The Sixpenny Calico by Anonymous

Story type: Literature

One day a new scholar appeared in school, and as usual was the mark of public gaze. She was gentle and modest-looking, and never ventured to lift her eyes from her books. At recess, to the inquiries, “Who is she?” “What’s her name?” nobody could satisfactorily answer. None of us ever saw or heard of her before.

“I know she’s not much,” said one of the girls.

“Poorly off,” said I.

“Do you see her dress? Why, I believe it is nothing but a sixpenny calico.”

“Poor thing, she must be cold.”

“I can’t imagine how a person can wear calico in winter,” said another, whose rich plaid was the admiration of the school.

“I must say I like to see a person dressed according to the season,” remarked another; “that is, if people can afford it,” she added, in a manner plainly enough indicating that her father could.

Such was recess talk. None of us went to take the stranger by the hand and welcome her as the companion of our studies and our play. We stood aloof, and stared at her with cold and unfeeling curiosity. The teacher called her Abby. When she first came to her place for recitation, she took a seat beside the rich plaid. The plaid drew haughtily away, as if the sixpenny calico might dim the beauty of its colours. A slight colour flushed Abby’s cheek, but her quiet remained the same. It was some time before she ventured on the play-ground, and then it was only to stand aside, and look on, for we were slow in asking her to join us.

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On one occasion we had a harder arithmetic lesson than usual, completely baffling our small brains. Upon comparing notes at recess, none of us had mastered it.

“I’ll ask Abby of her success,” said one of my intimate associates.

“It is quite unlikely she has,” I replied; “do stay here; besides, what if she has?”

“I will go,” she answered.

Away she went, and as it appeared, Abby and she were the only members of the class ready for recitation. Abby had been more successful than the rest of us, and kindly helped my friend to scale the difficulties of the lesson.

“Shall we ask Abby to join the sleigh-ride?” asked one of the girls, who was getting a subscription for a famous New Year’s ride.

“Judging from her dress,” I said, “if she goes, we must give her the ride.”

“But how will it do to leave her out?” they asked.

“She does not of course expect to be asked to ride with us,” I said; “she is evidently of a poor family.”

As a sort of leader in school, my words were influential, and poor Abby was left out. How often did I contrast my white hands and warm gloves with the purple fingers and cheap mittens of my neighbour Abby. How miserable I should be with such working hands and no gloves.

By-and-by I took to patronizing her. “She is really a very nice creature, and ought to join us more in our plays,” we said. So we used to make her “one of us” in the play-ground. In fact, I began to thaw towards her very considerably. There was something in Abby which called out our respect.

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One Saturday afternoon, as I was looking out of the window, wishing for something to do, my mother asked me to join her in a little walk. On went my new cloak, warm furs, and pink hat, and in a trice I was ready. We went first to the stores, where I was very glad to be met by several acquaintances in my handsome winter dress. At last I found my mother turning off into less frequented thoroughfares.

“Where, mother,” I asked, “in this vulgar part of the town?”

“Not vulgar, my dear,” she said. “A very respectable and industrious part of our population live here.”

“Not fashionable, certainly,” I added.

“And not vulgar because not fashionable, by any means,” she said; for you may be sure my false and often foolish notions were not gained from her. She stopped before a humble-looking house, and entered the front door.

“Where are you going?” I asked with much curiosity.

She gently opened a side door, and hesitated a moment on the threshold.

“Caroline, come in,” said a voice from within. “I am very happy to see you.”

“Pray, don’t rise, dear,” said my mother, going forward and affectionately kissing a sick lady who sat in a rocking chair. “You look better than when I saw you before. Do not exert yourself.”

I was introduced, and I fancied the invalid looked at me with a sort of admiring surprise as she took my hand and hoped I should prove worthy of such a mother. Then, while my mother and she were talking, I sat down and took notes with my eyes of everything in the room. It looked beautifully neat, and the furniture evidently had seen better days. By-and-by mother asked for her daughter.

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“Gone out on some errands,” said the sick lady. “The dear child is an inexpressible blessing to me,” and tears filled her eyes.

“A mother might well be thankful for such a daughter. She is a pattern my child might safely imitate.”

I thought I should be exceedingly glad to see the person my mother was so willing I should copy.

“She will return soon,” said the invalid. “She has gone to carry some work which she has contrived to do in her leisure moments. The self-sacrifice of the child is wonderful. She seems to desire nothing that other girls of her age generally want. A little while ago, an early friend who had found me out and befriended me as you have done”–tears came into the speaker’s eyes–“sent her a handsome winter dress. ‘O mother,’ she said, ‘this is too expensive for me, when you want some warm flannel so.’ I told her it was just what she needed. A few days afterwards she went out and came home with a roll of flannel and a calico dress. ‘See, mother,’ she said, ‘I shall enjoy this calico a hundred times more than the finest dress in the world, when you can have your flannel.’ Excuse me for telling it, but you know a mother’s heart. There is her step; she is coming.”

The outer door opened. How I longed to see the comer! “A perfect angel,” I thought, “so generous, so disinterested, so good; I should love her.” The latch was lifted. A young girl entered, and my school-fellow Abby stood before me! I could have sunk into the earth for very shame. How wicked my pride! how false and foolish my judgments! Oh, how mean did my fine winter dress appear before the plain sixpenny calico!

I was almost sure my mother had managed all this, for she had a way of making me see my faults, and making me desire to cure them, without ever saying much directly herself. This, however, had not come about by her intervention; God taught me by his providence.

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As we walked home, my mother gave me an account of Mrs. G—-, an early friend who made an imprudent marriage. But that story is no matter here. I will only add, my judgment of people was formed ever after according to a better standard than the dress they wore, and that Abby and I became intimate friends.

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