Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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mist stole away with silent footsteps, and left the fair
day crystal- clear. Arachne still clung to her web,
which was beaded with diamonds left by the mist.
She did not know that Lord Tennyson had written
about such a web as hers in a way never to be forgotten.
He was talking about peace and war, and he said : -^

" The cobweb ■woven across the cannon's throat
Shall shake its threaded tears in the wind no more."


Her web was only woven across a window-pane from
sash to sash, but it shook its threaded tears in the
wind, that morning of late summer, and was very-
beautiful to see; but not so beautiful as the poet's

She wondered what could have happened, — what
the sound could have been, which had frightened her
in the night. She crept to the edge of the window-
ledge and looked down, — 't was too far, she could not
see. By her convenient rope, she swung herself down
to the rock, and was startled at what she beheld.
There lay her enemy, Nuthatch, stone-dead, with his
pretty feathers all rumpled, in a pitiful plight indeed.
He had seen the long ray from the lighthouse top
and, dazzled, had flown toward it, taking it for sun-
rise, followed it with a rush, and struck his head
against the clear and cruel glass. That was the end of
poor Nuthatch !

" Well, well ! " cried Madame Arachne, " upon my
word, I'm glad you're dead! Now I needn't be
afraid of you. But what a silly thing! That 's what
all creatures do who have wings; — they flutter and
flutter around a light till they are banged or burned to
death. Better have nothing but legs. Who would
want wings? Not I! No sensible person would."

Such is spider wisdom.

She climbed her rope, hand over hand, and reached
her airy dwelling. There she proceeded to bestir her-


self in the early morning. High in a corner chamber
she wove a silken cocoon, white and satin-smooth, a
shining cradle, snug and warm; and in it laid several
hundred tiny round eggs of dusky pink, and left them
there to hatch when they should be ready. Then she
went down to her seat in the middle of her web, and
watched the weather and hoped for flies.

She saw white sails on the sea, she saw white gulls
in the air, she saw white foam on the rocks, as she
sat in the sun. Days came, nights passed, winds
blew, rains fell, mists crept in and out, and still she
watched for flies, with more or less success; till at last
out crawled a baby-spider to the air, and another, and
another, — so small they were hardly to be seen, — till
nearly all the eggs were hatched. They stretched
their tiny legs, cramped from long confinement; they
crept hither and thither, and wondered at the big
world — of one window-pane !

"Good-morning, my dears," said Madame Arachne,
" I hope I see you well ! "

Every day, from the inside of the lighthouse, three
pairs of childish eyes watched this interesting spider
family. As the tiny ones grew larger, they began to
build for themselves little webs in each corner of every
pane; and each small dot of a spider put itself in the
middle of its web, head downward, like the mother,
and they all swung in the breeze and caught midges,
— which were quite big enough for them.


"Did you ever see anything so comical?" said one
child to another. "They all behave just like their
mother. How quickly they learn how to live after
they creep out of that little egg, which is so small we
hardly can see it! How closely all those long legs
must be folded up in such a tiny space ! I wonder if
all insects know so much as soon as they are hatched ! "

"Insects!" said the older child, "but a spider isn't
an insect at all! Don't you remember how papa read
to us once that spiders belong to the Scorpion family 1 "

" Oh, a scorpion must be a horrid thing ! " cried the
younger, — '^ a real scorpion! I'm glad they don't
live in this country. I like the spiders; they spin
such pretty webs, and it 's such fun to watch them.
They won't hurt you if you don't trouble them; will
they, sister ? "

"Of course they won't," said the little girl's reas-
suring voice.

Madame Arachne heard them discussing her and her
affairs. "They are good enough creatures," she said
to herself. "They can't spin webs, to be sure, poor
things! But then these three, at least, don't destroy
them as that odious Nuthatch did. They seem quite
harmless and friendly, and I have no objection to
them — not the least." So the little spiders grew and
grew and spun many and many a filmy web about the
old white lighthouse for many happy days.

But late in the autumn, a party of merry birds,
flying joyously through the blue heaven on their way


south, alighted to rest on the rock. They filled the
air with sweet calls and pretty twitterings. Many of
them were slim and delicate fly-catchers, exquisitely
dressed in gray and black and gold and flame. Alas
for every creeping thing! Snip! snap! went all the
sharp and shining beaks, — and where were the spiders
then? Into every crack and cranny the needlelike
beaks were thrust; and when the birds flitted away,
after a most sumptuous lunch, not a spider was visible
anywhere. It was one grand massacre, — yet again
Madame saved herself, behind a friendly shingle; and
some days afterward the children saw her crawling dis-
consolately about her estate in the lighthouse window.

But the little island soon had another visitor in the
shape of Jack Frost, Esq., who came capering over
the dancing brine, and gave our poor friend so many
pinches that she could only crawl into the snuggest
corner and roll herself up to wait till the blustering
fellow should take his departure.

"She's quite gone," said one of the children, as
they looked for her one crackling cold day.

"Never mind," said the eldest. "Spring will wake
her up and call her out again."

And so it did.

Now, would you like to know how I happen to have
found out about Madame Arachne and her adventures ?
I will tell you, dear children. I was one of the little
folk who watched through the old lighthouse window
and saw them all.


" CosETTE, you are the dearest kitty / " And
little Max, who spoke, laid his golden head against
the soft fur of the big Maltese cat, and hugged her
tight with both arms.

A gypsy fire of light driftwood sticks was sparkling
and crackling on the hearth; the children were gath-
ered about it, Robert and Rose, Lettice, Elinor, and
little Max. The rain was falling merrily on the roof
of the low, brown cottage where they had come to live
for the summer. Mamma, with her work, sat in the
corner of the sofa near.

" Well, how it does pour ! '' said Letty, going to
the window. The rest followed her, and stood look-
ing out. They saw the gray sea, calm and silvery,
slowly rolling toward the gray sand, breaking in long,
lazy lines of white foam at the edge of the beach. A
few small boats were moored near; to the left, not far
away, a cluster of fish-houses, old and storm-worn,
their roofs spotted with yellow lichens, stood on the
shore. There were no sails in sight, — only dim sea,
dim sky, and pouring rain.

"We can't go out to-day at all!" said Rose.

cat's-ceadle 23

*' Not all the long day ? " questioned Max wistfully.

"Oh, perhaps it will clear ofif by and by," Elinor,
the elder, said. "Who knows? Never mind if it
doesn't, we can have a good time in the house; can't
we, Kob?"

" Yes, we can ! " Eob cried. " I 'm going to make
boats for us all, a whole fleet! Won't that be a good
thing, mamma? And then, as soon as it clears ofif,
we '11 launch them and send them off to Spain. You
find some stiff white paper, girls. Mamma will give
us some; I '11 go out to the shed for lumber to build
my ships," and away he went. Mamma provided
scissors and paper. Elinor turned back the rug to
make a place for E.ob to whittle ; presently he returned
with a basket of driftwood, bits of many sizes and
shapes, some worn smooth as satin by the touches of
millions of waves, having floated on the ocean, Heaven
alone knows how long.

"Now, isn't this fun!" he said, as they all sat
together round the basket, Eose and Lettice with the
scissors shaping sails under his direction, while he
proceeded to turn out of his pocket the fifty things,
more or less, that go to make up the freight a boy
generally carries; of course, the knife, being heaviest,
was at the bottom. A roll of stout, brown twine
caught Max's eye.

"Please, Rob, let me have it to play with, for reins
to drive Eose," he begged; so Eob tossed it over to
him where he sat curled up with his kitty.

24 cat's-cradle

"There it is, Maxie! Now, let's begin to name
our boats, girls. I 'm going to call mine the ' Em-
peror, ' 'cause it 's going to lead the fleet! "

"Mine shall be the ' Butterfly,' " said Eose.

" That 's good ! What for yours, Letty 1 "

"I think the ' Kittiwake ' will be a good name for

mine. "

"Yes, that will do. And what shall yours be,
Nelly 1 "

" Oh, the * Albatross, ' because he flies so fast with-
out moving his wings ! "

"That's fine! Now, Max, what are you going to
call your boat 1 "

Max was turning over the bits of wood in the
basket. Inside the edge he had just found a brown,
woolly caterpillar. "Oh," he cried. "See! A pil-
low cat ! A pillow cat I "

"You mean a caterpillar, dear," said Letty.

"Do let him call it a pillow cat, Letty dear," said
mamma; "he isn't much more than my baby yet, you
know. "

"But you don't want your ship called the 'Pillow
Cat, ' do you. Max 1 " asked Eob. They all laughed,
tried this name and that, but nothing seemed to suit
Max, who said "No" to everything; so they left it
to be decided afterward. They watched their ship-
builder with great pride and interest, but after a while
they grew tired.


"Let's play cat's- cradle with Max's string," Eose
said to Letty at last, and they proceeded to try; but
Rose did not know how, and Letty only half remem-
bered, so they appealed to Eob.

"Do please leave off whittling a minute and show
us how, Rob."

Being a good-natured brother, he threw down his
knife and stood up before Letty while he showed her
the ins and outs of the complicated web. Very soon
she learned how to make it, then taught Eose, and
they amused themselves for sorhe time while Eob
worked away, and Max played with his dear kitty,
and mamma and Elinor were sewing and talking
together. Soon as the "Butterfly " was finished, the
girls rigged her with the square white paper sails, and
she was " stowed " (as Bob nautically expressed it) on
the mantelpiece, for safely. Then the "Emperor " was
begun, but before it was half done, lunch was ready;
still it rained, perpendicularly pouring. Papa had
been busy in the study all the morning, but after
lunch he sat with the children, taking Max upon his

"I '11 begin Max's boat," he said. **']N"ow, mamma,
won't you tell us a story? We can work so much
faster, you know."

** Elinor is the story-teller of the family," mamma
replied. "Let her try." So Elinor began. Eose
curled up on the rug, Letty held Cosette, Max laid

26 cat's-ceadle

his pretty head against papa's shoulder, and all watched
the whittling while they listened to Elinor.

"Once upon a time," she began, and her pleasant
voice went on and on; the rain pattered gently and
steadily; the long surf whispered with a soft, hushing
sound, and presently, before they knew it, Max was
sound asleep. Papa laid him among the cushions by
mamma's side and went back to his books; then they
found Rose had fallen sound asleep too. But the rain
went on, and the story, and the whispering rush of
the water, till suddenly Rose laughed out in her sleep
so loud that she waked, sat up, rubbed her eyes, and
then began to laugh again.

"What is the matter, Rosy? " they asked her.

"Oh, such a funny dream," she said. "Such a
queer dream. I thought I was standing down by the
marsh where the cat-o' -nine-tails grow, you know; —
the moon was just coming up over the water, yellow,
and big, and round, and I thought it had such a funny
face with two eyes that kept blinking and winking,
first at me and then at the tall reeds; and suddenly I
heard a rustling, and up the long stalks I saw a gray
mother-cat climbing, and after her five little gray kit-
tens, — oh, so pretty and so tiny. They had such
hard work to climb, for the bending stalks were slip-
pery, — and they bent more and more the higher the
little cats climbed; but they kept on. One kitty out-
stripped the rest and almost reached the brown, 'heavy

cat's-cradle 27

reed-tops, when all at once I saw that the ends were
hung with little cradles, — real cradles, with real
rockers, — and the first thing I knew, that foremost
kitty had jumped in and cuddled down in the nearest
cradle, and there she swung, to and fro, up and down
(for the wind was blowing, too), and she looked so
pretty with her little ears sticking up and her bright
eyes shining, as she watched the other kittens climb-
ing after her, for there was a cradle for every one of
them to rock in. Then when they were all in, it was
so comical I laughed aloud, and that woke me. But
I wish we had the kits and the cradles to play with
here ! "

"Cat's-cradle!'^ said Elinor; "why wouldn't that
be a good name for Max's boat? "

"Why, yes," they cried; "wouldn't you like it,
Max ? Shall your boat be called the * Cat's-Cradle' ? "

"Yes," answered Max, who had waked and listened
with interest to Eose's dream; "kitty shall go sail in
her, rock — rock — on the water. " So it was settled.

"Just look at the sun!" cried Letty, for a great
glory suddenly streamed in from the west, where the
sun was sinking toward the sea, and flooded the room
with gold.

"Fair day to-morrow ! " cried Kob. "All the fleet
can start for Spain! — * Cat's-Cradle ' and all, for that
is done, too ; " and he ranged the little vessels in a row
on the shelf. Mamma laughed to see her mantel

28 cat's-cradle

turned into a shipyard; and the children went to rest
that night full of glad hopes for the morrow.

The day rose bright and fair. After breakfast they
prepared to go down to the beach for their launch.

"Let's man all the boats," said Rob; "let's take
Max's Xoah's Ark and put passengers on board every
one, out of the Ark."

"If Max is willing," suggested Elinor.

" Are you, Max ? " asked Letty. " Oh, yes ! TTe '11
send Noah to Spain in the * Cat's-Cradle ' ! That will
be fun ! "

"Are you willing? Yes?" and away she ran up-
stairs, and soon came back with the toy in her hand,
shaking dogs, cats, elephants, and rats together with
Noah and his family in hopeless confusion.

Cosette was rubbing her head affectionately against
Max's stout little legs.

"Let's take the kitty, too; she wants to go," he
said; and out they flocked together, Cosette following,
all dancing and capering toward the low rocks where
the fish-houses stood, to reach a small pebbly cove
beyond, where the water was smooth as glass. Old
Jerry, the fisherman, sat mending his net on the
shore; he greeted them as they went skipping by, each
with boat in hand.

"Fine mornin' for your launch," quoth he; "wind
offshore and evervthing fair."

"Yes, they 're all bound for Spain," said Rob in
great glee. "Do you think they '11 get there to-day? *'

cat's-cradle 29

"Shouldn't wonder," answered Jerry with a smile.
"Yon never know what may happen in this 'ere
world. "

Max stood with Cosette in his arms, watching his
brother and sisters man the fleet.

" I think Father Noah ought to sail in the * Em-
peror, ' don't you?" asked Rob, "because he must
lead the ships, you know. Shall he. Max ? Oh, yes,
he 's willing! Then Mrs. Noah shall go in the ' Alba-
tross,' and Ham in the * Kittiwake', and Shem on
board the ' Butterfly; ' and who shall go in the ' Cat's-
Cradle, ' Max ? "

"I want to go myself!" was Max's unexpected

"Oh, you dear baby! don't you see you 're too big? "
cried Rose.

"No — boat's too small," said Max. "Put Noah's
kitty in — she's little enough."

"Well, she can go with Japhet," and they sought
among the wooden beasts till Noah's kitty was found;
then ofi" started the tiny vessels together: first the
"Emperor," with Father Noah standing up straight
and fine in the stern; then the "Albatross," with
Mother Noah; after them the three other boats, their
stifi" white sails shining in the sun and taking the wind
bravely. The children watched them breathlessly as
the small ships lifted over the ripples, making their
way out of the quiet cove, till they felt the stronger

30 cat's-cradle

wind and began to sail rapidly away. For a while
they kept quite near together, but at last they strayed
apart, though still obeying the outward-blowing wind.

"Look at old Noah," cried E-ob, "standing up so
brave! Oh, he 's a great commander! "

"Dear me, but see Mrs. Noah! She 's fallen over! "
cried Letty. "Poor thing! She must be frightened."

"No, she's only dizzy. There's so much more
motion than there was in the Ark ! "

A long time they stood watching till the little white
sails were a mere shimmer on the water.

"When will they come back?" asked Max. "At
supper time ? "

"Not so soon, I 'm afraid, Max dear."

"Well, to-morrow, then. Will they come back
to-morrow 1 "

"I cannot tell."

"But I ivant them to come back," the little boy
said, half crying. "I want to go and get them and
bring them home."

" But, Max, it takes a long time to sail all the way
to Spain," Rose explained. "You '11 have to wait
with patience till they are ready to come back."

Max's lip curled grievously. "I want my boat, my
*Cat's-Cradle, ' and my Noah," he said.

"Now, Max, never mind! Come and see what Jerry
is doing! He's building a fire of sticks, and he's
going to mend his boat with tar. Just come and look
at him!"

cat's-cradle 31

They drew the little brother away. For a while
he was interested in Jerry's work, but soon his eyes
turned wistfully again to the water.

"I see them! " he cried. " 'Way, Vay off! "

The others looked; they could just see a glimmer of
white in the blue ; they could not really tell if it were
a white gull's breast on the heaving brine, or their
flitting skiffs.

"Now let them go, dear Max! We'll get some
baskets and go after berries up beyond the pasture,
and we '11 find some flowers to bring home to mamma;
that will be lovely ; Cosette shall come too ; " and Max,
cheered up, took a hand of Rose and Letty and turned
from the glittering blue sea.

"You go on," E-ob said; "Nelly and I will get the
baskets and follow you.'' So the three went up the
scented slope together, through the sweet-fern and
bayberry, where here and there a goldenrod plume
was breaking into sunshine at the top, till they reached
a big rock in a grassy spot, where they stopped to wait
for the others. Cosette was put down in the grass,
and ran off toward home as fast as she could. Max's
grief came upon him afresh at this second loss.

"Now, don't fret, dear," cried Letty. "Where's
your piece of string, sweetheart! Isn't it in your
little pocket? Feel and see; I'll show you how to
make a wonderful knot Jerry showed me."

Max's eyes brightened as he felt in his pocket for
the twine.

32 cat's-cradle

"Now see," said Letty; "I take two pieces so, and
I put this end round this way and through that way,
and then over so, and round so ; then you take these
two ends in your hands and hold them loosely, and
Rose takes the other two ends, and when I say,
* Now ! ' pull both together, and see what a tight
square knot it makes ! Now, you try, Max ! "

Max took the string and the knot.

"I can untie it," he said; and forthwith begaa
picking at it industriously with his little fingers till
the ends began to loosen; he would really haye accom-
plished the undoing, had not Elinor and Rob arrived
with the baskets; then they began picking berries in

It was not long before they had their baskets full.
They gathered early asters and yellow rudbeckia for
mamma, and among the trees beyond the pasture they
found the red wood-lilies burning like beautiful lamps
in the green shade. When Max was tired, Elinor and
Rob made a carriage for him, clasping each other's
wrists with their crossed hands; so he rode home tri-
umphant; and they trooped in together, weary, rosy,
and happy with their treasures.

"My boat sailed away, mamma," said Max, as they
sat at table.

"But all our boats went with it to keep it company,
you know," said Letty.

" Yes, but I want to go after it and bring it home, "


insisted Max; and again they had to divert his mind
from his loss.

In the afternoon they went down to play on the
sands as usual, Max's nurse, Molly, accompanying.
Jerry's mended dory was floating in the shallow cove;
fchey begged to be allowed to get into it, "just for
fun," and the old man put them in, Cosette and all,
for kitty went with them everywhere. They put
Max in the bow with his cat in his lap, and rockeci
the boat gently to and fro.

" Oh, look at the white gull ! " cried Letty, as one
gwept over them. "Look, Max! It is white as
mamma's day-lilies in the garden!" But his eyes
•were fixed on the horizon line, where shining sails
were dreaming far away in the sunshine.

" There they are ! They 're coming home ! " he cried.
'No, Maxie; those are bigger boats than ours."
'But where have they gone, Eose? Let 's go after
them, now, in this boat. I can untie the rope," he
cried, and he began to work on the knot which fas-
tened the boat's "painter" to the bow. They let him
work, since it seemed to amuse him so much, but they
did not notice that he really made an impression on the
large knot (which was not fastened \'ery firmly) before
they left the boat. When Jerry lifted him out, he
whispered in the old man's ear, "To-morrow, may I go
in your boat to find Noah and the ' Cat's- Cradle' ? "

"Oh, yes, to-night, if you want to go," said Jerry.

34 cat's-cradle

"And Cosette, too?"

"Sartin! sartin!" laughed Jerry; so Max was com-
forted. "They 're all gone," he said to Letty, looking
out over the sea, "but we are going after them to
bring them home, Cosette and I."

"Keally, Max?"

"Yes, Jerry said so."

"Jerry shouldn't promise," Letty said; but she
did not wish to grieve her little brother afresh, so she
let the matter drop.

Molly gave him his supper and put him into his
small white bed; tired and sleepy, he was soon in the
land of dreams.

The rest of the family were at dinner. From the
dining-room windows they saw the great disk of the
full moon rising in the violet east, while the west was
yet glowing with sunset. The sea was full of rosy
reflections; across the waves fell the long path of
scattered silver radiance the moon sent down; a warm
wind breathed gently from the land.

"Oh, papa," said Elinor, "let's go and ask Jerry
to take us out sailing in the ' Claribel. ' It is so lovely
on the water ! "

"Well, my dear, I'm willing, but mamma doesn't
like sailing, you know."

"I'll stay with mamma. I don't like sailing,
either," said Letty. "We don't mind, do we,
mamma 1 "

cat's-cradle 35

"Why, no," said mamma. "Do go! Letty and I
will take a walk together. It is much too beautiful
to stay indoors."

So papa with his little flock set out for Jerry and
the "Claribel," while mamma and Letty made ready
for their walk ; but before leaving the house they went
into the nursery to see that Max was asleep and com-

"We are going out, Molly," said Mrs. Lambert to
the nurse. "Take good care of Max."

"Sure and I always goes to look at him every little
while, ma'am," said Molly.

"Yes, I know you do. Come, Letty, are you
ready ? " and they went out into the fragrant dusk
together, strolling toward the pasture inland.

Th6 boat meanwhile, with its happy crew, had been
fanned away quite a distance from the warm land.
A few faint clouds had gathered, which, floating slowly
up the sky, helped to deepen the balmy darkness.
The brown cottage was left quite alone except for
slumbering Max, the servants, and Cosette who lay
luxuriously napping on the parlor rug. Presently she
woke, stretched her long, lithe body, sat up, and
looked about. All was dark and still. I suppose she
wondered where everybody was; at any rate, she went
out of the door, up the stairs, and, finding the nursery
door ajar, — as careful Molly had left it, so that she
might hear Max if he should call, — Cosette walked

36 cat's-cradle

in, jumped up on her little master's bed, and began
purring affectionately and rubbing her whiskers against

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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterStories and poems for children → online text (page 2 of 12)