"Dear me! how well you express yourself, Mrs. Wing; it's quite a pleasure to hear you; and I heartily wish some persons could hear you, it would do 'em a deal of good," said Mrs. Skim; while her husband gave an approving nod as he dived off the beam, and vanished through the open doors.
"I know it would comfort that man to do these things; for I have tried the same cure in my small way, and found great satisfaction in it," began little Madame Dart, in her soft voice; but Mrs. Wing broke in, saying with a pious expression of countenance:
"I flew into church one day, and sat on the organ enjoying the music; for every one was singing, and I joined in, though I didn't know the air. Opposite me were two great tablets with golden letters on them. I can read a little, thanks to my friend, the learned raven; and so I spelt out some of the words. One was, 'Love thy neighbor;' and as I sat there, looking down on the people, I wondered how they could see those words week after week, and yet pay so little heed to them. Goodness knows, I don't consider myself a perfect bird; far from it; for I know I am a poor, erring fowl; but I believe I may say I do love my neighbor, though I am 'an inferior creature.'" And Mrs. Wing bridled up, as if she resented the phrase immensely.
"Indeed you do, gossip," cried Dart and Skim; for Wing was an excellent bird, in spite of the good opinion she had of herself.
"Thank you: well, then, such being the known fact, I may give advice on the subject as one having authority; and, if it were possible, I'd give that man a bit of my mind."
"You have, madam, you have; and I shall not forget it. Thank you, neighbors, and good night," said the man, as he left the barn, with the first smile on his face which it had worn for many days.
"Mercy on us! I do believe the creature heard every thing we said," cried Mrs. Wing, nearly tumbling off the beam, in her surprise.
"He certainly did; so I'm glad I was guarded in my remarks," replied Mrs. Skim, laughing at her neighbor's dismay.
"Dear me! dear me! what did I say?" cried Mrs. Wing, in a great twitter.
"You spoke with more than your usual bluntness, and some of your expressions were rather strong, I must confess; but I don't think any harm will come of it. We are of too little consequence for our criticisms or opinions to annoy him," said Mrs. Dart consolingly.
"I don't know that, ma'am," returned Mrs. Wing, sharply: for she was much ruffled and out of temper. "A cat may look at a king; and a bird may teach a man, if the bird is the wisest. He may destroy my nest, and take my life; but I feel that I have done my duty, and shall meet affliction with a firmness which will be an example to that indolent, ungrateful man."
In spite of her boasted firmness, Mrs. Wing dropped her voice, and peeped over the beam, to be sure the man was gone before she called him names; and then flew away, to discover what he meant to do about it.
For several days, there was much excitement in Twittertown; for news of what had happened flew from nest to nest, and every bird was anxious to know what revenge the man would take for the impertinent remarks which had been made about him.
Mrs. Wing was in a dreadful state of mind, expecting an assault, and the destruction of her entire family. Every one blamed her. Her husband lectured; the young birds chirped, "Chatterbox, chatterbox," as she passed; and her best friends were a little cool. All this made her very meek for a time; and she scarcely opened her bill, except to eat.
A guard was set day and night, to see if any danger approached; and a row of swallows might be seen on the ridgepole at all hours. If any one entered the barn, dozens of little black heads peeped cautiously over the edges of the nests, and there was much flying to and fro with reports and rumors; for all the birds in the town soon knew that something had happened.
The day after the imprudent conversation, a chimney-swallow came to call on Mrs. Wing; and, the moment she was seated on the beam, she began:
"My dear creature, I feel for you in your trying position,—indeed I do, and came over at once to warn you of your danger."
"Mercy on us! what is coming?" cried Mrs. Wing, covering her brood with trembling wings, and looking quite wild with alarm.
"Be calm, my friend, and bear with firmness the consequences of your folly," replied Mrs. Sooty-back, who didn't like Mrs. Wing, because she prided herself on her family, and rather looked down on chimney-swallows. "You know, ma'am, I live at the great house, and am in the way of seeing and hearing all that goes on there. No fire is lighted in the study now; but my landlord still sits on the hearth, and I can overhear every word he says. Last evening, after my darlings were asleep, and my husband gone out, I went down and sat on the andiron, as I often do; for the fireplace is full of oak boughs, and I can peep out unseen. My landlord sat there, looking a trifle more cheerful than usual, and I heard him say, in a very decided tone:
"'I'll catch them, one and all, and keep them here; that is better than pulling the place down, as I planned at first. Those swallows little know what they have done; but I'll show them I don't forget.'"
On hearing this a general wail arose, and Mrs. Wing fainted entirely away. Madam Sooty-back was quite satisfied with the effect she had produced, and departed, saying loftily:
"I'm sorry for you, Mrs. Wing, and forgive your rude speech about my being related to chimney-sweeps. One can't expect good manners from persons brought up in mud houses, and entirely shut out from good society. If I hear any thing more, I'll let you know."
Away she flew; and poor Mrs. Wing would have had another fit, if they hadn't tickled her with a feather, and fanned her so violently that she was nearly blown off her nest by the breeze they raised.
"What shall we do?" she cried.
"Nothing, but wait. I dare say, Mrs. Sooty-back is mistaken; at any rate, we can't get away without leaving our children, for they can't fly yet. Let us wait, and see what happens. If the worst comes, we shall have done our duty, and will all die together."
As no one could suggest any thing better, Mrs. Dart's advice was taken, and they waited. On the afternoon of the same day, Dr. Banks, a sand-swallow, who lived in a subterranean village over by the great sand-bank, looked in to see Mrs. Wing, and cheered her by the following bit of news:
"The man was down at the poor-house to-day, and took away little Nan, the orphan baby. I saw him carry her to Will's mother, and heard him ask her to take care of it for a time. He paid her well, and she seemed glad to do it; for Will needs help, and now he can have it. An excellent arrangement, I think. Bless me, ma'am! what's the matter? Your pulse is altogether too fast, and you look feverish."
No wonder the doctor looked surprised; for Mrs. Wing suddenly gave a skip, and flapped her wings, with a shrill chirp, exclaiming, as she looked about her triumphantly:
"Now, who was right? Who has done good, not harm, by what you call 'gossip'? Who has been a martyr, and patiently borne all kinds of blame, injustice, and disrespect? Yes, indeed! the man saw the sense of my words; he took my advice; he will show his gratitude by some good turn yet; and, if half a dozen poor souls are helped, it will be my doing, and mine alone."
Here she had to stop for breath; and her neighbors all looked at one another, feeling undecided whether to own they were wrong, or to put Mrs. Wing down. Every one twittered and chirped, and made a great noise; but no one would give up, and all went to roost in a great state of uncertainty. But, the next day, it became evident that Mrs. Wing was right; for Major Bumble-bee came buzzing in to tell them that old Daddy Winter's hut was empty, and his white head had been seen in the sunny porch of the great house.
After this the swallows gave in; and, as no harm came to them, they had a jubilee in honor of the occasion. Mrs. Wing was president, and received a vote of thanks for the good she had done, and the credit she had bestowed upon the town by her wisdom and courage. She was much elated by all this; but her fright had been of service, and she bore her honors more meekly than one would have supposed. To be sure, she cut Mrs. Sooty-back when they met; assumed an injured air, when some of her neighbors passed her; and said, "I told you so," a dozen times a day to her husband, who got so many curtain lectures that he took to sleeping on the highest rafter, pretending that the children's noise disturbed him.
All sorts of charming things happened after that, and such a fine summer never was known before; for not only did the birds rejoice, but people also. A good spirit seemed to haunt the town, leaving help and happiness wherever it passed. Some unseen hand scattered crumbs over the barn floor, and left food at many doors. No dog or boy or gun marred the tranquillity of the birds, insects, and flowers who lived on the great estate. No want, care, or suffering, that love or money could prevent, befell the poor folk whose cottages stood near the old house. Sunshine and peace seemed to reign there; for its gloomy master was a changed man now, and the happiness he earned for himself, by giving it to others, flowed out in beautiful, blithe songs, and went singing away into the world, making him friends, and bringing him honor in high places as well as low.
He did not forget the wife and little child whom he had loved so well; but he mourned no longer, for cheerful daisies grew above their graves, and he knew that he should meet them in the lovely land where death can never come. So, while he waited for that happy time to come, he made his life a cheery song,—as every one may do, if they will; and went about dropping kind words and deeds as silently and sweetly as the sky drops sunshine and dew. Every one was his friend, but his favorites were the swallows. Every day he went to see them, carrying grain and crumbs, hearing their chat, sharing their joys and sorrows, and never tiring of their small friendship; for to them, he thought, he owed all the content now his.
When autumn leaves were red, and autumn winds blew cold, the inhabitants of Twittertown prepared for their journey to the South. They lingered longer than usual this year, feeling sorry to leave their friend. But the fields were bare, the frosts began to pinch, and the young ones longed to see the world; so they must go. The day they started, the whole flock flew to the great house, to say good-by. Some dived and darted round and round it, some hopped to and fro on the sere lawn, some perched on the chimney-tops, and some clung to the window ledges; all twittering a loving farewell.
Chirp, Dart, and Wing peeped everywhere, and everywhere found something to rejoice over. In a cosey room, by a bright fire, sat Daddy Winter and Nell's old father, telling stories of their youth, and basking in the comfortable warmth. In the study, surrounded by the books he loved, was the poor young man, happy as a king now, and learning many things which no book could teach him; for he had found a friend. Then, down below was Will's mother, working like a bee; for she was housekeeper, and enjoyed her tasks as much as any mother-bird enjoys filling the little mouths of her brood. Close by was pretty Nell, prettier than ever now; for her heavy care was gone, and she sung as she sewed, thinking of the old father, whom nothing could trouble any more.
But the pleasantest sight the three gossips saw was the man with Baby Nan on his arm and Will at his side, playing in the once dreary nursery. How they laughed and danced! for Will was up from his bed at last, and hopped nimbly on his crutches, knowing that soon even they would be unneeded. Little Nan was as plump and rosy as a baby should be, and babbled like a brook, as the man went to and fro, cradling her in his strong arms, feeling as if his own little daughter had come back when he heard the baby voice call him father.
"Ah, how sweet it is!" cried Mrs. Dart, glad to see that he had found comfort for his grief.
"Yes; indeed: it does one's heart good to see such a happy family," added Mrs. Skim, who was a very motherly bird.
"I don't wish to boast; but I will say that I am satisfied with my summer's work, and go South feeling that I leave an enviable reputation behind me." And Mrs. Wing plumed herself with an air of immense importance, as she nodded and bridled from her perch on the window-sill.
The man saw the three, and hastened to feed them for the last time, knowing that they were about to go. Gratefully they ate, and chirped their thanks; and then, as they flew away, the little gossips heard their friend singing his good-by:
"Swallow, swallow, neighbor swallow, Starting on your autumn flight, Pause a moment at my window, Twitter softly your good-night; For the summer days are over, All your duties are well done, And the happy homes you builded Have grown empty, one by one.
"Swallow, swallow, neighbor swallow, Are you ready for your flight? Are all the feather cloaks completed? Are the little caps all right? Are the young wings strong and steady For the journey through the sky? Come again in early spring-time; And till then, good-by, good-by!"
Up in the light-house tower lived Davy, with Old Dan the keeper. Most little boys would have found it very lonely; but Davy had three friends, and was as happy as the day was long. One of Davy's friends was the great lamp, which was lighted at sunset, and burnt all night, to guide the ships into the harbor. To Dan it was only a lamp; but to the boy it seemed a living thing, and he loved and tended it faithfully. Every day he helped Dan clear the big wick, polish the brass work, and wash the glass lantern which protected the flame. Every evening he went up to see it lighted, and always fell asleep, thinking, "No matter how dark or wild the night, my good Shine will save the ships that pass, and burn till morning."
Davy's second friend was Nep, the Newfoundland, who was washed ashore from a wreck, and had never left the island since. Nep was rough and big, but had such a loyal and loving heart that no one could look in his soft brown eyes and not trust him. He followed Davy's steps all day, slept at his feet all night, and more than once had saved his life when Davy fell among the rocks, or got caught by the rising tide.
But the dearest friend of all was a sea-gull. Davy found him, with a broken wing, and nursed him carefully till he was well; then let him go, though he was very fond of "Little Gulliver," as he called him in fun. But the bird never forgot the boy, and came daily to talk with him, telling all manner of wild stories about his wanderings by land and sea, and whiling away many an hour that otherwise would have been very lonely.
Old Dan was Davy's uncle,—a grim, gray man, who said little, did his work faithfully, and was both father and mother to Davy, who had no parents, and no friends beyond the island. That was his world; and he led a quiet life among his playfellows,—the winds and waves. He seldom went to the main land, three miles away; for he was happier at home. He watched the sea-anemones open below the water, looking like fairy-plants, brilliant and strange. He found curious and pretty shells, and sometimes more valuable treasures, washed up from some wreck. He saw little yellow crabs, ugly lobsters, and queer horse-shoes with their stiff tails. Sometimes a whale or a shark swam by, and often sleek black seals came up to bask on the warm rocks. He gathered lovely sea-weeds of all kinds, from tiny red cobwebs to great scalloped leaves of kelp, longer than himself. He heard the waves dash and roar unceasingly; the winds howl or sigh over the island; and the gulls scream shrilly as they dipped and dived, or sailed away to follow the ships that came and went from all parts of the world.
With Nep and Gulliver he roamed about his small kingdom, never tired of its wonders; or, if storms raged, he sat up in the tower, safe and dry, watching the tumult of sea and sky. Often in long winter nights he lay awake, listening to the wind and rain, that made the tower rock with their violence; but he never was afraid, for Nep nestled at his feet, Dan sat close by, and overhead the great lamp shone far out into the night, to cheer and guide all wanderers on the sea.
Close by the tower hung the fog-bell, which, being wound up, would ring all night, warningly. One day Dan found that something among the chains was broken; and, having vainly tried to mend it, he decided to go to the town, and get what was needed. He went once a week, usually, and left Davy behind; for in the daytime there was nothing to do, and the boy was not afraid to stay.
"A heavy fog is blowing up: we shall want the bell to-night, and I must be off at once. I shall be back before dark, of course; so take care of yourself, boy," said Dan.
Away went the little boat; and the fog shut down over it, as if a misty wall had parted Davy from his uncle. As it was dull weather, he sat and read for an hour or two; then fell asleep, and forgot everything till Nep's cold nose on his hand waked him up. It was nearly dark; and, hoping to find Dan had come, he ran down to the landing-place. But no boat was there, and the fog was thicker than ever.
Dan never had been gone so long before, and Davy was afraid something had happened to him. For a few minutes he was in great trouble; then he cheered up, and took courage.
"It is sunset by the clock; so I'll light the lamp, and, if Dan is lost in the fog, it will guide him home," said Davy.
Up he went, and soon the great star shone out above the black-topped light-house, glimmering through the fog, as if eager to be seen. Davy had his supper, but no Dan came. He waited hour after hour, and waited all in vain. The fog thickened, till the lamp was hardly seen; and no bell rung to warn the ships of the dangerous rocks. Poor Davy could not sleep, but all night long wandered from the tower to the door, watching, calling, and wondering; but Dan did not come.
At sunrise he put out the light, and, having trimmed it for the next night, ate a little breakfast, and roved about the island hoping to see some sign of Dan. The sun drew up the fog at last; and he could see the blue bay, the distant town, and a few fishing-boats going out to sea. But nowhere was the island-boat with gray Old Dan in it; and Davy's heart grew heavier and heavier, as the day passed, and still no one came. In the afternoon Gulliver appeared: to him Davy told his trouble, and the three friends took counsel together.
"There is no other boat; and I couldn't row so far, if there was: so I can't go to find Dan," said David sorrowfully.
"I'd gladly swim to town, if I could; but it's impossible to do it, with wind and tide against me. I've howled all day, hoping some one would hear me; but no one does, and I'm discouraged," said Nep, with an anxious expression.
"I can do something for you; and I will, with all my heart. I'll fly to town, if I don't see him in the bay, and try to learn what has become of Dan. Then I'll come and tell you, and we will see what is to be done next. Cheer up, Davy dear: I'll bring you tidings, if any can be had." With these cheerful words, away sailed Gulliver, leaving Nep and his master to watch and wait again.
The wind blew hard, and the broken wing was not quite well yet, else Gulliver would have been able to steer clear of a boat that came swiftly by. A sudden gust drove the gull so violently against the sail that he dropped breathless into the boat; and a little girl caught him, before he could recover himself.
"Oh, what a lovely bird! See his black cap, his white breast, dove-colored wings, red legs and bill, and soft, bright eyes. I wanted a gull; and I'll keep this one, for I don't think he is much hurt."
Poor Gulliver struggled, pecked and screamed; but little Dora held him fast, and shut him in a basket till they reached the shore. Then she put him in a lobster pot,—a large wooden thing, something like a cage,—and left him on the lawn, where he could catch glimpses of the sea, and watch the light-house tower, as he sat alone in this dreadful prison. If Dora had known the truth, she would have let him go, and done her best to help him; but she could not understand his speech, as Davy did, for very few people have the power of talking with birds, beasts, insects, and plants. To her, his prayers and cries were only harsh screams; and, when he sat silent, with drooping head and ruffled feathers, she thought he was sleepy: but he was mourning for Davy, and wondering what his little friend would do.
For three long days and nights he was a prisoner, and suffered much. The house was full of happy people, but no one took pity upon him. Ladies and gentlemen talked learnedly about him; boys poked and pulled him; little girls admired him, and begged his wings for their hats, if he died. Cats prowled about his cage; dogs barked at him; hens cackled over him; and a shrill canary jeered at him from the pretty pagoda in which it hung, high above danger. In the evening there was music; and the poor bird's heart ached as the sweet sounds came to him, reminding him of the airier melodies he loved. Through the stillness of the night, he heard the waves break on the shore; the wind came singing up from the sea; the moon shone kindly on him, and he saw the water-fairies dancing on the sand. But for three days no one spoke a friendly word to him, and he pined away with a broken heart.
On the fourth night, when all was quiet, little Gulliver saw a black shadow steal across the lawn, and heard a soft voice say to him:
"Poor bird, you'll die, if yer stays here; so I'se gwine to let yer go. Specs little missy'll scold dreffle; but Moppet'll take de scoldin for yer. Hi, dere! you is peart nuff now, kase you's in a hurry to go; but jes wait till I gits de knots out of de string dat ties de door, and den away you flies."
"But, dear, kind Moppet, won't you be hurt for doing this? Why do you care so much for me? I can only thank you, and fly away."
As Gulliver spoke, he looked up at the little black face bent over him, and saw tears in the child's sad eyes; but she smiled at him, and shook her fuzzy head, as she whispered kindly:
"I don't want no tanks, birdie: I loves to let you go, kase you's a slave, like I was once; and it's a dreffle hard ting, I knows. I got away, and I means you shall. I'se watched you, deary, all dese days; and I tried to come 'fore, but dey didn't give me no chance."
"Do you live here? I never see you playing with the other children," said the gull, as Moppet's nimble fingers picked away at the knots.
"Yes: I lives here, and helps de cook. You didn't see me, kase I never plays; de chilen don't like me."
"Why not?" asked Gulliver, wondering.
"I'se black," said Moppet, with a sob.
"But that's silly in them," cried the bird, who had never heard of such a thing. "Color makes no difference; the peeps are gray, the seals black, and the crabs yellow; but we don't care, and are all friends. It is very unkind to treat you so. Haven't you any friends to love you, dear?"
"Nobody in de world keres fer me. Dey sold me way from my mammy when I was a baby, and I'se knocked roun eber since. De oder chilen has folks to lub an kere fer em, but Moppet's got no friends;" and here the black eyes grew so dim with tears that the poor child couldn't see that the last knot was out.
Gulliver saw it, and, pushing up the door, flew from his prison with a glad cry; and, hopping into Moppet's hand, looked into the little dark face with such grateful confidence that it cleared at once, and the brightest smile it had worn for months broke over it as the bird nestled its soft head against her cheek, saying gently:
"I'm your friend, dear; I love you, and I never shall forget what you have done for me to-night. How can I thank you before I go?"
For a minute, Moppet could only hug the bird, and cry; for these were the first kind words she had heard for a long time, and they went straight to her lonely little heart.
"O my deary! I'se paid by dem words, and I don't want no tanks. Jes lub me, and come sometimes to see me ef you can, it's so hard livin' in dis yere place. I don't tink I'll bar it long. I wish I was a bird to fly away, or a oyster safe in de mud, and free to do as I's a mind."
"I wish you could go and live with Davy on the island; he is so kind, so happy, and as free as the wind. Can't you get away, Moppet?" whispered Gulliver, longing to help this poor, friendless little soul. He told her all his story; and they agreed that he should fly at once to the island, and see if Dan was there; if not, he was to come back, and Moppet would try to get some one to help find him. When this was done, Davy and Dan were to take Moppet, if they could, and make her happy on the island. Full of hope and joy, Gulliver said good-by, and spread his wings; but, alas for the poor bird! he was too weak to fly. For three days he had hardly eaten any thing, had found no salt water to bathe in, and had sat moping in the cage till his strength was all gone.
"What shall I do? what shall I do?" he cried, fluttering his feeble wings, and running to and fro in despair.
"Hush, birdie, I'll take kere ob you till you's fit to fly. I knows a nice, quiet little cove down yonder, where no one goes; and dare you kin stay till you's better. I'll come and feed you, and you kin paddle, and rest, and try your wings, safe and free, honey."
As Moppet spoke, she took Gulliver in her arms, and stole away in the dim light, over the hill, down to the lonely spot where nothing went but the winds and waves, the gulls, and little Moppet, when hard words and blows made heart and body ache. Here she left the bird, and, with a loving "Good-night," crept home to her bed in the garret, feeling as rich as a queen, and much happier; for she had done a kind thing, and made a friend.
Next day, a great storm came: the wind blew a hurricane, the rain poured, and the sea thundered on the coast. If he had been well, Gulliver wouldn't have minded at all; but, being sick and sad, he spent an anxious day, sitting in a cranny of the rock, thinking of Davy and Moppet. It was so rough, even in the cove, that he could neither swim nor fly, so feeble was he; and could find no food but such trifles as he could pick up among the rocks. At nightfall the storm raged fiercer than ever, and he gave up seeing Moppet; for he was sure she wouldn't come through the pelting rain just to feed him. So he put his head under his wing, and tried to sleep; but he was so wet and weak, so hungry and anxious, no sleep came.
"What has happened to Davy alone on the island all this while? He will fall ill with loneliness and trouble; the lamp won't be lighted, the ships will be wrecked, and many people will suffer. O Dan, Dan, if we could only find you, how happy we should be!"
As Gulliver spoke, a voice cried through the darkness:
"Is you dere, honey?" and Moppet came climbing over the rocks, with a basket full of such bits as she could get. "Poor birdie, is you starvin'? Here, jes go at dis, and joy yourself. Dere's fish and tings I tink you'd like. How is you now, dear?"
"Better, Moppet; but, it's so stormy, I can't get to Davy; and I worry about him," began Gulliver, pecking away at his supper: but he stopped suddenly, for a faint sound came up from below, as if some one called, "Help, help!"
"Hi! what's dat?" said Moppet, listening.
"Davy, Davy!" called the voice.
"It's Dan. Hurrah, we've found him!" and Gulliver dived off the rock so reckless that he went splash into the water. But that didn't matter to him; and he paddled away, like a little steamer with all the engines in full blast. Down by the sea-side, between two stones, lay Dan, so bruised and hurt he couldn't move, and so faint with hunger and pain he could hardly speak. As soon as Gulliver called, Moppet scrambled down, and fed the poor man with her scraps, brought him rain-water from a crevice near by, and bound up his wounded head with her little apron. Then Dan told them how his boat had been run down by a ship in the fog; how he was hurt, and cast ashore in the lonely cove; how he had lain there half dead, for no one heard his shouts, and he couldn't move; how the storm brought him back to life, when he was almost gone, and the sound of Moppet's voice told him help was near.
How glad they all were then! Moppet danced for joy; Gulliver screamed and flapped his wings; and Dan smiled, in spite of pain, to think he should see Davy again. He couldn't understand Gulliver; but Moppet told him all the story, and, when he heard it, he was more troubled for the boy than for himself.
"What will he do? He may get killed or scared, or try to come ashore. Is the lamp alight?" he cried, trying to move, and falling back with a moan of pain.
Gulliver flew up to the highest rock, and looked out across the dark sea. Yes, there it was,—the steady star shining through the storm, and saying plainly, "All is well."
"Thank heaven! if the lamp is burning, Davy is alive. Now, how shall I get to him?" said Dan.
"Never you fret, massa: Moppet'll see to dat. You jes lay still till I comes. Dere's folks in de house as'll tend to you, ef I tells em who and where you is."
Off she ran, and soon came back with help. Dan was taken to the house, and carefully tended; Moppet wasn't scolded for being out so late; and, in the flurry, no one thought of the gull. Next morning, the cage was found blown over, and every one fancied the bird had flown away. Dora was already tired of him; so he was soon forgotten by all but Moppet.
In the morning it was clear; and Gulliver flew gladly to the tower where Davy still watched and waited, with a pale face and heavy heart, for the three days had been very hard to bear, and, but for Nep and Shine, he would have lost his courage entirely. Gulliver flew straight into his bosom, and, sitting there, told his adventures; while Davy laughed and cried, and Nep stood by, wagging his tail for joy, while his eyes were full of sympathy. The three had a very happy hour together, and then came a boat to carry Davy ashore, while another keeper took charge of the light till Dan was well.
Nobody ever knew the best part of the story but Moppet, Davy, and Gulliver. Other people didn't dream that the boy's pet gull had any thing to do with the finding of the man, or the good fortune that came to Moppet. While Dan lay sick, she tended him, like a loving little daughter; and, when he was well, he took her for his own. He did not mind the black skin: he only saw the loneliness of the child, the tender heart, the innocent, white soul; and he was as glad to be a friend to her as if she had been as blithe and pretty as Dora.
It was a happy day when Dan and Davy, Moppet, Gulliver, and Nep sailed away to the island; for that was still to be their home, with stout young Ben to help.
The sun was setting; and they floated through waves as rosy as the rosy sky. A fresh wind filled the sail, and ruffled Gulliver's white breast as he sat on the mast-head crooning a cheery song to himself. Dan held the tiller, and Davy lay at his feet, with Nep bolt upright beside him; but the happiest face of all was Moppet's. Kneeling at the bow, she leaned forward, with her lips apart, her fuzzy hair blown back, and her eyes fixed on the island which was to be her home. Like a little black figure-head of Hope, she leaned and looked, as the boat flew on, bearing her away from the old life into the new.
As the sun sunk, out shone the lamp with sudden brightness, as if the island bade them welcome. Dan furled the sail; and, drifting with the tide, they floated in, till the waves broke softly on the shore, and left them safe at home.
THE WHALE'S STORY.
Freddy sat thinking on the seat under the trees. It was a wide, white seat, about four feet long, sloping from the sides to the middle, something like a swing; and was not only comfortable but curious, for it was made of a whale's bone. Freddy often sat there, and thought about it for he was very much interested in it, and nobody could tell him any thing of it, except that it had been there a long time.
"Poor old whale, I wonder how you got here, where you came from, and if you were a good and happy creature while you lived," said Freddy, patting the old bone with his little hand.
It gave a great creak; and a sudden gust of air stirred the trees, as if some monster groaned and sighed. Then Freddy heard a strange voice, very loud, yet cracked and queer, as if some one tried to talk with a broken jaw.
"Freddy ahoy!" called the big voice. "I'll tell you all about it; for you are the only person who ever pitied me, or cared to know any thing about me."
"Why, can you talk?" asked Freddy, very much astonished and a little frightened.
"Of course I can, for this is a part of my jaw-bone. I should talk better if my whole mouth was here; but I'm afraid my voice would then be so loud you wouldn't be able to hear it. I don't think any one but you would understand me, any way. It isn't every one that can, you know; but you are a thoughtful little chap, with a lively fancy as well as a kind heart, so you shall hear my story."
"Thank you, I should like it very much, if you would please to speak a little lower, and not sigh; for your voice almost stuns me, and your breath nearly blows me away," said Freddy.
"I'll try: but it's hard to suit my tone to such a mite, or to help groaning when I think of my sad fate; though I deserve it, perhaps," said the bone, more gently.
"Were you a naughty whale?" asked Freddy.
"I was proud, very proud, and foolish; and so I suffered for it. I dare say you know a good deal about us. I see you reading often, and you seem a sensible child."
"No: I haven't read about you yet, and I only know that you are the biggest fish there is," replied Freddy.
The bone creaked and shook, as if it was laughing, and said in a tone that showed it hadn't got over its pride yet:
"You're wrong there, my dear; we are not fishes at all, though stupid mortals have called us so for a long time. We can't live without air; we have warm, red blood; and we don't lay eggs,—so we are not fishes. We certainly are the biggest creatures in the sea and out of it. Why, bless you! some of us are nearly a hundred feet long; our tails alone are fifteen or twenty feet wide; the biggest of us weigh five hundred thousand pounds, and have in them the fat, bone, and muscle of a thousand cattle. The lower jaw of one of my family made an arch large enough for a man on horseback to ride under easily, and my cousins of the sperm-family usually yield eighty barrels of oil."
"Gracious me, what monsters you are!" cried Freddy, taking a long breath, while his eyes got bigger and bigger as he listened.
"Ah! you may well say so; we are a very wonderful and interesting family. All our branches are famous in one way or another. Fin-backs, sperms, and rights are the largest; then come the norwhals, the dolphins, and porpoises,—which last, I dare say, you've seen."
"Yes: but tell me about the big ones, please. Which were you?" cried Freddy.
"I was a Right whale, from Greenland. The Sperms live in warm places; but to us the torrid zone is like a sea of fire, and we don't pass it. Our cousins do; and go to the East Indies by way of the North Pole, which is more than your famous Parrys and Franklins could do."
"I don't know about that; but I'd like to hear what you eat, and how you live, and why you came here," said Freddy, who thought the whale rather inclined to boast.
"Well, we haven't got any teeth,—our branch of the family; and we live on creatures so small, that you could only see them with a microscope. Yes, you may stare; but it's true, my dear. The roofs of our mouths are made of whalebone, in broad pieces from six to eight feet long, arranged one against the other; so they make an immense sieve. The tongue, which makes about five barrels of oil, lies below, like a cushion of white satin. When we want to feed, we rush through the water, which is full of the little things we eat, and catch them in our sieve, spurting the water through two holes in our heads. Then we collect the food with our tongue, and swallow it; for, though we are so big, our throats are small. We roam about in the ocean, leaping and floating, feeding and spouting, flying from our enemies, or fighting bravely to defend our young ones."
"Have you got any enemies? I shouldn't think you could have, you are so large," said Freddy.
"But we have, and many too,—three who attack us in the water, and several more that men use against us. The killer, the sword-fish, and the thrasher trouble us at home. The killer fastens to us, and won't be shaken off till he has worried us to death; the sword-fish stabs us with his sword; and the thrasher whips us to death with his own slender, but strong and heavy body. Then, men harpoon us, shoot or entrap us; and make us into oil and candles and seats, and stiffening for gowns and umbrellas," said the bone, in a tone of scorn.
Freddy laughed at the idea, and asked, "How about candles? I know about oil and seats and umbrellas; but I thought candles were made of wax."
"I can't say much on that point: I only know that, when a sperm whale is killed, they make oil out of the fat part as they do of ours; but the Sperms have a sort of cistern in their heads, full of stuff like cream, and rose-colored. They cut a hole in the skull, and dip it out; and sometimes get sixteen or twenty barrels. This is made into what you call spermaceti candles. We don't have any such nonsense about us; but the Sperms always were a light-headed set."
Here the bone laughed, in a cracked sort of roar, which sent Freddy flying off the seat on to the grass, where he stayed, laughing also, though he didn't see any joke.
"I beg your pardon, child. It isn't often that I laugh; for I've a heavy heart somewhere, and have known trouble enough to make me as sad as the sea is sometimes."
"Tell me about your troubles; I pity you very much, and like to hear you talk," said Freddy, kindly.
"Unfortunately we are very easily killed, in spite of our size; and have various afflictions besides death. We grow blind; our jaws are deformed sometimes; our tails, with which we swim, get hurt; and we have dyspepsia."
Freddy shouted at that; for he knew what dyspepsia was, because at the sea-side there were many sickly people who were always groaning about that disease.
"It's no laughing matter, I assure you," said the whale's bone. "We suffer a great deal, and get thin and weak and miserable. I've sometimes thought that's the reason we are blue."
"Perhaps, as you have no teeth, you don't chew your food enough, and so have dyspepsia, like an old gentleman I know," said Freddy.
"That's not the reason; my cousins, the Sperms, have teeth, and dyspepsia also."
"Are they blue?"
"No, black and white. But I was going to tell you my troubles. My father was harpooned when I was very young, and I remember how bravely he died. The Rights usually run away when they see a whaler coming; not from cowardice,—oh, dear, no!—but discretion. The Sperms stay and fight, and are killed off very fast; for they are a very headstrong family. We fight when we can't help it; and my father died like a hero. They chased him five hours before they stuck him; he tried to get away, and dragged three or four boats and sixteen hundred fathoms of line from eight in the morning till four at night. Then they got out another line, and he towed the ship itself for more than an hour. There were fifteen harpoons in him: he chewed up a boat, pitched several men overboard, and damaged the vessel, before they killed him. Ah! he was a father to be proud of."
Freddy sat respectfully silent for a few minutes, as the old bone seemed to feel a great deal on the subject. Presently he went on again:
"The Sperms live in herds; but the Rights go in pairs, and are very fond of one another. My wife was a charming creature, and we were very happy, till one sad day, when she was playing with our child,—a sweet little whaleling only twelve feet long, and weighing but a ton,—my son was harpooned. His mamma, instead of flying, wrapped her fins round him, and dived as far as the line allowed. Then she came up, and dashed at the boats in great rage and anguish, entirely regardless of the danger she was in. The men struck my son, in order to get her, and they soon succeeded; but even then, in spite of her suffering, she did not try to escape, but clung to little Spouter till both were killed. Alas! alas!"
Here the poor bone creaked so dismally, Freddy feared it would tumble to pieces, and bring the story to an end too soon.
"Don't think of those sorrowful things," he said; "tell me how you came to be here. Were you harpooned?"
"Not I; for I've been very careful all my life to keep out of the way of danger: I'm not like one of my relations, who attacked a ship, gave it such a dreadful blow that he made a great hole, the water rushed in, and the vessel was wrecked. But he paid dearly for that prank; for a few months afterward another ship harpooned him very easily, finding two spears still in him, and a wound in his head. I forgot to mention, that the Sperms have fine ivory teeth, and make ambergris,—a sort of stuff that smells very nice, and costs a great deal. I give you these little facts about my family, as you seem interested, and it's always well to improve the minds of young people."
"You are very kind; but will you be good enough to tell about yourself?" said Freddy again; for the bone seemed to avoid that part of the story, as if he didn't want to tell it.
"Well, if I must, I must; but I'm sorry to confess what a fool I've been. You know what coral is, don't you?"
"No," said Freddy, wondering why it asked.
"Then I must tell you, I suppose. There is a bit in the house there,—that rough, white, stony stuff on the table in the parlor. It's full of little holes, you know. Well, those holes are the front doors of hundreds of little polypes, or coral worms, who build the great branches of coral, and live there. They are of various shapes and colors,—some like stars; some fine as a thread, and blue or yellow; others like snails and tiny lobsters. Some people say the real coral-makers are shaped like little oblong bags of jelly, closed at one end, the other open, with six or eight little feelers, like a star, all around it. The other creatures are boarders or visitors: these are the real workers, and, when they sit in their cells and put out their feelers, they make all manner of lovely colors under the water,—crimson, green, orange, and violet. But if they are taken up or touched, the coral people go in doors, and the beautiful hues disappear. They say there are many coral reefs and islands built by these industrious people, in the South Seas; but I can't go there to see, and I am contented with those I find in the northern latitudes. I knew such a community of coral builders, and used to watch them long ago, when they began to work. It was a charming spot, down under the sea; for all manner of lovely plants grew there; splendid fishes sailed to and fro; wonderful shells lay about; crimson and yellow prawns, long, gliding green worms, and purple sea-urchins, were there. When I asked the polypes what they were doing, and they answered, 'Building an island,' I laughed at them; for the idea that these tiny, soft atoms could make any thing was ridiculous. 'You may roar; but you'll see that we are right, if you live long enough,' said they. 'Our family have built thousands of islands and long reefs, that the sea can't get over, strong as it is.' That amused me immensely; but I wouldn't believe it, and laughed more than ever."
"It does seem very strange," said Freddy, looking at the branch of coral which he had brought out to examine.
"Doesn't it? and isn't it hard to believe? I used to go, now and then, to see how the little fellows got on, and always found them hard at it. For a long while there was only a little plant without leaves, growing slowly taller and taller; for they always build upward toward the light. By and by, the small shrub was a tree: flying-fish roosted in its branches; sea-cows lay under its shadow; and thousands of jolly little polypes lived and worked in its white chambers. I was glad to see them getting on so well; but still I didn't believe in the island story, and used to joke them about their ambition. They were very good-natured, and only answered me, 'Wait a little longer, Friend Right.' I had my own affairs to attend to; so, for years at a time, I forgot the coral-workers, and spent most of my life up Greenland way, for warm climates don't agree with my constitution. When I came back, after a long absence, I was astonished to see the tree grown into a large umbrella-shaped thing, rising above the water. Sea-weed had washed up and clung there; sea-birds had made nests there; land-birds and the winds had carried seeds there, which had sprung up; trunks of trees had been cast there by the sea; lizards, insects, and little animals came with the trees, and were the first inhabitants; and, behold! it was an island."
"What did you say then?" asked Freddy.
"I was angry, and didn't want to own that I was wrong; so I insisted that it wasn't a real island, without people on it. 'Wait a little longer,' answered the polypes; and went on, building broader and broader foundations. I flounced away in a rage, and didn't go back for a great while. I hoped something would happen to the coral builders and their island; but I was so curious that I couldn't keep away, and, on going back there, I found a settlement of fishermen, and the beginning of a thriving town. Now I should have been in a towering passion at this, if in my travels I hadn't discovered a race of little creatures as much smaller than polypes as a mouse is smaller than an elephant. I heard two learned men talking about diatoms, as they sailed to Labrador; and I listened. They said these people lived in both salt and fresh water, and were found in all parts of the world. They were a glassy shell, holding a soft, golden-yellow substance, and that they were so countless that banks were made of them, and that a town here in these United States was founded on them. They were the food of many little sea-animals, who, in turn, fed us big creatures, and were very interesting and wonderful. I saved up this story; and, when the polypes asked if they hadn't done what they intended, I told them I didn't think it so very remarkable, for the tiny diatoms made cities, and were far more astonishing animals than they. I thought that would silence them; but they just turned round, and informed me that my diatoms were plants, not animals,—so my story was all humbug. Then I was mad; and couldn't get over the fact that these little rascals had done what we, the kings of the sea, couldn't do. I wasn't content with being the biggest creature there: I wanted to be the most skilful also. I didn't remember that every thing has its own place and use, and should be happy in doing the work for which it was made. I fretted over the matter a long while, and at last decided to make an island myself."
"How could you?" asked Freddy.
"I had my plans; and thought them very wise ones. I was so bent on outdoing the polypes that I didn't much care what happened; and so I went to work in my clumsy way. I couldn't pile up stones, or build millions of cells; so I just made an island of myself. I swam up into the harbor yonder one night; covered my back with sea-weed; and lay still on the top of the water. In the morning the gulls came to see what it was, and pecked away at the weeds, telling me very soon that they knew what I was after, and that I couldn't gull them. All the people on shore turned out to see the wonder also; for a fisherman had carried the tidings, and every one was wild to behold the new island. After staring and chattering a long while, boats came off to examine the mystery. Loads of scientific gentlemen worked away at me with microscopes, hammers, acids, and all sorts of tests, to decide what I was; and kept up such a fire of long words that I was 'most dead. They couldn't make up their minds; and meanwhile news of the strange thing spread, and every sort of person came to see me. The gulls kept telling them the joke; but they didn't understand, and I got on capitally. Every night I dined and fed and frolicked till dawn; then put on my sea-weeds, and lay still to be stared at. I wanted some one to come and live on me; then I should be equal to the island of the polypes. But no one came, and I was beginning to be tired of fooling people, when I was fooled myself. An old sailor came to visit me: he had been a whaler, and he soon guessed the secret. But he said nothing till he was safely out of danger; then he got all ready, and one day, as I lay placidly in the sun, a horrible harpoon came flying through the air, and sunk deep into my back. I forgot every thing but the pain, and dived for my life. Alas! the tide was low; the harbor-bar couldn't be passed; and I found hundreds of boats chasing me, till I was driven ashore down there on the flats. Big and strong as we are, once out of water, and we are perfectly helpless. I was soon despatched; and my bones left to whiten on the sand. This was long ago; and, one by one, all my relics have been carried off or washed away. My jaw-bone has been used as a seat here, till it's worn out; but I couldn't crumble away till I'd told some one my story. Remember, child, pride goeth before a fall."
Then, with a great creak, the bone tumbled to pieces; and found a peaceful grave in the long green grass.
A STRANGE ISLAND.
One day I lay rocking in my boat, reading a very famous book, which all children know and love; and the name of which I'll tell you by and by. So busily was I reading, that I never minded the tide; and presently discovered that I was floating out to sea, with neither sail nor oar. At first I was very much frightened; for there was no one in sight on land or sea, and I didn't know where I might drift to. But the water was calm, the sky clear, and the wind blew balmily; so I waited for what should happen.
Presently I saw a speck on the sea, and eagerly watched it; for it drew rapidly near, and seemed to be going my way. When it came closer, I was much amazed; for, of all the queer boats I ever saw, this was the queerest. It was a great wooden bowl, very cracked and old; and in it sat three gray-headed little gentlemen with spectacles, all reading busily, and letting the boat go where it pleased. Now, right in their way was a rock; and I called out, "Sir, sir, take care."
But my call came too late: crash went the bowl, out came the bottom, and down plumped all the little gentlemen into the sea. I tried not to laugh, as the books, wigs, and spectacles flew about; and, urging my boat nearer, I managed to fish them up, dripping and sneezing, and looking like drowned kittens. When the flurry was over, and they had got their breath, I asked who they were, and where they were going.
"We are from Gotham, ma'am," said the fattest one, wiping a very wet face on a very wet handkerchief. "We were going to that island yonder. We have often tried, but never got there: it's always so, and I begin to think the thing can't be done."
I looked where he pointed; and, sure enough, there was an island where I had never seen one before. I rubbed my eyes, and looked again. Yes: there it was,—a little island, with trees and people on it; for I saw smoke coming out of the chimney of a queerly-shaped house on the shore.
"What is the name of it?" I asked.
The little old gentleman put his finger on his lips, and said, with a mysterious nod:
"I couldn't tell you, ma'am. It's a secret; but, if you manage to land there, you will soon know."
The other old men nodded at the same time; and then all went to reading again, with the water still dropping off the ends of their noses. This made me very curious; and, as the tide drifted us nearer and nearer, I looked well about me, and saw several things that filled me with a strong desire to land on the island. The odd house, I found, was built like a high-heeled shoe; and at every window I saw children's heads. Some were eating broth; some were crying; and some had nightcaps on. I caught sight of a distracted old lady flying about, with a ladle in one hand, and a rod in the other; but the house was so full of children (even up to the skylight,—out of which they popped their heads, and nodded at me) that I couldn't see much of the mamma of this large family: one seldom can, you know.
I had hardly got over my surprise at this queer sight, when I saw a cow fly up through the air, over the new moon that hung there, and come down and disappear in the woods. I really didn't know what to make of this, but had no time to ask the old men what it meant; for a cat, playing a fiddle, was seen on the shore. A little dog stood by, listening and laughing; while a dish and a spoon ran away over the beach with all their might. If the boat had not floated up to the land, I think I should have swam there,—I was so anxious to see what was going on; for there was a great racket on the island, and such a remarkable collection of creatures, it was impossible to help staring.
As soon as we landed, three other gentlemen came to welcome the ones I had saved, and seemed very glad to see them. They appeared to have just landed from a tub in which was a drum, rub-a-dub-dubbing all by itself. One of the new men had a white frock on, and carried a large knife; the second had dough on his hands, flour on his coat, and a hot-looking face; the third was very greasy, had a bundle of candles under his arm, and a ball of wicking half out of his pocket. The six shook hands, and walked away together, talking about a fair; and left me to take care of myself.
I walked on through a pleasant meadow, where a pretty little girl was looking sadly up at a row of sheep's tails hung on a tree. I also saw a little boy in blue, asleep by a haycock; and another boy taking aim at a cock-sparrow, who clapped his wings and flew away. Presently I saw two more little girls: one sat by a fire warming her toes; and, when I asked what her name was, she said pleasantly:
"Polly Flinders, ma'am."
The other one sat on a tuft of grass, eating something that looked very nice; but, all of a sudden, she dropped her bowl, and ran away, looking very much frightened.
"What's the matter with her?" I asked of a gay young frog who came tripping along with his hat under his arm.
"Miss Muffit is a fashionable lady, and afraid of spiders, madam; also of frogs." And he puffed himself angrily up, till his eyes quite goggled in his head.
"And, pray, who are you, sir?" I asked, staring at his white vest, green coat, and fine cravat.
"Excuse me, if I don't give my name, ma'am. My false friend, the rat, got me into a sad scrape once; and Rowley insists upon it that a duck destroyed me, which is all gammon, ma'am,—all gammon."
With that, the frog skipped away; and I turned into a narrow lane, which seemed to lead toward some music. I had not gone far, when I heard the rumbling of a wheelbarrow, and saw a little man wheeling a little woman along. The little man looked very hot and tired; but the little woman looked very nice, in a smart bonnet and shawl, and kept looking at a new gold ring on her finger, as she rode along under her little umbrella. I was wondering who they were, when down went the wheelbarrow; and the little lady screamed so dismally that I ran away, lest I should get into trouble,—being a stranger.
Turning a corner, I came upon a very charming scene, and slipped into a quiet nook to see what was going on. It was evidently a wedding; and I was just in time to see it, for the procession was passing at that moment. First came a splendid cock-a-doodle, all in black and gold, like a herald, blowing his trumpet, and marching with a very dignified step. Then came a rook, in black, like a minister, with spectacles and white cravat. A lark and bullfinch followed,—friends, I suppose; and then the bride and bridegroom. Miss Wren was evidently a Quakeress; for she wore a sober dress, and a little white veil, through which her bright eyes shone. The bridegroom was a military man, in his scarlet uniform,—a plump, bold-looking bird, very happy and proud just then. A goldfinch gave away the bride, and a linnet was bridesmaid. The ceremony was very fine; and, as soon as it was over, the blackbird, thrush and nightingale burst out in a lovely song.
A splendid dinner followed, at which was nearly every bird that flies; so you may imagine the music there was. They had currant-pie in abundance; and cherry-wine, which excited a cuckoo so much, that he became quite rude, and so far forgot himself as to pull the bride about. This made the groom so angry that he begged his friend, the sparrow, to bring his bow and arrow, and punish the ruffian. But, alas! Sparrow had also taken a drop too much: he aimed wrong, and, with a dreadful cry, Mr. Robin sank dying into the arms of his wife, little Jane.
It was too much for me; and, taking advantage of the confusion that followed, I left the tragical scene as fast as possible.
A little farther on, I was shocked to see a goose dragging an old man down some steps that led to a little house.
"Dear me! what's the matter here?" I cried.
"He won't say his prayers," screamed the goose.
"But perhaps he was never taught," said I.
"It's never too late to learn: he's had his chance; he won't be pious and good, so away with him. Don't interfere, whatever you do: hold your tongue, and go about your business," scolded the goose, who certainly had a dreadful temper.
I dared say no more; and, when the poor old man had been driven away by this foul proceeding, I went up the steps and peeped in; for I heard some one crying, and thought the cross bird, perhaps, had hurt some one else. A little old woman stood there, wringing her hands in great distress; while a small dog was barking at her with all his might.
"Bless me! the fashions have got even here," thought I; for the old woman was dressed in the latest style,—or, rather, she had overdone it sadly; for her gown was nearly up to her knees, and she was nearly as ridiculous an object as some of the young ladies I had seen at home. She had a respectable bonnet on, however, instead of a straw saucer; and her hair was neatly put under a cap,—not made into a knob on the top of her head.
"My dear soul, what's the trouble?" said I, quite touched by her tears.
"Lud a mercy, ma'am! I've been to market with my butter and eggs,—for the price of both is so high, one can soon get rich nowadays,—and, being tired, I stopped to rest a bit, but fell asleep by the road. Somebody—I think it's a rogue of a peddler who sold me wooden nutmegs, and a clock that wouldn't go, and some pans that came to bits the first time I used them—somebody cut my new gown and petticoat off all round, in the shameful way you see. I thought I never should get home; for I was such a fright, I actually didn't know myself. But, thinks I, my doggy will know me; and then I shall be sure I'm I, and not some boldfaced creature in short skirts. But, oh, ma'am! doggy don't know me; and I ain't myself, and I don't know what to do."
"He's a foolish little beast; so don't mind him, but have a cup of tea, and go to bed. You can make your gown decent to-morrow; and, if I see the tricksy peddler, I'll give him a scolding."
This seemed to comfort the old woman; though doggy still barked.
"My next neighbor has a dog who never behaves in this way," she said, as she put her teapot on the coals. "He's a remarkable beast; and you'd better stop to see him as you pass, ma'am. He's always up to some funny prank or other."
I said I would; and, as I went by the next house, I took a look in at the window. The closet was empty, I observed; but the dog sat smoking a pipe, looking as grave as a judge.
"Where is your mistress?" asked I.
"Gone for some tripe," answered the dog, politely taking the pipe out of his mouth, and adding, "I hope the smoke doesn't annoy you."
"I don't approve of smoking," said I.
"Sorry to hear it," said the dog, coolly.
I was going to lecture him on this bad habit; but I saw his mistress coming with a dish in her hand, and, fearing she might think me rude to peep in at her windows, I walked on, wondering what we were coming to when even four-legged puppies smoked.
At the door of the next little house, I saw a market-wagon loaded with vegetables, and a smart young pig just driving it away. I had heard of this interesting family, and took a look as I passed by. A second tidy pig sat blowing the fire; and a third was eating roast-beef, as if he had just come in from his work. The fourth, I was grieved to see, looked very sulky; for it was evident he had been naughty, and so lost his dinner. The little pig was at the door, crying to get in; and it was sweet to see how kindly the others let him in, wiped his tears, tied on his bib, and brought him his bread and milk. I was very glad to see these young orphans doing so well, and I knew my friends at home would enjoy hearing from them.
A loud scream made me jump; and the sudden splash of water made me run along, without stopping to pick up a boy and girl who came tumbling down the hill, with an empty pail, bumping their heads as they rolled. Smelling something nice, and feeling hungry, I stepped into a large room near by,—a sort of eating-house, I fancy; for various parties seemed to be enjoying themselves in their different ways. A small boy sat near the door, eating a large pie; and he gave me a fine plum which he had just pulled out. At one table was a fat gentleman cutting another pie, which had a dark crust, through which appeared the heads of a flock of birds, all singing gayly.
"There's no end to the improvements in cooking, and no accounting for tastes," I added, looking at a handsomely-dressed lady, who sat near, eating bread and honey.
As I passed this party, I saw behind the lady's chair a maid, with a clothes-pin in her hand, and no nose. She sobbingly told me a bird had nipped it off; and I gave her a bit of court-plaster, which I fortunately had in my pocket.
Another couple were dividing their meat in a queer way; for one took all the fat, and the other all the lean. The next people were odder still; for the man looked rather guilty, and seemed to be hiding a three-peck measure under his chair, while he waited for his wife to bring on some cold barley-pudding, which, to my surprise, she was frying herself. I also saw a queer moonstruck-looking man inquiring the way to Norridge; and another man making wry faces over some plum-pudding, with which he had burnt his mouth, because his friend came down too soon.
I ordered pease-porridge hot, and they brought it cold; but I didn't wait for any thing else, being in a hurry to see all there was to be seen on this strange island. Feeling refreshed, I strolled on, passing a jolly old gentleman smoking and drinking, while three fiddlers played before him. As I turned into a road that led toward a hill, a little boy, riding a dapple-gray pony, and an old lady on a white horse, with bells ringing somewhere, trotted by me, followed by a little girl, who wished to know where she could buy a penny bun. I told her the best were at Newmarch's, in Bedford Street, and she ran on, much pleased; but I'm afraid she never found that best of bake-shops. I was going quietly along, when the sound of another horse coming made me look round; and there I saw a dreadful sight,—a wild horse, tearing over the ground, with fiery eyes and streaming tail. On his back sat a crazy man, beating him with a broom; a crazy woman was behind him, with her bonnet on wrong side before, holding one crazy child in her lap, while another stood on the horse; a third was hanging on by one foot, and all were howling at the top of their voices as they rushed by. I scrambled over the wall to get out of the way, and there I saw more curious sights. Two blind men were sitting on the grass, trying to see two lame men who were hobbling along as hard as they could; and, near by, a bull was fighting a bee in the most violent manner. This rather alarmed me; and I scrambled back into the road again, just as a very fine lady jumped over a barberry-bush near by, and a gentleman went flying after, with a ring in one hand and a stick in the other.
"What very odd people they have here!" I thought. Close by was a tidy little house under the hill, and in it a tidy little woman who sold things to eat. Being rather hungry, in spite of my porridge, I bought a baked apple and a cranberry-pie; for she said they were good, and I found she told the truth. As I sat eating my pie, some dogs began to bark; and by came a troop of beggars, some in rags, and some in old velvet gowns. A drunken grenadier was with them, who wanted a pot of beer; but as he had no money, the old woman sent him about his business.
On my way up the hill, I saw a little boy crying over a dead pig, and his sister, who seemed to be dead also. I asked his name, and he sobbed out, "Johnny Pringle, ma'am;" and went on crying so hard I could do nothing to comfort him. While I stood talking to him, a sudden gust of wind blew up the road, and down came the bough of a tree; and, to my surprise, a cradle with a baby in it also. The baby screamed dreadfully, and I didn't know how to quiet it; so I ran back to the old woman, and left it with her, asking if that was the way babies were taken care of there.
"Bless you, my dear! its ma is making patty-cakes; and put it up there to be out of the way of Tom Tinker's dog. I'll soon hush it up," said the old woman; and, trotting it on her knee, she began to sing:
"Hey! my kitten, my kitten, Hey! my kitten, my deary."
Feeling that the child was in good hands, I hurried away, for I saw something was going on upon the hill-top. When I got to the hill-top, I was shocked to find some people tossing an old woman in a blanket. I begged them to stop; but one of the men, who, I found, was a Welchman, by the name of Taffy, told me the old lady liked it.
"But why does she like it?" I asked in great surprise.
"Tom, the piper's son, will tell you: it's my turn to toss now," said the man.
"Why, you see, ma'am," said Tom, "she is one of those dreadfully nice old women, who are always fussing and scrubbing, and worrying people to death, with everlastingly cleaning house. Now and then we get so tired out with her that we propose to her to clean the sky itself. She likes that; and, as this is the only way we can get her up, we toss till she sticks somewhere, and then leave her to sweep cobwebs till she is ready to come back and behave herself."
"Well, that is the oddest thing I ever heard. I know just such an old lady, and when I go home I'll try your plan. It seems to me that you have a great many queer old ladies on this island," I said to another man, whom they called Peter, and who stood eating pumpkin all the time.
"Well, we do have rather a nice collection; but you haven't seen the best of all. We expect her every minute; and Margery Daw is to let us know the minute she lights on the island," replied Peter, with his mouth full.
"Lights?" said I, "you speak as if she flew."
"She rides on a bird. Hurrah! the old sweeper has lit. Now the cobwebs will fly. Don't hurry back," shouted the man; and a faint, far-off voice answered, "I shall be back again by and by."
The people folded up the blanket, looking much relieved; and I was examining a very odd house which was built by an ancient king called Boggen, when Margery Daw, a dirty little girl, came up the hill, screaming, at the top of her voice:
"She's come! she's come!"
Every one looked up; and I saw a large white bird slowly flying over the island. On its back sat the nicest old woman that ever was seen: all the others were nothing compared to her. She had a pointed hat on over her cap, a red cloak, high-heeled shoes, and a crutch in her hand. She smiled and nodded as the bird approached; and every one ran and nodded, and screamed, "Welcome! welcome, mother!"
As soon as she touched the ground, she was so surrounded that I could only see the top of her hat; for hundreds and hundreds of little children suddenly appeared, like a great flock of birds,—rosy, happy, pretty children; but all looked unreal, and among them I saw some who looked like little people I had known long ago.
"Who are they?" I asked of a bonny lass, who was sitting on a cushion, eating strawberries and cream.
"They are the phantoms of all the little people who ever read and loved our mother's songs," said the maid.
"What did she write?" I asked, feeling very queer, and as if I was going to remember something.
"Songs that are immortal; and you have them in your hand," replied the bonny maid, smiling at my stupidity.
I looked; and there, on the cover of the book I had been reading so busily when the tide carried me away, I saw the words "Mother Goose's Melodies." I was so delighted that I had seen her I gave a shout, and tried to get near enough to hug and kiss the dear old soul, as the swarm of children were doing; but my cry woke me, and I was so sorry to find it all a dream!
It was a wagon, shaped like a great square basket, on low wheels, and drawn by a stout donkey. There was one seat, on which Miss Fairbairn the governess sat; and all round her, leaning over the edge of the basket, were children, with little wooden shovels and baskets in their hands, going down to play on the beach. Away they went, over the common, through the stony lane, out upon the wide, smooth sands. All the children but one immediately fell to digging holes, and making ponds, castles, or forts. They did this every day, and were never tired of it; but little Fancy made new games for herself, and seldom dug in the sand. She had a garden of sea-weed, which the waves watered every day: she had a palace of pretty shells, where she kept all sorts of little water-creatures as fairy tenants; she had friends and playmates among the gulls and peeps, and learned curious things by watching crabs, horse-shoes, and jelly-fishes; and every day she looked for a mermaid.
It was of no use to tell her that there were no mermaids: Fancy firmly believed in them, and was sure she would see one some day. The other children called the seals mermaids; and were contented with the queer, shiny creatures who played in the water, lay on the rocks, and peeped at them with soft, bright eyes as they sailed by. Fancy was not satisfied with seals,—they were not pretty and graceful enough for her,—and she waited and watched for a real mermaid. On this day she took a breezy run with the beach-birds along the shore; she planted a pretty red weed in her garden; and let out the water-beetles and snails who had passed the night in her palace. Then she went to a rock that stood near the quiet nook where she played alone, and sat there looking for a mermaid as the tide came in; for it brought her many curious things, and it might perhaps bring a mermaid.
As she looked across the waves that came tumbling one over the other, she saw something that was neither boat nor buoy nor seal. It was a queer-looking thing, with a wild head, a long waving tail, and something like arms that seemed to paddle it along. The waves tumbled it about, so Fancy could not see very well: but, the longer she looked, the surer she was that this curious thing was a mermaid; and she waited eagerly for it to reach the shore. Nearer and nearer it came, till a great wave threw it upon the sand; and Fancy saw that it was only a long piece of kelp, torn up by the roots. She was very much disappointed; but, all of a sudden, her face cleared up, she clapped her hands, and began to dance round the kelp, saying:
"I'll make a mermaid myself, since none will come to me."
Away she ran, higher up the beach, and, after thinking a minute, began her work. Choosing a smooth, hard place, she drew with a stick the outline of her mermaid; then she made the hair of the brown marsh-grass growing near by, arranging it in long locks on either side the face, which was made of her prettiest pink and white shells,—for she pulled down her palace to get them. The eyes were two gray pebbles; the neck and arms of larger, white shells; and the dress of sea-weed,—red, green, purple, and yellow; very splendid, for Fancy emptied her garden to dress her mermaid.
"People say that mermaids always have tails; and I might make one out of this great leaf of kelp. But it isn't pretty, and I don't like it; for I want mine to be beautiful: so I won't have any tail," said Fancy, and put two slender white shells for feet, at the lower edge of the fringed skirt. She laid a wreath of little star-fish across the brown hair, a belt of small orange-crabs round the waist, buttoned the dress with violet snail-shells, and hung a tiny white pebble, like a pearl, in either ear.
"Now she must have a glass and a comb in her hand, as the song says, and then she will be done," said Fancy, looking about her, well pleased.
Presently she found the skeleton of a little fish, and his backbone made an excellent comb; while a transparent jelly-fish served for a glass, with a frame of cockle-shells round it. Placing these in the hands of her mermaid, and some red coral bracelets on her wrists, Fancy pronounced her done; and danced about her, singing:
"My pretty little mermaid, Oh! come, and play with me: I'll love you, I'll welcome you; And happy we shall be."
Now, while she had been working, the tide had crept higher and higher; and, as she sung, one wave ran up and wet her feet.
"Oh, what a pity I didn't put her farther up!" cried Fancy; "the tide will wash her all away; and I meant to keep her fresh, and show her to Aunt Fiction. My poor mermaid!—I shall lose her; but perhaps she will be happier in the sea: so I will let her go."
Mounting her rock, Fancy waited to see her work destroyed. But the sea seemed to pity her; and wave after wave came up, without doing any harm. At last one broke quite over the mermaid, and Fancy thought that would be the end of her. But, no: instead of scattering shells, stones, and weeds, the waves lifted the whole figure, without displacing any thing, and gently bore it back into the sea.
"Good by! good by!" cried Fancy, as the little figure floated away; then, as it disappeared, she put her hands before her face,—for she loved her mermaid, and had given all her treasures to adorn her; and now to lose her so soon seemed hard,—and Fancy's eyes were full of tears. Another great wave came rolling in; but she did not look up to see it break, and, a minute after, she heard steps tripping toward her over the sand. Still she did not stir; for, just then, none of her playmates could take the place of her new friend, and she didn't want to see them.
"Fancy! Fancy!" called a breezy voice, sweeter than any she had ever heard. But she did not raise her head, nor care to know who called. The steps came quite close; and the touch of a cold, wet hand fell on her own. Then she looked up, and saw a strange little girl standing by her, who smiled, showing teeth like little pearls, and said, in the breezy voice:
"You wanted me to play with you, so I came."
"Who are you?" asked Fancy, wondering where she had seen the child before.
"I'm your mermaid," said the child.
"But the water carried her away," cried Fancy.
"The waves only carried me out for the sea to give me life, and then brought me back to you," answered the new comer.
"But are you really a mermaid?" asked Fancy, beginning to smile and believe.
"I am really the one you made: look, and see if I'm not;" and the little creature turned slowly round, that Fancy might be sure it was her own work.
She certainly was very like the figure that once lay on the sand,—only she was not now made of stones and shells. There was the long brown hair blowing about her face, with a wreath of starry shells in it. Her eyes were gray, her cheeks and lips rosy, her neck and arms white; and from under her striped dress peeped little bare feet. She had pearls in her ears, coral bracelets, a golden belt, and a glass and comb in her hands.
"Yes," said Fancy, drawing near, "you are my little mermaid; but how does it happen that you come to me at last?"
"Dear friend," answered the water-child, "you believed in me, watched and waited long for me, shaped the image of the thing you wanted out of your dearest treasures, and promised to love and welcome me. I could not help coming; and the sea, that is as fond of you as you are of it, helped me to grant your wish."
"Oh, I'm glad, I'm glad! Dear little mermaid, what is your name?" cried Fancy, kissing the cool cheek of her new friend, and putting her arms about her neck.
"Call me by my German cousin's pretty name,—Lorelei," answered the mermaid, kissing back as warmly as she could.
"Will you come home and live with me, dear Lorelei?" asked Fancy, still holding her fast.
"If you will promise to tell no one who and what I am, I will stay with you as long as you love and believe in me. As soon as you betray me, or lose your faith and fondness, I shall vanish, never to come back again," answered Lorelei.
"I promise: but won't people wonder who you are? and, if they ask me, what shall I say?" said Fancy.
"Tell them you found me on the shore; and leave the rest to me. But you must not expect other people to like and believe in me as you do. They will say hard things of me; will blame you for loving me; and try to part us. Can you bear this, and keep your promise faithfully?"
"I think I can. But why won't they like you?" said Fancy, looking troubled.
"Because they are not like you, dear," answered the mermaid, with salt tears in her soft eyes. "They have not your power of seeing beauty in all things, of enjoying invisible delights, and living in a world of your own. Your Aunt Fiction will like me; but your Uncle Fact won't. He will want to know all about me; will think I'm a little vagabond; and want me to be sent away somewhere, to be made like other children. I shall keep out of his way as much as I can; for I'm afraid of him."
"I'll take care of you, Lorelei dear; and no one shall trouble you. I hear Miss Fairbairn calling; so I must go. Give me your hand, and don't be afraid."
Hand in hand the two went toward the other children, who stopped digging, and stared at the new child. Miss Fairbairn, who was very wise and good, but rather prim, stared too, and said, with surprise:
"Why, my dear, where did you find that queer child?"
"Down on the beach. Isn't she pretty?" answered Fancy, feeling very proud of her new friend.
"She hasn't got any shoes on; so she's a beggar, and we mustn't play with her," said one boy, who had been taught that to be poor was a very dreadful thing.
"What pretty earrings and bracelets she's got!" said a little girl, who thought a great deal of her dress.
"She doesn't look as if she knew much," said another child, who was kept studying so hard that she never had time to dig and run, and make dirt-pies, till she fell ill, and had to be sent to the sea-side.
"What's your name? and who are your parents?" asked Miss Fairbairn.
"I've got no parents; and my name is Lorelei," answered the mermaiden.
"You mean Luly; mind your pronunciation, child," said Miss Fairbairn, who corrected every one she met in something or other. "Where do you live?"
"I haven't got any home now," said Lorelei, smiling at the lady's tone.
"Yes, you have: my home is yours; and you are going to stay with me always," cried Fancy, heartily. "She is my little sister, Miss Fairbairn: I found her; and I'm going to keep her, and make her happy."
"Your uncle won't like it, my dear." And Miss Fairbairn shook her head gravely.
"Aunt will; and Uncle won't mind, if I learn my lessons well, and remember the multiplication table all right. He was going to give me some money, so I might learn to keep accounts; but I'll tell him to keep the money, and let me have Lorelei instead."
"Oh, how silly!" cried the boy who didn't like bare feet.
"No, she isn't; for, if she's kind to the girl, maybe she'll get some of her pretty things," said the vain little girl.
"Keeping accounts is a very useful and important thing. I keep mine; and mamma says I have great arth-met-i-cal talent," added the pale child, who studied too much.
"Come, children; it's time for dinner. Fancy, you can take the girl to the house; and your uncle will do what he thinks best about letting you keep her," said Miss Fairbairn, piling them into the basket-wagon.
Fancy kept Lorelei close beside her; and as soon as they reached the great hotel, where they all were staying with mothers and fathers, uncles or aunts, she took her to kind Aunt Fiction, who was interested at once in the friendless child so mysteriously found. She was satisfied with the little she could discover, and promised to keep her,—for a time, at least.
"We can imagine all kinds of romantic things about her; and, by and by, some interesting story may be found out concerning her. I can make her useful in many ways; and she shall stay."
As Aunt Fiction laid her hand on the mermaid's head, as if claiming her for her own, Uncle Fact came stalking in, with his note-book in his hand, and his spectacles on his nose. Now, though they were married, these two persons were very unlike. Aunt Fiction was a graceful, picturesque woman; who told stories charmingly, wrote poetry and novels, was very much beloved by young folks, and was the friend of some of the most famous people in the world. Uncle Fact was a grim, grave, decided man; whom it was impossible to bend or change. He was very useful to every one; knew an immense deal; and was always taking notes of things he saw and heard, to be put in a great encyclopaedia he was making. He didn't like romance, loved the truth, and wanted to get to the bottom of every thing. He was always trying to make little Fancy more sober, well-behaved, and learned; for she was a freakish, dreamy, yet very lovable and charming child. Aunt Fiction petted her to her heart's content, and might have done her harm, if Uncle Fact had not had a hand in her education; for the lessons of both were necessary to her, as to all of us.
"Well, well, well! who is this?" he said briskly, as he turned his keen eyes and powerful glasses on the new comer.
Aunt Fiction told him all the children had said; but he answered impatiently:
"Tut, tut! my dear: I want the facts of the case. You are apt to exaggerate; and Fancy is not to be relied on. If the child isn't a fool, she must know more about herself than she pretends. Now, answer truly, Luly, where did you come from?"
But the little mermaid only shook her head, and answered as before, "Fancy found me on the beach, and wants me to stay with her. I'll do her no harm: please, let me stay."
"She has evidently been washed ashore from some wreck, and has forgotten all about herself. Her wonderful beauty, her accent, and these ornaments show that she is some foreign child," said Aunt Fiction, pointing to the earrings.
"Nonsense! my dear: those are white pebbles, not pearls; and, if you examine them, you will find that those bracelets are the ones you gave Fancy as a reward for so well remembering the facts I told her about coral," said the uncle, who had turned Lorelei round and round, pinched her cheek, felt her hair, and examined her frock through the glasses which nothing escaped.
"She may stay, and be my little playmate, mayn't she? I'll take care of her; and we shall be very happy together," cried Fancy eagerly.
"One can't be sure of that till one has tried. You say you will take care of her: have you got any money to pay her board, and buy her clothes?" asked her uncle.
"No; but I thought you'd help me," answered Fancy wistfully.
"Never say you'll do a thing till you are sure you can," said Uncle Fact, as he took notes of the affair, thinking they might be useful by and by. "I've no objection to your keeping the girl, if, after making inquiries about her, she proves to be a clever child. She can stay awhile; and, when we go back to town, I'll put her in one of our charity schools, where she can be taught to earn her living. Can you read, Luly?"
"No," said the mermaid, opening her eyes.
"Can you write and cipher?"
"What is that?" asked Lorelei innocently.
"Dear me! what ignorance!" cried Uncle Fact.
"Can you sew, or tend babies?" asked Aunt Fiction gently.
"I can do nothing but play and sing, and comb my hair."
"I see! I see!—some hand-organ man's girl. Well, I'm glad you keep your hair smooth,—that's more than Fancy does," said Uncle Fact.
"Let us hear you sing," whispered his little niece; and, in a voice as musical as the sound of ripples breaking on the shore, Lorelei sung a little song that made Fancy dance with delight, charmed Aunt Fiction, and softened Uncle Fact's hard face in spite of himself.
"Very well, very well, indeed: you have a good voice. I'll see that you have proper teaching; and, by and by, you can get your living by giving singing-lessons," he said, turning over the leaves of his book, to look for the name of a skilful teacher; for he had lists of every useful person, place, and thing under the sun.
Lorelei laughed at the idea; and Fancy thought singing for gold, not love, a hard way to get one's living.
Inquiries were made; but nothing more was discovered, and neither of the children would speak: so the strange child lived with Fancy, and made her very happy. The other children didn't care much about her; for with them she was shy and cold, because she knew, if the truth was told, they would not believe in her. Fancy had always played a good deal by herself, because she never found a mate to suit her; now she had one, and they enjoyed each other very much. Lorelei taught her many things besides new games; and Aunt Fiction was charmed with the pretty stories Fancy repeated to her, while Uncle Fact was astonished at the knowledge of marine plants and animals which she gained without any books. Lorelei taught her to swim, like a fish; and the two played such wonderful pranks in the water that people used to come down to the beach when they bathed. In return, Fancy tried to teach her friend to read and write and sew; but Lorelei couldn't learn much, though she loved her little teacher dearly, and every evening sung her to sleep with beautiful lullabies.
There was a great deal of talk about the curious stranger; for her ways were odd, and no one knew what to make of her. She would eat nothing but fruit and shell-fish, and drink nothing but salt water. She didn't like tight clothes; but would have run about in a loose, green robe, with bare feet and flying hair, if Uncle Fact would have allowed it. Morning, noon, and night, she plunged into the sea,—no matter what the weather might be; and she would sleep on no bed but one stuffed with dried sea-weed. She made lovely chains of shells; found splendid bits of coral; and dived where no one else dared, to bring up wonderful plants and mosses. People offered money for these things; but she gave them all to Fancy and Aunt Fiction, of whom she was very fond. It was curious to see the sort of people who liked both Fancy and her friend,—poets, artists; delicate, thoughtful children; and a few old people, who had kept their hearts young in spite of care and time and trouble. Dashing young gentlemen, fine young ladies, worldly-minded and money-loving men and women, and artificial, unchildlike children, the two friends avoided carefully; and these persons either made fun of them, neglected them entirely, or seemed to be unconscious that they were alive. The others they knew at a glance; for their faces warmed and brightened when the children came, they listened to their songs and stories, joined in their plays, and found rest and refreshment in their sweet society.
"This will do for a time; as Fancy is getting strong, and not entirely wasting her days, thanks to me! But our holiday is nearly over; and, as soon as I get back to town, I'll take that child to the Ragged Refuge, and see what they can make of her," said Uncle Fact, who was never quite satisfied about Lorelei; because he could find out so little concerning her. He was walking over the beach as he said this, after a hard day's work on his encyclopaedia. He sat down on a rock in a quiet place; and, instead of enjoying the lovely sunset, he fell to studying the course of the clouds, the state of the tide, and the temperature of the air, till the sound of voices made him peep over the rock. Fancy and her friend were playing there, and the old gentleman waited to see what they were about. Both were sitting with their little bare feet in the water; Lorelei was stringing pearls, and Fancy plaiting a crown of pretty green rushes.
"I wish I could go home, and get you a string of finer pearls than these," said Lorelei; "but it is too far away, and I cannot swim now as I used to do."
"I must look into this. The girl evidently knows all about herself, and can tell, if she chooses," muttered Uncle Fact, getting rather excited over this discovery.
"Never mind the pearls: I'd rather have you, dear," said Fancy lovingly. "Tell me a story while we work, or sing me a song; and I'll give you my crown."
"I'll sing you a little song that has got what your uncle calls a moral to it," said Lorelei, laughing mischievously. Then, in her breezy little voice, she sang the story of—