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Catching at a Shadow
Written 1867

by Charlotte Maria Tucker

"Oh, Alice dear, won't it be fine fun to drive into London and spend the day with grandmamma tomorrow," cried little Minnie Davis to her sister.

"I hope that you may find it so," was Alice's reply, "as for me, I will not be with you."

"Not go to London!" exclaimed her brother Charlie, looking up in surprise from his book.

"No, I hope to go somewhere farther than to London and have better fun still. What say you to the Crystal Palace?" asked Alice, with a beaming smile.

"You don't mean to say that the Brownes have asked you to drive down there in their carriage tomorrow?" said Charlie eagerly.

"Well, no, not exactly asked me, but I think that they will call for me on the way. Indeed, I'm almost sure of it, for when Lizzie told me that they were all going, she smiled and squeezed my hand, just as much as to say, 'I hope you'll be one of the party.'"

"Oh, if you've nothing better to go upon than a smile and a squeeze of the hand," laughed Charlie, "I should advise you to come with us to grandmamma and not give up a certain pleasure for one so very uncertain!"

"But I have something more to go upon," said Alice, who was not pleased at her brother's laugh. "Mrs. Browne knows that I have never been to the Crystal Palace and that I long above all things to see it, and a month ago she said to me, 'We must take you there with us some day.'"

Charlie smiled and shook his head. "Alice," said he, "don't you be like the dog in the fable that when crossing a brook with a bone in his mouth, saw his own reflection in the stream, and was so eager to snatch at what he thought another bone in the jaws of another dog, that in the attempt to get it, he dropped his own bone into the water."

Alice was a little out of humor at being compared to so foolish a dog and coldly replied, "If I choose to take my chance of a treat, I don't see that it matters to you."

"Oh, but Alice dear," said the gentle little Minnie, "won't grandmamma be disappointed not to see you, and wouldn't papa like to have you with him, and wouldn't it be such a pleasure for us all to drive up together?" Minnie was a loving, coaxing little girl and Alice was very fond of her. Besides, there was reason in what she said, so that it was in a hesitating tone that her sister replied,

"I don't think—at least I hope that dear grandmamma won't much mind my staying away just this once. I daresay that I'll have another opportunity of seeing her before the winter sets in. You will take her my love and tell her that nothing but a visit to the Crystal Palace"—("The shadow of a visit," interrupted Charlie)—"would prevent my enjoying the pleasure of going to her," continued Alice, without appearing to notice the interruption. "As for papa, I have his leave to remain behind if I wish it and he has allowed me to go with the Brownes."

"That is to say if they wish to have you," laughed Charlie, "remember the dog and the bone, Alice, remember the dog!"

The morning came, sunshiny and bright. All breakfast time, the children were talking of the coming pleasures of the day. The chaise drove up to the door. Charlie and Minnie were eager to start for London. The only damp on their enjoyment being that their sister was not going with them.

"Oh, Alice darling, do come!" pleaded Minnie, "we shall miss you so sadly and so will grandmamma. We should all be so happy together!"

"We'll be happy together this evening, dear, when I tell you about all the wonderful things that I shall have seen—the stuffed beasts and the living birds, the huge tree, and the splendid Alhambra court."

"Alice, my girl, I hope that we are to have you with us," said Mr. Davis, coming out of his room with his driving whip in hi hand.

"Dear papa—if you don't mind—I think I'd rather stop behind just this once."

"Well, do as you please," said the father, but Alice thought that she saw a little shade of displeasure on his face and she felt much inclined to run after him and beg to be taken with him in the chaise.

"Alice is changing her mind!" cried Charlie. It was an unfortunate observation. Alice was foolish enough to pride herself upon never changing her mind, even when she had made a mistake and she did not choose that Charlie should be able to laugh at her for so doing. She therefore stayed within the gate of her father's pretty little garden at Hampstead, bade goodbye to the party and saw them drive off towards London.

Alice could not help a feeling of misgiving as the chaise rattled away down the road, but she turned from the gate with the remark, "They will have a pleasant visit, I hope, but nothing to be compared to my treat. I will run and put on my best hat and my new kid gloves and be all ready to start, for the Brownes are likely to set off at ten, and I wouldn't keep them waiting—no, not for one minute."

But if Alice would not keep the Brownes waiting, it was out of her power to prevent being kept waiting herself. Very impatient she grew as she watched by the gate, counting up to a hundred again and again, to make time appear to pass less slowly.

"Dear me! what can be delaying them so long? What if they should not be going to the Crystal Palace after all—if I should have to stay here the whole day all alone, after disappointing Minnie and running the risk of vexing dear kind grandmamma, who always gives such an affectionate welcome! There's the sound of wheels—they're coming at last! Oh, no, it is only the butcher's cart! What a dust it stirs up! And here comes the great lumbering omnibus." Alice drew back a little from the gate to be out of the way of the dust. The omnibus was crowded with passengers within and without—it seemed to Alice as if all the world were going pleasuring except herself, and it was her own fault that she was not at that moment driving through London. Had she been less selfish and self-willed, she would have given up for the sake of others her chance of the much-desired treat.

Scarcely had Alice returned to her post close behind the gate, when she uttered an exclamation of joy, clapped her hands, and could hardly refrain from jumping.

"Oh! here they are coming at last—I know the blue liveries and the spanking gray horses. There is Mrs. Browne's green bonnet and there is Lizzie leaning out from the carriage. She sees me—she is smiling—she is kissing her hand—and—"

Poor Alice stopped short in the middle of her joyful sentence, for, alas! the carriage did not stop. The spanking grays did not slacken their pace as they dashed along the road in front of the gate! The smile of eager delight on the face of the poor child changed to a look of blank dismay when the carriage had actually passed and no one had called to the coachman to pull up and Lizzie and her party had actually disappeared from view, hastening on their way to the Crystal Palace!

When carriage, blue liveries, and all could be no more seen and even the rumble of the wheels could be heard no longer, Alice burst out crying. She could not help it. So bitter was her disappointment. So great her regret at her own folly. She ran into the house, threw herself down on a sofa, and sobbed. She had dropped the pleasure which she might have enjoyed, trying, like the dog, to snatch at another. She had disregarded advice. She had acted a selfish as well as a foolish part and now all her delightful hopes had ended in disappointment!

Alice cried violently, but she did not cry long. Presently she lifted her head, dried her wet eyes, and began to try to bear her misfortune more bravely.

"This has been a sad lesson for me," said Alice to herself with a sigh. "I should not have minded the disappointment so much if it had been through no fault of my own. What a miserably dull day I shall spend! Papa and the children will not be back till the evening—I have nothing to amuse me or take up my thoughts. Oh, that I had gone up to London!"

But Alice was, after all, too sensible a child to give herself up for hours to vain regrets. "What can't be cured must be endured." She had made one mistake which could not be repaired, but to have remained all the day long in dull idleness, fretting over her disappointment, would have been to make another.

"I had better occupy myself about something," thought Alice, rising up from the sofa. "Charlie's garden wants weeding. It is half covered with groundsel and chickweed. Shall I give him a surprise by clearing it all nicely before he comes back? Dear little Minnie has her stockings to mend and I know that she finds darning so difficult. Shall I save her the trouble by doing the work myself? Papa asked me yesterday to put his papers in order. Here is leisure time in which I can arrange everything as he likes. If I cannot be happy today, I may at least be useful. I'll weed, I'll work, I'll sort the papers, and so pass the wearisome hours!"

Alice had this time made a wise resolution, and she found that while her little fingers were so busy, her mind had less time to dwell upon the sad disappointment of the morning. She had almost regained her cheerfulness at last, before she heard the sound of the returning chaise, and ran out to meet the party from London at the gate of the garden.

"Well, Alice, where have you been?" cried Charlie, as he jumped down from the chaise.

"What have you seen?" asked Minnie eagerly, as she followed her brother.

Alice tried to give a good-humored smile as she made reply—"When you go to your garden, Charlie, and you to your work-basket, Minnie, you will easily find out where I have been and as for what I have seen, I have seen that it is best to be contented with pleasures within our reach, and that he was a foolish dog indeed that dropped his bone to catch at a shadow!"

Edited by Pam Takahashi
Proofed by Deborah Gardner


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