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When the two tables were spread, their mother was summoned to attend. Caroline's, which was first examined, contained, first, her various exercises in the different branches of study, regularly executed the same as usual. And there were papers placed in the books she was reading in school hours, to show how far she had proceeded in them. Besides these, she had read in her leisure time, in French, Florian's “Numa Pompilius;” and in English, Mrs. More's “Practical Piety,” and some part of Johnson's “Lives of the Poets.” All the needlework which had been left to do or not, at her option, was neatly finished; and her parcel of linen for the poor was also completely and well done. The only instance in which Caroline had availed herself of her mother's license, was that she had prolonged her drawing lessons a little every day, in order to present her mother with a pretty pair of screens, with flowers copied from nature. These were, last of all, placed on the table with an affectionate note, requesting her acceptance of them.
Mrs. Dawson, having carefully examined this table, proceeded to the other, which was quite piled up with different articles. Here, amid the heap, were her three pages of shorthand; several scraps of paper containing fragments of her poetical history; the piece (not large enough for a doll's cradle) of her patchwork counterpane; her botanical specimens; together with the large unfinished pile out of the Dorcas bag, – many of the articles of which were begun, but not one quite finished. There was a baby's cap with no border, a frock body without sleeves, and the skirt only half hemmed at the bottom; and slides, tapes, and buttonholes were all, without exception, omitted. After these, followed a great variety of thirds, halves, and quarters of undertakings, each perhaps good in itself, but quite useless in its unfinished state.
The examination being at length ended, Mrs. Dawson retired, without a single comment, to her dressing-room; where, in about an hour afterwards, she summoned the girls to attend her. Here also were two tables laid out, with several articles on each. Their mother then leading Caroline to the first, told her that, as the reward of her industry and perseverance, the contents of the table were her own. Here, with joyful surprise, she beheld, first, a little gold watch, which Mrs. Dawson said she thought a suitable present for one who had made a good use of her time; a small telescope next appeared; and lastly, Paley's “Natural Theology,” neatly bound.
Charlotte was then desired to take possession of the contents of the other table, which were considerably more numerous. The first prize she drew out was a very beautiful French fan; but upon opening it, it stretched into an oblong shape, for want of the pin to confine the sticks at the bottom. Then followed a new parasol; but when unfurled there was no catch to confine it, so that it would not remain spread. A penknife handle without a blade, and the blade without the handle, next presented themselves to her astonished gaze.
In great confusion she then unrolled a paper which discovered a telescope apparently like her sister's; but on applying it to her eye, she found it did not contain a single lens, – so that it was not better than a roll of pasteboard. She was, however, greatly encouraged to discover that the last remaining article was a watch; for, as she heard it tick, she felt no doubt that this was at least complete; but upon examination she discovered that there was no hour hand, the minute hand alone pursuing its lonely and useless track.
Charlotte, whose conscience had very soon explained to her the moral of all this, now turned from the tantalizing table in confusion, and burst into an agony of tears. Caroline wept also; and Mrs. Dawson, after an interval of silence, thus addressed her daughters: –
“It is quite needless for me to explain my reasons for making you such presents, Charlotte. I assure you your papa and I have had a very painful employment the past hour spoiling them all for you. If I had found on your table in the schoolroom any one thing that had been properly finished, you would have received one complete present to answer it; but this you know was not the case."
“I should be very glad if this disappointment should teach you what I have hitherto vainly endeavored to impress upon you, – that as all those things, pretty or useful as they are in themselves, are rendered totally useless for want of completeness, so exertion without perseverance is no better than busy idleness. That employment does not deserve the name of industry which requires the stimulus of novelty to keep it going. Those who will only work so long as they are amused will do no more good in the world, either to themselves or others, than those who refuse to work at all. If I had required you to pass the six weeks of my absence in bed or in counting your fingers, you would, I suppose, have thought it a sad waste of time; and yet I appeal to you whether (with the exception of an hour or two of needlework) the whole mass of articles on your table could produce anything more useful. And thus, my dears, may life be squandered away, in a succession of busy nothings.”
“I have now a proposal to make to you. These presents, which you are to take possession of as they are, I advise you to lay by carefully. Whenever you can show me anything that you have begun, and voluntarily finished, you may at the same time bring with you one of these things, beginning with those of least value, to which I will immediately add the part that is deficient. Thus, by degrees, you may have them all completed; and if by this means you should acquire the wise and virtuous habit of perseverance, it will be far more valuable to you than the richest present you could possibly receive.”
-By Jane Taylor