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Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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Max's rosy cheek. He half woke, and spoke out of
his dreams. "Cosette," he said, "now it's time to
go and find Noah and all the boats, and the * Cat's-
Cradle', and Noah's kitty; isn't it time, Cosette?"

He sat up and rubbed his eyes. The moon at that
moment was clear and filled the room with light.

"Cosette," he whispered; "let's go, you audi, in
Jerry's boat.'^

Cosette purred and cuddled close to him. He
slipped out of his low bed and took the cat into his
arms. Molly was having her tea downstairs; no one
was nigh. His little bare feet made no noise on the
stair; the front door was open; there was nothing to
hinder them. A few minutes more and they were out
on the sands. Nobody saw the small white figure,
with golden hair softly blown about, carrying the gray
cat slowly down to the water. They reached the little
cove and Jerry's dory. A battered log of driftwood
lay half in and half out of the water. Max pushed
the cat before him and climbed on this, and so crept
over the edge of the boat into the bow.

" I can untie the rope, kitty, I know the way ! "
and he began to work at the knot. It was so loose
^iiat he soon had it untied.

"TSTiy don't we sail away?" said the little boy,
Slid forthwith began leaning from side to side, rocking



cat's-cradle 37

the boat as lie had learned to do in the afternoon.
Presently she began to move and slide off; the tide
was ebbing, the wind blew from the land, both helped
her away till she drifted slowly out of the cove, be-
yond the rocks and out to sea. Max was delighted.
" J^oWy we 're going to find them, kitty! Now, we '11
bring them all back to Letty, and Rose, and Rob ! ''

The dory floated away into the dark. Nobody saw
it, nobody knew. The wind over the water was cooler
than on shore, and Max's little nightdress was thin.
He looked about everywhere over the dark waves, and
shivered.

"Where's mamma?" he said. "Shall we find the
boats soon, Cosette ? '^ Again the light clouds sailed
across the moon. He shrank from the sight of the
dark water; presently he slipped down into the deep
bow of the boat, protected from the wind and hugging
the warm kitty fast. "By and by we '11 get to Noah,"
he said drowsily. The lulling sound of the light
ripples and the rocking of the drifting dory soon sent
him into dreamland again; — so they floated away on
the wide sea, and no one knew anything about it.

Molly finished her tea, and went to the stairs to
listen for any sound that might come from the nursery.
All was still.

"Sure it's tired the darlin' do be," she said,
"trampin' round on his two little futs the long day!
^e sleeps sound when he sleeps at all ; " and she went



39 CAT'S-CRADLE

back to continue her cliat with Betty the cook. She
stayed longer than she thought; it was full half an
hour before she crept upstairs to look at her pet. She
was surprised to find the nursery door wide open.
Entering hurriedly, she saw the little white bed empty
and cold. " Max ! Max, darlin' ! where do ye be
hidin' from Molly ? " She ran from one room to
another seeking him, calling till her voice brought the
cook and the maid rushing upstairs to see what was
the matter. "He's gone!" cried Molly. "Mother
of Heaven! he's gone!" and she began to wail and
cry like a banshee.

"Stop your deavin', Molly," cried the frightened
Betty. "Sure and it's only downstairs he's gone.
We '11 find him below." They ran down. Here,
there, everywhere over the whole house they went;
not a trace of him could they find.

"Oh, it's kidnapped he is, sure! Oh, what '11 I
do, what '11 I do ! " cried Molly, and she ran out-of-
doors to meet Mrs. Lambert and Letty, who were
coming up the path to the house.

" Oh, missis, have yez seen him 1 " she cried, half
distracted.

" Who, Molly 1 " cried Letty, and the mother's
heart stopped beating as the maid answered, —

"The baby! Sure the baby's gone entirely. I
can't find him in the whole house ! "

"Molly! are you wild? What can you mean?



cat's-ckadle 39

Max gone ? " She flew upstairs, followed by Letty,
dumb with fear. There was the little empty bed,
with a dimple in the pillow where the golden head
had lain. Pale with anxiety, they sought him every-
where, at last ran out of the house and up and down
the sands, but never a sign of Max or Cosette could
they find.

Meanwhile, Jerry's whaleboat, the "Claribel," was
making its way back, beating up toward the shore
against the light and baffling wind with the happy
party on board. The moon gave but a faint lustre
through the light clouds, by which they could see the
outlines of the land. The girls had turned up their
sleeves, and held their arms as deep down as they
could reach into the water to see the phosphorescence
blaze at every movement, outlining their fingers in fire
and rolling in foamy flame up to their elbows; the
boat's keel seemed cutting through this soft, cold
flame; it was wonderful and beautiful, and they never
tired of watching it.

" I should be glad if the wind would freshen a lit-
tle,'' their father said presently. "This is all very
charming, but we are going to be late home for little
folks, I 'm afraid," and he drew Rose to his knee.

"Aren't you tired, little girl?"

" No, papa ; " but she laid her head on his shoulder.
" Shall we soon be there, now, papa ? "

"I hope so," he replied. "Eob, what makes you
so silent 1 "



40 . cat's-cradle

"I don't know, father, whether I'm asleep and
dreaming, or not, but it seems to me every moment
as if I heard Cosette mewing. Xow just keep still
a moment all of you, and listen. There ! did you
hear? you haven't a cat on board the ' Claribel ' in
the cuddy, have you, Jerry 1 "

"Why, no," replied Jerry, "but I've been think-
ing I heard something queer myself."

"Father! " suddenly cried Eob, "what 's that black
speck on the water down there 1 " He pointed to lee-
ward. At the same time a faint sound, sharj) enough
to pierce the breeze that blew against it, reached their
ears.

"If 'twas daytime, I should say 'twas the gulls
cryin'," said Jerry, "but they don't fly nights."

"Is that a dory anchored, with somebody fishing?"
asked Mr. Lambert.

"Xo, sir; whatever 'tis, it's movin'. Shall we
sheer off a little and run down and see what 't is ? "

"Do," said Mr. Lambert. As the "Claribel"
turned on her course, again the sharp cry came, this
time quite clearly, to their ears.

"Somebody 's got a cat somewhere, now that 's sar-
tin ! " said Jerry. They all looked and listened
eagerly, fixing their eyes on the dim black speck.
The boat with a free wind sailed faster; soon they
were near enough to distinguish the outline of a small
body sitting up on the broad seat in the stern of the
dory.



cat's-cradle 41






'T ain't big enough for a human critter, " said Jerry.
Sure 's you're born, it's a cat in a dory! How
upon earth did it get there ? "

"I do believe it is Cosette! " said E,ob.

Again the moonlight broke through the rifted cloud,
showing them plainly Cosette sitting upright; her
long, anxious, distressed mews were pitiful to hear.

" Upon my word, it is Cosette ! " said Mr. Lambert

"And that's my dory," said Jerry, as he ran the
sailboat past the skiff, then, luffing to bring her along-
side, caught her by the gunwale, as they reached her,
and held her fast. Cosette stood up, and with a flying
leap landed in the midst of the astonished group.

"What's that white thing in the bow?" cried
Elinor. "Pa/?a/" she screamed, for the white thing
began to move, and a little voice said : —

"I 'm bery cold, papa " —

"Merciful Heaven!" cried Mr. Lambert. ''Max!
Max, is it you ? " as he snatched him out of the dory
and clasped him close in his arms, "with only your
nightdress on 1 All alone ! Oh, Max ! how did you
get there ? "

Elinor sprang with a large shawl she had brought,
and wrapped it closely round him; she could not
speak, but put her arms round her father and little
brother and leaned her head down on Max's curly
pate.

"My little boy! My dear little boy!" Mr. Lam-



42 cat's-cradle

bert said, over and over, and he gathered him closer
and held him fast, as if he never could let him gG
again.

" Oh, Max ! " cried Elinor at last, seeking for his
bare cold feet under the shawl and cherishing them in
her warm hands, "how did you get there? "

"We did n't reach to Noah," Max said in his sweet
voice. "We went to find the ' Cat's-Cradle, ' —
Cosette and I, — and Koah and all the boats, and we
could n't see them, and I was cold, and Cosette cried,
and I wanted mamma, and we couldn't find anything,
and I want my Noah ; " the little story ended in a sob.

"Oh, you poor little darling," cried Rose.

"If it had not l3een for Cosette, we never should
have known anything about it," said Eob.

"I wonder if they have missed him at home," said
Elinor. "Poor mamma! Oh, papa, I wish we could
sail faster ! "

It seemed a long time before the boat neared the
landing so they could disembark. Some time before
they reached it they saw dark figures up and down the
beach, and guessed that the poor mother was wildly
searching for her boy. They shouted as soon as they
could make themselves heard: "He's here! He's
safe!"

It was not long before she had her treasure in her
happy arms, clinging about her neck, while the other
children clustered eagerly round father and mother,



cat's-cradle 43

talking, laughing, crying, wondering, and rejoicing,
all at once, as they trooped into the house together.

"Cosette!" they cried, after Max had been safely
tucked up in his little bed once more and the little
bed moved into mamma's room, close at her side, —
"oh, Cosette! if it had not been for you, we never,
never, never should have found our dear Max again!
oh, Cosette, you are the best and dearest kitty in the
world 1 "



THE BLACKBEKEY-BUSH

A LITTLE boy sat at his mother's knees, by the long-
western window, looking out into the garden. It was
autumn, and the wind was sad; and the golden elm
leaves lay scattered about among the grass, and on the
gravel path. The mother was knitting a little stock-
ing; her fingers moved the bright needles; but her
eyes were fixed on the clear evening sky.

As the darkness gathered, the wee boy laid his head
on her lap, and kept so still that, at last, she leaned
forward to look into his dear round face. He was not
asleep, but was watching very earnestly a blackberry-
bush, that waved its one tall dark-red spray in the
wind outside the fence.

"What are you thinking about, my darling?" she
said, smoothing his soft, honey-colored hair.

"The blackberry-bush, mamma; what does it say?
It keeps nodding, nodding to me behind the fence;
what does it say, mamma ? "

" It says, " she answered, —

" * I see a happy little boy in the warm, fire-lighted
room. The wind blows cold, and here it is dark and



THE BLACKBERRY-BUSH 45

lonely; but that little boy is ■warm and happy and safe
at his mother's knees. I nod to him, and he looks at
me. I wonder if he knows how happy he is !

" ' See, all my leaves are dark crimson. Every day
they dry and wither more and more; by and by they
will be so weak they can scarcely cling to my branches,
and the north wind will tear them all away, and
nobody will remember them any more. Then the
snow will sink down and wrap me close. Then the
snow will melt again, and icy rain will clothe me, and
the bitter wind will rattle my bare twigs up and down.

" * I nod my head to all who pass ; and dreary nights
and dreary days go by. But in the happy house, so
warm and bright, the little boy plays all day with
books and toys. His mother and his father cherish
him; he nestles on their knees in the red firelight at
night, while they read to him lovely stories, or sing
siweet old songs to him, — the happy little boy ! And
outside I peep over the snow, and see a stream of
ruddy light from a crack in the window-shutter, and I
nod out here alone in the dark, thinking how beautiful
it is.

" * And here I wait patiently. I take the snow and
tne rain and the cold, and I am not sorry, but glad;
for in my roots I feel warmth and life, and I know
that a store of greenness and beauty is shut up safe in
my small brown buds. Day and night go again and
again; little by little the snow melts all away; the



46 THE BLACKBERRY-BUSH

ground grows soft; the sky is blue; the little birds
fly over, crying, "It is spring! It is spring!" Ah!
then, through all my twigs I feel the slow sap stirring.

" ' Warmer grow the sunbeams, and softer the air.
The small blades of grass creep thick about my feet;
the sweet rain helps swell my shining buds. More
and more I push forth my leaves, till out I burst in
a gay green dress, and nod in joy and pride. The
little boy comes running to look at me, and cries, " Oh,
mamma! the little blackberry-bush is alive, and beau-
tiful and green. Oh, come and see!" And I hear;
and I bow my head in the summer wind; and every
day they watch me grow more beautiful, till at last I
shake out blossoms, fair and fragrant.

" * A few days more, and I drop the white petals
down among the grass, and, lo ! the green tiny berries.
Carefully I hold them up to the sun; carefully I
gather the dew in the summer nights; slowly they
ripen; they grow larger and redder and darker, and at
last they are black, shining, delicious. I hold them
as high as I can for the little boy, who comes dancing
out. He shouts with joy, and gathers them in his
dear hand ; and he runs to share them with his mother,
saying, "Here is what the patient blackberry-bush
bore for us : see how nice, mamma ! "

"'Ah! then indeed I am glad, and would say, if I
could, "Yes, take them, dear little boy. I kept them
for you, held them long up to sun and rain to make



THE BLACKBERRY-BUSH 47

them sweet and ripe for you;" and I nod and nod in
full content, for my work is done. From the window
he watches me, and thinks, "There is the little black-
berry-bush that was so kind to me. I see it and I
love it. I know it is safe out there nodding all alone;
and next summer it will hold ripe berries up for me
to gather again. " ' "

Then the wee boy smiled, and liked the little story.
His mother took him up in her arms, and they went
out to supper, and left the blackberry-bush nodding
up and down in the wind; and there it is nodding

yet.



BEEGETTA'S MISFOETUXES

Old Bergetta lay asleep on the doorstep in the sun.
Bergetta was a cat of an inquiring mind. Now an
inquiring mind is a very good thing if it is not too
largely developed; but Bergetta 's was of so lively a
nature that she was continually led into difficulties
thereby. This morning she was having a beautiful
nap in the spring sunshine. Her two little white fore
paws were gathered in under her chin, and she had
encircled herself with her tail in the most compact and
comfortable way. Now and then she lifted her sleepy
lids and winked a little, and perhaps she saw, or did
not see, the bright blue ocean at the end of the rocky
slope before her, and the outline of Appledore Island
across the strip of sparkling water, and the white sails
here and there, and the white clouds dreaming in the
fresh and tender sky of spring.

It was very pleasant. Bergetta at least enjoyed the
warmth and quiet. Her three companion cats were all
out of her way at that moment. She forgot their
existence. She was only conscious of the kindly rays
that sank into her soft fur and made her so very sleepy
and comfortable.



bergetta's misfortunes 49

Presently a sound broke the stillness, very slight
and far off, but she heard it, and pricked up her pretty
pink-lined ears and listened intently. Two men, bear-
ing a large basket between them, came in sight,
approaching the house from the beach. The basket
seemed heavy; the men held each a handle of it, and
very silently went with it round to the back entrance
of the house.

Bergetta settled her head once more upon her folded
paws, and tried to go to sleep again. But the thought
of the basket prevented.

What could be iiiside that basket ?

She got up, stretched herself, and lightly and noise-
lessly made her way round the house to the back door
and went in. The basket stood in the middle of the
floor, and the three other cats sat at a respectful dis-
tance from it near each other, surveying it doubtfully.

Bergetta wasn't afraid; she went slowly towards it
to investigate its contents, but when quite close to it
she became aware of a curious noise going on inside
of it — a rustling, crunching, dull, clashing sound
which was as peculiar as alarming. She stopped and
listened; all the other cats listened. Suddenly a
queer object thrust itself up over the edge, and a most
extraordinary shape began to rise gradually into sight.
Two long, dark, slender feelers waved about aimlessly
in the air for a moment; two clumsy claws grasped
the rim of the basket, and by their help a hideous



50 bergetta's misfortunes

dark bottle-green-colored body patched with vermilion,
bristling with points and knobs, and cased in hard,
strong, jointed armor, with eight legs flying in all
directions, each fringed at the foot with short yellow-
ish hair, and with the inner edges of the huge mis-
shapen claws lined with a row of sharp, uneven teeth,
opening and shutting with the grasp of a vise, — this
ugly body rose into view before the eyes of the aston-
ished cats.

It was a living lobster.

Dear children, those among you who never have
seen a living lobster would be quite as astonished as
the cats were at its unpleasant aspect. When you see
these shell-fish they have been boiled and are bright
scarlet all over, and you think them queer and gro-
tesque, perhaps, they do not seem frightful; but a
living lobster is best described by the use of the much-
abused word horrid. It seems a mixture of spider
and dragon. Its jet-black shining eyes are set on
short stalks and project from its head, and the round
opaque balls turn about on their stems and survey the
world with a hideous stolidity.

It has a long, jointed tail, w^hich it claps together
with a loud clash, and with which it contrives to draw
itself backward with wonderful rapidity.

Such was the hard and horny monster that raised
itself out of the basket and fell with a loud noise all
in a heap on the floor before Bergetta. She drew



BERGETTAS MISFORTUNES 51

"back in alarm, and then sat down at a safe distance to
observe this strange creature. The other cats also sat
down to watch, farther off than Bergetta, but quite as
much interested.

For a long time all was still. The lobster, probably
rather shocked by its fall, lay just where it had landed.
Inside the basket a faint stirring and wrestling and
clashing was heard from the other lobsters, — that was
all. Very soon Bergetta felt herself becoming ex-
tremely bored with this state of things. She crept
a little nearer the basket.

"I needn't be afraid of that thing," thought she,
"it doesn't move any more."

Nearer and nearer she crept, the other cats watching
her, but not stirring. At last she reached the lobster
that in its wrath and discomfort sat blowing a cloud of
rainbow bubbles from its mouth, but making no other
movement. Bergetta ventured to put out her paw
and touch its hard shell. It took no notice of this,
though it saw Bergetta with its queer eyes on stilts,
which it wheeled about on all sides to "view the pros-
pect o'er."

She tried another little pat, whereat the lobster
waved its long antennae, or feelers, that streamed away
over its back in the air, far beyond its tail.

That was charming ! Bergetta was delighted. The
monster was really playful! She gave him another
little pat with her soft paw, and then coquettishly



62 bergetta's misfortunes

boxed his ears, or the place where his ears ought to
be. There was a boding movement of the curious
shelly machinery about his mouth, an intricate net-
work all covered with the prismatic bubbles he had
blown in his wrath, but he was yet too indifferent to
mind anything much.

Bergetta continued to tease him. This ivas fun!
First with the right and then with the left paw she
gave him little cuffs and pushes and pats which moved
him no more than a rock. At last he seemed to
become suddenly aware that he was being treated with
somewhat more familiarity than was agreeable from an
entire stranger, and began to move his ponderous front
claws uneasily.

Still Bergetta continued to frisk about him, till he
thrust out his eight smaller claws with a gesture of
displeasure, and opened and shut the clumsy teeth of
the larger ones in a way that was quite dreadful to
behold. "This is very funny," thought Bergetta. "I
wonder what it means ! " and she pushed her little
white paw directly between the teeth- of the larger claw
which was opening and shutting slowly. Instantly
the two sides snapped together with a tremendous grip,
and Bergetta uttered 'a scream of pain, —her paw was
caught as in a vise and cut nearly through with the
uneven toothed edge.

Alas, alas! Here was a situation. In vain she
tried to get away; the lobster's claw clasped her deli-



bergetta's misfortunes 53

cate paw in a grasp altogether too close for comfort.
Crying with fear and distress, Bergetta danced about
all over the room; and everywhere Bergetta danced
the lobster was sure to go too, clinging for dear life;
up and down, over and across, they went in the wildest
kind of a jig, while all the other cats made themselves
as small as they could in the remotest corners and
watched the performance with mingled awe and con-
sternation. Such a noise! Bergetta crying and the
lobster clattering, and the two cutting such capers
together! At last some one heard the noise, and
coming to the rescue thrust a stick between the clumsy
teeth and loosened the grip of the merciless claw; and
poor Bergetta, set at liberty, limped off to console her-
self as best she might.

For days she went limping about, so lame she could
hardly creep round the house. When at last she
began to feel a little better, she strayed one day into
the same room, and seeing what she rightly guessed
to be a pan of milk on the table, jumped first into
a chair, and then up on the table to investigate.
Naughty Bergetta! Yes; the pan was full of milk
not yet skimmed. How luscious ! She did not wait
for anybody's permission, but straightway thrust her
pink nose into the smooth, creamy surface. Now it
was washing day, and just under the edge of the table,
behind Bergetta, on the floor, a tub full of hot suds
had been left. She lifted up her head after her first



54 bekgetta's misfoktunes

taste of the cream — how nice it was — oh, horror,
what did she see! Just opposite her on the table was
another lobster with its long feelers bristling; it had
been boiled, by the way, but of course Bergetta could
not know this tranquilizing fact. Bright scarlet, with
its dull dark eyes pointed straight at her, it dawned
upon Bergetta' s terrified vision.

So eager she had been to look into the milkpan,
she had not discovered it before, and now her fright
was so great that she gave one leap backwards and
fell, splash ! into the tub of warm suds.

Good heavens, what a commotion! With eyes,
ears, nose, and mouth full of soapy foam, she crawled
out of it and, more dead than alive, ran to the door
and forth into the cold, leaving a long stream of suds
on the floor in her wake. The wind blew through
her soaked fur and chilled the marrow of her bones.

Poor Bergetta! All the other cats came round her
and stared at her with astonishment; and I 'm afraid
if cats ever do laugh, they certainly laughed at Ber-
getta when she told them her morning's experience.

I don't think she ever coquetted with a lobster
again or tried to steal milk from the pan, but went
mewing about, rubbing her cheek against the kind
little cook's foot till she gave her all a cat could wish.

And let us hope she escaped any more such dire
disasters during the rest of her life.



SOME POLITE DOGS

It was a lovely day in autumn. Little Lotty, the
curly terrier, was asleep at my feet in the warm patch
of September sunshine that lay on the floor. I had
been sitting still a long time, so busy with my work
that I had thought of nothing else. Looking up at
last at the crimson hollyhock that stood, tall and
splendid, outside the window, I caught a glimpse of
the blue sea beyond, and the clear, warm sky, and
realized how beautiful the afternoon had grown.

"Come, Lotty, wake up I" I cried to the little dog;
"let 's go for a walk."

Lotty jumped up, wide awake in an instant, and
barking like mad with delighted expectation, as all


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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterStories and poems for children → online text (page 3 of 12)