Children Story – The Burnt Composition

There! It is finished, Mamma! Will you read it over now, and see if it is correct?”

Mrs. Carter looked up from her sewing at her little girl’s eager, flushed face, smiling at her earnestness.

“Let me see dear,” she said, taking the papers in her own hand. “It looks very neat.”

“There is not one blot or erasure,” said Nettie; “if the spelling and grammar are right, I think my chance for a prize is as good as anyone’s. Mr. Mason said he would give prizes for all the correct compositions, though the writing desk is for the best one in every way. I don’t think I shall get that, Mamma. We all think Hattie Ross will have that, if she is only careful about her blots. She does write so beautifully; only she will blot and smear badly. I guess she will be neat this time, though. The desk is such a beauty, with a little silver plate for the name of the winner. If I can get one of the books for correct composition, I will be satisfied.”

“I think you will get one, Nettie,” said her mother, after carefully reading the composition. “This is correct, well expressed and very neat.”

“Now, Mamma, will you tie it with the ribbons for me, and I will put it away.”

The precious manuscript being tied nicely with crisp, dainty ribbons, Nettie put it carefully in her desk, with a long sigh of relief. It had been a very difficult task for the little twelve-year-old girl to complete a correct and neat composition. She was not fond of writing, had hard work to put her ideas into words, and found it quite as hard to keep her sheet clean. So it was quite a triumph when the work was really complete, entirely alone, and had been pronounced worthy of a place among the prize compositions.

The little girl was still in the room where she and her sisters studied, when Amy, her cousin, nearly her own age, came in, flushed and tearful.

“Is your composition ready?” she asked.

“Yes, and Mamma says it will do.”

“Then you can help me with mine. I have tried and tried, and I can’t write one.”

“But, Amy, if I help you, you can’t try for a prize. You know Mr. Mason said we must not have any help, even from our parents.”

“Your mamma helped you.”

“No, not one bit. She only read it when it was finished.”

“But you will help me, Nettie. Nobody will ever know.”

“But it will not be honorable.”

Amy would not listen, however, to her cousin. She coaxed a long time, making it very hard for tender-hearted, good-natured little Nettie to refuse the request. She loved Amy very dearly, and it was her constant habit to assist her with all her lessons and exercises. Only the fact that it would be a dishonorable trick upon their teacher kept her from yielding now. Hard as it was for her, she refused upon that plea.

Then Amy grew angry, taunted her with jealousy, selfishness, and miserably mean motives, that Nettie felt were untrue and unjust. Working herself into a fury, Amy suddenly seized the precious manuscript her cousin had just completed, and tossed it upon the red coals of the open grate.

“If you won’t help me to a prize, you shan’t have one yourself,” she cried.

“Oh, Amy!”

The cry was too late to save the treasure. Already it was curling up in the fierce heat, and a bright blaze was in a few moments all that was left of the work of many play hours.

As the flame died away in a black mass, both children stood very still, looking at the destruction one passionate moment had made. Already Amy was sorry, for her tempests of temper never lasted long, and she hoped Nettie would scold and cry, as she would have done, and then “make-up.” But Nettie’s grief was too deep for anger. She did not speak after the first cry, but went silently from the room to lock herself in her own little bedroom, and sat down for a hearty cry.

Remember, she was but twelve years old, and had worked very faithfully for the promised reward. As the tears ran down her cheeks, her thoughts were very busy.

“I will never speak to Amy again, nor help her with a single lesson. She had no right to burn it. I would have helped her with anything else, but this would have been wrong; it would have been cheating to write this composition. I’ll never forgive her, never! It was so pretty, too! And I cannot have another ready in time—there is so much to do before examination, and only one week for all. I wonder if Amy feels bad. I should, I know. I hope she does. Do I? Is this Christian forgiveness? Only one month since I resolved never to be bitter again, to conquer my temper, and try to be a real, true Christian, like Mamma; and now I am revengeful, unforgiving, and wicked. What shall I do? I can’t forgive Amy, I can’t.”

So her thoughts ran, now blaming Amy, now herself, the tears flowing fast all the time. At last the little girl, tired of crying, knelt down and said very softly the Lord’s Prayer. Her sweet face was very earnest as she whispered, “ ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ (Matthew 6:12). I will forgive Amy. Help me, Heavenly Father, to forgive her, as I hope to have all my sins forgiven.”

In the meantime, a very unhappy, penitent little girl was walking slowly homeward. Amy would have given all her own hard study for the other prizes if she could have restored the burnt composition. Her conscience was very sore. She knew that Nettie was right in refusing her request, and she knew that in every way she had been wrong; wrong in asking for help, wrong in getting angry, and oh! how very, very wrong in taking such a wicked revenge for Nettie’s refusal! She thought of the many hours Nettie had spent trying to help her in her studies, of the many times her cousin had given up a pleasant walk or ride to aid her in a difficult sum or exercise; and before she reached home, Amy was quite sorry and felt quite as guilty and mean as Nettie could have wished her had she been ever so revengeful.

The next morning, after Nettie had started for school, Mrs. Carter was surprised to see Amy, with a grieved face, standing before her.

“Aunt Mary,” she said, trying not to cry, “did Nettie tell you about the composition?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Carter said very gravely.

“Do you think she will forgive me, if I try to make up the loss, Aunt Mary? I am so sorry.”

“I don’t think the loss can be made up, Amy.”

“I have tried to make it right, Aunt Mary. It was very hard to do, but I went to Mr. Mason this morning, and told him the whole story. He says if you will send him a note saying the composition was correct and neat, he will consider it the same as if he saw it himself. O Aunt Mary, please do! I am so miserable.”

Mrs. Carter pressed a warm kiss upon the penitent little face.

“If you always atone for a fault so nobly as this, Amy,” she said kindly, “you will not feel miserable long. It will be a lesson for you and help you to check the hasty temper that gets you into so much trouble. I will write the note to Mr. Mason now.”

The note was soon ready, and Amy took it gratefully.

“Will Nettie forgive me now, Aunt Mary?”

“Nettie forgave you fully and freely before she slept, Amy.”

“I wonder if I could be so good as that?” Amy said tearfully. “I am sure I can never be ugly to Nettie again.”

When the examination day came, Mr. Mason handed each of the cousins a small pocket Bible.

“Yours,” he said to the wondering Amy, “is to prove to you how much I appreciate the true penitence that acknowledges a fault at once, and tries to make amendment. Nettie earned a reward by her hard study, and she holds it in her hand; but, above all study, I prize the Christian kindness and forgiveness that kept her silent when I asked for her composition, rather than tell me how it was destroyed.”

I have told you this little story, little readers, because it is true, every word of it, and proves how truly the power of prayer and principle will aid us in atoning for faults and forgiving our enemies.

Choice Stories for Children, Ernest Lloyd, 116–120.