Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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AN ISLAND GARDEN. New Edition. With Por-
trait. Crown 8vo, ^1.25.

A. F. and R. L. With 3 Portraits. i2mo, $1.50.

POEMS. New Edition. 12010, gilt top, $1.50.

Edition. i2mo, gilt top, $1.50.

iSmo, $1.25.

Boston and New York





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r AM sure that if Mrs. Thaxter had lived to com-
plete the arrangement of this hook of stories and
verses for children, she would have dedicated it to her
dear grandchildren and to the little nieces so near to
her heart. I know that she ivould like to have me
stand in her place and say that this book is made for
them first of all, and I am sure that it ivill help those
who cannot well remember her to know something of
her beautiful generous kindness and delightful gayety,
her gift of teaching young eyes to see the flowers and
birds ; to know her island of Appledore and its sea
and sky,

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The Spray Sprite 3

Madame Arachne 14

Cat's-Cradle 22

The Blackberry-Bush 44

Bergetta's Misfortunes . ' 48

Some Polite Dogs 55

The Bear at Appledore 62

Peggy's Garden, and what grew therein ... 72

Almost a Tragedy 97

The Sandpiper's Nest 107


The Sandpiper 1^3

Spring 114

The Burgomaster Gull 115

Little Gustava 119

Chanticleer 121

The Water-Bloom 122

Crocus 123

Ti\E Constant Dove 125

The Waning Moon 126

The Birds' Orchestra ........ 127


Milking 130

Yellow-Bird 132

A Triumph 133

Slumber Song 135

Warning 136

The Butcher-Bird 137

Fern-Seed 139

The Great White Owl 142


The Blind Lamb 144

Dust 149

The Scarecrow 151

The Cradle 153

March 155

The Shag 156

Sir William Napier and Little Joan .... 157

Bluebirds in Autumn 161

Tragedy 163

Jack Frost 165

A Lullaby 167

April and May 168

Robin's Rain-Song 170

A Song of Easter 171

Perseverance 173

Rescued 175

The Cockatoos 177

The Double Sunflower 181

In the Black Forest 183

An Old Saw 186

Cradle Song 187

Marjorie 188

King Midas 189

Wild Geese 196

The Hylas . . . , 197

The Sparrows 199

The Nightingale 201

Gold Locks and Silver Locks 203

The Kittiwakes 205

Lost 206

The Kingfisher 208

The Wounded Curlew 210

Little Assunta 212

Inhospitality 214

Under the Light-house 217


Mozart at the Fireside ........ 221

The Flock of Doves 224

The Kaiserblumen 225

The Great Blue Heron 2-30

The Lost Bell 202

In the Lilac-Bush 237


A Poppy Seed .......... 239

Be Lovely Within 242

The Unbidden Guest 243

Sir William Pepperrell's Well 247

The Chickadee 250

Spring Planting-Time 251

The Albatross 253

The New Year 254

An Open Secret . ... - 255

Grandmother to her Grandson 256




OxcE upon a time, a thousand years ago, there dwelt
by the sea a little maid. Had I said in the sea, it
would perhaps have been as well, for such a spray
sprite never danced before at a breaker's edge. It
was bliss to her to watch that great sea, to hear its
sweet or awful voices, to feel the salt wind lift her
thick brown hair and kiss her cheek; to wade, bare-
footed, into the singing, sparkling brine. Above all
things, she hated to sew patchwork. Oh, but she was
a naughty child, — not at all like the good, decorous
little girls who will perhaps read this story. She did n't
like to sweep and dust, and keep all things bright and
tidy. She wished to splash in the water the whole
day long, and dance, and sing, and string shells, and
be idle like the lovely white kittiwakes that flew to
and fro above her, and came at the beckoning of her
hand. She. looked with scorn on dolls and all their
appointments, and never wished to play with them, —
it was almost as bad as patchwork! But she loved the


sky, and all the clouds and stars, the snn that made a
glory in the east and west at morning and jvening, the
changing moon, the streaming Northern Lights. The
winds seemed human, so much they had to say to her.
She thought, "The north wnnd fights me; the west
wind plays with me ; the east wind sighs, and is always
ready to weep ; the south wind loves and kisses me. "
Every wave that whitened the face of the vast sea was
dear to her; every bird that floated over, every sail
that glided across, — all brought her a thrill of joy.
And what a wild and keen delight came to her with
the thunder, lightning, and the rain ! — but with all
her heart she hated the cold, white snow. Much she
liked to creep out of the house in the dusk of dawn
and climb the highest rocks to see the morning break.
Wrapping herself close from the chill wind, curling
into a niche of the rough granite cliff, how beautiful it
was, all alone with the soaring gulls, to watch the east
grow rosy, rosier to the very zenith, till she shouted
with joy, facing the uprisen sun! Then it was so
splendid to stand on the rocks when the billows came
tumbling in, sending the spray flying high in the air,
and throwing handfuls of crimson dulse at her, or long
brown tresses of seaweed, which she caught and flung
back again, while she was drenched with the shower,
and the wind blew her about in rough play. And
blissful it was to run with the sandpipers along the edge
of the shallow waves on the little beach, and dance in


the clear green water; or, at low tide, to hang over
the still surface of pools among the rocks, wherein
lay treasures untold.

Oh, those gardens of the sea ! who shall describe their
beauty ? It was as if a piece of rainbow had fallen
and melted into them, such myriads of many-colored
creatures and plants inhabited them. Dear children,
if I were to talk to you the whole day, I could not
tell you half the wonderful things she saw in those
clear depths. But I think she liked best of them all
the dainty Eolis, a delicate shell-less snail, with rosy
spines and tiny horns.

To watch all this marvelous life at the edge of the
wild ocean was enchanting, and she never wearied of
it. Then, among the higher rocks, grew a few land
plants and grasses, and a single root of fern, a world
of delight to her; a whole tropical forest would not
have been so precious. She gathered plumes of the
bright goldenrod that nodded in the clefts, and crowned
herself with long garlands of the wild pink morning-
glory; and the gulls and the sandpipers looked at her,
and wondered, I dare say, what she did it for ; — they
could have told quite as well as she. To the little
pimpernel, always ready to shut its scarlet flowers at
the slightest shadow of a cloud, she said: "I love you,
pimpernel, for you 're always dreaming, and that 's
what I like to do." And so she did dream, and with
the everlasting sound of the sea in her ears, I wonder
she ever believed anything to be real!


She was a very happy little maid and perfectly
content, but still she could not help longing to know
what lay beyond the round horizon that hemmed her
in with the waves, and many and many a day, rocking
in her little boat on the tranquil water, she gazed at
the dim line where the sky seemed to rest on the sea,
and pondered until she was lost in a maze of aimless

"Over there, beyond the faint blue cloud of distant
coast, lies the great world," she said. "Is it beauti-
ful there 1 " Sometimes at sunrise it looked most
beautiful, flushed with delicious color, — purple, and
rose, and gold. Vessels glided by, hither and thither,
at all times of the day and night. AYlience came they ?
Whither did they go? If, in the morning sunshine,
she saw the shadow of one sail fall upon another, as
some craft passed near, the sight made this little savage
so happy, that it was better than if she had found a
mine of gold, — the foolish thing to be happy at a
shadow !

She laughed and talked with the loons, and learned
to imitate their weird wild cry ; she stretched her arms
up to the big burgomaster gull flying over, crying,
"Take me to ride with you, burgomaster, between
your broad wings ! " Driftwood came sailing to the
shore, bits of bark, — on what tree did they grow 1 she
wondered. Pieces of oars, — who had paddled with
them? Laths, sticks, straws, blocks, logs, branches.


cones, tangled with ribbon-grass kelp and rock-weed,
— each thing had a history if she did but know it,
she thought. Sometimes came a green fir bough;
there was a wonder, for no trees grew among her
rocks, there was not soil enough to hold their roots.
Sometimes she came upon tokens of wreck and disaster
that made her heart shrink, for she did not like to
think that pain was in this lovely world wherein she
was so glad to be alive.

But she always fancied she should find some strange
and costly thing as she sought among the weeds and
drift, — that some mysterious and beautiful thing
would come floating across the sea for her, among the
odds and ends, one day, and something did come, as
you shall hear.

One night she was playing on the beach alone; she
gathered shells and seaweeds; full of joy, she laughed
and sang to herself. It was high tide and sunset; all
the west was red and clear; a golden glory lay along
the calm water from the sinking sun to her feet, as she
stood at the edge of the tide. Near by, the lighthouse
began to twinkle in crimson and gold; far off, large
vessels, with their sails full of the twilight, passed by,
silent and slow. The waves made a continual talking
among themselves, and sweet and disconsolate came
the cry of the sandpipers along the shore. All else
was very still. She stopped her play and sat down
on a rock, and let her bare feet drop within reach of


the water, while she watched the gulls slowly floating
home, by twos and threes, through the lovely evening
sky. She smiled to see them beat the air with their
wide wings, with a slow and measured motion. She
knew where their lonesome rock lay, far out on the
eastern sea.

By and by all were gone; the red faded, but a pure
and peaceful light still held the west, and the stars
came out one after one. She sat still there a long
time; the warm wind wrapped her close, she felt no
chill with the falling dew. "Wistfully peering out
toward the horizon-line, she did not for some time
notice that the sea was full of cool fire, "sparks that
snap and burst and flee;" every wave left its outline
in vanishing gold on the wet weeds and sand; her feet
were covered; it was as if she had on golden-spangled
slippers. That was charming! The tide had begun
to fall now, and left bare a gray rock worn and pol-
ished by the waves — heaven knows how many thou-
sands of years ! — till it was as smooth as satin. She
laid her cheek against it, the dear old gray rock! it
was her pet pillow. Though the water had just
flowed over it, it was warm yet from the sun which
had blazed down all the long clear summer day. Then
she watched the pale flame glowing, and fading, and
glowing again, till — Well, I never could be quite
sure how much of what I am going to tell you she
dreamed, and how much really happened, but the main
points are certainly true.


After she had been watching and listening awhile,
she became aware of an unaccustomed sound among
the noises of the washing tide and whispers of the
wind. Presently she perceived, between the tide-
mark and the ebbing water, two dim, slender figures
busy among the weeds, and sweet, clear voices reached
her with a merry mingling of talk and laughter. The
figures drew near, — a youth, dark and brilliant, a
maiden, bright and fair. They were filling little bas-
kets with the phosphorescent sparks, and every spark
they touched became a permanent star, so that the
little baskets were overflowing with the harmless flame.
She could not comprehend their talk, but she watched
them eagerly. The youth dipped his finger into the
pale fire, and touched with it the girl's white forehead,
and left there a spark that flickered upward, then
brightened and stood steady, a glittering star, so beauti-
ful above her dusky hair ! And the child saw the fairy
maiden blush as she swung the basket lightly to her
shoulder. She rose up as they turned, and confronted
them, and both sprang toward her. "Child of the
spray," they cried, "it is thyself we came to seek;"
and grasping her hands, they drew her gently after
them into a small, lonely cove, where the water lay
like a mirror, with all the stars in heaven shining out
of it.

And by the starlight what an enchanting sight she
saw! Moored close to the beach, a fairy fleet was


waiting motionless, — seven great purple mussel- shells
as large as her own little skiff, each lined with mother-
of-pearl, and strewn with silken cushions; in each a
tapering mast, from which drooped lightly down the
idle sail, shining like silver, bright as if woven of
thistle-down. And at each curling prow was set a
cluster of phosphorescent stars, gleaming and never
disappearing, and every boat had its merry crew of
fairy creatures, and in the midst, alone in his skiff,
sat a fairy prince with a golden crown. When they
saw their comrades bringing the spray child, they set
up a sweet outcry, and pushed the boats ashore with
slender oars, and leaped out and danced about her.
Was she awake or asleep 1 The tide had fallen farther
yet. A large purple starfish glided on the sand and
paused close by. Many-hued little shells crept near
and listened, and pearly Eolis, from a crystal pool at
hand, lifted her crested head to listen also. The child
rubbed her eyes, and looked about on every side, —
the sand was real beneath her feet, the familiar sound
of the water was surely in her ears, there were the
stars above burning steadily. She was awake, she
thought, though it was night; but when she looked at
the fairy prince, she thought it was sunrise suddenly.
He came near and took her hand, and as he did so all
the sandpipers cried aloud in their dreams, and made
their playmate tremble with mournful foreboding.
"Come," he said, "I have sailed across the sea, to


show you what lies beyond the wonderful horizon.
Come with me ; " and without knowing how, she was
sitting in the beautiful boat by his side, and all the
fairy creatures were busy casting off the ropes, and
trimming the sails, with song and shout, and as swiftly
those shimmering sails ran up to the tops of the deli-
cate masts, the south wind filled them; sudden wafts
of music, fine and sweet, rose and fell, and out of the
little cove swept the fleet of shells, rustling canvas,
gleaming stars, and brilliant faces, and all. Kapidly
they passed from sight, and then on the lonely beach
the sandpipers cried more disconsolately, and the waves
broke ever with a lonelier sound, for nevermore came
that little spray sprite back to play with them again.

What became of her? Well, that I will tell you
also. At first, she was listening to such a wonderful
story that she quite forgot everything else; but, as
they sailed and sailed, one by one the fairy crews dis-
appeared, and still little Idleness and the fairy prince
sailed on and on, till at last they came to the great
world which had looked so beautiful to the child's
eyes from afar, — all gold, and pearl, and rose-color.
And of what do you think she found it was made,
after all? Why, my dear children, only patchwork!
Everybody was doing patchwork of one kind or an-
other, — black patches and white, blue patches and
gray, — and everybody was so busy that it was aston-
ishing to witness. I do not mean to say that every-


body was sewing with needle and thread, but all were
at work upon something; and she comprehended that
while she had been dancing in the spray, wiser chil-
dren had been learning all kinds of useful things, of
which she knew nothing at all, and how much time
she had lost!

At first it was wearisome enough, — like living in
a big ant-hill, with all the ants rushing about pell-
mell. And then all the trees, hills, and fields seemed
to be crowding up to the windows for the express pur-
pose of smothering the poor mermaid. There wasn't
half enough sky, and no water at all, to speak of; and
everything was so stifi" and still, except the hurrying
people. The trees waved, but they couldn't go sweep-
ing off as the grand ships did over the sea, and as for
the fields, they were well enough, but altogether too
still; they never changed about like the shifting,
musical, many-colored sea. And yet some of them
were lovely, when the wind bowed all the tall white
daisies toward her, like the crest of a breaking wave;
better so than when they blushed with clover-bloom,
or flamed in buttercups and dandelions. The brooks
and rivers were good as far as they went, but there
was so little of them! And if she liked the hills, it
was because they seemed to her like huge, petrified
waves, heaved solemnly against the sky. Alas for her
great horizon ! She pined for it night and day.

But gradually she began to get used to the tame


life, and slowly, very slowly, she found out a secret
worth all the beauty she had lost. As young people
don't know it generally, I '11 whisper it in your ear.
This is it: that work is among the best blessings God
gave the world; that to be useful and helpful, even in
the smallest ways, brings a better bliss than all the
delightful things you can think of, put together. And
this bliss is within the reach of every human being.
She was glad when she found it out for herself. And
so now she does patchwork, to the end of her days, —
patchwork in this case meaning all kinds of work
under the sun, a little here, and a little there. You
would never know now that she had been a spray sprite,
and danced among the breakers, and talked and laughed
with the loons, for she is like everybody else, except
that, sleeping or waking, year after year, she keeps
in her ears the sad, mysterious murmur of the sea,
just like a hollow shell.


Madame Arachne sat in the sun at her door.
From a spider's point of view she would have been
considered a plump and pleasing person, but from a
human standpoint she had, perhaps, more legs than are
necessary to our ideal of beauty; and as for the matter
of eyes, she was simply extravagant, having so many
pairs she could see all round the horizon at once. She
had built her house across the pane of a window in a
lighthouse, and sat at her door, in all the pride of
patiently awaiting flies. The wind from the south
breathed upon her pretty web, and rocked her to and
fro. Many tiny midges, small as pinheads, flickered
and fluttered and stuck to the web. But Madame
Arachne did not stir for them.

"Bah!" she said; "such small fry! Why can't a
fly of proper size come this way 1 "

The sea made a great roaring on the rocks below,
the sun shone, it was a lovely day. She was very
content, but a little hungry. Suddenly a curious small
cry or call startled her ; it sounded as if some one said,
"Yank, yank, yank!" "My goodness!" cried she;
" what can that be 1 "


Then was heard a sharp tapping, which shook her
with terror much more than the breeze had shaken her.

She started as if to run, when "Yank, yank, yank! "
sounded again, this time close above her. She was
not obliged to turn her head; having so many eyes,
she saw, reaching over the top of the window, a sharp
black beak and two round black eyes belonging to Mr.
Nuthatch, who also was seeking his supper, wood-
pecker fashion, and purposed to himself to take poor
Mrs. Arachne for a tidbit. There was barely time for
her to save her life. She precipitated herself from
her door by a rope which she always carried with her.
Down, down, down she went, till at last she reached
the rock below; but Nuthatch saw, and swept down
after her. Her many legs now served a good purpose,
— she scampered like mad over the rough surface, and
crept under the shingles that lapped over at the edge
where the foot of the lighthouse met the rock, — and
was safe. Nuthatch couldn't squeeze in after her;
he probed the crack with his sharp beak, but did not
reach her; so he flew away to seek an easier prey.
After a while, poor Madame Arachne crept out again,
and climbed to her window, looking all about with
her numerous eyes while she swung. "Ugh! — the
ugly monster ! " she whispered to herself, as she
reached the pane where her pretty house had been
built, — no vestige of it was left. He had fluttered
about in every corner of the window, and with wings


and feet had torn the slight web all to pieces. Pa-
tiently Madame Arachne toiled to make a new one;
and, by the time the sun had set, it was all finished,
and swinging in the breeze as its predecessor had
done. And now a kind fate sent the hungry web-spin-
ner her supper. A big, blustering blue-bottle fly came
blundering against the glass. Presto ! Like a flash,
Madame had pounced on him, with terrible dexterity
had grabbed him and bound him hand and foot.
Then she proceeded to eat him at her leisure. Fate
was kind to the spider; but alas, for that too trustful
fly ! Presently she sought the centre of her web and
put herself in position for the night. I suppose she
wasn't troubled with a great deal of brains; so it
didn't matter that she went to sleep upside-down!
She was still a little agitated by the visit of Mr. Nut-
hatch, but she knew he must have gone to roost some-
where, and so composed herself for slumber.

Ah, how sweet was the warm wind breathing from
the sea; how softly the warm blush of the sunset lay
on rock, and wave, and cloud! She heard a noise
within the lighthouse, — it was the keeper lighting ,
the lamps in the tower; she heard a clear note from
the sandpiper haunting the shore below. "He doesn't
eat spiders," said she; "there is some sense in a bird
like that ! He eats snails and sand-hoppers, who are
of no account. One can respect a bird like that ! "
The balmy summer night came down, with its treas'


ures of dew and sweetness, and wrapped the whole
world in dreams. Toward morning, a little mist stole
in from the far sea-line, a light and delicate fog. The
lighthouse sent long rays out into it through the
upper air, like the great spokes of some huge ' wheel
that turned and turned aloft without a sound. The
moisture clung to the new-made web. "Bless me,"
cried Madame Arachne, looking out, "a sea-turn, all
of a sudden! I hope I sha'n't catch a rheumatism
in my knees. '^ Poor thing ! As she had eight legs,
and two knees to each leg, it would have been a serious
matter indeed!

At that moment, there came a little stifled cry, and
a thump against the glass of the lantern high above
her, and then a fluttering through the air, and a thud
on the rock beneath. \Yhat was happening now?
She shuddered with fright, but dared not move. She
could not go to sleep again; but it was almost morn-

At last the pink dawn flushed the east, the light

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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterStories and poems for children → online text (page 1 of 12)