Jedidiah's eyes sparkled with joy. Mrs. Dyer sat with folded hands, and said, "Why, Mr. Dyer!" And Mr. Dyer occasionally helped a stray donkey, whose legs were caught, or a turkey fluttering on the edge. At last a great roaring and growling was heard at the bottom of the ark. The elephant nodded his trunk to the giraffe; the camel was evidently displeased; Noah and his sons stood together looking up at the roof.
"It's the wild animals," said Jedidiah.
"If they should get out," thought Mrs. Dyer; "all the wild tigers and the lions loose in the house!" And she looked round to see if the closet door were open for a place of retreat.
Mr. Dyer stepped up and shut the roof of the ark. It was in time; for a large bear was standing on his hind legs on the back of a lion, and was looking out. Noah and his family looked much pleased; the elephants waved their trunks with joy; the camels stopped growling.
"I don't wonder they are glad to get out," said Jedidiah. "I do believe they have been treading down those wild animals all night."
Mrs. Dyer wondered what they should do with the rest. Come Tuesday she would want her ironing-board,—perhaps baking-day, to set the pies on.
"They ought to have some houses to live in, and barns," said Jedidiah. Then it was Mr. Dyer had said they could never get them back into the ark; and Jedidiah had said, "We might ask the 'grateful people,'"—for this was the name the inhabitants of Spinville went by in the Dyer family ever since the time of the potatoes.
The story of their coming for the potatoes had been told over and over again; then how the "people" felt so grateful to Mr. Dyer. Mr. Dyer said he was tired of hearing about it. Mrs. Dyer thought if they meant to do anything to let Mr. Dyer see they were grateful, they had better not talk so much about it. But Jedidiah called them the "grateful people;" and it was he that caught the first glimpse of the procession when it came up with the ark, Mr. Jones at the head. He had some faith in them; so it was he that thought there ought to be a village built for Noah and his family; and when Mr. Dyer had some doubts about building it he suggested, "Let's ask the 'grateful people.'"
What they did will be told in another chapter.
ABOUT THE GRATEFUL PEOPLE AND THE WILD BEASTS.
That very afternoon there was a great rush to see Jedidiah's Noah's Ark, and there was immense enthusiasm about it. Some brave ones opened the roof and looked in upon the growling wild animals. The girls liked the lambs the best; the boys were delighted with the foxes that jumped on the edge of the boat that formed the ark.
In a day or two there was a flourishing little village built on a smooth place on the other side of Mr. Dyer's house. The minister's daughter had brought a little toy village she had with red roofs, and one of the men scooped out the houses, which were made of one block of wood, but could now accommodate Noah and his family, and each one picked out a house to match the color of his garments.
Tom Stubbs built a barn of wooden bricks for the larger animals, and Lucy Miles brought a pewter bird-cage, with a door that would open and shut, for the birds. The elephant knocked out a brick with his trunk as soon as he went into the barn, but that made a good window for him to look out of. Jedidiah himself made the loveliest coop for the hen; and the boys had a nice time over a pond they dug in the mud, for the ducks.
Indeed, it occupied Spinville for some time; and Noah, Shem, and Ham did not sit down much, but looked very busy. There was a fence built round the whole village, high enough to keep in the elephants and the giraffes, though they could look over. There was a bit of pasture-land shut in for the cows, who fell to nibbling as soon as they were put in it. A clover-leaf lasted one of the sheep two days. The tinman sent some little tin dippers no bigger than a thimble, and the children were delighted to see the animals drink. The boys handed one of the dippers into the ark for the tigers. The giraffes found a bush just high enough for them to eat from. The doves sat on the eaves of the ark, and Agamemnon brought some pickled olives, as he had no olive-branch for them.
The children were never tired of seeing the camels kneel and rise. They made them carry little burdens,—stones that were to be cleared from the field, chips from the henhouse. Sometimes the camels growled; then the children took off a chip or two from their burdens,—the last ounce, they thought.
The "grateful people" sent a large umbrella, used by the umbrella-maker for a sign, that could be opened over the whole village in case of a rain; and the toy-shop man sent a tin teapot, though Mrs. Dyer did not venture to give Noah and his family any real tea; but it was a very pretty teapot, with a red flower upon it. Mrs. Noah liked it, though it was almost large enough for the whole family to get into.
All this was not the work of a day, by any means. First, all Spinville had to come and look at the things, and then it had to discuss the whole affair. Mrs. Dyer's knitting got on bravely, for so many of her friends came in to sit in her best parlor, and talk it all over. Mrs. Dyer agreed with them; she thought it was all very strange. She should be thankful if only the tigers would never get out. She did not like having tigers running in and out of the house, even if they were no bigger than your thimble. She thought it quite likely some of the boys would let them out some day; but it was no use looking forward. So, day by day, the people came to look at the wonderful village. There was always something new to see. At last, one of the deacons declared Jedidiah ought to charge so much a sight. It was as good a show as the menagerie, any day; and everybody was willing to give ten cents for that, children half-price.
This made great talk. Should Jedidiah charge for the show, or not? Mr. Dyer would have nothing to say about it. Mrs. Dyer thought they might as well; then there would be fewer children in her front yard picking at the currants. At last it was settled that Spinville should pay two cents a sight, children half-price, and strangers could see the village for nothing; but all those who had contributed anything towards the ark should have a right to visit it with their families, without paying. There was a great rush after this to see who was going to pay. It turned out only the schoolmaster's and doctor's families had to buy tickets; and when it came to that, Mr. Dyer said he would not let them pay anything. So Jedidiah did not gain much by it; but he and a few of his friends made some tickets, all the same, printing on them "Noah's Ark. Admittance, two cents; children, half-price;" and a good many children bought tickets for the fun of it.
At last there came a crash. One afternoon, Tim Stubbs, in setting up a new pump, gave a knock to the ark, and sent the whole thing over. The roof snapped open, and out came all the wild beasts. The hyenas laughed, the lions roared, the bears growled, and the tigers leaped about to see whom they could devour; Noah jumped up on top of the pump; the elephant knocked out a side of the barn, to see what was the matter; all the wives ran for the houses, and there was a general confusion. A leopard seized a young chicken. Mrs. Dyer came out with a rolling-pin in her hand. Tim and Tom Stubbs declared they would catch the animals, if Jedidiah would only find something safe to put them in.
"If we only had a cave!" exclaimed Lucy Miles, who had hidden behind the kitchen door.
Tim and Tom Stubbs caught one of the tigers, just as Jedidiah appeared with his mother's bandbox. He had thrown his mother's caps and her Sunday bonnet on the spare-room floor. They shut the tiger up in the bandbox, then found one of the bears climbing up the pump after Noah. Jedidiah brought a strong string, and tied him to a post. All the rest of the boys ran away at first, but ventured to come back and join in the search for the rest of the beasts.
The hunt grew quite exciting. One of the boys, who had read African travels, prepared a leash of twine, and made a lasso, and with this he succeeded in catching the two hyenas. Then no one knew if all the beasts were caught or no. The boy who had read the travels could tell a long list of wild animals that ought to be in the ark. There was the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, the jaguar; there was the leopard, the panther, the ocelot. Mrs. Dyer put her hands up to her ears in dismay. She could not bear to hear any more of their names; and to think she might meet them any day, coming in at the wood-house door, or running off with one of the chickens!
But the Stubbses thought very likely all these animals never were in this ark at all, though they might have been in the original Noah's Ark. This was only a play ark, after all, and you could not expect to find every animal in it. The minister's wife said she did not know what you should expect. The ark was quite a different one from any she had seen. She had bought them for her children, year in and year out, and she had never seen anything of the sort. You might expect a hippopotamus, or any kind of beast. Those she had bought were always of wood, and the legs broke off easily. You could mend them with Spalding's Glue; but even Spalding was not as good as it used to be, and you could not depend upon it.
Meanwhile the hunt went on. The Spinville people began to be sorry they had ever bought a Noah's Ark. They had expected nothing of the sort. At last the two leopards were found,—beautiful creatures, who lashed their tails wildly; and before long, two hippopotami were discovered in the duck-pond, wallowing in their native element. They were very fierce and wild, and were caught with great difficulty. These were put in the bandbox with the others. It was a strong, old-fashioned box; but it was feared it would not last long for the wild beasts. Jedidiah tied it up with some twine, and it was put for the present in the spare-room closet.
Mrs. Dyer did not sleep well that night, though her doors had been shut all day. She dreamed she heard lions all the night long, and was sure a rhinoceros could get in at the window. Why had Mr. Dyer ever been so generous with his potatoes? Why had he invited all the people to come? Of what use had the Noah's Ark been? Jedidiah had got along without toys before; now his head was turned. Better for him to amuse himself digging potatoes, or seeing to the squashes, than meddling with the beasts.
And there were the Spinville boys round before breakfast. They were there, indeed, and began again their search for the beasts. The girls sat at the chamber windows, watching the chase. Under a cabbage-leaf, fast asleep, the stray tiger was found. The boy learned in Natural History went over the terrible list of all the fierce animals. "Yes, there were ocelots and cougars and jaguars, peculiarly shy and stealthy in approaching their prey," so the book said. "There was the chibiguasu——" But Jedidiah said he didn't believe his Noah cared for such out-of-the-way beasts; they must have come in since his ark. They had enough to do to catch the regular wild animals, and these at last they found in some number. They were all seized, and with difficulty put into a wooden lozenge-box. There was great delight; there must be all; the ark surely could have held no more. Lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, lynxes, wildcats,—all the animals necessary for a respectable ark, all in twos.
But, oh horror! a jaguar was discovered, also, at the last moment just before school. One jaguar, and there must be another somewhere. The one found answered the description completely: "the body yellow, marked with open black figures, considerable variety in the marking." A stray jaguar in Spinville! so fierce a beast! No one could be sure of his footsteps. Noah, his sons and their wives, had not been unmoved. Their satisfaction had been great. They had carried water to the bears, and had looked much pleased; and now they shook their heads at seeing only one jaguar.
"I think they must be all caught but that one jaguar," said Jedidiah. "They look satisfied, and are going about their daily work; and it is time we found some place for the wild beasts. They will come through mother's bandbox before long."
The boys went to school. There was great consultation all that day, which ended in Tom Stubbs bringing a squirrel-cage. It was just the thing, for the wires were near enough to keep the animals in, and everybody could have a look at them. But how were they to be got into the squirrel-cage? There came a new question. Tim Stubbs remembered he had often caught a butterfly under his hat, and a very handsome butterfly, too, and he was sure he had him; but just as he lifted the brim of the hat to show the other fellows that he was really there, the butterfly would be off.
Happily there was no afternoon school, and a grand council of the boys was held, assisted by some of the selectmen. The beasts in the lozenge-box were easily disposed of, for it had a sliding cover, which was dexterously raised high enough to let the beasts all into the squirrel-cage. Then handy Tim Stubbs punched a hole in the bandbox opposite to the entrance of the squirrel-cage, and one by one the leopards and the rest were allowed to make their way into the wiry prison. The tiger made a dash, but in vain; he was imprisoned like the rest.
This is our last news from Spinville.
It is more than a month since the Spinville stage set out on its weekly trip for that place. It was an old stage; the horses were old, the harness was old, the driver was old. It is not then to be wondered at that in crossing the bridge on the old road, which is so little travelled that it is never kept in repair, the old wheel was caught in a chink between the boards, the old coach tumbled over, the driver was thrown from his seat and broke his leg, the horses fell on their knees, and the whole concern was made a complete wreck.
Now, the stage-driver was the owner of the old coach and team. He had always said the thing did not pay; he would give it all up. Indeed, he only had driven to Spinville once a week to see the folks himself. Nobody ever went there, and nobody ever came away, except once a year Mr. Jones, and he had a team of his own. So there is no communication with Spinville. That a jaguar is loose is the latest news.
CARRIE'S THREE WISHES.
Carrie Fraser was a great trouble to her mother, because she was always wishing for something she had not got.
"The other girls always have things that I don't," she complained to her mother. Her mother tried to explain to Carrie that she had a great many things the other girls didn't have.
"But they are not always wishing for my things, just as I wish for theirs."
"That is because they are not such 'teasers' as you are," her mother would reply. "You do not hear them from morning till night teasing for things they have not got."
Another thing in Carrie troubled her mother very much. She used a great many extravagant phrases. She was not satisfied with saying even "perfectly lovely," "splendid," "excruciatingly jolly." Her mother might have permitted these terms, and was used to hearing the other girls use them; but Carrie got hold of the strangest expressions and phrases, I am afraid to put them into this story; for every boy and girl is perhaps already too familiar with such, and I might only spread the use of them.
I will mention that "bang-up" and "bumptious," and that class of expressions were her favorites, and the best-educated boy or girl will be able to imagine the rest. This story will show how a careless use of words brought Carrie to grief, and taught her a severe lesson.
One day, as usual, she had been complaining, and wishing she could have everything she wanted. Her mother said: "You remember the old story of the old couple who had their three wishes granted, and how they never got any good from it."
"But that was because they acted like such geese," exclaimed Carrie. "I could never have been so elephantinely idiotic! First, they wasted one wish, for a black pudding."
"That is a sausage," said her mother.
"Yes, they asked for a common, every-day sausage to come down the chimney; then they got into a fight, and wished it would settle on one of their noses; and then they had to waste their last wish, by wishing it off again! It is too bad to have such luck come to such out-and-out idiots."
Mrs. Fraser was just setting out for the village street, to order the dinner. The Governor was expected to pass through the place, and was to be met at the Town Hall. Jimmy, the only son in the family, had gone off to see the show.
"Now, if he were a real, genuine governor," said Carrie, "like a prince in a fairytale, you would go and beseech him to grant your wishes. You would fall on your knees, or something, and he would beg you to rise, and your lovely daughter should have all that she wished."
"I am afraid you are very foolish," sighed Mrs. Fraser; "but I will see the Governor. Perhaps he can advise what is best."
It seemed to Carrie as if her mother were gone a great while. "She might have got six dinners!" she exclaimed to herself. "How tiresome! I wish I had gone down myself, anyway. All the girls and boys have gone, and I might have seen the Governor."
But she passed the time in rocking backward and forward in a rocking-chair; for to her other faults Carrie added that of laziness, and when the other girls had gone down town, and had urged her to go with them, she had been quite too lazy to go for her hat or to hunt up her boot button-hook.
"It seems as if Jimmy might have come back to tell about things," she went on. "Oh dear me! if I had only a chariot and four to go down with, and somebody to dress me and find my boots and my hat and my gloves, then it would have been worth while to go. I mean to make out a list of wishes, in case somebody should grant me the power to have them."
She took out a little blank-book from her pocket, and began to write down:—
"1. A chariot and four, man to drive, striped afghan, etc.
"2. Maid to find and put on hat, boots, etc.
"3. Plenty of hats, boots, and gloves for the maid to put on, and so that they could be found when wanted."
"That would be bully!" said Carrie, interrupting herself. "If I had gloves in every drawer and on every shelf, I should not have to be looking for them. I might have a hat on every peg in the house except what Jimmy uses. I might have a sack over the back of every chair, and gloves in the pockets of each. The boots could be in each corner of the room and on all the top shelves. But boot-hooks! there's the stunner! Where could one find boot-buttoners enough? They do get out of the way so! I should have six in every drawer, one in each pocket, half a dozen in Mamma's basket, a row on the mantelpiece—on all the mantelpieces. Then perhaps I could do without a maid; at least, save her up till I grow older. Let's see. That makes three wishes. They generally have three. If I strike out the maid, I can think of something else. Suppose I say something to eat, then. Chocolate creams! I never had enough yet."
At this moment Mrs. Fraser returned, looking quite heated and breathless. She had to fling herself into a chair by the window to recover strength enough to speak, and then her words came out in gasps.
Carrie did leave her rocking-chair and tried fanning her mother, for she saw she had something to say.
"What is it? What have you seen? Have you got something slam-bang for me? Is the Governor coming here? Couldn't you raise any dinner?"
Carrie's questions came out so fast that her mother never could have answered them, even with the breath of a Corliss engine; much less, panting as she was now.
"Yes, I saw him; I managed to see him," she gasped out. "The guns were firing, the cannon were booming, the bells were ringing——"
"Oh! I dare say! I dare say!" cried Carrie, eager to hear more. "I could hear them up here. That was not worth going to town for. What did the Governor say?"
"My dear! my dear!" panted Mrs. Fraser, "he said you could have your three wishes."
"What! The chariot and four (that means horses), the maid, and the boot-hooks,—no, the maid was scratched out,—not the chocolates?" asked Carrie, in wonder.
"No, no! I don't know what you mean!" said Mrs. Fraser; "but you can have three wishes; and I have hurried home, for they are to be told as the clock strikes twelve,—one to-day, one to-morrow, one the next day,—the moment the clock strikes, and I am only just in time. You are to wish, and you will have just what you wish."
Both Carrie and her mother looked at the clock. The hand was just approaching twelve. Carrie could hear a little "click" that always came from inside the clock before it struck.
"I have written out my wishes," she hurried to say; "but I don't want the chariot yet, because everybody is coming back from town. And I don't want any more hats and boots just now. But, oh! I do want some chocolate creams, and I wish this room was 'chock full of them.'"
As she spoke the clock struck; and when it stopped she could speak no more, for the room was as full of chocolate creams as it could hold. They came rattling down upon her head, filling in all the crannies of the room. They crowded into her half-open mouth; they filled her clutching hands. Luckily, Mrs. Fraser was sitting near the open window, and the chocolate creams pushed her forward upon the sill. There were two windows looking upon the piazza. One was made of glass doors that were shut; the other, fortunately, was quite low; and Mrs. Fraser seated herself on the edge, and succeeded in passing her feet over to the other side, a torrent of chocolate creams following her as she came. She then turned to see if she could help Carrie. Carrie was trying to eat her way toward the window, and stretched out her arms to her mother, who seized her, and with all her strength pulled her through the window.
"They are bully!" exclaimed Carrie, as soon as she was free. "They are the freshest I ever ate. Golumptious!"
"Oh, Carrie," said her mother, mournfully, "how can you use such expressions now, when you have wasted your opportunity in such an extravagant wish?"
"What! A whole roomful of chocolate creams do you consider a waste?" exclaimed Carrie. "Why, we shall be envied of all our neighbors; and, Mamma, you have been sighing over our expenses, and wishing that Jimmy and I could support you. Do not you see that we can make our fortune with chocolate creams? First, let us eat all we want before telling anybody; then let us give some to choice friends, and we will sell the rest."
All the time she was talking Carrie was putting in her hand for chocolate creams and cramming one after another. Mrs. Fraser, too, did not refuse to taste them. How could they ever get into the parlor again, unless they were eaten up?
"I am sure we can make quite a fortune," Carrie went on. "As soon as Jimmy comes home we can calculate how much it will be. The last time I was in Boston I gave fifteen cents for a quarter of a pound, and there were just thirteen chocolate creams. Now, see. In my two hands I can hold fourteen; now, how many times that do you suppose there are in the room?"
Mrs. Fraser could not think. Carrie was triumphant.
"Jimmy will know how to calculate, for he knows how many feet and inches there are in the room. If not, he can measure by the piazza; and we can row the chocolate creams out, and see how many go to a foot, and then we can easily find out. Of course, we shall sell them cheaper than they do in Boston, and so there will be a rush for them. It will be bully!"
"I am glad we happened to take this rocking-chair out on the piazza this morning," said Mrs. Fraser, languidly seating herself. "I don't see how we shall ever get into the parlor again."
"Jimmy and I will eat our way in fast enough," said Carrie, laughing; and Jimmy at that moment appeared with two boy friends, whom he had brought home to dinner.
They were all delighted when they understood the situation, and had soon eaten a little place by the window, inside the room.
"I quite forgot to buy any dinner," exclaimed Mrs. Fraser, starting up. "I meant to have ordered a leg of mutton as I went down, and now it is too late; and eggs for a pudding. Jimmy will have to go down——"
"Oh, the chocolate creams will do!" exclaimed Carrie. "Don't you see, there's our first saving, and my wish does not turn out so extravagant, after all. The boys will be glad to have chocolate creams for dinner, I'm sure."
The boys all said they would, as far as they could, when their mouths were so full.
"We must put out an advertisement," said Carrie, at last, as soon as she could stop to speak: "'Chocolate creams sold cheap!' I guess we won't give any away. We may as well make all we can. It will be geminy! Suppose we look up some boxes and baskets, Jimmy, to sell them in; and you boys can go to the gate and tell people there are chocolate creams for sale."
But all the boxes and baskets were soon filled, and only a little space made in the room. Jimmy pulled out the other rocking-chair that Carrie had been sitting in, and she rested herself for a while.
"I declare, I never thought before I could eat enough chocolate creams; but they are a trifle cloying."
"My dear," said Mrs. Fraser, "if you had not said 'chock full;' if you had said 'a great many,' or 'a trunkful,' or something of that sort."
"But I meant 'chock full,'" insisted Carrie.
"I did not mean quite up to the ceiling. I didn't suppose that was what 'chock' meant. Now we know."
A great shouting was heard. All the boys of the town were gathering, and quite a crowd of people seemed coming near.
Mrs. Fraser was a widow, and there was no man in the house. Jimmy was the nearest approach to a man that she could depend upon; and here he was, leading a band of boys! She sent one of the boys she knew the best for Mr. Stetson, the neighboring policeman, who came quickly, having already seen the crowd of boys flocking to the house.
Carrie was trying to sell off her boxes for fifteen, ten, even five cents; but the crowd could not be easily appeased, for the boys could see across the windows the chocolate creams closely packed. "The room is chock full!" they exclaimed.
Mr. Stetson examined the premises. "You'll find it hard work to get them chocolates out in a week, even if you set all the boys on them. I'd advise letting them in one by one to fill their pockets, each to pay a cent."
Even Carrie assented to this, and a line was formed, and boys let in through the window. They ate a way to the door that led into the entry, so that it could be opened and the room could be entered that way. The boys now went in at the window and came out at the door, eating as they went and filling their pockets. Carrie could not but sigh at thought of the Boston chocolates, more than a cent apiece! But the boys ate, and then the girls came and ate; but with night all had to leave, at last. It was possible to shut the window and lock it, and shut the door for the night, after they had gone.
"I don't see why the chocolates should not stay on there weeks and weeks," said Carrie to her mother. "Of course, they won't be so fresh, day after day; but they will be fresher than some in the shops. I'm awfully tired of eating them now, and feel as if I never wanted to see a chocolate cream again; but I suppose I shall feel different after a night's sleep, and I think Mr. Stetson is wrong in advising us to sell them so low."
Mrs. Fraser suggested she should like to go in the parlor to sit.
"But to-morrow is the day of the picnic," said Carrie, "and we shall be out-of-doors anyhow. I will take chocolate creams for my share. But, dear me! my dress is on the sofa,—my best dress. You were putting the ruffles in!"
"I told you, my dear, one of the last things, to take it upstairs," said Mrs. Fraser.
"And there it is, in the furthest corner of the room," exclaimed Carrie, "with all those chocolates scrouching on it. I'll tell you. I'll get Ben Sykes in early. He eats faster than any of the other boys, and he shall eat up toward my dress. He made a great hole in the chocolates this afternoon. I will have him come in early, and we don't go to the picnic till after twelve o'clock."
"And at twelve o'clock you have your second wish," said Mrs. Fraser.
"Yes, Mamma," said Carrie; "and I have already decided what it shall be,—a chariot and four. It will come just in time to take me to the picnic."
"Oh, my dear Carrie," said her mother, "do think what you are planning! Where would you keep your chariot and the four horses?"
"Oh! there will be a man to take care of them," said Carrie; "but I will think about it all night carefully——"
At that very moment she went to sleep.
The next morning early, Carrie was downstairs. She found she could eat a few more chocolate creams, and Jimmy was in the same condition. She proposed to him her plan of keeping the chocolates still for sale, but eating a way to the sofa in the corner, to her best dress.
Ben Sykes came early, and a few of the other boys. The rest were kept at home, because it turned out they had eaten too many and their parents would not let them come.
A good many of the older people came with baskets and boxes, and bought some to carry away, they were so delicious and fresh.
Meanwhile Ben Sykes was eating his way toward the corner. It was very hard making any passage, for as fast as he ate out a place others came tumbling in from the top. Carrie and Jimmy invented "a kind of a tunnel" of chairs and ironing-boards, to keep open the passage; and other boys helped eat, as they were not expected to pay.
But the morning passed on. Mrs. Fraser tried to persuade Carrie to wear another dress; but she had set her mind on this. She had a broad blue sash to wear with it, and the sash would not go with any other dress.
She watched the clock, she watched Ben; she went in under the ironing-boards, to help him eat, although she had begun to loathe the taste of the chocolate creams.
Ben was splendid. He seemed to enjoy more the more he ate. Carrie watched him, as he licked them and ate with glowing eyes.
"Oh, Ben," Carrie suddenly exclaimed, "you can't seem to eat them fast enough. I wish your throat were as long as from one end of this room to the other."
At this moment the clock was striking.
Carrie was ready to scream out her second wish; but she felt herself pushed in a strange way. Ben was on all fours in front of her, and now he pushed her back, back. His neck was so long that while his head was still among the chocolates, at the far corner of the room, his feet were now out of the door.
Carrie stood speechless. She had lost her wish by her foolish exclamation. The faithful Ben, meanwhile, was flinging something through the opening. It was her dress, and she hurried away to put it on.
When she came down, everybody was looking at Ben. At first he enjoyed his long neck very much. He could stand on the doorstep and put his head far out up in the cherry trees and nip off cherries, which pleased both the boys and himself.
Instead of a chariot and four, Carrie went off in an open wagon, with the rest of the girls. It made her feel so to see Ben, with his long neck, that she got her mother's permission to spend the night with the friend in whose grounds the picnic was to be held.
She carried baskets of chocolate creams, and she found numbers of the girls, who had not eaten any, who were delighted with them, and promised to come the next day, to buy and carry away any amount of them. She began to grow more cheerful, though she felt no appetite, and instead of eating everything, as she always did at picnics, she could not even touch Mattie Somers's cream-pie nor Julia Dale's doughnuts. She stayed as late as she could at her friend Mattie's; but she felt she must get home in time for her third wish, at twelve o'clock.
Would it be necessary for her to wish that Ben Sykes's neck should be made shorter? She hoped she might find that it had grown shorter in the night; then she could do as she pleased about her third wish.
She still clung to the desire for the chariot and four. If she had it, she and her mother and Jimmy could get into it and drive far away from everybody,—from Ben Sykes and his long neck, if he still had it,—and never see any of them any more. Still, she would like to show the chariot and four to her friends; and perhaps Ben Sykes would not mind his long neck, and would be glad to keep it and earn money by showing himself at a circus.
So she reached home in the middle of the morning, and found the whole Sykes family there, and Ben, still with his long neck. It seems it had given him great trouble in the night. He had to sleep with his head in the opposite house, because there was not room enough on one floor at home. Mrs. Sykes had not slept a wink, and her husband had been up watching, to see that nobody stepped on Ben's neck. Ben himself appeared in good spirits; but was glad to sit in a high room, where he could support his head.
Carrie suggested her plan that Ben should exhibit himself. He, no doubt, could earn a large sum. But his mother broke out against this. He never could earn enough to pay for what he ate, now his throat was so long. Even before this he could swallow more oatmeal than all the rest of the family put together, and she was sure that now even Mr. Barnum himself could not supply him with food enough. Then she burst into a flood of tears, and said she had always hoped Ben would be her stay and support; and now he could never sleep at home, and everybody looking after him when he went out, and the breakfast he had eaten that very morning was enough for six peoples' dinners.
They were all in the parlor, where the chocolate creams were partially cleared away. They were in a serried mass on two sides of the room, meeting near the centre, with the underground passage, through which Ben had worked his way to Carrie's dress. Mrs. Fraser had organized a band to fill pasteboard boxes, which she had obtained from the village, and she and her friends were filling them, to send away to be sold, as all the inhabitants of the town were now glutted with chocolate creams.
At this moment Carrie heard a click in the clock. She looked at her mother, and as the clock struck she said steadily, "I wish that Ben's neck was all right again."
Nobody heard her, for at that moment Ben Sykes started up, saying: "I'm all right, and I have had enough. Come along home!" And he dragged his family away with him.
Carrie fell into her mother's arms. "I'll never say 'chock full' again!" she cried; "and I'll always be satisfied with what I have got, for I can never forget what I suffered in seeing Ben's long neck!"
"WHERE CAN THOSE BOYS BE?"
This was the cry in the Wilson family as they sat down to dinner.
"It is odd," said Aunt Harriet. "I have noticed they are usually ready for their dinner. They may be out of the way at other times, but they always turn up at their meals."
"They were here at breakfast," said Jane, the eldest daughter.
"I helped Jack about his Latin before he went to school," said the mother of the family.
"They are probably at the Pentzes'," said Gertrude. "If our boys are not there, the Pentzes are here; and as long as the Pentzes are not here, I suppose our boys are there."
"I should say they were not likely to get so good a dinner at the Pentzes' as we have here," said Aunt Harriet, as a plate was set before her containing her special choice of rare-done beef, mashed potato, stewed celery, and apple-sauce.
"Who are the Pentzes?" said Mr. Wilson, looking round the table to see if everybody was helped.
"He is a painter and glazier," said Aunt Harriet, "and the mother takes in washing."
"They are good boys," said Mrs. Wilson. "Jonas Pentz stands high in his class, and is a great help to our Sam. Don't you remember him? He is the boy that came and spent a night with Sam a week ago. They have their first lesson in 'Caesar' this afternoon; perhaps they are studying up."
"Jack always has to go where Sam does," said Gertrude.
This was the talk at the Wilsons' table. The subject was much the same at the Pentzes'. There was a large family at the Wilsons'; so there was at the Pentzes'. Mrs. Pentz was ladling out some boiled apple-pudding to a hungry circle round her. But she missed two.
"Where are Jonas and Dick?" she asked.
A clamor of answers came up.
"I saw Jonas and Dick go off with Sam Wilson after school, and Jack Wilson, and John Stebbins," said Will, one of the small boys.
"You don't think Jonas and Dick both went to dine at the Wilsons'?" said Mrs. Pentz. "I should not like that."
"I dare say they did," said Mary Pentz. "You know the Wilson boys are here half the time, and the other half our boys are at the Wilsons'."
"Still, I don't like their going there for meal-times," said Mrs. Pentz, anxiously.
"Jonas had a new lesson in 'Caesar,'" said Mary Pentz. "I don't believe they planned to spend much time at dinner."
But at supper-time no boys appeared at the Wilsons'. Mrs. Wilson was anxious. George, the youngest boy of all, said the boys had been home since afternoon school; he had seen Jack in the kitchen with John Stebbins.
"Jack came to me for gingerbread," said Jane, "and I asked him where they had been, and John Stebbins said, with the Pentz boys. He said something about to-morrow being a holiday, and preparing for a lark."
"I don't like their getting all their meals at the Pentzes'," said Mrs. Wilson, "and I don't much like John Stebbins."
Again at the Pentzes' the talk was much the same.
Mary Pentz reported the boys went through their 'Caesar' recitation well; she had a nod of triumph from Jonas as he walked off with Sam Wilson. "They had their books, so I suppose they are off for study again."
"I don't like their taking two meals a day at the Wilsons'," said Mrs. Pentz.
"There's no school to-morrow," said Mary, "because the new furnace is to be put in. But I dare say the boys, Sam and Jonas, will be studying all the same."
"I hope he won't be out late," said Mrs. Pentz.
"He's more likely to spend the night at the Wilsons'," said Mary. "You know he did a week ago."
"The boys were round here for a candle," said Will.
"Then they do mean to study late," said Mrs. Pentz. "I shall tell him never to do it again; and with Dick, too!"
Mr. Wilson came hurrying home for a late supper, and announced he must go to New York by a late train.
"A good chance for you," he said to his wife, "to go and see your sister. You won't have more than a day with her, for I shall have to take the night train back, but it will give you a day's talk."
Mrs. Wilson would like to go, but she felt anxious about the boys. "They have not been home for dinner or supper."
"But they came home for gingerbread," said Aunt Harriet. "I suppose they didn't have too hearty a dinner at the Pentzes'."
"Joanna says they went off with a basket packed up for to-morrow," said Gertrude.
"If the Pentzes did not live so far off, I would send up," said Mrs. Wilson.
"They will be in by the time we are off, or soon after," said Mr. Wilson. "It looks like rain, but it won't hurt us."
Mrs. Wilson and he went, but no boys appeared all the evening.
Aunt Harriet, who had not been long in the family, concluded this was the way boys acted.
Jane sat up some time finishing a novel, and hurried off to bed, startled to find it so late, and waking up Gertrude to say, "It is odd those boys have not come home!"
Why hadn't they?
This is what happened.
Wednesday afternoon, after school, the younger boys had gone to play at the old Wilson house, far away at the other end of the Main Street, beyond the Pentzes'. This was an old deserted mansion, where the Wilsons themselves had lived once upon a time. But it had taken a fortune and two furnaces to warm it in winter, and half a dozen men to keep the garden in order in summer, and it had grown now more fashionable to live at the other end of the town; so the Wilson family had moved down years ago, where the girls could see "the passing" and Mr. Wilson would be near his business. Of late years he had not been able to let the house, and it had been closely shut to keep it from the tramps. The boys had often begged the keys of their father, for they thought it would be such fun to take possession of the old house. But Mr. Wilson said, "No; if a parcel of boys found their way in, all the tramps in the neighborhood would learn how to get in too." Still, it continued the object of the boys' ambition to get into the house, and they were fond of going up to play in the broad grassy space by the side of the house; and they kept good oversight of the apple crop there.
On this Wednesday afternoon they were playing ball there, and lost the ball. It had gone through a ventilation hole into the cellar part of the house.
Now, everybody knows that if a boy loses a ball it must be recovered, especially if he knows where it is. There is not even a woman so stony-hearted but she will let in a troop of muddy-shoed boys through her entry (just washed) if they come to look for a ball, even if it has broken a pane of glass on its way. So the boys got a ladder from the Pentzes', and put it up at one of the windows where the blind was broken. Jack went up the ladder. The slat was off, but not in the right place to open the window. There could not be any harm in breaking off another; then he could reach the middle of the sash and pull up the window. No; it was fastened inside. John Stebbins tried, but it was of no use.
"It would not help if we broke the window by the fastening," said John; "for the shutters are closed inside with old-fashioned inside shutters."
Here was the time to ask for the key. They must have the key to find that ball, and the boys trudged back to meet Sam just going home from the Pentzes'.
But Sam refused to ask for the key again, He didn't want to bother his father so soon, and he didn't want the bother himself. He had his new "Caesar" lesson to study; to-morrow, after school, he and Jonas would look round at the house, and find some way to recover the ball, for even the stern and studious Sam knew the value of a ball.
So Thursday noon the boys all hurried up to the Wilson house,—Sam, Jonas, and all. They examined it on every side. They came back to the hole where the ball was lost.
"There's the cold-air box," said Jonas. "Could not Dick crawl in?"
Now, Dick was a very small pattern of a boy, indeed, to be still a boy. Really he might crawl into the cold-air box. He tried it! He did get in! He had to squeeze through one part, but worked his way down fairly into the cellar, and screamed out with triumph that he had found the ball close by the hole! But how was Dick to get out again? He declared he could never scramble up. He slipped back as fast as he tried. He would look for the cellar stairs, only it was awful dark except just by the hole. He had a match in his pocket. Jack ran to the Pentzes' and got a candle, and they rolled it in to Dick, and waited anxiously to see where he would turn up next. They heard him, before long, pounding at a door round the corner of the house. He had found the cellar stairs, and a door with bolts and a great rusty key, which he succeeded in turning. The boys pulled at the door and it opened; and there stood Dick with the ball in one hand, picking up the candle with the other!
What a chance to enter the house! Down the cellar stairs, up into the attics! Strange echoes in the great halls, and dark inside; for all the windows were closed and barred,—all but in one room upstairs that opened on a back veranda. It was a warm late-autumn day, and the sun poured down pleasantly upon a seat in the corner of the veranda, where a creeper was shedding its last gay leaves.
"What a place to study!" exclaimed Sam.
"Let's come and spend to-morrow," said John Stebbins; "there's no school."
"No school Friday, on account of the furnace!" exclaimed Jack. "Let's bring a lot of provisions and stay the whole day here."
"We might lay it in to-night," said John Stebbins; "we'll come up after school this afternoon!"
"And I'll tell father about the key this evening," said Sam; "he won't mind, if he finds we have got one."
"Jack and I will see to the provisions," said John Stebbins, "if the rest of you boys will come here as soon as school is over."
It was all so interesting that they were too late for dinners, and had to content themselves with gingerbread as they hurried to school.
"Be sure you tell mother," was Sam's last warning to Jack and John Stebbins, as they parted for their separate schoolrooms.
After school the party hastened to the old house. Sam took the entry key from his pocket and opened the door, leaving Dick to wait for Jack and John Stebbins. They appeared before long with a basket of provisions, and were ready for a feast directly, but delayed for a further examination of the house. It was dark soon, and Sam would not let them stay long in any one room. They must just take a look, and then go home,—no waiting for a feast.
"I'll talk to father this evening, and ask him if we may have it if we keep the whole thing secret."
They fumbled their way down to the lower back door, but could not get it open. It was locked!
"We left the key in the door outside," said Dick, in a low whisper.
"You ninnies!" exclaimed Sam, "somebody saw you and has locked us in."
"Some of the boys, to plague us," said John Stebbins.
"Mighty great secrecy, now," said Sam, "if half the boys in town know we are here. It all comes of that great basket of provisions you saw fit to bring round."
"You'll be glad enough of it," said John Stebbins, "if we have to spend the night here."
"Let's have it now," said Jack.
"We may as well occupy ourselves that way," said Sam, in a resigned tone, "till they choose to let us out."
"Suppose we go up to the room with the bed and the sofa," said John Stebbins; "and we've got a surprise for you. There's a pie,—let's eat that."
They stumbled their way back. The provident John Stebbins had laid in more candles, and they found an old table and had a merry feast.
Sam and Jonas had their books. When Sam had hold of a fresh Latin book he could not keep away from it. Jonas's mind was busy with a new invention. The boys thought he would make his fortune by it. He was determined to invent some use for coal ashes. They were the only things that were not put to some use by his mother in their establishment. He thought he should render a service to mankind if he could do something useful with coal ashes. So he had studied all the chemistry books, and had one or two in his pockets now, and drew out a paper with H O, and other strange letters and figures on it. The other boys after supper busied themselves with arranging the room for a night's sleep.
"It's awful jolly," said Dick. "This bed will hold four of us. I'll sleep across the foot, and Sam shall have the sofa."
But Sam rose up from his study. "I've no notion of spending the night here. The door must be open by this time."
He went to the window that looked out on the veranda. There was a heavy rain-storm; it was pouring hard. It was hard work getting down to the door in the dark. The candle kept going out; and they found the door still locked when they reached it.
"Why not spend the night?" said Jonas. "They'll have got over their worries at home by this time."
"Nobody could come up here to see after us in this rain," said Sam. "I suppose they think that as we have made our bed we may as well sleep in it."
Sleep they did until a late hour in the morning. All the windows but the one upon the veranda closed with shutters. They woke up to find snow and rain together. They went all over the house to find some way of getting out, but doors and windows were well closed.
"It's no use, boys," said Sam. "We've tried it often enough from outside to get in, and now it is as hard to get out. I was always disgusted that the windows were so high from the ground. Anyhow, father or some of the folks will be after us sometime. What was it you told mother?" Sam asked.
John Stebbins had to confess that he had not seen Mrs. Wilson, and indeed had been vague with the information he had left with Jane. "I told them we were with the Pentz boys," he said; "I thought it just as well to keep dark."
"Mighty dark we all of us are!" said Sam, in a rage. He was so angry that John Stebbins began to think he had made Jane understand where they were, and he tried to calm Sam down. Jonas proposed that Dick should be put through the cold-air box again. With a little squeezing from behind he must be able to get through. Everybody but Dick thought it such a nice plan that he was obliged to agree. But what was their horror when they reached the place to find some boards nailed across the outside!
"A regular siege!" said Sam. "Well, if they can stand it I guess we can." His mettle was up. "We'll stay till relief forces come. It is some trick of the boys. Lucky there's no school. They can't hold out long."
"A state of siege! What fun!" cried the boys.
"I only wish we had brought two pies," said John Stebbins. "But there's plenty of gingerbread."
Now they would ransack the house at their leisure. There was light enough in the attics to explore the treasures hidden there. They found old coal-hods for helmets, and warming-pans for fiery steeds, and they had tournaments in the huge halls. They piled up carpets for their comfort in their bedroom,—bits of old carpet,—and Jonas and Sam discovered a pile of old worm-eaten books. The day seemed too short, and the provender lasted well.
The night, however, was not so happy. The candles were growing short and matches fewer. Sam and Jonas had to economize in reading, and told stories instead, and the stories had a tendency to ghosts. Dick and Jack murmured to John Stebbins it was not such fun after all; when, lo! their own talk was interrupted by noises below! A sound of quarrelling voices came from the rooms beneath. Voices of men! They went on tiptoe to the head of the stairs to listen.
How had they got in? Was it they who had locked the door? Did they come in that way?
"Suppose we go down," said Sam, in a whisper. But John Stebbins and the little boys would not think of it. The men were swearing at each other; there was a jingle of bottles and sound of drinking.
"It's my opinion we had better keep quiet," said Jonas. "It is a poor set, and I don't know what they would do to us if they saw we had found them out and would be likely to tell of them."
So they crept back noiselessly. In a state of siege, indeed! John Stebbins, with help of the others, lifted the sofa across the door and begged Sam to sleep on it. But that night there was not much sleep! The storm continued, snow, hail, and rain, and wind howling against the windows. Toward morning they did fall asleep. It was at a late hour they waked up and went to peer out from the veranda window. There was a policeman passing round the house!
* * * * *
Meanwhile there had been great anxiety at the Wilsons'.
"If it were not for the storm," said Aunt Harriet, "I should send up to the Pentzes' to inquire about those boys."
"I suppose it's the storm that keeps them," said Jane.
"If it were not for the storm," Mrs. Pentz was saying to Mary, "I should like you to go down to the Wilsons' and see what those boys are about."
As to Mrs. Stebbins, John was so seldom at home it did not occur to her to wonder where he was.
But when Saturday morning came, and no boys, Aunt Harriet said, "There's a little lull in the storm. I can't stand it any longer, Jane. I am going to put on my waterproof and go up to the Pentzes'."
"I will go too," said Jane; and Gertrude and George joined the party.
Half-way up the long street they met the Pentz family coming down to make the same inquiries,—Mr. and Mrs. Pentz, Mary, Sophy, Will, and the rest.
"Where are the boys?" was the exclamation as they met half-way between the two houses.
Mr. Johnson, one of the leading men of the town, crossed the street to ask what was the commotion in the two families. "Our boys are missing," said Mr. Pentz. "Five boys!"
"We haven't seen them since Thursday morning," said Aunt Harriet.
"They were at home Thursday afternoon," said Mary Pentz.
"I must speak to the police," said Mr. Pentz.
"He is up at the Wilson House," said Mr. Johnson. "There were tramps in the house there last night, and the police came very near catching them. He found the door unlocked night before last. The tramps kept off that night, but turned up last night in the storm. They have got off, however. There is only one policeman, but we've sworn in a special to keep guard on the house."
"I'll go up and see him," said Mr. Pentz.
"We'll all go up," said Harriet.
"Perhaps the tramps have gone off with the boys," said Gertrude.
Quite a crowd had collected with the party as they moved up the street, and all together came to the front of the house. The policeman was just disappearing round the other side. They turned to the back to meet him, and reached the corner where the veranda looked down upon the yard.
At this moment Mr. and Mrs. Wilson appeared. They had arrived at the station from New York, and heard there the story of the disappearance of the boys, and of tramps in the house. They hastened to the scene, Mrs. Wilson almost distracted, and now stood with the rest of the Wilsons and the Pentzes awaiting the policeman. They heard a cry from above, and looked up to the veranda.
There were all the boys in a row.
A PLACE FOR OSCAR.
"I don't like tiresome fables," said Jack, throwing down an old book in which he had been trying to read; "it is so ridiculous making the beasts talk. Of course they never do talk that way, and if they did talk, they would not be giving that kind of advice But then they never did talk. Did you ever hear of a beast talking, Ernest, except in a fable?"
Ernest looked up from his book.
"Why, yes," he said decidedly; "the horses of Achilles talked, don't you remember?"
"Well, that was a kind of fable," said Jack. "Our horses never talked. Bruno comes near it sometimes. But, Hester, don't you think fables are tiresome? They always have a moral tagged on!" he continued, appealing to his older sister; for Ernest proved a poor listener, and was deep in his book again.
"I will tell you a fable about a boy," said Hester, sitting down with her work, "and you shall see."
"But don't let the beasts speak," said Jack, "and don't let the boy give advice!"
"He won't even think of it," said Hester; and she went on.
"Once there was a boy, and his name was Oscar, and he went to a very good school, where he learned to spell and read very well, and do a few sums. But when he had learned about as much as that, he took up a new accomplishment. This was to fling up balls, two at a time, and catch them in his hands. This he could do wonderfully well; but then a great many other boys could. He, however, did it at home; he did it on the sidewalk; he could do it sitting on the very top of a board fence; but he was most proud of doing it in school hours while the teacher was not looking. This grew to be his great ambition. He succeeded once or twice, when she was very busy with a younger class, and once while her back was turned, and she was at the door receiving a visitor.
"But that did not satisfy him: he wanted to be able to do it when she was sitting on her regular seat in front of the platform; and every day he practised, sometimes with one ball and sometimes with another. It took a great deal of his time and all of his attention; and often some of the other boys were marked for laughing when he succeeded. And he had succeeded so well that the teacher had not the slightest idea what they were laughing at.
"All this was very satisfactory to him; but it was not so well for him at the end of the year, because it turned out he was behind-hand in all his studies, and he had to be put down into a lower room. But coming into another room with a fresh teacher, he had to learn his favorite accomplishment all over again. It was difficult, for she was a very rigid teacher, and seemed to have eyes in every hair of her head; and he sat at the other side of the room, so that he had to change hands somehow in throwing the balls and getting them into his desk quick without being seen. But there were a number of younger boys in the room who enjoyed it all very much, so that he was a real hero, and felt himself quite a favorite. He did manage to keep up better in his arithmetic, too, in spite of his having so little time for his books. Perhaps from having to watch the teacher so much, he did learn the things that he heard her repeat over and over again; and then he picked up some knowledge from the other boys. Still, all through his school term, he was sent about more or less from one room to another. The teachers could not quite understand why such a bright-looking boy, who seemed to be always busy with his lessons, was not farther on in his studies.
"So it happened, when they all left school, Oscar was himself surprised to find that the boys of his age were ahead of him in various ways. A large class went on to the high school; but Oscar, as it proved, was not at all fitted.
"And his father took him round from one place to another to try to get some occupation for him. He looked so bright that he was taken for an office-boy here and there; but he never stayed. The fact was, the only thing he could do well was to fling balls up in the air and catch them in turn, without letting them drop to the ground; and this he could only do best on the sly, behind somebody's back. Now this, though entertaining to those who saw it for a little while, did not help on his employers, who wondered why they did not get more work out of Oscar.
"A certain Mr. Spenser, a friend of Oscar's father, asked him to bring his boy round to his office, and he would employ him. 'He will have to do a little drudgery at first, but I think we can promote him soon, if he is faithful.'
"So Oscar went with his father to Mr. Spenser's office. Mr. Spenser started a little when he saw Oscar; but after talking awhile, he went to his table, and took from a drawer two balls. 'My little boy left these here this morning,' he said. 'How long do you think,' turning to Oscar, 'you could keep them up in the air without letting them drop?'
"Oscar was much pleased. Here was his chance; at this office the kind of thing he could do was wanted. So he dexterously took the balls, and flung them up and down, and might have kept at it all the morning but that Mr. Spenser said at last, 'That will do, and it is more than enough.' He said, turning to Oscar's father: 'As soon as I saw your boy I thought I recognized him as a boy I saw one day in the school flinging balls up in the air on the sly behind his teacher's back. I'm sorry to see that he keeps up the art still. But I felt pretty sure that day that he couldn't have learned much else. I should be afraid to take him into my office with a propensity to do things on the sly, for I have other boys that must learn to be busy. Perhaps you can find some other place for Oscar.'
"But Oscar could not find the kind of place.
"His friend, Seth Clayton, had been fond of collecting insects all through his school years. Oscar used to laugh at his boxes full of bugs. But Seth used to study them over, and talk about them with his teacher, who told him all she knew, and helped him to find books about them. And it was when she was leaning over a beautiful specimen of a night-moth that Oscar had performed his most remarkable feat of keeping three balls in the air for a second and a half. This was in their last school year.
"And now, after some years more of study, Seth was appointed to join an expedition to go to South America and look up insects along the Amazon and in Brazil.
"'Just what I should like to do,' said Oscar; for he had studied a little about the geography of South America, and thought it would be fun catching cocoanuts with the help of the monkeys, and have a salary too. 'That is something I really could do,' said Oscar to Seth. But Seth went, and Oscar was left behind.
"Will Leigh had the best chance, perhaps. He used to be a great crony of Oscar. He went through the Latin School, and then to Harvard College. 'He was always burrowing into Latin and Greek,' said Oscar; 'much as ever you could do to get an English word out of him.'
"Well, he was wanted as professor in a Western college; so they sent him for three years to a German university to study up his Hebrew. But he was to travel about Europe first.
"'I wish they would send me,' said Oscar. 'Travelling about Europe is just what I should like, and just what I could do. It is a queer thing that just these fellows that can work hard, and like to work too, get the easiest places, where they have only to lie back and do nothing!'
"Even some of the boys who were behind him in school and below him in lower classes came out ahead. Sol Smith, whom Oscar always thought a stupid dunce, had the place in Mr. Spenser's office that he would have liked.
"'Mr. Spenser took Sol out to his country place in the mountains,' Oscar complained, 'where he has boats and plenty of fishing. I know I could have caught a lot of trout. It is just what I can do. But that stupid Sol, if he looked at a trout, he probably frightened it away.'
"It was just so all along through life. Oscar could not find exactly the place he was fitted for. One of his friends, Tracy, went out West as engineer. 'I could have done that,' said Oscar; 'I could have carried the chain as easy as not. It is a little hard that all the rest of the fellows tumble into these easy places. There's Tracy making money hand over hand.'
"The next he heard of him Tracy was in the legislature. 'That I could do,' said Oscar. 'It is easy enough to go and sit in the legislature, with your hands in your pockets, and vote when your turn comes; or you needn't be there all the time if you don't choose.'
"So they put Oscar up for the legislature; but he lost the vote, because he forgot to sign his name to an important note, in answer to one of his 'constituents.' He tried for Congress, too, but without success. He talked round among his friends about running for President. There was the great White House to live in. He would be willing to stay all summer. He felt he should be the right person, as he had never done anything, and would offend no party.
"But even for President something more is needed than catching half-a-dozen balls without letting them fall to the ground.
"Once, indeed, he had thought of joining a circus; but he could not equal the Chinese juggler with the balls, and it tired him to jump up and down. His father got him the place of janitor at an art building; but he made mistakes in making change for tickets, and put wrong checks on the umbrellas and parasols, so that nobody got the right umbrella. He was really glad when they dismissed him, it tired him so. It was harder work than flinging balls——"
"Look at here, you need not go on," said Jack, interrupting his sister. "I never did it but just once in school, and that was when you happened to come in and speak to Miss Eaton. I was real ashamed that you caught me at it then, and I have never had the balls at school since, or thought of them."
"The beast has spoken," said Ernest, looking up from his book.
Jack made a rush at his brother. "Oh! stop," said Ernest; "let us find out what became of Oscar."
"He has married," said Hester, "and his wife supports him."
THE FIRST NEEDLE.
"Have you heard the new invention, my dears, That a man has invented?" said she. "It's a stick with an eye, Through which you can tie A thread so long, it acts like a thong; And the men have such fun To see the thing run! A firm, strong thread, through that eye at the head, Is pulled over the edges most craftily, And makes a beautiful seam to see!"
"What! instead of those wearisome thorns, my dear, Those wearisome thorns?" cried they. "The seam we pin, Driving them in; But where are they, by the end of the day, With dancing and jumping and leaps by the sea? For wintry weather They won't hold together, Seal-skins and bear-skins all dropping round, Off from our shoulders down to the ground. The thorns, the tiresome thorns, will prick, But none of them ever consented to stick! Oh, won't the men let us this new thing use? If we mend their clothes, they can't refuse. Ah, to sew up a seam for them to see,— What a treat, a delightful treat, 't will be!"
"Yes, a nice thing, too, for the babies, my dears,— But, alas, there is but one!" cried she. "I saw them passing it round, and then They said it was only fit for men! What woman would know How to make the thing go? There was not a man so foolish to dream That any woman could sew up a seam!"
Oh, then there was babbling and screaming, my dears! "At least they might let us do that!" cried they. "Let them shout and fight And kill bears day and night; We'll leave them their spears and hatchets of stone If they'll give us this thing for our very own. It will be like a joy above all we could scheme, To sit up all night and sew such a seam!"
"Beware! take care!" cried an aged old crone, "Take care what you promise!" said she. "At first 't will be fun, But, in the long run, You'll wish that the men had let the thing be. Through this stick with an eye I look and espy That for ages and ages you'll sit and you'll sew, And longer and longer the seams will grow, And you'll wish you never had asked to sew. But nought that I say. Can keep back the day; For the men will return to their hunting and rowing. And leave to the women forever the sewing."
Ah! what are the words of an aged crone, For all have left her muttering alone; And the needle and thread they got with such pains. They forever must keep as dagger and chains.