BY THE AUTHOR OF THE FIVE NIGHTCAP BOOKS, "AUNT FANNY'S STORIES," ETC., ETC.
NEW YORK: D. APPLETON & COMPANY, 443 & 445 BROADWAY. LONDON: 16 LITTLE BRITAIN. 1861.
ENTERED, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1860, by FANNY BARROW, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
TO MASSA CHARLES, WHOSE MOST LOVABLE QUALITIES WERE BUT FAINTLY PORTRAYED IN THE FIRST NIGHTCAP BOOK, THIS THE SIXTH AND LAST OF THE SERIES, IS AFFECTIONATELY Dedicated.
PREFACE TO THE CHILDREN.
Here is the last Nightcap book, making six in all. The story of "The Three Little Fishes" was taken (but very much altered) from a clever book for grown folks, written, I believe, nearly two hundred years ago; but all the rest is true, "real true."
I have written them out with my heart full of love and good wishes for you, and you, and YOU; and my only desire in return is, that down in a cosy corner of your dear little hearts, you will keep warm, one kind thought of your loving
THE FAIRIES' LIFE; WITH AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT THEY DID IN THE BEAUTIFUL HOLLOW, 9
THE CHILDREN'S LIFE; WITH THEIR JOURNEY TO WEST POINT, 37
THE FAIRIES' LIFE; WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE MIDSUMMER BALL, 77
THE CHILDREN'S LIFE; WITH AN ACCOUNT OF IDLEWILD, THE STAG DANCE, THE BATTLE OF THE FAIRIES, &c., 145
THE DEATH OF CHARLEY, 209
THE FAIRIES' LIFE.
In the deep shadow of the Highlands, at the foot of the old Crow Nest Mountain, is a wild and beautiful hollow, closed around on every side by tall trees, interlaced together by the clasping tendrils of the honeysuckle, and the giant arms of luxuriant wild grape-vines.
The mossy edge of this magic circle is thickly embroidered with violets, harebells, perfumed clover-blossoms, and delicate, feathery ferns. A little brook, overhung with grasses and whispering leaves, dances and dimples in the bright sunlight and soft moonbeams, and then trips away, to offer the wild-rose leaves that have fallen upon his bosom to his beloved tributary lord, the great Hudson River.
Not a bat dare spread his unclean leathern wings across this charmed place, and the very owls that wink and blink in the hollow trees near by keep their unmusical "hoot toot" to themselves.
In the short young velvety grass, a starry daisy, or a sly little cowslip, peeps up here and there, but nothing else disturbs the lawn-like smoothness, save a tiny mound of green moss near the centre of the hollow, shaped marvellously like a throne.
It was the night of the eighteenth of June; and evidently there was something of importance about to happen in the beautiful hollow, for presently a train of glow-worms came marching gravely in, and arranged themselves in a circle around the mossy throne; while thousands of fire-flies flashed and twinkled through the trees. The soft, coquetting wind wandered caressingly among the flowers, and the moonbeams rested with a sweeter, tenderer light, upon the little brook which murmured and rippled, and gave back many a glancing, loving beam.
Suddenly a silvery tinkling bell was heard, like music at a distance. Twelve times it sounded; and immediately after an invisible chorus of sweet tiny voices were heard singing:
"Hasten, Elfin! hasten, Fay! From old Crow Nest wing your way; Through the bush and dewy brake, Fairies, hasten, for the sake Of a mortal, whose pure breath Soon will fade, and sink in death: We for him sweet dreams will find, We will fill with balm the wind; Watch his young life glide away, Deck with beauty its decay— Till the closing earthly strife, Opens into heavenly life."
Instantly the air seemed filled with streams of light like falling stars; the booming sound of humble-bees was heard, as fairy knights and ladies came hastening to the call through the moon-lit air; the knights pricking their chargers with their wasp-sting spurs, and the ladies urging theirs quite as fast with their sweet, coaxing voices.
The grave, elderly fairies, came more soberly. They crept out from under the velvet mullen leaves, and gravely mounted their palfreys, which were small field mice, and held them well in, with corn-silk bridles; for elderly fairies are inclined to be gouty, and don't like to do any thing in a hurry; like other people, they are apt to go too fast when they are young—and to balance the matter, are very slow coaches when they are old.
Several ancient ladies, who had been napping in a secluded nook at the root of an old tree, waited for their nutshells and four to be brought up; and as the coach-horses were represented by hairy, white caterpillars—who were so short-legged, that they took the longest possible time to get over the ground—and as the ancient fairies had much ado to fold their wings, and arrange their crinoline in their carriages, you may be sure they were very fashionably late.
And now a strain of delicious music filled the air, the glow-worms lighted up brilliantly, and the dew grew heavy with fragrance, as the Fairy Queen, with a bright train of attendants, floated past in dark green phaetons, made of the leaves of the camelia, and drawn by magnificently painted butterflies, harnessed and caparisoned with gold.
The dignity and queenly presence of her Majesty would have rendered her conspicuous above the rest, even if her tiny golden crown and sceptre, tipped with a diamond that blazed like a meteor, had not indicated that she was a monarch; and the acclamations that rose on all sides attested the attachment her subjects felt for her person.
She was indeed most lovely; and kind and generous beyond words to describe; and she had called her court together this very night to do that which makes both fairies and mortals lovelier and better, with every new effort. Do you know what it is? It is, trying to add to the happiness of another.
And now the Queen and her maids of honor gracefully alighted with the eagerly proffered assistance of the fashionable young fairy dandies; and the court gathered respectfully around, as the beautiful Queen seated herself on her throne, and gently waved her sceptre to command attention.
"My lords, ladies, and gentlemen," said her Majesty, in a voice of perfect music, "I have called you together three nights before our opening midsummer festival, because I know by my fairy power, that a mortal—a gentle, lovely boy—will arrive here to-morrow, across whose young life the harsh wings of pain and affliction have passed. For a month or more he has so drooped and faded, that I fear, before long, his pure life will be ended. His mother watches over him with the undying, untiring love, which only a mother knows. We can help her, my beloved subjects, and we will; we can steal the venom from his painful sleep, by giving him fairy dreams; and on our gala nights we will gently lift him from his couch, and bring him here. His sweet presence will cast no shadow on our festivities, so pure and lovely have been all the thoughts, words, and actions of his short life."
A murmur of pleasure rose from the assembled court, and the good and beautiful Queen saw with delight, that her proposal had given pleasure to all her subjects, with one exception; and he was her very honest, but still more disagreeable prime minister, who, being a sour, meddlesome old bachelor, hated children. His temper was not particularly sweet just then, because he was making wry faces over an attack of the gout in his great toe, from indulging too freely in May-dew wine, and eating too often of roasted tiger-lily, which is a very highly seasoned dish, and difficult to digest, unless you take immediately after eating, half a dozen lady-slipper pills, which my lord the prime minister never would take, on account of the name—for of course, if he hated children he hated the ladies also—and as I was saying, he felt very cross, and inclined to find fault with any thing anybody else proposed; so making as low a bow as his stiff back would permit, he began, with an abominable nasal twang: "May it please your Majesty, who is this child you deign to favor so highly?"
"He is called Lame Charley!" graciously answered the Queen. "He is the darling of all who know him."
"Are there any other children in the family, my liege?" snarled the prime minister.
"About three dozen, more or less," answered the Queen, frowning slightly, for she was not quite certain as to the number, and did not like to be questioned. "Humph!" grumbled the prime minister. Then muttering to himself, "Three dozen children! all eating dreadful pumpkin-pie—with cheeks like saddle-bags, and voices loud enough to make a mummy jump out of his skin in an ecstasy of astonishment at the noise! was there ever such a foolish freak?" whereupon, taking out his beetle-back snuff-box, and giving it the traditional taps, he helped himself to such a prodigious pinch, by way of consolation, that he was obliged to retire precipitately behind the honeysuckles, and nearly cracked his left wing by a tremendous fit of sneezing. For let me tell you that the pollen, or dust of the snap-dragon, properly dried, makes very powerful fairy snuff, and I advise you not to try it.
The maids of honor had great difficulty to keep from bursting out laughing at the flight of the cross old prime minister; and the Queen pretended to arrange her bodice, made of the gossamer wing of the katydid, to hide a smile; but now, reclining on her throne, and gracefully fanning herself with her right wing, she indulged in a pleasant chat with her favorites, about Charley.
"Dear Cowslip!" she began, "I am so interested in this lovely boy. Will you assist me to watch over him, and keep away all harm from his loving brothers and sisters? Particularly we will protect them from the Kelpies, those hateful water-sprites, who would drag them down to their dark caves beneath the wave, if once the children ventured upon their realm. We will bid their little mother to warn them from getting into row-boats, or wading out into the river; the Kelpies shall content themselves with water-rats and tadpoles for this time, for too many lovely children have already been sacrificed to their cruel spite."
"Ah, beloved Queen!" answered Cowslip, "I, for one, will help you with heart and will; those damp, wretched little goblins shall not hurt a hair of their heads."
"And I, with might and main, will do your behest!" said the handsome young Ripple, twisting his mustache.
"And I, gracious Queen!" cried the pretty Lota, "for I dearly love children."
"And I, your Majesty," said Beeswing with Ripple and Firefly, "will order our regiment—the seventh—to encamp under the sedges on the shore, half to keep watch, while the other half sleep in the swaying branches of the water-willows."
"Give us something to do for the dear children, dearest Queen!" cried Dewdrop and Lilliebelle, two of the most famous beauties of the court, and, what is far better, as good as they were beautiful; "let us also help to make them happy."
"Well said, fair ladies and brave knights!" exclaimed the Queen; "with such true and loyal assistance, my labor of love will be most delightful. Come now—to the dance—while they are preparing supper."
She clapped her tiny hands thrice, and immediately the fairy band commenced playing the most enchanting dances; and the beautiful hollow was speedily filled with couples, whisking away in such rapid evolutions, that you would have thought they would soon tumble head over heels, from sheer dizziness; but as the dances were, after all, not very different from ours, I suppose the fairies were quite as well used to the rushing style; and, in good truth, as they were fairies, it seemed more in keeping, for these rapid, gracefully undulating movements, were the very poetry of motion.
Of course the elderly gentlemen fairies lounged among the honeysuckles, and talked politics, and quarrelled dreadfully about who should be the next President; for they took an immense interest in the affairs of us mortals; and the elderly lady fairies just as much, of course, pulled the characters of their best friends to pieces, without so much as a single regret; while the lovely young Queen, with half-a-dozen of her favorites, after dancing once, to set the fashion, ordered her pages to shake down a perfect shower of wild-rose leaves, on the edge of the hollow, of which they made soft and freshly perfumed couches; and there they listened to the exquisite music, and watched the dancers, and gaily devised plans for the comfort of our dear little friend, Lame Charley.
While they were thus conversing, a queer little elfin sped down one of the moonbeams, like a flash of summer lightning, and in an instant was on his knee before the Queen.
It was the fairy, Slyboots, the Queen's favorite messenger, and the most mischievous sprite in her dominions.
"Welcome, good Slyboots," cried the Queen; "by your bright eyes and unsoiled wings, methinks you must have fulfilled our commands faithfully. How fared you? and how did you find our dear 'Nightcap' family?"
"Most gracious Majesty! I hurried to the great city, without folding wing; merely stopping a moment to torment a miserly old landlord, who, the day before, had turned a poor widow, with two little children, out of his tenement house, because she was not quite ready with the rent. I put a great fly on his nose, and a great flea in his ear, and ordered them to stay there, and buzz, and bite him, till he went nearly into fits."
A chorus of sweet fairy laughter greeted this mad-cap caper, and Slyboots embraced the opportunity to whisper something to a small brown spider, who had been listening with all his ears, and staring at Slyboots with all his eyes, of which he had more than his share, and who immediately scampered off with all his legs.
"Then, your Majesty," continued the elfin, "I hastened on, and flew through the window into the room where Charley slept. All was sweet, still, and hushed; and oh! how pure and lovely the pale boy looked, as he lay there, his hands folded across his breast. As I gazed, a radiant smile parted his lips, and a faint color came into his white cheek. He was dreaming—his soul was full of holy thoughts—and the smile had come, as he saw in his dream the Beautiful Home above, for which he was preparing.
"The little mother, looking wearied with watching, lay upon a couch near him. As I hovered over her, a large tear crept from under her closed eyelid, and a quick convulsive sob broke from her breast. She too was dreaming, dreaming of the sorrowful time when her darling would be taken from her.
"I swept my wings lightly across her brow, and bade her waken. She opened her eyes, looked upon Charley, and rising, with a sigh of relief, she murmured: 'I have thee yet, oh my child! my darling!' and hastening to him, she softly drew back the golden curls from his forehead, sprinkled a few drops of grateful, refreshing perfume upon his pillow, and then, tenderly touching his cheek with her loving lips, went comforted back to her couch.
"The rest of the children were in the other rooms, fast asleep in two-story cribs, and various dear little beds; and I left some of them laughing merrily in their sleep, by telling them one or two ridiculous anecdotes about your Majesty's stuffy old prime min——"
"Silence, Slyboots!" cried the Queen, trying not to laugh. "You shall not make fun of our minister to our face. Go and order the supper."
Slyboots grinned sideways at the maids of honor, but bowed, with a great show of penitence, to his Queen. Retiring from the presence, he placed a tiny bugle, fashioned out of a small honeysuckle, to his lips, and blew a shrill, peculiar blast.
It was perfectly well understood, for in an instant, a hundred small pink and white mushrooms sprang out of the earth, making the most delightful little tables imaginable, quite equal to the finest satin-wood, upon which the fairy servants and pages hastened to place dishes of rose-leaves filled with honey-dust, and golden buttercups of sparkling May-dew, which, having been bottled up for six weeks, foamed and effervesced, and gave out a most exquisite aroma.
This was for the young fairies, who cared only for sweets. The elderly fays were to be feasted upon broiled fly's legs, brought up hot, and each one was rolled up in a leaf of pepper-grass, which gave them a very piquant seasoning. These were garnished with small pearls, steeped and softened in crab-apple vinegar, sharp enough and sour enough to draw squeals from a Japanese ambassador, who never smiles or squeals at any thing.
When all was ready, the fairies sat down at the tables, in pleasant little parties of four and six, while the band played the most admired fairy opera airs. But before the banquet was through, I am sadly afraid some of the gay young fellows forgot they were in the presence of ladies, they laughed so loud, and talked so much nonsense, and one of them came very near upsetting the table at which he sat, spilling his buttercup of dew all over the new gossamer dress of Lilliebelle, who was next to him.
But this was nothing to the uproar which arose when the old prime minister, who had been eating flies' legs, and little pearl pickles, till he could scarcely breathe, attempted to leave his seat. The little brown spider, sent by that mischievous Slyboots, had been hard at work fastening his wings together in a net, and then tying them in a most complicated cobweb knot to the honeysuckle vine just behind him. The old prime minister fairly howled with rage; he turned and twisted from side to side; he kicked and made awful faces at Slyboots, who was giggling and laughing, and shaking his wings with glee at a safe distance. An impudent mosquito came past, and sneered out in his abominable nasal drone, "You don't seem to like a net any better than I do;" while myriads of midges up in the air danced around him, singing, Why-don't-you-get-out? Why-don't-you-get-out? Why-don't-you- get-out? to which myriads of others answered, He-would-if-he-could- but-he-couldn't! He-would-if-he-could-but-he-couldn't! He-would-if- he-could-but-he-couldn't!
At last the Queen, who had been giving some private orders, inquired what all the noise and laughter meant; and, in great anger with Slyboots for thus turning her old prime minister into ridicule, ordered the saucy goblin to draw his sword and release the old minister. The young fairy knights hastened to help, for they all liked Slyboots, and a tremendous slashing and cutting at the cobweb net ensued, which speedily released the poor old prime minister, who went off breathing fury and vengeance.
But hark! What is that? A faint, far-off tramp is heard; the galloping hoofs of the steeds of the morning were sounding in the eastern sky, and the stir of their coming rustled the leaves that crowned the tops of the grand old trees. The first cock-crow was heard in the distance, and the fairy sentinels sounded the coming of the dawn loud and clear on their great morning-glory trumpets, from the top of old Crow Nest. The sky became dappled, and a rosy streak marched up to the zenith like the banner of a herald.
Up sprang the knights and ladies and mounted their chargers; the Queen and her maids entered their phaetons; the elderly fairies made what haste their dignity permitted to their nutshells and four, and field-mice palfreys, and away they all sped; some through the air, some through the velvety grass; banners flying, and music playing, until naught was left but a shining trail that melted into the first bright golden beam of the morning.
THE CHILDREN'S LIFE.
It was early in the sweet summer time. The young green leaves were bending over, and tenderly caressing the budding fruit and flowers, and the air was balmy with orchard blooms.
Your old friends, the Nightcap children, were as merry and happy and well as ever, except Charley—poor lame Charley. He was much worse; his sufferings had greatly increased with the dreadful hip disease, and a terrible cough racked his delicate and wasted frame. Death had been coming slowly on for a long time; but now he hastened his footsteps, and Charley knew that he should never see another summer in this world. He was not afraid to die—oh, no! the guileless, holy life of the gentle boy had robbed death of its sting. He well knew that this life was but a small part of our career, and the separation from those he loved so well, would be short. His faith in his Saviour was perfect and entire. He would soften the pang of parting to those left behind, and He would guide them with unchanged love to their darling in heaven.
The good little mother was advised by the doctor to take Charley into the country, somewhere up the beautiful Hudson River, among those grand old hills where the air is so bracing and pure.
It happened, fortunately, that one of her oldest friends, who was an officer at West Point, was obliged to leave there upon some government expedition for about three months; and he offered his pretty cottage to his friend for that time. This was most delightful, as Charley could have far more comfort living in this way than in a boarding-house; and the rest of the children would not have to be tied up by the leg to the bedposts, because their noise disturbed other people.
So the little mother gladly and gratefully accepted the offer, and was now very busy making up dozens of petticoats and pantaloons, and coarse brown aprons, and great sun-bonnets, buying copper-toed shoes, so that the children might go where they pleased, and do any thing they liked, except tumble into the river, or fall down a well to live with the bull-frogs.
A few days before they left, the grand Japanese procession took place in New York; and Minnie said, "Oh, mamma, please take us to see the Jackanapes," which made the rest laugh. So down Broadway they all went, looking like a boarding-school that took boys as well as girls, with the little mother marching like a captain at their head, and turned into a fine store, opposite the City Hall Park, that belonged to their uncle, where they had such an excellent view, that their faces were a perfect picture of wonder and delight while the procession was passing.
"Dear me!" exclaimed George, "I am nearly crazy with joy; I wish the Japanese would come every day. How funny! they all look like old women in black nightgowns!"
"And their heads have little top-knots, like Poland hens," said Henry; "and see that fellow sticking his foot on the edge of the carriage—look! his great toe is put in a thumb!"
At this they all laughed, and Harry, laughing too, cried out: "I don't mean that; I mean that they knit thumbs in their stockings, and stick their great toes in;—dear! how it must tickle!"
It was a grand sight. Many of the stores were decorated with numerous little Japanese flags, which consist of a large red ball in the centre of a plain white surface, and many Japanese lanterns were hung around. The soldiers looked and marched splendidly; and the fine music was enchanting. Guns were firing in the Park, and smoking and flaming like steamboat funnels: little boys were popping off squibs and crackers, and everybody seemed perfectly happy.
"Dear me!" cried Arthur, "I wish I could hear the speeches they intend to make. I suppose they will be stuck full of compliments, not a word of which the Mayor will understand; but, of course, he will bow a great many times to show that he agrees with it all: and then he, in return, will make a speech to the ambassadors, all flaming over with fine words and flummery, and the Japanese will bow all in a row like four-and-twenty fiddlers—and oh! how nice it will all be!"
When the children got home, they told Charley about the grand procession, all speaking at once; and one of them put on an old black gown of his mother's, and half shut his eyes, and would have shaved his head, if his mother had let him, to show Charley just how they looked; because he, poor little fellow, had to stay behind—he could not have endured the fatigue of that long day away from home. But his kind little mother never forgot him; she was determined he should see something; so about eight o'clock that evening, two horses, with a nice comfortable barouche, were driven up to the door, and Charley was tenderly lifted in, and two large pillows were placed behind and at his side, and his mother and two of the oldest children were driven slowly down Broadway to see the illumination.
The street was crowded. Beautiful colored lanterns were hung here and there, and little Japanese flags fluttered in every direction. As they came near the great Metropolitan Hotel, where the Japanese were staying, the crowd increased, and a burst of delightful surprise broke from Charley and the rest, as the beautiful blazing windows came in view. In each of the several hundred windows were fine Japanese lanterns of different colors and two little flags. Such a glittering and a fluttering as they made! and over the door was the word "Welcome," in blazing gas-burners, with the splendid flag of the United States on one side, and a great Japanese banner on the other. Everybody was shouting and hurrahing, and every up-turned face looked happy, but none so merry and joyous as the children in the carriage; their eyes fairly danced with delight, and their faces looked as if they had been illuminated too. All they wanted was to have two little Japanese flags fastened to their ears, and to be placed in the windows, to have beaten the lanterns and gas-burners all to pieces.
After they had looked just as long as they liked, and shouted and waved their hats, when they saw any of the Japanese at the windows shaking out their queer-looking black pocket-handkerchiefs with round white spots, the carriage turned round, and the children had a fine drive home, perfectly delighted with the unusual grandeur of a ride in a carriage at night; that was almost the best of all, to be out after bed-time. They thought they could never admire the bright stars enough, which, with their sleepless eyes, watched the world below—fit emblems of the difference between the things made by man, and the enduring works of God. Before long those glittering lights below would fade and die; while these heavenly luminaries would shine on forever.
The next evening the little mother thought she would call upon Captain Porter, who had the Japanese in charge. He was a brave, noble-hearted officer, and an old friend, and accordingly she went with some other friends. Captain Porter received them very kindly, and amused them very much with funny accounts of how the Japanese were stared at, and sometimes annoyed by people who ought to know better. While she sat there, there came a knock at the door, and a morocco case was handed in: it was opened; and what do you think appeared? You will hardly believe it: some sets of false teeth; one set of them jet black, as a present! The little mother laughed, and wondered if the dentist who sent them, thought the Japanese would want to have their own teeth pulled right out, and these put right in. Then two gentlemen came in, and wanted Captain Porter to persuade the Japanese to buy a lot of guns from them, very cheap, indeed. Then, who do you think came in? Why, "Little Tommy," the young Japanese that everybody was talking about.
He looked so very smiling, that the two comical little triangular slits in his head which served for eyes nearly disappeared, when Captain Porter took him by the hand and introduced him to the little mother.
"How do?" said he, and shook hands with her; then he took up Captain Porter's sword and belt and buckled it round his waist, and said, "Ver good sword, indeed;" then he tried on the Captain's naval uniform cap, with the gold band round it, and ran and looked in the glass. It would not go on very well, on account of Tommy's pig-tail, which was fastened in a knot on the very top of his half-shaven pate, and which stuck up rather inconveniently: then the Captain said, "Tommy, this lady wants to see the portrait of your little Washington sweetheart; come, show it to her."
"No show," said Tommy; which answer made the little mother esteem him very much, because it was plain that he had too much self-respect, and too much respect for the young lady, if she was a little girl only twelve years old, to show her likeness to every stranger. He was not going to be made fun of. Not he!
Presently the little mother got up to go; and, shaking hands with Tommy, said, "Good-bye Tommy; I mean to send you a 'Nightcap' book. It is written by 'Aunt Fanny.' Say, Aunt Fanny."
"Arnta Farnny. Yes! I like it," answered Tommy, holding the little mother's hand; "but you," he continued, "I like you; are you Spaniss?"
"No," said she.
"No," said she, smiling.
"No," said she.
"Why, Tommy, she is an American," said Captain Porter.
"Ah," cried Tommy; "she so leetle—she ver good—good-bye:" then he wrote his name on a card for her, and she went home very much pleased. But just before she went, Captain Porter told her that the great phrenologist, Mr. Fowler, who knows all about you by merely looking at the outside of your head, had been to see Tommy, and had told him that he had the most tremendous bumps for reading, writing, and arithmetic, that ever were seen; a great bump of trying on American clothes; making love to little girls; eating sugar-candy, and having a good time generally; and scarcely any bump at all for getting up early in the morning, working hard, or taking medicine; in fact, that his cranium was as full as the Metropolitan Hotel, of all sorts of good things; which flattering description delighted Tommy so much, that he wrote Mr. Fowler of his own accord, and without any assistance from Captain Porter or any other dictionary, the following note of thanks:
METROPOLITAN HOTEL, NEW YORK, June 22, 1860.
"DEAR SIR:—I am much oblige to you the history and head some paper and the letter with it whole my head examination. I shall take it to Japan, and esteemed much doctor Kawasake is also much please have been receive it.
"I am very true your friend, "TATEISH ONAJEIRO (TOMMY)."
And now every thing was made in the way of "anti-tear-clothes," as the children called them, and the express wagon was sent for on the afternoon of the 19th of June to carry the baggage down to the steamboat.
The express man stared with amazement at the quantity of children whisking and frisking, and rushing and brushing about in the hall; and, still more, at the trunks, boxes, and bundles, that were brought clattering and tumbling down the stairs for him to take away.
Just before he was leaving with the last bundle, little Johnny rushed breathless down the stairs with what looked like a horse's tail, only shorter and smaller, in one hand, and an old tin-box that had once contained preserved tomatoes in the other, and screamed out, "Here!—say! man, man! take this! here, take it! It's mamma's hair! she's forgotten to sew it on her head! here, pack it up in this tin-box, and tie it with a rope, and put it on board the steamboat—will you?"
Dear me! how the poor express man did bite his lips and swell his cheeks, and turn very red, and try not to laugh: but it would come out, and he laughed himself nearly into fits, while the little mother felt for a moment as if she could have shaken Johnny into fits, but only for a moment; for, after all, what was the use of being angry: he meant to be so useful and thoughtful, and if her hair was so thin, she had to buy some to put with it—why, it was nothing to be ashamed of; so she laughed, too, at last, and all the children joined in with such good-will, that the canary bird over the way hearing such a pleasant noise, set up his pipes and twittered in company, and sang so shrill and loud, that all his feathers stood out on end; and, on the whole, it was thought a very good joke.
And now a great hotel carriage, which is about three times as large as any other, drove up, and the children were packed in it, till it was as full as an egg; and they gave three cheers, as it started, to the astonishment of all the neighbors, and sang "John Brown had a little Indian" all the way down to the boat.
There had been so many berths engaged for one name, that the Captain thought there must be a colony going out west to set up a town for themselves. But when he saw the family marching down the gang-plank two-and-two, like the animals that went into the ark, from the biggest to the smallest, he lifted up his hands and exclaimed, "Dew tell! what an orful lot of children! I shud think that old lady'd want the patience of Job, any how!"
Ah! the Yankee-talking Captain didn't know what you and I know—that these children all "loved one another" and that made every thing easy to the little mother.
There was no wrangling in that family. They left all that to "dogs and cats," and "bears and lions," as I am sure all good children do. There was plenty of noise, to be sure; but this the great power of love changed into sweet melody, so that, instead of irritating you, as a rude blustering wind would do, it charmed and delighted, because it was first passed over the AEolian harp-strings of love.
And now, before I forget it, let's have a little laugh you and I, over that ridiculous picture of our "Nightcap children" in "Baby Nightcaps." I intended to have had a picture of the little mother surrounded by lots of pretty children playing about her; but, instead of that, I was presented with a family that made my sides ache with laughter. Such noses and such hats! I want to tip that tall-spook-of- a-boy's hat off his head every time I look at it; And such a baby! Apple-dumpling face and squint eyes! Never mind! The funny printer wanted to make us laugh, and I am sure he did—one of us, any way; but don't you believe, for a moment, that our Nightcap children looked the least like his. Not a bit of it!
When the family were all comfortably settled, the splendid palace-like steamboat—the Alida—started from the pier, and was soon gliding so swiftly over the water, that the magnificent Palisades rose in the blue evening air, while the golden glory of sunset was still lingering upon them. Charley sat by his mother, with his curly head pressed close against her breast; his pure and simple thoughts mirrored in his sweet face. He was silently thanking God for the beautiful changing picture before his eyes. All the children were enjoying the trip; for their mother had taught them to feel and appreciate the beauty, goodness, and grandeur of all God's works; and, save an exclamation of delight now and then, they sat quite still.
But the silence did not last long. Of course not. If children are quite still for more than five minutes at a time, you may be sure they are either sick or in mischief; so presently George exclaimed,—
"Just see that sea-gull dipping his wings in the river!"
"That's the way he does his washing," said Annie.
"Oh! look at that row-boat," cried Harry; "four gentlemen and three ladies rowing with parasols."
How the children laughed, and pretended to see the parasols rowing, till Harry explained that he meant that the ladies had the parasols, and the gentlemen were rowing. His mother said she would have to give him a dish of boiled grammar for his breakfast, if he did not mind his antecedents better.
"Grammar!" cried George; "dreadful! Aren't you all glad school-days are over for the summer?"
At this blissful recollection all the children clapped their hands at such a rate, that a fat old lady jumped up in a hurry and gave a queer little squeak, because she thought the boiler was bursting; and although they were now in the very middle of the broad Tappaan Sea, she waddled off to order the captain to set her immediately on shore; and a select company of blue jays, who had just started from the Palisades to take tea with some brown sparrows on the other side, turned somersets and flew back again, almost tripping each other up in their hurry.
"Yes, indeed," answered Annie, "glad enough. Just think; no more hard sums either. I do believe arithmetic is meant on purpose to torment us, and that's the reason Willie made that mistake with such a grave face, when the lady asked him how far he had gotten in his sums."
"So it is," cried Clara; "Willie said he had got to distraction; I, for one, wish that all the people that make the arithmetic books had to eat them with pepper-sauce the moment they were printed—and that would be the end of them."
"But compositions! Just think of compositions!" cried Harry; "they are the most hateful things. Just because I wrote in my last one, that 'a mule is a beast of burden which draws a rail-car shaped like a zebra, and is sometimes used for carts with two long ears and a miserable tail,' they all burst out laughing at me, and I very nearly cried—I did cry."
"Well, never mind, Harry," cried George; "it is all over now, and we are going to that delightful West Point: I wonder if those soldiers we saw parading with the Japanese last Saturday came from West Point? they were such splendid fellows."
"Yes, indeed," cried Harry; "I dare say they did; they looked as if they were afraid of nothing, but would be really glad to have an arm or a leg shot off in every battle, and are so brave, that they would keep on fighting the enemies of America, if they had only an ear and one great-toe left."
Charley lifted his head and laughed at this, for he could hear all the children were saying; and he whispered to his mother, "Isn't Harry a funny fellow? The idea of one ear, and a great-toe firing a gun!" and he laughed again a sweet, low laugh; and Clara, who was sitting nearest, took his small thin white hand and kissed it, and patted it, and murmured, "Oh, Charley, I'm so glad you are happy; I'm so glad that cruel pain has gone away."
All this time they had been passing many beautiful villages and elegant country mansions, half buried in luxuriant foliage. They were now leaving the Tappaan Sea; and soon after the little mother showed the children Sunnyside, the lovely home of the great Washington Irving.
"He does not live there any more," said she; "his home is now 'Eternal in the Heavens;' but his fame, and goodness, and renown will live in every land for many, many years; and I hope the beautiful Sunnyside will never fall into neglect or decay as long as his memory lasts."
The children looked with mournful interest at the beautiful place; but when their mother pointed out the spot where Major Andre was captured, there was quite a difference of opinion; the boys were glad that he, the spy, was taken and hung by the great Washington, while the more tender-hearted girls wished he could have escaped: and Minnie said, "General Wassingter ought to have forgiven him, because he would not like to be hung himself—would he?" which, I think, was the golden-rule way of putting the case.
And now the banks seemed to close in, and great dark mountains rose on either side.
"There's Anthony's nose," said the little mother.
"Where? where?" cried the children, and looked with eager interest, as the profile of a great Roman nose was pointed out on the edge of a mountain. They were also delighted with Sugar-loaf Mountain, and wished it had really been made of sugar, for they thought they would like to eat a hole through it. As they were eagerly gazing at the splendid view which had now darkened and deepened with twilight shadows, a saucy puff of wind came round a jutting point, and in an instant blew off Minnie's round hat.
"Oh! my hat! my hat!" she screamed; "get it! get it! quick! before it goes across the Atlantic Ocean, and runs up the big mountains. Oh! get it! get it!"
How everybody around did laugh, as George jumped after the hat, which Minnie thought would walk on the Atlantic Ocean; and how Minnie jumped and laughed when he caught it just as it was flying off on its travels. I have no words to tell, but everybody after that listened to the comical talk of the Nightcap children, who caused so much merriment, that they arrived at West Point before they knew it; but had to burst out with laughter again as Minnie, gravely looking up, said, "Is this West Point? Well, I don't think it looks so very, very Pointy."
The first stars were peeping out, and the little birds had sung their evening hymns and were hushed into stillness, as the children got into the stage, the strong horses of which toiled up the short but steep ascent, and they soon arrived at their summer home. "Oh, what a beautiful cottage!" exclaimed Harry, and George, and Clara; "it seems covered with roses; it must be the Castle of Perfect Happiness."
They all hurried in, in the most delightful bustle; and the children had a grand time assisting the little mother to unpack every thing. You would have imagined, to look in at the windows, that the house was full of fishes out of water; they kept up such a continual bouncing and fluttering about, but they were not fishes, nor pollywogs, nor tadpoles, nor any thing like them; they were a company of capering children, taking all sorts of little boxes and bundles out of trunks, and putting them in the wrong places, and then running to get some more, because they liked the fun of helping.
The good-natured little mother did not think them at all in the way: she only laughed softly to herself, and would not for forty new bandboxes have given them any ear-boxes for what they were doing. No, indeed! she just let them trot about as much as they liked with the pillows, boxes, bags, and bundles, of which there seemed to be about a hundred and fifty; and when they were tired of helping, she quietly arranged the things in their proper places.
Oh! how soundly the children slept that night with the "fragrant stillness" all around them, far away from the roar and whirl of the great city. The moonlight, sweet and mournful, flooded the earth, and a white ray stole into the room where Charley lay and rested lovingly above his head.
The next day Charley was very ill indeed. Even the short journey from the city had overtasked his strength. He lay in a darkened chamber, for his mother had to shut out the sweet sunshine, his head and side were so racked with pain.
The children crept lovingly up to the door of the room they were not permitted to enter many times during the day; to hope in a whisper that he felt better, and went about the pretty cottage on tip-toe—all their merriment gone. You would hardly believe they were the same children that yesterday had kept half the people in the steamboat laughing; so changed and still were they become, through their love for their sick brother.
The little mother sent for the doctor. He belonged to the army, and, of course dressed like the officers in military uniform.
When he entered, the children gazed with wonder and delight upon his bright buttons, each of which had an astonishing spread-eagle engraved upon it, and thought they could never admire enough the beautiful gold lace upon his coat-sleeves. Really, he was quite a shining doctor.
He became interested with Charley at once: the sweet, patient smile of the suffering boy won his heart.
"My dear madam," said he to the little mother, "this is nothing but temporary exhaustion; with some strengthening medicine which I shall leave, and a good night's rest, our dear little friend will be as well as he was before he came up; and I am in great hopes that this bracing mountain air will soon make him much better than he was before he came."
The children now approached the door and begged leave to enter, for they wanted to hear about Charley, and have a "good look" at the "soldier doctor."
"Well, my little friends," said he, in a hearty, cheery voice, "so you've come up, I suppose, to help the fairies amuse Charley this summer."
"FAIRIES!" exclaimed the children; "DELIGHTFUL! Are there fairies here?"
"Lots of them," answered the doctor, laughing—"that is, if I may believe my man, Patrick O'Neal. He declares he has seen the fairy rings in the beautiful hollow at the foot of Crow Nest mountain many and many a time."
"Oh dear! how perfect!" cried the children; "only fancy the dear little fairies dancing on the parade-ground in the moonlight."
"Not exactly," said the doctor, laughing again; "fairies don't come so near the haunts of mortals; besides, the cadets want the parade-ground for their own dances and rings—not fairy rings—for those are made with sparkling dew-drops, while the cadets have to content themselves with tallow candles stuck into scooped-out turnips and placed in a circle, and the lights throwing the shadows up, make the long legs of the cadets look like ever so many great goblin black spiders, hopping harem-scarem over each other; but the cadets call them 'Stag-dances.'"
"Stag dances," cried the children, "who ever heard of such a thing? Why! do they nail antlers on their foreheads and go on all-fours? Dear doctor! how do they go?"
"Some on their heels, and some on their toes; but I never saw one dance on all-fours; and, as to the antlers, without them they prance: 'tis because they're all boys, that it's called a 'stag dance.'"
"Why, only listen," whispered George to Annie, "he is talking poetry—how queer!"
"Isn't he a nice bright doctor?" said Minnie; "he shines so shiny, and he's so very buttony; I think his buttons are splendid."
The doctor heard this speech and burst out laughing, and then seeing that Minnie looked abashed, he took out his penknife, and in a moment had snipt off one of the spread-eagle buttons, and said,—"Here, little lady-bird—here is a bright button, which you can fasten up your cloak with to-night when you go to the fairies' midsummer ball; for, I suppose, you will all have an invitation, and when I come to-morrow, I expect to hear all about it. Good-bye, Charley; old fellows like you and I don't care to go to balls, but we won't object to hearing about the fairy festival, because that you know will be something particularly superfine;" and he went away smiling, leaving the delighted children chattering like a perfect army of magpies about the fairies, and pretending to think that the good-natured doctor was really in earnest.
THE FAIRIES' LIFE.
It was Midsummer eve; the moon in regal splendor proudly sailed above; the fair, lovely June flowers were sleeping, fanned by the wings of the tiny zephyrs floating past. A spell of enchantment was upon every thing, for a deep stillness reigned around; the little brown cricket had ceased to chirp; the katydid no longer quarrelled in shrill tones with her neighbor; the wail of the sad whippoorwill was hushed; the rugged sides of old Crow Nest were rounded and softened in the silvery moonbeams, adown which the little brooklet sprang this night with a more lightsome leap and a sweeter song.
Charley lay sleeping in his room, his cheek resting on his hand, and his golden curls lightly stirred by the soft west wind, were floating upon the pillow: a faint flush rested upon his sweet face, giving it a lovely, but, alas! deceptive hue of health; his lips were slightly apart, and now they were moving as if he was softly and slowly answering some question.
The window was wide open, and the room was bright with moonbeams; but now a softer, tenderer light, shone through the apartments; the air was filled with delicious fragrance, and low sweet music was heard: afar off, a halo in the moonlight was seen; it came near and nearer; now it was close to the window, and one could plainly perceive that it was a shining band of fairies, floating on the moonbeams with their beautiful Queen at their head.
They stopped at the window, for the Queen, with a wave of her sceptre, gave them to understand that she would enter alone.
She was radiant to-night; a magnificent necklace of many-colored stones cut from a rainbow, sparkled like a wreath of prismatic fire around her white and slender throat; her wings were fringed with small diamond dew-drops; her robe was fashioned of the royal purple velvet of the pansy; and her crown and sceptre flashed with precious gems.
"But, oh! her beauty was far beyond Her sparkling jewels:"
for the sweet loving expression that beamed from her eyes, and the smile that played about the corners of her beautiful mouth, mirrored the pure, unselfish, spotless nature of the Queen.
Softly she floated towards the couch, and gently touched the boy with her sceptre.
Charley opened his blue eyes. In a sweet amaze he slowly raised himself and leaned upon his arm, gazing in bewildered delight upon the radiant stranger. The little mother still slept on; but in the room was a young kitten—a daughter of Crocus, of whom you read in "New Nightcaps," and whom Charley so loved, that he brought her away with him. She was lying at the foot of his bed; in a moment she bristled up her coat and tail, and darted out her sharp claws in terror at the sight; but at a touch of the Queen's sceptre she drew them into their velvety sheath again, and laid quietly down.
"Dear Charley," said the Queen in a low, sweet voice, "we do so love your innocent and guileless nature, that while the pulses beat, and the blood flows in your frail and fading form, we will do our utmost to drive the demon of pain far away; tender and beautiful influences shall surround you; you shall be a most favored mortal, for you shall behold the happiest scenes in fairy life; you shall dream the sweetest dreams of fairy-land; this night is our great midsummer festival; even now our subjects are hastening to the beautiful hollow, where the fairy revels are kept. Hark to the fairy call! they are inviting the fays from the beautiful green island that is sleeping in the moonlight opposite to us."
Charley with all his senses quickened, his lips slightly apart, his eyes dilated, one hand raised in an attitude of intense listening, caught the delicious harmony of fairy voices singing these words:
"Hasten fairies—haste away; Hasten through the golden spray; Hasten to the frolic play.
"Fly o'er water—fly o'er vale; Ply the oar, and spread the sail; Hie ye to the moon-lit dale.
"Silver sweet the music swells Of the snow-white lily-bells, And the sounding pink sea-shells.
"Hither—hither, haste away To the fairies' frolic play; 'Tis the festive fairy-day."
Brighter grew the eyes of the sick boy, and his cheek flushed with excitement as he listened.
"Oh, how beautiful!" he murmured; "what dainty little rippling notes!"
"Listen again," said the Queen, with a gratified smile, for she liked to hear her people praised; "listen! the island fairies are answering."
Was it magic that brought those tiny voices so far over the water? Surely it was, for there rose on the air a clear tinkling sound like the ringing of little glass bells; and Charley heard these words:
"Beaming moon—shimmering fountain— Light, and deck the fairy dell; We are coming to the mountain, From the isle we love so well: To the fairy ball we hie; Thought-swift through the purple sky We are hastening at the call; 'Tis the great midsummer ball.
"Open lily—blossom rose, Shed around thy perfume light; Heliotrope—thy sweets disclose To the fragrant dews of night. Dogwood grim we fairies banish; Purple nightshade! fly! evanish! We are hastening at the call; 'Tis the great midsummer ball.
"Chime hare-bells! clearly, sweetly, Joy our hearts with blithe accord, As we fairies neatly, featly, Trip it o'er the dainty sward. Velvet sod thy carpet spread, With small buds enamelled, We are hastening at the call; 'Tis the great midsummer ball.
"Oh!" exclaimed the entranced boy, "how I should like to see the beautiful fairies dancing in the moonlight. May I, sweet lady?"
With a loving smile the Queen bent over and lightly tapped him thrice upon each shoulder-blade with her jewelled sceptre. Immediately a pair of gauzy wings started from his back. With an involuntary motion he gently waved them back and forth, and felt himself rising—rising —RISING—till he had floated out of the window into the moonbeams. The poor little kitten set up a piteous cry, but a fairy spell was upon the mother, for she slept quietly on.
Oh! with what delight was the enchanted boy now welcomed by the waiting train outside! They pressed lovingly around him; they played with his golden curls; they fanned him with their delicate wings; they looked down into the lambent depths of his clear blue eyes, and saw his pure spirit within so free from guile; they touched with their tender fingers his poor little thin white neck and breast, and felt his heart beating fast and faster with delight.
Up, up they mounted, and a joyous thrill, like a sweet and sudden wind, shook the leaves of the trees as they passed swiftly by them.
And now they approached the beautiful hollow; they heard the stirring sound of the fairy kettle-drums (which you know are chestnut shells, divided in half, with mouse-skin drawn tightly over). Quickly they floated over the last tree-tops; the frisky young fairies folding their wings and sliding down the moonbeams for fun, just as you slide down the bannisters.
They are there, directly over the beautiful hollow, floating slowly downward with a graceful waving motion; and Charley looked on a most enchanting sight. Crowds of fairies were assembled within an immense circle of sparkling dew-drops, tricked out in all their holiday attire. More were coming in on every side; some in their nut-shells and four—others flying through the soft air. In the centre of the hollow the mossy throne was this night surmounted by a magnificent canopy of scarlet geraniums, looped up at the sides by splendid clasps, formed of the backs of the scarlet lady-bug, dotted with spots of jet. The canopy was heavily fringed with small scarlet fuchsias, or lady's ear-drops. At the foot of the throne there appeared to be a low seat of heaped-up rose-leaves, and in a circle round it a double row of glow-worms shed a soft clear light. Small mushroom tables, filled with plates of dew-drop ices, were already laid out; and the fairies only waited for the presence of their beloved Queen to open the ball.
Suddenly the music quickened; the fire-flies sparkled and danced, and all rose respectfully as the Queen touched the green velvety floor. Bowing and smiling, she gracefully seated herself upon the throne, and tenderly placed the spell-bound Charley upon the rose-leaf couch at her feet. The rich color of the beautiful canopy threw a rosy blush over the boy's sweet face; and the glancing fairies thought they had never seen a lovelier mortal. Although the soft rose-leaves pressed caressingly around him and hid his poor deformed limbs, it would have made no difference if they had been plainly seen, for the fairies only looked in his face, where so much purity and goodness shone; and, seeing this, they loved him, and were glad he had come.
"Where is Slyboots?" said the Queen.
"At your feet, most gracious Majesty," answered the sprite, dropping down all at once from somewhere.
"And what is the last piece of mischief, you comical imp?"
"Your Majesty! Mischief! I disapprove of it! but I have just been tying Peas-cod and Bean-pod together by their long green coat-tails, because they are such grumbling, discontented chaps."
"How do you know?" asked the Queen.
"Please your Majesty," answered Slyboots, "I heard Peas-cod say that he hated the sight of every thing and everybody; that all other fairies could wear different colors, while he had to be green all his days; then he opened his mouth so wide, and gave such a fearful yawn, I thought all his round bones would roll out; I think, your Majesty, he is not only green—he is 'jolly' green."
"Don't talk slang to me," said the Queen, though she laughed a little; "but go on and tell me about Bean-pod."
"Oh! Bean-pod is miserable because of his shape; he says he is bigger round his waist than anywhere else, and that is so ungenteel; all your Majesty's maids of honor laugh and make faces at him."
"Ah! I cannot have that," said the Queen; "all must be happy here, especially on midsummer night. Go, Slyboots, and command them to come into my presence."
Off started the sprite, and presently returned with the naughty fairies looking very much ashamed of themselves, with their coat-tails all curled round from having been tied in a hard knot. Lilliebelle and Dewdrop laughed behind their butterfly wing-fans, while Ripple and Firefly curled their mustaches, and looked on with dandified airs.
The Queen began with a severe aspect: "I regret to learn, Peas-cod and Bean-pod, that you are indulging in discontent; it is very wicked in any one to murmur or repine at his lot in this world. Learn from this mortal," she continued, placing her hand tenderly on Charley's head; "almost since his birth he has led a life of suffering, yet no repining falls from his patient lips; he is willing to live, and he will be resigned to die. I think my story-teller, Charm-ear, has written down something that happened to some neighbors of ours in the little brook near by, which will serve as a warning to you. Would you like to hear this story, Charley?"
"Oh, beautiful lady!" cried Charley; for, being an American boy, he did not know he must say 'your Majesty.' "Oh, beautiful lady! a story would be so—so fairy nice!"
The Queen smiled, and, waving her hand to Charm-ear, the court story-teller, he began as follows:
THE THREE LITTLE FISH.
"Not very long ago, in our beautiful brook, there lived three little silver trouts, who were very great friends. For some time they were happier than the day was long, playing together, eating together, and sleeping cosily together in the same little cave scooped out of a stone under the water, and wanted for nothing that good little fishes ought to have.
"But after this I am sorry to have to tell that two of the little trout became very sad and discontented: one wished for this, the other for that, and neither cared a shrimp for any thing he had, because they were always foolishly sighing for something else.
"At last Neptune, the King of the Sea, heard of these naughty little fish, and he resolved to punish them, by granting them all their desires.
"Accordingly he called them before him, and told them they should have whatever they wanted.
"Now, the oldest was a very proud little fish, and wanted to be able to snub up all the other fishes, by being set above them—so he said,
"'Please your gracious goodness Majesty, I do not like the place where you have put me. Here I am poked into a mean, narrow river, where I can neither get down into the ground, or up into the air, and yet I can see well enough what fine times others have; there are the little birds that fly about over my head, and sing all day, because they have wings. Give me wings, gracious goodness Majesty—only give me wings, and then I shall have something for which to be thankful; in fact, it will make me perfectly happy.'
"No sooner asked for than granted. In a moment the little fish felt the wings fluttering, and in another moment he had spread them wide, and rose joyfully out of the water.
"Ah! what a delicious sensation. He resolved to travel; then a thought struck him.
"'One favor more, your gracious Majesty.'
"'Well, speak,' answered Neptune.
"'Give me a wife, so that I may not fly alone in the world.'
"'Granted,' said the Sea King; and immediately a beautiful little silver trout swam the surface, and then flew to his side.
"With joy the silver fish greeted his mate, and forthwith they fluttered into a tree on the banks of the Hudson River, and commenced building a nest.
"In the due course of time a brood of little flying fish were peeping up in the nest, and the papa and mamma had their hands full (so to speak) in finding food for their young; they were very happy, and thought this was the perfection of living, and heartily despised their old companions in the beautiful brook.
"But, alas! in this world it is very often the case that just as we have attained our wishes, and are perfectly happy—bang! it is all over. This was literally the case with our poor little trout, for a party of sportsmen crossing the river in a row-boat seeing such a queer bird, one of them deliberately took aim and shot the mother trout, just as she was returning with food for her children; and the poor papa, who had been keeping watch on the nest, in the extremity of his terror, opened his mouth, and popped out his eyes, and took to flight, and left his family to be captured by the wicked sportsmen.
"But our little flying fish happened to alight among desert-like sands and rocks—far, far away from the least thing to eat or drink. Faint, weary, and unable to rise again, he lay fluttering, panting, and beating himself against the flinty stones. Oh! how he longed for one drop of crystal water out of his own little brook—only one drop.
"Gasping, wounded, and sore, he lay there, wretched and all alone, till at length, with a sob and a sigh, he breathed his last. He was dead.
"The second little silver trout was not so high-minded as the first; still he was dreadfully conceited, and moreover, he was a narrow-hearted, selfish little fish; for, provided he was safe and happy, he did not care the flap of a fin, what became of all the rest of the fishes in the whole universe, or anywhere else.
"'So,' said he to Neptune, 'may it please your worshipful honor; I do not wish for wings to fly, for I do not care to poke my nose into strange places; I might get lost or hurt, you know; I was contented enough until the other day, when I saw a great rope come down into the water, and fasten itself in some mysterious way about the gills of a sweet little cousin of mine, and she was hauled and dragged out of the water before my eyes, wriggling and struggling with fright and pain. It scared me terribly, your worshipful honor; for I thought this dreadful rope might some time fasten upon me. Now, all I desire, is to know the meaning of this rope, and of every single one of the dangers to which you have subjected us poor little fishes.'
"No sooner said than done. Neptune opened the eyes of the little trout in such a marvellous manner, that he understood in a moment all about snares, nets, hooks, and the lines, which he called a rope, artificial flies, and every other danger to which little fishes are exposed.
"At first he was perfectly delighted with his newly-acquired knowledge, and he took precious good care from this time forth, not to go into deep water, for fear a great greedy pike or some other great fish might be there and swallow him up at a mouthful. He kept away from the shallow places in hot weather, lest the sun should dry them up. When he saw a shadow on the water, he said to himself, 'Halloo! here are the good-for-nothing fishermen with their nets!' and immediately he sculled away and got under the banks, where he sat trembling in all his scales; and when he saw a tempting fly skimming on the water, or a nice fat worm, he did not dare to bite, although he was half-starved. 'No, no,' said the little trout, 'I am not such a fool as all that comes to; go and tempt those flats, the flounders; I know better.'
"In this way the poor little silver trout kept himself in a continual fright and flurry; and, of course, could neither eat, drink, nor sleep, for fear some mischief might be at hand.
"He grew poorer and poorer, and sighed and frightened himself to skin and bone, until at last—ah me!—dear me!—alas! he died, for fear of dying.
"Now when Neptune came to the youngest trout, and asked him what he wished for, he said: 'Oh, your great big Highness, you know I am but a very foolish and good-for-nothing little fish; I don't know what is good for me and what is bad for me; and I wonder how I came to be thought worth bringing into the world at all. But if I must wish for any thing, it is that you will please to do whatever you think best; I shall be happy to live or die, just as you would have me.'
"When the precious little silver trout had said all this so sweetly and modestly, Neptune immediately felt an immense liking for him, and determined to take great care of this sweet little fish who had such entire trust in his goodness; so he watched tenderly over him, and was a father and a friend to him. He put a perfect fountain of contentment into his gills, and, consequently, happiness into his heart.
"Thus, this dear little trout slept always in peace, and wakened in gladness; and whether he was full or hungry, or whatever happened to him, he was still pleased and thankful; and he is now the happiest of all the little fishes that swim in our beautiful brook."
A delighted murmur of applause rose on every side as Charm-ear finished this excellent story; and Charley was, if possible, still more enchanted to find such a capital moral in a story told by a fairy. Peas-cod and Bean-pod looked very uncomfortable as the Queen said, "Thank you, Charm-ear; you have related the story well; and I hope," she continued, looking kindly at the discontented fays, "it will have a profitable effect. It is no doubt a great blessing to possess what one wishes; but it is a greater blessing still, not to desire that which we can never possess."
Then the Queen, who ruled altogether by LOVE, said: "Go, dear Peas-cod and Bean-pod—go join the dances; I give you Lilliebelle and Dewdrop for partners, and let me hear no more of discontent."
The two green fairies brightened up amazingly when they heard their Queen speaking so kindly; really, their green coats became quite fashionable-looking—and not such a bad color either; and though Lilliebelle and Dewdrop pouted a little at their humble partners, they dared not disobey the Queen; but soon the inspiring music and the pleasure of dancing, of which, like all fairies and most young ladies, they were immoderately fond, caused them to forget their annoyance, especially as Peas-cod and Bean-pod were accomplished dancers, and hopped about in the most surprising manner.
And Charley looked on in an ecstasy of delight, and the flush deepened and brightened in his cheek. It seemed as if a million of tiny flowers of every color had been taken from their stems and had gone on a pic-nic, and were now at the very height of their fun. Such laughing! such dancing! such eager rushing for the ices and other goodies, just as you do at your parties. In one corner a small party of extremely fashionable belles were promenading, each holding a parasol over her head made of a small green leaf, to preserve her complexion; for you must know that moonbeams are very tanning. Among the honeysuckles, the elderly fairies were playing backgammon, talking, and pretending to admire each others' dresses, thinking their own handsomer all the time; while the bachelor fairies were smoking poppy leaf cigars, and ordering any quantity of buttercups of Maydew.
All at once a tremendous shout of laughter was heard, and Charley and the Queen looking eagerly in the direction whence it came, saw, to their unspeakable astonishment, the old prime minister turning a somerset in the air. He got up, walked a few steps, and went head-over-heels again; while the fairies, ready for any fun, thought he had become crack-brained and was doing it on purpose, and screamed with laughter.
But, bless your little heart! what a mistake they made! Rising from his last leap in the air, with a scowl on his face, breathing forth fire and fury like a hippogriff or a fiery dragon, he pushed his way through the crowd and marched straight to the throne, where, kneeling as well as he could for his bumps and bruises, he demanded of the Queen in a shrill, gasping, wheezing voice, like the wind whistling through a broken bellows:
"Your Majesty!! your Majesty!!! that wretch! that Slyboots! confine him in a nut-shell for a thousand years! tie him fast to a hornet! cut off his wings! oh! oh! oh! the impertinent little scamp!"
"Why, my lord, calm yourself," said the Queen; while Charley looked on in bewildered astonishment at the enraged prime minister, and a great crowd of fairies gathered around.
"Tell me what has happened."
"I need not remind your Majesty that our state affairs are very much behindhand, and not feeling inclined to mix with coxcombs like Ripple, (here the Queen frowned, and Ripple, who was just behind him, made a grimace,) I went to one of the mushroom tables, and sat down to finish my memorial regarding the loan for the hospital for sick bumble-bees, when this torment of a Slyboots comes up, and looking over my shoulder, exclaims, 'What! my lord; surely you are not going to stupefy the Queen with the odious sick bumble-bee memorial to-night, are you? Say?'"
"'Certainly I am,' I said; 'what would become of all the business in the Queen's dominions if it were not for me? Go away, you ugly Ouphe!' At this, Slyboots rushed off in such a haste, and with such a wicked gleam in his eye, that I smelt mischief immediately. 'After finishing my memorial on eleven bees-wings closely written, I was hastening with it to your Majesty, when I fell, with great violence, over three successive ropes that were stretched across the section of the hollow where I had been writing, crumpling and soiling my memorial, and breaking off a corner of my right wing. I know it is Slyboots that has committed this outrage. Drive him out of your kingdom, your Majesty! give him up to the water fairies! tell the snails to poke him well with their horns!' and in a very torrent of passion and anger, the prime minister was going on, when the Queen interrupted him with—'Softly, softly, my lord; we will call Slyboots and hear what he says.'"
And now there was a great call for the culprit; and presently he came in the ring, riding on a comical-looking bull-frog, and making tremendous leaps, apparently in great haste, as if he had been on a long journey, and had just that moment arrived. With an inconceivably roguish air, he alighted, and hastening up, bent his knee before the Queen. The foolish young fairies came very near bursting out laughing when they saw him put on a demure, innocent look of surprise, as he caught sight of the scowling face of the prime minister; but at that moment her Majesty said in an angry tone:
"What shocking mischief have you been doing?"
"I have been doing nothing, your Majesty."
"And who helped you to do it, you saucy goblin?"
"Only a little brown spider," said Slyboots, "and he didn't mean to."
"But between you two, the prime minister has had three heavy falls; and I am afraid not without intention on your part."
"Please your Majesty, if my lord, the prime minister, loads himself with such a heavy article as that sick humble-cum-tumble-bee memorial, and then puts his eyes in his pockets, no wonder he can't see straight before him, and falls down and cracks his crown. Why don't he be jolly, like the rest of us? Your Majesty had better order an unlimited quantity of dandelion feather-beds to be put around in spots for my lord, the prime minister, to turn head over heels in."
"Hush! sauce-box," cried the Queen; while the prime minister gave him a furious look. "Here, Trip (turning to a page), go bring me the little brown spider; I must get at the bottom of this business."
The little brown spider came and made her obeisance, all in a fuzz of fear, for she could not imagine why she was called into the presence of the Queen. She shook so violently, that her Majesty said, kindly:
"Don't be afraid, Brownie; but tell me, with perfect truth, what did Slyboots employ you about this evening?"
"Please your beautiful Majesty," began the spider, "Slyboots is my friend, and I would not like to get him into trouble."
"That is neither here nor there," said the Queen; "I command you to tell me what you did for him."
"Well," said the spider, almost crying, "Slyboots came to my house in the grape-vine in the greatest hurry, and begged me to scrabble and scratch with all my might and main to a certain part of the hollow, and spin three ropes, knee high, just as quickly as possible across it, as some of the court had taken a prodigious fancy to tight-rope dancing, and meant to give an exhibition before the evening was over; and he was to give me, for doing it, just the fattest little fly I ever beheld, which he had fast by the legs; it made my mouth water only to look at it; so, your Majesty may believe, I rushed down and worked at the ropes for dear life, and finished them to Slyboots' satisfaction, for he gave me the delicious fly, and I've just finished eating it up; and that is all I know about it, please your beautiful Majesty."
It was all as plain as moonlight; and after one moment passed in vainly endeavoring to suppress their merriment, the whole court burst into such a scream of laughter, that the very leaves rustled, as if some musical wind had stirred them. Of course not a fairy had ever heard that anybody had taken up the profession of tight-rope dancing, and Slyboots was at once convicted of having told a dreadful fib, and had the ropes erected for the express purpose of tripping up the prime minister, to prevent his boring the Queen on the great gala night with his sick bumble-bee memorial.
There the naughty sprite stood with a penitent look out of one eye, and winking ridiculously with the other; and the fairies having laughed till they were tired, now waited in breathless silence to hear his sentence pronounced.
Charley was really sorry for Slyboots; he was distressed that the fairy had told a falsehood; but, as to the mischief, it was so like the capers his own brothers and sisters were always cutting, that he felt very certain the comical little imp had not one grain of malice in his heart, so he softly touched the Queen's knee, and as she kindly bent down to him, whispered—"Oh, beautiful lady! he has a good heart, and he is very sorry; please to forgive him."
"Slyboots," began the Queen, in a tone which she tried to make very severe, "you have passed all reasonable bounds in this last prank; you have outraged and insulted my faithful servant—and, worse than all, you have told an untruth. If it had not been for this last, I might have forgiven you after you had made fitting apologies to the prime minister; even now I shall lighten your punishment, because this pure and lovely mortal has interceded for you. Listen to your sentence. My power tells me that the great wasp, Spiteful, has just entered the chamber where little Minnie, Charley's sister, is lying peacefully asleep, and within the hour he will thrust his poisonous cruel sting into the tender arm of the little child. With your wings to dart here and there, you might easily conquer him; but these must be fastened together by your friend Brownie, and within the hour you must bring me the dead body of the wasp. You have heard; Brownie, to your work!"
In the midst of a deep silence, the poor little trembling spider began to spin thread after thread round and round the beautiful gauzy wings of the disgraced and now sorrowful fay; one after the other the beautiful tints of blue, and gold, and purple, first faded, then were hidden under the misty cloud-color of network.
The court looked on in sorrow, for the elfin was beloved by many, but not a fay dared murmur or question the justice of the sentence. At last his wings, of a dead dull gray, were prisoned fast; and the Queen, waving her sceptre, said—"Go, Slyboots; if you carry a right spirit to your work, you will win the fight."
The fairy said not a word, but bowed him low, and turned sadly away. The time was short, and he must hasten and don his stoutest armor, for the foe was deadly. A friendly grasshopper offered to take him to the foot of the window where he must enter. With a gleeful spring he mounted, and away with great leaps they went through the ferns and over the grass, scrambling painfully in and out of bramble bushes, and pricking themselves with the sharp nettles that lay in their path. But the grasshopper (that friend in need) carried him bravely through them all, and came at last to a little house under a great mushroom, where Slyboots kept bachelor's hall.
Here he alighted, and hastily fastened on his acorn helmet, with its beautiful plume from the humming bird's breast; then he donned his close-fitting vest, made of the skin of the prickly-pear—the sharp points bristling terror to invaders. On his left arm he carried his trusty shield, made of the back of the golden beetle, and his right hand grasped his sharp blade, fashioned out of the blue sword-grass.
Swiftly he bestrode his grasshopper steed again, and in a few moments they were beneath the open window of the room where lay the sleeping child.
Alighting, and thanking his friendly courser, Slyboots clambered up by the luxuriant rose-vine fastened against the cottage wall, and in a moment had dropped noiselessly into the room.
It was flooded with sweet clear moonlight. Clusters of roses were peeping in at the window, but none were half so lovely as the little human rose-bud lying so quietly in her tiny white bed. She might have come out of Elfin land—she was so fair and sweet; her merry blue eyes closed, her little song-voice stilled, and a lovely flush on her soft cheek from the kissing of the warm and balmy wind, which danced in and out of its own sweet will.
Hovering over her—a malignant gleam in his eyes—was the wasp. Already was his body curved to inflict the mean and cruel sting upon the defenceless child, when, with a bound, Slyboots was upon him, cut him sharply with his sword, and then scampered out of the window and took refuge in a great rose, apologizing to the little fairy whose home it was. With his back against the rose-leaves, and his shield on guard, Slyboots waited for the fray.
Out came the wasp, breathing fire and fury; his usual snarling hum changed into a fiendish roar of rage. Then did begin a most tremendous battle!! The fairy's blows fell thick and fast upon the horny head of his enemy, who vainly sought to sting him; but the trusty shield was never off duty. The wasp kept up a horrid din, as with maddening ferocity and desperation, he tried to find his foe, for he was now blinded with the blows. Panting with pain, and roaring with rage, he flew wildly round and round, returning each time with fourfold fury to the charge, till at last a well-directed stroke of the elfin's sword cleft his head asunder, and he fell prone to the earth, with one prodigious kick of all his feet in the air together.
Down jumped Slyboots from the friendly rose, and making sure of the death of his enemy by sundry bangs and whacks with the flat of his sword, quickly made a stout rope of corn silk, and fastening it round the head of the wasp, began his joyful journey back to the fairy hollow.
The good grasshopper had been a deeply interested spectator of the battle; his eyes hanging out like a lobster's with anxiety, and chirping a perfectly continuous rattle of encouragement to Slyboots, so that really he was as hoarse as a bull-frog when it was all over. With cheerful alacrity he helped the breathless fairy tie up the dead body of the wasp, and willingly allowed the other end of the corn silk rope to be fastened to one of his long hind legs; and then Slyboots mounting him once more, he tugged and scrambled along with his double burthen with so much hearty will, that they arrived at the fairy ground at least one minute and a quarter within the hour.
Meanwhile harmony and order had been restored in the beautiful hollow. The old prime minister was fast asleep under a fern leaf, with his precious bumble-bee memorial under his head, and Charley was watching with delighted interest the many happy groups upon which the moonbeams lovingly rested. Some were dancing the Fairy Lancers, some eating and laughing at the little tables, some having a childish game of cats-cradle with the tendrils of the grape-vine, and all were full of mirth and gaiety, as noisy and happy as it was possible to be; in fact, the fairies were marvellously like you, little reader; you are both full of fun and noise, and have no idea of going through the world slowly and carefully, as if you were stepping on one feather-bed, and had your head tied up in another. Not at all! they and you just jump and tumble about with prodigious talents for frolic, wearing out your shoes, and tearing your clothes—that is, you, for the fairies' shoes and clothes have a patent trick of always looking fresh and new. Charley thought his dear brothers and sisters were very like these little creatures in their fondness for fun, and he did wish that they were here this Midsummer night to have "a real good time."
Presently the Queen said to him, "Charley, did you ever blow bubbles?"
"Yes, often, beautiful lady."
"And what have you seen in them?" asked the Queen.
"Oh! the most lovely colors! and sometimes a charming tiny picture of the room where we were."
"Would you like to see some fairy bubbles?"
"Ah, yes! I should like it of all things."
The Queen gently clapped her hands, and instantly a page was kneeling at her feet.
"Go, Light-wing," said the Queen, "and tell Fancy to come here with her basin of foam and magic pipe."
The fairy rose from his knee, bowed low, and sped away. In an instant he returned in company with the daintiest, most ethereal little elf in fairy-land. Her wings were of air—her golden ringlets danced in the "tremulous, singing wind," giving out the perfume of the blossoming lily; her tiny rose-bud of a mouth opened, disclosing the whitest and smallest seed-pearl teeth, as with a smile beaming with love and sweetness, she said:
"Beloved Queen, most gladly have I come at your bidding. Deign but to command, and I will hasten to obey."
"Dear Fancy," said the Queen, placing her hand tenderly upon Charley's shoulder, "here is a lovely mortal who has suffered from his infancy; but all his pain has not been sufficient to sour his temper, or conquer his gratitude and love for the blessings and mercies which remain to him. As flowers spring from the dust, so have love, and truth, and every noble quality, sprung from the dark and bitter suffering of his life. For this I love him, and will strive to make the few days left to him on earth less sad, less painful; and I will do this by showing him all our fairy life. I have sent for you to ask you to exhibit, for his amusement, some magic bubbles; I would like him to look at them now."
For answer, the little elf bowed gracefully, dipped her pipe in the foaming dew, and began to breathe softly through the stem.
Soon the thin bubble rose in the twinkling fire-fly light. At first it was all of a gray-dark color; but out of this dark, like the sun breaking through the mist, bright golden and ruby tints began to appear.
It grew in size and splendor, till at last the fairy gently waving the pipe, the bubble slowly and gracefully floated away, and up a little, and then poised itself, and rested just before Charley.
It was like a moving picture in an oval frame. Within appeared a large and handsome parlor; a number of beautiful little children were grouped about the room, evidently waiting for some event to happen. Presently a baby-boy entered—a perfect bud of beauty. His fine and snowy-white garment was daintily embroidered and trimmed after a most royal fashion, with ivy leaves. Upon his beautiful head, crowned with light and lovely pale golden curls, was a wreath also of ivy.
With his luminous starry eyes uplifted, and the dimples peeping in and out of his rose-pink cheeks, he went around and offered a welcoming kiss to every one in the room. It was his birthday. Two sweet, happy years, had been unfurled in his little life, and the children were now gathered together in honor of the event.
Charley gazed with lips apart, intent and eager.
All at once he exclaimed,—
"Why! it is Howard! little Howard! Why, yes! and there is sweet little Carrie, his sister, with the beautiful wreath of roses, and the roses on her dress! Oh! what wonders I am seeing!"
As he spoke, a lady entered, Howard's loving and lovely mother, with an immense paper bag, and proceeded to fasten it to the chandelier in the centre of the ceiling; then some one else came in, and spread a large white sheet upon the carpet immediately underneath.
Then one of the little ones was blindfolded, and a cane was put into his hands. He was to try to strike the bag, but instead, he made a tremendous whack at nothing half a yard one side of the bag, which made the children laugh merrily.
Charley laughed, too; you could hear him, but he could only see that the children in the magic bubble were laughing.
"I know them almost all!" he cried, in a voice of delight; "there are Eva, and Robbie, and Alice, and Hattie, and Minnie, and Eddie, and sweet little Kitty and Mortie; and oh! how happy they all look! how perfect! and what a nice time they must be having!"
After two or three had tried to strike the bag, little baby Howard had the handkerchief tied above his eyes, just for fun, because he was too little to be really blindfolded; and, armed with the cane, he grasped it with both tiny hands, his eyes dancing with glee, and a gladsome smile parting his sweet little mouth, showing the pearly teeth within. He gave the bag a sounding thump, and instantly it burst asunder, and a perfect cataract of candies and sugar-plums poured down upon the carpet. Quick as a flash every child in the room was clustered together upon the sheet helter-skelter, head-over-heels, laughing, screaming, dashing after the candies; and then—the bubble burst, and Charley saw no more.
"Oh! oh! how beautiful! how wonderful!" said the lame boy; "dear, dear little fairy! I thank you; but I should so like to know what the children did after that."
Again the pipe was dipped in the foam-dew, and the fairy blew out another bubble, that floated away and rested as before.
This time a wide hall, with a table in the centre, appeared. Upon the table the colored waiters were quickly placing large dishes of cakes, oranges, mottoes, and pyramids of cream. A door, within which shone a bright light, opened into this hall, and a little dancing form flitting past now and then, showed that the children were frolicking inside.
When the table was so perfectly covered, that it very nearly broke down under the weight of goodies, there was seen issuing from the parlor-door, first, the beautiful little king of the feast, carried in his father's arms, his eyes sparkling, and his whole face radiant with smiles. After him came, two and two, all the lovely little band; they marched entirely round the table, and you may be sure they all looked one way—and that way was the table-way, of course, where such a grand feast was spread out. That was the party, as I once heard a little girl say, and who added, "Oh! I'm so glad! the party has come—look what a lot of it!"
And now what a tremendous time the boys had helping the little girls, and filling their laps with every thing they could lay their hands on, and then cramming their own pockets till they stuck out all over like balloons.
Just as they were in the height of eating, and laughing, and presenting each other with mottoes, on which were printed the most beautiful poetry, declaring that they would love each other as long as they lived, and nobody knows how much longer; and Charley was looking on wild with delight—presto! the bubble suddenly burst, and the picture was gone.
"Oh! can any thing be more perfect!" cried Charley. "I am so happy! Dear little fairy! do let me kiss you for making me so happy."
With a loving smile the beautiful elfin fluttered her wings and flew into his breast, where she lay nestling like a little white dove. Charley tenderly lifted her up, kissed her soft tiny cheek, touched her golden ringlets, and felt her breath, fragrant as the perfume of violets, fanning his face. He was silent with happiness, painting over in his mind Fancy's magic pictures. The beautiful Queen sat watching him, and enjoying his delight, when a far-off sound startled them both—a sound of acclamation. Nearer and nearer it came, till the air rang with tiny shouts and joyful clapping of hands. The voices were respectfully hushed as a crowd of fairies advanced into the Queen's presence; and Charley saw that Slyboots was in their midst, weary and breathless, his wings still hidden in the spider-net, but exultantly dragging the dead wasp by the corn-silk cord. His wee face looked pale; but his eyes shone with the old brightness, as the Queen's glance fell kindly and approvingly upon him.
"Did you arrive in time to save Minnie from the cruel sting?" she said.
"I did, please your gracious Majesty," answered Slyboots.
"And did you waken her?"
"No, my Queen; I struck the wasp, and drew him outside of the window, where I took refuge in a rose, and from thence, with my good sword, I gave him battle. Long and fiercely we fought in the moonlight. The little yellow butterflies crept under the leaves affrighted; the midges in the air trembled, and whispered to each other that an earthquake was surely at hand; but at last my enemy bit the dust, and I pounded him till he was as dead as the prime minister's abominable bumble-bee's mem—"
"Silence!" interrupted the Queen; but she really had to laugh, for Slyboots looked at her with such a comical twist of his eye, which changed to a beam of happiness as her Majesty said to him:
"You have done your task aright, and gladly we forgive you; but remember, Slyboots, never let your love of fun carry you so far again; and put this piece of advice in your pocket—keep out of the way of the prime minister the next time you have tight ropes erected for your friends to dance on."
Slyboots' face grew as red as a scarlet poppy at this allusion, and the laugh that followed; and the Queen, seeing his confusion, said: "Quick, Ripple—quick, Firefly—release his wings."
In a moment the fairy knights had cut away the gray network, and Slyboots joyfully shook his wings, now brighter than ever.
Just at that moment a bugle-call sounded from the sentry at the top of Crow Nest, and a faint twittering of a little bird was heard in a tree skirting the hollow. The dawn was coming, lifting the dew-mist from the lap of the earth; a faint light was streaking the east, as the Queen, gathering her shining band, with Charley in the midst, rose in the air, and flitted away to the cottage window. Softly they laid him down, and the Queen touched his eyes. The white lids drooped heavily, then closed, as a grateful balmy sleep wrapped his senses like a mantle.
Then the Queen softly detached the gauzy wings, and handed them to her page, Lightwing, charging him to guard them carefully. The little mother lay with her cheek in her hand, never stirring, and the kitten looked on this time with a friendly purr; and just as the first day glimpse had gilded the hill-tops, the fairy train had vanished into the sweet hazy mist of the MIDSUMMER MORN.
THE CHILDREN'S LIFE.
Midsummer morning broke in gorgeous, glorious brightness. Light fleecy clouds floated swiftly over the blue heaven; a crisp fresh wind curled the waters of the Hudson; and the beautiful little island opposite West Point lay on its bosom like an emerald; its green banks clasped by the loving tide.
With the first drum-beat, the happy Nightcap children were up and dressed; and having, with more gratitude than usual, thanked their Heavenly Father for so many blessings, they went first to inquire how their dear brother Charley had passed the night.
"Hush!" said the little mother, as they came to the door, "don't chatter now; Charley is still sleeping; do not make any noise; see how lovely he looks."
The children crept in on tiptoe, and gazed lovingly at the sleeping boy. At that moment a warm glow flashed suddenly into his cheek, and his lips parted in a glad smile.
"Oh! see, see!" whispered the children, "Charley is dreaming; perhaps he is talking to the fairies the doctor told us about; when he awakes we will ask him."
Then they went softly down stairs and out into the fresh delicious air. The birds were chanting their morning hymns; the lawn was golden green with the sun's rays, and spangled with dew. Bees were dreamily humming over the wealth of honeysuckles and roses that covered the cottage-wall, gathering their sweet and fragrant food at their leisure.
The children felt the blessed influences of all these lovely works of the great Creator in an increase (if such a thing were possible) of their happiness and joy.
You would have thought they were made of corks, so lightly did they skip here and there, running round the trees after each other, the boys turning somersets on the grass, and the girls declaring that they could get to the top of Crow Nest with only a hop, skip, and jump.
"Oh, delightful!" cried George, "to get up a mountain with three steps! you'll have to borrow Jack's seven-leagued boots. I wonder who lives on the top?"
"Why, the crows, to be sure," said Harry, "and they keep up such a talking; it is like a hail-storm all the time; you never heard any thing like the way crows can scold. If one crow is caught stealing, all the rest caw and croak at him, till he very nearly goes into fits, and then they all fly at him till he hasn't a feather left; I read all about it in my Natural History."
"Oh!" cried little Minnie, "how I like to hear stories about fishes! tell another crow story."
While the children were good-naturedly laughing and explaining to Minnie that a crow was a bird, their mother appeared at the cottage-door and said, "Breakfast, children."
In they all rushed, quite ready for the nice corn-bread, boiled eggs, and real milk—not milkman's milk—but they looked round in some surprise for Charley.
"He is still sleeping," said the little mother, "and smiling in his sleep; this quiet rest will do him so much good, I hope. Oh, my precious Charley!" she exclaimed, "if I could only keep you a little longer;" and her eyes filled with tears.
The children looked sad and grave, and two or three went round and kissed their mother, and patted her kind cheek, and said they were sure Charley was better. After breakfast they stole softly up stairs to look again at their darling brother.
Charley was sitting up in bed as they entered: a strange bewildered expression was upon his face, and he had his hands behind him, trying to feel his shoulders.
"Do come here, George," said he, "and see if there are wings upon my back."
"WINGS!!!" shouted the children in amazement, "what can Charley mean?"
"Yes, wings," replied Charley; "the fairy Queen fastened them upon my back last night, and I went with her and her beautiful maids of honor to the Midsummer ball. Oh! how delightful it was, and how I longed for you!"
"Goodness!" exclaimed the children, "did you really go? How perfect! Did you ever? Why didn't they take us, too? Oh, Charley! do begin at the very beginning, and tell us all about it. Won't you? Say! do, come!"
Clustering around the bed, their eyes fastened upon his face, breathless with wonder and delight, and with no end of exclamations, they listened to the enchanting account of Charley's adventures. The little mother came in the room just at the end; upon which they all rushed at her in a body, and told the amazing story over again, all talking at the same time; and the little mother said quite as many "Ahs" and "Ohs" and "did you evers" as they did. But she smiled lovingly at her lame boy, and parting the golden curls on his white forehead, and kissing him tenderly, whispered, "My darling knows that he has been DREAMING."
Was it a dream?
Charley was so much better that day, that the good doctor, when he came, was astonished; and when he heard that the fairies had done him the honor to take him to their Midsummer festival, he was delighted, as well as astonished, and laughingly declared that the elves had robbed him of his patient. "Why, Charley," he continued, "if the fairy Queen can put such a rosy color in your cheeks, and such a sparkle in your eyes in one night, she beats me all to pieces at doctoring. I shall have to give you up to her, and only come here every day to make a social call, so that you and I, two old fellows, can have a talk about the state of the country. But I may as well put my pills and powders into one of the cannons, and fire them off at some of the fine ladies who go about, sweeping the parade-ground with their furbelowed dresses, and think they are dying of dyspepsia, when all they want is some useful occupation. I have lots of them to make bread pills for, and I may as well let the fairies have my dear little friend here."
Just at that instant the drums made a prodigious clatter, and the children started up to see what it meant.