Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)

For our first post of March 2021, we revisit a cautionary children’s story from the March 1, 1914 edition of Dew Drops magazine. In a post on the February 22 issue of Dew Drops from the same year, I offered a very brief introduction to the olden children’s publication. In that post, we covered an inspiring poem about George Washington. Today, we cover a short story about two young siblings, Lilian and Earl, and discover that both could have learned quite a bit from General Washington’s myriad virtues.

A Brief Overview of the Story’s Place in the Magazine

The March 1, 1914 edition of Dew Drops contains six short stories, in addition to a poem, advice for parents and children, a fun fact about huskies, and Bible lessons. We will cover the first short story in the issue – “How Lilian Helped Her Brother.”

About the Author, Julia H. Johnston

“How Lilian Helped Her Brother” was written by Julia H. Johnson. According to her Wikipedia page, Johnston “was a Presbyterian teacher, author, and musician” who lived from 1849-1919.

A 2013 article courtesy of Discipleship Ministries sheds more light on Johnston’s life and work. Johnston, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, was active in the church for her entire life. She served as a Sunday school superintendent and teacher for 41 years. Johnston wrote several books, including Indian and Spanish Neighbors in 1905 and Fifty Missionary Heroes in 1913.

Johnson seems to be most noted for writing the lyrics for the hymn “Grace Greater than Our Sin.” The lyrics for the hymn are as follows:

Grace Greater than Our Sin
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Cavalry's mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt,
Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleans within;
Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!

“How Lilian Helped Her Brother” by Julia H. Johnston

Below, in several sections, I will re-tell the story of “How Lilian Helped Her Brother.” Of course, we will have to find out whether Lilian actually helped her brother. You can follow along with the original magazine on Project Gutenberg.

Header for Julia H. Johnston's "How Lilian Helped Her Brother" short story in the March 1, 1914 Dew Drops magazine
Header for the story, clipped from Dew Drops

A Tempting Garden Party Invitation

Lilian and Earl, older sister and younger brother, begin the story by begging their mother for permission to attend a lawn party to which they were invited.

Their mother had no issue with Lilian attending the party. However, she had concerns about Earl. Earl, we learn, had been instructed by his doctor to not eat or drink anything ice cold while he was convalescing after suffering from some illness. “I am afraid to trust Earl,” said his mother.

A Fateful Promise

This presented a conundrum for Lilian. While she had permission to attend the lawn party alone, she had no interest in going without her brother. “I don’t care to go unless Earl can, and I’ll promise for him, too, that he’ll be good.”

The mother considered Lilian’s words, and relented with one condition.

“That means you will be his security. You will be a surety for him, as they call it, and give your own pledge that Earl will do his duty. Well, then, if you both promise, I will let you go. You must learn to do right, even if there is temptation to do wrong.”

Lilian and Earl accepted their mother’s condition for being allowed to attend the party. Lilian pledged that she would ensure that Earl did not indulge in ice-cold food and drink. Earl promised that he would try to do right even if he was tempted to partake in forbidden food and drink.

En route to the party, Lilian reminded Earl of the promise they had made to their mother. “Now, remember, Earl, that when we have things to eat, you must not take ice cream and lemonade.” Earl promised Lilian that he would remember. Lilian, we will discover, took Earl’s promise seriously.

Their Separation

Lilian and Earl were separated soon after arriving at the lawn party, which we are told was quite large. For her part, Lilian was unconcerned about being separated from Earl, notwithstanding that she had promised her mother that she would ensure that Earl did not have forbidden food and drinks. Here, we must also recall that, for whatever reason, Lilian’s and Earl’s mother had far less faith in Earl’s ability to resist temptation. “Lilian trusted her brother so fully that she did not think it needful to speak to him again…” Lilian’s view did not change when drinks and refreshments were served, for she assumed that Earl would remember his promise.

Earl’s Decision

Out of his mother’s and sister’s sight, Earl had already begun forsaking his promises. Before he had left, his mother instructed him to not play too hard. We are told that Earl let himself get carried away while playing a game, and “did not realize how fast and far he ran.” As a result of his excessive physical exertions, the sickly Earl “was very warm.”

Earl, tired, hot, and hungry, was sitting at a table with the other party-goers “when the tempting ice cream, with berries, cake and lemonade were passed…”

Would Earl pass on the cold treats?

Earl’s First Mistake

Illustration of a boy who promised not to eat cold things at a party eating ice cream - from Julia H. Johnston's "How Lilian Helped Earl" in the March 1, 1914 Dew Drops magazine
Earl digs in to the cold treats – clipped from Dew Drops

Earl “allowed himself to be helped with the rest, thinking only how hot he was and how good the cold things would taste.” Earl, hot and hungry, had forgotten his promises to his mother and sister. He did not remember his promise until “he had eaten half his cream and half emptied his glass…” At that moment, Earl “stopped suddenly, feeling sorry and distressed.”

Earl’s Second Mistake

Earl undoubtedly erred when he ate ice cream and drank lemonade. However, everyone makes mistakes. At the moment Earl remembered his promise, he had the opportunity to change course and not continue in his mistake. Instead, Earl rationalized finishing his bowl and glass. “But what could I do? It would not be polite to ask for just berries alone.”

Speaking as narrator, Johnston advises young readers that Earl’s rationalization of his behavior was his second mistake. As she explained, Earl erred “in thinking true obedience could ever be impolite.”

Earl’s Third Mistake

In a decision that logically followed from his rationalization, Earl decided to finish his ice cream and lemonade. “I might as well finish now, for if it’s going to hurt me it has already, and the rest won’t do any more harm.”

Johnston, again speaking as narrator, strongly disagreed with Earl’s conclusion:

Mistake number three. Why should any wrongdoing be finished? Suppose a driver should say about a horse, ‘He has a pretty big load now and so I might as well pile on as much more as I can,’ would it be no worse for the horse? Earl was entirely wrong.

Thus, Earl made a mistake as an initial matter, rationalized his mistake as being correct with faulty logic, and then persisted in his mistake instead of rectifying his behavior.

Earl Suffers the Consequences of His Mistakes

Earl confessed to his mother when he returned home from the lawn party. His mother gave him “simple remedies,” but they did not keep Earl from being sick enough that his mother had to call for the doctor that same evening. While Earl did feel better the next day, he still “had to stay in bed—something no boy was ever known to enjoy.”

Lilian and Earl Reflect Upon their Actions

Lilian visited Earl in bed the day after the party and apologized for not doing her part to keep him from error. “Dear Earl, I am so sorry you are sick,” cried Lilian. Earl took responsibility for his own actions, “but really, Lilian, I’m sorrier that I did wrong.” He noted that his mother regretted allowing him to go to the party, and he regretted violating his mother’s trust. “Isn’t it mean not to keep a promise when you’re trusted?”

Lilian insisted that she too bore responsibility for Earl’s sorry state and their mother’s exasperation. Lilian stated that it was mean of her to not help Earl keep his promise, especially after she had promised their mom that she word. She noted that she was also scolded by their mother for not playing the part that she had promised in order for Earl to be allowed to attend the party.

Earl did not agree that Lilian was responsible. He noted that she had told him to remember to keep his promise while they were walking to the party. Lilian was unpersuaded, however, noting that she failed to pay attention to Earl during the party. “I ought to have looked to see if you remembered, when the time came.”

Lilian promised that, in the future, she would do a better job of looking out for Earl. To this pledge, Earl had no objection. The narrator noted that Lilian was not only older than Earl, but also more thoughtful.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Johnston concludes as narrator by telling readers that Lilian and Earl learned from the incident at the lawn party.

“So the sister promised to make it as sure as she could that her brother would keep his promises after this. True, she sometimes forgot, herself, and Earl was not always willing to do right, even when reminded, but both were in earnest, and Lilian grew to be more and more of a help, feeling the responsibility of being her brother’s security.”

Johnson concluded with a question for young readers: “Who will follow her example?”

My Postscript

Johnston’s short story contains several valuable lessons for children.

Lilian’s and Earl’s mother only granted them permission to go to the lawn party together because Lilian, the older and wiser sibling, promised to take responsibility for Earl’s well-being. That is, Lilian promised to do what their mother would have done had she also been present at the party. Yet, once Lilian and Earl arrived at the party, Lilian took it for granted that Earl would follow through on his promise. Even if Earl had resisted cold treats, Lilian would have still not followed through on her end of her bargain with her mother. Of course, Earl did not resist the cold treats. This is hardly surprising in light of the fact that the siblings’ mother, in her greater wisdom, harbored doubts that Earl had the discipline to behave correctly without supervision.

It is not surprising that Earl, when effectively left to his own devices, succumbed to temptation. Johnston cleverly structured his failure in a way to teach young readers about the danger of compounding their mistakes. That Earl initially forgot his promise and began eating ice cream and drinking lemonade was not the end of the world. When he remembered his promise, he had the opportunity to stop. Instead, not wanting to stop, he convinced himself that keeping his promise to his mother would in fact be poor behavior, and he used that terrible logic to gorge himself full. Perhaps had Earl stopped his mistake at the moment he first realized what he had done, he would not have spent the entire next day in bed.

From Johnston’s story, we learn the importance of keeping promises, fulfilling responsibilities, resisting temptation, and not using an initial mistake as an excuse to make further mistakes.

Avoiding Cold Food and Drink When Sick or Recovering?

I am not familiar with the idea that one should avoid cold food and drink when sick or convalescing. This view was apparently not uncommon back in the day. At the very least, poor Lilian and Earl would be two votes in favor of the theory being true.

Concluding With a Poem

The March 1, 1914 issue of Dew Drops concludes with a pretty four-line poem. Although this poem is unrelated to the story of Lilian and Earl, I thought that it would be worth concluding to bring our first article of March 2021 to a pleasant close.

“Helpful and Happy” – Written for Dew Drops by Eugene C. Dolson

"I am so little!" sighed Helen,
     "Tell me, dear mamma, the way,
How to make somebody happy;
     How to be helpful each day."

Mamma replied:  "To be helpful,
     Be of a sweet, willing mood;
And, to make somebody happy.
     Little girls need to be good."

Eugene C. Dolson

You can learn a bit more about the poet, Eugene C. Dolson, at Tellers of Weird Tales. There is nothing weird about “Helpful and Happy,” however, The mother provides her daughter with sound advice on how to be a good daughter and pleasant child. Of course, as we learned from the story of Lilian, being in a “willing mood” is one step of two, for one must also follow through.