standing; and then he drew it up upon the shore, and laid it along, so that Lucy could stand upon it safely, and launch the pea-pod boats.

These boats were soon all borne away rapidly down the stream, out of sight; and then they threw in sticks and chips, and watched them as they sailed away, and whirled around in the eddies, or swept down the rapids. Thus they amused themselves a long time, and then slowly returned home.

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