Short Stories » Frankie
LONG ago, when I was a girl of sixteen, there was a little boy of whom I was very fond, and whom I can never forget. He was not beautiful, and his parents were not rich, but they were very comfortable. Many times have I rocked Frankie to sleep in his infancy without ever expecting that he would care any more for me than for anyone else, but, someway or other, he seemed still to cling to me when he was six and seven years old.
Frankie was rather a delicate boy in health; he could not keep up with the others in their rambles and rough play, and if he tried crossing brooks or fixing waterfalls, he always came home sopping wet; if bird's nests were the object, Frankie was almost sure to get hurt, so that at last he -kept more and more at home.
How often I recall him crossing the wide clover field, then crowding through the picket fence and picking his way through the blackberry patch, at last coming down through the orchard, all in a pink perspiration, to the house. When I would meet him on the broad veranda with a soft towel to wipe his warm face, he took it so naturally, and when, after salutations, he would refresh himself with a cookie, it would not be very long before he would begin to manifest a desire for something further. " What would you like to have, Frankie ? " " A red apple and a white rose, and let's us go gather bilups." I always knew what " bilups " were ; they were (outside our dictionary, Frankie's and mine) violets ; and they grew by the thousand in the wide meadow, under the hedges, at the tree roots, around the springs and the great watering-trough hewed out of a log; they grew everywhere, underfoot in the paths as well as in clumps of daisies, snap-dragons, lilies, scarlet lobelias, and humble buttercups.
I asked Frankie's brother, Johnnie, 9ne day, who planted all those flowers, and Johnnie promptly answered, " My pa." But then that was his answer frequently, for he considered his pa the greatest per-son living, not even excepting grandma. This opinion the school-teacher also found out when he asked the small class, "Who is President of the United States?" When Abraham Lincoln's name was ready on every lip, and everybody but Johnnie knew better, he royally shouted, " My pa ! "
But Frankie's the boy I was going to tell you of. With a large umbrella, a book and some cookies in a little basket, we would start hand in hand for the meadow and grove. When we had gathered flowers to Frankie's satisfaction, we would go to the big trough, and there, regularly, his face, hands and bare feet were washed and wiped with handkerchief or apron. It was the fashion then to wear very wide dress skirts, and I used to sit down on the soft moss at the foot of some tree, and Frankie would lie down on my lap, while part of my skirt was gathered up over him to guard off gnats, flies and other such enemies of peace and repose. While the dear boy slept I might read, and when he woke I would take him home to his mother. How fondly she would smile and hasten to bring him something nice !
One summer day Frankie wanted to go with his brothers to some place of amusement, but his mother gently denied him. "All the rest are going, and Dan isn't much bigger than I am." " I know it, Frankie, but you always get hurt when you are from home. Won't you be willing to stay with me?" she asked, tenderly. Before he could answer, a bird flew under the porch, alighted upon his shoulder an instant, twittered, and darted away.
" Mother, I'm going to stay close by you."
The celebration came and the boys rode away where the drums were beating, flags flying and hurrahs now and then rent the air.
Very dear, still dearer than ever, seemed the fragile boy to his mother as the days went on.
One day the brothers went out for a swim in their own little pond, not far from the house. Frankie went along just to watch them sport in the warm water. Some neighboring boys joined them soon, and Frankie went in for a short while, but the sun was too bright overhead, and he soon tired and came out. That night he was dull, and his little face was hot against his mother's cheek as he clasped her neck and bade her good-night. In the morning he was sick and the doctor ordered a bath. His delicate frame was blistered from the sun while in the pond, and he had brain fever. At intervals he was sensible. I took to him what he liked, a red apple, white rose and violets. The dear boy smiled and gathered them all around him. As he grew worse and dreaded to take his medicine, his father tried coaxing. “I'll give you this gold dollar, Frankie, if you'll take this right down." The nauseating dose was swallowed, and the hot little hand held the tiny coin awhile, then dropped it forgetfully. When the next time came for his medicine, the father held up his splendid pocket-knife as an inducement. This also won, and Frankie looked at it with a very faint smile. It was too heavy to hold. The hours wore on, and the doctor said there was hope. Try one more, that would be all. The weary sufferer looked depreciatingly at the spoon and glass and closed his eyes. There remained one thing above all others that the boy was proud of, a splendid colt owned by his father. Frankie looked into the pleading eyes of his mother and listened to his father's voice: " Frankie, if you'll take just this one dose more I'll give you anything you ask for." The poor little lips trembled with a glad, pitiful smile, asked faintly, "The Black Warrior colt, pa?" "Yes, my boy, you shall have him," he answered, with tears of joy in his eyes. " Bring him here." The handsome, petted colt was led to the door, the little form was lifted and carried to where he could put his hand upon it. A satisfied look overspread his face and he faintly said, " Take him back, be good to him." How happy they all were ! All the afternoon he dozed, and they . thought the rest was gathering strength. Then he seemed to dream, for several times he called " Whoa ! " and smiled in his sleep. Toward sundown he woke. " Bring the Black Warrior, I'm going ! " He lifted his weak arms, and his father raised him to the fresher air. They fell around his mother's neck ; he smiled good-by to her, and his spirit rode away.