Daisy was very much in earnest, and in such a hurry to be off that she could hardly stand still to have her hair brushed, and thought there were a great many unnecessary buttons and strings on her clothes that day. Usually she lay late, got up slowly and fretted at every thing as little girls are apt to do when they have had too much sleep. She wasn't a rosy, stout Daisy; but had been ill, and had fallen into a way of thinking she couldn't do anything but lie about, reading fairy-tales, and being petted by every one. Mamma and papa had tried all sorts of things to amuse and do her good; for she was their only little daughter, and they loved her very dearly. But nothing pleased her long; and she lounged about, pale and fretful, till Aunt Laura came. Daisy called her "Wee" when she was a baby, and couldn't talk plainly; and she still used the name because it suited the cheery little aunt so well.
"I don't see anything, and the music has stopped. I think some elf just came to wake you up, and then flew away; so we won't waste any more time in looking here," said Wee, as she finished dressing Daisy, who flew about like a Will-o'-the-wisp all the while.
"Do you think it will come again to-morrow?" asked Daisy anxiously.
"I dare say you'll hear it, if you wake in time. Now get your hat, and we will see what we can find down by the brook. I saw a great many fireflies there last night, and fancy there was a ball; so we may find some drowsy elf among the buttercups and clover."
Away rushed Daisy for her hat, and soon was walking gayly down the green lane, looking about her as if she had never been there before; for every thing seemed wonderfully fresh and lovely.
"How pink the clouds are, and how the dew twinkles in the grass! I never saw it so before," she said.
"Because by the time you are up the pretty pink clouds are gone, and the thirsty grass has drank the dew, or the sun has drawn it up to fall again at night for the flowers' evening bath," replied Wee, watching the soft color that began to touch Daisy's pale cheeks.
"I think we'd better look under that cobweb spread like a tent over the white clovers. A fairy would be very likely to creep in there and sleep."
Daisy knelt down and peeped carefully; but all she saw was a little brown spider, who looked very much surprised to see visitors so early.
"I don't like spiders," said Daisy, much disappointed.
"There are things about spiders as interesting to hear as fairy tales," said Wee. "This is Mrs. Epeira Diadema; and she is a respectable, industrious little neighbor. She spreads her tent, but sits under a leaf near by, waiting for her breakfast. She wraps her eggs in a soft silken bag, and hides them in some safe chink, where they lie till spring. The eggs are prettily carved and ornamented, and so hard that the baby spiders have to force their way out by biting the shell open and poking their little heads through. The mother dies as soon as her eggs are safely placed, and the spiderlings have to take care of themselves."
"How do you know about it, Aunt Wee? You talk as if Mrs. Eppyra—or whatever her name is—had told you herself. Did she?" asked Daisy, feeling more interested in the brown spider.
"No; I read it in a book, and saw pictures of the eggs, web, and family. I had a live one in a bottle; and she spun silken ladders all up and down, and a little room to sleep in. She ate worms and bugs, and was very amiable and interesting till she fell ill and died."
"I should like to see the book; and have a spider-bottle, so I could take care of the poor little orphans when they are born. Good-by, ma'am. I shall call again; for you are 'most as good as a fairy there in your pretty tent, with a white clover for your bed."
Daisy walked on a few steps, and then stopped to say:
"What does that bird mean by calling 'Hurry up, hurry up?' He keeps flying before us, and looking back as if he wanted to show me something."
"Let me hear what he says. I may be able to understand him, or the bob-o-link that swings on the alder by the brook."
Wee listened a moment, while the birds twittered and chirped with all their hearts. Presently Wee sang in a tone very like the bob-o-link's:
"Daisy and Wee, Come here, and see What a dainty feast is spread: Down in the grass Where fairies pass, Here are berries ripe and red.
"All wet with dew, They wait for you: Come hither, and eat your fill, While I gayly sing, In my airy swing, And the sun climbs up the hill."
"Did he really say that?" cried Daisy, watching the bob-o-link, who sat swaying up and down on the green bough, and nodding his white-capped head at her in the most friendly manner.
"Perhaps I didn't translate it rightly; for it is very hard to put bird-notes into our language, because we haven't words soft and sweet enough. But I really think there are berries over there, and we will see if what he says is true," said Wee.
Over the wall they went, and there, on a sunny bank, found a bed of the reddest, ripest berries ever seen.
"Thank you, thank you, for telling me to hurry up, and showing me such a splendid feast," said Daisy, with her mouth full, as she nodded back at the birds. "These are so much sweeter than those we buy. I'd carry some home to mamma, if I only had a basket."
"You can pick this great leaf full, while I make you a basket," said Wee.
Daisy soon filled the leaf, and then sat watching her aunt plait a pretty basket of rushes. While she waited she looked about, and kept finding something curious or pleasant to interest and amuse her. First she saw a tiny rainbow in a dewdrop that hung on a blade of grass; then she watched a frisky calf come down to drink on the other side of the brook, and laughed to see him scamper away with his tail in the air. Close by grew a pitcher-plant; and a yellow butterfly sat on the edge, bathing its feet, Daisy said. Presently she discovered a little ground bird sitting on her nest, and peeping anxiously, as if undecided whether to fly away or trust her.
"I won't hurt you, little mother. Don't be afraid," whispered the child; and, as if it understood, the bird settled down on her nest with a comfortable chirp, while its mate hopped up to give her a nice plump worm for breakfast.
"I love birds. Tell me something about them, Aunt Wee. You must know many things; for they like you, and come when you call."
"Once upon a time," began Wee, while her fingers flew and the pretty basket grew, "there was a great snow-storm, and all the country was covered with a thick white quilt. It froze a little, so one could walk over it, and I went out for a run. Oh, so cold it was, with a sharp wind, and no sun or any thing green to make it pleasant! I went far away over the fields, and sat down to rest. While I sat there, a little bird came by, and stopped to rest also.
"'How do you do?' said I.
"'Chick-a-dee-dee,' said he.
"'A cold day,' said I.
"'Chick-a-dee-dee,' said he.
"'Aren't you afraid of starving, now the ground is covered and the trees are bare?'
"'Chick-a-dee-dee, ma'am, chick-a-dee-dee!'" answered the bird in the same cheerful tone. And it sounded as if he said, 'I shall be cared for. I'm not afraid.'
"'What will you eat? There's nothing here or for miles round. I really think you'll starve, birdie,' said I.
"Then he laughed, and gave me a merry look as he lit on a tall, dry weed near by. He shook it hard with his little bill; when down fell a shower of seeds, and there was dinner all ready on a snow-white cloth. All the while he ate he kept looking up at me with his quick, bright eyes; and, when he had done, he said, as plainly as a bird could say it:
"'Cold winds may blow, And snows may fall, But well we know God cares for all.'"
"I like that little story, and shall always think of it when I hear the chick-a-dee-dee." Daisy sat a moment with a thoughtful look in her eyes; then she said slowly, as if sorry for the words:
"It isn't a stupid, grown-up world. It's a very pleasant, young world; and I like it a great deal better this morning than I did last night."
"I'm glad of that; and, even if we don't find our fairy to-day, you will have found some sunshine, Daisy, and that is almost as good. Now put in the berries, and we'll go on."
How they hunted! They climbed trees to peep into squirrel-holes and birds'-nests; they chased bees and butterflies to ask for news of the elves; they waded in the brook, hoping to catch a water-sprite; they ran after thistle-down, fancying a fairy might be astride; they searched the flowers and ferns, questioned sun and wind, listened to robin and thrush; but no one could tell them any thing of the little people, though all had gay and charming bits of news about themselves. And Daisy thought the world got younger and happier every minute.
When they came in to breakfast, papa and mamma looked at Daisy, and then nodded with a smile at Aunt Wee; for, though Daisy's frock was soiled, her boots wet, and her hair tumbled, her cheeks were rosy, eyes bright, and voice so cheerful that they thought it better music than any in the summer world without.
"Hunting fairies is a pleasant play, isn't it, Daisy?" said papa, as he tasted the berries, and admired the green basket.
"Oh, yes! and we are going again to-morrow. Aunt Wee says we must try seven days at least. I like it, and mean to keep on till I really find my fairy."
"I think you will find something better than 'little vanishers,' dear," said mamma, filling up the bowl of bread and milk which Daisy was fast emptying; for she certainly had found an appetite.
"There it is again!" cried Daisy, flying out of bed the next morning still earlier than the day before. Yes, there it was, the fairy music, as blithe and sweet as ever; and the morning-glories rung their delicate bells as if keeping time. Daisy felt rather sleepy, but remembered her promise to Aunt Wee, and splashed into her tub, singing the bob-o-link's song as she bathed.
"Where shall we go to-day?" she asked, as they went out into the garden.
"I think we'd better try a new place; so we'll go to the farmyard; and, while we feed the hens, I'll listen to their chat, and perhaps can learn something from it," replied Wee soberly.
"Do hens know about fairies? I thought they were very dull things, and didn't care for any thing but eating corn and laying eggs," said Daisy, surprised.
"Oh, dear, no! they are very sensible creatures, and see a deal of the world in their daily walks. Hunting for insects gives them an excellent chance to see fairies, if there are any. Here is some corn for the biddies; and, after we have fed them, we will look for eggs, and so may find a brownie or two."
Such a clatter as there was when they came to the barnyard; for every thing was just awake, and in the best spirits. Ducks were paddling off to the pond; geese to the meadow; and meek gray guinea-hens tripping away to hunt bugs in the garden. A splendid cock stood on the wall, and crowed so loud and clear that all the neighboring chanticleers replied. The motherly hens clucked and scratched with their busy broods about them, or sat and scolded in the coops because the chicks would gad abroad. Doves cooed on the sunny roof, and smoothed their gleaming feathers. Daisy's donkey nibbled a thistle by the wall, and a stately peacock marched before the door with all his plumage spread. It made Daisy laugh to see the airs the fowls put on as she scattered corn, and threw meal and water to the chicks. Some pushed and gobbled; some stood meekly outside the crowd, and got what they could; others seized a mouthful, and ran away to eat it in a corner. The chicks got into the pan entirely, and tumbled one over the other in their hurry to eat; but the mammas saw that none went hungry. And the polite cock waited upon them in the most gentlemanly manner, making queer little clucks and gurgles as if he said:
"Allow me, madam, to offer you this kernel;" or, "Here, my dear, try that bit." And sometimes he pecked a little, with a loud quaver, evidently saying, "Come, come, children, behave yourselves, and don't eat like pigs."
"What is she saying?" asked Daisy, pointing to an old gray hen in a black turban, who was walking about alone, muttering to herself, as hens often do in their promenades.
"She says a cat has made a nest, and hatched three kits up on the loft, near her own nest; and she doesn't like it, because their mewing annoys her," said Wee, after listening a minute.
"How nice! let's go and find them. But do you learn anything about the fairies from the hen's chat?"
"No: they have been so busy setting, they have had no time for picnics yet. But they will let us know, if they discover any."
In the barn, the cows were being milked; and Daisy had a mugful of it, warm and sweet, out of the foaming pail.
"We'll take some to Mrs. Purr; for, I dare say, she doesn't like to leave the kits long, and will enjoy a sip of something comfortable," said Wee, as Daisy climbed the ladder, and went rustling over the hay to a corner, whence came a joyful "Mew!" What a charming sight it was, to be sure! a snow-white cat lying in a cosy nest, and, by her, three snow-white kits, wagging three very small gray tails.
"There never was any thing so lovely!" cried Daisy, as she sat with the three downy balls in her lap, while the mamma gratefully lapped the new milk from Aunt Wee's cup.
"Are they better than fairies?"
"Almost: for I know about pussies, and can cuddle them; but I couldn't a fairy, you know, and they might be afraid of me. These dears are not afraid, and I shall have such fun with them as they grow up. What shall we name them, auntie?"
"Snowball, Patpaw, and Wagtail would do, I think," said Wee, stroking the cat, who rubbed against her, purring very loud.
"Yes: I like those names for my pets. But what is Mrs. Purr saying, with her mouth up to your ear?" asked Daisy, who firmly believed that Aunt Wee knew every thing.
"She tells me that when she went on a grasshopper hunt the other day, as she ran through the meadow, she saw some lovely creatures all in blue, with gauze wings, flying about over the river, and sitting in the water-lilies. She thinks they may be fairies, and advises us to go and look."
"So we will to-morrow," said Daisy. "Ask her, please, if I may take the kits into the house, if I'll be very careful and give them a nice big bed to sleep in."
"She says you may; but she must go too, else the kits will cry," said Wee, after listening to Pussy's purr a minute.
Much pleased with her new pets, Daisy took them in her apron, and, followed by their confiding mamma, marched to the house, and established them in the old cradle which used to be hers. Pussy got in also; and, when they were settled on a soft cushion, Daisy rocked them gently to and fro. At first Mrs. Purr opened her yellow eyes, and looked rather anxious: but, as nothing uncomfortable happened, she composed herself, and soon quite liked the motion; for she fell asleep, and made a pretty picture as she lay with her downy white babies on her downy white breast.
When the sun rose next morning, he saw Daisy and Wee floating down the river in their boat. "Bless me! here's company," said the sun, and began at once to make them welcome in his most charming manner. He set the waves to sparkling with a sudden shimmer; he shot long rays of light through the dark hemlocks, till they looked like fairy trees; he touched Daisy's hair and it turned to gold; he chased away the shadows that lurked among the hills; he drew up the misty curtain that hovered over the river; and, with the warmth of his kisses, waked the sleeping lilies.
"Look, look, Aunt Wee! how they open, one by one, as the light shines on them! We shan't have to wait any longer; for they get up with the sun, as you do." As she spoke, Daisy caught a half-open lily, and drew it up, fragrant and dripping, fresh from its sleep.
"They look like a fleet of fairy ships, anchored in this quiet harbor, with sails half furled, and crews asleep. See the little sailors, in their yellow jackets, lifting up their heads as the wind blows its whistle, like a boatswain, to 'pipe all hands.'"
Daisy laughed at Aunt Wee's fancy, and stirred up the crew of the Water-sprite, as she called her flower, till the white sails were all set, and it was ready for a summer voyage.
"It is time we saw the fairies in blue, unless old Madam Purr deceived us. I hope we shall find one; for, though I enjoy every thing we see, I do want my elf too."
"What is that?" cried Wee; and Daisy flew up so quickly that the boat rocked like a cradle. A slender creature, in a blue dress, with gauzy wings, darted by, and vanished among the rushes that nodded by the bank.
"Go nearer,—softly! softly!—and maybe it will fly out again. I really think it was a fairy; for I never saw any thing like it before," whispered Daisy, much excited.
Wee rowed in among the green rushes and purple water-weeds, and out flew half-a-dozen of the blue-bodied creatures. They didn't seem afraid, but skimmed about the boat, as if curious to see what it was; and Daisy sat, and stared with all her might. Presently one of the lovely things lit on the lily in her hand, and she held her breath to watch it. A little shadow of disappointment passed over her face as she looked; but it was gone at once, and her voice was full of delight as she said softly:
"It's not a fairy, Aunt Wee; but it is very beautiful, with its slender blue body, its lacy wings, and bright eyes. What name does it have?"
"We call it a dragon-fly; and it could tell you a pretty little story about itself, could you understand it. In May the tiny eggs are dropped on the water, and sink to the bottom, where little creatures are born,—ugly, brown things, with six legs and no wings. They feed on water-insects, and for a long time swim about in this state. When ready, they climb up the stem of some plant, and sit in the sun till the ugly brown shells drop away, and the lovely winged creatures appear. They grow in an hour to be perfect dragon-flies, and float away to lead happy lives in the sunshine by the river."
As if only waiting till the story was done, the dragon-fly flew off with a whirr, and darted to and fro, hunting for its breakfast, glittering splendidly as it flashed among the leaves or darted close above the water. Daisy forgot her disappointment in a minute, and went fishing for lilies; while the turtles came up to sun themselves on the rocks, the merry little tadpoles wiggled in the shallow places, and a wild duck paddled by with a brood of ducklings following in her wake.
"Oh, dear! it rains; and we can't go fairy-hunting at all," said Daisy next morning, as the patter on the window-pane woke her up, and Aunt Wee came in to dress her.
"Yes, we can, dear; jump up, and see what a funny place I'll take you to."
Daisy thought the rain would be a capital excuse for lying in bed; for she still liked to cuddle and drowse in her cosey, warm nest. But she was curious to know where the curious place was; so she got up and followed.
"Why, Aunt Wee, this is the garret; and there isn't any thing nice or funny here," she said, as they climbed the stairs, and came into the big attic, filled with all manner of old things.
"Isn't there? We'll soon see." And so they did: for Aunt Wee began to play; and presently Daisy was shouting with fun as she sat on an old saddle, with a hair-covered trunk for a horse, a big old-fashioned bonnet on her head, and a red silk petticoat for a habit. Then they went to sea in a great chest, and got wrecked on a desert island, where they built a fort with boxes and bags, hunted bears with rusty guns, and had to eat dried berries, herbs and nuts; for no other food could be found. Aunt Wee got an old fiddle, and had a dancing-school, where Daisy capered till she was tired. So they rummaged out some dusty books, and looked at pictures so quietly that a little mouse came out of a drawer and peeped about, thinking no one was there.
"Let's find the nest, since we don't find any fairy," said Wee; and, opening the drawer, she turned over the things till she came to a pair of old velvet shoes; and there in the toe of one, nicely cuddled under a bit of flannel, lay four pink mites, which woke up, and stretched their tiny legs, and squeaked such small squeaks one could hardly hear them.
"How cunning they are! I wish they would let me put them with the kits, and have a nursery full of babies. Wouldn't it be nice to see them all grow up?" said Daisy.
"I'm afraid they wouldn't grow up, if Mrs. Purr lived with them," began Wee, but got no further; for just then the cat bounced into the drawer, and ate up the mouselings in four mouthfuls. Daisy screamed; the mother-mouse gave a doleful squeak, and ran into a hole; and Aunt Wee tried to save the little ones. But it was too late: Purr had got her breakfast, and sat washing her face after it, as if she had enjoyed it.
"Never mind, Daisy: she would have caught them by and by, and it's as well to have them taken care of before they do any harm. There is the bell: don't cry, but come and tell papa what a fine romp we've had."
"It doesn't rain, but it's dreadfully wet; so we'll go to the dairy, and see if any sprites are hiding there," said Wee next day; and to the dairy they went.
A pleasant place it was,—so clean and cool, and as full of sweet odors as if the ghosts of buttercups and clover still haunted the milk which they had helped to make. Dolly was churning, and Polly was making up butter in nice little pats. Both were very kind, and let Daisy peep everywhere. All round on white shelves stood the shining pans, full of milk; the stone floor was wet; and a stream of water ran along a narrow bed through the room, and in it stood jars of butter, pots of cream, and cans of milk. The window was open, and hop-vines shook their green bells before it. The birds sang outside, and maids sang inside, as the churn and the wooden spatters kept time:
"Brindle and Bess, White-star and Jess— Come, butter, come! Eat cowslips fine, Red columbine— Come, butter, come! Grasses green and tall, Clover, best of all,— Come, butter, come! And give every night Milk sweet and white— Come, butter, come! Make the churn go, See the lumps grow!— Come, butter, come!"
Daisy sang also, and turned the handle till she was tired; then she helped Polly with the butter, and made four little pats,—one stamped with a star for papa, one with a rose for mamma, a strawberry for Aunt Wee, and a cow for herself. She skimmed a pitcher of cream with a shallow shell, and liked the work so much she asked to have a little pan of milk put by for her to take care of every day. Dolly promised, and gave her a small shell and a low shelf all to herself. When she went in, she carried her pretty pats in one hand, the cream-pot in the other, and entered the breakfast room looking as brisk and rosy as a little milkmaid.
It was a lovely morning when Daisy was next roused by the fairy music, and the ponies were standing at the door. "Are we going far?" she asked, as Wee put on her riding-skirt, and tied back her hair.
"Up to the mountain-top: it's only a mile; and we shall have time, if we ride fast," answered Wee.
Away they went, through the green lane, over the bridge, and up the steep hillside where the sheep fed and colts frisked as they passed by. Higher and higher climbed Dandy and Prance, the ponies; and gayer and gayer grew Daisy and Wee, as the fresh air blew over them, and the morning-red glowed on their faces. When they reached the top, they sat on a tall stone, and looked down into the valley on either side.
"This seems like a place to find giants, not fairies, it is so high and big and splendid up here," said Daisy, as her eye roamed over river, forest, town, and hill.
"There are giants here; and I brought you up to see them," answered Wee.
"Mercy, me! where are they?" cried Daisy, looking very curious and rather frightened.
"There is one of them." And Wee pointed to the waterfall that went dashing and foaming down into the valley. "That giant turns the wheels of all the mills you see. Some of them grind grain for our bread, some help to spin cloth for our clothes, some make paper, and others saw trees into boards. That is a beautiful and busy giant, Daisy."
"So it is, and some day we'll go and see it work. Show me the others: I like your giants 'most as well as those in the fairy-books."
"On this side you'll see another, called Steam. He is a very strong fellow; for, with the help of gunpowder, he will break the granite mountain in pieces, and carry it away. He works in the other mills, and takes heavy loads of stone, cloth, paper, and wood all over the country. Then, on the right of us is a third giant, called Electricity. He runs along those wires, and carries messages from one end of the world to the other. He goes under the sea and through the air; he brings news to every one; runs day and night, yet never tires; and often helps sick people with his lively magic."
"I like him best, I think; for he is more like a real, wonderful giant. Is there any on that side of us?" asked Daisy, turning round to look behind her.
"Yes: the best and most powerful of all lives in that big house with the bell on the roof," said Wee, smiling.
"Why, that's only the schoolhouse."
"Education is a long word, dear; but you know what it means, and, as you grow older, you will see what wonders it can work. It is a noble giant; for in this country rich and poor are helped by it, and no one need suffer for it unless they choose. It works more wonders than any other: it changes little children into wise, good men and women, who rule the world, and make happy homes everywhere; it helps write books, sing songs, paint pictures, do good deeds, and beautify the world. Love and respect it, my little Daisy, and be glad that you live now when such giants lend a hand to dwarfs like us."
Daisy sat still a long time, looking all about her on the mountain-top; and, when she rode away, she carried a new thought in her mind, which she never forgot.
"This is the last day of the seven, and no fairies have been found. Do you think I ever shall see one?" said Daisy, on the Sunday morning that ended her week's hunt.
"Not the kind you think of, for there are none such, Daisy; but you have found two better and more beautiful ones than any fanciful sprites," said Wee.
"Have I? Where are they? What are their names?"
Aunt Wee drew her to the glass, and said, as she pointed to Daisy's face:
"Here they are, and their names are Health and Happiness. There are many ways of losing them, and they are hard to catch when once lost. I wanted you to keep both, and tried to show you how. A happy, healthful hour in the morning sweetens and brightens the whole day; and there is no fairy-book half so wonderful as the lovely world all about us, if we only know how to read it."
"Then all these mornings we were hunting after health and happiness, instead of fairies, were we?"
"Yes: haven't you enjoyed it, and don't you think you have caught my fairies?"
Daisy looked from a little picture of herself, which Wee had drawn some time ago, to her image in the glass. One was dull and sad, pale and cross; the other, rosy, gay, and smiling,—the likeness of a happy, hearty little girl, wide-awake and in good tune. She understood the kind joke; and, turning, kissed Aunt Wee, as she said, gratefully:
"I think I have caught your elves, and I'll try to keep them all my life. But tell me one thing: was the music that woke me all a joke too?"
"No, dear: here it is, and now it is your own; for you have learned to wake and listen to it."
Daisy looked, and saw Aunt Wee lean from the window, and take out of a hollow nook, in the old tree close by, a little box. She set it on the table, touched a spring, and the airy music sounded more beautiful than ever.
"Is it mine, all mine?" cried Daisy.
"Yes: I hid it while I tried my little plan, and now you shall have it for your own. See, here is the best elf I can give you, and she will dance whenever you call her."
Wee pushed a golden pin, and up sprang a tiny figure, all crimson and gold, with shining wings, and a garland on its dainty head. Softly played the hidden music, and airily danced the little sylph till the silvery chime died away; then, folding her delicate arms, she sank from sight, leaving Daisy breathless with delight.
Ned, Polly, and Will sat on the steps one sun-shiny morning, doing nothing, except wish they had something pleasant to do.
"Something new, something never heard of before,—wouldn't that be jolly?" said Ned, with a great yawn.
"It must be an amusing play, and one that we don't get tired of very soon," added Polly gravely.
"And something that didn't be wrong, else mamma wouldn't like it," said little Will, who was very good for a small boy.
As no one could suggest any thing to suit, they all sat silent a few minutes. Suddenly Ned said, rather crossly, "I wish my shadow wouldn't mock me. Every time I stretch or gape it does the same, and I don't like it."
"Poor thing, it can't help that: it has to do just what you do, and be your slave all day. I'm glad I ain't a shadow," said Polly.
"I try to run away from mine sometimes, but I can't ever. It will come after me; and in the night it scares me, if it gets big and black," said Will, looking behind him.
"Wouldn't it be fun to see shadows going about alone, and doing things like people?" asked Polly.
"I just wish they would. I'd like to see ours cut capers; that would be a jolly new game, wouldn't it?" said Ned.
No one had time to speak; for suddenly the three little shadows on the sunny wall behind them stood up straight, and began to bow.
"Mercy, me!" cried Polly, staring at them.
"By Jove, that's odd!" said Ned, looking queer.
"Are they alive?" asked Will, a little frightened.
"Don't be alarmed: they won't hurt you," said a soft voice. "To-day is midsummer-day, and whoever wishes a wish can have it till midnight. You want to see your shadows by themselves; and you can, if you promise to follow them as they have followed you so long. They will not get you into harm; so you may safely try it, if you like. Do you agree for the day to do as they do, and so have your wish?"
"Yes, we promise," answered the children.
"Tell no one till night, and be faithful shadows to the shadows."
The voice was silent, but with more funny little bows the shadows began to move off in different directions. The children knew their own: for Ned's was the tallest, and had its hands in its pockets; Polly's had a frock on, and two bows where its hair was tied up; while Will's was a plump little shadow in a blouse, with a curly head and a pug nose. Each child went after its shadow, laughing, and enjoying the fun.
Ned's master went straight to the shed, took down a basket, and marched away to the garden, where it began to move its hands as if busily picking peas. Ned stopped laughing when he saw that, and looked rather ashamed; for he remembered that his mother had asked him to do that little job for her, and he had answered,—
"Oh, bother the old peas! I'm busy, and I can't."
"Who told you about this?" he asked, beginning to work.
The shadow shook its head, and pointed first to Ned's new jacket, then to a set of nice garden tools near by, and then seemed to blow a kiss from its shadowy fingers towards mamma, who was just passing the open gate.
"Oh! you mean that she does lots for me; so I ought to do what I can for her, and love her dearly," said Ned, getting a pleasanter face every minute.
The shadow nodded, and worked away as busily as the bees, tumbling heels over head in the great yellow squash blossoms, and getting as dusty as little millers. Somehow Ned rather liked the work, with such an odd comrade near by; for, though the shadow didn't really help a bit, it seemed to try, and set an excellent example. When the basket was full, the shadow took one handle, and Ned the other; and they carried it in.
"Thank you, dear. I was afraid we should have to give up our peas to-day: I'm so busy, I can't stop," said mamma, looking surprised and pleased.
Ned couldn't stop to talk; for the shadow ran away to the woodpile, and began to chop with all its might.
"Well, I suppose I must; but I never saw such a fellow for work as this shadow is. He isn't a bit like me, though he's been with me so long," said Ned, swinging the real hatchet in time with the shadowy one.
Polly's new mistress went to the dining-room, and fell to washing up the breakfast cups. Polly hated that work, and sulkily began to rattle the spoons and knock the things about. But the shadow wouldn't allow that; and Polly had to do just what it did, though she grumbled all the while.
"She doesn't splash a bit, or make any clatter; so I guess she's a tidy creature," said Polly. "How long she does rub each spoon and glass. We never shall get done. What a fuss she makes with the napkins, laying them all even in the drawer. And now she's at the salt-cellars, doing them just as mamma likes. I wish she'd live here, and do my work for me. Why, what's that?" And Polly stopped fretting to listen; for she seemed to hear the sound of singing,—so sweet, and yet so very faint she could catch no words, and only make out a cheerful little tune.
"Do you hear any one singing, mamma?" she asked.
"No: I wish I did." And mamma sighed; for baby was poorly, piles of sewing lay waiting for her, Biddy was turning things topsy-turvy in the kitchen for want of a word from the mistress, and Polly was looking sullen.
The little girl didn't say any more, but worked quietly and watched the shadow, feeling sure the faint song came from it. Presently she began to hum the tune she caught by snatches; and, before she knew it, she was singing away like a blackbird. Baby stopped crying, and mamma said, smiling:
"Now I hear somebody singing, and it's the music I like best in the world."
That pleased Polly; but, a minute after, she stopped smiling, for the shadow went and took baby, or seemed to, and Polly really did. Now, baby was heavy, and cross with its teeth; and Polly didn't feel like tending it one bit. Mamma hurried away to the kitchen; and Polly walked up and down the room with poor baby hanging over her arm, crying dismally, with a pin in its back, a wet bib under its chin, and nothing cold and hard to bite with its hot, aching gums, where the little teeth were trying to come through.
"Do stop, you naughty, fretty baby. I'm tired of your screaming, and it's high time you went to sleep. Bless me! what's Miss Shadow doing with her baby?" said Polly.
Miss Shadow took out the big pin and laid it away, put on a dry bib, and gave her baby a nice ivory ring to bite; then began to dance up and down the room, till the shadowy baby clapped its hands and kicked delightedly. Polly laughed, and did the same, feeling sorry she had been so pettish. Presently both babies grew quiet, went to sleep, and were laid in the cradle.
"Now, I hope we shall rest a little," said Polly, stretching her arms.
But, no: down sat the shadow, and began to sew, making her needle fly like a real little seamstress.
"Oh, dear!" groaned Polly. "I promised to hem those handkerchiefs for Ned, and so I must; but I do think handkerchiefs are the most pokey things in the world to sew. I dare say you think you can sew faster than I can. Just wait a bit, and see what I can do, miss," she said to the shadow.
It took some time to find her thimble and needles and spools, for Polly wasn't a very neat little girl; but she got settled at last, and stitched away as if bent on beating her dumb friend.
Little Will's shadow went up to the nursery, and stopped before a basin of water. "Oh! ah! ain't this drefful?" cried Will, with a shiver; for he knew he'd got to have his face washed, because he wouldn't have it done properly when he got up, but ran away. Now, Will was a good child; but this one thing was his great trouble, and sometimes he couldn't bear it. Jane was so rough. She let soap get in his eyes, and water run down his neck, and she pinched his nose when she wiped him, and brushed his hair so hard that really it was dreadful; and even a bigger boy would have found it hard to bear. He shivered and sighed: but Jane came in; and, when he saw that the shadow stood still and took the scrubbing like a little hero, he tried to do the same, and succeeded so well that Jane actually patted his head and called him "a deary;" which was something new, for old Nurse Jane was always very busy and rather cross.
Feeling that nothing worse could possibly happen to him, Will ran after his shadow, as it flitted away into the barn, and began to feed the chickens.
"There, now! I forgetted all about my chickeys, and the shadow 'membered 'em; and I'm glad of it," said Will, scattering dabs of meal and water to the chirping, downy little creatures who pecked and fluttered at his feet. Little shadow hunted for eggs, drove the turkeys out of the garden, and picked a basket of chips: then it went to play with Sammy, a neighbor's child; for, being a small shadow, it hadn't many jobs to do, and plenty of active play was good for it.
Sammy was a rough little boy and rather selfish: so, when they played ball, he wanted to throw all the time; and, when Will objected, he grew angry and struck him. The blow didn't hurt Will's cheek much, but it did his little feelings; and he lifted his hand to strike back, when he saw his shadow go and kiss Sammy's shadow. All his anger was gone in a minute, and he just put his arm round Sammy's neck and kissed him. This kiss for a blow made him so ashamed that he began to cry, and couldn't be comforted till he had given Will his best marble and a ride on his pony.
About an hour before dinner, the three shadows and the children met in the garden, and had a grand game of play, after they had told each other what they had been doing since they parted. Now, the shadows didn't forget baby even then, but got out the wagon, and Miss Baby, all fresh from her nap, sat among her pillows like a queen, while Ned was horse, Polly footman, and Will driver; and in this way she travelled all round the garden and barn, up the lane and down to the brook, where she was much delighted with the water sparkling along and the fine splash of the stones they threw in.
When the dinner-bell rang, mamma saw four clean, rosy faces and four smooth heads at the table; for the shadow-children made themselves neat, without being told. Every one was merry and hungry and good-natured. Even poor baby forgot her teeth, and played a regular rub-a-dub with her spoon on her mug, and tried to tell about the fine things she saw on her drive. The children said nothing about the new play, and no one observed the queer actions of their shadows but themselves. They saw that there was no gobbling, or stretching over, or spilling of things, among the shadows; but that they waited to be helped, served others first, and ate tidily, which was a great improvement upon the usual state of things.
It was Saturday afternoon: the day was fine, and mamma told them they could go for a holiday frolic in the woods. "Don't go to the pond, and be home early," she said.
"Yes, mamma; we'll remember," they answered, as they scampered away to get ready.
"We shall go through the village, and Mary King will be looking out; so I shall wear my best hat. Mamma won't see me, if I slip down the back way; and I do so want Mary to know that my hat is prettier than hers," said Polly, up in her little room.
Now Polly was rather vain, and liked to prink; so she got out the new hat, and spent some time in smoothing her braids and putting on her blue ribbons. But when all was ready, and the boys getting impatient, she found her shadow, with a sun-bonnet on, standing by the door, as if to prevent her going out.
"You tiresome thing! do you mean that I mustn't wear my hat, but that old bonnet?" asked Polly.
The shadow nodded and beckoned, and patted its head, as if it was all right.
"I wish I hadn't promised to do as you do; then I could do as I like, and not make a fright of myself," said Polly, rather sulkily, as she put away the hat, and tied on the old bonnet with a jerk.
Once out in the lovely sunshine, she soon forgot the little disappointment; and, as they didn't go through the village, but by a green lane, where she found some big blackberries, she was quite contented. Polly had a basket to hold fruit or flowers, Ned his jackknife, and Will a long stick on which he rode, fancying that this sort of horse would help his short legs along; so they picked, whittled, and trotted their way to the wood, finding all manner of interesting things on the road.
The wood was full of pleasant sights and sounds; for wild roses bloomed all along the path, ferns and scarlet berries filled the little dells, squirrels chattered, birds sang, and pines whispered musically overhead.
"I'm going to stop here and rest, and make a wreath of these pretty wild roses for baby: it's her birthday, and it will please mamma," said Polly, sitting down on a mound of moss, with a lapful of flowers.
"I'm going to cut a fishing-pole, and will be back in a minute." And Ned went crashing into the thickest part of the wood.
"I shall see where that rabbit went to, and maybe I'll find some berries," said Will, trotting down the path the wild rabbit had gone.
The sound of the boys' steps died away, and Polly was wondering how it would seem to live all alone in the wood, when a little girl came trudging by, with a great pail of berries on her arm. She was a poor child: her feet were bare, her gown was ragged, she wore an old shawl over her head, and walked as if lame. Polly sat behind the ferns, and the child did not see her till Polly called out. The sudden sound startled her; and she dropped her pail, spilling the berries all over the path. The little girl began to cry, and Polly to laugh, saying, in a scornful tone:
"How silly to cry for a few berries!"
"I've been all day picking 'em," said the girl; "and I'm so tired and hungry; 'cause I didn't dare to go home till my pail was full,—mother scolds if I do,—and now they're all spoilt. Oh, dear! dear me!" And she cried so hard that great tears fell on the moss.
Polly was sorry now, and sat looking at her till she saw her shadow down on its knees, picking up the berries; then it seemed to fold its little handkerchief round the girl's bruised foot, and give her something from its pocket. Polly jumped up and imitated the kind shadow, even to giving the great piece of gingerbread she had brought for fear she should be hungry.
"Take this," she said gently. "I'm sorry I frightened you. Here are the berries all picked up, and none the worse for falling in the grass. If you'll take them to the white house on the hill, my mamma will buy them, and then your mother won't scold you."
"Oh, thank you, miss! It's ever so good. I'll take the berries to your mother, and bring her more whenever she likes," said the child gratefully, as she walked away munching the gingerbread, and smiling till there were little rainbows in her tears.
Meanwhile Ned had poked about in the bushes, looking for a good pole. Presently he saw a willow down by the pond, and thought that would give him a nice, smooth pole. He forgot his promise, and down he went to the pond; where he cut his stick, and was whittling the end, when he saw a boat by the shore. It was untied, and oars lay in it, as if waiting for some one to come and row out.
"I'll just take a little pull across, and get those cardinal-flowers for Polly," he said; and went to the boat.
He got in, and was about to push off, when he saw his shadow standing on the shore.
"Don't be a fool; get in, and come along," he said to it, remembering his promise now, but deciding to break it, and ask pardon afterwards.
But the shadow shook its head; pointed to the swift stream that ran between the banks, the rocks and mud on the opposite side, and the leaky boat itself.
"I ain't afraid: mamma won't mind, if I tell her I'm sorry; and it will be such fun to row alone. Be a good fellow, and let me go," said Ned, beckoning.
But the shadow would not stir, and Ned was obliged to mind. He did so very reluctantly, and scolded the shadow well as he went back to Polly; though all the time he felt he was doing right, and knew he should be glad afterwards.
Will trotted after the rabbit, but didn't find it; he found a bird's-nest instead with four little birds in it. He had an empty cage at home, and longed for something to put in it; for kittens didn't like it, and caterpillars and beetlebugs got away. He chose the biggest bird, and, holding him carefully, walked away to find Polly. The poor mother-bird chirped and fluttered in great distress; but Will kept on till his little shadow came before him, and tried to make him turn back.
"No, no, I want him," said Will. "I won't hurt him, and his mother has three left: she won't mind if I take one."
Here the mother-bird chirped so loud it was impossible to help seeing that she did care very much; and the shadow stamped its foot and waved its hand, as if ordering the young robber to carry back the baby-bird. Will stood still, and thought a minute; but his little heart was a very kind one, and he soon turned about, saying pleasantly:
"Yes, it is naughty, and I won't do it. I'll ask mamma to get me a canary, and will let this birdie stay with his brothers."
The shadow patted him on the shoulder, and seemed to be delighted as Will put the bird in the nest and walked on, feeling much happier than if he had kept it. A bush of purple berries grew by the path, and Will stopped to pick some. He didn't know what they were, and mamma had often told him never to eat strange things. But they smelt so good, and looked so nice, he couldn't resist, and lifted one to his mouth, when little shadow motioned for him to stop.
"Oh, dear! you don't let me do any thing I want to," sighed Will. "I shall ask Polly if I tarn't eat these; and, if she says I may, I shall, so now."
He ran off to ask Polly; but she said they were poisonous, and begged him to throw them away.
"Good little shadow, to keep me safe!" cried Will. "I like you; and I'll mind better next time, 'cause you are always right."
The shadow seemed to like this, and bobbed about so comically it made Will laugh till his eyes were full of tears. Ned came back, and they went on, having grand times in the wood. They found plenty of berries to fill the basket; they swung down on slender birches, and got rolls of white bark for canoes; they saw all sorts of wild-wood insects and birds; and frolicked till they were tired. As they crossed a field, a cow suddenly put down her head and ran at them, as if she was afraid they meant to hurt her calf. All turned, and ran as fast as they could toward the wall; but poor Will in his fright tumbled down, and lay screaming. Ned and Polly had reached the wall, and, looking back, saw that their shadows had not followed. Ned's stood before Will, brandishing his pole; and Polly's was flapping a shadowy sun-bonnet with all its might. As soon as they saw that, back they went,—Ned to threaten till he broke his pole, and Polly to flap till the strings came off. As if anxious to do its part, the bonnet flew up in the air, and coming down lit on the cross cow's head; which so astonished her that she ran away as hard as she could pelt.
"Wasn't that funny?" said Will, when they had tumbled over the wall, and lay laughing in the grass on the safe side.
"I'm glad I wore the old bonnet; for I suppose my best hat would have gone just the same," said Polly thankfully.
"The calf doesn't know its own mother with that thing on," laughed Ned.
"How brave and kind you were to come back and save me! I'd have been deaded if you hadn't," said Will, looking at his brother and sister with his little face full of grateful admiration.
They turned towards home after this flurry, feeling quite like heroes. When they came to the corner where two roads met, Ned proposed they should take the river-road; for, though the longest, it was much the pleasantest.
"We shan't be home at supper-time," said Polly. "You won't be able to do your jobs, Ned, nor I mine, and Will's chickens will have to go to bed hungry."
"Never mind: it's a holiday, so let's enjoy it, and not bother," answered Ned.
"We promised mamma we'd come home early," said Will.
They stood looking at the two roads,—one sandy, hot, and hilly; the other green and cool and level, along the river-side. They all chose the pleasant path, and walked on till Ned cried out, "Why, where are our shadows?"
They looked behind, before, and on either side; but nowhere could they see them.
"They were with us at the corner," said Will.
"Let's run back, and try to find them," said Polly.
"No, let 'em go: I'm tired of minding mine, and don't care if I never see it again," said Ned.
"Don't say so; for I remember hearing about a man who sold his shadow, and then got into lots of trouble because he had none. We promised to follow them, and we must," said Polly.
"I wish," began Ned in a pet; but Polly clapped her hand over his mouth, saying:
"Pray, don't wish now; for it may come to pass as the man's wish in the fairy tale did, and the black pudding flew up and stuck tight to his wife's nose."
This made Ned laugh, and they all turned back to the corner. Looking up the hilly road, they saw the three shadows trudging along, as if bent on getting home in good time. Without saying a word, the children followed; and, when they got to the garden gate, they all said at once:
"Aren't you glad you came?"
Under the elm-tree stood a pretty tea-table, covered with bread and butter, custards, and berries, and in the middle a fine cake with sugar-roses on the top; and mamma and baby, all nicely dressed, were waiting to welcome them to the birthday feast. Polly crowned the little queen, Ned gave her a willow whistle he had made, and Will some pretty, bright pebbles he had found; and Miss Baby was as happy as a bird, with her treasures.
A pleasant supper-time; then the small duties for each one; and then the go-to-bed frolic. The nursery was a big room, and in the evening a bright wood fire always burned there for baby. Mamma sat before it, softly rubbing baby's little rosy limbs before she went to bed, singing and telling stories meanwhile to the three children who pranced about in their long nightgowns. This evening they had a gay time; for the shadows amused them by all sorts of antics, and kept them laughing till they were tired. As they sat resting on the big sofa, they heard a soft, sweet voice singing. It wasn't mamma; for she was only talking to baby, and this voice sang a real song. Presently they saw mamma's shadow on the wall, and found it was the shadow-mother singing to the shadow-children. They listened intently, and this is what they heard:
"Little shadows, little shadows, Dancing on the chamber wall, While I sit beside the hearthstone Where the red flames rise and fall. Caps and nightgowns, caps and nightgowns, My three antic shadows wear; And no sound they make in playing, For the six small feet are bare.
"Dancing gayly, dancing gayly, To and fro all together, Like a family of daisies Blown about in windy weather; Nimble fairies, nimble fairies, Playing pranks in the warm glow, While I sing the nursery ditties Childish phantoms love and know.
"Now what happens, now what happens? One small shadow's tumbled down: I can see it on the carpet, Softly rubbing its hurt crown. No one whimpers, no one whimpers; A brave-hearted sprite is this: See! the others offer comfort In a silent, shadowy kiss.
"Hush! they're creeping; hush! they're creeping, Up about my rocking-chair: I can feel their loving fingers Clasp my neck and touch my hair. Little shadows, little shadows, Take me captive, hold me tight, As they climb and cling and whisper, 'Mother dear, good night! good night!'"
As the song ended, the real children, as well as the shadows, lovingly kissed mamma, and said "Good-night;" then went away into their rooms, said their prayers, and nestled down into their beds. Ned slept alone in the room next that which Polly and Will had; and, after lying quiet a little while, he called out softly:
"I say, Polly, are you asleep?"
"No: I'm thinking what a queer day we've had," answered Polly.
"It's been a good day, and I'm glad we tried our wish; for the shadows showed us, as well as they could, what we ought to do and be. I shan't forget it, shall you?" said Ned.
"No: I'm much obliged for the lesson."
"So is I," called out Will, in a very earnest, but rather a sleepy, little voice.
"I wonder what mamma will say, when we tell her about it," said Ned.
"And I wonder if our shadows will come back to us at midnight, and follow us as they used to do," added Polly.
"I shall be very careful where I lead my shadow; 'cause he's a good little one, and set me a righter zarmple than ever I did him," said Will, and then dropped asleep.
The others agreed with him, and resolved that their shadows should not be ashamed of them. All were fast asleep; and no one but the moon saw the shadows come stealing back at midnight, and, having danced about the little beds, vanish as the clock struck twelve.
She wasn't a wilfully naughty child, this harum-scarum Poppy, but very thoughtless and very curious. She wanted to see every thing, do every thing, and go every where: she feared nothing, and so was continually getting into scrapes.
Her pranks began early; for, when she was about four, her mamma one day gave her a pair of green shoes with bright buttons. Poppy thought there never was any thing so splendid, and immediately wanted to go to walk. But mamma was busy, and Poppy couldn't go alone any farther than the garden. She showed her shoes to the servants, the cat, the doves, and the flowers; and then opened the gate that the people in the street might see the trim little feet she was so proud of. Now Poppy had been forbidden to go out; but, when she saw Kitty Allen, her neighbor, playing ball down the street, she forgot every thing but the desire to show her new shoes; and away she went marching primly along as vain as a little peacock, as she watched the bright buttons twinkle, and heard the charming creak. Kitty saw her coming; and, being an ill-natured little girl, took no notice, but called out to her brother Jack:
"Ain't some folks grand? If I couldn't have red shoes for my best, I wouldn't have any, would you?"
They both laughed, and this hurt Poppy's feelings dreadfully. She tossed her head, and tried to turn up her nose; but, it was so very small, it couldn't be very scornful. She said nothing, but walked gravely by, as if she was going on an errand, and hadn't heard a word. Round the corner she went, thinking she would wait till Kitty was gone; as she didn't like to pass again, fearing Jack might say something equally trying. An organ-man with a monkey was playing near by; and Poppy was soon so busy listening to the music, and watching the sad-looking monkey, that she forgot home, shoes, and Kitty altogether.
She followed the man a long way; and, when she turned to go back, she took the wrong street, and found herself by the park. Being fond of dandelions, Poppy went in, and gathered her hands full, enjoying herself immensely; for Betsy, the maid, never let her play in the pond, or roll down the hill, or make dirt-pies, and now she did all these things, besides playing with strange children and talking with any one she pleased. If she had not had her luncheon just before she started, she would have been very hungry; for dinner-time came, without her knowing it.
By three o'clock, she began to think it was time to go home, and boldly started off to find it. But poor little Poppy didn't know the way, and went all wrong. She was very tired now, and hot and hungry, and wanted to see mamma, and wondered why she didn't come to the brown house with the white garden-gate. On and on she went, up streets and down, amusing herself with looking in the shop-windows, and sitting to rest on doorsteps. Once she asked a pleasant-faced little girl to show her the way home; but, as she didn't know in what street it was, and said her father's name was "papa," the girl couldn't help her: so she gave her a bun and went away. Poppy ate her bun, and began to wonder what would become of her; for night was coming on, and there didn't seem to be any prospect of finding mamma or home or bed. Her courage was all gone now; and, coming to a quiet place, she sat down on some high steps, and cried till her little "hankchif," as she called it, was all wet.
Nobody minded her: and she felt very forlorn till a big black dog came by, and seemed to understand the matter entirely; for he smelt of her face, licked her hands, and then lay down by her with such a friendly look in his brown eyes that Poppy was quite comforted. She told him her story, patted his big head; and then, being fairly tired out, laid her wet cheek on his soft back, and fell fast asleep.
It was quite dark when she woke; but a lamp was lighted near by, and standing under it was a man ringing a great bell. Poppy sat up, and wondered if anybody's supper was ready. The man had a paper; and, when people stopped at the sound of the bell, he read in a loud voice:
"Lost! a little girl, four years old; curly brown hair, blue eyes; had on a white frock and green shoes; calls herself Poppy."
He got no farther; for a little voice cried out of the dark, in a tone of surprise:
"Why, dats me!"
The people all turned to look; and the big man put his bell in his pocket, took her up very kindly, and said he'd carry her home.
"Is it far away?" asked Poppy, with a little sob.
"Yes, my dear; but I am going to give you some supper fust, along of my little girl. I live close by; and, when we've had a bite, we'll go find your ma."
Poppy was so tired and hungry, she was glad to find herself taken care of, and let the man do as he liked. He took her to a funny little house, and his wife gave her bread and molasses on a new tin plate with letters all round the edge. Poppy thought it very fine, and enjoyed her supper, though the man's little girl stared at her all the time with eyes as blue as her mug.
While she ate, the man sent word to her father that she was found; and, when both papa and mamma came hurrying in all out of breath with joy, there sat Miss Poppy talking merrily, with her face well daubed with molasses, her gown torn, her hands very dirty, and her shoes—ah, the pretty new shoes!—all spoiled with mud and dust, scratched, and half worn out, the buttons dull, and the color quite gone. No one cared for it that night; for little runaway was kissed and petted, and taken home to her own cosey bed as tenderly as if she had done nothing naughty, and never frightened her parents out of their wits in her life.
But the next day,—dear me! what a sad time it was, to be sure! When Poppy woke up, there hung the spoilt shoes over the mantle-piece; and, as soon as she was dressed, papa came in with a long cord, one end of which he tied round Poppy's waist, and the other to the arm of the sofa.
"I'm very sorry to have to tie you up, like a little dog; but I must, or you will forget, and run away again, and make mamma ill."
Then he went away without his morning kiss, and Poppy was so very unhappy she could hardly eat her breakfast. She felt better by and by, and tried to play; but the cord kept pulling her back. She couldn't get to the window; and, when she heard mamma passing the door, she tried to run and meet her, but had to stop halfway, for the cord jerked her over. Cousin Fanny came up, but Poppy was so ashamed to be tied that she crept under the sofa and hid. All day she was a prisoner, and was a very miserable little girl; but at night she was untied, and, when mamma took her in her lap for the first time that day, Poppy held her fast, and sobbed very penitently—
"O mamma! I drefful sorry I runned away. Fordive me one time more, and I never will adain;" and she never did.
Two or three years after this, Poppy went to live in the country, and tried some new pranks. One day she went with her sister Nelly to see a man plough, for that sort of thing was new to her. While the man worked, she saw him take out a piece of something brown, and bite off a bit.
"What's that?" asked Poppy.
"Tobaccer," said the man.
"Is it nice?" asked Poppy.
"Prime," said the man.
"Could you let me taste it?" asked curious Poppy.
"It will make you sick," said the man, laughing.
"It doesn't make you sick. I'd like to try," said Poppy, nothing daunted.
He gave her a piece; and Poppy ate it, though it didn't taste good at all. She did it because Cy, her favorite playfellow, told her she'd die if she did, and tried to frighten her.
"You darsn't eat any more," he said.
"Yes, I dare. See if I don't." And Poppy took another piece, just to show how brave she was. Silly little Poppy!
"I ain't sick, and I shan't die, so now."
And Poppy pranced about as briskly as ever. But the man shook his head, Nelly watched her anxiously, and Cy kept saying:
"Ain't you sick yet, say?"
For a little while Poppy felt all right; but presently she grew rather pale, and began to look rather pensive. She stopped running, and walked slower and slower, while her eyes got dizzy, and her hands and feet very cold.
"Ain't you sick now, say?" repeated Cy; and Poppy tried to answer, "Oh, dear! no;" but a dreadful feeling came over her, and she could only shake her head, and hold on to Nelly.
"Better lay down a spell," said the man, looking a little troubled.
"I don't wish to dirty my clean frock," said Poppy faintly, as she glanced over the wide-ploughed field, and longed for a bit of grass to drop on. She kept on bravely for another turn; but suddenly stopped, and, quite regardless of the clean pink gown, dropped down in a furrow, looking so white and queer that Nelly began to cry. Poppy lay a minute, then turned to Cy, and said very solemnly:
"Cy, run home, and tell my mother I'm dying."
Away rushed Cy in a great fright, and burst upon Poppy's mamma, exclaiming breathlessly:
"O ma'am! Poppy's been and ate a lot of tobacco; and she's sick, layin' in the field; and she says 'Come quick, 'cause she's dyin.'"
"Mercy on us! what will happen to that child next?" cried poor mamma, who was used to Poppy's mishaps. Papa was away, and there was no carriage to bring Poppy home in; so mamma took the little wheelbarrow, and trundled away to get the suffering Poppy.
She couldn't speak when they got to her; and, only stopping to give the man a lecture, mamma picked up her silly little girl, and the procession moved off. First came Cy, as grave as a sexton; then the wheelbarrow with Poppy, white and limp and speechless, all in a bunch; then mamma, looking amused, anxious and angry; then Nelly, weeping as if her tender heart was entirely broken; while the man watched them, with a grin, saying to himself:
"Twarn't my fault. The child was a reg'lar fool to swaller it."
Poppy was dreadfully sick all night, but next day was ready for more adventures and experiments. She swung on the garret stairs, and tumbled down, nearly breaking her neck. She rubbed her eyes with red peppers, to see if it really would make them smart, as Cy said; and was led home quite blind and roaring with pain. She got into the pigsty to catch a young piggy, and was taken out in a sad state of dirt. She slipped into the brook, and was half drowned; broke a window and her own head, swinging a little flat-iron on a string; dropped baby in the coal-hod; buried her doll, and spoilt her; cut off a bit of her finger, chopping wood; and broke a tooth, trying to turn heels over head on a haycock. These are only a few of her pranks, but one was nearly her last.
She wanted to go bare-footed, as the little country boys and girls did; but mamma wasn't willing, and Poppy was much afflicted.
"It doesn't hurt Cy, and it won't hurt me, just for a little while," she said.
"Say no more, Poppy. I never wish to see you barefooted," replied mamma.
"Well, you needn't: I'll go and do it in the barn," muttered Poppy, as she walked away.
Into the barn she went, and played country girl to her heart's content, in spite of Nelly's warnings. Nelly never got into scrapes, being a highly virtuous young lady; but she enjoyed Poppy's pranks, and wept over her misfortunes with sisterly fidelity.
"Now I'll be a bear, and jump at you as you go by," said Poppy, when they were tired of playing steam-engine with the old winnowing machine. So she got up on a beam; and Nelly, with a peck measure on her head for a hat, and a stick for a gun, went bear-hunting, and banged away at the swallows, the barrels, and the hencoops, till the bear was ready to eat her. Presently, with a loud roar, the bear leaped; but Nelly wasn't eaten that time, for Poppy cried out with pain:
"Oh! I jumped on a pitchfork, and it's in my foot! Take it out! take it out!"
Poor little foot! There was a deep purple hole in the sole, and the blood came, and Poppy fainted away, and Nelly screamed, and mamma ran, and the neighbors rushed in, and there was such a flurry. Poppy was soon herself again, and lay on the sofa, with Nelly and Cy to amuse her.
"What did the doctor say to mamma in the other room about me?" whispered Poppy, feeling very important at having such a bustle made on her account. Nelly sniffed, but said nothing; Cy, however, spoke up briskly:
"He says you might have lockjaw."
"Is that bad?" asked Poppy gravely.
"Oh, ain't it, though! Your mouth shuts up, and you can't open it; and you have fits and die."
"Always?" said Poppy, looking scared, and feeling of her mouth.
"'Most always, I guess. That's why your ma cried, and Nelly keeps kissin' you."
Cy felt sorry, but rather enjoyed the excitement, and was sure, that, if any one ever could escape dying, it would be Poppy, for she always "came alive" again after her worst mishaps. She looked very solemn for a few minutes, and kept opening and shutting her mouth to see if it wasn't stiff. Presently she said, in a serious tone and with a pensive air:
"Nelly, I'll give you my bead-ring: I shan't want it any more. And Cy may have the little horse: he lost his tail; but I put on the lamb's tail, and he is as good as ever. I wish to give away my things 'fore I die; and, Nelly, won't you bring me the scissors?"
"What for?" said Nelly, sniffing more than ever.
"To cut off my hair for mamma. She'll want it, and I like to cut things."
Nelly got the scissors; and Poppy cut away all she could reach, giving directions about her property while she snipped.
"I wish papa to have my pictures and my piece of poetry I made. Give baby my dolly and the quacking duck. Tell Billy, if he wants my collection of bright buttons, he can have 'em; and give Hattie the yellow plaster dog, with my love."
Here mamma came in with a poultice, and couldn't help laughing, though tears stood in her eyes, as she saw Poppy's cropped head and heard her last wishes.
"I don't think I shall lose my little girl yet, so we won't talk of it. But Poppy must keep quiet, and let Nelly wait on her for a few days."
"Are fits bad, mamma? and does it hurt much to die?" asked Poppy thoughtfully.
"If people are good while they live, it is not hard to die, dear," said mamma, with a kiss; and Poppy hugged her, saying softly:
"Then I'll be very good; so I won't mind, if the jawlock does come."
And Poppy was good,—oh, dreadfully good! for a week. Quite an angel was Poppy; so meek and gentle, so generous and obedient, you really wouldn't have known her. She loved everybody, forgave her playmates all their sins against her, let Nelly take such of her precious treasures as she liked, and pensively hoped baby would remember her when she was gone. She hopped about with a crutch, and felt as if she was an object of public interest; for all the old ladies sent to know how she was, the children looked at her with respectful awe as one set apart and doomed to fits, and Cy continually begged to know if her mouth was stiff.
Poppy didn't die, though she got all ready for it; and felt rather disappointed when the foot healed, the jaws remained as active as ever, and the fits didn't come. I think it did her good; for she never forgot that week, and, though she was near dying several times after, she never was so fit to go as she was then.
"Burney's making jelly: let's go and get our scrapings," said Poppy to Nellie once, when mamma was away.
But Burney was busy and cross, and cooks are not as patient as mothers; so when the children appeared, each armed with a spoon, and demanded their usual feast, she wouldn't hear of it, and ordered them off.
"But we only want the scrapings of the pan, Burney: mamma always lets us have them, when we help her make jelly; don't she, Nelly?" said Poppy, trying to explain the case.
"Yes; and makes us our little potful too," added Nelly, persuasively.
"I don't want your help; so be off. Your ma can fuss with your pot, if she chooses. I've no time."
"I think Burney's the crossest woman in the world. It's mean to eat all the scrapings herself; isn't it Nelly?" said Poppy, very loud, as the cook shut the door in their faces. "Never mind: I know how to pay her," she added, in a whisper, as they sat on the stairs bewailing their wrongs. "She'll put her old jelly in the big closet, and lock the door; but we can climb the plum tree, and get in at the window, when she takes her nap."
"Should we dare to eat any?" asked Nelly, timid, but longing for the forbidden fruit.
"I should; just as much as ever I like. It's mamma's jelly, and she won't mind. I don't care for old cross Burney," said Poppy, sliding down the banisters by way of soothing her ruffled spirit.
So when Burney went to her room after dinner, the two rogues climbed in at the window; and, each taking a jar, sat on the shelf, dipping in their fingers and revelling rapturously. But Burney wasn't asleep, and, hearing a noise below, crept down to see what mischief was going on. Pausing in the entry to listen, she heard whispering, clattering of glasses, and smacking of lips in the big closet; and in a moment knew that her jelly was lost. She tried the door with her key; but sly Poppy had bolted it on the inside, and, feeling quite safe, defied Burney from among the jelly-pots, entirely reckless of consequences. Short-sighted Poppy! she forgot Cy; but Burney didn't, and sent him to climb in at the window, and undo the door. Feeling hurt that the young ladies hadn't asked him to the feast, Cy hardened his heart against them, and delivered them up to the enemy, regardless of Poppy's threats and Nelly's prayers.
"Poppy proposed it, she broke the jar, and I didn't eat much. O Burney! don't hurt her, please, but let me 'splain it to mamma when she comes," sobbed Nelly, as Burney seized Poppy, and gave her a good shaking.
"You go wash your face, Miss Nelly, and leave this naughty, naughty child to me," said Burney; and took Poppy, kicking and screaming, into the little library, where she—oh, dreadful to relate!—gave her a good spanking, and locked her up.
Mamma never whipped, and Poppy was in a great rage at such an indignity. The minute she was left alone, she looked about to see how she could be revenged. A solar lamp stood on the table; and Poppy coolly tipped it over, with a fine smash, calling out to Burney that she'd have to pay for it, that mamma would be very angry, and that she, Poppy, was going to spoil every thing in the room. But Burney was gone, and no one came near her. She kicked the paint off the door, rattled the latch, called Burney a "pig," and Cy "a badder boy than the man who smothered the little princes in the Tower." Poppy was very fond of that story, and often played it with Nelly and the dolls. Having relieved her feelings in this way, Poppy rested, and then set about amusing herself. Observing that the spilt oil made the table shine, she took her handkerchief and polished up the furniture, as she had seen the maids do.
"Now, that looks nice; and I know mamma will be pleased 'cause I'm so tidy," she said, surveying her work with pride, when she had thoroughly greased every table, chair, picture-frame, book-back, and ornament in the room. Plenty of oil still remained; and Poppy finished off by oiling her hair, till it shone finely, and smelt—dear me, how it did smell! If she had been a young whale, it couldn't have been worse. Poppy wasn't particular about smells; but she got some in her mouth, and didn't like the taste. There was no water to wash in; and her hands, face, and pinafore were in a high state of grease. She was rather lonely too; for, though mamma had got home, she didn't come to let Poppy out: so the young rebel thought it was about time to surrender. She could write pretty well, and was fond of sending penitent notes to mamma, after being naughty: for mamma always answered them so kindly, and was so forgiving, that Poppy's naughtiest mood was conquered by them sooner than by any punishment; and Poppy kept the notes carefully in a little cover, even after she was grown up. There was pen, ink, and paper in the room; so, after various trials, Poppy wrote her note:—
"i am sorry i Took bernys gelli. i have braked The lamP. The oyl maks A bad smel. i tHink i wil Bee sik iF i stay HeRe anny More. i LoVe yoU—your Trying To Bee GooD
When she had finished, she lowered her note by a string, and bobbed it up and down before the parlor window till Nelly saw and took it in. Every one laughed over it; for, besides the bad spelling and the funny periods, it was covered with oil-spots, blots, and tear marks; for Poppy got tender-hearted toward the end, and cried a few very repentant tears when she said, "I love you; your trying-to-be-good Poppy."
Mamma went up at once, and ordered no further punishment, but a thorough scrubbing; which Poppy underwent very meekly, though Betsey put soap in her eyes, pulled her hair, and scolded all the time. They were not allowed any jelly for a long while; and Cy teased Poppy about her hair-oil till the joke was quite worn out, and even cross Burney was satisfied with the atonement.
When Poppy was eight, she got so very wild that no one could manage her but mamma, and she was ill; so Poppy was sent away to grandpa's for a visit. Now, grandpa was a very stately old gentleman, and every one treated him with great respect; but Poppy wasn't at all afraid, and asked all manner of impolite questions.
"Grandpa, why don't you have any hair on the top of your head?"—"O grandpa! you do snore so loud when you take naps!"—"What makes you turn out your feet so, when you walk?" and such things.
If grandpa hadn't been the best-natured old gentleman in the world, he wouldn't have liked this: but he only laughed at Poppy, especially when she spoke of his legs; for he was rather proud of them, and always wore long black silk stockings, and told every one that the legs were so handsome an artist put them in a picture of General Washington; which was quite true, as any one may see when they look at the famous picture in Boston.
Well, Poppy behaved herself respectably for a day or two; but the house was rather dull, she missed Nelly, wanted to run in the street, and longed to see mamma. She amused herself as well as she could with picture-books, patchwork, and the old cat; but, not being a quiet, proper, little Rosamond sort of a child, she got tired of hemming neat pocket-handkerchiefs, and putting her needle carefully away when she had done. She wanted to romp and shout, and slide down the banisters, and riot about; so, when she couldn't be quiet another minute, she went up into a great empty room at the top of the house, and cut up all sorts of capers. Her great delight was to lean out of the window as far as she could, and look at the people in the street, with her head upside down. It was very dangerous, for a fall would have killed her; but the danger was the fun, and Poppy hung out till her hands touched the ledge below, and her face was as red as any real poppy's.
She was enjoying herself in this way one day, when an old gentleman, who lived near, came home to dinner, and saw her.
"What in the world is that hanging out of the colonel's upper window?" said he, putting on his spectacles. "Bless my soul! that child will kill herself. Hallo, there! little girl; get in this minute!" he called to Poppy, flourishing his hat to make her see him.
"What for?" answered Poppy, staring at him without moving an inch.
"You'll fall, and break your neck!" screamed the old gentleman.
"Oh, no, I shan't!" returned Poppy, much flattered by his interest, and hanging out still further.
"Stop that, instantly, or I'll go in and inform the colonel!" roared the old gentleman, getting angry.
"I don't care," shouted Poppy; and she didn't, for she knew grandpa wasn't at home.
"Little gipsy! I'll settle her," muttered the old man, bustling up to the steps, and ringing the bell, as if the house was on fire.
No one was in but the servants; and, when he'd told old Emily what the matter was, she went up to "settle" Poppy. But Poppy was already settled, demurely playing with her doll, and looking quite innocent. Emily scolded; and Poppy promised never to do it again, if she might stay and play in the big room. Being busy about dinner, Emily was glad to be rid of her, and left her, to go and tell the old gentleman it was all right.
"Ain't they crosspatches?" said Poppy to her doll. "Never mind, dear: you shall hang out, if I can't. I guess the old man won't order you in, any way."
Full of this idea, Poppy took her long-suffering dolly, and, tying a string to her neck, danced her out of the window. Now this dolly had been through a great deal. Her head had been cut off (and put on again); she had been washed, buried, burnt, torn, soiled, and banged about till she was a mournful object. Poppy loved her very much; for she was two feet tall, and had once been very handsome: so her trials only endeared her to her little mamma. Away she went, skipping and prancing like mad,—a funny sight, for Poppy had taken off her clothes, and she hadn't a hair on her head.
Poppy went to another window of the room for this performance, because in the opposite house lived five or six children, and she thought they would enjoy the fun.
So they did, and so did the other people; for it was a boarding-house, and all the people were at home for dinner. They came to the windows, and looked and laughed at dolly's capers, and Poppy was in high feather at the success of her entertainment.
All of a sudden she saw grandpa coming down the street, hands behind his back, feet turned out, gold-headed cane under his arm, and the handsome legs in the black silk stockings marching along in the most stately manner. Poppy whisked dolly in before grandpa saw her, and dodged down as he went by. This made the people laugh again, and grandpa wondered what the joke was. The minute he went in out flew dolly, dancing more frantically than ever; and the children shouted so loud that grandpa went to see what the matter was. The street was empty; yet there stood the people, staring out and laughing. Yes; they were actually looking and laughing at his house; and he didn't see what there was to laugh at in that highly respectable mansion.
He didn't like it; and, clapping on his hat, he went out to learn what the matter was. He looked over at the house, up at the sky, down at the ground, and through the street; but nothing funny appeared, for Poppy and dolly were hidden again, and the old gentleman was puzzled. He went in and sat down to watch, feeling rather disturbed. Presently the fun began again: the children clapped their hands, the people laughed, and every one looked over at the house, in what he thought a very impertinent way. This made him angry; and out he rushed a second time, saying, as he marched across the street:
"If those saucy young fellows are making game of me, I'll soon stop it."
Up to the door he went, gave a great pull at the bell, and, when the servant came, he demanded why every one was laughing at his house. One of the young men came and told him, and asked him to come in and see the fun. Poppy didn't see grandpa go in, for she hid, and when she looked out he was gone: so she boldly began the dancing; but, in the midst of a lively caper, dolly went bounce into the garden below, for the string fell from Poppy's hand when she suddenly saw grandpa at the window opposite, laughing as heartily as any one at her prank.
She stared at him in a great fright, and looked so amazed that every one enjoyed that joke better than the other; and poor Poppy didn't hear the last of it for a long time.
Her next performance was to fall into the pond on the Common. She was driving hoop down the hill, and went so fast she couldn't stop herself; so splashed into the water, hoop and all. How dreadful it was to feel the cold waves go over her head, shutting out the sun and air! The ground was gone, and she could find no place for her feet, and could only struggle and choke, and go down, down, with a loud roaring sound in her ears. That would have been the end of Poppy, if a little black boy hadn't jumped in and pulled her out. She was sick and dizzy, and looked like a drowned kitten; but a kind lady took her home in a carriage. After that mishap grandpa thought he wouldn't keep her any longer, for fear she should come to some worse harm. So Miss Poppy was sent home, much to her delight and much to mamma's also; for no matter where she went, or how naughty she was, mamma was always glad to see the little wanderer back, and to forgive and forget all Poppy's pranks.
WHAT THE SWALLOWS DID.
A man lay on a pile of new-made hay, in a great barn, looking up at the swallows who darted and twittered above him. He envied the cheerful little creatures; for he wasn't a happy man, though he had many friends, much money, and the beautiful gift of writing songs that everybody loved to sing. He had lost his wife and little child, and would not be comforted; but lived alone, and went about with such a gloomy face that no one liked to speak to him. He took no notice of friends and neighbors; neither used his money for himself nor others; found no beauty in the world, no happiness anywhere; and wrote such sad songs it made one's heart ache to sing them.
As he lay alone on the sweet-smelling hay, with the afternoon sunshine streaming in, and the busy birds chirping overhead, he said sadly to himself:
"Happy swallows, I wish I were one of you; for you have no pains nor sorrows, and your cares are very light. All summer you live gayly together; and, when winter comes, you fly away to the lovely South, unseparated still."
"Neighbors, do you hear what that lazy creature down there is saying?" cried a swallow, peeping over the edge of her nest, and addressing several others who sat on a beam near by.
"We hear, Mrs. Skim; and quite agree with you that he knows very little about us and our affairs," answered one of the swallows with a shrill chirp, like a scornful laugh. "We work harder than he does any day. Did he build his own house, I should like to know? Does he get his daily bread for himself? How many of his neighbors does he help? How much of the world does he see, and who is the happier for his being alive?"
"Cares indeed!" cried another; "I wish he'd undertake to feed and teach my brood. Much he knows about the anxieties of a parent." And the little mother bustled away to get supper for the young ones, whose bills were always gaping wide.
"Sorrows we have, too," softly said the fourth swallow. "He would not envy me, if he knew how my nest fell, and all my children were killed; how my dear husband was shot, and my old mother died of fatigue on our spring journey from the South."
"Dear neighbor Dart, he would envy you, if he knew how patiently you bear your troubles; how tenderly you help us with our little ones; how cheerfully you serve your friends; how faithfully you love your lost mate; and how trustfully you wait to meet him again in a lovelier country than the South."
As Skim spoke, she leaned down from her nest to kiss her neighbor; and, as the little beaks met, the other birds gave a grateful and approving murmur, for Neighbor Dart was much beloved by all the inhabitants of Twittertown.
"I, for my part, don't envy him," said Gossip Wing, who was fond of speaking her mind. "Men and women call themselves superior beings; but, upon my word, I think they are vastly inferior to us. Now, look at that man, and see how he wastes his life. There never was any one with a better chance for doing good, and being happy; and yet he mopes and dawdles his time away most shamefully."
"Ah! he has had a great sorrow, and it is hard to be gay with a heavy heart, an empty home; so don't be too severe, Sister Wing." And the white tie of the little widow's cap was stirred by a long sigh as Mrs. Dart glanced up at the nook where her nest once stood.
"No, my dear, I won't; but really I do get out of patience when I see so much real misery which that man might help, if he'd only forget himself a little. It's my opinion he'd be much happier than he now is, wandering about with a dismal face and a sour temper."
"I quite agree with you; and I dare say he'd thank any one for telling him how he may find comfort. Poor soul! I wish he could understand me; for I sympathize with him, and would gladly help him if I could."
And, as she spoke, kind-hearted Widow Dart skimmed by him with a friendly chirp, which did comfort him; for, being a poet, he could understand them, and lay listening, well pleased while the little gossips chattered on together.
"I am so tied at home just now, that I know nothing of what is going on, except the bits of news Skim brings me; so I enjoy your chat immensely. I'm interested in your views on this subject, and beg you'll tell me what you'd have that man do to better himself," said Mrs. Skim, settling herself on her eggs with an attentive air.
"Well, my dear, I'll tell you; for I've seen a deal of the world, and any one is welcome to my experience," replied Mrs. Wing, in an important manner; for she was proud of her "views," and very fond of talking. "In my daily flights about the place, I see a great deal of poverty and trouble, and often wish I could lend a hand. Now, this man has plenty of money and time; and he might do more good than I can tell, if he'd only set about it. Because he is what they call a poet is no reason he should go moaning up and down, as if he had nothing to do but make songs. We sing, but we work also; and are wise enough to see the necessity of both, thank goodness!"
"Yes, indeed, we do," cried all the birds in a chorus; for several more had stopped to hear what was going on.
"Now, what I say is this," continued Mrs. Wing impressively. "If I were that man, I'd make myself useful at once. There is poor little Will getting more and more lame every day, because his mother can't send him where he can be cured. A trifle of that man's money would do it, and he ought to give it. Old Father Winter is half starved, alone there in his miserable hovel; and no one thinks of the good old man. Why don't that lazy creature take him home, and care for him, the little while he has to live? Pretty Nell is working day and night, to support her father, and is too proud to ask help, though her health and courage are going fast. The man might make hers the gayest heart alive, by a little help. There in a lonely garret lives a young man studying his life away, longing for books and a teacher. The man has a library full, and might keep the poor boy from despair by a little help and a friendly word. He mourns for his own lost baby: I advise him to adopt the orphan whom nobody will own, and who lies wailing all day untended on the poor-house floor. Yes: if he wants to forget sorrow and find peace, let him fill his empty heart and home with such as these, and life won't seem dark to him any more."