A Rose of Summer

Mary E. Wilkins

From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Vol. LXXVII No. 1977 (August 3, 1893)

“Now, Sylvia, you can knit down to the heel this afternoon for your stent.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“You can sit down on the door-step and knit if you want to.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“After you've knit your stent you can go into the pantry and get a piece of short gingerbread out of the stone jar for luncheon. You'd better sit on the door-step and eat it, so you won't get the crumbs around.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“You can have some bread-and-butter and currants, and a piece of custard-pie for your supper. You mustn't go off anywhere, and I don't want any of the other children trapesing in here while I'm gone.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Sylvia Renfrew stood by and watched her grandmother soberly as she tied on her bonnet and pinned her black cashmere shawl before the sitting-room glass. Old Mrs. Renfrew was going out to spend the afternoon and drink tea with her friend, old Mrs. Benson. There were two other old ladies invited also; it was quite a little tea-party, and Mrs. Renfrew was dressing herself very particularly. After she had adjusted her bonnet and shawl she fixed her knitting-work in a black-beaded bag, and packed her best lace cap in her round cap-basket; then she was all ready to start.

Sylvia followed her to the south door. After she had stepped off the door-stone old Mrs. Renfrew turned around for a parting injunction.

“You keep a look-out on those roses, Sylvia,” said she. “If anybody asks you for them you say you can't spare any of them. I won't have them all picked off; your grandfather set them out, and I think too much of them.”

“Yes, ma'am,” answered Sylvia.

After her grandmother had gone she sat down on the door-step with her knitting. At her right, in the sunny corner formed by the junction of the L with the main house, were the roses. They were the beautiful old-fashioned red and white ones, large as saucers, and growing low in thick clumps.

Pretty soon the school children began to pass on their way to school. Sylvia could not go to school herself; she had just had the measles and was not strong enough. She looked at the children rather wishfully. Presently three girls came up to the door-step.

“Hullo, Sylvia!” said they.

“Hullo!” replied Sylvia.

The salutation was not elegant, but it was the customary one among the scholars; it would have seemed to them like putting on airs to use any other.

“When are you going to school again?”

“I don't know; just as soon as I get well enough.”

All the time the little girls' eyes were on the roses.

“Say, Sylvia, give me a rose,” one said, finally, in an affectedly easy tone. Then the other two joined in: “Give me one — give me one, too, Sylvia.”

Sylvia looked away from them.

“I can't” she said, in a distressed voice.

“Oh, Sylvia! just one apiece to give to the teacher.”

“I can't spare any.”

The little girls looked at each other, then they turned on their heels. “She's the stingiest thing I ever saw in my life,” Sylvia heard one of them say, and she felt overwhelmed. She knitted with unsteady fingers, and did not look up when other children went by. She was just congratulating herself that they had all gone when somebody said, in a sweet voice:

“How are you to-day, Sylvia?”

Sylvia looked up, and there was the teacher, Miss May. Miss May, with her pretty pink cheeks and her smooth brown hair, dressed in a dainty French-calico gown, looked very sweet and beautiful to Sylvia, who loved her dearly. She arose and dropped her knitting-work, and Miss May kissed her and inquired when she was coming to school again, and said how much she missed her. She took a pretty little picture-card out of her pocket and gave Sylvia, then her bright blue eyes scanned the roses.

“Don't you want to give me two or three of your roses to wear in my belt?” said she.

“Oh, Miss May!” The teacher looked at her in surprise. “I'm dreadful sorry,” Sylvia continued, with difficulty; “but — I — can't — spare any of them.”

“Oh, well, never mind,” returned Miss May, laughing, and tripped out of the yard. But Sylvia looked at the pretty picture-card and wished she could get under the door-step. Her fingers trembled when she fell to knitting again.

“Good-afternoon, my dear,” said some one. The voice was very soft and delicate and sweet, and the speaker matched it, being a very delicate and sweet old lady. Sylvia arose at once and courtesied deeply. The old lady wore a soft, black silk gown, a white cashmere mantle, and a lace ruche inside her bonnet. She had a tiny, fair old face, and very mild and pleasant ways. She was 'Squire Endicott's wife, and people called her “Madam Endicott.” She was of a quite grand station, although she was so gentle and meek herself. She inquired in her sweet, caressing voice after Sylvia's grandmother and Sylvia's measles, and then she asked Sylvia to give her some roses.

Poor Sylvia had in her after-life many mortifications, as we all have, but she never experienced a keener one than when she saw Madam Endicott move gently away after she had refused to give her roses. She knitted to the heel, then she sat still — she did not feel like eating luncheon. She was not sure that she wanted any supper when it was time for that, but she did finally go into the house and eat a piece of custard-pie.

Her grandmother came home before sunset; they did not stay late at tea-parties. When she entered the sitting-room she looked sharply at Sylvia, who was curled up in the rocking-chair by the window. “Did you finish your stent?” she inquired.

“Yes, ma'am.”

“What have you been crying about, child?” Old Mrs. Renfrew's voice was very kind, and the kindness in it set poor little Sylvia to crying again. The story came out between sobs, and her grandmother listened in amazement. “Why, sakes alive, child!” said she. “I didn't care about your giving some of the roses to Miss May and Madam Endicott. All I meant was, I didn't want you to give them to all the school-children. I knew how they'll tease for roses sometimes, and I didn't know as I'd have one left if you sat out there when they were going by. Now, you take my cap out of the basket, real careful, and put it in the second drawer, and bring me the every-day one, and then I'll give you a seed-cake that I put in my pocket for you. Mrs. Benson sent it because you've been sick.”

Old Mrs. Benson's seed-cakes were famous in the town, and Sylvia felt a thrill of comfort. “I'll let you carry a bunch of roses to Madam Endicott and the teacher in the morning,” said her grandmother, when she had put away the cap and was eating the seed-cake, and Sylvia felt as if she could see to the end of her trouble.

The next morning she had her hair brushed very smooth indeed, and was dressed up in her rose-colored print dress and dainty ruffles, and went forth to carry roses and apologies to Madam Endicott and Miss May. Beautiful Miss May laughed and kissed her, and fastened the roses in her belt, and Sylvia thought she looked like a queen. And Madam Endicott greeted Sylvia in her tender, caressing fashion, and made her come into the parlor and sit in an embroidered chair and eat a piece of plum-cake, and then she gave her a little china mug to carry home, and folded her in a soft embrace and told her to tell her grandmother that she herself, little Sylvia, was the sweetest rose she had.

Sylvia felt rather ashamed to tell her grandmother, but she did, and old Mrs. Renfrew colored up and looked pleased; still she spoke quite decidedly in reply. “Compliments are all very well,” said she, “but it's just as well for little girls not to set much story by them. Now, if you want to sit out on the door-step you can, and you may call those three little girls in when they go by and give them two roses apiece.”