Read APPLE-PIE ORDER of The Story of a Robin , free online book, by Agnes S. Underwood, on ReadCentral.com.

What a bright, sunshiny forenoon! and how green the meadow looked before Simon Copland’s farm! The thrush in the great thorn was singing loudly, and the old clock, which stood in its dark oak case in the corner of the kitchen, struck twelve as little Phoebe came into the porch.

This little girl, though, whose face was so sad, and whose straw-hat hung so droopingly from her arm, was not like the Phoebe of most days, who, on her return from school about this hour, came popping her happy little face in at the door, and if dinner were ready, would eat hers quickly, and be off again.

The kitchen at Simon Copland’s was a long, large room, and had great beams across the ceiling, from which hung hams and other good things. Mrs. Copland was busy at the table, and near one of the windows sat her brother, Phoebe’s uncle, Roger, who lived some miles away at pretty Lady’s Mead, and who was very dear to his little niece. To him, however, she had no mind to go at present, and would have slipped upstairs; but he quickly spied out the little figure in the doorway, and opened his arms to her, saying, “Here’s the little lass; give thy Uncle Rogie a kiss, Phoebe.” There was no escape for Phoebe, and in a minute more she was on her uncle’s knee, while his large forefinger was placed on the marks of tears on her cheeks, and his kind inquiring eyes asked as well as his words, “Phoebe, my lass, what ails thee?”

Her mother turned round from the table. “What is it, Phoebe?” she said.

And then came a burst of tears from the little girl, and a confession, poured into Uncle Roger’s ear, of misfortunes that day, and many days before, at Mrs. Nott’s school in the village; how diligently Phoebe had always prepared her lessons overnight, but how first one book was lost, and then another; and how to-day, because the pencil had been carelessly fastened to the slate, it too had disappeared, and was not there when wanted, and in consequence Margaret Prettyman had got above her sly Margaret Prettyman, who often did not learn her lessons at all, but kept her place at the head of the class by writing down her task on a slip of paper, and keeping it in her hand while she repeated it; and how Mrs. Nott had said that Margaret was so tidy and Phoebe so careless; and how she reproved the latter when the class was over, and told her that, unless girls were tidy and careful, all their learning was of no use. “Every girl ought to keep herself and her things in apple-pie order,” Mrs. Nott said. “And, O uncle,” sobbed Phoebe, “I know I’m careless, but I never can remember to be tidy; and I can’t keep apple-pie order, for I don’t know what it is.” And so, with many more tears, Phoebe’s confession ended.

“Well, child,” said her mother, “it’s as I’ve often told you. Your drawer is a shame to be seen; and I’m glad Mrs. Nott spoke to you as she did.”

Uncle Roger stroked his chin, and sat looking out through the window for a little, saying nothing, till Phoebes sobs grew less frequent, and at last almost ceased. He then reached his hand through the open lattice, and pulling a little flower from among the creepers, gently raised Phoebes face, saying,

“Look thee here, little niece; mark this small, pretty flower, with its white blossoms so perfect and tidy; look at the stalk below, and each little leaf upon it, regular, one after the other. There isn’t one part of this pretty flower out of its place, Phoebe; and who made it?”

Phoebe’s sobs ceased altogether as she replied, “God, uncle.”

“And look there,” Uncle Roger went on, drawing towards him as he spoke a large china dish, on which lay a beautiful honeycomb, which Mrs. Copland had set aside for a sick friend “look at this too. See each cell, and each of these beautiful little arches; there is not one unlike its neighbour. What do you think of order like that, niece Phoebe? isn’t it perfect?”

“Yes, uncle,” she whispered, quieted and wondering.

“Well, little lass, our God, who made the pretty flower, and caused the bees to make the sweet honeycomb, is a God of order, and He loves order. He does not wish my little Phoebe to be the untidy little maid she is.”

Phoebe lay quiet for a few minutes, thinking to herself how kindly Uncle Roger always spoke to her, and how much easier it was to “feel good” with him than with Mrs. Nott or Margaret Prettyman. “But what did Mrs. Nott mean by ‘apple-pie order,’ uncle?” she said after a little, looking up in her uncle’s face.

Uncle Roger smiled and smoothed her hair, not saying anything for a moment or two; then, instead of answering her question, he asked, “When is your birthday, Phoebe?”

“The twenty-sixth of next month,” she replied quickly, and wondering very much.

“Do you remember,” continued Uncle Roger, “the custard feast I gave you last birthday? I’ve been asking your mother here to bring you over this year too to Lady’s Mead, and I’ll give you another feast, and father, and mother, and Bob, and little Charlie; and we’ll have Uncle and Aunt Leyton, and little Mary-Anne to keep you company; and then, Niece Phoebe, I’m thinking of showing you by that time what apple-pie order is. Don’t you know how good Uncle Roger’s apple-pies are?”

“O uncle!” cried Phoebe, clasping him closely round the neck; “how good you are to me, Uncle Roger custards and apple-pies, and Cousin Mary-Anne!”

“Fair and softly,” said her uncle, loosening her hold. “You haven’t heard it all yet, Phoebe. It is nearly a month till that, you know. Well, you must promise me that every day of that month you will please your mother by keeping your drawer, or whatever it is, as tidy as a nut; and I must have from Mrs. Nott a good account of your order and neatness. Mind, every day; no books lost, no pencils falling off, else no apple-pies for you, Niece Phoebe.”

Phoebe’s face fell. “O uncle!” she said.

Her mother looked round again. “Roger, you spoil the child,” she exclaimed.

“Not if I teach her order, Sister Marjory,” was his reply.

“I’ll try, uncle,” whispered Phoebe; and Uncle Roger kissed her.

You all know the difference well, I don’t doubt, betwixt trying and doing how easy it seems to perform a promise at first, when resolves are fresh and strong, but how each day takes, as it were, a little bit of strength out of the wish to do the disagreeable duty. Little Phoebe was truly anxious to overcome her bad habit; and I can also say that, though apple-pies and custards, and her dear little cousin Mary-Anne’s company, had at first given her an inducement to do so, yet after a little that part of it became very faint indeed in comparison with the wish to succeed in fulfilling her promise to Uncle Roger.

Difficult enough the task was; and sometimes Phoebe felt as if the month would never pass. But the days went on somehow, and Mrs. Copland was much amused, and secretly much pleased, to see the important air with which her little daughter would retire daily to her small bedroom, next her father and mother’s, and after a great deal of knocking about and noise overhead, would run downstairs, and coming to Mrs. Copland, say, “Please, mother, come and look at my drawer. I’m sure it’s tidy.”

After a little time had passed, Mrs. Copland explained to her daughter the secret of true order; which is, not to keep things untidy, and to have constantly to put them to rights, but to keep them right to put everything in its own place at once. This was a new part to learn in Phoebe’s lesson, but she tried it, and heartily too; and things were going on in this way when, just two days before the month was over, there came a sad misfortune to her, which took away the hopes of apple-pies and other things which her birthday was to bring her.

All this time she had been going regularly to Mrs. Nott’s school, and the schoolmistress was much surprised at the change in her careless little pupil. Her companions, too, could not tell what had come to Phoebe Copland; and as for sly Margaret Prettyman, she was filled with dislike and envy of her little rival; for Phoebe, having put aside her careless habits, took her place as first in the class, and Margaret had been first till now.

On this particular afternoon Mrs. Nott had given her girls an additional task to learn; and Phoebe, having a quarter of an hour to spare, sat down, as was her habit sometimes, to look over the lesson before leaving school. She was putting up her books, when one of the other girls, Esther Heywood, came to her with a message from her (Esther’s) mother, asking Phoebe to step down to the Mill Farm, where the Heywoods lived. They had got a jar of fine citron-preserves, which the sailor son, Jem, had brought from across the seas to his mother; and she was going to send some over to Mrs. Copland to taste.

“You might leave your books here,” said Esther, “and I’ll walk back a bit with you. We’ll get them when we come.”

The citron-preserves were very, very good, and Phoebe was kept a little while at the Mill Farm to taste them, and to hear the wonderful things which Jem Heywood had to tell about the parrots and the beautiful birds in the countries where he had been; and then Phoebe started on her way home over the fields, and Esther with her. Sailor Jem said he’d “go a bit too with the girls,” to see them “under way,” as he called it; and it ended by Esther and Jem going the whole way with her, to carry her books, which they got as they passed the school-house.

All the evening Jem was telling them such funny stories that she could not attend to her lessons, but went to bed quite tired with laughing, and dreamed that she was a parrot, and that Jem Heywood was teaching her tasks off by heart.

Next morning, with the sunshine, up jumped Phoebe, to learn her lessons before going to school. She felt very happy. The next day but one was her birthday; and next day itself Uncle Roger would be over from Lady’s Mead, she knew, and then she would tell him how faithfully she had kept her promise; and how pleased and kind he would look she could fancy she saw his face so well. And singing a little song to herself, Phoebe sat down at her bedroom window, opening her books out before her on her knee. But there were only three books there, and she ought to have four.

How Phoebe sought for that book through all her drawers and her little room, then through the house, and lastly, down all the lane, and by every step of the path through the fields which they had crossed the evening before! Oh, what a weary search that was, and what a sad story to tell her mother, when, without the book, Phoebe returned.

If Mrs. Copland looked so vexed, what would Uncle Roger be? And then all the happy birthday pleasures which she had lost! She would have to dine with little Charlie, she knew, and to feel as if in disgrace all day; and in disgrace even Lady’s Mead itself could bring her no pleasure. Poor little Phoebe!

Her mother would not allow her to stay at home from school, but said she must tell Mrs. Nott the plain truth, and, if she had time before the class began, learn the lesson from some of the other girls’ books. Fortunately, the missing task was that which Phoebe had learned before leaving the school the day before; but, owing to her haste and agitation, it was so incorrectly repeated that Margaret Prettyman again triumphantly took her place at the head of the class. It was hard enough to see Margaret’s malicious face as she pushed past, and Phoebe had much trouble in choking down her temper and her tears at the same time.

The next day Esther Heywood came to meet her with a very sorrowful face, and told her that Jem had been “all up the fields” the evening before, searching the path they had gone by, and that he had looked into every nook and corner he could think of, but he could not see the book anywhere. His opinion was, though, that Uncle Roger would never keep to his word; that he would never disappoint Phoebe on her birthday for such a trifle.

Phoebe shook her head. “Uncle Roger always keeps his word,” she said. “I’ll be in disgrace, I know, though perhaps I’ll go to Lady’s Mead all the same; but that will be quite as bad as not going at all.”

Hardest of all it was when Uncle Roger came over that afternoon. Mrs. Copland had to tell him the story, for Phoebe was so drowned in tears that she could not speak a word. Uncle Roger looked grave when he heard how it was, but soothed his weeping little niece kindly, and gave her no reproof. He spoke little or nothing about the following day, only saying, while stroking her hair as usual, “Well, my little maid, we must stick to our bargain. Apple-pie order must wait till next year, I fancy; but come over all the same, and welcome, to Lady’s Mead. You and Mary-Anne can have your romp together; and you must forget it’s your own birthday, that’s all. I’m just about as much pleased with you for your last month’s doings as if all your books were safe in your bag, mind you that; and now wipe your tears, my little lass.”

The next morning rose as bright and beautiful as you could well wish to see, and Phoebe, seated by her father behind the old grey horse Robin, with her mother and Charlie in the back seat, almost forgot her sorrows while driving down the sweet, shady lanes in all their beautiful autumn colours, and while looking forward to Lady’s Mead, and the delight of seeing her dear little cousin Mary-Anne.

Lady’s Mead was such a pretty place, with a very large orchard full of rosy-cheeked apples; and there was a dairy, large, and cool, and sweet, with great bowls of delicious milk, and such a beautifully white, clean floor. Out of doors there was a swing, and a pretty mossy summer-house down by the stream, and such delightful little paths through clipped yew hedges, and an old sun-dial on the grass, and in one corner a stone figure of a little boy kneeling, with his hands clasped and his face looking up to heaven. It was altogether such a place as children did not weary of; and had it not been for little Phoebe’s late troubles, she would have been as joyous as the birds which were singing in the trees all round them.

There were many “rubs” to bear, though; first, the meeting with her uncle and aunt and Mary-Anne, and receiving from them no happy birthday wishes as usual; and then seeing her brother Bob’s disappointed face when he came over from the county town where he was serving his apprenticeship, bringing with him a nice little parcel, which looked very like a doll, wrapped up in thin brown paper, and stowed away in one of his pockets for his little sister. The parcel was not taken out, however.

Cousin Mary-Anne, who was a dear, good little girl, no sooner heard that Phoebe was to dine at a side-table with little Charlie, instead of the treat of sitting at the great long one with the older people, than she declared that she would do so too; and though Phoebe would not listen to this at first, yet Mary-Anne would have it so, and it was accordingly settled. She proved herself, too, such a good little comforter and companion, that Phoebe became quite cheerful again, though perhaps their play was not quite so merry as usual.

First they went to the poultry-yard, where there was a brood of very fine little ducklings, just hatched, to see. Then to the dairy, where they both were allowed to pat away at the butter and make it up for tea. Then Matty, the dairy-maid, said that she must leave the dairy, and that they must go too; so they sauntered away down by the stream to the pretty summer-house. They were glad to get there, because of the shade, for the sun was hot, and they were tired with butter-making. So for some little time they sat resting, and making boats of the large leaves, to float down the stream.

By-and-by they heard a step coming quickly down the path towards them, and directly afterwards Bob came hurrying into the summer-house, saying, “Phoebe, come along; Uncle Roger’s seeking you. And you, Mary-Anne, if you like, you little duck;” and with that Bob gave a loud “hurrah,” which made both the girls spring to their feet in astonishment.

“But why, Bob?” asked Phoebe excitedly, as he hurried them along, one in each hand, as fast as they could go up the path.

“Never you mind,” said Bob “you’ll soon know;” and then he gave another “hurrah” and jumped like a madman.

On they rushed, through the orchard, round the yew hedge, and so past the old dial, and over the grass, on to the house. At the window, which was a very large one, Phoebe saw quite a crowd; for they were all collected there, and amongst them, to her astonishment, stood tall Jem Heywood. When she and Bob and Mary-Anne came in sight, he set up a cheer, in which little Charlie joined lustily; and Phoebe turned first red and then pale, and at last stopped altogether in fright and bewilderment, dragging the two others back with her. Then her father’s face looked out and smiled to her, and then her mother’s and Aunt Leyton’s; and then out came Uncle Roger, and Phoebe was lifted on his shoulder, and carried through the midst of the smiling faces to where the dinner was laid out.

There she saw a little bower of green branches over a chair at Uncle Roger’s right hand, at the end of the table; and on this chair, under the boughs, Uncle Roger set her down, while before her rose the most enormous apple-pie you can imagine! Instead of crust, which it looked like, its cover was of china-ware; and Uncle Roger raised it in his hand when every one had sat down all round the table, and there what do you think? Phoebe saw the wonderful pie filled, not with apples, but with beautiful birthday gifts Bob’s doll, dressed all in pink ribbons and lace; a little straw-hat, trimmed with bright blue ribbons, from Aunt Leyton; a pretty china cottage, covered with roses, from Mary-Anne; a beautiful little work-box, lined with red silk, and filled with every pretty, useful thing for sewing, and also a crown-piece in it, from her father and mother; and better than all these, a small Bible, beautifully bound in purple velvet, with gold clasps, from Uncle Roger; and beside this lay another book, and with a cry of surprise Phoebe saw before her, torn and stained, her own lost lesson-book! What a cheer rose up all round the table! And sailor Jem cheered louder than any one. But all this joy was too much for poor Phoebe, and she fell a-crying on Uncle Roger’s shoulder.

If any of you wish to know how the lost book was found again, I must tell you what Jem Heywood said about it, though it won’t be in his own words.

He had been down the evening before at Mrs. Prettyman’s (Margaret’s mother), and one of the little ones having come toddling into the room, Jem had lifted it on his knee, taking as he did so a crushed, torn book out of its hand. On the fly-leaf, though almost torn away, Jem read, to his surprise, the first letters of Phoebe’s name. The child said it had got the book “in Maggie’s bag.” Then Margaret came in herself, and Jem asked her what was the meaning of this. Her angry, guilty face and confused replies immediately roused his suspicions; and on going home he took care to let his sister Esther know all he had seen and heard. The truth was soon found out. It was Margaret who had done this spiteful thing, to bring disgrace upon Phoebe.

Can you all picture to yourselves Phoebe’s joy on this happy evening? How grateful she was to Jem Heywood, and how the hours flew away, supper-time coming before the games seemed half done! Phoebe found time, though, for a long, happy talk with Uncle Roger; and it was then she told him how she had made up her mind not to quarrel with Margaret because of all this, but to try, if possible, to be better friends than before; for she now saw, she said, that their quarrelling had brought all this about.

I may as well add here, as some of you may wish to know, that Phoebe’s resolution had its own reward, for her change of conduct seemed to bring about a change in Margaret’s too. Of course this took some time, for bad feelings cannot be rooted up all at once. But as the months passed on, every one could see a great improvement in Margaret. Little beginnings often bring much greater endings; and Margaret could look back afterwards to this time with feelings of gratitude for the lesson which had been taught her by means of one forgiving little heart.

On this birthday night Uncle Roger was much pleased to hear Phoebe speak as she did; and her happiness was quite full when, drawing her on his knee, he added, “And my little Phoebe has shown me that, with God’s help, she has learned the meaning of ‘APPLE-PIE ORDER.’”