AUNT JO'S SCRAP-BAG.
JIMMY'S CRUISE IN THE PINAFORE, ETC.
BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT,
AUTHOR OF "LITTLE WOMEN," "AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL," "LITTLE MEN," "HOSPITAL SKETCHES."
BOSTON: ROBERTS BROTHERS. 1880.
Copyright, BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT. 1879.
UNIVERSITY PRESS: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.
* * * * *
I am the monarch of the Sea, The ruler of the Queen's Navee,— When at anchor here I ride, My bosom swells with pride, And I snap my fingers at a foeman's taunts.
And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts His sisters and his cousins! Whom he reckons by the dozens, And his aunts!
"I am the lowliest tar That sails the water. And you, proud maiden, are My captain's daughter."
"Refrain, audacious tar. Your suit from pressing; Remember what you are, And whom addressing."
For I am called Little Buttercup,—dear Little Buttercup, Though I never could tell why; But still I'm called Buttercup,—poor Little Buttercup, Sweet Little Buttercup I!
Fair moon, to thee I sing Bright regent of the heavens; Say, why is every thing Either at sixes or at sevens!
He is an Englishman! For he himself has said it, And it's greatly to his credit That he is an Englishman.
"I'm ugly too, aint I?"
* * * * *
I. JIMMY'S CRUISE IN THE PINAFORE 5
II. TWO LITTLE TRAVELLERS 27
III. A JOLLY FOURTH 38
IV. SEVEN BLACK CATS 52
V. ROSA'S TALE 67
VI. LUNCH 89
VII. A BRIGHT IDEA 105
VIII. HOW THEY CAMPED OUT 119
IX. MY LITTLE SCHOOL-GIRL 141
X. WHAT A SHOVEL DID 154
XI. CLAMS 168
XII. KITTY'S CATTLE SHOW 182
XIII. WHAT BECOMES OF THE PINS 189
AUNT JO'S SCRAP-BAG.
JIMMY'S CRUISE IN THE PINAFORE.
HOW HE SHIPPED.
A boy sat on a door-step in a despondent attitude, with his eyes fixed on a pair of very shabby shoes, and his elbows resting on his knees, as if to hide the big patches there. But it was not the fact that his toes were nearly out and his clothes dilapidated which brought the wrinkles to his forehead and the tears to his eyes, for he was used to that state of things, and bore it without complaint. The prospect was a dull one for a lively lad full of the spring longings which sunny April weather always brings. But it was not the narrow back-street where noisy children played and two or three dusty trees tried to bud without sunshine, that made him look so dismal. Nor was it the knowledge that a pile of vests was nearly ready for him to trudge away with before he could really rest after doing many errands to save mother's weary feet.
No, it was a burden that lay very heavily on his heart, and made it impossible to even whistle as he waited. Above the sounds that filled the street he heard a patient moan from the room within; and no matter what object his eyes rested on, he saw with sorrowful distinctness a small white face turned wistfully toward the window, as if weary of the pillow where it had laid so long.
Merry little Kitty, who used to sing and dance from morning till night, was now so feeble and wasted that he could carry her about like a baby. All day she lay moaning softly, and her one comfort was when "brother" could come and sing to her. That night he could not sing; his heart was so full, because the doctor had said that the poor child must have country air as soon as possible, else she never would recover from the fever which left her such a sad little ghost of her former self. But, alas, there was no money for the trip, and mother was sewing day and night to earn enough for a week at least of blessed country air and quiet. Jimmy did his best to help, but could find very little to do, and the pennies came in so slowly he was almost in despair.
There was no father to lend a strong hand, and Mrs. Nelson was one of the "silent poor," who cannot ask for charity, no matter how much they may need it. The twelve-year-old boy considered himself the man of the family, and manfully carried as many burdens as his young shoulders would bear; but this was a very heavy one, so it is no wonder that he looked sober. Holding his curly head in his hands, as if to keep it from flying asunder with the various plans working inside, he sat staring at the dusty bricks in a desperate frame of mind.
Warm days were coming, and every hour was precious, for poor Kitty pined in the close room, and all he could do was to bring her dandelions and bits of green grass from the Common when she begged to go in the fields and pick "pretties" for herself. He loved the little sister dearly, and, as he remembered her longing, his eyes filled, and he doubled up both fists with an air of determination, muttering to himself,—
"She shall go! I don't see any other way, and I'll do it!"
The plan which had been uppermost lately was this. His father had been a sailor, and Jimmy proposed to run away to sea as cabin boy. His wages were to be paid before he went, so mother and Kitty could be in the country while he was gone, and in a few months he would come sailing gayly home to find the child her rosy self again. A very boyish and impossible plan, but he meant it, and was in just the mood to carry it out,—for every other attempt to make money had failed.
"I'll do it as sure as my name is Jim Nelson. I'll take a look at the ships this very night, and go in the first one that will have me," he said, with a resolute nod of the head, though his heart sank within him at the thought. "I wonder which kind of captains pay boys best? I guess I'll try a steamer; they make short trips. I heard the cannon to-day, so one is in, and I'll try for a place before I go to bed."
Little did desperate Jimmy guess what ship he would really sail in, nor what a prosperous voyage he was about to make; for help was coming that very minute, as it generally does, sooner or later, to generous people who are very much in earnest.
First a shrill whistle was heard, at the sound of which he looked up quickly; then a rosy-faced girl of about his own age came skipping down the street, swinging her hat by one string; and, as Jimmy watched her approach, a smile began to soften the grim look he wore, for Willy Bryant was his best friend and neighbor, being full of courage, fun, and kindness. He nodded, and made room for her on the step,—the place she usually occupied at spare moments when they got lessons and recounted their scrapes to each other.
But to-night Willy seemed possessed of some unusually good piece of news which she chose to tell in her own lively fashion, for, instead of sitting down, she began to dance a sailor's hornpipe, singing gayly, "I'm little Buttercup, sweet little Buttercup," till her breath gave out.
"What makes you so jolly, Will?" asked Jimmy, as she dropped down beside him and fanned herself with the ill-used hat.
"Such fun—you'll never guess—just what we wanted—if your mother only will! You'll dance, too, when you know," panted the girl, smiling like a substantial sort of fairy come to bring good luck.
"Fire away, then. It will have to be extra nice to set me off. I don't feel a bit like jigs now," answered Jimmy, as the gloom obscured his face again, like a cloud over the sun.
"You know 'Pinafore'?" began Will, and getting a quick nod for an answer, she poured forth the following tale with great rapidity: "Well, some folks are going to get it up with children to do it, and they want any boys and girls that can sing to go and be looked at to-morrow, and the good ones will be picked out, and dressed up, and taught how to act, and have the nicest time that ever was. Some of our girls are going, and so am I, and you sing and must come, too, and have some fun. Won't it be jolly?"
"I guess it would; but I can't. Mother needs me every minute out of school," began Jimmy, with a shake of the head, having made up his mind some time ago that he must learn to do without fun.
"But we shall be paid for it," cried Will, clapping her hands with the double delight of telling the best part of her story, and seeing Jimmy's sober face clear suddenly as if the sun had burst forth with great brilliancy.
"Really? How much? Can I sing well enough?" and he clutched her arm excitedly, for this unexpected ray of hope dazzled him.
"Some of them will have ten dollars a week, and some more,—the real nice ones, like Lee, the singing boy, who is a wonder," answered Will, in the tone of one well informed on such points.
"Ten dollars!" gasped Jimmy, for the immensity of the sum took his breath away. "Could I get that? How long? Where do we go? Do they really want us fellows? Are you sure it's all true?"
"It was all in the paper, and Miss Pym, the teacher who boards at our house, told Ma about it. The folks advertised for school-children, sixty of 'em, and will really pay; and Ma said I could go and try, and all the money I get I'm going to put in a bank and have for my own. Don't you believe me now?"
Miss Pym and the newspapers settled the matter in Jimmy's mind, and made him more anxious than before about the other point.
"Do you think I would have any chance?" he asked, still holding Will, who seemed inclined for another dance.
"I know you would. Don't you do splendidly at school? And didn't they want you for a choir boy, only your mother couldn't spare you?" answered Will, decidedly; for Jimmy did love music, and had a sweet little pipe of his own, as she well knew.
"Mother will have to spare me now, if they pay like that. I can work all day and do without sleep to earn money this way. Oh, Will, I'm so glad you came, for I was just ready to run away to sea. There didn't seem anything else to do," whispered Jimmy in a choky sort of tone, as hopes and fears struggled together in his boyish mind.
"Run as fast as you like, and I'll go too. We'll sail in the 'Pinafore,' and come home with our pockets full of money.
"'Sing, hey, the merry maiden and the tar!'"
burst out Will, who was so full of spirits she could not keep still another minute.
Jimmy joined in, and the fresh voices echoed through the street so pleasantly that Mrs. Peters stopped scolding her six squabbling children, while Kitty's moaning changed to a feeble little sound of satisfaction, for "brother's" lullabies were her chief comfort and delight.
"We shall lose school, you know, for we act in the afternoon, not the evening. I don't care; but you will, you like to study so well. Miss Pym didn't like it at first, but Ma said it would help the poor folks, and a little fun wouldn't hurt the children. I thought of you right away, and if you don't get as much money as I do, you shall have some of mine, so Kitty can go away soon."
Will's merry face grew very sweet and kind as she said that, and Jimmy was glad his mother called him just then, because he did not know how to thank this friend in need. When he came out with the parcel of vests he looked like a different boy, for Mrs. Nelson had told him to go and find out all about it, and had seemed as much dazzled by the prospect as he did, sewing was such weary work.
Their interview with Miss Pym was a most encouraging one, and it was soon settled that Jimmy should go with Will to try for a place on the morrow.
"And I'll get it, too!" he said to himself, as he kissed Kitty's thin cheek, full of the sweet hope that he might be the means of bringing back life and color to the little face he loved so well.
He was so excited he could not sleep, and beguiled the long hours by humming under his breath all the airs he knew belonging to the already popular opera. Next morning he flew about his work as if for a wager, and when Will came for him there was not a happier heart in all the city than the hopeful one that thumped under Jimmy's threadbare best jacket.
Such a crowd of girls and boys as they found at the hall where they were told to apply for inspection; such a chirping and piping went on there, it sounded like a big cage full of larks and linnets; and by and by, when the trial was over, such a smiling troop of children as was left to be drilled by the energetic gentlemen who had the matter in hand. Among this happy band stood our Jimmy, chosen for his good voice, and Will, because of her bright face and lively, self-possessed manners. They could hardly wait to be dismissed, and it was a race home to see who should be first to tell the good news. Jimmy tried to be quiet on Kitty's account, but failed entirely; and it was a pleasant sight to see the boy run into his mother's arms, crying joyfully,—
"I'm in! I'm in! Ten dollars a week! Hurrah!"
"I can hardly believe it!" And weary Mrs. Nelson dropped her needle to indulge in a few moments of delightful repose.
"If it goes well they may want us for a month or six weeks," the man said. "Just think, maybe I'll get fifty or sixty dollars! and Baby will get well right off," cried Jimmy, in an arithmetical sort of rapture, as he leaned above Kitty, who tried to clap her little hands without quite knowing what the joy was all about.
HOW HE SAILED.
After that day Jimmy led a very happy life, for he loved music and enjoyed the daily drill with his mates, though it was long before he saw the inside of the theatre. Will knew a good deal about it, for an actor's family had boarded with her mother, and the little girl had been behind the scenes. But to Jimmy, who had only seen one fairy play, all was very strange when at last he went upon the stage; for the glittering world he expected was gone, and all was dusty, dark, and queer, with trap-doors underfoot, machinery overhead, and a wilderness of scenery jumbled together in the drollest way. He was all eyes and ears, and enjoyed himself immensely as he came and went, sung and acted, with the troop of lads who made up the sailor chorus. It was a real ship to him, in spite of painted cannon, shaky masts, and cabin doors that led nowhere. He longed to run up the rigging; but as that was forbidden, for fear of danger, he contented himself by obeying orders with nautical obedience, singing with all his might, and taking great satisfaction in his blue suit with the magical letters "H. M. S. Pinafore" round his cap.
Day by day all grew more and more interesting. His mother was never tired of hearing his adventures, he sung Kitty to sleep with the new songs, and the neighbors took such a friendly interest in his success that they called him Lord Nelson, and predicted that he would be as famous as his great namesake.
When the grand day came at last, and the crew of jolly young tars stood ready to burst forth with the opening chorus,
"We sail the ocean blue, Our saucy ship's a beauty; We're gallant men and true, And bound to do our duty!"
Jimmy hardly knew whether he stood on his head or his heels at first, for, in spite of many rehearsals, everything seemed changed. Instead of daylight, gas shone everywhere, the empty seats were full, the orchestra playing splendidly, and when the curtain rose, a sea of friendly faces welcomed them, and the pleasant sound of applause made the hearts under the blue jackets dance gayly.
How those boys did sing! how their eyes shone, and their feet kept time to the familiar strains! with what a relish they hitched up their trousers and lurched about, or saluted and cheered as the play demanded. With what interest they watched the microscopic midshipmite, listened to Rafe as his sweet voice melodiously told the story of his hapless love, and smiled on pretty Josephine, who was a regular bluebird without the scream.
"Ain't this fun?" whispered Jimmy's next neighbor, taking advantage of a general burst of laughter, as the inimitable little bumboat woman advertised her wares with captivating drollery.
"Right down jolly!" answered Jimmy, feeling that a series of somersaults across the stage would be an immense relief to the pent-up emotions of his boyish soul. For under all the natural excitement of the hour deep down lay the sweet certainty that he was earning health for Kitty, and it made his heart sing for joy more blithely than any jovial chorus to which he lent his happy voice.
But his bliss was not complete till the stately Sir Joseph, K. C. B., had come aboard, followed by "his sisters and his cousins and his aunts;" for among that flock of devoted relatives in white muslin and gay ribbons was Will. Standing in the front row, her bright face was good to see, for her black eyes sparkled, every hair on her head curled its best, her cherry bows streamed in the breeze, and her feet pranced irresistibly at the lively parts of the music. She longed to dance the hornpipe which the little Quaker aunt did so capitally, but, being denied that honor, distinguished herself by the comic vigor with which she "polished up the handle of the big front door," and did the other "business" recorded by the gallant "ruler of the Queen's Navee."
She and Jimmy nodded to each other behind the Admiral's august back, and while Captain Corcoran was singing to the moon, and Buttercup suffering the pangs of "Wemorse," the young people had a gay time behind the scenes. Jimmy and Will sat upon a green baize bank to compare notes, while the relatives flew about like butterflies, and the sailors talked base-ball, jack-knives, and other congenial topics, when not envying Sir Joseph his cocked hat, and the Captain his epaulettes.
It was a very successful launch, and the merry little crew set sail with a fair wind and every prospect of a prosperous voyage. When the first performance was over, our two children left their fine feathers behind them, like Cinderella when the magic hour struck, and went gayly home, feeling much elated, for they knew they should go back to fresh triumphs, and were earning money by their voices like Jenny Lind and Mario. How they pitied other boys and girls who could not go in at that mysterious little door; how important they felt as parts of the spectacle about which every one was talking, and what millionnaires they considered themselves as they discussed their earnings and planned what to do with the prospective fortunes.
That was the beginning of many busy, happy weeks for both the children,—weeks which they long remembered with great pleasure, as did older and wiser people; for that merry, innocent little opera proved that theatres can be made the scenes of harmless amusement, and opened to a certain class of young people a new and profitable field for their talents. So popular did this small company become that the piece went on through the summer vacation, and was played in the morning as well as afternoon to satisfy the crowds who wished to see and hear it.
Never had the dear old Boston Museum, which so many of us have loved and haunted for years, seen such a pretty sight as one of those morning performances. It was the perfection of harmless merry-making, and the audience was as pleasant a spectacle as that upon the stage. Fathers and mothers stole an hour from their busy lives to come and be children with their children, irresistibly attracted and charmed by the innocent fun, the gay music that bewitched the ear one could hardly tell why, and the artless acting of those who are always playing parts, whether the nursery or the theatre is their stage.
The windows stood open, and sunshine and fresh air came in to join the revel. Babies crowed and prattled, mammas chatted together, old people found they had not forgotten how to laugh, and boys and girls rejoiced over the discovery of a new delight for holidays. It was good to be there, and in spite of all the discussion in papers and parlors, no harm came to the young mariners, but much careful training of various sorts, and well-earned wages that went into pockets which sorely needed a silver lining.
HOW THE VOYAGE ENDED.
So the good ship "Pinafore" sailed and sailed for many prosperous weeks, and when at last she came into port and dropped anchor for the season she was received with a salute of general approbation for the successful engagement out of which she came with her flags flying and not one of her gallant crew killed or wounded. Well pleased with their share of the glory, officers and men went ashore to spend their prize money with true sailor generosity, all eager to ship again for another cruise in the autumn.
But long before that time Able Seaman James Nelson had sent his family into the country, mother begging Will to take good care of her dear boy till he could join them, and Kitty throwing kisses as she smiled good-by, with cheeks already the rosier for the comforts "brother" had earned for her. Jimmy would not desert his ship while she floated, but managed to spend his Sundays out of town, often taking Will with him as first mate; and, thanks to her lively tongue, friends were soon made for the new-comers. Mrs. Nelson found plenty of sewing, Kitty grew strong and well in the fine air, and the farmer with whom they lived, seeing what a handy lad the boy was, offered him work and wages for the autumn, so all could be independent and together. With this comfortable prospect before him, Jimmy sang away like a contented blackbird, never tiring of his duty, for he was a general favorite, and Kitty literally strewed his way with flowers gathered by her own grateful little hands.
When the last day came, he was in such spirits that he was found doing double-shuffles in corners, hugging the midshipmite, who was a little girl of about Kitty's age, and treating his messmates to peanuts with a lavish hand. Will had her hornpipe, also, when the curtain was down, kissed every one of the other "sisters, cousins, and aunts," and joined lustily in the rousing farewell cheers given by the crew.
A few hours later, a cheerful-looking boy might have been seen trudging toward one of the railway-stations. A new hat, brave in blue streamers, was on his head; a red balloon struggled to escape from one hand; a shabby carpet-bag, stuffed full, was in the other; and a pair of shiny shoes creaked briskly, as if the feet inside were going on a very pleasant errand.
About this young traveller, who walked with a sailor-like roll and lurch, revolved a little girl chattering like a magpie, and occasionally breaking into song, as if she couldn't help it.
"Be sure you come next Saturday; it won't be half such fun if you don't go halves," said the boy, beaming at her as he hauled down the impatient balloon, which seemed inclined to break from its moorings
"'Yes, I know That is so!'"
hummed the girl with a skip to starboard, that she might bear a hand with the bag. "Keep some cherries for me, and don't forget to give Kit the doll I dressed for her."
"I shouldn't have been going myself if it hadn't been for you, Will. I never shall forget that," said Jimmy, whom intense satisfaction rendered rather more sedate than his friend.
"Running away to sea is great fun,
'With a tar that ploughs the water!'"
sung Will in spite of herself.
"'And a gallant captain's daughter,'"
echoed Jimmy, smiling across the carpet-bag. Then both joined in an irrepressible chorus of "Dash it! Dash it!" as a big man nearly upset them and a dog barked madly at the balloon.
Being safely landed in the train, Jimmy hung out of the window till the last minute, discussing his new prospects with Will, who stood on tiptoe outside, bubbling over with fun.
"I'll teach you to make butter and cheese, and you shall be my dairy-woman, for I mean to be a farmer," he said, just as the bell rang.
"All right, I'd like that ever so much." And then the irrepressible madcap burst out, to the great amusement of the passengers,—
"'For you might have been a Roosian, A Frenchman, Turk or Proosian, Or an Ital-i-an.'"
And Jimmy could not resist shouting back, as the train began to move,—
"'But in spite of all temptations To belong to other nations, I'm an Amer-i-can.'"
Then he subsided, to think over the happy holiday before him and the rich cargo of comfort, independence, and pleasure he had brought home from his successful cruise in the "Pinafore."
TWO LITTLE TRAVELLERS.
The first of these true histories is about Annie Percival,—a very dear and lovely child, whose journey interested many other children, and is still remembered with gratitude by those whom she visited on a far-off island.
Annie was six when she sailed away to Fayal with her mother, grandmamma, and "little Aunt Ruth," as she called the young aunty who was still a school-girl. Very cunning was Annie's outfit, and her little trunk was a pretty as well as a curious sight, for everything was so small and complete it looked as if a doll was setting off for Europe. Such a wee dressing-case, with bits of combs and brushes for the curly head; such a cosey scarlet wrapper for the small woman to wear in her berth, with slippers to match when she trotted from state-room to state-room; such piles of tiny garments laid nicely in, and the owner's initials on the outside of the trunk; not to mention the key on a ribbon in her pocket, as grown up as you please.
I think the sight of that earnest, sunshiny face must have been very pleasant to all on board, no matter how seasick they might be, and the sound of the cheery little voice, as sweet as the chirp of a bird, especially when she sung the funny song about the "Owl and the pussy-cat in the pea-green boat," for she had charming ways, and was always making quaint, wise, or loving remarks.
Well, "they sailed and they sailed," and came at last to Fayal, where everything was so new and strange that Annie's big brown eyes could hardly spare time to sleep, so busy were they looking about. The donkeys amused her very much, so did the queer language and ways of the Portuguese people round her, especially the very droll names given to the hens of a young friend. The biddies seemed to speak the same dialect as at home, but evidently they understood Spanish also, and knew their own names, so it was fun to go and call Rio, Pico, Cappy, Clarissa, Whorfie, and poor Simonena, whose breast-bone grew out so that she could not eat and had to be killed.
But the thing which made the deepest impression on Annie was a visit to a charity-school at the old convent of San Antonio. It was kept by some kind ladies, and twenty-five girls were taught and cared for in the big, bare place, that looked rather gloomy and forlorn to people from happy Boston, where charitable institutions are on a noble scale, as everybody knows.
Annie watched all that went on with intelligent interest, and when they were shown into the play-room she was much amazed and afflicted to find that the children had nothing to play with but a heap of rags, out of which they made queer dolls, with ravelled twine for hair, faces rudely drawn on the cloth, and funny boots on the shapeless legs. No other toys appeared, but the girls sat on the floor of the great stone room,—for there was no furniture,—playing contentedly with their poor dolls, and smiling and nodding at "the little Americana," who gravely regarded this sad spectacle, wondering how they could get on without china and waxen babies, tea-sets, and pretty chairs and tables to keep house with.
The girls thought that she envied them their dolls, and presently one came shyly up to offer two of their best, leaving the teacher to explain in English their wish to be polite to their distinguished guest. Like the little gentlewoman she was, Annie graciously accepted the ugly bits of rag with answering nods and smiles, and carried them away with her as carefully as if they were of great beauty and value.
But when she was at home she expressed much concern and distress at the destitute condition of the children. Nothing but rags to play with seemed a peculiarly touching state of poverty to her childish mind, and being a generous creature she yearned to give of her abundance to "all the poor orphans who didn't have any nice dollies." She had several pets of her own, but not enough to go round even if she sacrificed them, so kind grandmamma, who had been doing things of this sort all her life, relieved the child's perplexity by promising to send twenty-five fine dolls to Fayal as soon as the party returned to Boston, where these necessaries of child-life are cheap and plenty.
Thus comforted, Annie felt that she could enjoy her dear Horta and Chica Pico Fatiera, particular darlings rechristened since her arrival. A bundle of gay bits of silk, cloth, and flannel, and a present of money for books, were sent out to the convent by the ladies. A treat of little cheeses for the girls to eat with their dry bread was added, much to Annie's satisfaction, and helped to keep alive her interest in the school of San Antonio.
After many pleasant adventures during the six months spent in the city, our party came sailing home again all the better for the trip, and Annie so full of tales to tell that it was a never-failing source of amusement to hear her hold forth to her younger brother in her pretty way, "splaining and 'scribing all about it."
Grandmamma's promise was faithfully kept, and Annie brooded blissfully over the twenty-five dolls till they were dressed, packed, and sent away to Fayal. A letter of thanks soon came back from the teacher, telling how surprised and delighted the girls were, and how they talked of Annie as if she were a sort of fairy princess who in return for two poor rag-babies sent a miraculous shower of splendid china ladies with gay gowns and smiling faces.
This childish charity was made memorable to all who knew of it by the fact that three months after she came home from that happy voyage Annie took the one from which there is no return. For this journey there was needed no preparation but a little white gown, a coverlet of flowers, and the casket where the treasure of many hearts was tenderly laid away. All alone, but not afraid, little Annie crossed the unknown sea that rolls between our world and the Islands of the Blest, to be welcomed there, I am sure, by spirits as innocent as her own, leaving behind her a very precious memory of her budding virtues and the relics of a short, sweet life.
Every one mourned for her, and all her small treasures were so carefully kept that they still exist. Poor Horta, in the pincushion arm-chair, seems waiting patiently for the little mamma to come again; the two rag-dolls lie side by side in grandma's scrap-book, since there is now no happy voice to wake them into life; and far away in the convent of San Antonio the orphans carefully keep their pretty gifts in memory of the sweet giver. To them she is a saint now, not a fairy princess; for when they heard of her death they asked if they might pray for the soul of the dear little Americana, and the teacher said, "Pray rather for the poor mother who has lost so much." So the grateful orphans prayed and the mother was comforted, for now another little daughter lies in her arms and kisses away the lonely pain at her heart.
* * * * *
The second small traveller I want to tell about lived in the same city as the first, and her name was Maggie Woods. Her father was an Englishman who came to America to try his fortune, but did not find it; for, when Maggie was three months old, the great Chicago fire destroyed their home; soon after, the mother died; then the father was drowned, and Maggie was left all alone in a strange country.
She had a good aunt in England, however, who took great pains to discover the child after the death of the parents, and sent for her to come home and be cared for. It was no easy matter to get a five-years' child across the Atlantic, for the aunt could not come to fetch her, and no one whom she knew was going over. But Maggie had found friends in Chicago; the American consul at Manchester was interested in the case, and every one was glad to help the forlorn baby, who was too young to understand the pathos of her story.
After letters had gone to and fro, it was decided to send the child to England in charge of the captain of a steamer, trusting to the kindness of all fellow-travellers to help her on her way.
The friends in Chicago bestirred themselves to get her ready, and then it was that Annie's mother found that she could do something which would have delighted her darling, had she been here to know of it. Laid tenderly away were many small garments belonging to the other little pilgrim, whose journeying was so soon ended; and from among all these precious things Mrs. Percival carefully chose a comfortable outfit for that cold March voyage.
The little gray gown went, and the red hood, the warm socks, and the cosey wraps no longer needed by the quiet sleeper under the snow. Perhaps something of her loving nature lingered about the clothes, and helped to keep the orphan warm and safe, for Annie's great delight was to pet and help all who needed comfort and protection.
When all was ready, Maggie's small effects were packed in a light basket, so that she could carry it herself if need be. A card briefly telling the story was fastened on the corner, and a similar paper recommending her to the protection of all kind people, was sewed to the bosom of her frock. Then, not in the least realizing what lay before her, the child was consigned to the conductor of the train to be forwarded to persons in New York who would see her safely on board the steamer.
I should dearly like to have seen the little maid and the big basket as they set out on that long trip as tranquilly as if for a day's visit; and it is a comfort to know that before the train started, the persons who took her there had interested a motherly lady in the young traveller, who promised to watch over her while their ways were the same.
All went well, and Maggie was safely delivered to the New York friends, who forwarded her to the steamer, well supplied with toys and comforts for the voyage, and placed in charge of captain and stewardess. She sailed on the 3d of March, and on the 12th landed at Liverpool, after a pleasant trip, during which she was the pet of all on board.
The aunt welcomed her joyfully, and the same day the child reached her new home, the Commercial Inn, Compstall, after a journey of over four thousand miles. The consul and owners of the steamer wanted to see the adventurous young lady who had come so far alone, and neighbors and strangers made quite a lion of her, for all kindly hearts were interested, and the protective charity which had guided and guarded her in two hemispheres and across the wide sea, made all men fathers, all women mothers, to the little one till she was safe.
Her picture lies before me as I write,—a pretty child standing in a chair, with a basket of toys on the table before her; curly hair pushed back from the face, pensive eyes, and a pair of stout little feet crossed one over the other as if glad to rest. I wish I could put the photograph into the story, because the small heroine is an interesting one, and still lives with the good aunt, who is very fond and proud of her, and writes pleasant accounts of her progress to the friends in America.
So ends the journey of my second small traveller, and when I think of her safe and happy in a good home, I always fancy that (if such things may be) in the land which is lovelier than even beautiful old England, Maggie's mother watches over little Annie.
A JOLLY FOURTH.
Door-step parties were the fashion that year, and it was while a dozen young folks sat chatting on Annie Hadwin's steps in the twilight that they laid the plan which turned out such a grand success in the end.
"For my part, I am glad we are to be put on a short allowance of gunpowder, and that crackers are forbidden, they are such a nuisance, burning holes in clothes, frightening horses, and setting houses afire," said sober Fred from the gate, where he and several other fellows were roosting socially together.
"It won't seem a bit like a regular Fourth without the salutes three times during the day. They are afraid the old cannon will kick, and blow off some other fellow's arm, as it did last year," added Elly Dickens, the beau of the party, as he pulled down his neat wristbands, hoping Maud admired the new cuff-buttons in them.
"What shall we do in the evening, since the ball is given up? Just because the old folks are too tired to enjoy dancing, we can't have any, and I think it is too bad," said pretty Belle, impatiently, for she danced like a fairy and was never tired.
"The authorities didn't dare to stop our races in the morning. There would have been an insurrection if they had," called out long Herbert from the grass, where he lay at the feet of black-eyed Julia.
"We must do something to finish off with. Come, somebody suggest a new, nice, safe, and jolly plan for the evening," cried Grace, who liked fun, and had just slipped a little toad into Jack Spratt's pocket as a pleasant surprise when he felt for his handkerchief.
"Let us offer a prize for the brightest idea. Five minutes for meditation, then all suggest a plan, and the best one shall be adopted," proposed Annie, glad to give a lively turn to her party.
All agreed, and sudden silence followed the chatter, broken now and then by an exclamation of "I've got it! No, I haven't," which produced a laugh at the impetuous party.
"Time's up," announced Fred, looking at "the turnip," as his big old-fashioned watch was called. Every one had a proposal more or less original, and much discussion followed; but it was finally decided that Herbert's idea of floating about in boats to enjoy the fireworks on the hill would be romantic, reposeful, and on the whole satisfactory.
"Each boat might have a colored lantern; that would look pretty, and then there would be no danger of running into our neighbors in the dark," said Annie, who was a little timid on the water in a wherry.
"Why not have lots, and make a regular 'feast of lanterns,' as they do in China? I was reading about it the other day, and can show you how to do it. Won't it be gay?" And Fred the bookworm nearly tumbled off his perch, as an excited gesture emptied his pockets of the library books which served as ballast.
"Yes! yes!" cried the other lads, with various demonstrations of delight as the new fancy grew upon their lively minds.
"Fred and Annie must have the prize, for their idea is the most brilliant one. Nan can give the flag to the winner of the race, and 'Deacon' can lead the boats, for I think it would be fine to have a procession on the river. Fireworks are an old story, so let us surprise the town by something regularly splendid," proposed Elly, fired in his turn with a bright idea.
"We will! we will!" cried the rest, and at once plunged into the affair with all the ardor of their years.
"Let us dress up," said Julia, who liked theatricals.
"In different characters," added Maud, thinking how well her long yellow hair would look as a mermaid.
"And all sing as we go under the bridges," put in Annie, who adored music.
"What a pity the boats can't dance, it would be so lovely to see them waltzing round like fireflies!" said Belle, still longing for the ball.
"A lot of fellows are coming up to spend the day with us, and we ought to have some sort of a picnic; city folks think so much of such things," said Herbert the hospitable, for his house and barn were the favorite resorts of all his mates, and three gentle little sisters always came into his plans if possible.
"I've got two girl cousins coming, and they would like it, I guess. I should any way, for Jack will go tagging after Grace and leave me to take care of them. Let's have a picnic, by all means," said lazy Fred, who thought all girls but one great plagues.
"I shouldn't wonder if all our people liked that plan, and we might have a town picnic as we did once before. Let every one ask his or her mother, and see if we can't do it," suggested Annie, eager for a whole day of merry-making.
The door-step party was late in breaking up that night; and if half the plans proposed had been carried out, that town would have been considered a large lunatic asylum. Wiser heads remodelled the wild plans, however, and more skilful hands lent their aid, so that only the possible was attempted, though the older folks had bright ideas as well as the boys and girls, and gave the finishing touches to the affair.
The Fourth was a fine day, with a fresh air, cloudless sky, and no dust. The town was early astir, though neither sunrise cannon nor the Antiques and Horribles disturbed the dawn with their clamor. The bells rang merrily, and at eight all flocked to the Town Hall to hear the Declaration of Independence read by the good and great man of the town, whose own wise and noble words go echoing round the world, teaching the same lesson of justice, truth, and courage as that immortal protest. An Ode by the master of the revels was sung, then every one shouted America with hearty good-will, and before the echoes had fairly died away, the crowd streamed forth to the river-side; for these energetic people were bound to make a day of it.
At nine the races began, and both green banks of the stream were lined with gay groups eagerly watching "our boys" as they swept by in wherries, paddled in canoes, or splashed and tumbled in and out of their tubs amid shouts of laughter from the spectators. The older fellows did the scientific, and their prizes were duly awarded by the judges. But our young party had their share of fun, and Fred and Herbert, who were chums in everything, won the race for the little flag yearly given to the lads for any success on the river. Then the weary heroes loaded the big dory with a cargo of girls, and with the banner blowing gayly in the wind, rowed away to the wide meadow, where seven oaks cast shade enough to shelter a large picnic. And a large one they had, for the mammas took kindly to the children's suggestion, agreeing to club together in a social lunch, each contributing her stores, her family, and her guests, all being happy together in the free and easy way so pleasant and possible in summer weather.
A merry company they were, and it was a comfortable sight to see the tired fathers lying in the shade, while the housewives forgot their cares for a day, the young folks made table-setting and dishwashing a joke by doing it together, and the children frolicked to their hearts' content. Even the babies were trundled to the party by proud mammas and took naps in their carriages, or held receptions for admiring friends and neighbors with infantile dignity.
A social, sensible time, and when sunset came all turned homeward to make ready for the evening festivities. It was vaguely rumored that the pretty rustic bridge was to be illuminated, for the older people had taken up the idea and had their surprises ready as well as the young folks. A band was stationed by the river-side, a pretty villa on the hill blazed out with lines of light, and elms and apple-trees bore red and golden lanterns, like glorified fruit. The clerk of the weather was evidently interested in this novel entertainment, for the evening was windless, dark, and cool, so the arch of light that spanned the shadowy river shone splendidly. Fireworks soared up from the hill-top beyond, fireflies lent their dancing sparks to illuminate the meadows, and the three bridges were laden with the crowds, who greeted each new surprise with cries of admiration.
Higher up the stream, where two branches met about a rocky island, elves seemed gathering for a summer revel.
From all the landings that lined either shore brilliant boats glided to the rendezvous; some hung with luminous globes of blue and silver, some with lanterns fiery-red, flower-shaped, golden, green, or variegated, as if a rainbow were festooned about the viewless masts. Up and down they flashed, stealing out from dusky nooks and floating in their own radiance, as they went to join the procession that wound about the island like a splendid sea-serpent uncoiling itself from sleep and darkness.
"Isn't it beautiful?" cried even the soberest of the townsfolk, as all turned their backs on the shining bridge and bursting rockets to admire the new spectacle, which was finer than its most enthusiastic advocate expected. All felt proud of their success as they looked, and even the children forgot to shout while watching the pretty pageant that presently came floating by, with music, light, and half-seen figures so charming, grotesque, or romantic that the illusion was complete.
First, a boat so covered with green boughs and twinkling yellow sparks that it looked like a floating island by starlight or a cage of singing-birds, for music came from within and fresh voices, led by Annie, sang sweetly as it sailed along. Then a gondola of lovely Venetian ladies, rowed by the handsome artist, who was the pride of the town. Next a canoe holding three dusky Indians, complete in war-paint, wampum, and tomahawks, paddled before the brilliant barge in which Cleopatra sat among red cushions, fanned by two pretty maids. Julia's black eyes sparkled as she glanced about her, feeling very queen-like with a golden crown on her head, all the jewelry she could muster on her neck and arms, and grandmother's yellow brocade shining in the light. Belle and Grace waved their peacock fans like two comely little Egyptian damsels, and the many-colored lanterns made a pretty picture of the whole.
A boatful of jolly little tars followed, with Tom Brown, Jr., as skipper. Then a party of fairies in white, with silver wings and wands, and lanterns like moon and stars.
Lou Pope, as Lady of the Lake, rowed her own boat, with Jack for a droll little Harper, twanging his zitter for want of a better instrument.
A black craft hung with lurid red lanterns and manned by a crew of ferocious pirates in scarlet shirts, dark beards, and an imposing display of pistols and cutlasses in their belts, not to mention the well-known skull and cross-bones on the flag flying at the masthead, produced a tremendous effect as the crew clashed their arms and roared the blood-thirstiest song they could find. All the boys cheered that, and all the horses pranced as the pirates fired off their pistols, causing timid ladies to shriek, and prudent drivers to retire from the bridges with their carriage-loads of company.
A Chinese junk (or what was intended to look like one, but really resembled a mud-scow), with a party of Mandarins, rich in fans, umbrellas, and pigtails, taking tea on board in a blaze of fantastic lanterns, delighted the children.
Then a long low boat came sliding by softly, lighted with pale blue lamps, and on a white couch lay "Elaine," the letter in her hand, the golden hair streaming to her knees, and at her feet the dwarf sorrowfully rowing her down to Camelot. Every one recognized that, for the master of the revels got it up as no one else could; and Maud laughed to herself as the floating tableau went under the bridge, and she heard people rushing to the other side, waiting eagerly to see the "lily maid" appear and glide away, followed by applause, as one of the prettiest sights seen that night.
There were eighty boats in all, and as the glittering train wound along the curves of the river smooth and dark as a mirror, the effect was truly beautiful, especially when they all congregated below the illuminated bridge, making an island of many-colored light. An enchanted island it seemed to lookers-on, for music and laughter came from it, and a strange mixture of picturesque faces and figures flitted to and fro.
Elaine sat up and ate bonbons with the faithful dwarf; Ellen Douglas ducked the Harper; the Chinamen invited Cleopatra to tea; the mermaids pelted the pirates with water-lilies; the gallant gondolier talked art with the Venetian ladies; and the jolly little tars danced hornpipes, regardless of danger; while the three Indians, Fred, Herbert, and Elly, whooped and tomahawked right and left as if on the war-path.
A regular Midsummer Night's Dream frolic, which every one enjoyed heartily, while the band played patriotic airs, the pretty villa shone like a fairy palace, and the sky was full of dazzling meteors, falling stars, and long-tailed comets, as the rockets whizzed and blazed from the hill-tops.
Just as the fun was at its height the hurried clang of a bell startled the merry-makers, and a cry of "Fire!" came from the town, causing a general stampede. "Post-office all afire! Men wanted!" shouted a breathless boy, racing through the crowd toward the river. Then great was the scampering, for shops stood thickly all about the post-office, and distracted merchants hastily collected their goods, while the firemen smashed windows, ran up and down ladders, broke in doors, and poured streams of water with generous impartiality over everybody and everything in the neighborhood, and the boys flew about, as if this unexpected display of fireworks suited them exactly.
Such noble exertions could not fail of success, and the fire was happily extinguished before the river was pumped dry. Then every one went home, and, feeling the need of refreshment after their labors, had supper all over again, to the great delight of the young folks, who considered this a most appropriate finish to an exciting day.
But the merriest party of all was the one gathered on Fred's piazza to eat cake and talk over the fun. Such a droll group as they were. The Indians were sadly dilapidated as to feathers and paint, beside being muddy to the knees, having landed in hot haste. Poor Cleopatra had been drenched by the hose, but though very damp still sparkled with unextinguishable gayety. Elaine had tied herself up in a big shawl, having lost her hat overboard. Jack and Grace wore one waterproof, and Annie was hoarse with leading her choir of birds on the floating island. Also several of the pirates wore their beards twisted round behind for the sake of convenience in eating.
All were wet, warm, and weary, but all rejoiced over the success of the day's delights, and it was unanimously agreed that this had been the jolliest Fourth they had ever known.
SEVEN BLACK CATS.
They all came uninvited, they all led eventful lives, and all died tragical deaths; so out of the long list of cats whom I have loved and lost, these seven are the most interesting and memorable.
I have no prejudice against color, but it so happened that our pussies were usually gray or maltese. One white one, who would live in the coal-bin, was a failure, and we never repeated the experiment. Black cats had not been offered us, so we had no experience of them till number one came to us in this wise.
Sitting at my window, I saw a very handsome puss come walking down the street in the most composed and dignified manner. I watched him with interest, wondering where he was going.
Pausing now and then, he examined the houses as he passed, as if looking for a particular number, till, coming to our gate, he pushed it open, and walked in. Straight up to the door he came, and finding it shut sat down to wait till some one opened it for him.
Much amused, I went at once, and he came directly in, after a long stare at me, and a few wavings of his plumy tail. It was evidently the right place, and, following me into the parlor, he perched himself on the rug, blinked at the fire, looked round the room, washed his face, and then, lying down in a comfortable sprawl, he burst into a cheerful purr, as if to say,—
"It's all right; the place suits me, and I'm going to stay."
His coolness amused me very much, and his beauty made me glad to keep him. He was not a common cat, but, as we afterward discovered, a Russian puss. His fur was very long, black, and glossy as satin; his tail like a graceful plume, and his eyes as round and yellow as two little moons. His paws were very dainty, and white socks and gloves, with a neat collar and shirt-bosom, gave him the appearance of an elegant young beau, in full evening dress. His face was white, with black hair parted in the middle; and whiskers, fiercely curled up at the end, gave him a martial look.
Every one admired him, and a vainer puss never caught a mouse. If he saw us looking at him, he instantly took an attitude; gazed pensively at the fire, as if unconscious of our praises; crouched like a tiger about to spring, and glared, and beat the floor with his tail; or lay luxuriously outstretched, rolling up his yellow eyes with a sentimental expression that was very funny.
We named him the Czar, and no tyrannical emperor of Russia ever carried greater desolation and terror to the souls of his serfs, than this royal cat did to the hearts and homes of the rats and mice over whom he ruled.
The dear little mice who used to come out to play so confidingly in my room, live in my best bonnet-box, and bring up their interesting young families in the storeroom, now fell an easy prey to the Czar, who made nothing of catching half a dozen a day.
Brazen-faced old rats, gray in sin, who used to walk boldly in and out of the front door, ravage our closets, and racket about the walls by night, now paused in their revels, and felt that their day was over. Czar did not know what fear was, and flew at the biggest, fiercest rat that dared to show his long tail on the premises. He fought many a gallant fight, and slew his thousands, always bringing his dead foe to display him to us, and receive our thanks.
It was sometimes rather startling to find a large rat reposing in the middle of your parlor; not always agreeable to have an excited cat bounce into your lap, lugging a half-dead rat in his mouth; or to have visitors received by the Czar, tossing a mouse on the door-steps, like a playful child with its cup and ball.
He was not fond of petting, but allowed one or two honored beings to cuddle him. My work-basket was his favorite bed, for a certain fat cushion suited him for a pillow, and, having coolly pulled out all the pins, the rascal would lay his handsome head on the red mound, and wink at me with an irresistibly saucy expression that made it impossible to scold.
All summer we enjoyed his pranks and admired his manly virtues; but in the winter we lost him, for, alas! he found his victor in the end, and fell a victim to his own rash daring.
One morning after a heavy snow-fall, Czar went out to take a turn up and down the path. As he sat with his back to the gate, meditatively watching some doves on the shed-roof, a big bull-dog entered the yard, and basely attacked him in the rear. Taken by surprise, the dear fellow did his best, and hit out bravely, till he was dragged into the deep snow where he could not fight, and there so cruelly maltreated that he would have been murdered outright, if I had not gone to the rescue.
Catching up a broom, I belabored the dog so energetically that he was forced to turn from the poor Czar to me. What would have become of me I don't know, for the dog was in a rage, and evidently meditating a grab at my ankles, when his master appeared and ordered him off.
Never was a boy better scolded than that one, for I poured forth vials of wrath upon his head as I took up my bleeding pet, and pointed to his wounds as indignantly as Antony did to Caesar's.
The boy fled affrighted, and I bore my poor Czar in to die. All day he lay on his cushion, patient and quiet, with his torn neck tied up in a soft bandage, a saucer of cream close by, and an afflicted mistress to tend and stroke him with tender lamentations.
We had company in the evening, and my interesting patient was put into another room. Once, in the midst of conversation, I thought I heard a plaintive mew, but could not go to see, and soon forgot all about it; but when the guests left, my heart was rent by finding Czar stretched out before the door quite dead.
Feeling death approach, he had crept to say good-by, and with a farewell mew had died before the closed door, a brave and faithful cat to the end.
He was buried with great pomp, and before his grave was green, little Blot came to take his place, though she never filled it. Blot's career was a sad and brief one. Misfortune marked her for its own, and life was one too many for her.
I saw some boys pelting a wretched object with mud. I delivered a lecture on cruelty to animals, confiscated the victim, and, wrapping her in a newspaper, bore the muddy little beast away in triumph. Being washed and dried, she turned out a thin black kit, with dirty blue bows tied in her ears. As I don't approve of ear-rings, I took hers out, and tried to fatten her up, for she was a forlorn creature at first.
But Blot would not grow plump. Her early wrongs preyed upon her, and she remained a thin, timid, melancholy little cat all her days. I could not win her confidence. She had lost her faith in mankind, and I don't blame her. She always hid in corners, quaked when I touched her, took her food by stealth, and sat in a forlorn bunch in cold nooks, down cellar or behind the gate, mewing despondently to herself, as if her woes must find a vent. She would not be easy and comfortable. No cushion could allure, no soft beguilements win her to purr, no dainty fare fill out her rusty coat, no warmth or kindness banish the scared look from her sad green eyes, no ball or spool lure her to play, or cause her to wag her mortified thin tail with joy.
Poor, dear little Blot! She was a pathetic spectacle, and her end was quite in keeping with the rest of her hard fate. Trying one day to make her come and be cuddled, she retreated to the hearth, and when I pursued her, meaning to catch and pet her, she took a distracted skip right into a bed of hot coals. One wild howl, and another still more distracted skip brought her out again, to writhe in agony with four burnt paws and a singed skin.
"We must put the little sufferer out of her pain," said a strong-minded friend; and quenched little Blot's life and suffering together in a pail of water.
I laid her out sweetly in a nice box, with a doll's blanket folded round her, and, bidding the poor dear a long farewell, confided her to old MacCarty for burial. He was my sexton, and I could trust him to inter my darlings decently, and not toss them disrespectfully into a dirt-cart or over a bridge.
My dear Mother Bunch was an entire contrast to Blot. Such a fat, cosey old mamma you never saw, and her first appearance was so funny, I never think of her without laughing.
In our back kitchen was an old sideboard, with two little doors in the lower part. Some bits of carpet were kept there, but we never expected to let that small mansion till, opening the door one day, I found Mrs. Bunch and her young family comfortably settled.
I had never seen this mild black cat before, and I fancy no one had ever seen her three roly-poly, jet-black kits. Such a confiding puss I never met, for when I started back, surprised, Mrs. Bunch merely looked at me with an insinuating purr, and began to pick at my carpet, as if to say,—
"The house suited me; I'll take it, and pay rent by allowing you to admire and pet my lovely babies."
I never thought of turning her out, and there she remained for some months, with her children growing up around her, all as fat and funny, black and amiable, as herself.
Three jollier kits were never born, and a more devoted mother never lived. I put her name on the door of her house, and they lived on most comfortably together, even after they grew too big for their accommodations, and tails and legs hung out after the family had retired.
I really did hope they would escape the doom that seemed to pursue my cats, but they did not, for all came to grief in different ways. Cuddle Bunch had a fit, and fell out of the window, killing herself instantly. Othello, her brother, was shot by a bad boy, who fired pistols at all the cats in the neighborhood, as good practice for future gunning expeditions.
Little Purr was caught in a trap, set for a woodchuck, and so hurt she had to be gently chloroformed out of life. Mother Bunch still remained, and often used to go and sit sadly under the tree where her infants were buried,—an afflicted, yet resigned parent.
Her health declined, but we never had the heart to send her away, and it wouldn't have done any good if we had tried. We did it once, and it was a dead failure. At one time the four cats were so wearing that my honored father, who did not appreciate the dears, resolved to clear the house of the whole family; so he packed them in a basket, and carried them "over the hills and far away," like the "Babes in the Wood." Coming to a lonely spot, he let them out, and returned home, much relieved in mind. Judge of his amazement when the first thing he saw was Mrs. Bunch and her children, sitting on the steps resting after their run home.
We all laughed at the old gentleman so that he left them in peace, and even when the mamma alone remained, feeble and useless, her bereavement made her sacred.
When we shut up the house, and went to the city for the winter, we gave Mother Bunch to the care of a kind neighbor, who promised to guard her faithfully. Returning in the spring, one of my first questions was,—
"How is old Pussy?"
Great was my anguish when my neighbor told me that she was no more. It seems the dear thing pined for her old home, and kept returning to it in spite of age or bad weather.
Several times she was taken back when she ran away, but at last they were tired of fussing over her, and let her go. A storm came on, and when they went to see what had become of her, they found her frozen, in the old sideboard, where I first discovered her with her kits about her.
As a delicate attention to me, Mrs. Bunch's skin was preserved, and presented when the tale was told. I kept it some time, but the next Christmas I made it into muffs for several dolls, who were sent me to dress; and very nice little muffs the pretty black fur made, lined with cherry silk, and finished off with tiny tassels.
I loved the dear old puss, but I knew the moths would get her skin if I kept it, and preferred to rejoice the hearts of several small friends with dolls in full winter costume. I am sure Mrs. Bunch would have agreed with me, and not felt that I treated her remains with disrespect.
The last of my cats was the blackest of all, and such a wild thing we called him the Imp. He tumbled into the garret one day through a broken scuttle, and took possession of the house from that time forth, acting as if bewitched.
He got into the furnace pipes, but could not get out, and kept me up one whole night, giving him air and light, food and comfort, through a little hole in the floor, while waiting for a carpenter to come and saw him out.
He got a sad pinch in his tail, which made it crooked forever after. He fell into the soft-soap barrel, and was fished out a deplorable spectacle. He was half strangled by a fine collar we put on him, and was found hanging by it on a peg.
People sat down on him, for he would lie in chairs. No one loved him much, for he was not amiable in temper, but bit and scratched if touched, worried the bows off our slippers in his play, and if we did not attend to him at once, he complained in the most tremendous bass growl I ever heard.
He was not beautiful, but very impressive; being big, without a white hair on him. One eye was blue and one green, and the green one was always half shut, as if he was winking at you, which gave him a rowdy air comical to see. Then he swaggered in his walk, never turned out for any one, and if offended fell into rages fit to daunt the bravest soul.
Yes, the Imp was truly an awful animal; and when a mischievous cousin of ours told us he wanted a black cat, without a single white hair on it, to win a wager with, we at once offered ours.
It seems that sailors are so superstitious they will not sail in a ship with a black cat; and this rogue of a cousin was going to send puss off on a voyage, unknown to any one but the friend who took him, and when the trip was safely over, he was to be produced as a triumphant proof of the folly of the nautical superstition.
So the Imp was delivered to his new master, and sailed away packed up in an old fishing-basket, with his head poked out of a hole in the cover.
We waited anxiously to hear how the joke ended; but unfortunately the passage was very rough, his guardian too ill to keep him safe and quiet, so the irrepressible fellow escaped from prison, and betrayed himself by growling dismally, as he went lurching across the deck to the great dismay of the sailors.
They chased, caught, and tossed the poor Imp overboard without loss of time. And when the joke came out, they had the best of it, for the weather happened to improve, and the rest of the voyage was prosperous. So, of course, they laid it all to the loss of the cat, and were more fixed in their belief than ever.
We were sorry that poor old Imp met so sad a fate, but did not mourn him long, for he had not won our hearts as some of our other pets had.
He was the last of the seven black cats, and we never had another; for I really did feel as if there was something uncanny about them after my tragical experiences with Czar, Blot, Mother Bunch's family, and the martyred Imp.
"Now, I believe every one has had a Christmas present and a good time. Nobody has been forgotten, not even the cat," said Mrs. Ward to her daughter, as she looked at Pobbylinda, purring on the rug, with a new ribbon round her neck and the remains of a chicken bone between her paws.
It was very late, for the Christmas-tree was stripped, the little folks abed, the baskets and bundles left at poor neighbors' doors, and everything ready for the happy day which would begin as the clock struck twelve. They were resting after their labors, while the yule log burned down; but the mother's words reminded Belinda of one good friend who had received no gift that night.
"We've forgotten Rosa! Her mistress is away, but she shall have a present nevertheless. Late as it is, she will like some apples and cake and a Merry Christmas from the family."
Belinda jumped up as she spoke, and, having collected such remnants of the feast as a horse would relish, she put on her hood, lighted a lantern, and trotted off to the barn.
As she opened the door of the loose box in which Rosa was kept, she saw her eyes shining in the dark as she lifted her head with a startled air. Then, recognizing a friend, she rose and came rustling through the straw to greet her late visitor. She was evidently much pleased with the attention, and rubbed her nose against Miss Belinda gratefully, but seemed rather dainty, and poked over the contents of the basket, as if a little suspicious, though apples were her favorite treat.
Knowing that she would enjoy the little feast more if she had company while she ate it, for Rosa was a very social beast, Miss Belinda hung up the lantern, and, sitting down on an inverted bucket, watched her as she munched contentedly.
"Now really," said Miss Belinda, when telling her story afterwards, "I am not sure whether I took a nap and dreamed what follows, or whether it actually happened, for strange things do occur at Christmas time, as every one knows.
"As I sat there the town clock struck twelve, and the sound reminded me of the legend which affirms that all dumb animals are endowed with speech for one hour after midnight on Christmas eve, in memory of the animals about the manger when the blessed Child was born.
"'I wish the pretty fancy was a fact, and our Rosa could speak, if only for an hour, because I am sure she has an interesting history, and I long to know it.'
"I said this aloud, and to my utter amazement the bay mare stopped eating, fixed her intelligent eyes upon my face, and answered in a language I understood perfectly well,—
"'You shall know it, for whether the legend is true or not I feel as if I could confide in you and tell you all I feel. I was lying awake listening to the fun in the house, thinking of my dear mistress over the sea and feeling very sad, for I heard you say I was to be sold. That nearly broke my heart, for no one has ever been so kind to me as Miss Merry, and nowhere shall I be taken care of, nursed, and loved as I have been since she bought me. I know I am getting old, and stiff in the knees, and my forefoot is lame, and sometimes I'm cross when my shoulder aches; but I do try to be a patient, grateful beast. I've got fat with good living, my work is not hard, I dearly love to carry those who have done so much for me, and I'll tug for them till I die in harness, if they will only keep me.'
"I was so astonished at this address that I tumbled off the pail, and sat among the straw staring up at Rosa, as dumb as if I had lost the power she had gained. She seemed to enjoy my surprise, and added to it by letting me hear a genuine horse laugh, hearty, shrill, and clear, as she shook her pretty head, and went on talking rapidly in the language which I now perceived to be a mixture of English and the peculiar dialect of the horse-country Gulliver visited.
"'Thank you for remembering me to-night, and in return for the goodies you bring I'll tell my story as fast as I can, for I have often longed to recount the trials and triumphs of my life. Miss Merry came last Christmas eve to bring me sugar, and I wanted to speak, but it was too early and I could not say a word, though my heart was full.'
"Rosa paused an instant, and her fine eyes dimmed as if with tender tears at the recollection of the happy year which had followed the day she was bought from the drudgery of a livery-stable to be a lady's pet. I stroked her neck as she stooped to sniff affectionately at my hood, and said eagerly,—
"'Tell away, dear, I'm full of interest, and understand every word you say.'
"Thus encouraged, Rosa threw up her head, and began with an air of pride which plainly proved, what we had always suspected, that she belonged to a good family.
"'My father was a famous racer, and I am very like him; the same color, spirit, and grace, and but for the cruelty of man I might have been as renowned as he. I was a very happy colt, petted by my master, tamed by love, and never struck a blow while he lived. I gained one race for him, and promised so well that when he died I brought a great price. I mourned for him, but was glad to be sent to my new owner's racing-stable and made much of, for people predicted that I should be another Goldsmith Maid or Flora Temple. Ah, how ambitious and proud I was in those days! Vain of my good blood, my speed, and my beauty; for indeed I was handsome then, though you may find it hard to believe now.' And Rosa sighed regretfully as she stole a look at me, and took the attitude which showed to advantage the fine lines about her head and neck.
"'I do not find it hard, for we have always said you had splendid points about you. Miss Merry saw them, though you were a skeleton, when she bought you; so did the skilful Cornish blacksmith when he shod you. And it is easy to see that you belong to a good family by the way you hold your head without a check-rein and carry your tail like a plume,' I said, with a look of admiration which comforted her as much as if she had been a passee belle.
"'I must hurry over this part of my story, because, though brilliant, it was very brief, and ended in a way which made it the bitterest portion of my life,' continued Rosa. 'I won several races, and great fame was predicted for me. You may guess how high my reputation was when I tell you that before my last fatal trial thousands were bet on me, and my rival trembled in his shoes. I was full of spirit, eager to show my speed and sure of success. Alas, how little I knew of the wickedness of human nature then, how dearly I bought the knowledge, and how it has changed my whole life! You do not know much about such matters, of course, and I won't digress to tell you all the tricks of the trade; only beware of jockeys and never bet.
"'I was kept carefully out of every one's way for weeks, and only taken out for exercise by my trainer. Poor Bill! I was fond of him, and he was so good to me that I never have forgotten him, though he broke his neck years ago. A few nights before the great race, as I was getting a good sleep, carefully tucked away in my roomy stall, some one stole in and gave me a warm mash. It was dark, I was half awake, and I ate it like a fool, though I knew by instinct that it was not Bill who fed it to me. I was a confiding creature then, and as all sorts of queer things had been done to prepare me I thought it was all right. But it was not, and that deceit has caused me to be suspicious about my food ever since, for the mash was dosed in some way; it made me very ill, and my enemies nearly triumphed, thanks to this cowardly trick.
"'Bill worked over me day and night, that I might be fit to run. I did my best to seem well and gay, but there was not time for me to regain my lost strength and spirit, and pride alone kept me up. "I'll win for my master if I die in doing it," I said to myself, and when the hour came pranced to my place trying to look as well as ever, though my heart was very heavy and I trembled with excitement. "Courage, my lass, and we'll beat in spite of their black tricks," whispered Bill, as he sprung to his place.
"'I lost the first heat, but won the second, and the sound of the cheering gave me strength to walk away without staggering, though my legs shook under me. What a splendid minute that was when, encouraged and refreshed by my faithful Bill, I came on the track again! I knew my enemies began to fear, for I had borne myself so bravely they fancied I was quite well, and now, excited by that first success, I was mad with impatience to be off and cover myself with glory.'
"Rosa looked as if the 'splendid minute' had come again, for she arched her neck, opened wide her red nostrils, and pawed the straw with one little foot, while her eyes shone with sudden fire, and her ears were pricked up as if to catch again the shouts she heard that day.
"'I wish I had been there to see you!' I exclaimed, quite carried away by her ardor.
"'I wish you had, for I won, I won! The big black horse did his best, but I had vowed to win or die, and I kept my word, for I beat him by a head, and then dropped as if dead. I might as well have died then, people thought, for the poison, the exertion, and the fall ruined me for a racer. My master cared no more for me, and would have had me shot if Bill had not saved my life. I was pronounced good for nothing, and he bought me cheap. I was lame and useless for a long time, but his patient care did wonders, and just as I was able to be of use to him he was killed.
"'A gentleman in want of a saddle-horse purchased me because my easy gait and quiet temper suited him; for I was meek enough now, and my size fitted me to carry his delicate daughter.
"'For more than a year I served little Miss Alice, rejoicing to see how rosy her pale cheeks became, how upright her feeble figure grew, thanks to the hours spent with me; for my canter rocked her as gently as if she were in a cradle, and fresh air was the medicine she needed. She often said she owed her life to me, and I liked to think so, for she made my life a very easy one.
"'But somehow my good times never lasted long, and when Miss Alice went West I was sold. I had been so well treated that I looked as handsome and gay as ever, though my shoulder never was strong again, and I often had despondent moods, longing for the excitement of the race-course with the instinct of my kind; so I was glad when, attracted by my spirit and beauty, a young army officer bought me and I went to the war. Ah! you never guessed that, did you? Yes, I did my part gallantly and saved my master's life more than once. You have observed how martial music delights me, but you don't know that it is because it reminds me of the proudest hour of my life. I've told you about the saddest; let me relate this also, and give me a pat for the brave action which won my master his promotion, though I got no praise for my part of the achievement.
"'In one of the hottest battles my captain was ordered to lead his men to a most perilous exploit. They hesitated, so did he; for it must cost many lives, and, brave as they were, they paused an instant. But I settled the point, for I was wild with the sound of drums, the smell of powder, the excitement of the hour, and, finding myself sharply reined in, I rebelled, took the bit between my teeth, and dashed straight away into the midst of the fight, spite of all my rider could do. The men thought their captain led them on, and with a cheer they followed, carrying all before them.
"'What happened just after that I never could remember, except that I got a wound here in my neck and a cut on my flank; the scar is there still, and I'm proud of it, though buyers always consider it a blemish. But when the battle was won my master was promoted on the field, and I carried him up to the general as he sat among his officers under the torn flags.
"'Both of us were weary and wounded, both were full of pride at what we had done; but he got all the praise and the honor, I only a careless word and a better supper than usual.
"'I thought no one knew what I had done, and resented the ingratitude of your race; for it was the horse, not the man, who led that forlorn hope, and I did think I should have a rosette at least, when others got stars and bars for far less dangerous deeds. Never mind, my master knew the truth, and thanked me for my help by keeping me always with him till the sad day when he was shot in a skirmish, and lay for hours with none to watch and mourn over him but his faithful horse.
"'Then I knew how much he loved and thanked me, for his hand stroked me while it had the strength, his eye turned to me till it grew too dim for seeing, and when help came, among the last words he whispered to a comrade were these, "Be kind to Rosa and send her safely home; she has earned her rest."
"'I had earned it, but I did not get it, for when I was sent home the old mother's heart was broken at the loss of her son, and she did not live long to cherish me. Then my hard times began, for my next owner was a fast young man, who ill used me in many ways, till the spirit of my father rose within me, and I gave my brutal master a grand runaway and smash-up.
"'To tame me down, I was sold for a car horse; and that almost killed me, for it was dreadful drudgery to tug, day after day, over the hard pavement with heavy loads behind me, uncongenial companions beside me, and no affection to cheer my life.
"'I have often longed to ask why Mr. Bergh does not try to prevent such crowds from piling into those cars; and now I beg you to do what you can to stop such an unmerciful abuse.
"'In snow-storms it was awful, and more than one of my mates dropped dead with overwork and discouragement. I used to wish I could do the same, for my poor feet, badly shod, became so lame I could hardly walk at times, and the constant strain on the up grades brought back the old trouble in my shoulder worse than ever.
"'Why they did not kill me I don't know, for I was a miserable creature then; but there must be something attractive about me, I fancy, for people always seem to think me worth saving. What can it be, ma'am?'
"'Now, Rosa, don't be affected; you know you are a very engaging little animal, and if you live to be forty will still have certain pretty ways about you, that win the hearts of women, if not of men. They see your weak points, and take a money view of the case; but we sympathize with your afflictions, are amused with your coquettish airs, and like your affectionate nature. Now hurry up and finish, for I find it a trifle cold out here.'
"I laughed as I spoke, for Rosa eyed me with a sidelong glance and gently waved the docked tail, which was her delight; for the sly thing liked to be flattered and was as fond of compliments as a girl.
"'Many thanks. I will come now to the most interesting portion of my narrative. As I was saying, instead of knocking me on the head I was packed off to New Hampshire, and had a fine rest among the green hills, with a dozen or so of weary friends. It was during this holiday that I acquired the love of nature which Miss Merry detected and liked in me, when she found me ready to study sunsets with her, to admire new landscapes, and enjoy bright summer weather.
"'In the autumn a livery-stable keeper bought me, and through the winter fed me up till I was quite presentable in the spring. It was a small town, but through the summer many city people visited there, so I was kept on the trot while the season lasted, because ladies could drive me. You, Miss Belinda, were one of the ladies, and I never shall forget, though I have long ago forgiven it, how you laughed at my queer gait the day you hired me.
"'My tender feet and stiff knees made me tread very gingerly, and amble along with short mincing steps, which contrasted oddly, I know, with my proudly waving tail and high-carried head. You liked me nevertheless, because I didn't rattle you down the steep hills, was not afraid of locomotives, and stood patiently while you gathered flowers and enjoyed the lovely prospects.
"'I have always felt a regard for you since you did not whip me, and admired my eyes, which, I may say without vanity, have always been considered unusually fine. But no one ever won my whole heart like Miss Merry, and I never shall forget the happy day when she came to the stable to order a saddle-horse. Her cheery voice made me prick up my ears, and when she said, after looking at several showy beasts, "No, they don't suit me. This one now has the right air; can I ride her?" my heart danced within me and I looked round with a whinny of delight. She understood my welcome, and came right up to me, patted me, peered into my face, rubbed my nose, and looked at my feet with an air of interest and sympathy, that made me feel as if I'd like to carry her round the world.
"'Ah, what rides we had after that! What happy hours trotting gayly through the green woods, galloping over the breezy hills, or pacing slowly along quiet lanes, where I often lunched luxuriously on clover-tops, while Miss Merry took a sketch of some picturesque bit with me in the foreground.
"'I liked that, and we had long chats at such times, for she seemed to understand me perfectly. She was never frightened when I danced for pleasure on the soft turf, never chid me when I snatched a bite from the young trees as we passed through sylvan ways, never thought it a trouble to let me wet my tired feet in babbling brooks, or to dismount and take out the stones that plagued me.
"'Then how well she rode! So firm yet light a seat, so steady a hand, so agile a foot to spring on and off, and such infectious spirits, that no matter how despondent or cross I might be, in five minutes I felt gay and young again when dear Miss Merry was on my back.'
"Here Rosa gave a frisk that sent the straw flying, and made me shrink into a corner, while she pranced about the box with a neigh which waked the big brown colt next door, and set poor Buttercup to lowing for her calf, the loss of which she had forgotten for a little while in sleep.
"'Ah, Miss Merry never ran away from me! She knew my heels were to be trusted, and she let me caper as I would, glad to see me lively. Never mind, Miss Belinda, come out and I'll be sober, as befits my years,' laughed Rosa, composing herself, and adding, so like a woman that I could not help smiling in the dark,—
"'When I say "years" I beg you to understand that I am not as old as that base man declared, but just in the prime of life for a horse. Hard usage has made me seem old before my time, and I am good for years of service yet.'
"'Few people have been through as much as you have, Rosa, and you certainly have earned the right to rest,' I said consolingly, for her little whims and vanities amused me much.
"'You know what happened next,' she continued; 'but I must seize this opportunity to express my thanks for all the kindness I've received since Miss Merry bought me, in spite of the ridicule and dissuasion of all her friends.
"'I know I didn't look like a good bargain, for I was very thin and lame and shabby; but she saw and loved the willing spirit in me, pitied my hard lot, and felt that it would be a good deed to buy me even if she never got much work out of me.
"'I shall always remember that, and whatever happens to me hereafter, I never shall be as proud again as I was the day she put my new saddle and bridle on, and I was led out, sleek, plump, and handsome, with blue rosettes at my ears, my tail cut in the English style, and on my back Miss Merry in her London hat and habit, all ready to head a cavalcade of eighteen horsemen and horsewomen. We were the most perfect pair of all, and when the troop caracoled down the wide street six abreast, my head was the highest, my rider the straightest, and our two hearts the friendliest in all the goodly company.
"'Nor is it pride and love alone that binds me to her, it is gratitude as well, for did not she often bathe my feet herself, rub me down, water me, blanket me, and daily come to see me when I was here alone for weeks in the winter time? Didn't she study horses' feet and shoes, that I might be cured if possible? Didn't she write to the famous friend of my race for advice, and drive me seven miles to get a good smith to shoe me well? Have not my poor contracted feet grown much better, thanks to the weeks of rest without shoes which she gave me? Am I not fat and handsome, and, barring the stiff knees, a very presentable horse? If I am, it is all owing to her; and for that reason I want to live and die in her service.
"'She doesn't want to sell me, and only bade you do it because you didn't want the care of me while she is gone. Dear Miss Belinda, please keep me! I'll eat as little as I can. I won't ask for a new blanket, though your old army one is very thin and shabby. I'll trot for you all winter, and try not to show it if I am lame. I'll do anything a horse can, no matter how humble, to earn my living, only don't, pray don't send me away among strangers who have neither interest nor pity for me!'
"Rosa had spoken rapidly, feeling that her plea must be made now or never, for before another Christmas she might be far away and speech of no use to win her wish. I was much touched, though she was only a horse; for she was looking earnestly at me as she spoke, and made the last words very eloquent by preparing to bend her stiff knees and lie down at my feet. I stopped her, and answered, with an arm about her neck and her soft nose in my hand,—
"'You shall not be sold, Rosa! you shall go and board at Mr. Town's great stable, where you will have pleasant society among the eighty horses who usually pass the winter there. Your shoes shall be taken off, and you shall rest till March at least. The best care will be taken of you, dear, and I will come and see you; and in the spring you shall return to us, even if Miss Merry is not here to welcome you.'
"'Thanks, many, many thanks! But I wish I could do something to earn my board. I hate to be idle, though rest is delicious. Is there nothing I can do to repay you, Miss Belinda? Please answer quickly, for I know the hour is almost over,' cried Rosa, stamping with anxiety; for, like all her sex, she wanted the last word.
"'Yes, you can,' I cried, as a sudden idea popped into my head. 'I'll write down what you have told me, and send the little story to a certain paper I know of, and the money I get for it will pay your board. So rest in peace, my dear; you will have earned your living, and may feel that your debt is paid.'
"Before she could reply the clock struck one, and a long sigh of satisfaction was all the response in her power. But we understood each other now, and, cutting a lock from her mane for Miss Merry, I gave Rosa a farewell caress and went away, wondering if I had made it all up, or if she had really broken a year's silence and freed her mind.
"However that may be, here is the tale, and the sequel to it is, that the bay mare has really gone to board at a first-class stable," concluded Miss Belinda. "I call occasionally and leave my card in the shape of an apple, finding Madam Rosa living like an independent lady, with her large box and private yard on the sunny side of the barn, a kind ostler to wait upon her, and much genteel society from the city when she is inclined for company.
"What more could any reasonable horse desire?"
"Sister Jerusha, it really does wear upon me to see those dear boys eat such bad pies and stuff day after day when they ought to have good wholesome things for lunch. I actually ache to go and give each one of 'em a nice piece of bread-and-butter or one of our big cookies," said kind Miss Mehitable Plummer, taking up her knitting after a long look at the swarm of boys pouring out of the grammar school opposite, to lark about the yard, sit on the posts, or dive into a dingy little shop close by, where piles of greasy tarts and cakes lay in the window. They would not have allured any but hungry school-boys, and ought to have been labelled Dyspepsia and Headache, so unwholesome were they.
Miss Jerusha looked up from her seventeenth patchwork quilt, and answered, with a sympathetic glance over the way,—
"If we had enough to go round I'd do it myself, and save these poor deluded dears from the bilious turns that will surely take them down before vacation comes. That fat boy is as yellow as a lemon now, and no wonder, for I've seen him eat half a dozen dreadful turnovers for one lunch."