THE SEVEN LITTLE SISTERS WHO LIVE ON THE ROUND BALL THAT FLOATS IN THE AIR
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY LOUISA PARSONS HOPKINS FORMERLY SUPERVISOR IN BOSTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
MY THREE LITTLE FRIENDS
Marnie, Bell, and Geordie
I HAVE WRITTEN THESE STORIES
MEMORIAL OF MISS JANE ANDREWS THE BALL ITSELF THE LITTLE BROWN BABY AGOONACK, THE ESQUIMAU SISTER HOW AGOONACK LIVES THROUGH THE LONG SUMMER GEMILA, THE CHILD OF THE DESERT THE LITTLE MOUNTAIN MAIDEN THE STORY OF PEN-SE THE LITTLE DARK GIRL LOUISE, THE CHILD OF THE BEAUTIFUL RIVER RHINE LOUISE, THE CHILD OF THE WESTERN FOREST THE SEVEN LITTLE SISTERS
MEMORIAL OF MISS JANE ANDREWS. [Born Dec. 1, 1833. Died July 15, 1887.]
BY LOUISA PARSONS HOPKINS.
Perhaps the readers and lovers of this little book will be glad of a few pages, by way of introduction, which shall show them somewhat of Miss Andrews herself, and of her way of writing and teaching, as an old friend and schoolmate may try to tell it; and, to begin with, a glimpse of the happy day when she called a few of her friends together to listen to the stories contained in this volume, before they were offered to a publisher.
Picture to yourselves a group of young ladies in one of the loveliest of old-fashioned parlors, looking out on a broad, elm-shaded street in the old town of Newburyport. The room is long and large, with wide mahogany seats in the four deep windows, ancient mahogany chairs, and great bookcases across one side of the room, with dark pier-tables and centre-table, and large mirror,—all of ancestral New England solidity and rich simplicity; some saintly portraits on the wall, a modern easel in the corner accounting for fine bits of coloring on canvas, crayon drawings about the room, and a gorgeous firescreen of autumn tints; nasturtium vines in bloom glorifying the south window, and German ivy decorating the north corner; choice books here and there, not to look at only, but to be assimilated; with an air of quiet refinement and the very essence of cultured homeness pervading all;—this is the meagre outline of a room, which, having once sat within, you would wish never to see changed, in which many pure and noble men and women have loved to commune with the lives which have been so blent with all its suggestions that it almost seems a part of their organic being.
But it was twenty-five years ago [This memorial was written in 1887.] that this circle of congenial and expectant young people were drawn together in the room to listen to the first reading of the MSS. of "The Seven Little Sisters." I will not name them all; but one whose youthful fame and genius were the pride of all, Harriet Prescott (now Mrs. Spofford), was Jane's friend and neighbor for years, and heard most of her books in MSS. They were all friends, and in a very sympathetic and eager attitude of mind, you may well believe; for in the midst, by the centre-table, sits Jane, who has called them together; and knowing that she has really written a book, each one feels almost that she herself has written it in some unconscious way, because each feels identified with Jane's work, and is ready to be as proud of it, and as sure of it, as all the world is now of the success of Miss Jane Andrews's writings for the boys and girls in these little stories of geography and history which bear her name.
I can see Jane sitting there, as I wish you could, with her MSS. on the table at her side. She is very sweet and good and noble-looking, with soft, heavy braids of light-brown hair carefully arranged on her fine, shapely head; her forehead is full and broad; her eyes large, dark blue, and pleasantly commanding, but with very gentle and dreamy phases interrupting their placid decision of expression; her features are classic and firm in outline, with pronounced resolution in the close of the full lips, or of hearty merriment in the open laugh, illuminated by a dazzle of well-set teeth; her complexion fresh and pure, and the whole aspect of her face kind, courageous, and inspiring, as well as thoughtful and impressive. The poise of her head and rather strongly built figure is unusually good, and suggestive of health, dignity, and leadership; yet her manners and voice are so gentle, and her whole demeanor so benevolent, that no one could be offended at her taking naturally the direction of any work, or the planning of any scheme, which she would also be foremost in executing.
But there she sits looking up at her friends, with her papers in hand, and the pretty businesslike air that so well became her, and bespeaks the extreme criticism of her hearers upon what she shall read, because she really wants to know how it affects them, and what mistakes or faults can be detected; for she must do her work as well as possible, and is sure they are willing to help. "You see," says Jane, "I have dedicated the book to the children I told the stories to first, when the plan was only partly in my mind, and they seemed to grow by telling, till at last they finished themselves; and the children seemed to care so much for them, that I thought if they were put into a book other children might care for them too, and they might possibly do some good in the world."
Yes, those were the points that always indicated the essential aim and method of Jane's writing and teaching, the elements out of which sprang all her work; viz., the relation of her mind to the actual individual children she knew and loved, and the natural growth of her thought through their sympathy, and the accretion of all she read and discovered while the subject lay within her brooding brain, as well as the single dominant purpose to do some good in the world. There was definiteness as well as breadth in her way of working all through her life.
I wish I could remember exactly what was said by that critical circle; for there were some quick and brilliant minds, and some pungent powers of appreciation, and some keen-witted young women in that group. Perhaps I might say they had all felt the moulding force of some very original and potential educators as they had been growing up into their young womanhood. Some of these were professional educators of lasting pre-eminence; others were not professed teachers, yet in the truest and broadest sense teachers of very wide and wise and inspiring influence; and of these Thomas Wentworth Higginson had come more intimately and effectually into formative relations with the minds and characters of those gathered in that sunny room than any other person. They certainly owed much of the loftiness and breadth of their aim in life, and their comprehension of the growth and work to be accomplished in the world, to his kind and steady instigation. I wish I could remember what they said, and what Jane said; but all that has passed away. I think somebody objected to the length of the title, which Jane admitted to be a fault, but said something of wishing to get the idea of the unity of the world into it as the main idea of the book. I only recall the enthusiastic delight with which chapter after chapter was greeted; we declared that it was a fairy tale of geography, and a work of genius in its whole conception, and in its absorbing interest of detail and individuality; and that any publisher would demonstrate himself an idiot who did not want to publish it. I remember Jane's quick tossing back of the head, and puzzled brow which broke into a laugh, as she said: "Well, girls, it can't be as good as you say; there must be some faults in it." But we all exclaimed that we had done our prettiest at finding fault,—that there wasn't a ghost of a fault in it. For the incarnate beauty and ideality and truthfulness of her little stories had melted into our being, and left us spellbound, till we were one with each other and her; one with the Seven Little Sisters, too, and they seemed like our very own little sisters. So they have rested in our imagination and affection as we have seen them grow into the imagination and affection of generations of children since, and as they will continue to grow until the old limitations and barrenness of the study of geography shall be transfigured, and the earth seem to the children an Eden which love has girdled, when Gemila, Agoonack, and the others shall have won them to a knowledge of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God.
I would like to bring before young people who have read her books some qualities of her mind and character which made her the rare woman, teacher, and writer that she was. I knew her from early girlhood. We went to the same schools, in more and more intimate companionship, from the time we were twelve until we were twenty years of age; and our lives and hearts were "grappled" to each other "with links of steel" ever after. She was a precocious child, early matured, and strong in intellectual and emotional experiences. She had a remarkably clear mind, orderly and logical in its processes, and loved to take up hard problems. She studied all her life with great joy and earnestness, rarely, if ever, baffled in her persistent learning except by ill-health. She went on at a great pace in mathematics for a young girl; every step seemed easy to her. She took everything severe that she could get a chance at, in the course or out of it,—surveying, navigation, mechanics, mathematical astronomy, and conic sections, as well as the ordinary course in mathematics; the calculus she had worked through at sixteen under a very able and exact teacher, and took her diploma from W.H. Wells, a master who allowed nothing to go slipshod. She was absorbed in studies of this kind, and took no especial interest in composition or literature beyond what was required, and what was the natural outcome of a literary atmosphere and inherited culture; that is, her mind was passively rather than actively engaged in such directions, until later. At the normal school she led a class which has had a proud intellectual record as teachers and workers. She was the easy victor in every contest; with an inclusive grasp, an incisive analysis, instant generalization, a very tenacious and ready memory, and unusual talent for every effort of study, she took and held the first place as a matter of course until she graduated, when she gave the valedictory address. This valedictory was a prophetic note in the line of her future expression; for it gave a graphic illustration of the art of teaching geography, to the consideration of which she had been led by Miss Crocker's logical, suggestive, and masterly presentation of the subject in the school course. Her ability and steadiness of working power, as well as singleness of aim, attracted the attention of Horace Mann, who was about forming the nucleus of Antioch College; and he succeeded in gaining her as one of his promised New England recruits. She had attended very little to Latin, and went to work at once to prepare for the classical requirements of a college examination. This she did with such phenomenal rapidity that in six weeks she had fitted herself for what was probably equivalent to a Harvard entrance examination in Latin. She went to Antioch, and taught, as well as studied for a while, until her health gave way entirely; and she was prostrate for years with brain and spine disorders. Of course this put an end to her college career; and on her recovery she opened her little school in her own house, which she held together until her final illness, and to which she devoted her thoughts and energies, her endowments and attainments, as well as her prodigal devotion and love.
The success of "The Seven Little Sisters" was a great pleasure to her, partly because her dear mother and friends were so thoroughly satisfied with it. Her mother always wished that Jane would give her time more exclusively to writing, especially as new outlines of literary work were constantly aroused in her active brain. She wrote several stories which were careful studies in natural science, and which appeared in some of the magazines. I am sure they would be well worth collecting. She had her plan of "Each and All" long in her mind before elaborating, and it crystallized by actual contact with the needs and the intellectual instincts of her little classes. In fact all her books grew, like a plant, from within outwards; they were born in the nursery of the schoolroom, and nurtured by the suggestions of the children's interest, thus blooming in the garden of a true and natural education. The last book she wrote, "Ten Boys Who Lived on the Road from Long Ago to Now," she had had in her mind for years. This little book she dedicated to a son of her sister Margaret. I am sure she gave me an outline of the plan fully ten years before she wrote it out. The subject of her mental work lay in her mind, growing, gathering to itself nourishment, and organizing itself consciously or unconsciously by all the forces of her unresting brain and all the channels of her study, until it sprung from her pen complete at a stroke. She wrote good English, of course, and would never sentimentalize, but went directly at the pith of the matter; and, if she had few thoughts on a subject, she made but few words. I don't think she did much by way of revising or recasting after her thought was once committed to paper. I think she wrote it as she would have said it, always with an imaginary child before her, to whose intelligence and sympathy it was addressed. Her habit of mind was to complete a thought before any attempt to convey it to others. This made her a very helpful and clear teacher and leader. She seemed always to have considered carefully anything she talked about, and gave her opinion with a deliberation and clear conviction which affected others as a verdict, and made her an oracle to a great many kinds of people. All her plans were thoroughly shaped before execution; all her work was true, finished, and conscientious in every department. She did a great deal of quiet, systematic thinking from her early school days onward, and was never satisfied until she completed the act of thought by expression and manifestation in some way for the advantage of others. The last time I saw her, which was for less than five minutes accorded me by her nurse during her last illness, she spoke of a new plan of literary work which she had in mind, and although she attempted no delineation of it, said she was thinking it out whenever she felt that it was safe for her to think. Her active brain never ceased its plans for others, for working toward the illumination of the mind, the purification of the soul, and the elevation and broadening of all the ideals of life. I remember her sitting, absorbed in reflection, at the setting of the sun every evening while we were at the House Beautiful of the Peabodys [We spent nearly all our time at West Newton in a little cottage on the hill, where Miss Elizabeth Peabody, with her saintly mother and father, made a paradise of love and refinement and ideal culture for us, and where we often met the Hawthornes and Manns; and we shall never be able to measure the wealth of intangible mental and spiritual influence which we received therefrom.] at West Newton; or, when at home, gazing every night, before retiring, from her own house-top, standing at her watchtower to commune with the starry heavens, and receive that exaltation of spirit which is communicated when we yield ourselves to the "essentially religious." (I use this phrase, because it delighted her so when I repeated it to her as the saying of a child in looking at the stars.)
No one ever felt a twinge of jealousy in Jane's easy supremacy; she never made a fuss about it, although I think she had no mock modesty in the matter. She accepted the situation which her uniform correctness of judgment assured to her, while she always accorded generous praise and deference to those who excelled her in departments where she made no pretence of superiority.
There were some occasions when her idea of duty differed from a conventional one, perhaps from that of some of her near friends; but no one ever doubted her strict dealing with herself, or her singleness of motive. She did not feel the need of turning to any other conscience than her own for support or enlightenment, and was inflexible and unwavering in any course she deemed right. She never apologized for herself in any way, or referred a matter of her own experience or sole responsibility to another for decision; neither did she seem to feel the need of expressed sympathy in any private loss or trial. Her philosophy of life, her faith, or her temperament seemed equal to every exigency of disappointment or suffering. She generally kept her personal trials hidden within her own heart, and recovered from every selfish pain by the elastic vigor of her power for unselfish devotion to the good of others. She said that happiness was to have an unselfish work to do, and the power to do it.
It has been said that Jane's only fault was that she was too good. I think she carried her unselfishness too often to a short-sighted excess, breaking down her health, and thus abridging her opportunities for more permanent advantage to those whom she would have died to serve; but it was solely on her own responsibility, and in consequence of her accumulative energy of temperament, that made her unconscious of the strain until too late.
Her brain was constitutionally sensitive and almost abnormally active; and she more than once overtaxed it by too continuous study, or by a disregard of its laws of health, or by a stupendous multiplicity of cares, some of which it would have been wiser to leave to others. She took everybody's burdens to carry herself. She was absorbed in the affairs of those she loved,—of her home circle, of her sisters' families, and of many a needy one whom she adopted into her solicitude. She was thoroughly fond of children and of all that they say and do, and would work her fingers off for them, or nurse them day and night. Her sisters' children were as if they had been her own, and she revelled in all their wonderful manifestations and development. Her friends' children she always cared deeply for, and was hungry for their wise and funny remarks, or any hint of their individuality. Many of these things she remembered longer than the mothers themselves, and took the most thorough satisfaction in recounting.
I have often visited her school, and it seemed like a home with a mother in it. There we took sweet counsel together, as if we had come to the house of God in company; for our methods were identical, and a day in her school was a day in mine. We invariably agreed as to the ends of the work, and how to reach them; for we understood each other perfectly in that field of art.
I wish I could show her life with all its constituent factors of ancestry, home, and surroundings; for they were so inherent in her thoughts and feelings that you could hardly separate her from them in your consideration. But that is impossible. Disinterested benevolence was the native air of the house into which she was born, and she was an embodiment of that idea. To devote herself to some poor outcast, to reform a distorted soul, to give all she had to the most abject, to do all she could for the despised and rejected,—this was her craving and absorbing desire. I remember some comical instances of the pursuance of this self-abnegation, where the returns were, to say the least, disappointing; but she was never discouraged. It would be easy to name many who received a lifelong stimulus and aid at her hands, either intellectual or moral. She had much to do with the development of some remarkable careers, as well as with the regeneration of many poor and abandoned souls.
She was in the lives of her dear ones, and they in hers, to a very unusual degree; and her life-threads are twined inextricably in theirs forever. She was a complete woman,—brain, will, affections, all, to the greatest extent, active and unselfish; her character was a harmony of many strong and diverse elements; her conscience was a great rock upon which her whole nature rested; her hands were deft and cunning; her ingenious brain was like a master mechanic at expedients; and in executive and administrative power, as well as in device and comprehension, she was a marvel. If she had faults, they are indistinguishable in the brightness and solidity of her whole character. She was ready to move into her place in any sphere, and adjust herself to any work God should give her to do. She must be happy, and shedding happiness, wherever she is; for that is an inseparable quality and function of her identity.
She passed calmly out of this life, and lay at rest in her own home, in that dear room so full of memories of her presence, with flowers to deck her bed, and many of her dearest friends around her; while the verses which her beloved sister Caroline had selected seemed easily to speak with Jane's own voice, as they read:—
Prepare the house, kind friends; drape it and deck it With leaves and blossoms fair: Throw open doors and windows, and call hither The sunshine and soft air.
Let all the house, from floor to ceiling, look Its noblest and its best; For it may chance that soon may come to me A most imperial guest.
A prouder visitor than ever yet Has crossed my threshold o'er, One wearing royal sceptre and a crown Shall enter at my door;
Shall deign, perchance, sit at my board an hour, And break with me my bread; Suffer, perchance, this night my honored roof Shelter his kingly head.
And if, ere comes the sun again, he bid me Arise without delay, And follow him a journey to his kingdom Unknown and far away;
And in the gray light of the dawning morn We pass from out my door, My guest and I, silent, without farewell, And to return no more,—
Weep not, kind friends, I pray; not with vain tears Let your glad eyes grow dim; Remember that my house was all prepared, And that I welcomed him.
THE SEVEN LITTLE SISTERS.
THE BALL ITSELF.
Dear children, I have heard of a wonderful ball, which floats in the sweet blue air, and has little soft white clouds about it, as it swims along.
There are many charming and astonishing things to be told of this ball, and some of them you shall hear.
In the first place, you must know that it is a very big ball; far bigger than the great soft ball, of bright colors, that little Charley plays with on the floor,—yes, indeed; and bigger than cousin Frank's largest football, that he brought home from college in the spring; bigger, too, than that fine round globe in the schoolroom, that Emma turns about so carefully, while she twists her bright face all into wrinkles as she searches for Afghanistan or the Bosphorus Straits. Long names, indeed; they sound quite grand from her little mouth, but they mean nothing to you and me now.
Let me tell you about my ball. It is so large that trees can grow on it; so large that cattle can graze, and wild beasts roam, upon it; so large that men and women can live on it, and little children too,—as you already know, if you have read the title-page of this book. In some places it is soft and green, like the long meadow between the hills, where the grass was so high last summer that we almost lost Marnie when she lay down to roll in it; in some parts it is covered with tall and thick forests, where you might wander like the "babes in the wood," nor ever find your way out; then, again, it is steep and rough, covered with great hills, much higher than that high one behind the schoolhouse,—so high that when you look up ever so far you can't see the tops of them; but in some parts there are no hills at all, and quiet little ponds of blue water, where the white water-lilies grow, and silvery fishes play among their long stems. Bell knows, for she has been among the lilies in a boat with papa.
Now, if we look on another side of the ball, we shall see no ponds, but something very dreary. I am afraid you won't like it. A great plain of sand,—sand like that on the seashore, only here there is no sea,—and the sand stretches away farther than you can see, on every side; there are no trees, and the sunshine beats down, almost burning whatever is beneath it.
Perhaps you think this would be a grand place to build sand-houses. One of the little sisters lives here; and, when you read of her, you will know what she thinks about it. Always the one who has tried it knows best.
Look at one more side of my ball, as it turns around. Jack Frost must have spent all his longest winter nights here, for see what a palace of ice he has built for himself. Brave men have gone to those lonely places, to come back and tell us about them; and, alas! some heroes have not returned, but have lain down there to perish of cold and hunger. Doesn't it look cold, the clear blue ice, almost as blue as the air? And look at the snow, drifts upon drifts, and the air filled with feathery flakes even now.
We won't look at this side longer, but we shall come back again to see Agoonack in her little sledge. Don't turn over yet to find the story; we shall come to it all in good time.
Now, what do you think of my ball, so white and cold, so soft and green, so quiet and blue, so dreary and rough, as it floats along in the sweet blue air, with the flocks of white clouds about it?
I will tell you one thing more. The wise men have said that this earth on which we live is nothing more nor less than just such a ball. Of this we shall know when we are older and wiser; but here is the little brown baby waiting for us.
THE LITTLE BROWN BABY.
Far away in the warm country lives a little brown baby; she has a brown face, little brown hands and fingers, brown body, arms, and legs, and even her little toes are also brown.
And this baby wears no little frock nor apron, no little petticoat, nor even stockings and shoes,—nothing at all but a string of beads around her neck, as you wear your coral; for the sun shines very warmly there, and she needs no clothes to keep her from the cold.
Her hair is straight and black, hanging softly down each side of her small brown face; nothing at all like Bell's golden curls, or Marnie's sunny brown ones.
Would you like to know how she lives among the flowers and the birds?
She rolls in the long soft grass, where the gold-colored snakes are at play; she watches the young monkeys chattering and swinging among the trees, hung by the tail; she chases the splendid green parrots that fly among the trees; and she drinks the sweet milk of the cocoanut from a round cup made of its shell.
When night comes, the mother takes her baby and tosses her up into the little swinging bed in the tree, which her father made for her from the twisting vine that climbs among the branches. And the wind blows and rocks the little bed; and the mother sits at the foot of the tree singing a mild sweet song, and this brown baby falls asleep. Then the stars come out and peep through the leaves at her. The birds, too, are all asleep in the tree; the mother-bird spreading her wings over the young ones in the nest, and the father-bird sitting on a twig close by with his head under his wing. Even the chattering monkey has curled himself up for the night.
Soon the large round moon comes up. She, too, must look into the swinging bed, and shine upon the closed eyes of the little brown baby. She is very gentle, and sends her soft light among the branches and thick green leaves, kissing tenderly the small brown feet, and the crest on the head of the mother-bird, who opens one eye and looks quickly about to see if any harm is coming to the young ones. The bright little stars, too, twinkle down through the shadows to bless the sleeping child. All this while the wind blows and rocks the little bed, singing also a low song through the trees; for the brown mother has fallen asleep herself, and left the night-wind to take care of her baby.
So the night moves on, until, all at once, the rosy dawn breaks over the earth; the birds lift up their heads, and sing and sing; the great round sun springs up, and, shining into the tree, lifts the shut lids of the brown baby's eyes. She rolls over and falls into her mother's arms, who dips her into the pretty running brook for a bath, and rolls her in the grass to dry, and then she may play among the birds and flowers all day long; for they are like merry brothers and sisters to the happy child, and she plays with them on the bosom of the round earth, which seems to love them all like a mother.
This is the little brown baby. Do you love her? Do you think you would know her if you should meet her some day?
A funny little brown sister. Are all of them brown?
We will see, for here comes Agoonack and her sledge.
AGOONACK, THE ESQUIMAU SISTER.
What is this odd-looking mound of stone? It looks like the great brick oven that used to be in our old kitchen, where, when I was a little girl, I saw the fine large loaves of bread and the pies and puddings pushed carefully in with a long, flat shovel, or drawn out with the same when the heat had browned them nicely.
Is this an oven standing out here alone in the snow?
You will laugh when I tell you that it is not an oven, but a house; and here lives little Agoonack.
Do you see that low opening, close to the ground? That is the door; but one must creep on hands and knees to enter. There is another smaller hole above the door: it is the window. It has no glass, as ours do; only a thin covering of something which Agoonack's father took from the inside of a seal, and her mother stretched over the window-hole, to keep out the cold and to let in a little light.
Here lives our little girl; not as the brown baby does, among the trees and the flowers, but far up in the cold countries amid snow and ice.
If we look off now, over the ice, we shall see a funny little clumsy thing, running along as fast as its short, stout legs will permit, trying to keep up with its mother. You will hardly know it to be a little girl, but might rather call it a white bear's cub, it is so oddly dressed in the white, shaggy coat of the bear which its father killed last month. But this is really Agoonack; you can see her round, fat, greasy little face, if you throw back the white jumper-hood which covers her head. Shall I tell you what clothes she wears?
Not at all like yours, you will say; but, when one lives in cold countries, one must dress accordingly.
First, she has socks, soft and warm, but not knit of the white yarn with which mamma knits yours. Her mamma has sewed them from the skins of birds, with the soft down upon them to keep the small brown feet very warm. Over these come her moccasins of sealskin.
If you have been on the seashore, perhaps you know the seals that are sometimes seen swimming in the sea, holding up their brown heads, which look much like dogs' heads, wet and dripping.
The seals love best to live in the seas of the cold countries: here they are, huddled together on the sloping rocky shores, or swimming about under the ice, thousands and thousands of silver-gray coated creatures, gentle seal-mothers and brave fathers with all their pretty seal-babies. And here the Esquimaux (for that is the name by which we call these people of the cold countries) hunt them, eat them for dinner, and make warm clothes of their skins. So, as I told you, Agoonack has sealskin boots.
Next she wears leggings, or trousers, of white bear-skin, very rough and shaggy, and a little jacket or frock, called a jumper, of the same. This jumper has a hood, made like the little red riding-hoods which I dare say you have all seen. Pull the hood up over the short, black hair, letting it almost hide the fat, round face, and you have Agoonack dressed.
Is this her best dress, do you think?
Certainly it is her best, because she has no other, and when she goes into the house—but I think I won't tell you that yet, for there is something more to be seen outside.
Agoonack and her mother are coming home to dinner, but there is no sun shining on the snow to make it sparkle. It is dark like night, and the stars shine clear and steady like silver lamps in the sky, but far off, between the great icy peaks, strange lights are dancing, shooting long rosy flames far into the sky, or marching in troops as if each light had a life of its own, and all were marching together along the dark, quiet sky. Now they move slowly and solemnly, with no noise, and in regular, steady file; then they rush all together, flame into golden and rosy streamers, and mount far above the cold, icy mountain peaks that glitter in their light; we hear a sharp sound like Dsah! Dsah! and the ice glows with the warm color, and the splendor shines on the little white-hooded girl as she trots beside her mother.
It is far more beautiful than the fireworks on Fourth of July. Sometimes we see a little of it here, and we say there are northern lights, and we sit at the window watching all the evening to see them march and turn and flash; but in the cold countries they are far more brilliant than any we have seen.
It is Agoonack's birthday, and there is a present for her before the door of the house. I will make you a picture of it. "It is a sled," you exclaim. Yes, a sled; but quite unlike yours. In the faraway cold countries no trees grow; so her father had no wood, and he took the bones of the walrus and the whale, bound them together with strips of sealskin, and he has built this pretty sled for his little daughter's birthday.
It has a back to lean against and hold by, for the child will go over some very rough places, and might easily fall from it. And then, you see, if she fell, it would be no easy matter to jump up again and climb back to her seat, for the little sled would have run away from her before she should have time to pick herself up. How could it run? Yes, that is the wonderful thing about it. When her father made the sled he said to himself, "By the time this is finished, the two little brown dogs will be old enough to draw it, and Agoonack shall have them; for she is a princess, the daughter of a great chief."
Now you can see that, with two such brisk little dogs as the brown puppies harnessed to the sled, Agoonack must keep her seat firmly, that she may not roll over into the snow and let the dogs run away with it.
You can imagine what gay frolics she has with her brother who runs at her side, or how she laughs and shouts to see him drive his bone ball with his bone bat or hockey, skimming it over the crusty snow.
Now we will creep into the low house with the child and her mother, and see how they live.
Outside it is very cold, colder than you have ever known it to be in the coldest winter's day; but inside it is warm, even very hot. And the first thing Agoonack and her mother do is to take off their clothes, for here it is as warm as the place where the brown baby lives, who needs no clothes.
It isn't the sunshine that makes it warm, for you remember I told you it was as dark as night. There is no furnace in the cellar; indeed, there is no cellar, neither is there a stove. But all this heat comes from a sort of lamp, with long wicks of moss and plenty of walrus fat to burn. It warms the small house, which has but one room, and over it the mother hangs a shallow dish in which she cooks soup; but most of the meat is eaten raw, cut into long strips, and eaten much as one might eat a stick of candy.
They have no bread, no crackers, no apples nor potatoes; nothing but meat, and sometimes the milk of the reindeer, for there are no cows in the far, cold northern countries. But the reindeer gives them a great deal: he is their horse as well as their cow; his skin and his flesh, his bones and horns, are useful when he is dead, and while he lives he is their kind, gentle, and patient friend.
There is some one else in the hut when Agoonack comes home,—a little dark ball, rolled up on one corner of the stone platform which is built all around three sides of the house, serving for seats, beds, and table. This rolled-up ball unrolls itself, tumbles off the seat, and runs to meet them. It is Sipsu, the baby brother of Agoonack,—a round little boy, who rides sometimes, when the weather is not too cold, in the hood of his mother's jumper, hanging at her back, and peering out from his warm nestling-place over the long icy plain to watch for his father's return from the bear-hunt.
When the men come home dragging the great Nannook, as they call the bear, there is a merry feast. They crowd together in the hut, bringing in a great block of snow, which they put over the lamp-fire to melt into water; and then they cut long strips of bear's meat, and laugh and eat and sing, as they tell the long story of the hunt of Nannook, and the seals they have seen, and the foot-tracks of the reindeer they have met in the long valley.
Perhaps the day will come when pale, tired travellers will come to their sheltering home, and tell them wonderful stories, and share their warmth for a while, till they can gain strength to go on their journey again.
Perhaps while they are so merry there all together, a very great snowstorm will come and cover the little house, so that they cannot get out for several days. When the storm ends, they dig out the low doorway, and creep again into the starlight, and Agoonack slips into her warm clothes and runs out for Jack Frost to kiss her cheeks, and leave roses wherever his lips touch. If it is very cold indeed, she must stay in, or Jack Frost will give her no roses, but a cold, frosty bite.
This is the way Agoonack lives through the long darkness. But I have to tell you more of her in another chapter, and you will find it is not always dark in the cold northern countries.
HOW AGOONACK LIVES THROUGH THE LONG SUMMER.
It is almost noon one day when Agoonack's mother wraps the little girl in her shaggy clothes and climbs with her a high hill, promising a pleasant sight when they shall have reached the top.
It is the sun, the beautiful, bright, round sun, which shines and smiles at them for a minute, and then slips away again below the far, frozen water.
They haven't seen him for many months, and now they rejoice, for the next day he comes again and stays longer, and the next, and the next, and every day longer and longer, until at last he moves above them in one great, bright circle, and does not even go away at all at night. His warm rays melt the snow and awaken the few little hardy flowers that can grow in this short summer. The icy coat breaks away from the clear running water, and great flocks of birds with soft white plumage come, like a snowstorm of great feathery flakes, and settle among the black rocks along the seashore. Here they lay their eggs in the many safe little corners and shelves of the rock; and here they circle about in the sunshine, while the Esquimau boys make ready their long-handled nets and creep and climb out upon the ledges of rock, and, holding up the net as the birds fly by, catch a netful to carry home for supper.
The sun shines all day long, and all night long, too; and yet he can't melt all the highest snowdrifts, where the boys are playing bat-and-ball,—long bones for sticks, and an odd little round one for a ball.
It is a merry life they all live while the sunshine stays, for they know the long, dark winter is coming, when they can no longer climb among the birds, nor play ball among the drifts.
The seals swim by in the clear water, and the walrus and her young one are at play; and, best of all, the good reindeer has come, for the sun has uncovered the crisp moss upon which he feeds, and he is roaming through the valleys where it grows among the rocks.
The old men sit on the rocks in the sunshine, and laugh and sing, and tell long stories of the whale and the seal, and the great white whale that, many years ago, when Agoonack's father was a child, came swimming down from the far north, where they look for the northern lights, swimming and diving through the broken ice; and they watched her in wonder, and no one would throw a harpoon at this white lady of the Greenland seas, for her visit was a good omen, promising a mild winter.
Little Agoonack comes from her play to crouch among the rocky ledges and listen to the stories. She has no books; and, if she had, she couldn't read them. Neither could her father or mother read to her: their stories are told and sung, but never written. But she is a cheerful and contented little girl, and tries to help her dear friends; and sometimes she wonders a great while by herself about what the pale stranger told them.
And now, day by day, the sun is slipping away from them; gone for a few minutes to-day, to-morrow it will stay away a few more, until at last there are many hours of rosy twilight, and few, very few, of clear sunshine.
But the children are happy: they do not dread the winter, but they hope the tired travellers have reached their homes; and Agoonack wants, oh, so much! to see them and help them once more. The father will hunt again, and the mother will tend the lamp and keep the house warm; and, although they will have no sun, the moon and stars are bright, and they will see again the streamers of the great northern light.
Would you like to live in the cold countries, with their long darkness and long sunshine?
It is very cold, to be sure, but there are happy children there, and kind fathers and mothers, and the merriest sliding on the very best of ice and snow.
GEMILA, THE CHILD OF THE DESERT.
It is almost sunset; and Abdel Hassan has come out to the door of his tent to enjoy the breeze, which is growing cooler after the day's terrible heat. The round, red sun hangs low over the sand; it will be gone in five minutes more. The tent-door is turned away from the sun, and Abdel Hassan sees only the rosy glow of its light on the hills in the distance which looked so purple all day. He sits very still, and his earnest eyes are fixed on those distant hills. He does not move or speak when the tent-door is again pushed aside, and his two children, Alee and Gemila, come out with their little mats and seat themselves also on the sand. You can see little Gemila in the picture. How glad they are of the long, cool shadows, and the tall, feathery palms! how pleasant to hear the camels drink, and to drink themselves at the deep well, when they have carried some fresh water in a cup to their silent father! He only sends up blue circles of smoke from his long pipe as he sits there, cross-legged, on a mat of rich carpet. He never sat in a chair, and, indeed, never saw one in his life. His chairs are mats; and his house is, as you have heard, a tent.
Do you know what a tent is?
I always liked tents, and thought I should enjoy living in one; and when I was a little girl, on many a stormy day when we couldn't go to school, I played with my sisters at living in tents. We would take a small clothes-horse and tip it down upon its sides, half open; then, covering it with shawls, we crept in, and were happy enough for the rest of the afternoon. I tell you this, that you may also play tents some day, if you haven't already.
The tent of Gemila's father is, however, quite different from ours. Two or three long poles hold it up, and over them hangs a cloth made of goats'-hair, or sometimes sheepskins, which are thick enough to keep out either heat or cold. The ends of the cloth are fastened down by pegs driven into the sand, or the strong wind coming might blow the tent away. The tent-cloth pushes back like a curtain for the door. Inside, a white cloth stretched across divides this strange house into two rooms; one is for the men, the other for the women and children. In the tent there is no furniture like ours; nothing but mats, and low cushions called divans; not even a table from which to eat, nor a bed to sleep upon. But the mats and the shawls are very gorgeous and costly, and we are very proud when we can buy any like them for our parlors. And, by the way, I must tell you that these people have been asleep all through the heat of the day,—the time when you would have been coming home from school, eating your dinner, and going back to school again. They closed the tent-door to keep out the terrible blaze of the sun, stretched themselves on the mats, and slept until just now, when the night-wind began to come.
Now they can sit outside the tent and enjoy the evening, and the mother brings out dates and little hard cakes of bread, with plenty of butter made from goats' milk. The tall, dark servant-woman, with loose blue cotton dress and bare feet, milks a camel, and they all take their supper, or dinner perhaps I had better call it. They have no plates, nor do they sit together to eat. The father eats by himself: when he has finished, the mother and children take the dates and bread which he leaves. We could teach them better manners, we think; but they could teach us to be hospitable and courteous, and more polite to strangers than we are.
When all is finished, you see there are no dishes to be washed and put away.
The stars have come out, and from the great arch of the sky they look down on the broad sands, the lonely rocks, the palm-trees, and the tents. Oh, they are so bright, so steady, and so silent, in that great, lonely place, where no noise is heard! no sounds of people or of birds or animals, excepting the sleepy groaning of a camel, or the low song that little Alee is singing to his sister as they lie upon their backs on the sand, and watch the slow, grand movement of the stars that are always journeying towards the west.
Night is very beautiful in the desert; for this is the desert, where Abdel Hassan the Arab lives. His country is that part of our round ball where the yellow sands stretch farther than eye can see, and there are no wide rivers, no thick forests, and no snow-covered hills. The day is too bright and too hot, but the night he loves; it is his friend.
He falls asleep at last out under the stars, and, since he has been sleeping so long in the daytime, can well afford to be awake very early in the morning: so, while the stars still shine, and there is only one little yellow line of light in the east, he calls his wife, children, and servants, and in a few minutes all is bustle and preparation; for to-day they must take down the tent, and move, with all the camels and goats, many miles away. For the summer heat has nearly dried up the water of their little spring under the palm-trees, and the grass that grew there is also entirely gone; and one cannot live without water to drink, particularly in the desert, nor can the goats and camels live without grass.
Now, it would be a very bad thing for us, if some day all the water in our wells and springs and ponds should dry up, and all the grass on our pleasant pastures and hills should wither away.
What should we do? Should we have to pack all our clothes, our books, our furniture and food, and move away to some other place where there were both water and grass, and then build new houses? Oh, how much trouble it would give us! No doubt the children would think it great fun; but as they grew older they would have no pleasant home to remember, with all that makes "sweet home" so dear.
And now you will see how much better it is for Gemila's father than if he lived in a house. In a very few minutes the tent is taken down, the tent-poles are tied together, the covering is rolled up with the pegs and strings which fastened it, and it is all ready to put up again whenever they choose to stop. As there is no furniture to carry, the mats and cushions only are to be rolled together and tied; and now Achmet, the old servant, brings a tall yellow camel.
Did you ever see a camel? I hope you have some time seen a living one in a menagerie; but, if you haven't, perhaps you have seen a picture of the awkward-looking animal with a great hump upon his back, a long neck, and head thrust forward. A boy told me the other day, that, when the camel had been long without food, he ate his hump: he meant that the flesh and fat of the hump helped to nourish him when he had no food.
Achmet speaks to the camel, and he immediately kneels upon the sand, while the man loads him with the tent-poles and covering; after which he gets up, moves on a little way, to make room for another to come up, kneel, and be loaded with mats, cushions, and bags of dates.
Then comes a third; and while he kneels, another servant comes from the spring, bringing a great bag made of camels'-skin, and filled with water. Two of these bags are hung upon the camel, one on each side. This is the water for all these people to drink for four days, while they travel through a sandy, rocky country, where there are no springs or wells. I am afraid the water will not taste very fresh after it has been kept so long in leather bags; but they have nothing else to carry it in, and, besides, they are used to it, and don't mind the taste.
Here are smaller bags, made of goats'-skin, and filled with milk; and when all these things are arranged, which is soon done, they are ready to start, although it is still long before sunrise. The camels have been drinking at the spring, and have left only a little muddy water, like that in our street-gutters; but the goats must have this, or none at all.
And now Abdel Hassan springs upon his beautiful black horse, that has such slender legs and swift feet, and places himself at the head of this long troop of men and women, camels and goats. The women are riding upon the camels, and so are the children; while the servants and camel-drivers walk barefooted over the yellow sand.
It would seem very strange to you to be perched up so high on a camel's back, but Gemila is quite accustomed to it. When she was very little, her mother often hung a basket beside her on the camel, and carried her baby in it; but now she is a great girl, full six years old, and when the camel kneels, and her mother takes her place, the child can spring on in front, with one hand upon the camel's rough hump, and ride safely and pleasantly hour after hour. Good, patient camels! God has fitted them exactly to be of the utmost help to the people in that desert country. Gemila for this often blesses and thanks Him whom she calls Allah.
All this morning they ride,—first in the bright starlight; but soon the stars become faint and dim in the stronger rosy light that is spreading over the whole sky, and suddenly the little girl sees stretching far before her the long shadow of the camels, and she knows that the sun is up, for we never see shadows when the sun is not up, unless it is by candlelight or moonlight. The shadows stretch out very far before them, for the sun is behind. When you are out walking very early in the morning, with the sun behind you, see how the shadow of even such a little girl as you will reach across the whole street; and you can imagine that such great creatures as camels would make even much longer shadows.
Gemila watches them, and sees, too, how the white patches of sand flush in the morning light; and she looks back where far behind are the tops of their palm-trees, like great tufted fans, standing dark against the yellow sky.
She is not sorry to leave that old home. She has had many homes already, young as she is, and will have many more as long as she lives. The whole desert is her home; it is very wide and large, and sometimes she lives in one part, sometimes in another.
As the sun gets higher, it begins to grow very hot. The father arranges the folds of his great white turban, a shawl with many folds, twisted round his head to keep off the oppressive heat. The servants put on their white fringed handkerchiefs, falling over the head and down upon the neck, and held in place by a little cord tied, round the head. It is not like a bonnet or hat, but one of the very best things to protect the desert travellers from the sun. The children, too, cover their heads in the same way, and Gemila no longer looks out to see what is passing: the sun is too bright; it would hurt her eyes and make her head ache. She shuts her eyes and falls half asleep, sitting there high upon the camel's back. But, if she could look out, there would be nothing to see but what she has seen many and many times before,—great plains of sand or pebbles, and sometimes high, bare rocks,—not a tree to be seen, and far off against the sky, the low purple hills. They move on in the heat, and are all silent. It is almost noon now, and Abdel Hassan stops, leaps from his horse, and strikes his spear into the ground. The camel-drivers stop, the camels stop and kneel, Gemila and Alee and their mother dismount. The servants build up again the tent which they took down in the morning; and, after drinking water from the leathern bags, the family are soon under its shelter, asleep on their mats, while the camels and servants have crept into the shadow of some rocks and lain down in the sand. The beautiful black horse is in the tent with his master; he is treated like a child, petted and fed by all the family, caressed and kissed by the children. Here they rest until the heat of the day is past; but before sunset they have eaten their dates and bread, loaded again the camels, and are moving, with the beautiful black horse and his rider at the head.
They ride until the stars are out, and after, but stop for a few hours' rest in the night, to begin the next day as they began this. Gemila still rides upon the camel, and I can easily understand that she prays to Allah with a full heart under the shining stars so clear and far, and that at the call to prayer in the early dawn her pretty little veiled head is bent in true love and worship. But I must tell you what she sees soon after sunrise on this second morning. Across the sand, a long way before them, something with very long legs is running, almost flying. She knows well what it is, for she has often seen them before, and she calls to one of the servants, "See, there is the ostrich!" and she claps her hands with delight.
The ostrich is a great bird, with very long legs and small wings; and as legs are to run with, and wings to fly with, of course he can run better than he can fly. But he spreads his short wings while running, and they are like little sails, and help him along quite wonderfully, so that he runs much faster than any horse can.
Although he runs so swiftly, he is sometimes caught in a very odd way. I will tell you how.
He is a large bird, but he is a very silly one, and, when he is tired of running, he will hide his head in the sand, thinking that because he can see no one he can't be seen himself. Then the swift-footed Arab horses can overtake him, and the men can get his beautiful feathers, which you must have often seen, for ladies wear them in their bonnets.
All this about the ostrich. Don't forget it, my little girl: some time you may see one, and will be glad that you know what kind of a fellow he is.
The ostrich which Gemila sees is too far away to be caught; besides, it will not be best to turn aside from the track which is leading them to a new spring. But one of the men trots forward on his camel, looking to this side and to that as he rides; and at last our little girl, who is watching, sees his camel kneel, and sees him jump off and stoop in the sand. When they reach the place, they find a sort of great nest, hollowed a little in the sand, and in it are great eggs, almost as big as your head. The mother ostrich has left them there. She is not like other mother-birds, that sit upon the eggs to keep them warm; but she leaves them in the hot sand, and the sun keeps them warm, and by and by the little ostriches will begin to chip the shell, and creep out into the great world.
The ostrich eggs are good to eat. You eat your one egg for breakfast, but one of these big eggs will make breakfast for the whole family. And that is why Gemila clapped her hands when she saw the ostrich: she thought the men would find the nest, and have fresh eggs for a day or two.
This day passes like the last: they meet no one, not a single man or woman, and they move steadily on towards the sunset. In the morning again they are up and away under the starlight; and this day is a happy one for the children, and, indeed, for all.
The morning star is yet shining, low, large, and bright, when our watchful little girl's dark eyes can see a row of black dots on the sand,—so small you might think them nothing but flies; but Gemila knows better. They only look small because they are far away; they are really men and camels, and horses too, as she will soon see when they come nearer. A whole troop of them; as many as a hundred camels, loaded with great packages of cloths and shawls for turbans, carpets and rich spices, and the beautiful red and green morocco, of which, when I was a little girl, we sometimes had shoes made, but we see it oftener now on the covers of books.
All these things belong to the Sheik Hassein. He has been to the great cities to buy them, and now he is carrying them across the desert to sell again. He himself rides at the head of his company on a magnificent brown horse, and his dress is so grand and gay that it shines in the morning light quite splendidly. A great shawl with golden fringes is twisted about his head for a turban, and he wears, instead of a coat, a tunic broadly striped with crimson and yellow, while a loose-flowing scarlet robe falls from his shoulders. His face is dark, and his eyes keen and bright; only a little of his straight black hair hangs below the fringes of his turban, but his beard is long and dark, and he really looks very magnificent sitting upon his fine horse, in the full morning sunlight.
Abdel Hassan rides forward to meet him, and the children from behind watch with great delight.
Abdel Hassan takes the hand of the sheik, presses it to his lips and forehead, and says, "Peace be with you."
Do you see how different this is from the hand-shakings and "How-do-you-do's" of the gentlemen whom we know? Many grand compliments are offered from one to another, and they are very polite and respectful. Our manners would seem very poor beside theirs.
Then follows a long talk, and the smoking of pipes, while the servants make coffee, and serve it in little cups.
Hassein tells Abdel Hassan of the wells of fresh water which he left but one day's journey behind him, and he tells of the rich cities he has visited. Abdel Hassan gives him dates and salt in exchange for cloth for a turban, and a brown cotton dress for his little daughter.
It is not often that one meets men in the desert, and this day will long be remembered by the children.
The next night, before sunset, they can see the green feathery tops of the palm-trees before them. The palms have no branches, but only great clusters of fern-like leaves at the top of the tree, under which grow the sweet dates.
Near those palm-trees will be Gemila's home for a little while, for here they will find grass and a spring. The camels smell the water, and begin to trot fast; the goats leap along over the sand, and the barefooted men hasten to keep up with them.
In an hour more the tent is pitched under the palm-trees, and all have refreshed themselves with the cool, clear water.
And now I must tell you that the camels have had nothing to drink since they left the old home. The camel has a deep bag below his throat, which he fills with water enough to last four or five days; so he can travel in the desert as long as that, and sometimes longer, without drinking again. Yet I believe the camels are as glad as the children to come to the fresh spring.
Gemila thinks so at night, as she stands under the starlight, patting her good camel Simel, and kissing his great lips.
The black goats, with long silky ears, are already cropping the grass. The father sits again at the tent-door, and smokes his long pipe; the children bury their bare feet in the sand, and heap it into little mounds about them; while the mother is bringing out the dates and the bread and butter.
It is an easy thing for them to move: they are already at home again. But although they have so few cares, we do not wish ourselves in their place, for we love the home of our childhood, "be it ever so humble," better than roaming like an exile.
But all the time I haven't told you how Gemila looks, nor what clothes she wears. Her face is dark; she has a little straight nose, full lips, and dark, earnest eyes; her dark hair will be braided when it is long enough. On her arms and her ankles are gilded bracelets and anklets, and she wears a brown cotton dress loosely hanging halfway to the bare, slender ankles. On her head the white fringed handkerchief, of which I told you, hangs like a little veil. Her face is pleasant, and when she smiles her white teeth shine between her parted lips.
She is the child of the desert, and she loves her desert home.
I think she would hardly be happy to live in a house, eat from a table, and sleep in a little bed like yours. She would grow restless and weary if she should live so long and so quietly in one place.
THE LITTLE MOUNTAIN MAIDEN.
I want you to look at the picture on this page. It is a little deer: its name is the chamois. Do you see what delicate horns it has, and what slender legs, and how it seems to stand on that bit of rock and lift its head to watch for the hunters.
Last summer I saw a little chamois like that, and just as small: it was not alive, but cut or carved of wood,—such a graceful pretty little plaything as one does not meet every day.
Would you like to know who made it, and where it came from?
It was made in the mountain country, by the brother of my good Jeannette, the little Swiss maiden.
Here among the high mountains she lives with her father, mother, and brothers; and far up among those high snowy peaks, which are seen behind the house, the chamois live, many of them together, eating the tender grass and little pink-colored flowers, and leaping and springing away over the ice and snow when they see the men coming up to hunt them.
I will tell you by and by how it happened that Jeannette's tall brother Joseph carved this tiny chamois from wood. But first you must know about this small house upon the great hills, and how they live up there so near the blue sky.
One would think it might be easier for a child to be good and pure so far up among the quiet hills, and that there God would seem to come close to the spirit, even of a little girl or boy.
On the sides of the mountains tall trees are growing,—pine and fir trees, which are green in winter as well as in summer. If you go into the woods in winter, you will find that almost all the trees have dropped their pretty green leaves upon the ground, and are standing cold and naked in the winter wind; but the pines and the firs keep on their warm green clothes all the year round.
It was many years ago, before Jeannette was born, that her father came to the mountains with his sharp axe and cut down some of the fir-trees. Other men helped him, and they cut the great trees into strong logs and boards, and built of them the house of which I have told you. Now he will have a good home of his own for as long as he likes to live there, and to it will come his wife and children as God shall send them, to nestle among the hills.
Then he went down to the little town at the foot of the mountain, and when he came back, he was leading a brown, long-eared donkey, and upon that donkey sat a rosy-cheeked young woman, with smiling brown eyes, and long braids of brown hair hanging below a little green hat set on one side of her head, while beautiful rose-colored carnations peeped from beneath it on the other side. Who was this? It wasn't Jeannette: you know I told you this was before she was born. Can you guess, or must I tell you that it was the little girl's mother? She had come up the mountain for the first time to her new home,—the house built of the fir and the pine,—where after awhile were born Jeannette's two tall brothers, and at last Jeannette herself.
It was a good place to be born in. When she was a baby she used to lie on the short, sweet grass before the doorstep, and watch the cows and the goats feeding, and clap her little hands to see how rosy the sunset made the snow that shone on the tops of those high peaks. And the next summer, when she could run alone, she picked the blue-eyed gentians, thrusting her small fingers between their fringed eyelids, and begging them to open and look at little Jean; and she stained her wee hands among the strawberries, and pricked them with the thorns of the long raspberry-vines, when she went with her mother in the afternoon to pick the sweet fruit for supper. Ah, she was a happy little thing! Many a fall she got over the stones or among the brown moss, and many a time the clean frock that she wore was dyed red with the crushed berries; but, oh, how pleasant it was to find them in great patches on the mountain-side, where the kind sun had warmed them into such delicious life! I have seen the children run out of school to pick such sweet wild strawberries, all the recess-time, up in the fields of Maine; and how happy they were with their little stained fingers as they came back at the call of the bell!
In the black bog-mud grew the Alpen roses, and her mother said, "Do not go there, my little daughter, it is too muddy for you." But at night, when her brother came home from the chamois hunt, he took off his tall, pointed hat, and showed his little sister the long spray of roses twisted round it, which he had brought for her. He could go in the mud with his thick boots, you know, and never mind it.
Here they live alone upon the mountain; there are no near neighbors. At evening they can see the blue smoke curling from the chimney of one house that stands behind that sunny green slope, a hundred yards from their door, and they can always look down upon the many houses of the town below, where the mother lived when she was young.
Many times has Jeannette wondered how the people lived down there,—so many together; and where their cows could feed, and whether there were any little girls like herself, and if they picked berries, and had such a dear old black nanny-goat as hers, that gave milk for her supper, and now had two little black kids, its babies. She didn't know about those little children in Maine, and that they have little kids and goats, as well as sweet red berries, to make the days pass happily.
She wanted to go down and see, some day, and her father promised that, when she was a great girl, she should go down with him on market-days, to sell the goats'-milk cheeses and the sweet butter that her mother made.
When the cows and goats have eaten all the grass near the house, her father drives them before him up farther among the mountains, where more grass is growing, and there he stays with them many weeks: he does not even come home at night, but sleeps in a small hut among the rocks, where, too, he keeps the large clean milk-pails, and the little one-legged stool upon which he sits at morning and night to milk the cows and goats.
When the pails are full, the butter is to be made, and the cheese; and he works while the animals feed. The cows have little bells tied to their necks, that he may hear and find them should they stray too far.
Many times, when he is away, does his little daughter at home listen, listen, while she sits before the door, to hear the distant tinkling of the cow-bells. She is a loving little daughter, and she thinks of her father so far away alone, and wishes he was coming home to eat some of the sweet strawberries and cream for supper.
Last summer some travellers came to the house. They stopped at the door and asked for milk; the mother brought them brimming bowlsful, and the shy little girl crept up behind her mother with her birch-bark baskets of berries. The gentlemen took them and thanked her, and one told of his own little Mary at home, far away over the great sea. Jeannette often thinks of her, and wonders whether her papa has gone home to her.
While the gentlemen talked, Jeannette's brother Joseph sat upon the broad stone doorstep and listened. Presently one gentleman, turning to him, asked if he would come with them over the mountain to lead the way, for there are many wild places and high, steep rocks, and they feared to get lost.
Joseph sprang up from his low seat and said he would go, brought his tall hat and his mountain-staff, like a long, strong cane, with a sharp iron at the end, which he can stick into the snow or ice if there is danger of slipping; and they went merrily on their way, over the green grass, over the rocks, far up among the snow and ice, and the frozen streams and rivers that pour down the mountain-sides.
Joseph was brave and gay; he led the way, singing aloud until the echoes answered from every hillside. It makes one happy to sing, and when we are busy and happy we sing without thinking of it, as the birds do. When everything is bright and beautiful in nature around us, we feel like singing aloud and praising God, who made the earth so beautiful; then the earth also seems to sing of God who made it, and the echo seems like its answer of praise. Did you ever hear the echo,—the voice that seems to come from a hill or a house far away, repeating whatever you may say? Among the mountains the echoes answer each other again and again. Jeannette has often heard them.
That night, while the mother and her little girl were eating their supper, the gentlemen came back again, bringing Joseph with them. He could not walk now, nor spring from rock to rock with his Alpen staff; he had fallen and broken his leg, and he must lie still for many days. But he could keep a cheerful face, and still sing his merry songs; and as he grew better, and could sit out again on the broad bench beside the door, he took his knife and pieces of fine wood, and carved beautiful things,—first a spoon for his little sister, with gentians on the handle; then a nice bowl, with a pretty strawberry-vine carved all about the edge. And from this bowl, and with this spoon, she ate her supper every night,—sweet milk, with the dry cakes of rye bread broken into it, and sometimes the red strawberries. I know his little sister loved him dearly, and thanked him in her heart every time she used the pretty things. How dearly a sister and brother can love each other!
Then he made other things,—knives, forks, and plates; and at last one day he sharpened his knife very sharp, chose a very nice, delicate piece of wood, and carved this beautiful chamois, just like a living one, only so small. My cousin, who was travelling there, bought it and brought it home.
When the summer had passed, the father came down from the high pastures; the butter and cheese making was over, and the autumn work was now to be done. Do you want to know what the autumn work was, and how Jeannette could help about it? I will tell you. You must know that a little way down the mountain-side is a grove of chestnut-trees. Did you ever see the chestnut-trees? They grow in our woods, and on the shores of some ponds. In the spring they are covered with long, yellowish blossoms, and all through the hot summer those blossoms are at work, turning into sweet chestnuts, wrapped safely in round, thorny balls, which will prick your fingers sadly if you don't take care. But when the frost of the autumn nights comes, it cracks open the prickly ball and shows a shining brown nut inside; then, if we are careful, we may pull off the covering and take out the nut. Sometimes, indeed, there are two, three, or four nuts in one shell; I have found them so myself.
Now the autumn work, which I said I would tell you about, is to gather these chestnuts and store them away,—some to be eaten, boiled or roasted, by the bright fire in the cold winter days that are coming; and some to be nicely packed in great bags, and carried on the donkey down to the town to be sold. The boys of New England, too, know what good fun it is to gather nuts in the fall, and spread them over the garret floor to dry, and at last to crack and eat them by the winter hearth. So when the father says one night at supper-time, "It is growing cold; I think there will be a frost to-night," Jeannette knows very well what to do; and she dances away right early in the evening to her little bed, which is made in a wooden box built up against the side of the wall, and falls asleep to dream about the chestnut woods, and the squirrels, and the little brook that leaps and springs from rock to rock down under the tall, dark trees.
She has gone to bed early, that she may wake with the first daylight, and she is out of bed in a minute when she hears her father's cheerful call in the morning, "Come, children, it is time to be off."
Their dinner is packed in a large basket. The donkey stands ready before the door, with great empty bags hanging at each side, and they go merrily over the crisp white frost to the chestnut-trees. How the frost has opened the burrs! He has done more than half their work for them already. How they laugh and sing and shout to each other as they gather the smooth brown nuts, filling their baskets, and running to pour them into the great bags! It is merry autumn work. The sun looks down upon them through the yellow leaves, and the rocks give them mossy seats; while here and there comes a bird or a squirrel to see what these strange people are doing in their woods.
Jeannette declares that the chestnut days are the best in the year. Perhaps she is right. I am sure I should enjoy them, shouldn't you? She really helps, although she is but a little girl, and her father says at night that his little Jean is a dear, good child. It makes her very happy. She thinks of what he has said while she undresses at night, unbraiding her hair and unlacing her little blue bodice with its great white sleeves, and she goes peacefully to sleep, to dream again of the merry autumn days. And while she dreams good angels must be near her, for she said her sweet and reverent prayer on her knees, with a full and thankful heart to the All-Father who gave her so many blessings.
She is our little mountain sister. The mountain life is a fresh and happy one. I should like to stay with this little sister a long, long time.
THE STORY OF PEN-SE.
Dear children, have you ever watched the sun set? If you live in the country, I am almost sure you have many times delighted yourselves with the gold and rosy clouds. But those of you who live in the city do not often have the opportunity, the high houses and narrow streets shut out so much of the sky.
I am so happy as to live in the country; and let me tell you where I go to see the sun set.
The house in which I live has some dark, narrow garret stairs leading from the third story into a small garret under the roof, and many and many a time do I go up these narrow stairs, and again up to the scuttle-window in the roof, open it, and seat myself on the top step or on the roof itself. Here I can look over the house-tops, and even over the tree-tops, seeing many things of which I may perhaps tell you at some time; but to-night we are to look at the sunset.
Can you play that you are up here with me, looking past the houses, past the elm-trees and the low hills that seem so far away, to where the sun hangs low, like a great red ball, so bright that we can hardly look at it? Watch it with me. Now a little part has disappeared; now it is half gone, and in a minute more we see nothing but the train of bright clouds it has left behind.
Where did it go?
It seemed to slip down over the edge of the world. To-morrow morning, if you are up early, you will see it come back again on the other side. As it goes away from us to-night, it is coming to somebody who lives far away, round the other side of the world. While we had the sunshine, she had night; and now, when night is coming to us, it is morning for her.
I think men have always felt like following the sun to the unknown West, beyond its golden gate of setting day, and perhaps that has led many a wanderer on his path of discovery. Let us follow the sun over the rolling earth.
The sun has gone; shall we go, too, and take a peep round there to see who is having morning now?
The long, bright sunbeams are sliding over the tossing ocean, and sparkling on the blue water of a river upon which are hundreds of boats. The boats are not like those which we see here, with white sails or long oars. They are clumsy, square-looking things, without sails, and they have little sheds or houses built upon them. We will look into one, and see what is to be seen.
There is something like a little yard built all around this boat; in it are ducks,—more ducks than you can well count. This is their bedroom, where they sleep at night; but now it is morning, and they are all stirring,—waddling about as well as they can in the crowd, and quacking with most noisy voices. They are waking up Kang-hy, their master, who lives in the middle of the boat; and out he comes from the door of his odd house, and out comes little Pen-se, his daughter, who likes to see the ducks go for their breakfast.
The father opens a gate or door in the basket-work fence of the ducks' house, and they all crowd and hurry to reach the water again, after staying all night shut up in this cage. There they go, tumbling and diving. Each must have a thorough bath first of all; then the old drake leads the way, and they swim off in the bright water along the shore for a hundred yards, and then among the marshes, where they will feed all day, and come back at night when they hear the shrill whistle of Kang-hy calling them to come home and go to bed.
Pen-se and her father will go in to breakfast now, under the bamboo roof which slides over the middle part of the boat, or can be pushed back if they desire. As Kang-hy turns to go in, and takes off his bamboo hat, the sun shines on his bare, shaved head, where only one lock of hair is left; that is braided into a long, thick tail, and hangs far down his back. He is very proud of it, and nothing would induce him to have it cut off. Now it hangs down over his loose blue nankeen jacket, but when he goes to work he will twist it round upon the crown of his head, and tuck the end under the coil to keep it out of the way. Isn't this a funny way for a man to wear his hair? Pen-se has hers still in little soft curls, but by and by it will be braided, and at last fastened up into a high knot on the top of her head, as her mother's is. Her little brother Lin already has his head shaved almost bare, and waits impatiently for the time when his single lock of hair will be long enough to braid.
When I was a child it was a very rare thing to see people such as these in our own land, but now we are quite familiar with these odd ways of dressing, and our streets have many of these funny names on their signs.
Shall we look in to see them at breakfast? Tea for the children as well as for the father and mother. They have no milk, and do not like to drink water, so they take many cups of tea every day. And here, too, are their bowls of rice upon the table, but no spoons or forks with which to eat it. Pen-se, however, does not need spoon or fork; she takes two small, smooth sticks, and, lifting the bowl to her mouth, uses the sticks like a little shovel. You would spill the rice and soil your dress if you should try to do so, but these children know no other way, and they have learned to do it quite carefully.
The sticks are called chopsticks; and up in the great house on the hill, where Pen-se went to carry fish, lives a little lady who has beautiful pearl chopsticks, and wears roses in her hair. Pen-se often thinks of her, and wishes she might go again to carry the fish, and see some of the beautiful things in that garden with the high walls. Perhaps you have in your own house, or in your schoolroom, pictures of some of the pretty things that may have been there,—little children and ladies dressed in flowery gowns, with fans in their hands; tea-tables and pretty dishes, and a great many lovely flowers and beautiful birds.
But now she must not stop to think. Breakfast is over, and the father must go on shore to his work,—carrying tea-boxes to the store of a great merchant. Lin, too, goes to his work, of which I will by and by tell you; and even Pen-se and her little sister, young as they are, must go with their mother, who has a tanka-boat in which she carries fresh fruit and vegetables, to the big ships which are lying off shore. The two little girls can help at the oars, while the mother steers to guide the boat.
I wish I could tell you how pleasant it is out on the river this bright morning. A hundred boats are moving; the ducks and geese have all gone up the stream; the people who live in the boats have breakfasted, and the fishermen have come out to their work. This is Lin's work. He works with his uncle Chow, and already his blue trousers are stripped above his knees, and he stands on the wet fishing-raft watching some brown birds. Suddenly one of them plunges into the water and brings up a fish in its yellow bill. Lin takes it out and sends the bird for another; and such industrious fishermen are the brown cormorants that they keep Lin and his uncle busy all the morning, until the two large baskets are filled with fish, and then the cormorants may catch for themselves. Lin brings his bamboo pole, rests it across his shoulders, hangs one basket on each end, and goes up into the town to sell his fish. Here it was that Pen-se went on that happy day when she saw the little lady in the house on the hill, and she has not forgotten the wonders of that day in the streets.
The gay sign-posts in front of the shops, with colors flying; the busy workmen,—tinkers mending or making their wares; blacksmiths with all their tools set up at the corners of the streets; barbers with grave faces, intently braiding the long hair of their customers; water-carriers with deep water-buckets hung from a bamboo pole like Lin's fish-baskets; the soldiers in their paper helmets, wadded gowns, and quilted petticoats, with long, clumsy guns over their shoulders; and learned scholars in brown gowns, blue bordered, and golden birds on their caps. The high officers, cousins to the emperor, have the sacred yellow girdle round their waists, and very long braided tails hanging below their small caps. Here and there you may see a high, narrow box, resting on poles, carried by two men. It is the only kind of carriage which you will see in these streets, and in it is a lady going out to take the air; although I am sadly afraid she gets but little, shut up there in her box. I would rather be like Pen-se, a poor, hardworking little girl, with a fresh life on the river, and a hard mat spread for her bed in the boat at night. How would you like to live in a boat on a pleasant river with the ducks and geese? I think you would have a very jolly time, rocked to sleep by the tide, and watched over by the dancing boat-lights. But this poor lady couldn't walk, or enjoy much, if she were allowed. Shall I tell you why? When she was a very little girl, smaller than you are, smaller than Pen-se is now, her soft baby feet were bound up tightly, the toes turned and pressed under, and the poor little foot cramped so that she could scarcely stand. This was done that her feet might never grow large, for in this country on the other side of the world one is considered very beautiful who has small feet; and now that she is a grown lady, as old perhaps as your mamma, she wears such little shoes you would think them too small for yourself. It is true they are very pretty shoes, made of bright-colored satin, and worked all over with gold and silver thread, and they have beautiful white soles of rice-paper; and the poor lady looks down at them and says to herself proudly, "Only three inches long." And forgetting how much the bandages pained her, and not thinking how sad it is only to be able to hobble about a little, instead of running and leaping as children should, she binds up the feet of Lou, her dear little daughter, in the great house on the hill, and makes her a poor, helpless child; not so happy, with all her flower-gardens, gold and silver fish, and beautiful gold-feathered birds, as Pen-se with her broad, bare feet, and comfortable, fat little toes, as she stands in the wet tanka-boat, helping her mother wash it with river-water, while the leather shoes of both of them lie high and dry on the edge of the wharf, until the wet work is done.
But we are forgetting Lin, who has carried his fish up into the town to sell. Here is a whole street where nothing is sold but food. I should call it Market Street, and I dare say they do the same in a way of their own.