Sallie Hicks was a little girl who was good most of the time, but she had one bad habit, and that was caused by her forefinger on her right hand. Sallie’s right-hand forefinger would get into things it should not, and it caused Sallie’s mother a great deal of trouble, and most of Sallie’s punishments were on account of that unruly right-hand-forefinger.
One day Sallie’s mother set a dish of hot jelly on the kitchen table to cool. She told Sallie it was hot and she must not touch it.
But no sooner was her mother out of the kitchen and the cook’s head was turned another way than Sallie Hicks forgot all about her mother’s warning, and the naughty right-hand forefinger went right into the hot jelly.
Oh, how Sallie screamed with pain! And she forgot all about putting the forefinger in her mouth to taste the jelly, it burned her so.
The big tears ran right down Sallie’s pretty pink cheeks, and her mother and grandmother, and cook, too, came running to see what was the matter.
The little forefinger told the story, and it had to be wrapped in some cooling salve and a soft piece of linen.
“I told you that some day you would get that finger burned,” said her mother, “and now because you disobeyed me you must sit in the big chair in the hall until lunch time and not speak to anyone. I want you to think about that naughty finger.”
Sallie’s grandmother passed her in the hall and leaned over and kissed her. “I am sorry that grandmother’s little girl was so naughty,” she said. “Good little girls mind their mothers and they don’t get burnt fingers.”
Sallie watched her grandmother go upstairs and then Sallie looked at the picture hanging on the wall of her great-grandmother.
“I wonder if Grandmother Great ever had to punish grandmother,” thought Sallie. “I wonder if grandmothers were always very good little girls?”
Sallie looked at her Grandfather Great, too, and wondered how it was that, though the Greats were the father and mother of her own dear grandmother, they had nice black hair, all smooth and shiny, while her grandmother and grandfather, too, had white hair.
Sallie looked at the forefinger all wrapped about with the white cloth, and she thought how dreadful it would be to have her finger big and long as it looked now. Then she looked at Grandmother Great again and her eyes seemed to be looking right at that little burnt forefinger.
Sallie put her right hand behind her, but the eyes of Grandmother Great looked right at Sallie.
Sallie winked her eyes and looked again, for she thought her Grandmother Great smiled at her. Sallie looked hard at the picture, and Grandmother Great seemed to shake her head at Sallie.
“Didn’t your little girl ever do anything naughty with her forefinger?” asked Sallie.
Grandmother Great smiled. “I had several little girls once, but they were all good little girls,” said Grandmother Great.
“Always, every bit of the time?” questioned Sallie.
“Yes; I cannot remember now that they ever did anything naughty,” said Grandmother Great. “But you know, dear, it was a long time ago. I had my little girls a very long time ago.”
“Perhaps you forget when it is a long time ago,” said Sallie. “Didn’t your little girls ever put their forefinger in anything just to taste it?”
“Oh dear, yes; I remember now that your grandmother did put her forefinger, the right-hand forefinger it was, too, in the wheel of the wringer once to see what would happen,” said Grandmother Great.
“Did she cry?” asked Sallie.
“Oh dear, yes, poor little girlie; she cried, and I was so frightened I cried, too. Her poor little finger never grew quite as it should at the end,” said Grandmother Great, with a sigh.
“Do mothers cry when little girls get burnt putting their fingers into things they should not?” asked Sallie.
“Of course they do, my dear. Mothers have many a cry over their little girls when they are naughty,” said Grandmother Great.
“I don’t want mother to cry,” said Sallie.
“Of course you don’t, my dear,” said Grandmother Great. “So you will not put your finger in anything again, will you?”
Before Sallie could promise her Grandmother Great she would be a good little girl she heard some one say, “Sallie, Sallie, come to lunch.”
Sallie opened her eyes, for she had been asleep, dreaming all this time, and there stood her mother in the doorway.
“Mother, do mothers forget how naughty their little girls were when they grow up?” asked Sallie.
“I think so,” said her mother. “I hope you will be so good before you grow up that I shall forget how naughty you were this morning.”
“Grandmother Great told me mothers did forget their little girls were naughty ever, after they grew up,” said Sallie.
“You mean your grandmother told you; not Grandmother Great,” said Sallie’s mother. “You never saw Grandmother Great, dear.”
“Well, she told me so just now,” said Sallie, “and she said, too, that grandmother put her finger in the wheel of the wringing machine once, and that she cried because grandmother, who was her little girl then, cried, and was hurt.”
“What is the child talking about?” said Sallie’s mother.
“She has been asleep and dreamed it,” said Sallie’s grandmother, taking Sallie in her arms. “I showed her my forefinger where it was hurt when I was a little girl and told her she must look out for her forefinger or she might get it terribly hurt just as I did.
“Did you think the picture of Grandmother Great spoke to you?” she asked Sallie, holding her close in her arms.
“She did,” said Sallie, “and she said mothers always cried when their little girls are naughty. Oh, mother dear, I don’t want to make you cry, and I won’t put my finger in anything again, truly I won’t!” sobbed Sallie.
“She isn’t half awake yet,” said her grandmother as Sallie’s mother took her in her arms and kissed her.
Sallie kept her promise, even if she did dream about Grandmother Great talking to her, and the right-hand forefinger did not get her into any more trouble.
Sallie Hicks often looks at the portraits in the hall of Grandmother and Grandfather Great, but Grandmother Great never has spoken to her since that day. But Sallie Hicks smiles at her and sometimes the eyes seem to smile back, and Sallie wonders if they really do.