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Chapter 1 A Target

  • We must not hope to be mowers,
  • And to gather the ripe gold ears,
  • Until we have first been sowers.
  • And water'd the furrows with tears.
  • It is not just as we take it—
  • This mystical world of ours;
  • Life's field will yield, as we make it,
  • A harvest of thorns or flowers!
  • ON a grassy knoll, beneath wide-spreading elms, sits Zela—or Zee, as she i_ommonly called—a girl of some nine or ten summers. She is in a brown study o_o pleasing character, judging by the rueful expression of her countenance,
  • as, gazing on vacancy with a rapt, see-nothing look, thoughts well up in he_ctive, chaotic brain, so nimbly as to tread on each other's heels. A pile o_ooks lies in her lap, and on them she muses, fitfully, in a truant hope o_earning her lessons.
  • Hark! a rustling is heard among the dry leaves, and listening, with eyes an_ars alert, the easily-diverted student espies a squirrel. Down go the books,
  • and off bounds Zee, almost as swiftly as her friend, nor halts till she ha_eached the tall pine up which the squirrel has gone, and to him she calls,
  • with many endearing names; but the rogue can set her at defiance from th_ree-top, whence he looks perkily down into her upturned face.
  • Retracing her steps, she collects her scattered books, and indulging her habi_f thinking aloud, she blurts out impetuously, as she flops down on the knoll:
  • “What's the good of this big world, with nothing but lessons all the time? Wh_on't girls go to school out in the woods, such a lot of live lesson-books a_here are here? If I were a bird or a butterfly, I'd spoil all the lesson-
  • books I could find. Out here in the woods everything is plain, but nowher_lse; I'm all in a muddle, and can't get out of it. Bother the lessons! ther_s no beginning, no end to them; no one will teach me how to learn them,
  • because I'm a ‘dunce.”’ Her head drops, and she weeps piteously, overweighte_ith grief for the time being. But the April sky soon clears, and furtivel_aising her eyes from her books, she is at her old work again, warring wit_er surroundings, fighting ghosts of her own creating, an unchildlik_oodiness prompting her to hide away in a little world all to herself.
  • She has a genius for discovering fairy-bowers in the out-of-the-way nooks i_hich her native place abounds. The spot in which her acquaintance is made i_ne of her “parlors,” with “beautiful trees for walls;” the earth is carpete_ith long grass; to her right is a sandy bank, dotted with primroses an_iolets and at her feet ripples a shallow brook, in which she ever and ano_abbles. The air is fragrant and full of melody, the birds are singing their
  • “Goodnight” hymn. Well the songsters understand the laws of harmony, and wai_n each other with exquisite taste; there is no discord, though a dozen smal_hroats are swelling with joyful notes. A keen perception of the beautifu_rrays Zee's fancy realm in rainbow hues; Nature is her inspiration, and,
  • jumping into the good dame's triumphal car, Zee is whirled whither she will.
  • Beside her, laid reverently down, is a bunch of violets neatly fringed wit_heir own green leaves, a peace-offering for Miss Pout on the morrow—the on_f her two governesses, the Misses Smirke and Pout, of whom Zee is in morta_read, though she knows no fear of bogie or of darkness. The pick o_verything presentable which falls to her lot is laid with a lowly curtsey o_he altar of her frowning deity; but Zee has to learn that such virtue is it_wn reward; Miss Pout is not to be bought—at least, by Zee; try how she woul_o win a smile, her offerings failed to propitiate; “black Monday” lasted al_he week.
  • With one twentieth the labor her sisters acquitted themselves with honor,
  • receiving from Miss Pout the coveted smile of approval; while on Zee fel_utting reproof, perhaps a ringing box on the ear or slap on the bar_houlders, making her every nerve vibrate under a sense of shame. School-days,
  • with their hopes deferred and pains realised, are, it is said, our “happies_ays;” a sorry look-out for a “dunce” like Zee, who breasted the full tide o_er stupidity alone, for she could keep pace with no class, and was therefor_elegated to assistant teachers. Miss Pout rarely condescended to notice “suc_ dunce,” but if she did tell Zee to “bring her books,” her name from thos_read lips made an Irish stew of her lessons, and the girl stood before he_overness like a scared silly goat. Out in the woods she could, now and then,
  • repeat a lesson exultingly. But to look in that stern face and think of a wor_as out of the question, Miss Pout insisted, of course, that Zee had no_ooked at her lessons when, in truth, they had absorbed all her play-hours.
  • Late at night and at early morn she pored over her books, sleeping on them, i_ vague hope that some beneficent fairy would whisper her lessons to her i_er dream; but, alas, with sunrise came the horrid drudgery of learning the_s best she could. Time faileth us to tell how many of her “gay and girlis_ours” were spent in the stocks, holding the backboard, or swinging the dumb-
  • bells as punishment for “returned lessons;” whereas, to learn “disgrac_essons” she was “kept in” on bread and water. Imagine an awkwardly shy gir_tanding in the stocks, in the middle of a large schoolroom, with a plate o_ry bread and a mug of cold water in her hands, of which bread and water sh_as to eat and drink, and to pick up every crumb she might chance to drop. Ah,
  • how she longed to cram the bread down Miss Pout's throat, wishing, the while,
  • it might choke her. Zee knew, too, that some seventy-odd pairs of mischievou_yes were enjoying a giggle at her expense; as nudging and twitting he_nmercifully, the owners of the all-seeing eyes asked on the sly: “How d'yo_ike dunces' fare?” The flash of Zee's eye and the color of her cheek may b_uessed; but, tiny-tit in the talons of the hawk, she took it all quietly, i_ot meekly.
  • Her troubles, moreover, followed her home, whither she carried a note fro_iss Pout, requesting that her “downright obstinacy” might receive furthe_hastisement from her father. A broad hint was given as to the purport of th_ote, but goosie never dreamed of losing it; nor, indeed, would it have serve_er turn, since her sisters received strict injunctions to tell their parent_hat Zee's “conduct” had been. So, note in hand, the girl slunk alone unde_he shaow of the houses, feeling certain that “you're in disgrace” was printe_n capital letters all over her. After a severe reprimand from her father,
  • such days ended in her being sent to bed, drowned in tears, on a bread an_ater supper. Her sisters made satisfactory progress, hence the faith of he_arents in her lady teachers, whose school was unequalled for well twinin_outhful twigs, was boundless. Indeed, so busy was the home in which Zee's lo_as cast, that there was no time to note that the shoe pinched any on_articular child.
  • Zee could scramble through hedges and up trees of a come-at-able size in ques_f a nest; why not up the tree of knowledge? No thought of young ladyis_eterred her, she only wished that girls dressed like boys; frocks would tel_ales of climbing. But, oh, dear! if a nest of young birds were secured, th_ee pets invariably died in the night of the “pinch.” Plying mamma wit_uestions as to what the “pinch” might mean, boy and girls contemplated th_ate of their unfledged darlings with blank dismay; little did they think,
  • simple souls, that the father was the medicineman. Then, too, Zee could make-
  • believe in the storyline more than a little; her perceptions being the cleare_hrough not being over much clogged with learning, her ways of looking a_hings and her ideas generally were wholly a matter of intuition, although,
  • despite her duncehood, she revelled in the choice juvenile literature of he_ay—“Jack-the-Giant-Killer,” and such like stories, she devoured wholesale.
  • One or other of these books might have been found thrust down the bosom of he_ress, above which the too-obtrusive volume peeping, not unfrequently betraye_he heedless girl to Miss Pout, who levied black-mail  _instanter_.
  • Some folk cannot see an inch before them; Zee, on the contrary, sees too much,
  • and seeing at a glance how much is required of her, the little she might hav_ccomplished became impossible. She was never told that, little by little, da_y day, the whole would gradually be acquired; she could have given the sens_f her lessons, as do the youth of to-day, though she could not sufficientl_ocalise her powers to commit words, possessing no meaning to her dorman_aculties, to memory; there was, in fact, too little of the parrot about he_o learn readily by rote; and yet, she evidenced a surprising aptitude i_arnering information from all which transpired around her.
  • Frisky and tricky, withal, much of the wrong in the school may have been lai_t her door; yet never was there a more innocent scapegoat. She liked Mis_out too well at a distance to play pranks with her or her belongings; ther_as no chance of stealing a march upon her; indeed, suspicious of evil, sh_niffed mischief in the air, and nipped it in the bud. One article of he_reed, suggestive of cunning and duplicity, in reference to culprits, was: “N_ne is ever found out the first time.” Thus, by scenting Lucifer a long wa_ff, her young ladies were in danger of being “possessed;” yet were the_odels of propriety compared to the modern miss in-her-teens
  • Deep down out of sight, Zee nursed the conviction that Miss Pout delighted t_eap insult and indignity upon her, but she really may have caused her mor_nxious thought than did any other scholar; it was impossible to look in th_right, young face, and write her down an “idiot.” Being ignorant of all mode_f developing natural gifts, Miss Pout believed in the cramming system; and,
  • in refusing to be crammed, Zee left her at her wit's end. Nevertheless, ben_r break was this lady's inflexible decree, and to have to deal with a saplin_ough enough to rebound under the high pressure brought to bear upon it was _ew and bitter experience doubtless; and resenting the failure of her belauded
  • “system” of moulding the young idea, Miss Pout may have emptied the vials o_er wrath on the head of the hapless Zela.
  • For Miss Smirke, Zee had a grain of respect; though she, too, believed in th_ramming system, she was less cruel with it; there was, however, one threa_he held over the girl's head with torturing effect. Pointing to a mysteriou_arcel on the top of a corner cupboard in the schoolroom, she would say, wit_larming emphasis: “I'll have the steel collar taken down and fastened roun_our neck, miss; you incorrigible dunce!” This was misery's climax, for _otion obtained among the girls that the neck came out of the steel collar al_wry, the head hind-side foremost. This star-chamber implement had never bee_een; the girls believed in it nevertheless, nor could Lucifer himself hav_empted one of them to have touched that mysterious parcel. Furthermore, Mis_mirke repeatedly upbraided Zee before the whole school with “picking he_ather's pocket by being such an incorrigible dunce”—a taunt that cut Zee t_he quick; yet even while she winced, she was inwardly ready with the retort:
  • “You, not I, are the pick-pocket. I could learn if you would but teach me i_he right way.”
  • After having been kept perseveringly at school for many long years, Zee'_arents were told by Miss Smirke that “it was simply picking their pockets t_eep such a dunce at school,” which really meant that the square girl woul_ot fit the round hole. So the Misses Smirke and Pout washed their hands o_er with loud-sounding regrets, being denied the gratification of pointing t_ee as “finished in our seminary.” The light that was in her concerning book-
  • lore was darkness which could be felt; she failed to learn because her min_as already full to repletion.
  • Zee's is a dual nature strongly marked; will it prove gold or dross? Would yo_ike to see her, poor timid fawn, with all a tiger's fierceness? She is n_oll-cherub, but living, quivering flesh and blood, with long gaunt limbs tha_ill come too far through her frocks. She is a tall “dunce;” so much the wors_or her. Her head is small, and over a good open brow, too lofty for a woman,
  • waves glossy black hair, falling in natural curls round her well-forme_houlders; hazel eyes, full of fire and frolic, express the ever-varyin_motions of the soul, and her nut-brown complexion is healthfully rosy. But,
  • alas! that we must confess it, she has no nose, or, to say the least, it i_ike herself, “peculiar.” Hence, those who admire Vauxhall misses of wafer-
  • like superficiality and skin-deep prettiness will dismiss Zee with a shrug,
  • since, to this shallow age, a nose is as necessary as a grandmother of ancien_edigree. Zee can boast of the latter, though not of the former. Nose or n_ose, however, our cottage girl is to be presented with rustic simplicity. W_ave seen gardens laid out with patrician state, but to us they are not hal_o sweet as the cotter's well-kept plot of ground, where the cabbage and th_ily grow side by side.
  • We envy not the clods of earth who can see no form nor comeliness in Zee'_ind. Mind, indeed! those who know her best doubt whether she has one, and t_uch her mind is a sealed book; yet hers is no barren soul: she is open t_mpressions, though not to instruction, as then imparted. As shaggy withou_nd within as a Shetland pony, she is a forlorn hope to herself and to he_riends, who can make nothing of the inexplicable girl of the untamable soul.
  • Put on her mettle, she goes great lengths, yet an instinctive sense of righ_ulls her up, so that she is not more often betrayed into youthful excesse_han are her more proper sisters, who make a smooth path to their feet b_milingly accepting all things as they are. Whereas Zee's path is strewn wit_harp flints, which she fretfully hurls at others because they cut her ow_eet; yet would she not knowingly set foot upon a worm. Her one fault to th_rtificial is, that she has more faith in herself than in others;
  • nevertheless, the shrine at which she offers sacrifice is as shapeless an_uthless as an Indian's. Singular in all she says and does, she is seasonabl_n nothing, yet asks to be appreciated  _as she is_ , without a hope of bein_nderstood, because of a prevailing disingenuous-ness, against which her fier_oung soul revolts with fierce impatience. Defiance flashing in her eye an_ttitude, nothing shapes itself to her liking, and she bows to conventionalis_ith ill grace, provoking hostility, instead of winning love. “Dunce” thoug_he was, had she been less intractable she would have doubtless received mor_onsideration at the hands of all.
  • Because soulless children are easily managed, parents elect to have thei_hildren as much alike as peas in a pod; an ignoble self-love, as deep-roote_s virulent, refusing to die to self sufficiently to make variety welcome. An_t is unthankful work to disturb conventionalism's despotic sway; men o_ittle faith look with evil eye on the angel that agitates the pool; yet ar_yriads of the mentally impotent now waiting for the troubling of the water_f a higher, truer, life for youth and age; into which waters they wil_resently plunge and bring up gems from the ocean of thought, Living see_hall never die, however slow of growth. Sow it broadcast! the fertilising su_nd shower shall produce its harvest of rich fruit.
  • Zee did not make herself; God knows what he is about; the twists and curls o_haracter, so hateful to the superficial, are wisely intwined; so excellent,
  • indeed, that it were unwise to rule off the irregularities; the very knots ar_eautiful when polished, and in the polishing of them the child who is t_arve his own niche in the temple of life will need the encouragement o_armest sympathy. And there are so few, even at this hour, able t_iscriminate between the child who can learn but will not, and the child wh_ould learn but cannot, that the latter is too often sadly persecuted.
  • Take heart of grace, little dunce, wherever thou art; let not discouragement'_cy touch congeal the warm current of thy blood and give thee heart-sickness.
  • Use thy brains, child; look at life with wide-open eyes; ask the reason why o_verything, and above all  _think_ —think earnestly about what thou art doin_nd find out the best way of doing it; then, though books be a dead languag_o thee, other and better knowledge than is possessed by the majority of me_hall furnish that upper story of thine. With thine every sense alive t_eaven's beauties and earth's deformities thou canst not glide down stream, a_o others, singing to thyself sweet lullaby; in the yet future thy forcefu_ature shall help to dethrone the despot “custom,” whose senseles_enomination blocks the path of progress more hopelessly than do the snow_lps. “Custom” _e.g._ , unreasoning self-love, makes our hoards of thought an_f things so entirely our own, that we stand by error and retard truth, to th_acrifice of all which should be most precious. But be not daunted, littl_ee; thou aimest at too much, little ant, thy one grain of corn is burden to_eavy for thee still; do well thy work, and thou shalt hearten some weary on_lodding life's thorny highway, thorniest always to those whom the gentl_hepherd takes into his special training.