Mary Erskine by Jacob Abbott
Mary Erskine by Jacob Abbott 1803-1879
The development of the moral sentiments in the human heart, in early
life,- -and every thing in fact which relates to the formation of
character,- -is determined in a far greater degree by sympathy, and
by the influence of example, than by formal precepts and didactic
instruction. If a boy hears his father speaking kindly to a robin in
the spring,- -welcoming its coming and offering it food,- -there arises
at once in his own mind, a feeling of kindness toward the bird,
and toward all the animal creation, which is produced by a sort of
sympathetic action, a power somewhat similar to what in physical
philosophy is called _induction_. On the other hand, if the
father, instead of feeding the bird, goes eagerly for a gun, in order
that he may shoot it, the boy will sympathize in that desire, and
growing up under such an influence, there will be gradually formed
within him, through the mysterious tendency of the youthful heart to
vibrate in unison with hearts that are near, a disposition to kill and
destroy all helpless beings that come within his power. There is no
need of any formal instruction in either case. Of a thousand children
brought up under the former of the above-described influences, nearly
every one, when he sees a bird, will wish to go and get crumbs to feed
it, while in the latter case, nearly every one will just as certainly
look for a stone. Thus the growing up in the right atmosphere, rather
than the receiving of the right instruction, is the condition which
it is most important to secure, in plans for forming the characters of
It is in accordance with this philosophy that these stories, though
written mainly with a view to their moral influence on the hearts and
dispositions of the readers, contain very little formal exhortation
and instruction. They present quiet and peaceful pictures of happy
domestic life, portraying generally such conduct, and expressing such
sentiments and feelings, as it is desirable to exhibit and express in
the presence of children.
The books, however, will be found, perhaps, after all, to be useful
mainly in entertaining and amusing the youthful readers who may peruse
them, as the writing of them has been the amusement and recreation of
the author in the intervals of more serious pursuits.
II.- -THE BRIDE
III.- -MARY ERSKINE'S VISITORS
VI.- -MARY BELL IN THE WOODS
VIII.- -THE SCHOOL
IX.- -GOOD MANAGEMENT
X.- -THE VISIT TO MARY ERSKINE'S
Malleville and her cousin Phonny generally played together at
Franconia a great part of the day, and at night they slept in two
separate recesses which opened out of the same room. These recesses
were deep and large, and they were divided from the room by curtains,
so that they formed as it were separate chambers: and yet the children
could speak to each other from them in the morning before they got up,
since the curtains did not intercept the sound of their voices. They
might have talked in the same manner at night, after they had gone to
bed, but this was against Mrs. Henry's rules.
One morning Malleville, after lying awake a few minutes, listening to
the birds that were singing in the yard, and wishing that the window
was open so that she could hear them more distinctly, heard Phonny's
voice calling to her.
"Malleville," said he, "are you awake?"
"Yes," said Malleville, "are you?"
"Yes," said Phonny, "I'm awake- -but what a cold morning it is!"
It was indeed a cold morning, or at least a very _cool_ one.
This was somewhat remarkable, as it was in the month of June. But the
country about Franconia was cold in winter, and cool in summer. Phonny
and Malleville rose and dressed themselves, and then went down stairs.
They hoped to find a fire in the sitting-room, but there was none.
"How sorry I am," said Phonny. "But hark, I hear a roaring."
"Yes," said Malleville; "it is the oven; they are going to bake."
The back of the oven was so near to the partition wall which formed
one side of the sitting-room, that the sound of the fire could be
heard through it. The mouth of the oven however opened into
another small room connected with the kitchen, which was called the
baking-room. The children went out into the baking-room, to warm
themselves by the oven fire.
"I am very glad that it is a cool day," said Phonny, "for perhaps
mother will let us go to Mary Erskine's. Should not you like to go?"
"Yes," said Malleville, "very much. Where is it?"
The readers who have perused the preceding volumes of this series
will have observed that Mary Bell, who lived with her mother in the
pleasant little farm-house at a short distance from the village, was
always called by her full name, Mary Bell, and not ever, or scarcely
ever, merely Mary. People had acquired the habit of speaking of her in
this way, in order to distinguish her from another Mary who lived with
Mrs. Bell for several years. This other Mary was Mary Erskine. Mary
Erskine did not live now at Mrs. Bell's, but at another house which
was situated nearly two miles from Mrs. Henry's, and the way to it
was by a very wild and unfrequented road. The children were frequently
accustomed to go and make Mary Erskine a visit; but it was so long a
walk that Mrs. Henry never allowed them to go unless on a very cool
At breakfast that morning Phonny asked his mother if that would not be
a good day for them to go and see Mary Erskine. Mrs. Henry said that
it would be an excellent day, and that she should be very glad to have
them go, for there were some things there to be brought home. Besides
Beechnut was going to mill, and he could carry them as far as Kater's
Kater's corner was a place where a sort of cart path, branching off
from the main road, led through the woods to the house where Mary
Erskine lived. It took its name from a farmer, whose name was Kater,
and whose house was at the corner where the roads diverged. The main
road itself was very rough and wild, and the cart path which led from
the corner was almost impassable in summer, even for a wagon, though
it was a very romantic and beautiful road for travelers on horseback
or on foot. In the winter the road was excellent: for the snow buried
all the roughness of the way two or three feet deep, and the teams
which went back and forth into the woods, made a smooth and beautiful
track for every thing on runners, upon the top of it.
Malleville and Phonny were very much pleased with the prospect of
riding a part of the way to Mary Erskine's, with Beechnut, in the
wagon. They made themselves ready immediately after breakfast, and
then went and sat down upon the step of the door, waiting for Beechnut
to appear. Beechnut was in the barn, harnessing the horse into the
Malleville sat down quietly upon the step while waiting for Beechnut.
Phonny began to amuse himself by climbing up the railing of the
bannisters, at the side of the stairs. He was trying to poise himself
upon the top of the railing and then to work himself up the ascent
by pulling and pushing with his hands and feet against the bannisters
"I wish you would not do that," said Malleville. "I think it is very
foolish, for you may fall and hurt yourself."
"No," said Phonny. "It is not foolish. It is very useful for me to
learn to climb." So saying he went on scrambling up the railing of the
bannisters as before.
Just then Beechnut came along through the yard, towards the house. He
was coming for the whip.
"Beechnut," said Malleville, "I wish that you would speak to Phonny."
"_Is_ it foolish for me to learn to climb?" asked Phonny. In
order to see Beechnut while he asked this question, Phonny had to
twist his head round in a very unusual position, and look out under
his arm. It was obvious that in