For Boys and Girls
AUTHOR OF "THE HOOSIER SCHOOLMASTER," "THE HOOSIER SCHOOL-BOY," ETC.
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1884
Copyright, 1884, by
TROW'S PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY, NEW YORK.
The stories here reprinted include nearly all of those which I have written for children in a vein that entitles them to rank as "Queer Stories," that is, stories not entirely realistic in their setting but appealing to the fancy, which is so marked a trait of the minds of boys and girls. "Bobby and the Key-hole" appeared eight or nine years ago in St. Nicholas, and has never before been printed in book form. The others were written earlier for juvenile periodicals of wide repute in their time—periodicals that have now gone the way of almost all young people's magazines, to the land of forgetfulness. Although I recall with pleasure the fact that these little tales enjoyed a considerable popularity when they first appeared, I might just as well as not have called them "The Unlucky Stories." In two or three forms some of the stories that form this collection have appeared in book covers in years past, but always to meet with disaster that was no fault of theirs. Two little books that contained a part of the stories herein reprinted were burned up—plates, cuts and all—in the Chicago fire of 1871. Another book, with some of these stories in it, was issued by a publisher in Boston, who almost immediately failed, leaving the plates in pawn. These fell into the hands of a man who issued a surreptitious edition, and then into the possession of another, to whom at length I was forced to pay a round sum for the plates, in order to extricate my unfortunate tales from the hands of freebooters. This is therefore the first fair and square issue in book form that these stories have had. For this they have been revised by the author, and printed from plates wholly new by the liberality of the present publisher.
Owls' Nest, Lake George, 1884.
QUEER STORIES. PAGE
Bobby and the Key-hole, a Hoosier Fairy Tale, 3
Mr. Blake's Walking-stick, 23
The Chairs in Council, 60
What the Tea-kettle Said, 67
Crooked Jack, 72
The Funny Little Old Woman, 77
Widow Wiggins' Wonderful Cat, 83
CHICKEN LITTLE STORIES.
Simon and the Garuly, 91
The Joblilies, 101
The Pickaninny, 111
The Great Panjandrum Himself, 120
STORIES TOLD ON A CELLAR-DOOR.
The Story of a Flutter-wheel, 137
The Wood-chopper's Children, 143
The Bound Boy, 149
The Profligate Prince, 155
The Young Soap-boiler, 160
The Shoemaker's Secret, 168
Flat Tail the Beaver, 177
The Mocking-bird's Singing-school, 181
The Bobolink and the Owl, 185
BOBBY AND THE KEY-HOLE.
A Hoosier Fairy Tale.
You think that folks in fine clothes are the only folks that ever see fairies, and that poor folks can't afford them. But in the days of the real old-fashioned "Green Jacket and White Owl's Feather" fairies, it was the poor boy carrying fagots to the cabin of his widowed mother who saw wonders of all sorts wrought by the little people; and it was the poor girl who had a fairy godmother. It must be confessed that the mystery-working, dewdrop-dancing, wand-waving, pumpkin-metamorphosing little rascals have been spoiled of late years by being admitted into fine houses. Having their pictures painted by artists, their praises sung by poets, their adventures told in gilt-edge books, and, above all, getting into the delicious leaves of St. Nicholas, has made them "stuck up," so that it is not the poor girl in the cinders, nor the boy with a bundle of fagots now, but girls who wear button boots and tie-back skirts, and boys with fancy waists and striped stockings that are befriended by fairies, whom they do not need.
But away off from the cities there still lives a race of unflattered fairies who are not snobbish, and who love little girls and boys in pinafores and ragged jackets. These spirits are not very handsome, and so the artists do not draw their pictures, and they do not get into gilt-edge Christmas books. Dear, ugly, good fairies! I hope they will not be spoiled by my telling you something about them.
Little Bobby Towpate saw some of them; and it's about Bobby, and the fairies he saw, that I want to speak. Bobby was the thirteenth child in a rather large family—there were three younger than he. He lived in a log cabin on the banks of a stream, the right name of which is "Indian Kentucky Creek." I suppose it was named "Indian Kentucky" because it is not in Kentucky, but in Indiana; and as for Indians, they have been gone many a day. The people always call it "The Injun Kaintuck." They tuck up the name to make it shorter.
Bobby was only four years and three-quarters old, but he had been in pantaloons for three years and a half, for the people in the Indian Kaintuck put their little boys into breeches as soon as they can walk—perhaps a little before. And such breeches! The little white-headed fellows look like dwarf grandfathers, thirteen hundred years of age. They go toddling about like old men who have grown little again, and forgotten everything they ever knew.
But Bobby Towpate was not ugly. Under his white hair, which "looked every way for Sunday," were blue eyes and ruddy cheeks, and a mouth as pretty as it was solemn. The comical little fellow wore an unbleached cotton shirt, and tattered pantaloons, with home-made suspenders or "gallowses." The pantaloons had always been old, I think, for they were made out of a pair of his father's—his "daddy's," as he would have told you—and nobody ever knew his father to have a new pair, so they must have been old from the beginning. For in the Indian Kaintuck country nothing ever seems to be new. Bobby Towpate himself was born looking about a thousand years old, and had aged some centuries already. As for hat, he wore one of his daddy's old hats when he wore any, and it would have answered well for an umbrella if it had not been ragged.
Bobby's play-ground was anywhere along the creek in the woods. There were so many children that there was nobody to look after him; so he just kept a careful eye on himself, and that made it all right. As he was not a very energetic child, there was no danger of his running into mischief. Indeed, he never ran at all. He was given to sitting down on the ground and listening to the crazy singing of the loons—birds whose favorite amusement consists in trying to see which can make the most hideous noise. Then, too, he would watch the stake-drivers flying along the creek, with their long, ugly necks sticking out in front of them, and their long, ugly legs sticking out behind them, and their long, ugly wings sticking out on each side of them. They never seemed to have any bodies at all. People call them stake-drivers because their musical voices sound like the driving of a stake: "Ke-whack! ke-whack!" They also call them "Fly-up-the-creeks," and plenty of ugly names besides.
It was one sleepy summer afternoon that Bobby sat on the root of a beech-tree, watching a stake-driver who stood in the water as if looking for his dinner of tadpoles, when what should the homely bird do but walk right out on the land and up to Bobby. Bobby then saw that it was not a stake-driver, but a long-legged, long-necked, short-bodied gentleman, in a black bob-tail coat. And yet his long, straight nose did look like a stake-driver's beak, to be sure. He was one of the stake-driver fairies, who live in the dark and lonesome places along the creeks in the Hoosier country. They make the noise that you hear, "Ke-whack! ke-whack!" It may be the driving of stakes for the protection of the nests of their friends the cat-fish.
"Good-morning, Bobby, ke-whack!" said the long, slim gentleman, nodding his head. He said ke-whack after his words because that is the polite thing to do among the stake-driver fairies.
"My name haint Bobby Ke-whack, nur nothin'," answered Bobby. The people on Indian Kaintuck say "nor nothin'," without meaning anything by it. "My name haint on'y jeth Bob, an' nothin' elth."
But the slender Mr. Fly-up-the-creek only nodded and said ke-whack two or three times, by way of clearing his throat.
"Maybe you'd like to see the folks underground, ke-whack," he added presently. "If you would, I can show you the door and how to unlock it. It's right under the next cliff, ke-whack! If you get the door open, you may go in and find the Sleepy-headed People, the Invisible People, and all the rest, ke-whack!"
"Ke-whack!" said Bob, mimicking, and grinning till he showed his row of white milk-teeth. But the gentleman stake-driver must have been offended, for he walked away into the water and disappeared among the willows, saying, "Ke-whack! ke-whack!" in an indignant way at every step.
When once the stake-driver fairy had gone, Bob was troubled. He was lonesome. He had always been lonesome, because the family was so large. There is never any company for a body where there are so many. Now Bob wished that "Ole Ke-whack," as he called him, had not walked off into the willows in such a huff. He would like to see who lived under the ground, you know. After a while, he thought he would go and look for the door under the cliff. Bobby called it "clift," after the manner of the people on the Indian Kaintuck.
Once under the cliff, he was a long time searching around for a door. At last he found a something that looked like a door in the rock. He looked to see if there was a latch-string, for the houses in the Indian Kaintuck are opened with latch-strings. But he could not find one. Then he said to himself (for Bobby, being a lonesome boy, talked to himself a great deal) words like these:
"Ole Ke-whack thed he knowed wharabout the key mout be. The time I went down to Madison, to market with mammy, I theed a feller dretht up to kill come along and open hith door with a iron thing. That mout be a key. Wonder ef I can't find it mythelf! There, I come acrost the hole what it goeth into."
He had no trouble in "coming acrost" the key itself, for he found it lying on the ground. He took it up, looked at it curiously, and said: "Thith thing muth be a key." So he tried to put it into the key-hole, but an unexpected difficulty met him. Every time he tried to put in the key, the key-hole, which before was in easy reach, ran up so far that he could not get to it. He picked up some loose stones and piled them up against the door, and stood on them on his tiptoes, but still the key-hole shot up out of his reach. At last he got down exhausted, and sat down on the pile of stones he had made, with his back to the door. On looking round, he saw that the key-hole was back in its old place, and within a few inches of his head. He turned round suddenly and made a dive at it, with the key held in both hands, but the key-hole shot up like a rocket, until it was just out of his reach.
After trying to trap this key-hole in every way he could, he sat down on a stone and looked at it a minute, and then said very slowly: "Well, I never! That beats me all holler! What a funny thing a key-hole muth be."
At last he noticed another key-hole in the rock, not far away, and concluded to try the key in that. The key went in without trouble, and Bob turned it round several times, until the iron key had turned to brass in his hands.
"The blamed thing ith turnin' yaller!" cried little Towpate. You must excuse Bob's language. You might have talked in the same way if you had been so lucky as to be born on the Indian Kaintuck.
Seeing that he could not open anything by turning the key round in this key-hole, since there was no door here, he thought he would now try what luck he might have with the "yaller" key in opening the door. The key-hole might admit a brass key. But what was his amazement to find on trying, that the key-hole which had run upward from an iron key, now ran down toward the bottom of the door. He pulled away the stones and stooped down till his head was near the ground, but the key-hole disappeared off the bottom of the door. When he gave up the chase it returned as before. Bobby worked himself into a great heat trying to catch it, but it was of no use.
Then he sat down again and stared at the door, and again he said slowly: "Well, I never, in all my born'd days! That beats me all holler! What a thing a keyhole ith! But that feller in town didn't have no trouble."
After thinking a while he looked at the key, and came to the conclusion that, as the key-hole went up from an iron key, and down from a brass one, that if he had one half-way between, he should have no trouble. "Thith key ith too awful yaller," he said. "I'll put it back and turn it half-way back, and then we'll thee."
So he stuck it into the key-hole and tried to turn it in the opposite direction to the way he had turned it before. But it would not turn to the left at all. So he let go and stood off looking at it a while, when, to his surprise, the key began turning to the right of its own accord. And as it turned it grew whiter, until it was a key of pure silver.
"Purty good for you, ole hoss," said Bob, as he pulled out the bright silver key. "We'll thee if you're any better'n the black one and the yaller one."
But neither would the silver one open the door; for the key-hole was as much afraid of it as of the brass one and the iron one. Only now it neither went up nor down, but first toward one side of the door and then toward the other, according to the way in which the key approached it. Bobby, after a while, went at it straight from the front, whereupon the key-hole divided into two parts—the one half running off the door to the right, the other to the left.
"Well, that'th ahead of my time," said Bob. But he was by this time so much amused by the changes in the key and the antics of the nimble key-hole, that he did not care much whether the door opened or not. He waited until he had seen the truant key-hole take its place again, and then he took the silver key back to the other key-hole. As soon as he approached it the key leaped out of his hand, took its place in the key-hole, and began to turn swiftly round. When it stopped the silver had become gold.
"Yaller again, by hokey," said Bob. And he took the gold key and went back, wondering what the key-hole would do now. But there was now no key-hole. It had disappeared entirely.
Bob stood off and looked at the place where it had been, let his jaw drop a little in surprise and disappointment, and came out slowly with this: "Well, I never, in all my born'd days!"
He thought best now to take the key back and have it changed once more. But the other key-hole was gone too. Not knowing what to do, he returned to the door and put the key up where the nimble key-hole had been, whereupon it reappeared, the gold key inserted itself, and the door opened of its own accord.
Bob eagerly tried to enter, but there stood somebody in the door, blocking the passage.
"Hello!" said Bob. "You here, Ole Ke-whack? How did you get in? By the back door, I 'low."
"Put my yellow waistcoat back where you got it, ke-whack!" said the stake-driver, shivering. "It's cold in here, and how shall I go to the party without it, ke-whack!"
"Your yaller wescut?" said Bob. "I haint got no wescut, ke-whack or no ke-whack."
"You must put that away!" said the fly-up-the-creek, pecking his long nose at the gold key. "Ke-whack! ke-whack!"
"Oh!" said Towpate, "why didn't you say so?" Then he tossed the gold key down on the ground, where he had found the iron one, but the key stood straight up, waving itself to and fro, while Bobby came out with his drawling: "Well, I never!"
"Pick it up! Pick it up! Ke-whack! You've pitched my yellow waistcoat into the dirt, ke-whack, ke-whack!"
"Oh! You call that a wescut, do you. Well, I never!" And Bobby picked up the key, and since he could think of no place else to put it, he put it into the key-hole, upon which it unwound itself to the left till it was silver. Bobby, seeing that the key had ceased to move, pulled it out and turned toward the open door to see the stake-driver wearing a yellow vest, which he was examining with care, saying, "Ke-whack, ke-whack," as he did so. "I knew you'd get spots on it, ke-whack, throwing it on the ground that way."
Poor Bobby was too much mystified by this confusion between the gold key and the yellow vest, or "wescut," as they call it on the Indian Kaintuck, to say anything.
"Now, my white coat, put that back, ke-whack," said the fly-up-the-creek fairy. "I can't go to the party in my shirt sleeves, ke-whack."
"I haint got your coat, Ole Daddy Longlegs," said Bobby, "'less you mean this key."
On this suspicion he put the key back, upon which it again unwound itself to the left and became brass. As soon as Bobby had pulled out the brass key and turned round, he saw that the fairy was clad in a white coat, which, with his stunning yellow vest, made him cut quite a figure.
"Now, my yellow cap," said the stake-driver, adding a cheerful ke-whack or two, and Bobby guessed that he was to put the brass key in the key-hole, whereupon it was immediately turned round by some unseen power until it became iron, and then thrown out on the ground where Bobby Towpate had found it at first. Sure enough, the fairy now wore a yellow cap, and, quick as thought, he stepped out to where the key was lying, and struck it twice with his nose, whereupon it changed to a pair of three-toed boots, which he quickly drew on. Then he turned and bowed to Bobby, and said:
"Ke-whack! You've ironed my coat and vest, and brushed my cap and blacked my boots. Good-day, ke-whack, I'm going to the party. You can go in if you want to."
Bobby stood for some time, looking after him as he flew away along the creek, crying "ke-whack, ke-whack, ke-whack!" And Bobby said once again: "Well, I never, in all my born'd days," and then added, "Haint Daddy Longlegs peart? Thinks he's some in his yaller wescut, I 'low."
When once the fly-up-the-creek had gone out of sight and out of hearing, Bobby started on his search for the Sleepy-headed People. He travelled along a sort of underground gallery or cave, until he came to a round basin-like place. Here he found people who looked like fat little boys and girls, rather than men and women. They were lolling round in a ring, while one of the number read drowsily from a big book which was lying on a bowlder in the middle of this Sleepy-hollow. All seemed to be looking and listening intently. But as soon as those who sat facing Bobby caught sight of him, they gave a long yawn and fell into a deep sleep. One after another they looked at him, and one after another the little round, lazy fellows gaped, until it seemed their heads would split open, then fell over and slept soundly, snoring like little pigs. Bobby stood still with astonishment. He did not even find breath to say, "Well, I never!" For presently every one of the listeners had gone off to sleep. The reader, whose back was toward the new-comer, did not see him. He was the only one left awake, and Bobby looked to see him drop over at any moment. But the little fat man read right along in a drawling, sleepy mumble, something about the Athenians until Bob cried out: "Hello, Ole Puddin'-bag, everybody'th gone to thleep; you'd jeth as well hole up yer readin' a while."
The little man rolled his eyes round upon Bob, and said: "Oh, my! I'm gone off again!" And then he stretched his fat cheeks in an awful yawn.
"Hey! You'll never get that mouth of your'n shet, ef you don't be mighty keerful," cried Bob; but the fellow was fast asleep before he could get the words out.
"Well now, that'th a purty lookin' crowd, haint it?" said Bob, looking round upon the sleepers.
Just at that moment they began to wake up, one after another, but as soon as they saw Bob, they sighed and said: "He's so curious," or, "He's so interesting," or something of the sort, and fell away into a deep slumber again. At last Bob undertook to wake some of them up by hallooing, but the more noise he made, the more soundly they slept. Then he gave over shaking them and shouting at them, and sat down. As soon as he was quiet they began to wake up again.
"Hello!" cried Bob, when he saw two or three of them open their eyes.
"If you'd only keep still till I get awake," said one of them, and then they all went to sleep again.
By keeping quite still he got them pretty well waked up. Then they all fell to counting their toes, to keep from becoming too much interested in Bobby, for just so sure as they get interested or excited, the Sleepy-headed People fall asleep. Presently the reader awoke, and began to mumble a lot of stuff out of the big book, about Epaminondas, and Sesostris, and Cyaxeres, and Clearchus, and the rest, and they all grew a little more wakeful. When he came to an account of a battle, Bobby began to be interested a little in the story, but all the others yawned and cried out, "Read across, read across!" and the reader straightway read clear across the page, mixing the two columns into hopeless nonsense, so as to destroy the interest. Then they all waked up again.
"I know a better thtory than that air!" said Bobby, growing tired of the long mumbling reading of the dull book.
"Do you? Tell it," said the reader.
So Bobby began to tell them some of his adventures, upon which they all grew interested and fell asleep.
"Don't tell any more like that," said the little reader, when he awoke.
"What'th the matter weth it? Heap better thtory than that big book that you're a mumblin' over, Mr. Puddin'."
"We don't like interesting stories," said the sleepy reader. "They put us to sleep. This is the best book in the world. It's Rollin's Ancient History, and it hasn't got but a few interesting spots in the whole of it. Those we keep sewed up, so that we can't read them. The rest is all so nice and dull, that it keeps us awake all day."
Bobby stared, but said nothing.
"Can you sing?" said one of the plump little old women.
"Yeth, I can sing Dandy Jim."
"Let's have it. I do love singing; it soothes me and keeps me awake."
Thus entreated, little Bobby stood up and sang one verse of a negro song he had heard, which ran:
"When de preacher took his tex' He look so berry much perplex' Fur nothin' come acrost his mine But Dandy Jim from Caroline!"
Bobby shut his eyes tight, and threw his head back and sang through his nose, as he had seen big folks do. He put the whole of his little soul into these impressive words. When he had finished and opened his eyes to discover what effect his vocal exertions had produced, his audience was of course fast asleep.
"Well, I never!" said Bob.
"The tune's too awful lively," said the little old woman, when she woke up. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Now, hear me sing." And she began, in a slow, solemn movement, the most drawling tune you ever heard, and they all joined in the same fashion:
"Poor old Pidy, She died last Friday: Poor old creetur, The turkey-buzzards——"
But before they could finish the line, while they were yet hanging to the tails of the turkey-buzzards, so to speak, Bobby burst out with:
"La! that'th the toon the old cow died on. I wouldn't thing that."
"You wouldn't, hey?" said the woman, getting angry.
"No, I wouldn't, little dumplin'."
Whereupon the little woman got so furious that she Went fast asleep, and the reader, growing interested and falling into a doze, tumbled off his chair on his head, but as his head was quite soft and puttyish, it did him no particular harm, except that the fall made him sleep more soundly than ever.
When they had waked up again, Bobby thought it time to move on, but as soon as he offered to move, the Sleepy-heads surrounded him and began to sing a drawling song, which made Bobby sleepy. He soon found that they meant to make him one of themselves, and this was not at all to his taste. He struggled to get away, but something held him about the feet. What should he do?
Suddenly a bright thought came to his relief. The Sleepy-heads were now all standing in a ring around him. He began to tell a story at the top of his voice:
"My gran'pappy, he fit weth a red Injun. An' the Injun he chopped my gran'pappy's finger off weth his tomahawk, and——"
But at this point all the little people got intensely excited over Bobby's gran'pappy's fight, and so, of course, fell asleep and fell forward into a pile on top of Bobby, who had an awful time getting out from under the heap. Just as he emerged, the people began to wake up and to lay hold of his feet, but Bobby screamed out:
"And my gran'pappy, he up weth his hatchet and he split the nasty ole red Injun's head open——"
They were all fast asleep again.
Bobby now ran off toward the door, not caring to go any further underground at present, though he knew there were other wonders beyond. He reached the door at last, but it was closed. There was no key-hole even.
After looking around a long time he found the Fly-up-the-creek fairy, not far from the door, sitting by a fire, with a large, old owl sitting over against him.
"Give me the key to the door, Ole Ke-whack!" said Bobby.
"Oh, no! I will not give you my clothes, ke-whack! Do you think I would give you my party clothes? If you hadn't sung so loud, the door wouldn't have shut. You scared it. Now I can't give you my fine clothes, and so you'll have to stay here, ke-whack!"
Poor Bobby sat down by the fire, not knowing what to do. "I don't want to stay here, Ke-whack!" he whimpered.
"Tell him about the Sleepy-headed People," said the owl to Bobby, solemnly.
"Shut up, old man, or I'll bite your head off!" said the Fly-up-the creek to the owl.
"Do as I say," said the owl. "If you stay here, you'll turn to an owl or a bat. Be quick. The Sleepy-heads are his cousins—he doesn't like to hear about them."
"Don't mind a word the old man says, ke-whack!"
"Give me the key, then," said Bobby.
"Do as I say," said the owl.
The Fly-up-the-creek uttered an angry "ke-whack" and tried to bite off the owl's head, but the "old man" hopped out of his way. Bobby began to tell the story of his adventures among the Sleepy-heads, and the stake-driver kept crying, "Ke-whack! ke-whack!" to drown his words; but as Bobby's shrill voice rose higher the stake-driver's voice became weaker and weaker. Bobby was so amazed that he stopped.
"Go on!" groaned the owl, "or you'll never get out, or I either."
So Bobby kept up his talk until the stake-driver was lying senseless on the floor.
"Put the key in the lock, quick," cried the owl.
"Where is the key?"
"His fine clothes. Take them off, quick! Cap first!"
Bobby began with the cap, then stripped off the coat and vest and boots.
"Put them in the keyhole, quick!" said the owl, for the stake-driver was reviving.
"Where is the key-hole?"
"There! there!" cried the owl, pointing to the fire. By this time the Fly-up-the-creek had already begun to reach out for his clothes, which Bobby hastily threw into the fire. The fire went out, the great door near by swung open, and the big-eyed owl, followed by Bobby, walked out, saying, "I'm free at last."
Somehow, in the daylight, he was not any longer an owl, but an old man in gray clothes, who hobbled off down the road.
And Bobby looked after him until he saw the stake-driver, shorn of his fine clothes, sweep over his head and go flying up the creek again. Then he turned toward his father's cabin, saying:
"Well, I never! Ef that haint the beatinest thing I ever did see in all my born'd days."
And I think it was.
MR. BLAKE'S WALKING-STICK.
THE WALKING-STICK WALKS.
Some men carry canes. Some men make the canes carry them. I never could tell just what Mr. Blake carried his cane for. I am sure it did not often feel his weight. For he was neither old, nor rich, nor lazy.
He was a tall, straight man, who walked as if he loved to walk, with a cheerful tread that was good to see. I am sure he didn't carry the cane for show. It was not one of those little sickly yellow things, that some men nurse as tenderly as they might a lapdog. It was a great black stick of solid ebony, with a box-wood head, and I think Mr. Blake carried it for company. And it had a face, like that of an old man, carved on one side of the box-wood head. Mr. Blake kept it ringing in a hearty way upon the pavement as he walked, and the boys would look up from their marbles when they heard it, and say: "There comes Mr. Blake, the minister!" And I think that nearly every invalid and poor person in Thornton knew the cheerful voice of the minister's stout ebony stick.
It was a clear, crisp, sunshiny morning in December. The leaves were all gone, and the long lines of white frame houses that were hid away in the thick trees during the summer, showed themselves standing in straight rows now that the trees were bare. And Purser, Pond & Co.'s great factory on the brook in the valley below was plainly to be seen, with its long rows of windows shining and shimmering in the brilliant sun, and its brick chimney reached up like the Tower of Babel, and poured out a steady stream of dense, black smoke.
It was just such a shining winter morning. Mr. Blake and his walking-stick were just starting out for a walk together. "It's a fine morning," thought the minister, as he shut the parsonage gate. And when he struck the cane sharply on the stones it answered him cheerily: "It's a fine morning!" The cane always agreed with Mr. Blake. So they were able to walk together, according to Scripture, because they were agreed.
Just as he came round the corner the minister found a party of boys waiting for him. They had already heard the cane remarking that it was a fine morning before Mr. Blake came in sight.
"Good-morning! Mr. Blake," said the three boys.
"Good-morning, my boys; I'm glad to see you," said the minister, and he clapped "Old Ebony" down on the sidewalk, and it said "I am glad to see you."
"Mr. Blake!" said Fred White, scratching his brown head and looking a little puzzled. "Mr. Blake, if it ain't any harm—if you don't mind, you know, telling a fellow,—a boy, I mean——" Just here he stopped talking; for though he kept on scratching vigorously, no more words would come; and comical Sammy Bantam, who stood alongside, whispered, "Keep a-scratching, Fred; the old cow will give down after a while!"
Then Fred laughed, and the other boys, and the minister laughed, and the cane could do nothing but stamp its foot in amusement.
"Well, Fred," said the minister, "what is it? Speak out." But Fred couldn't speak now for laughing, and Sammy had to do the talking himself. He was a stumpy boy, who had stopped off short; and you couldn't guess his age, because his face was so much older than his body.
"You see, Mr. Blake," said Sammy, "we boys wanted to know—if there wasn't any harm in your telling—why, we wanted to know what kind of a thing we are going to have on Christmas at our Sunday-school."
"Well, boys, I don't know any more about it yet than you do. The teachers will talk it over at their next meeting. They have already settled some things, but I have not heard what."
"I hope it will be something good to eat," said Tommy Puffer. Tommy's body looked for all the world like a pudding-bag. It was an india-rubber pudding-bag, though. I shouldn't like to say that Tommy was a glutton. But I am sure that no boy of his age could put out of sight, in the same space of time, so many dough-nuts, ginger-snaps, tea-cakes, apple-dumplings, pumpkin-pies, jelly-tarts, puddings, ice-creams, raisins, nuts, and other things of the sort. Other people stared at him in wonder. He was never too full to take anything that was offered him, and at parties his weak and foolish mother was always getting all she could to stuff Tommy with. So when Tommy said he hoped it would be something nice to eat, and rolled his soft lips about, as though he had a cream-tart in his mouth, all the boys laughed, and Mr. Blake smiled. I think even the cane would have smiled if it had thought it polite.
"I hope it'll be something pleasant," said Fred Welch.
"So do I," said stumpy little Tommy Bantam.
"So do I, boys," said Mr. Blake, as he turned away; and all the way down the block Old Ebony kept calling back, "So do I, boys! so do I!"
Mr. Blake and his friend the cane kept on down the street, until they stood in front of a building that was called "The Yellow Row." It was a long, two-story frame building, that had once been inhabited by genteel people. Why they ever built it in that shape, or why they daubed it with yellow paint, is more than I can tell. But it had gone out of fashion, and now it was, as the boys expressed it, "seedy." Old hats and old clothes filled many of the places once filled by glass. Into one room of this row Mr. Blake entered, saying:
"How are you, Aunt Parm'ly?"
"Howd'y, Mr. Blake, howd'y! I know'd you was a-comin', honey, fer I hyeard the sound of yer cane afore you come in. I'm mis'able these yer days, thank you. I'se got a headache, an' a backache, and a toothache in de boot."
I suppose the poor old colored woman meant to say that she had a toothache "to boot."
"You see, Mr. Blake, Jane's got a little sumpin to do now, and we can git bread enough, thank the Lord, but as fer coal, that's the hardest of all. We has to buy it by the bucketful, and that's mighty high at fifteen cents a bucket. An' pears like we couldn't never git nothin' ahead on account of my roomatiz. Where de coal's to come from dis ere winter I don't know, cep de good Lord sends it down out of the sky; and I reckon stone-coal don't never come dat dar road."
After some more talk, Mr. Blake went in to see Peter Sitles, the blind broom-maker.
"I hyeard yer stick, preacher Blake," said Sitles. "That air stick o' yourn's better'n a whole rigimint of doctors fer the blues. An' I've been a-havin' on the blues powerful bad, Mr. Blake, these yer last few days. I remembered what you was a-saying the last time you was here, about trustin' of the good Lord. But I've had a purty consid'able heartache under my jacket fer all that. Now, there's that Ben of mine," and here Sitles pointed to a restless little fellow of nine years old, whose pants had been patched and pieced until they had more colors than Joseph's coat. He was barefoot, ragged, and looked hungry, as some poor children always do. Their minds seem hungrier than their bodies. He was rocking a baby in an old cradle. "There's Ben," continued the blind man, "he's as peart a boy as you ever see, preacher Blake, ef I do say it as hadn't orter say it. Bennie hain't got no clothes. I can't beg. But Ben orter be in school." Here Peter Sitles choked a little.
"How's broom-making Peter?" said the minister.
"Well, you see, it's the machines as is a-spoiling us. The machines makes brooms cheap, and what can a blind feller like me do agin the machines with nothing but my fingers? 'Tain't no sort o' use to butt my head agin the machines, when I ain't got no eyes nother. It's like a goat trying it on a locomotive. Ef I could only eddicate Peter and the other two, I'd be satisfied. You see, I never had no book-larnin' myself, and I can't talk proper no more'n a cow can climb a tree."
"But, Mr. Sitles, how much would a broom-machine cost you?" asked the minister.
"More'n it's any use to think on. It'll cost seventy dollars, and if it cost seventy cents 'twould be jest exactly seventy cents more'n I could afford to pay. For the money my ole woman gits fer washin' don't go noways at all towards feedin' the four children, let alone buying me a machine."
The minister looked at his cane, but it did not answer him. Something must be done. The minister was sure of that. Perhaps the walking-stick was, too. But what?
That was the question.
The minister told Sitles good-by, and started to make other visits. And on the way the cane kept crying out, "Something must be done—something MUST be done—something MUST be done," making the must ring out sharper every time. When Mr. Blake and the walking-stick got to the market-house, just as they turned off from Milk Street into the busier Main Street, the cane changed its tune and begun to say, "But what—but what—but WHAT—but WHAT," until it said it so sharply that the minister's head ached, and he put Old Ebony under his arm, so that it couldn't talk any more. It was a way he had of hushing it up when he wanted to think.
"De biskits is cold, and de steaks is cold as—as—ice, and dinner's spiled!" said Curlypate, a girl about three years old, as Mr. Blake came in from his forenoon of visiting. She tried to look very much vexed and "put out," but there was always either a smile or a cry hidden away in her dimpled cheek.
"Pshaw! Curlypate," said Mr. Blake as he put down his cane, "you don't scold worth a cent!" And he lifted her up and kissed her.
And then Mamma Blake smiled, and they all sat down to the table. While they ate, Mr. Blake told about his morning visits, and spoke of Parm'ly without coal, and Peter Sitles with no broom-machine, and described little Ben Sitles' hungry face, and told how he had visited the widow Martin, who had no sewing-machine, and who had to receive help from the overseer of the poor. The overseer told her that she must bind out her daughter, twelve years old, and her boy of ten, if she expected to have any help; and the mother's heart was just about broken at the thought of losing her children.
Now, while all this was taking place, Willie Blake, the minister's son, a boy about thirteen years of age, sat by the big porcelain water-pitcher, listening to all that was said. His deep blue eyes looked past the pitcher at his father, then at his mother, taking in all their descriptions of poverty with a wondrous pitifulness. But he did not say much. What went on in his long head I do not know, for his was one of those heads that projected forward and backward, and the top of which overhung the base, for all the world like a load of hay. Now and then his mother looked at him, as if she would like to see through and read his thoughts. But I think she didn't see anything but the straight, silken, fine, flossy hair, silvery white, touched a little bit—only a little—as he turned it in looking from one to the other, with a tinge of what people call a golden, but what is really a sort of a pleasant straw color. He usually talked, and asked questions, and laughed like other boys; but now he seemed to be swallowing the words of his father and mother more rapidly even than he did his dinner; for, like most boys, he ate as if it were a great waste of time to eat. But when he was done he did not hurry off as eagerly as usual to reading or to play. He sat and listened.
"What makes you look so sober, Willie?" asked Helen, his sister.
"What you thinkin', Willie?" said Curlypate, peering through the pitcher handle at him.
"Willie," broke in his father, "mamma and I are going to a wedding out at Sugar Hill——"
"Sugar Hill; O my!" broke in Curlypate.
"Out at Sugar Hill," continued Mr. Blake, stroking the Curlypate, "and as I have some calls to make, we shall not be back till bedtime. I am sorry to keep you from your play this Saturday afternoon, but we have no other housekeeper but you and Helen. See that the children get their suppers early, and be careful about fire."
I believe to "be careful about fire" is the last command that every parent gives to children on leaving them alone.
Now I know that people who write stories are very careful nowadays not to make their boys too good. I suppose that I ought to represent Willie as "taking on" a good deal when he found that he couldn't play all Saturday afternoon, as he had expected. But I shall not. For one thing, at least, in my story, is true; that is, Willie. If I tell you that he is good you may believe it. I have seen him.
He only said, "Yes, sir."
Mrs. Blake did not keep a girl. The minister did not get a small fortune of a salary. So it happened that Willie knew pretty well how to keep house. He was a good brave boy, never ashamed to help his mother in a right manly way. He could wash dishes and milk the cow, and often, when mamma had a sick-headache, had he gotten a good breakfast, never forgetting tea and toast for the invalid.
So Sancho, the Canadian pony, was harnessed to the minister's rusty buggy, and Mr. and Mrs. Blake got in and told the children good-by. Then Sancho started off, and had gone about ten steps, when he was suddenly reined up with a "Whoa!"
"Willie!" said Mr. Blake.
"Be careful about fire."
And then old blackey-brown Sancho moved on in a gentle trot, and Willie and Helen and Richard went into the house, where Curlypate had already gone, and where they found her on tiptoe, with her short little fingers in the sugar-bowl, trying in vain to find a lump that would not go to pieces in the vigorous squeeze that she gave in her desire to make sure of it.
So Willie washed the dishes, while Helen wiped them, and Richard put them away, and they had a merry time, though Willie had to soothe several rising disputes between Helen and Richard. Then a glorious lot of wood was gotten in, and Helen came near sweeping a hole in the carpet in her eager desire to "surprise mamma." Curlypate went in the parlor and piled things up in a wonderful way, declaring that she, too, was going to "susprise mamma." And doubtless mamma would have felt no little surprise if she could have seen the parlor after Curlypate "put it to rights."
Later in the evening the cow was milked, and a plain supper of bread and milk eaten. Then Richard and Curlypate were put away for the night. And presently Helen, who was bravely determined to keep Willie company, found her head trying to drop off her shoulders, and so she had to give up to the "sand man," and go to bed.
THE WALKING-STICK A TALKING STICK.
Willie was now all by himself. He put on more wood, and drew the rocking-chair up by the fire, and lay back in it. It was very still; he could hear every mouse that moved. The stillness seemed to settle clear down to his heart. Presently a wagon went clattering by. Then, as the sound died away in the distance, it seemed stiller than ever. Willie tried to sleep; but he couldn't. He kept listening; and after all he was listening to nothing; nothing but that awful clock, that would keep up such a tick-tick, tick-tick, tick-tick. The curtains were down, and Willie didn't dare to raise them, or to peep out. He could feel how dark it was out doors.
But presently he forgot the stillness. He fell to thinking of what his father had said at dinner. He thought of poor old rheumatic Parm'ly, and her single bucket of coal at a time. He thought of the blind broom-maker who needed a broom-machine, and of the poor widow whose children must be taken away because the mother had no sewing-machine. All of these thoughts made the night seem dark, and they made Willie's heart heavy. But the thoughts kept him company.
Then he wished he was rich, and he thought if he were as rich as Captain Purser, who owned the mill, he would give away sewing-machines to all poor widows who needed them. But pshaw! what was the use of wishing? His threadbare pantaloons told him how far off he was from being rich.
But he would go to the Polytechnic; he would become a civil engineer. He would make a fortune some day when he became celebrated. Then he would give Widow Martin a sewing-machine. This was the nice castle in the air that Willie built. But just as he put on the last stone a single thought knocked it down.
What would become of the widow and her children while he was learning to be an engineer and making a fortune afterward? And where would he get the money to go to the Polytechnic? This last question Willie had asked every day for a year or two past.
Unable to solve this problem, his head grew tired, and he lay down on the lounge, saying to himself, "Something must be done!"
"Something must be done!" Willie was sure somebody spoke. He looked around. There was nobody in the room.
"Something must be done!" This time he saw in the corner of the room, barely visible in the shadow, his father's cane. The voice seemed to come from that corner.
"Something MUST be done!" Yes, it was the cane. He could see its head, and the face on one side was toward him. How bright its eyes were! It did not occur to Willie just then that there was anything surprising in the fact that the walking-stick had all at once become a talking stick.
"Something MUST be done!" said the cane, lifting its one foot up and bringing it down with emphasis at the word must. Willie felt pleased that the little old man—I mean the walking-stick—should come to his help.
"I tell you what," said Old Ebony, hopping out of his shady corner; "I tell you what," it said, and then stopped as if to reflect; then finished by saying, "It's a shame!"
Willie was about to ask the cane to what he referred, but he thought best to wait till Old Ebony got ready to tell of his own accord. But the walking-stick did not think best to answer immediately, but took entirely a new and surprising track. It actually went to quoting Scripture!
"My eyes are dim," said the cane, "and I never had much learning; canes weren't sent to school when I was young. Won't you read the thirty-fifth verse of the twentieth chapter of Acts."
Willie turned to the stand and saw the Bible open at that verse. He did not feel surprised. It seemed natural enough to him. He read the verse, not aloud, but to himself, for Old Ebony seemed to hear his thoughts. He read:
"Ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."
"Now," said the walking-stick, stepping or hopping up toward the lounge and leaning thoughtfully over the head of it, "Now, I say that it is a shame that when the birthday of that Lord Jesus, who said it is more blessed to give than to receive, comes round, all of you Sunday-school scholars are thinking only of what you are going to get."
Willie was about to say that they gave as well as received on Christmas, and that his class had already raised the money to buy a Bible Dictionary for their teacher. But Old Ebony seemed to guess his thought, and he only said, "And that's another shame!"
Willie couldn't see how this could be, and he thought the walking-stick was using very strong language indeed. I think myself the cane spoke too sharply, for I don't think the harm lies in giving to and receiving from our friends, but in neglecting the poor. But you don't care what I think, you want to know what the cane said.
"I'm pretty well acquainted with Scripture," said Old Ebony, "having spent fourteen years in company with a minister. Now won't you please read the twelfth and thirteenth verses of the fourteenth chapter of——"
But before the cane could finish the sentence, Willie heard some one opening the door. It was his father. He looked round in bewilderment. The oil in the lamp had burned out, and it was dark. The fire was low, and the room chilly.
"Heigh-ho, Willie, my son," said Mr. Blake, "where's your light, and where's your fire. This is a cold reception. What have you been doing?"
"Listening to the cane talk," he replied; and thinking what a foolish answer that was, he put on some more coal, while his mother, who was lighting the lamp, said he must have been dreaming. The walking-stick stood in its corner, face to the wall, as if it had never been a talking stick.
MR. BLAKE AGREES WITH THE WALKING-STICK.
Early on Sunday morning Willie awoke and began to think about Sitles, and to wish he had money to buy him a broom-machine. And then he thought of widow Martin. But all his thinking would do no good. Then he thought of what Old Ebony had said, and he wished he could know what that text was that the cane was just going to quote.
"It was," said Willie, "the twelfth and thirteenth verses of the fourteenth chapter of something. I'll see."
So he began with the beginning of the Bible, and looked first at Genesis xiv. 12, 13. But it was about the time when Abraham had heard of the capture of Lot and mustered his army to recapture him. He thought a minute.
"That can't be what it is," said Willie, "I'll look at Exodus."
In Exodus it was about standing still at the Red Sea and waiting for God's salvation. It might mean that God would deliver the poor. But that was not just what the cane was talking about. It was about giving gifts to friends. So he went on to Leviticus. But it was about the wave-offering, and the sin-offering, and the burnt-offering. That was not it, and so he went from book to book until he had reached the twelfth and thirteenth verses of the fourteenth chapter of the book of Judges. He was just reading in that place about Samson's riddle, when his mamma called him to breakfast.
He was afraid to say anything about it at the table for fear of being laughed at. But he was full of what the walking-stick said. And at family worship his father read the twentieth chapter of Acts. When he came to the part about its being more blessed to give than to receive, Willie said, "That's what the cane said."
"What did you say?" asked his father.
"I was only thinking out loud," said Willie.
"Don't think out loud while I am reading," said Mr. Blake.
Willie did not find time to look any further for the other verses. He wished his father had happened on them instead of the first text which the cane quoted.
In church he kept thinking all the time about the cane. "Now what could it mean by the twelfth and thirteenth verses of the fourteenth chapter? There isn't anything in the Bible against giving away presents to one's friends. It was only a dream anyhow, and maybe there's nothing in it."
But he forgot the services, I am sorry to say, in his thoughts. At last Mr. Blake arose to read his text. Willie looked at him, but thought of what the cane said. But what was it that attracted his attention so quickly?
"The twelfth and thirteenth verses——"
"Twelfth and thirteenth!" said Willie to himself.
"Of the fourteenth chapter," said the minister.
"Fourteenth chapter!" said Willie, almost aloud.
Willie was all ears, while Mr. Blake read: "Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind."
"That's it!" he said, half aloud, but his mother jogged him.
Willie had never listened to a sermon as he did to that. He stopped two or three times to wonder whether the cane had been actually about to repeat his father's text to him, or whether he had not heard his father repeat it at some time, and had dreamed about it.
I am not going to tell you much about Mr. Blake's sermon. It was a sermon that he and the walking-stick had prepared while they were going round among the poor. I think Mr. Blake did not strike his cane down on the sidewalk for nothing. Most of that sermon must have been hammered out in that way, when he and the walking-stick were saying, "Something must be done!" For that was just what that sermon said. It told about the wrong of forgetting, on the birthday of Christ, to do anything for the poor. It made everybody think. But Mr. Blake did not know how much of that sermon went into Willie Blake's long head, as he sat there with his white full forehead turned up to his father.
THE FATHER PREACHES AND THE SON PRACTISES.
That afternoon Willie was at Sunday-school long before the time. He had a plan.
"I'll tell you what, boys," said he, "let's not give Mr. Marble anything this year; and let's ask him not to give us anything. Let's get him to put the money he would use for us with the money we should spend on a present for him, and give it to buy coal for old Aunt Parm'ly."
"I mean to spend all my money on soft gum-drops and tarts," said Tommy Puffer; "they're splendid!" and with that he began, as usual, to roll his soft lips together in a half-chewing, half-sucking manner, as if he had a half dozen cream-tarts under his tongue, and two dozen gum-drops in his cheeks.
"Tommy," said stumpy little Sammy Bantam, "it's a good thing you didn't live in Egypt, Tommy, in the days of Joseph."
"Why?" asked Tommy.
"Because," said Sammy, looking around the room absently, as if he hardly knew what he was going to say, "because, you see"—and then he opened a book and began to read, as if he had forgotten to finish the sentence.
"Well, why?" demanded Tommy, sharply.
"Well, because if Joseph had had to feed you during the seven years of plenty, there wouldn't have been a morsel left for the years of famine!"
The boys laughed as boys will at a good shot, and Tommy reddened a little and said, regretfully, that he guessed the Egyptians hadn't any doughnuts.
Willie did not forget his main purpose, but carried the point in his own class. He still had time to speak to some of the boys and girls in other classes. Everybody liked to do what Willie asked; there was something sweet and strong in his blue eyes, eyes that "did not seem to have any bottom, they were so deep," one of the girls said. Soon there was an excitement in the school, and about the door; girls and boys talking and discussing, but as soon as any opposition came up Willie's half-coaxing but decided way bore it down. I think he was much helped by Sammy's wit, which was all on his side. It was agreed, finally, that whatever scholars meant to give to teachers, or teachers to scholars, should go to the poor.
The teachers caught the enthusiasm, and were very much in favor of the project, for in the whole movement they saw the fruit of their own teaching.
The superintendent had been detained, and was surprised to find the school standing in knots about the room. He soon called them to order, and expressed his regrets that they should get into such disorder. There was a smile on all faces, and he saw that there was something more in the apparent disorder than he thought. After school it was fixed that each class should find its own case of poverty. The young men's and the young women's Bible classes undertook to supply Sitles with a broom-machine, a class of girls took Aunt Parm'ly under their wing, other classes knew of other cases of need, and so each class had its hands full. But Willie could not get any class to see that Widow Martin had a sewing-machine. That was left for his own; and how should a class of eight boys do it?
Willie took the boys into the parsonage. They figured on it. There were sixty-five dollars to be raised to buy the machine. The seven boys were together, for Tommy Puffer had gone home. He said he didn't feel like staying, and Sammy Bantam thought he must be a little hungry.
Willie attacked the problem—sixty-five dollars. Toward that amount they had three dollars and a half that they had intended to spend on a present for Mr. Marble. That left just sixty-one dollars and fifty cents to be raised. Willie ran across the street and brought Mr. Marble. He said he had made up his mind to give the boys a book apiece, and that each book would cost a dollar. It was rather more than he could well afford; but as he had intended to give eight dollars for their presents, and as he was pleased with their unselfish behavior, he would make it ten.
"Good!" said Charley Somerset, who always saw the bright side of things, "that makes it all, except fifty-one dollars and a half."
"Yes," said Sammy Bantam, "and you're eleven feet high, lacking a couple of yards!"
Willie next called his father in, and inquired how much his Christmas present was to cost.
"Three and a half," said his father.
"That's a lot! Will you give me the money instead?"
"Yes; but I meant to give you a Life of George Stephenson, and some other books on engineering."
This made Willie think a moment; but seeing the walking-stick in the corner, he said: "Mrs. Martin must have a machine, and that three and a half makes seventeen dollars. How to get the other forty-eight is the question."
Mr. Blake and Mr. Marble both agreed that the boys could not raise so much money, and should not undertake it. But Willie said there was nobody to do it, and he guessed it would come somehow. The other boys, when they came to church that evening, told Willie that their presents were commuted for money also; so they had twenty-five dollars toward the amount. But that was the end of it, and there were forty dollars yet to come!
Willie lay awake that night, thinking. Mr. Marble's class could not raise the money. All the other classes had given all they could. And the teachers would each give in their classes. And they had raised all they could spare besides to buy nuts and candy! Good! That was just it; they would do without candy!
At school the next morning, Willie's white head was bobbing about eagerly. He made every boy and girl sign a petition, asking the Sunday-school teachers not to give them any nuts or candy. They all signed except Tommy Puffer. He said it was real mean not to have any candy. They might just as well not have any Sunday-school, or any Christmas either. But seeing a naughty twinkle in Sammy Bantam's eye, he waddled away, while Sammy fired a shot after him, by remarking that, if Tommy had been one of the shepherds in Bethlehem, he wouldn't have listened to the angels till he had inquired if they had any lemon-drops in their pockets!
That night the extra Teachers' Meeting was held, and in walked white-headed Willie with stunted Sammy Bantam at his heels to keep him in countenance. When their petition was presented, Miss Belden, who sat near Willie, said, "Well done! Willie."
"But I protest," said Mrs. Puffer—who was of about as handsome a figure as her son—"I protest against such an outrage on the children. My Tommy's been a-feeling bad about it all day. It'll break his heart if he don't get some candy."
Willie was shy, but for a moment he forgot it, and, turning his intelligent blue eyes on Mrs. Puffer, he said—
"It will break Mrs. Martin's heart if her children are taken away from her."
"Well," said Mrs. Puffer, "I always did hear that the preacher's boy was the worst in the parish, and I won't take any impudence. My son will join the Mission School, where they aren't too stingy to give him a bit of candy!" And Mrs. Puffer left, and everybody was pleased.
Willie got the money; but the teachers had counted on making up their festival mostly with cakes and other dainties, contributed by families. So that the candy money was only sixteen dollars, and Willie was yet a long way off from having the amount he needed. Twenty-four dollars were yet wanting.
THE WIDOW AND THE FATHERLESS.
The husband of Widow Martin had been killed by a railroad accident. The family were very poor. Mrs. Martin could sew, and she could have sustained her family if she had had a machine. But fingers are not worth much against iron wheels. And so, while others had machines, Mrs. Martin could not make much without one. She had been obliged to ask help from the overseer of the poor.
Mr. Lampeer, the overseer, was a hard man. He had not skill enough to detect impostors, and so he had come to believe that everybody who was poor was rascally. He had but one eye, and he turned his head round in a curious way to look at you out of it. That dreadful one eye always seemed to be going to shoot. His voice had not a chord of tenderness in it, but was in every way harsh and hard. It was said that he had been a school-master once. I pity the scholars.
Widow Martin lived—if you could call it living—in a tumble-down-looking house, that would not have stood many earthquakes. She had tried diligently to support her family and keep them together; but the wolf stood always at the door. Sewing by hand did not bring in quite money enough to buy bread and clothes for four well children, and pay the expenses of poor little Harry's sickness; for all through the summer and fall Harry had been sick. At last the food was gone, and there was nothing to buy fuel with. Mrs. Martin had to go to the overseer of the poor.
She was a little, shy, hard-working woman, this Mrs. Martin; so when she took her seat among the paupers of every sort in Mr. Lampeer's office, and waited her turn, it was with a trembling heart. She watched the hard man, who didn't mean to be so hard, but who couldn't tell the difference between a good face and a counterfeit; she watched him as he went through with the different cases, and her heart beat every minute more and more violently. When he came to her he broke out with—
"What's your name?" in a voice that sounded for all the world as if he were accusing her of robbing a safe.
"Sarah Martin," said the widow, trembling with terror, and growing red and white in turns. Mr. Lampeer, who was on the lookout for any sign of guiltiness, was now sure that Mrs. Martin could not be honest.
"Where do you live?" This was spoken with a half sneer.
"In Slab Alley," whispered the widow, for her voice was scared out of her.
"How many children have you got?"
Mrs. Martin gave him the list of her five, with their ages, telling him of little Harry, who was six years old and an invalid.
"Your oldest is twelve, and a girl. I have a place for her, and, I think, for the boy, too. You must bind them out. Mr. Slicker, the landlord of the Farmers' Hotel, will take the girl, and I think James Sweeny will take the boy to run errands about the livery stable. I'll send you some provisions and coal to-day; but you must let the children go. I'll come to your house in a few days. Don't object; I won't hear a word. If you're as poor as you let on to be, you'll be glad enough to get your young ones into places where they'll get enough to eat. That's all—not a word, now." And he turned to the next applicant, leaving the widow to go home with her heart cold.
Let Susie go to Slicker's tavern! What kind of a house would it be without her? Who would attend to the house while she sewed? And what would become of her girl in such a place? And then to send George, who had to wait on Harry—to send him away forever was to shut out all hope of ever being in better circumstances. Then she could not sew, and the children could never help her. God pity the people that fall into the hands of public charity!
The next few days wore heavily on with the widow. What to do she did not know. At night she scarcely slept at all. When she did drop into a sleep, she dreamed that her children were starving, and woke in fright. Then she slept again, and dreamed that a one-eyed robber had gotten in at the window, and was carrying off Susie and George. At last morning came. The last of the food was eaten for breakfast, and Widow Martin sat down to wait. Her mind was in a horrible state of doubt. To starve to death together, or to give up her children! That was the question which many a poor mother's heart has had to decide. Mrs. Martin soon became so nervous she could not sew. She could not keep back the tears, and when Susie and George put their arms about her neck and asked what was the matter, it made the matter worse. It was the day before Christmas. The sleigh-bells jingled merrily. Even in Slab Alley one could hear sounds of joy at the approaching festivities. But there was no joy in Widow Martin's house or heart. The dinner-hour had come and passed. The little children were hungry. And yet Mrs. Martin had not made up her mind.
At the appointed time Lampeer came. He took out the two indentures with which the mother was to sign away all right to her two eldest children. It was in vain that the widow told him that if she lost them she could do no work for her own support, and must be forever a pauper. Lampeer had an idea that no poor person had a right to love children. Parental love was, in his eyes, or his eye, an expensive luxury that none but the rich should indulge in.
"Mrs. Martin," he said, "you may either sign these indentures, by which your girl will get a good place as a nurse and errand-girl for the tavern-keeper's wife, and your boy will have plenty to eat and get to be a good hostler, or you and your young ones may starve!" With that he took his hat and opened the door.
"Stop!" said Mrs. Martin. "I must have medicine and food, or Harry will not live till Sunday. I will sign."
The papers were again spread out. The poor-master jerked the folds out of them impatiently, in a way that seemed to say, "You keep me an unconscionable long time about a very small matter."
When the papers were spread out, Mrs. Martin's two oldest children, who began to understand what was going on, cried bitterly. Mrs. Martin took the pen and was about to sign. But it was necessary to have two witnesses, and so Lampeer took his hat and called a neighbor-woman, for the second witness.
Mrs. Martin delayed the signature as long as she could. But seeing no other help, she took up the pen. She thought of Abraham with the knife in his hand. She hoped that an angel would call out of heaven to her relief. But as there was no voice from heaven, she dipped the pen in the ink.
Just then some one happened to knock at the door, and the poor woman's nerves were so weak that she let the pen fall, and sank into a chair. Lampeer, who stood near the door, opened it with an impatient jerk, and—did the angel of deliverance enter?
It was only Willie Blake and Sammy Bantam.
SHARPS AND BETWEENS.
Let us go back. We left Willie awhile ago puzzling over that twenty-four dollars. After many hours of thought and talk with Sammy about how they should manage it, two gentlemen gave them nine dollars, and so there was but fifteen more to be raised. But that fifteen seemed harder to get than the fifty they had already gotten. At last Willie thought of something. They would try the sewing-machine man. Mr. Sharps would throw off fifteen dollars.
But they did not know Mr. Sharps. Though he made more than fifteen dollars on the machine, he hated to throw anything off. He was always glad to put on. Sammy described him by saying that "Mr. Sharps was not for-giving but he was for-getting."
They talked; they told the story; they begged. Mr. Sharps really could not afford to throw off a cent. He was poor. Taxes were high. He gave a great deal. (I do not know what he called a great deal. He had been to church three times in a year, and twice he had put a penny in the plate. I suppose Mr. Sharps thought that a great deal. And so it was, for him, poor fellow.) And then the butcher had raised the price of meat; and he had to pay twenty-three dollars for a bonnet for his daughter. Really, he was too poor. So the boys went away down-hearted.
But Sammy went straight to an uncle of his, who was one of the editors of the Thornton Daily Bugle. After a private talk with him he started back to Mr. Sharps. Willie followed Sammy this time. What Sammy had in his head Willie could not make out.
"I'll fix him!" That was the only word Sammy uttered on the way back.
"Now, Mr. Sharps," he began, "my uncle's name is Josiah Penn. Maybe you know him. He's one of the editors of the Thornton Daily Bugle. I've been talking with him. If you let me have a Feeler and Stilson sewing-machine for fifty dollars, I will have a good notice put in the Daily Bugle."
Mr. Sharps whistles a minute. He thought he could not do it. No, he was too poor.
"Well, then, Willie," said Sammy, "we'll go across the street and try the agent of the Hillrocks and Nibbs machine. I think Mr. Betweens will take my offer."
"O!" said Mr. Sharps, "you don't want that machine. It's only a single thread, and it will ravel, and—well—you don't want that."
"Indeed, my mother says there isn't a pin to choose between them," said Sammy; "and I can give Mr. Betweens just as good a notice as I could give you."
"Very well; take the machine for fifty dollars. I do it just out of pity for the widow, you know. I never could stand by and see suffering and not relieve it. You won't forget about that notice in the Daily Bugle, though, will you?"
No, Sammy wouldn't forget.
It was now the day before Christmas, and the boys thought they had better get the machine down there.
So they found Billy Horton, who belonged to their class, and who drove an express wagon, and told him about it. He undertook to take it down. But first, he drove around the town and picked up all the boys of the class, that they might share in the pleasure.
Meantime, a gentleman who had heard of Willie's efforts, gave him a five-dollar bill for Widow Martin. This Willie invested in provisions, which he instructed the grocer to send to the widow.
He and Sammy hurried down to Widow Martin's and got there, as I told you in the last chapter, just as she was about to sign away all right, title, and interest in two of her children; to sign them away at the command of the hard Mr. Lampeer, who was very much irritated that he should be interrupted just at the moment when he was about to carry the point; for he loved to carry a point better than to eat his breakfast.
THE ANGEL STAYS THE HAND.
When the boys came in, they told the widow that they wished to speak with little sick Harry. They talked to Harry awhile, without noticing what was going on in the other part of the room.
Presently Willie felt his arm pulled. Looking round, he saw Susie's tearful face. "Please don't let mother give me and George away." Somehow all the children in school had the habit of coming to this long-headed Willie for help, and to him Susie came.
That word of Susie's awakened Willie. Up to that moment he had not thought what Mr. Lampeer was there for. Now he saw Mrs. Martin holding the pen with trembling hand, and making motions in the air preparatory to writing her name. Most people not used to writing, write in the air before they touch the paper. When Willie saw this, he flew across the room and thrust his hand upon the place where the name ought to be, saying,—
"Don't do that, Mrs. Martin! Don't give away your children!"
Poor woman! the pen dropped from her hand as the knife had dropped from Abraham's. She grasped Willie's arm, saying,—
"How can I help it? Do tell me!"
But Lampeer had grasped the other arm, and broke out with—
"You rogue, what do you mean?"
Willie's fine blue eyes turned quickly into Lampeer's one muddy eye.
"Let go!" he said, very quietly but very determinedly; "don't strike me, or my father will take the law on you."
Lampeer let go.
Just then the groceries came, and a minute later, Billy Horton's wagon drove up with the machine, and all the other boys, who came in and shook hands with the poor but delighted mother and her children. I cannot tell you any more about that scene. I only know that Lampeer went out angry and muttering.
Willie was happy that night. He went down to the festival at the Mission. There was Tommy Puffer's soft, oyster-like body among the scholars of the Mission. He was waiting for something good. His mouth and eyes were watering. He looked triumphantly at the boys from the other school. They wouldn't get anything so nice. The superintendent announced that no boy's name would be called for a paper bag of "refreshments" but those who had been present two Sundays. And so poor starving Tommy Puffer had to carry his pudding-bag of a body home again without a chance to give it an extra stuffing.
AN ODD PARTY.
I cannot tell you about the giving of the broom-machine to the blind broom-maker; of the ton of coal to Aunt Parm'ly, and of all the other things that happened on Christmas Day when the presents were given. I must leave these things out. As for Aunt Parm'ly, she said she did not know, but dat dare coal seemed like it come from de sky.
But there was an ample feast yet for the boys at the Sunday-school, for many biscuits, and cakes, and pies had been baked. But every time Willie looked at the walking-stick he thought of "the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind." And so he and Sammy Bantam soon set the whole school, teachers and all, a-fire with the idea of inviting in the inmates of the county poor-house. It was not half so hard to persuade the members of the school, to do this as it was to coax them to the first move; for when people have found out how good it is to do good, they like to do good again.
Such a company it was! There was old crazy Newberry, who had a game-bag slung about his neck, and who imagined that the little pebbles in it were of priceless value. Old Dorothy, who was nearly eighty, and who, thanks to the meanness of the authorities, had not tasted any delicacy, not so much as a cup of tea, since she had been in the almshouse; and there were half-idiots, and whole idiots, and sick people, and crippled people, armless people and legless people, blind people and deaf. Such an assortment of men, women, and little children, you cannot often find. They were fed with the good things provided for the Sunday-school children, much to the disgust of Tommy Puffer and his mother. For Tommy was bent on getting something to eat here.
There were plenty of people who claimed the credit of suggesting this way of spending the Christmas. Willie did not say anything about it, for he remembered what Christ had said about blowing a trumpet before you. But I think Sammy Bantam trumpeted Willie's fame enough.
It would be hard to tell who enjoyed the Christmas the most. But I think the givers found it more blessed than the receivers. What talk Mr. Blake heard in his rounds I cannot tell. If you want to know, you must ask the Old Ebony.
THE CHAIRS IN COUNCIL.
It was a quiet autumn afternoon. I was stretched on a lounge, with a pile of newspapers for a pillow. I do not know that I succeeded in getting any information into my head by putting newspapers under it. But on this particular afternoon I was attacked by a disease of the eyes, or rather of the eyelids. They would droop. I don't know by what learned name the doctors call this disease, but, as I could not read with my eyes closing every second or two, I just tucked my newspapers away under my head and rested my eyelids awhile.
I remember that there was a hen cackling in the barn, and a big bumble-bee buzzing and bumbling around in a consequential way among the roses under the window, and I could hear the voices of the children in the front yard playing with their dishes.
I don't know how long I had lain thus. But I remember that the cackling hen and the bumbling bee and the laughing children seemed to get farther and farther away, the sounds becoming less and less distinct. All at once the sewing chair that sat alongside of me, with a pile of magazines on it, began to rock, and as it rocked it moved off from me. I felt surprised, and at first thought of taking hold of it, but my arm seemed so tired that I couldn't move it. And the chair rocked itself across the floor, and through the door into the sitting-room. And as I looked after it, I saw my old library chair hobble into the sitting-room, also. Then came the well-cushioned easy chair, puffing and panting good naturedly, as it rolled smoothly along on castors. I was just wondering what all this meant, when the parlor door opened, and there marched in a procession of parlor chairs, behind which gathered the plainer cane-seat ones of the dining-room. Next came a solemn line of black, wooden kitchen chairs. Then I heard a commotion above, and the staid bedroom seats made a fearful racket as they came down the steps.
"Are we all in now?" said the easy chair, blandly.
A faint noise was heard on the steps, and presently in came an old arm chair that had belonged to my grandmother. It had lain in the garret covered with spider webs for years, and indeed it was quite infirm in the joints, and must have had a hard time getting down two flights of stairs.
I now tried to move, determined to go and see what was the matter with the furniture, but the tired feeling crept all over me and I lay still.
"Well," said the easy chair, who seemed to be president, "we are ready for business."
There was a confused murmur, and the next I knew one of the damask satin parlor chairs was speaking in a very polished and dignified way about the grievances of parlor chairs in general.
"It's too bad," said he, "to be always shut up in a close room except when there's company. There are no better-looking chairs than we are. We belong to a superior class of beings, and it is trying to one's nerves to lead so secluded a life when one wants to be generally admired. These cane-seat chairs, and those low, black, wooden fellows——"
"I trust there will be no personalities," said the easy chair. "The kitchen chairs are wooden, but that is not their fault; and as to their being black, that's a mere matter of paint, a mere matter of paint;" and the easy chair shook his cushioned sides as if he thought this last remark a piece of exquisite pleasantry.
"I say," continued Damask Satin, Esq., "I say that these common-place fellows are constantly admitted to the society of the family, and we, genteel as we are, have to live secluded. But for that matter I should rather be shut up always than be forced into association with these common cane-seat and those low, vulgar, wooden——"
"Order!" said the easy chair; "I must call Mr. Satin to order."
"Why, sir," said one of the cane-seats, "the insolence of that parlor fellow is insufferable! He's good for nothing but show. Nobody likes to use him. He wasn't made for any useful purpose. Talk about a thing being trying to his nerves! Let him have the children make a steamboat of him as they do of me! Let him have some awkward fellow rack his joints by sitting on him and leaning back against the wall. Then let him talk about nerves! It's hard enough, sir, to have to be used in that fashion without being compelled to associate, as we have to, with those low, wooden fellows, and then have to listen to the abuse of that pampered, good-for-nothing dandy in damask satin, that——"
"I trust," said the easy chair, "that the debate will not proceed in this way. I am sorry that so much discontent is manifested. The life of a chair is certainly not altogether unpleasant; at least I have not found it so."
"Sir," said one of the kitchen chairs, "I know I am wooden, but I was made so; and I know I am black, but, as you observed awhile ago, that is a question of paint."
"A mere question of paint," said the easy chair again, evidently delighted to have his witticism quoted.
"But, sir," continued the wooden chair, "when I was new I was not to be laughed at. If I was black, I was varnished brightly and glistened beautifully when the chair-maker set me and my brothers, here, out in a row in the sun. And then, sir, we each had a large yellow rose on our foreheads, and I assure you we were beautiful in our own way, sir, in our way. But, sir, you talk about the life of a chair not being altogether unpleasant. Perhaps not, for an easy chair, so nicely cushioned as you are. Every time our owner sits down in your arms she says, 'Well, this is just the most comfortable seat in the world!' But nobody ever praises me. If a neighbor drops in and takes me or one of my fellows, the mistress just says, 'Don't take that uncomfortable chair,' and immediately offers one of these cane-seats. That's the way we're insulted, sir; and when anybody wants a chair to stand on, the mistress says, 'Take a wooden one.' Just see the marks of Johnny's boot nails on me now, and that scratch, caused by Bridget's using me and one of my fellows to put the washtub on!"
The black chair subsided with the look of an injured individual, and the high chair commenced to complain, but was interrupted by the sewing chair, who thought that "females had some rights." She was silenced, however, by my grandmother's old chair, who leaned on the table while she spoke. The old lady complained of the neglect of old age by the younger generation.
Just at this moment, as the meeting was getting into a hubbub, and bade fair to dissolve as unceremoniously as some ward political meetings do, my staid old library chair began to talk, looking very learned at the same time.
"Mr. President," said he, "I regret the turn affairs have taken. The race of chairs is a very honorable one. A chair is an insignia of honor, as I might prove by many eminent authorities. When human beings wish to call some one to the presidency of a meeting, they move that the Hon. Jonathan Wire-worker be called to the chair. And then they call him the chair-man. Now it is an honor to be a chair, whether it be a parlor chair, bottomed with damask satin, or a hair-seat chair, or a cane-seat chair, a high chair, or a baby's rocking chair, or a superannuated chair in a garret, or an easy chair, or a wooden-bottomed chair, or a learned library chair, like myself. I tell you, sir, it is an honor to be a chair. I am proud of the fact that I am a chair. [Cries of hear! hear!!]
"And now, sir, we are each adapted to our station. What kind of a kitchen chair would one of these high-headed, damask satin parlor gentlemen make? How would they stand washtubs and boot heels? And what sort of a looking parlor chair would my friend, Mr. Wooden Bottom, be? Even if he were new, and covered with black varnish, and had a yellow rose on his forehead, how would he look among the pictures, and on the nice parlor carpet?
"Now let us each stick to our several stations, and not degrade ourselves by learning the evil and discontented habits of human beings, each one of whom thinks his lot the hardest."
I felt a little provoked at this last remark, and was going to get up and dissolve the meeting, but the library chair said something about what a glorious thing it was to be a chair, and then they all applauded, damask satins, wooden bottoms, and all; and then everything was in a whirl, and I rubbed my eyes, and the sewing chair sat just as it was at first, with the pile of magazines on it, and I peeped into the parlor, and the damask satins were in their places as stiff as ever. How they all got back in their places so quickly I couldn't tell. I went into the dining-room and found Allegra perched on the high chair, lashing two of the cane-seat ones that were thrown down for horses.
And I rubbed my eyes again,—I must have slept.
WHAT THE TEA-KETTLE SAID.
About the time the chairs had a talk together, I believe I told you. Well, ever since that time I have been afflicted, now and then, with that same disease of the eyes, inclining them to close. In fact, I am rather of the opinion that the affliction must be one of the ear, too, for I hear some curious things while the spell is on. Either that, or else something has "gotten into" the furniture about my house. It beats all, the time I had the other day. It was a cold, wet October day, the wind whistled through the key-holes and shook the sash violently, while the rain drizzled wretchedly against the glass.
As there happened to be no fire anywhere else, I took a seat in the kitchen. There I sat in the heat of the cooking-stove, and reading, or trying to read Rollin's "Ancient History." But the book was dull, and the day was dull, and it really seemed to me that I was duller than anything else. Hannibal and Themistocles, Spain and Carthage, and Rome seemed to me the dullest things in the world. I wondered how people that were so dull had managed to live, and how so stupid a fellow as Monsieur Rollin ever contrived to write so big and dull a book. It did seem very dull in the rain, too, to keep pattering away at the glass in that stupid fashion.
And so I leaned back in my chair, and watched Bridget fill the tea-kettle and set it over the fire.
"Good!" said I; "Bridget, there's no music on a dull day like the cheery singing of the tea-kettle."
And Biddy laughed, as she went out, and I leaned back again, and closed my eyes. All at once I heard a keen, piping voice, saying,
"Hum—hum! Simmer! We'll soon have things a-going."
The sound seemed to come up out of the tea-kettle spout. I was so surprised that I rubbed my eyes and looked around. There was the tea-kettle, but I could hear no sound from it. Closing my eyes again, I heard it begin,
"Simmer, simmer, hum, hum, now we'll have things a-going. Hot fire, this! Simmer, simmer, hum, hum, simmer. There's nothing like contentment," it went on. "But it's a little hard to sit here and simmer, simmer, simmer forever. But I keep on singing, and I am happy. There's my sister, the tea-pot. Bridget always keeps her bright. She goes into the best society, sits by the side of the china cups on the tea-tray that has flowers painted on it; vain little thing is my sister tea-pot! Dreadful proud of her graceful waist. Thinks her crooked nose is prettier than my straight one. She is handsome, and I am glad of it. I feel proud of her when I see her sitting among the china. But, la, me! of what account would she be if I didn't help her? I'd like to know how they'd make tea without hot water! What would she be good for, any how, if I didn't do the drudgery for her? This fire would ruin her complexion!
"Whew! this is hot work."
The tea-kettle's voice had grown higher and higher, until she was almost shrieking by this time, and so she went on.
"But then, I don't mean to be proud or envious. I mean to keep cheerful. But I do get tired of staying in the kitchen, always among the pots. I'm a good singer, but the world don't seem to appreciate my voice, and 'Chicken Little' says that I sing through my nose.
"But I wish I could travel a little. There are my cousins, the family of steam boilers. They won't acknowledge their relationship to me any more. But what is that huge locomotive, with such a horrid voice, that goes puffing and screeching past here every morning? What is he but a great, big, black tea-kettle on wheels! I wish I was on wheels, and then I could travel, too. But this old stove won't budge, no matter how high I get the steam.
"And they do say the tea-kettle family is much older than the steam boiler family. But wouldn't I like to travel! I wonder if I couldn't start off this old stove. Bridget's out, and the master's asleep, and——"
I was just going to tell the kettle I was wide awake, but I didn't feel like talking, and so the kettle went on.
"Yes, I have a good mind to try it. Wouldn't it be a brilliant thing, if I could move the old cooking stove? Wouldn't Bridget stare, when she came back, if she should see the 'Home Companion' running off down the railroad track?
"Whew! I believe I'll burst. Bridget's jammed the lid down so tight I can't breathe!
"But I'm going to try to be a locomotive. Here goes."
Here the kettle stopped singing, and the steam poured out the spout and pushed up the lid, and the kettle hissed and rattled and rattled and hissed so that I really was afraid it would run off with the stove. But all its puffing was in vain. And so, as the fire began to go down, the kettle commenced to sing again.
"Well, what a fool I was!
"I'm only a tea-kettle; I never shall be anything else; and so there's the end of it. It's my business to stay here and do my duty in the kitchen. I suppose an industrious, cheerful tea-kettle is just as useful in its place as a steam engine; yes, and just as happy, too. And if I must stay in this kitchen among the pots the rest of my days, I mean to do my share to make it the cheerfulest kitchen in all the country."
Here the voice of the tea-kettle died down to a plaintive simmer, simmer, and I heard Sunbeam say, "He's asleep." She always thinks I'm asleep when I rest my eyes.
"Tea is ready," said three of them, at once.
Jack Grip was a queer fellow. Queer because he never got enough money, and yet never seemed to know the right use of money. His family had the bare comforts of life, but his wife was a drudge, and his children had neither books nor pictures, nor any of those other things so necessary to the right education of children. Jack was yet young, but he was in great danger of becoming a miser. The truth was, he had made up his mind to get rich. It took him some time to make up his mind to be dishonest, but he was in a hurry to be rich, and lately he had been what his neighbors called "slippery" in his dealings. Poor Jack! he was selling his conscience for gold, but gold could never buy it back.
On a certain night in November, the night that my story begins, Jack was not at ease. His accounts showed that he had made money. He was getting rich very fast, but something troubled him. Shall I tell you what it was?
Just next to Jack's farm was a perfect beauty of a little place, on which lived the Widow Lundy. Her husband had bought the farm, and borrowed money of Jack Grip to pay for it. It was about half paid for when poor Lundy was killed by a falling tree. There was some money due him, and he had a little property besides, so that the widow sent word to Mr. Grip that if he would only wait till she could get her means together, she would pay up the remainder. But times were hard, and Jack saw a chance to make two thousand dollars by forcing the sale of the farm and buying it himself. It just fitted on to his lower field. It went hard to turn the widow out, but Jack Grip made up his mind that he would be rich. He tried to make it seem right, but he couldn't. He had forced the sale; he had bought the place for two thousand less than it was worth.